Finding Storybookland violinist

The Violinist

When I was about eight years old, I began taking violin lessons because my mom had never yet heard the sound of ultimate suffering. How she braved it through the years, I will never understand, but her tenacity finally paid off when I received a violin scholarship all four years of college.

Here is a photo of my first recital. My bangs are… hairsprayed.

Finding Storybookland violinist

Apparently, our family has a gene strain called Not Learning From Your Parents Mistakes. My daughter begged to begin playing the violin about a year ago after my parents had shown her one of my early recital videos. Flattered– and concerned that if she liked that video enough to watch it 20-something times, she might actually be tone deaf– I went online and found the best quality instrument I could afford as a gift to my delicate ears and began her in lessons. This ritual involves me driving to the local music school once a week with all three children in tow. We trek up three flights of stairs because that’s where the only teacher who had room in his schedule has a studio. The daughter plays while the sons attempt as much mischief as is humanly possible in that half hour period. This is mostly comprised of the middle child trying to play the piano and/or play tag with the violin teacher, and the youngest child pulling things off the shelves and yelling, “Naked!”– which every parent appreciates a child adopting as his/her favorite word. In between lesson days, I practice with her at home and set raisins and almonds on her music stand and make her earn every single one by repeating scales and exercises over and over and over again, because my college scholarship might have been a little bigger if someone had given me treats instead of just setting an abacus in front of me to track my repetitions. Just saying.

Watching the development of a violinist makes my mommy (and musician) heart happy. Music is inspirational, thrilling, difficult, and worth it. So I wanted to take an early moment and capture the beauty of my tiny musician and also give her a tangible image of herself achieving a real skill. Thus this shoot.

The logistics just happened on their own. It had been snowing, but one day the sun came out and the temperature rose above freezing. The dress we chose was so long that my daughter could wear a couple of sets of thermal underclothes and snow boots and still put the dress on over. We went to a nearby forest path. She played “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for about seven or eight minutes while I took pictures and my littles attempted to sled down the banks next to the path. I didn’t need a lot of photos or poses because this was just me trying to capture a moment in time. I’ll probably repeat this shoot again and again in different seasons and different places as she grows, and I hope to do a session with both of us at some point.

So here are my favorites from my little musician:

 

Finding Storybookland Violinist

Finding Storybookland violinist

Finding Storybookland violinist

Finding Storybookland violinist

Finding Storybookland in Space

Fly Me to the Moon

My daughter has been telling me since she was four years old that she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up.

This all changed the other day when she visited a local science exhibit for kids on the topic of space exploration. There, some practical and very blunt German science teachers told her that when astronauts are preparing to go to space, they have to undergo zero-gravity training and g-force training, which will frequently cause trainees to vomit. Now she wants to work at NASA as a secretary.

Three years ago, about the time this phase kicked off, my sister-in-law sent the kids some amazing astronaut costumes for Christmas. We were completely enthused, but to be frank, we never could find a good location to use them in a photo shoot, because the moon wasn’t really available to us and places that look like the moon are hard to come by in Germany.

Switching gears, but I promise that this is… sort of… related. Zach and I have been planning our dream home most of our married lives. We’re on about our eighth home design in one of those software packs you see advertised on HGTV, and we go back to the drawing board every time we visit a new country or see a new fabulous house with designs we want to incorporate, or spend too much time on Pinterest. The current model we have drawn up is loosely modeled after the Palace at Versailles, and we will definitely be able to afford it, assuming we win the next lottery. One day I was pondering stone countertops for said dream home, and then I began thinking of all the quarries here in Europe and wondering to myself if it would save money to buy the countertops for our still-imaginary house while we live on this side of the world, and then I began thinking of shipping things and postage costs (because I am very practically minded for a future lottery winner), and somehow I ended up at the moon– don’t really remember how that leap of association occurred– and THEN I remembered the costumes.

