Holidays, Observances, and Literary Celebrations: January–April

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Introduction

Champ always gets quite depressed after we take the Christmas Tree (which, I can assure you, we did in a timely matter, at the beginning of January). To cheer him up, I embarked on a calendar project, compiling holidays and observances, national and international celebrations.

I included Christian holidays, and then added some Jewish holidays, and then looked up literary birthdays as well.

As you might have guessed, the project began to take on a life of its own, and I still haven’t finished it. However, I thought there might be some other families out there who’d like a list of holidays that expanded upon the public holidays each month, so I thought I’d share what I’ve got so far.

Many of these national celebrations were taken from an exhaustive list found at Brownielocks.com. The literary holidays were compiled from birthday lists of authors. I never found a complete list, and many of the writers and poets I just looked up individually.

This is a perpetual list of holidays, meaning you can come back to this list each year. I do have downloadable calendars for 2014 at the bottom of this post that you are free to print and use!

How it works

MONTH

Each month has a theme. Some are nationally or internationally recognized, and others are just suggestions (take February for example—”Celebrate the ones you love Month”). Each month also has a list of authors born in that month. The idea is that older children or parents choose from that list and read a book from one or more of the authors during the month.

WEEKS

The holidays listed under the “weeks” are holidays that occur on a particular day each year. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is always celebrated the third Monday in January.

DAYS

The holidays listed here are celebrated or observed on the same date each year. New Year’s Day is always January First. I’ve included birthdays of poets on these lists, so that on their birthdays, we can read one of their poems. It’s a gentle reminder to me that I need more poetry in my life, and it’s an excuse to read poetry to my children at least a few times each month.

OTHERS

Some holidays aren’t based on the Gregorian calendar. For example, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in January some years, and February other years. I have 2014 dates for these holidays marked on the printable calendars. For subsequent years, you’ll have to look them up. I’ll include links when I can find them.

January

MONTH

  • Resolution Month (Choose a motto for the new year, make a collage, etc.)
  • Human Trafficking Prevention
  • Authors: Tolkien, A.A. Milne, Poe, Lewis Carroll

WEEKS

DAYS

  • 1/1 New Year’s Day
  • 1/3 Tolkien Day
  • 1/8 Midwife’s Day, Elvis’ Bday
  • 1/18 Winnie the Pooh Day (A.A. Milne’s Birthday)
  • 1/19 Edgar Allan Poe
  • 1/27 US Holocaust Memorial Day (day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp), Lewis Carroll
  • 1/29 Puzzle Day

OTHER

  • January or February: Chinese New Year
  • Last week in January: Lead up to Super Bowl

February

MONTH

  • Celebrate the ones you love Month (Read some classic love stories, compile stories of how your family members met & fell in love)
  • Winter Olympics Month (every 4 years)
  • Authors: Dickens, Jules Verne, Lemony Snicket, Laura Ingalls Wilder

WEEKS

  • First Sunday—Super Bowl Sunday
  • Second Monday & Tuesday—Westminster Dog Show
  • Third—Engineers Week
  • Third Monday—Presidents’ Day

DAYS

  • 2/1 Langston Hughes
  • 2/2 Groundhog’s Day
  • 2/8 Elizabeth Bishop
  • 2/14 Valentine’s Day
  • 2/15 Susan B Anthony Day
  • 2/27 Longfellow

OTHER

  • February or March: Carnival / Mardi Gras (day before Ash Wednesday)
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Lent
  • Purim (Esther’s Feast)

March

MONTH

WEEKS

DAYS

  • 3/4 National Grammar Day
  • 3/6 Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • 3/14 Pi Day
  • 3/17 St. Patrick’s Day
  • 3/21 First Day of Spring
  • 3/26 Robert Frost

OTHER

  • March or April: Easter
  • Passover

April

MONTH

WEEKS

DAYS

OTHER

  • April or May: Yom Hashoa (Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Download the 2014 Calendar

  • Download the plain 2014 calendar (with federal and public holidays) here.
  • Download our family’s calendar for January–April (with various religious, literary, and geeky observed holidays) here. (Subscribe by email or follow me on Facebook or Twitter to be notified when the other months are ready!)

Coloring Pages

Annual List of Holidays, Observances, and Literary Celebrations | Bewildered Mother

Click to Pin!

