Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to take firework photos

One of my all time favorite days to photograph is the 4th of July. Parades, BBQs and of course fireworks. I love to photograph fireworks.

Photographing fireworks can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. You will need a tripod, or some way to stabilize your camera to get good firework shots. Most cameras, even point and shoots, have a fireworks scene mode. Go your scenes on your camera, and find the firework icon. This will automatically set you camera at a slow shutter speed without a flash, ready to capture the fireworks. You will need to change your camera off this setting before photographing anything else.

If you want to set your camera settings all yourself, first turn off your on camera flash. I always shoot with the lowest ISO possible, so turn off your auto setting here. If you put it on auto, it will probably select a higher ISO to compensate for the dark night and it doesn't need to, fireworks are bright. If you have no idea what ISO is, just skip this, it is just detail work. The thing you want to focus on the most is shutter speed, you want a slow shutter speed. This is where it is necessary to have your tripod. Not matter how still you think you can hold your arms, they still shake. On a long shutter speed your camera is going to pick up on those small motions and your picture will be blurry. I have braced my camera on my knees while sitting down and it works OK, but a tripod really is best. You want your shutter speed to be about a couple of seconds. This is long enough to capture the full explosion of the firework.

Choose your backdrop. What do you want in your photograph? I love the look of having tree or building silhouettes in firework photos, like in the photo above. I usually set my camera in manual focus and then focus on the buildings and trees.
The first fireworks make the best photos. For starters, there isn't as much smoke in the sky and there is only a few going at a time. It seems like the grand finale would make the best photos, but not so, you usually end up with really bright spots in the finale, like the photo below, because there are so many fireworks going at the same time. 
Now go out and capture some beautiful fireworks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WotW: Taking YouTube with you

Hey howdy hey! Hope you're having a wonderful Wednesday! It's summer, so if your family is anything like mine, you're on the go and generally just not on your normal routine. As much as we go-go-go during the summer, I also feel like we spend a lot of time sitting and wait-wait-waiting -- at the airport, in the car, at swimming (or other) lessons, playing at the park, etc.

If you have a smart phone or other mobile device with a full internet plan, or are even just at a place with free wi-fi, of course you can access all the YouTube entertainment you can handle anytime. But what about those places without wi-fi? What do you do THERE when your toddler is screaming to watch the gummy bear song?*

*Thankfully, my toddler doesn't care so much about the gummy bear song. He'd much rather watch Elmo or rock out to classic 80's music. 

*Oh, and I cannot be held responsible for the nervous twitches caused by actually watching the gummy bear song and having it stuck in your head all. day. long.

Enter KeepVid. Just go to, enter the URL of the page with the video on it (YouTube or elsewhere), and click Download:

KeepVid will provide you with a list of download links:

The type of file that you choose to download will depend on what you're doing with the video. I download mp4s to use in iTunes and put on our iPod.

Or, you can just drag the KeepVid bookmarklet to your browser bar and start keeping videos by just clicking the button:

**Depending on your browser settings, you may have to tell your browser to allow KeepVid to do its thing to run (via a little pop-up window asking if you trust it). If that's concerning to you... you can either just not use it or you can pay to download the KeepVid software program. I, personally, have used the KeepVid site a number of times, and Debra has used KeepVid even more than I have -- neither of us have ever had any problems or any reason to not trust KeepVid.

So, download your toddler's favorite videos and save yourself from insanity this summer. Unless your toddler makes you listen to the gummy bear song over and over again, and then at least you've traded one brand of insanity for another. :)


Oh, and I'm not paid to write any of this, as usual. I just like the service and would love to tell you about it. If anyone knows of any awesome services who would love to pay me to tell you all about them, you know where to find me. :)

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tasty Tuesdays- Better than ... cake

We've all heard of it, either because it is delicious or because its name makes your mom blush, but Better Than Sex cake is not some weird or crazy recipe, it is delicious and pretty easy to make.

You will need:
a chocolate cake, you can make it from scratch or go the simple way and use a box. I usually use a box. After you cake is done, make long cuts into it, something like this.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
 1/4-1/2 cup of caramel ice cream topping depending on how much you like your caramel.
whipped topping
crushed candy bars, most people use Butterfingers, I use Heath pieces because my little girl is allergic to peanuts

Mix your sweetened condensed milk and caramel topping together. Pour over your cake and allow time for it to sink in. I gave mine about 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes cover the cake in whipped topping and then top with your crushed candy bars. Resist the temptation to eat the entire pan just because you can.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Free Photo Books- Photo Thursdays

There are lots of free photo books out there to be claimed today! I love photo books, it is how I scrapbook. It makes things so easy and quick. They look beautiful and sleek and are perfect for display. 