Anyway, that’s how we found Holzmaden, which is actually a fossil quarry half an hour or so outside Stuttgart. It’s one of the premier locations for fossils in this part of the world; who’da thunk it? There’s a small museum on-site with information on fossils and dinosaurs, a couple of life-size dinosaurs for the kids to admire, and for a very minimal fee, you can go in the pit and just have at it. The fossils are literally everywhere, in nearly every piece of slate you chip open. So we took our kids on a real, live, treasure hunt (dressed as astronauts).

With an amazing photo shoot location and a fun afternoon activity thrown into the package, Zach and I felt as though we actually had won the lottery. Not a very large lottery. Maybe a $50 lottery. But after taxes, so $20. Still cool.

And it was great. The kids got to travel to the moon (without throwing up) AND bang rocks together to find fossils (we brought home a couple of imaginary fossils, because two-year-olds), and it was the best photo shoot EVER, except-that-time-we-let-them-jump-off-the-couch-and-be-jedi. I still wonder what all the nice German people there thought when we hauled in there with our American astronaut kids and stood up a small American flag in the middle of the rock pit, but that’s what they get for ruining my daughter’s future career.

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

Finding Storybookland in Space

 

COSTUMES:

-There are so many astronaut costumes out there on the internets! I recommend that you read reviews, when you order, because not all astronaut costumes are created equal. These were high quality, true-to-size, and have provided three years of dress up fun and are still going strong. We added black rain boots to complete the look. No gloves or helmets for us… but they are definitely out there!

LOCATION:

-For us, a rock quarry was our dream location. But any desert area or salt plains would be wonderful as well.

PROCESSING:

-The rock quarry was basically a big pit, surrounded by trees, grass, etc. In photos where those landscape features were present, we skimmed them away in photoshop and added a composite image Zach created out of several space scenes. In some shots, we used Photoshop to add a lens flare as well, to complement the backlight we were getting from the sun in real life.

The one where we tried to do one of those clever jumping pictures.

Family Photo Day

People frequently ask how we get our children to look at the camera and smile all the time. So I would like to go on the record and be completely honest and lay out the Facts of Family Photo Day:

Fact #1: I always look forward to family picture day. I get a vision in my mind and run with it. The clothes, the location… everything will be perfect. Planning is everything, and I plan it out for weeks, even down to the snacks and drinks I will bring, because I am Woman, and you’re gonna hear me roar.

Fact #2: It’s almost cute how delusional I can be.

(Fact #2 is technically Opinion #1, but let’s stay on track here)

Fact #3: The same toddler who can sit for an hour in complete silence while he sharpies the walls and your favorite leather chair can display an impressive range of movement when you want him to sit still for photos with yourselves and the rest of his siblings. Even when you are shoving gummy bears in his mouth and calling out both promises of treats and threats of regret.

Fact #4: Newton’s rarely cited Fourth Law of Motion states that it is mathematically impossible to get three or more children to look at the same camera and smile at precisely the same moment, even when you count to three and say, “cheese.” (Fortunately, later scientists developed Photoshop, particularly that lovely photo merge tool, so NO ONE HAS TO KNOW, if you manage to get at least one good shot of each person.)

Fact #5: Zach and I sometimes race for the wine bottle as soon as we get home, we often put off uploading the pictures to the computer for a week or more, and it sometimes takes months for us to agonizingly sort through the really awful pictures to get that one “kinda okay” one.

Fact #6: We delete A LOT of pictures. Hundreds. Literally, hundreds from EVERY PHOTO SHOOT. Feel better now?

Fact #7: The photos are never actually that bad. Especially when we look back a year or more later, nobody ever regrets the pictures we took; only the ones we didn’t take. So brave on with the family photos, dear warriors! The days are long, but the years are short, and we’ll never have the same level of cute and fun with these particular tiny people again.

In the meantime, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve selected a few of the “so bad they’re almost funny” shots from our last set of family photos. Have a laugh at my expense, and maybe some of these outtakes will seem familiar:

 

The one where we tried to do one of those clever jumping pictures.

The one where we tried to do one of those clever jumping pictures.

 

The one where we told the kids to all say something, and it wasn't "cheese."