Top 5 Posts of 2013

It’s been a crazy year with few updates from me here on the blog, but it looks like that didn’t matter much, given that Bewildered Mother got 54,000 views in 2013! Thanks to everyone who shared a post on Pinterest or Facebook. Y’all tempt me to try blogging for a living!

But I still prefer quality over quantity, which is why you don’t hear from me much. I’m an introvert, remember? I’m also a work-from-home mom of 2, so I’m much more likely to post a few words on Facebook or link to someone else’s views on subjects I’m thinking about, rather than regurgitating them on my own blog. I have 24 posts in my drafts folder right now! We’ll see if I can get organized enough this year to carve a chunk of blogging time each week. I’m sure you’re dying to hear about my thoughts on feminism, self-esteem, downsizing, and prayer.

I’ve just become keenly aware of how loud the ticking clock in my office is. I think I’d prefer crickets. Too cold for crickets.

And now I’m starting to talk about the weather. Wow. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

#1—Potty Training in One Day: Day Zero (Preparation)

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This will probably remain my top-viewed post, ever, thanks to Pinterest. Yes, I potty trained a then-2-year-old Champ in about 1.5 days.

A month later, he went to preschool for 3 weeks, and the teachers NEVER TOOK HIM POTTY. You can imagine the consequences. (I really don’t want to think or talk more about that terrible, terrible place.) Once I got him over a few new phobias, Lion was born, and I was nursing around the clock. Some days were awful. Some days were good. Some times he forgot, sometimes he refused to go, sometimes he just wanted more attention.

Champ is 3 now, and he very occasionally has accidents. We keep him in a cloth diaper or even a pull-up at night (the latter especially when we are traveling), but he wakes up dry, unless a babysitter gave him something to drink right before bed, or he was dying of thirst (he’s pretty melodramatic at times—gets it from my side). TV is the biggest distraction because he watches shows on Netflix, which doesn’t pause for more than 15 seconds between episodes, let alone stops for commercial/potty breaks.

All of that is to say, there will be obstacles. Note, also, that many children have little or no control of their bladder overnight even if they are trained during the day. 1 out of 10 seven-year-olds still wet the bed. Be patient, be loving, be kind. Potty-training is an opportunity to grow as a family through difficult times.

I do still think that this method WORKS, and it’s the method I’ll follow in 18 months when I’m training Lion.

Other posts in this potty-training series technically made the top 5 posts of 2013, but for the sake of THIS post, the rest of my “top 5 of 2013″ will feature independent posts.

#2—Grace for the Introverted Mom

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This post is only a few weeks old and is already the #2 post of the year and #4 post of all time here on Diary of a Bewildered Mother. I’m so glad I’m not the only introverted mom to feel this way! We should make T-shirts or something. And by “we,” I mean someone else besides “me” if it’s ever going to get done this decade.

#3–Surviving the Third Trimester

restless legs

Written 10 days before Lion was born, this post features home remedies for common ailments like water retention, swelling, carpal tunnel, itchy skin, restless legs, and heartburn.

#4—Geek Kid Costumes

Sherlock

In which I review the geeky costumes I have subjected my family to since 2010.

#5—Speakeasy Gender Reveal Party

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Details about Lion’s 1920s-themed Gender Reveal Party.

Soon, it will be my 4-year-anniversary on the blog! Hard to believe it’s already been 4 years since my newlywed husband and I decided to make a late-night drugstore run and got the first shock (of many to come) in our marriage. Eventually I’ll compile a list of all the posts of 2013 for you, like I did with the other years (see the top navigation menu of my blog—the archives). I’ll also post my motto for 2014. But, you know, if I never get to it, you can find my 2014 motto on my Facebook page.

Till then, I’ll leave you with my…

Top Non-2013 Post of All Time: Daily Mom and Toddler Schedule (2012)

I recently updated this schedule with some notes from me. Why yes, I do have a preschool schedule! Thanks for asking. I’ll post it as soon as we actually implement it successfully, which is to say, probably never, because I’m an INTP and can’t keep to a schedule to save my life.

I created all these great alarms for my phone, to alert me to when to start each subject, but I didn’t make them the right file format. Also, my office / the classroom is still functioning as a storage room, so we have no place to work.

It’s on my list.