Ritz Pix is offering a free 6x6 white linen book with 20 pages until 10 PM eastern tonight. Only pay $1.99 handling if you choose to pick up the book or $3.99 to have it shipped directly to you. 

Walgreens is offering a free 4.5×6 photo book  (brag book sized) until Saturday June 25th when you use the code BRAG at checkout. It will cost $2.99 to have it shipped to you. 

Picaboo is offering buy one get one free classic photo books with the code BGJUNCB until June 30th. 

What should I make with my photo book?
I can't lie, I have made more than 50 photo books in my lifetime. I have made one for each year of our marriage, I made one for my daughter's first year of life, I made one of wedding photos for my parents, my in-laws, my sister and my sister-in-law. I have written story books for my child and one of my favorites was a simple idea that was called "Who Loves Sofie?" featuring pictures of her aunts and uncles on the different pages. This time around, I am making an ABC book, each pages featuring items that start with a different letter. In my experience Grandma's LOVE these books as presents, considering making your mom a brag book full of pictures of her grandchildren. 

Is it worth the shipping price?
Yes! Photo books are a HOT thing right now. To a get a book for only the price of shipping is a GREAT deal!

What are your tips for my book?

  • The photo book should warn you if you have spelled something wrong, or if your image isn't a high enough resolution. If is says your image isn't high enough resolution, trust it and replace it with another image. If you use a image without a high enough resolution it will come or blurry or grainy. 
  • DOUBLE and triple check any spelling. 
  • Give it sometime. When there are free books to be claimed, a lot of the sites run slow. 

If you have any questions, let me know, and have fun creating your photo books!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

WotW: Blogger Mobile Templates

Whether you know it or not, if you blog, you probably have a handful of readers who read your blog on a mobile device: phone (Blackberry, Android, iPhone), iPod, iPad, iWhatever. You can "see" those readers by looking at your audience statistics in Blogger stats:

and you can help accommodate those readers (even if they are few) by using the new Blogger mobile templates.

What is a mobile template? It's just a simplified version of your current Blogger template that makes it easier for mobile users to access the most important part of your blog: the posts.

The Blogger team has created a simplified version of each of the 27 templates in the Template Designer for mobile use, and even if you have modified the template or, (like me) are not using one of those templates at all, you can still use the new mobile templates to help those readers who are reading on a mobile device.

Just enable the mobile template by going to Settings > Email and mobile in your Blogger dashboard. Then in the Mobile section, select Yes for Show mobile template on mobile devices:
your exact screen may look different if your Blogger account hasn't yet been switched to the new look of Blogger*

Now, instead of seeing a shrunken (to fit the screen) version of your full Blogger template, mobile users will see something more like this:
your blog header with individual post titles and thumbnails for each post.

Mobile readers can click on any post title to read the full post and comment. And if a mobile user still wants/needs to see the full template (that includes sidebar layouts and widgets), there's a link to view the web version of the blog at the bottom of the page:

Pretty neat, eh? And yes, I feel like a complete rock star sharing those screenshots from my iPod. Just between us friends: Debra's 2 year old daughter had to teach me how. Kids these days...

*If your account still looks like the "old" Blogger, don't worry! You're not doing anything wrong or being left behind. The Blogger team is gradually switching accounts to the new Blogger interface, so you'll be seeing it soon. On a side note... how many of you are already seeing the "new" interface? And what do you think? Questions? I'm learning the ropes and exploring myself...

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tasty Tuesdays- Ice Cream Cone Cake Balls

We have all seen some amazing cake pops and for the longest time I thought they were way beyond my skill level, until I decided to make these. These aren't supposed to be perfect, and so they were a great first attempt.

You will need:
a chocolate cake, crumbled with a container of frosting, you can get more specifics here.
melting chocolates- I found I needed more than I thought I would
ice cream cones
a cookie sheet covered with wax paper

Form the cake into balls, much larger than if you were making cake pops. I found I could get about 15-16 balls out of one cake. Melt the chocolate according to the microwave directions on the package. Roll the balls in the chocolate. This was the hardest part for me, but since you want them to look like drippy ice cream cones they can be a bit messy. Place the covered balls on wax paper until firm. I like to pop them in the fridge because I am impatient.