The one where we told the kids to all say something, and it wasn’t “cheese.” Also, the little one won’t keep his hat on. You may notice that we sometimes have hat issues.

 

The one where there are two different parties going on, and I am attending the wrong one, probably related to hats.

The one where there are two different parties going on. I am attending the wrong party.

 

No one was even ready for this, and I can’t blame it on a hat.

 

The blink one and hat re-distribution one

The blink one and hat re-distribution one

 

The one where the kids have gummy bears in their mouths and can’t smile yet, but Mom and Dad didn’t get the memo.

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

I love strong, powerful women. My mother is one. I try to be one. I want my daughter to be one.

I love the story of Joan of Arc. It’s not a fairy tale, it has absolutely nothing to do with outward beauty, and it has a horribly tragic ending… soooo not much like our other photo shoots. Here Joan was, a young peasant girl, raised in a time when France was on the losing end of the Hundred Years War with England. She went to the men leading the worthless French end of the operation, including Prince Charles, and told them of her visions and that they would triumph. Being more valiant than the men she addressed, Joan of Arc ended up leading them into battle in a time when women never did such things. The fact is, Joan never personally killed anyone and never even carried a sword (an artistic license I have taken in my photos, because we bought one as a Christmas present for my daughter); only a banner and a pennant, but she, a sixteen-year-old girl, led and advised a group of good commanders into several military victories and eventual triumph. After seeing many of her dreams come true with military victory and the crowning of Charles VII as king at Reims, she was captured, abandoned by her own people, and handed over to the English, who tried her as a witch. She remained strong, she never relented or recanted regardless of all the accusations against her (the worst of which seems to have been cross-dressing, because she wore mens’ clothing and armor into battle), and she was finally burned at the stake as a martyr.

Not all stories have a happy ending. But brave people who live out the calling of God will live forever with him. I want my children to know what weakness looks like and what strength looks like (hint: outward appearances have nothing to do with it) and to make the choice to be determined and fulfill their purpose on this earth.

Whew! So much serious! The point here is that it’s not all about sewing costumes to get pictures for the pure aesthetic pleasure of it. Some of this we do to teach history, and character, and incite the imaginations of our children to be strong for their own day in battle, wherever and whenever that may be. When we first came up with the idea for Joan of Arc, I wanted to do something that wouldn’t look glossy or really even pretty, but gritty and determined. While the kids enjoyed themselves immensely, there wasn’t a great deal of laughing or smiling. More just tiny little minds trying to grasp war and valor (but also super excited about holding REAL SWORDS.).

So, for your perusal, Joan of Arc:

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc
Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc
Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc
Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Joan of Arc

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book
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Alphabet Book, Part 3

There’s not very much that stays consistent between our three children. Personalities, size, parenting styles… I can try and make it sound pretty, but we definitely have a little Third Child Syndrome going on. When our first child graduated to a toddler bed, Zach made her this gorgeous, custom princess bed; middle child got a nice, but second-hand, wooden sleigh bed; the third child basically stayed in a crib until he was big enough for a twin-size bed. I may or may not have more, and better examples, but I don’t want to embarrass myself too much. Let’s not even get into how our media habits have changed, but Mr. Rogers on Amazon Prime is my best friend. Anyway, I am totally paranoid about this Fact of Life, so I have made a conscious effort to keep things as consistent as possible between the children, with varying success.

So to my point: when our oldest was around two, we made her an alphabet book. I spent weeks making a list of items to match each letter (Because you can do that as a mom of one, and you’re always like, “I am SO BUSY.”). It took three or four photo shooting sessions and included multiple wardrobe changes. We even invited her friends along. It was marvelous (ly stressful) but the result was so good, that when Baby #2 came waltzing in, we naively said to ourselves, “We must do this with all our children when they turn two!” When our second child turned two, we had just moved overseas and I was nine months pregnant with #3 and hardly able to bend over, BUT, being a chronic over-achieving A-type personality, I set up a backdrop in our covered patio and just resolved to shoot 4-5 pictures a day until they were complete. That post is here.