Grace for the Introverted Mom

Note: As the title suggests, this is targeted to moms. Specifically stay-at-home moms that are constantly needed by their children. I don’t mean to alienate stay-at-home dads, I just have no authority speaking on your behalf! I’d love to hear your input in the comments!

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

Introduction and pseudo-history lesson

First thing’s first. Are you an introvert? Here’s 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert from HuffPost.

Introverted stay-at-home moms in this era have some unique struggles. Being a stay-at-home-mom is the most unnatural thing in the world if you look at the historical order of things. Humans once lived in tribes, clans, family units, villages. Children were raised by their mother, plus any other number of matriarchal type persons. Fathers and other men were involved in the education and nurturing of their children as well. Mothers had help in the form of relatives, wet-nurses or nannies. These days, we tend to fall into one of two extremes: we are the sole caregiver of our children during the day, or else we leave them in the care of educators and coaches and have little time to interact with our own kids. Hopefully you fall somewhere into the middle! Anyway, this isn’t about societal norms or a call to action. It’s about introverts. Introverts who are drained when they are sole caregivers to one or more children.

We need plenty of time alone, but we still need a little bit of social interaction to retain any sanity. Back in the day of the front-porch suburbia, or back even further to the time of the common well, introverted people got their social interaction out of the way, out of the house, and they came back home ready to be introverted again. Now we have the internet, that glorious invention of social media, in which we can pretend we are socializing, but which never really leaves us satisfied like real-live interaction does.

Your main goals as an Introverted mom are 1) time alone and 2) some real, in-person interaction with other human beings outside of your family. Here are some tips to achieving those goals.

Tip #1—Favor reflection over distraction.

We introverts need time, alone, with our thoughts. If I don’t get time alone just to think, or sort out my thoughts, I end up distracting myself with the internet. (As a teen, I used to distract myself with endless hours of TV. As an adult, I don’t have cable, but I have my own laptop.)

I’ll spend hours and hours on Pinterest or YouTube or clicking on random Wikipedia articles to distract myself, when a 20-minute shower would be so much better for me, because I spend only 3 minutes cleaning myself, and the rest of the time, I just let my mind wander and sort and think and rest.

Right now it’s 2 am, and I should be in bed, but I’ve just been putting off my time of introspection all this time, and now I won’t be able to sleep until I think about it.

Are you the type of person that needs to write thoughts out to get them out of your head so you can sleep? That’s why I keep my phone and a notepad by my bed. When a thought comes, I scrawl it out on my notepad in unabomber handwriting. If I don’t think I’ll be able to decipher it in the morning, I email myself on my phone.

Tip #2—Don’t feel guilty.

I feel guilty not being able to give to my kids 100% of the time. I feel selfish when I take time apart from them. I feel like a bad mom for wanting to get away from my children. I resent clinginess when it creeps up (and clinginess is natural for children exploring new territories and reaching new milestones.)

It is 3,000 times harder when my husband isn’t home, because that means I NEVER get a break, and my kids rely on JUST ME to meet all of their needs. I’m on call, 24/7. I’m needed every minute of every waking hour, and I’m needed half of the night. I’m constantly being touched.

Repeat after me: If Jesus Christ needed breaks, then I CERTAINLY need time alone.

Introverts need time alone to recharge. It is better for ourselves and for everyone else in our home if we get some time to recharge. You know that phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”? We need time alone, for our emotional and mental health, about as badly as we need sleep for our physical health.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like a zombie. I can barely function. Caffeine can work a little to get me through the day, but if I rely on caffeine and not sleep, I’m going to get sick. I don’t know about you, but for me, the same goes with alone time. If I don’t get time alone, I start to space out and check out. I can barely say a word to another human being, let alone hold a conversation. Distractions can work a little to get me through the day, but if I keep distracting myself without getting time alone, eventually I’m going to lose it, and either have an emotional breakdown or get really angry at my 3-yr old (who knows precisely which buttons to push in either of his parents).

Don’t feel guilty about getting time alone. Also don’t feel guilty about getting out of the house every once in a while to socialize with other people. That means date nights and girl nights. Maybe you’re like me, and you dread girls’ nights with a passion because you don’t relate to all that estrogen and emotion. Give it a chance. Studies show that it is important to a woman’s health to get time socializing with other women. If people start talking about their feelings, find another person to talk to, or change the subject to current events or pop culture. Or only go to events that include activities, like game nights or movie nights, so you aren’t obligated to talk at all. True story: Captain and I went on a date last month to dinner, and we brought a book of crossword puzzles to do. We ended up talking and laughing the whole time, but as introverts, it was nice to have the option to be together, but be quiet, and have something to do other than stare at each other while masticating.