While the cake balls are firming up, mix up your pudding. I filled about half of the ice cream cones with pudding and left about half of them empty. The pudding will weigh down the cone and make the cake ball stick. You can leave the pudding out on some for those people who don't want so much sweet, but then you will need to dip the top of the cone in melted chocolate and place the ball on top before it dries to get it to stick to the cone.

I used these as a refreshment for a bridal shower, and people loved them! It was an easy and fun project, it makes me want to make them in all different colors.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Camera Lens Pal- Making Kids Smile- A tutorial

One of the hardest things about photography can be making children smile, and/or to getting them to look at the camera, enter the Camera Lens Pal. This wonderful little guy slips over my lens giving the kids something to look and smile at. So far, he has been a big hit and the best part? He cost about $2 and took about 15 minutes to make. Here's how.

You will need:
a stuffed animal (a hand puppet is the easiest one to work with but you can make others work too)
scrunchie in the color of your animal

I bought both items from the dollar store. There was a whole bin of small stuffed animals in the toy section. Look for animals that have hands and feet such as this elephant, this will let your animal surround the camera lens. A animal without limbs, like a dolphin or snake won't have the same effect.
First cut out the center of your animal, leave enough fabric on the top, bottom and around the arms that you can sew it to the scrunchie. About an inch or so of fabric is adequate.
Find a cup about the size of your camera lens, you can use your actual lens if you need to but it is slightly easier with the cup. Stretch your elastic over the cup and then wrap your stuffed animal around the cup until it looks they way you want it and pin. Hand sew the your animal to the elastic, making sure to catch both the front piece of fabric on your animal and the one on the back. Leave the elastic wrapped around the cup while you sew will ensure that your animal looks the way you want it too when it is on your lens.
If you want, you can repeat the process with the feet of your animal. I think a pal would look cute both ways and leaving off the feet with save you a little bit of time. Although, I do think it is completely darling to have the complete animal hanging around your camera.
Add to your camera lens and use to get those kiddos smiling.

I love my elephant, what kind of animal would you use to accessorize your camera?

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Water for Elephants- Book Review

You have probably seen advertisements for the movie Water for Elephants. It has received a lot of hype recently because it stars Robert Pattinson, but before it was a movie it was a book by Sarah Gruen. A book about love, retirement homes, but most of all the circus. 

This book tends to polarize people, they either loved it or they hated it. Which was I? Both, kind of. I loved parts and hated parts. In the beginning you meet Jacob, now an old man living in a retirement home, who is watching the tents of a circus go up across the street. These events lead him to reminiscing about his days on the circus. He goes back to the beginning of his story, finishing up his studies at Cornell Veterinary School, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Just as he starts his final exams, he is told there was a car accident and both of his parents are dead. Because his parents remortgaged their home to pay his tuition and his dad's practice of helping people out during the depression by letting them pay in chickens and produce instead of cash, Jacob is left penniless. In his distress he starts walking the railroad tracks and eventually jumps on a train which turns out to hold the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. 

Jacob eventually becomes the vet for the circus and is introduced to the show's elephant, Rosie, with whom he falls in love. He is also introduced to the volatile and possibly mentally ill head animal trainer, whose wife Marlena he also falls in love with.

Here is what I loved:
I loved the setting, the Great Depression was perfect for this kind of book. I love the circus. I have actually never been to a circus and this book painted those pictures beautifully for me. I love seeing the circus from all different angles, seeing how the performers versus the grunt workers lived. 

Here is what I didn't love: 
I don't know that I could recommend this book to very many people. My mother would be appalled by it and on some pages I was too. There is a LOT of language in this book and there is at least a moderate amount of sex. I couldn't hand this book to any of my friends and not worry about what they would think of me for reading it, so even though I did like this book, I have only recommended it to one person. 

Still, I liked this book. It was a fun, entertaining, easy read, but I didn't love this book because I felt like the excessive profanity and the sex scenes took away from what a beautiful story it could have been.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WotW: Keeping kids safe online

It's summer and school is out... where are your kids? My toddler is doing pretty much the same thing now as when school was in session, only more of it with Daddy now that HE is done with school for the summer. :)

But if your kids are spending more time online now that it's summer, here are some resources and tips to help keep them safe (and these suggestions are good reminders of things to do for ourselves, too!), courtesy of the Google Family Safety Center.