Then came our little baby Game Changer. This fella transformed my Whole. World. Have you ever watched Looney Toons? You know that little guy who whirls and spins and wreaks havoc? Imagine Taz multiplied by about four. He has the best facial expressions, so I always forgive him, but the boy can clear our bookshelves, toy shelves, tupperware shelves, and any other shelves we have laying around in thirty seconds, flat. When he was a week old, I got really sweet newborn photos of Game Changer, and in one last fit of Super Mom I even made a baby photo album…. and then… just… it was too much. I never even did a cake smash for his first birthday (is it too late to do that when he turns three?).

In the last three years, I embraced imperfection, learned to laugh at myself and my dirty floors, and found some amazing moms to commiserate with. And his cute facial expressions and hugs sure have brightened my life.

But DANG IT, I wanted that alphabet book. I wasn’t going to let him be the only child without one.

Game Changer turned two nearly a year ago. Tick-tock-tick-tock.

“I wish I had the energy…” Tick-tock-tick-tock.

Months passed.

My brother flew out to help me recently. His visit coincided with a visit from my mother-in-law, and between the two of them, we chipped away at my to-do list, until I began to feel so energetic and accomplished that it was feasible (This is the part where I tell you how jealous I am of anyone who lives close to a wonderful family circle and gets this treatment all the time). Anyway, it happened. I made a list of alphabet items. I collected all the stuff, and we shot 24 letters in ONE morning (saving D for Daddy and M for Mommy for later when my husband was home to trade off). Are all the shots perfect? No. There are at least two where the focus is just THISMUCH off. Did I Photoshop my mistakes and put in fancy fonts? Nope. Do I have any secrets? YES. In no particular order:

-N is for Nutella. I just took the lid off and gave the kid a spoon. Because Third Child Syndrome.

-E is for Eggs. Yes, I let him crack them against one another. Because Third Child Syndrome.

-C is for Chocolate. Or Cookie. Because…

-I is for Ice Cream (Sandwich)…

Notice a pattern? Food? Yep, I inserted an edible about every third photo. By the end, we were kinda stretching his patience and he was riding the Candy Land Roller Coaster, but we made it. And he was sugared up for the rest of the week. But I got my book. THE END.

(Sorry if this story is anticlimactic. I just realized Game Changer has been silent for over half an hour, and that never, ever, ever means he’s helping clean the kitchen)

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Alphabet Book

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot
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Star Wars PLUS Jedi Robe Tutorial

But FIRST: I am on Instagram now @findingstorybookland! Follow me! Let me follow you! Shoot me all your suggestions. In return I promise to show you exactly what goes on behind the scenes and post as many real-life moments as possible, shy of body excretion photos, because nobody needs to see that.

Back to your regularly scheduled broadcast:

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, we finally did something perfect with our kids: we made them Star Wars costumes and dressed them up for fun. Then we let them play with lightsabers and nerf guns, pose in the living room, jump off the furniture, swing at “planets” suspended from a fishing pole, and “use the force.” Best time ever. They ask to take more Star Wars photos at least once a week.

Earlier this spring, Zach decided we should show A New Hope to our impressionable young brood. I thought the whole thing was way over their heads and they surely wouldn’t enjoy it. Turns out I was pretty much correct on the first count– and I am still fielding dozens of questions thanks to George Lucas being the king of plot holes– but couldn’t have been more wrong on the second. All previous allegiances to Disney movies like Planes and Frozen were abandoned that fateful day, and we have been lucky enough to live with three tiny but legit Jedi ever since, which is what led us to figure out a way to do a photo shoot worthy of the Rebel Alliance.

Which leads me to my next point: after months of good intentions, I finally broke down and made another video tutorial on Youtube: this time to show a really awesome and simple way to make your very own JEDI ROBE! Check it out below or on my Youtube channel. But first, check out the photos of this amazingly fun shoot, followed by my favorite tips and tricks for re-creating it.

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Star Wars photo shoot

 

And HERE is the tutorial!