Tip #3—Enforce quiet time (for your kids, but also for yourself).

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

If only my children would nap at the same time! I admit, right now, I’m in survival mode. When both kids are napping at the same time, I need to NOT DISTRACT myself (see #1), but do one single thing—one thing that is quiet and allows me to organize my thoughts. It could be writing a list, reading, or quietly doing some tedious or repetitive tasks that allow my brain to sort things out. My favorite mini-vacations when Champ was a baby were reading a magazine and painting my toenails. I got my magazines with deals I found on Tanga, but you can search for discounts any time at Discount Mags. A few years ago, I got 3 years of 6 magazines for less than $20 total. Not bad.

Other ideas: knitting, daydreaming, planning, having a caffeinated or weakly alcoholic libation.

No TV or internet during these times. See #1 and #4, below.

Tip #4—Spend time reading, offline.

Then you can focus and think and not be distracted by clickable rabbit trails. Reading is a way for introverts to fill up that need for socialization, because we are essentially having a conversation with the writer as we do it. All introverts should read. Extraverts, too, but especially introverts. That’s why I’m repeating myself by giving offline reading its own tip.

Offline reading is the best way to spend our time alone. Here’s why:

  • It gives us a chance to think and process…
  • …without the distraction of the internet…
  • …and it partially fulfills our need to socialize

Are you an introvert? How do you fill your “time alone” and “socialization” tanks? Do you have reading recommendations? Leave your opinions in the comments!

(I started writing this in August of 2013, at 2 am, when my husband was gone for 2 weeks in South Africa. Today I am finishing it. It is 3 pm in December, and Champ is still eating his lunch, two hours after his nap was supposed to begin. If you’re curious why I haven’t posted original content since this summer, with the exception of posts pertaining to Champ’s Birthday or our Geeky Halloween, allow me to direct you to  Mom Stress and Survival Parenting. Being a mom of two is a 24/7 job, and I’ll get back into blogging regularly when I can get housework back on track first. So expect posts to be few and far between until, say, ten years from now, when they will not be relevant to this generation. Welcome, class of 2020!)

Geek Kid Costumes

This is my 200th post! It’s also the end of October, so I figured I’d commemorate by featuring my kids’ geeky costumes through the years.

2010—Doctor Who, Star Wars

Only a month old, and I subjected the kid to two different costumes.

His hair was pretty Tennant-y, so our #1 was #10…the tenth Doctor
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The Captain and I wanted to be Han Solo and Princess Leia for Halloween, so I made Champ an Ewok costume, too.

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I am no good at sewing, so most of these are no-sew. The pants from 2010–2011 were sewn, crappily by me, in an idiotic fashion. Basically I made no allowance for my poor child’s rear end, so the pants never fit over his bum. In 2012 (see below), I found a pair of pants from a thrift store. They were a size too small and had flowers embroidered on the back pockets, but they worked.

2011—Aladdin

In 2011, my neighbor and I thought it would be cute to take Champ and E out trick-or-treating together and do matching costumes. I can’t remember how we cam up with the idea, but we decided on Aladdin and Jasmine. E already had the cute headband, so I rifled through Target clearance for mint-colored clothes for her and fashioned a bikini top, and then cut out a vest and sewed two quick fezzes for Aladdin and Abu. It was chilly, so we put them in white layers to keep warm (and modest).

aladdin

2012—Hobbit

I got this shirt for Champ from Woot Shirt when it was the shirt of the day. (You can get your own here!) The wig and pants came from a thrift store, the cloak was just a piece of fleece I tied around him, and the feet were tan socks pulled over his boots with fake fur hot glued to the top.

hobbit

2013—Sherlock and John (from BBC’s Sherlock)

Now that I’ve got two little ones, and it’s probably the last year I can choose Champ’s costume myself, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to dress them up from my favorite show, BBC’s Sherlock.