Keep the family computer in a public area of the home and set boundaries for when and where kids can use their own personal internet devices. And then allow yourself to think "back in the day..." about the fact that your child has his or her own personal internet device. 

Set reasonable expectations and restrictions for your child's internet use, in particular social network use. Rather than completely pulling the plug, restricting access and setting expectations for internet use helps kids learn what is safe (and what it not) online, as well as keeping lines of communication open between you.

Talk to your kids about what they are doing online. Their answers will be much more accurate than the latest study, and talking with them allows you to have an open discussion about what behaviors are acceptable online -- and the fact that an online reputation can affect other areas of their lives, too, even when they don't think it will. :)

Support ethical and kind behaviors in all areas of life, virtual and not. Kids who are kind in real life are much less likely to be bullies online. Good choices are good choices, no matter what arena they are made in. Likewise for bad choices...

Help your child set appropriate privacy settings on social networks and help him or her understand what information is okay to share and what is not -- especially when it comes to information like family Social Security numbers, street addresses, financial information, and other personal information.

Use available resources to your advantage, such as Google's safe search, YouTube's safety mode, your browser's history, and internet filtering services.

So, there's your summer internet safety refresher course. Don't forget to also brush up on water safety, outdoor safety, bike safety, travel safety... sheesh, summer is a dangerous place... ;) Happy and safe summer!

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to make people look skinnier in photographs- Photo Thursdays

It is the comment I get most often when I am taking pictures of women. "Make me look skinnier, OK?" Everybody wants to look their thinnest in their photographs and with a few simple tips, and it often seems that the camera does add 10 pounds, but, following a few simple rules can lose those camera pounds and make your subjects look their best.

1. Watch heads. People tend to do one of two things when you are shooting straight on, they either bring their heads up, exposing a lot of neck, or they bring them down too much giving themselves a double chin. Try to level  their heads to look at you straight on.

2. Suggest to your subject that they wear dark clothing. It is true, black is slimming. This is an especially good suggestion to make to brand new moms when you are shooting newborn photos. Their black shirt makes a great back drop to have them hold the baby against and it will make them look and feel thinner. 
3. Shoot from above. Get above your subjects and shoot looking down at them. This is one of the things you have the most control over and is very effective.

4. Twist. Having your subject twist sideways instead of facing the camera straight on will make them look thinner every time.

Using just a couple of these tips, you can make your subjects look their best and give them photographs you'll both love!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WotW: When you travel...

When you head out on vacation this summer (as I am), your neighbors are very useful: putting out the trash on pickup day, watering the plants, feeding the dog. For all of the things that your neighbors can't/won't/shouldn't do, the internet is, of course, a very useful backup:

If you're flying or renting a car, check in and finalize reservations online to save yourself looong lines at the airport.

Put your mail on hold via and have it all delivered to your mailbox when you return.

Schedule payments during your vacation using your bank's online bill payment system.

If you use Netflix and won't be accessing the service during your vacation, put your membership on hold during your time away to extend your paid service.

What else do you delegate at home when traveling?

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Monday, June 6, 2011

10 minute car organizer- Tutorial

Do You remember this car organizer I made? I absolutely love it and I wanted to make more for gifts and to organize other things in my house, but it just took so much time. Place mats were the perfect substitutions. All you need to make the wonderful organizer is a place mat, a elastic head band, your sewing machine and 10 minutes of your time. 

First, you will need to decide what you are going to hold in your organizer, the one picture above is for the car. It has a space for your insurance cards, a pen, tire pressure gauge, paper, scissors and a small flashlight.
You can use almost any kind of place mat, just keep in mind that you will be able to see both sides so you might want one with print on both sides.