Here are a few favorite tips and tricks:

COSTUMES:

  • Luke: I began with a simple base of khaki pants and a white shirt (if you are able to acquire a martial arts tunic, you get bonus points). Over this I added tall black riding boots/rain boots and a long strip of brown fabric for a belt. I topped the look with the jedi robe I made. While my son has one of the noisy, pop out light sabers, I purchased a set of three that were smaller and more easily wieldable for the children and looked better for the photo shoot.
  • Leia: I made a simple cotton dress and belt. For her hair, I bought donut shaped sponge hair accessories, and used them on pigtails to give her buns with a lot of volume.
  • Han: I put a white shirt and khaki pants on the little guy. Over this, I put a black zippered vest and boots. We let him wrangle a nerf gun and make hilarious faces.

“LOCATION”:

I like doing location shoots, but this time we set up shop in the living room. I used a large black backdrop and set up studio lights on only one side of the room to create the deep shadows I wanted.

FAVORITE PHOTO IDEAS:

  • We began with solemn still shots holding light sabers and laser guns, etc.
  • We let our Luke “use the force.” Zach tied a ball and an x-wing to the end of a fishing rod and let “Luke” pretend to combat/raise them using the force.
  • We got some fun action shots when we let the children jump off of low chairs and captured their airborne poses. We allowed them to make silly faces and do some wild jumping, also.
  • We did group shots. It’s hard to do this with three children, and virtually impossible to get them all making the facial expressions you want at once, but these definitely captured the essence of each personality well.
Finding Storybookland Robin Hood
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Robin Hood and Little John in Sherwood Forest

One of the very first photo shoots we ever did with the kids (and one of the most popular by far on Pinterest) was Robin Hood and Maid Marian in March of 2012:

Fanciful Robin Hood Children's Photo Shoot

A lot has happened since then (for one thing, my now-almost-five-year-old can shoot a bow and arrow with the best of them), and while we sometimes talk about how we would re-do some of the themes we have shot in the past, I’d never actually planned to re-visit old territory. UNTIL…. Sherwood Forest.

Probably the coolest thing about this blog is the people I “meet” through comments or private messages, and last year I received a really cool one from the Department of Tourism in Nottinghamshire, England, telling me that they had seen the photos of Caleb and asking if those had been taken in the REAL Sherwood Forest. They had not been, of course, but the wheels in my head began turning immediately. I mean, we DO live on the same continent, and I have always wanted to travel to England. By the time a couple of days had passed, getting to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest was on the verge of being a magical, Neverland-like, almost-creepy obsession, and Zach and I spent the next nine months trying to figure out how to make the pilgrimage. Finally, thanks to an amazing deal on Ryanair flights (sorry to be all anticlimactic, internet, but it really does boil down to how to affordably haul five people around sometimes), we made a long weekend getaway on July 4th, which is apparently not a holiday anywhere else in Europe. Strange.

It WAS magical. However, if you are picturing the Disney cartoon right now, you have it all wrong. We did not meet any talking animals, not even in Sherwood Forest. But Nottingham is a really wonderful, clean, friendly city with so much to see. Everyone we met in the department of tourism was beyond helpful. They made wonderful recommendations on places to visit, things to see, restaurants to enjoy, and they let the kids try on costumes and take photos with their tourism magazine (which featured a certain someone we know!). They were wonderful, and I highly recommend that entire area of England for a visit, should you ever have the chance.

Experience Notts Robin Hood in Nottinghamshire

And that’s how we came to re-shoot Robin Hood, this time with Little John as his compatriot, in the real, actual Sherwood Forest. The old costume was long outgrown, so I sewed some new pieces and re-purposed a few from our William Tell photo shoot last winter. The gift shops in Nottingham had lots of fabulous wooden swords and bows and arrows (and Robin Hood hats!) at crazy-reasonable prices, so we loaded ourselves up (a little too well, actually, since airport security decided to mitigate the risk we posed our fellow passengers by relieving us of two wooden swords and a bow and arrow on our flight back.

So here’s our new and improved Robin Hood: older, grittier, and a better shot than last time you saw him:

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood themed photo shoot

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood

Finding Storybookland Robin Hood