If you are familiar with the fandom (which is completely insane from prolonged hiatuses of the show), you might be aware of the animal comparisons between the main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, to animals—an otter and a hedgehog, respectively. See Benedict Otters here and Martin Hedgehogs here.

So I decided to make my baby John a hedgehog and my Pre-K Sherlock half otter. Here were the results:

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John: baby snowsuit + fake fur + sweater vest.

Sherlock: Hat from Amazon, colored grey; wig from thrift store; Old Navy jacket; scarf we owned; sewn pants and tail.

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John after the Reichenbach fall.

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This kid is seriously a champ.

I’m hoping next year I can convince Champ that he really wants to be C-3PO so I can make Lion R2-D2. But he’s a cool kid, so whatever he picks is probably going to be awesome.

Cookie Recipe Exchange

These are the cookie recipes we exchanged at Champ’s Birthday party, along with favorite books.

Sorry I’ve been so delinquent about getting these up on the blog. I kind of loathe typing projects, so I kept putting it off. In the process, I’ve probably lost some of the cookie recipes from the party. If you have one to share, please do! You can add them in the comments section.
 
8 favorite cookie recipes, from Paleo chocolate chip, to homemade graham crackers, to ANZAC biscuits, to white chocolate cranberry cookies!
 

Champs’ Friends’ Favorite Cookie Recipes

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies (Jonathan)

Ingredients

  • 1 c almond flour or almond meal
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 TBSP melted coconut oil
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 1 to 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 to 3 tsp water
  • 2 to 4 TBSP chopped chocolate

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Mix first four ingredients together in one bowl
  3. Mix coconut oil, honey, and vanilla in another bowl
  4. Combine both mixtures and add water as needed to bring together
  5. Stir in chocolate
  6. Form into balls 2 to 3 tsp each, place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and flatten to 1/2 inch thick
  7. Bake about 10 minutes, until edges are golden.
  8. Let cookies sit on pan an additional 10 minutes before transferring to cooling rack <<Don’t skip this step!

Homemade Graham Crackers (Alexa)

Get a ruler handy if you want these to be cut into equal squares! Even better if you have a square cookie cutter!

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 c graham or whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
  • 5 TBSP water
  • 2 TBSP light molasses
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Combine dry ingredients
  3. Using a food processor or pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal
  4. Add the water, molasses and vanilla and process until the dough comes together
  5. Divide the dough in half
  6. Roll each part of dough out between two pieces of parchment paper to a 16″x8″ rectangle, 1/8″ thick
  7. Remove the top piece of paper and trim dough to 15″ x 7 1/2″ rectangle, and score into 18, 2 1/2″ squares
  8. Prick each square several times with a fork
  9. Bake on parchment until golden, 10–15 minutes
  10. Cool completely, then break apart on score lines

Modified “Anzacs” (Jonah)

Read the history of this egg-free, Australian biscuit here. (“Biscuit” is the international name for cookies.)

Ingredients

  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c rolled oats
  • 1/2 c steel cut or pinhead oats
  • 1/2 c cane sugar
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 c unsweetened, finely shredded coconut
  • scant 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 c butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 TBSP golden syrup + 1 TBSP honey (alternate: 2 TBSP honey, no syrup)
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 TBSP boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl
  3. Over low heat, combine syrup, honey, butter, zest, and vanilla until melted
  4. Whisk together boiling water and baking soda, add to butter mixture
  5. Combine wet and dry ingredients
  6. Mix well
  7. Spoon onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  8. Bake 12–15 minutes or until golden brown
  9. Allow to cool on parchment paper before removing

Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies (Luke)

This is a double batch with reduced sugar. For a single batch, use the same amount of sugars but halve everything else. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups softened butter
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 small pkg pudding mix (you choose flavor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 1/2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 – 12 oz pkg chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Blend butter, sugars, and pudding until smooth
  3. Add eggs and vanilla
  4. Mix dry ingredients together and add 2 cups at a time to wet ingredients
  5. Form into small balls and bake on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes

Note: These do not flatten out much, so how you put them in the oven is how they will look when they come out.

