July 2012

Embrace the grid

Snap Me Happy is a series featuring tips on how to take great photographs with an iPhone.

So tell me – did anybody do their Snap Me Happy homework from my last post? (Grace, I’m looking at you!)

In this second part of my Snap Me Happy series, I want to talk about – The Grid. (Sounds a bit like a Hollywood action movie.)

If the grid on your iPhone is turned off, turn it back on now. Seriously, the grid can revolutionise your photos. Don’t just use it – embrace it! That’s right, give your phone a mini hug right now. Now try doing that and taking a photo of yourself at the same time. Just kidding.

If you surveyed a small group of people, chances are they all use the grid in different ways and for different purposes.

Here is my number one reason for embracing the grid: to create lines in my photographs that are either parallel to the bottom of the photo or the side of the photo (or both).

What on earth are you going on about Ronnie?

Hear me out.

Take a look inside a home interiors magazine. Have you ever noticed that the ceiling or the floor usually runs horizontally across the page (rather than being sloped)? Or that vertical floor lamps and pillars usually stand up straight (rather than at an angle)?

There’s a reason for this: It looks good.

There’s another reason for this: It looks GOOD.

So good in fact that I suspect our brain takes those horizontal and vertical lines for granted when we look at professional photos like the ones in magazines, but strangely enough, I don’t think it’s how we instinctively take photographs ourselves.

This is where the grid helps. When taking photos…

Try to align the things that should be vertical in your photo to the vertical lines of the grid (e.g. the side of a door frame, the legs of a table, the side of the couch, the candleholders on the table). In the photo below, the sides of the chalkboard decal are vertical, ie. they are parallel to the sides of the photo.

Similarly, try to align the things that should be horizontal in your photo to the horizontal lines of the grid (e.g. the horizon, the edge of the table, the skirting board). In the photo below, the line where the splash back meets the bench top is horizontal, ie. it is parallel to the top and bottom of the photo.

An even trickier thing to do is to try and get perpendicular lines in your photo that are in turn parallel to the side and bottom of the photo respectively. In the photo below, the sides of the frame are (more or less) parallel to the sides of the photo and perpendicular to each other.

The key to all this is to hold your camera/phone straight – on both planes. By that I mean: it shouldn’t be rotated to the left or to the right, and it shouldn’t be pointing slightly up or slightly down.

[click to continue…]

You know what the best time of the day is for our family? It’s in the afternoon, somewhere around four o’clock. I love everything about that time of the day. The light is golden. Angus is home from preschool, and Rick is almost always around. The boys are usually in a good mood. There is nothing to stress about, because we don’t have to be anywhere or do anything; we’re simply spending time together before nighttime begins (along with the whole dinner/bath/bedtime ordeal). We’re usually all in the mood for afternoon tea, so I try to prepare (somewhat healthy) snacks for everyone. In fact, I love doing afternoon tea because it’s easy. It’s relaxed. It doesn’t involve cooking. It can be as simple as I want it to be. Or it can be fancy, if I feel like being creative. And the look on everybody’s faces – along with the little shouts of delight – when they see the tray of food and drink that I’ve prepared is just utterly precious. It’s one of those rare moments of the day when I actually feel like a great mum. (Silly, I know.)

And so begins our golden hour story: a series of posts featuring the food and moments from our golden hour. I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into our every day life.

I prepared this particular ‘bento’ over the weekend, on our day off, while the boys and Rick were all enjoying their naps. Our pantry was rather empty, so I decided to just bring out some Fruity Bites and Cheerios from our cereal selection. I also grabbed the leftover fruit buns from earlier in the day, and hid them in the metal teapot as a little surprise. Our boys also love their fruit so bananas and oranges were added to the mix. Sadly, we’d run out of milk but we still had a carton of So Good left so as an extra treat, I decanted the remaining soy milk into the little glass bottles from Jamie’s birthday. I was slightly hesitant about the possibility of breakage but then I remembered how careful they’d all been – including Jamie – so I decided to risk it. Turns out, there was nothing to worry about at all – they all held their bottles perfectly and they absolutely loved the novelty of it! I’m guessing I’ll be using those glass bottles a lot more from here on.

p.s. Part 2 of the Snap Me Happy series will go live tomorrow! (Finally.)