Take your place mat and fold it up about a third of the way.
If you want a card pocket, fold down the corner. Sew the corner down first. Do NOT SEW it down to the large section/back of the organizer, just to your front third that you folded up.
Then lay your objects into the fold to see how much room they need. I sewed a seam right besides my folder corner, then I placed my notepad in the center of my place mat and mark how much room I would need on either side of it. After sewing your large pocket for the notepad, I took the left over space on the right side and sewed a seam down the middle to give it too even sized pockets. Those pockets are the right size for a lot of items.
After you are done sewing your pockets, fold up the organizer around the middle panel and mark where your hair elastic needs to go. I used a head band and had to cut a couple inches of length off of it to make it fit snuggly. Go over the hair elastic multiple times to get it secure.
Then throw it in the glove box of your car or your purse, where ever you could use a little bit more organization. I have one in my car, one with my Sunday school stuff and one in my purse. Where would you use one?
Tip Junkie handmade projects

Thursday, June 2, 2011

One way to edit eyes in photoshop- Photo Thursdays

One of the questions I get asked most often, is "How do I edit eyes to make them pop?" Now, I am not a big fan of alien eyes, eyes that are edited so much that all anybody can think about when they see the picture is how long those eyes took in Photoshop. You know what I am talking about, I could pull a million examples from  different friends Facebook pages, but since I want those people to stay  my friends, you are just going to have to use your imagination.

Here is a before and after look at a simple eye edit, to make the eyes stand out. I often use this edit when like in the photo below, the subject wears glasses, as an effort to make their eyes stand out from behind the rims. Obviously the after is on the left and the before is on the right. We starting losing light at the end of this shoot, which is why the image on the right is do dark, I will show you how I lighten images another time, now for the eyes.
Open your photo in Photoshop and zoom in on the eyes.
On your layers pallet, first create a new layer, then select the Soft Light option from the drop down menu. If you need to know how to do either of these things, the image below will show you. Don't touch the opacity yet, but remember that it is there.  
Make sure the boxes I have highlighted below have white and black in them, these are your default colors. You want white in the box on top first, this is opposite of what is shown in the image below. You can switch the colors simply by hitting the little set of arrows next to the boxes. Select the paint brush tool, if you look at the image below, you will see the paint brush tool is selected. 
Set your opacity (this is a different opacity than the one I talked about before, this one is just for the brush you are going to be painting with), shown in the image below to about 30 percent. Then getting really close to the eye, with the white selected with your paint brush, paint over all of the white areas of the eyes. Painting with the white is going to lighten any area of the eye that you touch, sometimes it looks nice to lighten the colored part of the eye too, but it depends on the eye. Don't be afraid to experiment. Then select the black and paint over the pupil. Painting with black will make everything darker. The thing that makes eyes pop is the contrast between the different areas, so you want the whites white and the pupil black.
Sometimes I will turn my color to a bright red and my opacity down to about 9 percent and paint over the tear duct, to make it just a tad pinker. Remember when I said not to touch the opacity on the layer yet? Well if the eyes look a little too alien to you, now is when you want to take that opacity down a little bit. It will take some of the harshness out of the painting. When you are satisfied with your eyes, go to the Layer menu at the top of the screen and selected Flatten Image from the choices. Your image can now be saved as a JPG. 
Now you can make your eyes pop, even alien if it you want, but if you are about to go with alien eyes, just ask yourself, "Will this still look classy in 10 years?"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WotW: Gas prices... yuck!

Summer is here... and summer gas prices are baring their fangs.

Whether you are looking to find the least expensive place to fuel up or just trying to budget for your summer travels, the interwebs can help! (I'm telling you, there are just getting to be fewer and fewer things the interwebs can't help with. Someday, the interwebs will actually drive your car to the gas station and fill it up for you. I hope that day is a long way off, though, because I've seen I, Robot.)

For finding the cheapest fuel in town, try...
With each app, enter your zip code to see the lowest local gas prices. Since each of these apps rely on local reporting, one (or one I haven't even listed) may be more accurate for your area than another. Personally, I don't use any of these apps because driving across town to save 6 cents per gallon and therefore expending more time and fuel just to save the $1 total to fill up my gas tank... just isn't my style. :)

For planning and budgeting your summer trips, try...
AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator calculates the cost based on the average regional price of gas and your travel between major cities.

MapQuest's Trip Calculator is just a nice little tool that does the math for you, but it won't calculate the mileage for you or the price of gas. :)

Go-Gas maps your trip anywhere in the world and tells you the cost of your trip, based on the MPG and local gas price you enter.

Gas Buddy's Trip Calculator is my favorite of the bunch. Enter your starting point and destination and Gas Buddy will give you directions and tell you the least expensive gas stations along the way, plus your total trip cost based on either the EPA estimates for your vehicle or MPG information your provide. And don't forget that gloomy hovering black cloud representing your carbon footprint :)

Happy travels! Where are you headed this summer?

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.