Monster Cookies (Annaleigh)

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 12 oz jar of creamy peanut butter
  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1/2 c M&Ms
  • 1/2 c chocolate chips
  • 1/4 raisins (optional)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 1/2 c quick oatmeal (not instant)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Mix eggs and sugars
  3. Add salt, vanilla, peanut butter, butter and mix
  4. Mix in remaining ingredients
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes

Our (My) Favorite Cookie Recipes

 
Did I mention I don’t like typing up recipes? Here are my favorite online cookie recipes. White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies are my Absolute Favorite! I think the Craisin bag has a recipe on it, too. I also love oatmeal raisin cookies, but I just can’t seem to make them at sea-level like I do in the mountains.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies (you can use vanilla instead of brandy)

Mrs. Sigg’s Snickerdoodles

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies with Sugar Cookie Icing (I replace the almond extract in the icing with vanilla or coconut extracts)

 

On Misery, Gratitude, and New Beginnings

I don’t have any good habits, save one. I’m radically grateful. Today I’m thankful that my screaming baby is alive to scream. I’m thankful that my willful child who is always questioning me will likely do the same to his friends when they try to pressure him to do wrong. I’m thankful that we’ve been able to pay rent thus far. I’m thankful for credit when debit cards get declined. And I’m thankful that fall is coming, that soon the open window days will be here, and I can drown my sorrows in warm, spiced apple cider.

Misery loves company and is evicted by gratitude.

Nap time is coming, and I make a point to tell Champ and remind myself that Nap Time is a chance to start fresh, like pushing the reset button on my 1985 NES. No matter how many times he went in time out, or faced special consequences, or threw a fit, after nap, he gets a second chance. Sometimes I take away a toy for a while, and he doesn’t get it back after nap. Sometimes he’s still suspended from watching PBS. But no matter what he’s done, no matter how angry I’ve gotten with him, when he goes to sleep, he knows I still love him, and when he wakes up from nap, he knows he can start on a clean slate, without bitterness radiating from his mother.

How do I get rid of that bitterness? I forgive. I forgive even when I’m not asked for forgiveness, because I love my son. I practice thankfulness. I wouldn’t be able to do any of it without God’s grace. I love because he loved me first. I forgive because I know I am forgiven. On days like this one, when I want to sit in my garage with my forehead resting on my steering wheel, tears flowing freely in the dark, I come broken to the Lord and he gives me strength.

This isn’t a blog about faith, it’s a blog about my life as a frazzled mom. And my faith is what gets me through that life. So sometimes, that faith will unapologetically shine through my posts. Other times, it’s still there, it just might not be called by name.

On Misery, Gratitude, and New Beginnings | Diary of a Bewildered Mother

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Corinthians 15:10

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14

Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

Taking Good Photos of Active Kids

How to take good photos of active kids—photography tips for moms | Bewildered Mother

You may not know this about me, because I haven’t taken pictures in a very, very long time apart from my phone, but I’m a photographer.

That’s right, went to school for it (among other things), and I have even been paid for it before I became a mom.

I took LOTS of photos of Champ when he was a baby, and he was a great model, much like Lion is now. But somewhere along the line, he started to think it was really funny to AVOID the camera, and to run away from me if I ever had one in my hand. He only wanted selfies that he took of himself on my phone.

Well, I decided I needed some legitimate, non-instagram photos of this crazy child when he turned 3. So I got out my SLR, searched all over the house for my charger (found one) and extra battery and memory card (still looking), and I took him to the park, and I took a couple hundred photos. Now I know I’m not the only person who has active children, and I also know that people want to know how to take good photos of their kids, so I thought, as a mom, as a photographer, I’d give some tips specifically targeted towards moms (or dads) of those camera-shy children.

Tip #1—avoid harsh lighting

harsh lightSo, unfortunately, I took all of these photos around lunchtime on a sunny day, because it was the only time we could do it. The best times to take photos? Depending on the season and where you live, you’ll want to avoid times the sun is directly above, creating those kinds of shadows you’d make around the campfire with a flashlight at your chin. That’s means generally trying to take photos before 10 am and after 4 pm. Overcast days are the best for photos. The sky is gray, I know, but the light is diffused and super flattering.

If you take the pictures at noon on a sunny day, there is still hope. Avoid awkward shadows from trees (you know, the ones that make you look like a dalmatian), and avoid having your subjects look directly into the sun. You can face the sun if you want some lens flares, but your subject will be darker. Try taking pictures with the sun at your side.

Tip #2—learn how to crop

Chances are, you’ll be taking a ton of photos of your kid, because the more you take, the better the likelihood of getting good photos. So don’t worry too much about framing your photos as you take them. Even if you don’t have photo editing software, you can crop your photos before you print them. If you’re uploading to Facebook, use one of the programs preinstalled onto your computer. Sorry I can’t be more help. I have no idea what programs you have on your computer. Anyway, the idea behind cropping is two-fold: One, you want to eliminate distractions from your focus. Two, you want an aesthetic composition.

crop1

Here’s an image I cropped, with a before and an after. See those big magenta bars in the photo on the left? Distracting. So I cropped it out with the photo on the left, which roughly follows the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds means you divide your canvas into a 3×3 grid—a tic-tac-toe—and then align your horizon or subject along those lines. Asymmetrical compositions are usually more interesting, but with close-up portraits, you have more freedom. In the photo on the left, Champ’s body takes up the middle third, with his face in the top middle and his legs in the bottom middle. On the photo on the left, the original, Cham takes up the lower 2/3rds of the frame. I’ll point out more thirds later.

Now look at the photo on the left. Where does your eye go? (This is what people talk about when they speak about movement in a photograph or artwork). Your eye might start at the face, but did you notice it going down his arm and lingering at his hand? That’s annoying. I want people to look at his face, not his hand, no matter how cute it is. It’s not the focus of this photograph. So I re-cropped the photo.

crop2

See? Much better. Now go impress your friends by talking about a piece’s movement.

Tip #3—focus

If you’re chasing around a toddler or preschooler trying to take photos, don’t worry about trying to manually set your camera for each photo. Set your camera to Aperture Priority (it’s usually a letter A), and change your aperture to the lowest number f-stop. (Read your camera’s manual—it’s a little different on each camera) With my lens, the best f-stop I could get was about a 4. The lower the number, the more blurred out the background and foreground of the photo will be. This selective focus is called “depth of field,” and you can Google that if you want to learn more about it.

Aperture Priority is great, because it will automatically choose the other settings (like shutter speed) for you, so your photos aren’t over- or underdeveloped.

aperture

In this photo, the focus is on Champ, so everything in front of him (the construction vehicles, in the bottom third of the photo) and behind him (the trees) are blurred. If you’ve ever heard the term “bokeh,” that’s the confetti-like pattern the background turns into when you have a low aperture. You’ll see bokeh in some of the following shots. To read more about aperture, I suggest “Exposure Made Easy” by Doe a Deery.

Why blur out the background and foreground? Because unless you are taking a landscape photo, they are usually distracting. Knowing aperture is your first step to looking like a pro.

Tip #4—let them play

play

This will keep them busy. It’s more fun to play with toys than to have to sit still and POSE. I always prefer candids, anyway. And if you didn’t have problems with your kids posing for the camera, why are you still reading this post?

Tip #5—Let them touch

touch

Kids usually don’t need to be told to touch things, but sometimes, if you point something out to them, they will STOP MOVING to touch it. Snap away. If you’re at home, try handing your baby or toddler a piece of clear tape to hold. Then make weird noises to get them to look at you. For that tip and others regarding babies and little toddlers, see this post from Simply Real Moms.

Tip #6—Take close-ups when they’ll let you

closeup

The rest of the time, keep your distance and zoom in. Soon he or she will ignore your weirdness and keep playing. Close-ups are where it’s most important to have a low aperture. See how the sand has turned into a bokeh background? If you don’t have an SLR setting, you can try the “portrait” setting.

Tip #7—Know your surroundings

Even with your aperture set to blur out the background, sometimes there’s stuff back there that can’t be blurred enough. Sure, you can crop sometimes, but not always.

background

See how cute this photo is? I love it. But it would be so much cuter without that big ugly bathroom in the shot! When you’ve got ugly architecture, try to avoid it when you can. I took senior photos last weekend and kept maneuvering myself and my subject so that his head blocked out unsightly light fixtures. But in the case of the photo above, I had Lion on my lap and would have had to fling him on the ground to get this shot framed right. With active kids, you have to go for speed usually, like I did here, so you don’t have a chance to set yourself in the right spot. But when you do have a chance…

Tip #8—Choose your angles wisely

You can eliminate yucky background clutter by shooting down, so the ground becomes your background…

ground

…or shooting up, so the sky becomes your background.

sky

See that? Bokeh. This one is definitely frame-worthy. This cropping is also an example of forgoing the rule of thirds for the sake of balance, another five-dollar art word. While I could have cropped Champ another way, I pulled this one in tight as a square, and let half of the background be tree and half be sky. Symmetrical balance, on an axis. (Wikipedia has a briefer on more design principles, if you really want to sound like you know what you’re talking about and don’t have the cash to take a legitimate design class)

Tip #9—get down at their level

level

One of the best tips for taking photos of kids (and one of the most intuitive) is to get down at their level. I go even further sometimes, and instead of taking a kid’s eye view, I take a bug’s eye view, or in this case, a toy excavator’s point of view. See also the title photo of this post.

Tip #10—Shoot from the hip

Sometimes I like to play paparazza with camera-shy kids. That’s the female, singular form of “paparazzi”—I learn something new every day! I also like to take the skills I developed taking billions of self portraits as a teenager and apply them to taking pictures of kids. Probably half of these photos were taken by me, without my looking through the viewfinder. I use the full extension and mobility of my arms when taking photos of kids. This is definitely something that takes practice, like shooting from the hip. But the payoff is great.

dontaim

Take this for example. This is the only photo I have of him with his eyes open while blowing bubbles. I missed the bubbles, sure, but I actually really like how the framing of this turned out, so I didn’t even crop it. I would not have this shot if I was behind the camera.

You’ll have to keep your focus set to Auto, which invariably means you’ll get more shots with random parts in focus and the kid blurry, but if you have a new(ish) camera, it will probably find the faces and focus on them.

Tip #11—Remember the details

details

I know, I know, there are about a million photos of baby feet, or macro flowers, or whatever on the internet. Taking a close-up or macro photo of something doesn’t make you a standout photographer. But this isn’t about becoming famous, this is about remembering what it’s like to have little kids. So observe, soak it up, and take pictures of those little details, like how your baby covers himself with toys and curls his toes together.

Tip #12—Be intentional about Black and White

blackwhite

I once spoke to an amateur photographer about black and white and was mentioning that all photos don’t look good in black and white. She responded, “All MY photos look good in black and white.” I smiled and nodded, and later Facebook stalked her to find her monochromatic wonders and guess what—she was wrong.

Black and white brings out and highlights the texture of a photo. Any architecture in your photo will be emphasized, which is why taking that bubble photo with the bathroom behemoth would look horrible in a black and white.

Will your photograph look good in black and white? Like, actually good? Here’s a checklist.

  • Do I want to emphasize architecture or texture in the photo?
  • Is there adequate value in the photo? Black and whites look best when you can get a pure white, a pure black, and a range of greys in between.
  • If there isn’t great value to begin with, but I’m desperate for this to be in black and white, do I have adequate photo editing capabilities?

The best way to make a black and white before processing the photo is to make sure your lighting is flattering (see next tip). When you are editing the photo, use Levels or Curves to get black blacks and white whites. And the best tip? Use Black and White filters. This is a tip stolen from photographing with black and white film, which is really, really fun and challenging. When you add a colored filter when taking photos, you can get really interesting variations in value. Black and white filters are on Photoshop under the adjustment filters. If you’re using iPhoto or something else, you can recreate this by taking the saturation down all the way and then messing with the color balance until you get something you like. If you pick a blue filter, the sky will be white and any yellows will be black. Choose a red filter, and Caucasians will look like ghosts. Check out the bottom of this post for a comparison of different filters, using the most colorful photo taken that day.

Bonus Tip—Use windows when inside

This tip is more relevant if you are able to get your active child to sit down in one spot. If you can do that, or if you are taking photos of babies, have the child face a window to get catchlights in their eyes—those white reflections of light that make them appear to  be bright-eyed.

Try to use the windows to cast an angled light on the subject, so their face has a range in value, from lit to shadow.

Then you can make the photo black and white, eliminating nasty color combinations like red and green stripes!

window

Black and White Filters

Here’s a comparison of different black and white adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can imitate the effects if you have Hue & Saturation plus Color Balance sliders.

Black and White adjustment layers via "How to Take Good Photos of Active Kids"

Both the default and max black settings worked pretty well in this photo, but I tweaked the sliders a bit to find a good medium between the two.