It was a simple but lovely weekend that we just had. On our day off, we drove to Kirribilli where we ate fruit buns and ran around on a gorgeous flat piece of green lawn right under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We played What’s The Time Mr Wolf with Angus and Pete while little Jamie wandered about and laughed along. Seriously, it’s so awesome that all three of them can walk now! Before leaving, I spotted these gorgeous succulents at the local florist. They were so pretty (just look at those pink ones!), I started wondering whether I might be capable of starting a small garden and maybe, just maybe, keeping some plants alive? Any thoughts, you guys?

My gardening ability aside, Rick and I celebrated eight years of marriage last week and on Friday night, his mum came over to babysit so that we could escape for a dinner date. Being creatures of habit, we stuck to the familiar: delicious Thai in a gorgeous restaurant called Basil & Mint in Neutral Bay. Being able to sit down to a dinner like that together was exactly what we needed to celebrate our anniversary. We followed that up with a round of tiramisu and affogato at the 24 hour Maisy’s Cafe, which rounded off the evening perfectly.

Truly I am blessed to have spent a quarter of my life with Rick.

My best friend. My lover. My husband.

A man who loves selflessly and gives sacrificially.

Thank you darling, from the bottom of my heart, for all that you do for us and our family.

Here’s hoping we get to spend another sixty-two years together.

(Linking up with Amanda and Lou.)

It is morning. We are at home in the play room.

Angus: “Look at Jamie! Jamie’s playing with Pete because he thinks Pete is a toy because Pete is lying still!”

* * *

It is morning again. And I am feeling grumpy.

Angus: “Mummy, I love you! Mummy, I’m telling you I love you to make you happier!”

* * *

We are in the car. Angus is giving Rick a lesson on botany.

Angus: “Daddy, plants grow into plants, grass grows into grass, trees grow into trees.”
Rick: “Small plants grow into big plants…”
Angus: “Nonononono, daddy. Small plants grow into medium plants…”

* * *

We are at home, and hanging out. Jamie spills some milk on the floor. Angus wipes it up. Jamie does it again.

Angus: “Not again, Jamie.”

Jamie does it again and laughs.

Angus: “Not funny, Jamie.”

* * *

While getting into the car one day:

Angus: “I will give Cameron a hug when I get into heaven.”

* * *

We are in the bathroom, and I am once again reminding Angus about the importance of hygiene.

Me: “You have to make sure you clean your hands properly.”
Angus: “Otherwise I might get a boil.”

* * *

It is afternoon, and the boys and I are hanging out on the stairs (don’t ask me why). Out of nowhere…

Angus: “I have three brothers: Pete, Jamie and Cameron.”
Me: “That’s right, you do.”
Angus: “And you guys have four sons.”
Me: “Yes, we do darling.”
Angus: “But Cameron’s in heaven.”
Me: “Yes….”

* * *

It is dinnertime. I am warning Jamie about the dangers of not eating his dinner. Pete is listening in.

Me: “Jamie, if you don’t eat your food you’re going to the naughty cot.”
Pete: “One, two….. three… cot!”

(Yes, Pete finally makes his debut…)

* * *

And one morning, two weeks ago…

Angus: “Mummy, maybe when I’m thirty two you can buy me a woman!”

You can read more of our conversations here.

I’m so excited to finally be writing this post about what you actually need to get started with Project Life. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, especially as quite a few of you have told me that you’re considering jumping on the Project Life bandwagon yourself (which I think is just awesome). In the spirit of being efficient, I’ll cover my Week 24 spread at the same time. Remember that you can click on each photo for a larger image.

Materials you’ll need

In a nutshell, here are the bare bones that you will need to start Project Life:

a) A 12 inch x 12 inch binder. I like this one from American Craft.

b) Design A page protectors. I know there are lots of other designs you can consider, but in my opinion, Design A is by far the best and once you get into the swing of using it, doing your spreads each week will get easier and easier.

c) These plain 3×4 journaling cards by Becky Higgins. Alternatively, you can purchase some digital journalling cards from Paislee Press (I just love Liz Tamanara’s minimalist designs) and print them out on your computer.

d) A camera (or camera phone) to take photos with.

e) A notebook or computer to record your journaling notes.

Photo printing

In terms of photos, you can obviously get yours processed by a vendor or print your own. This is a matter of personal preference. I find with three kids that it’s almost impossible to get out of the house to get photos regularly printed. So I opted three years ago to purchase the Canon Pixma MP630 so that I can print photos at home. I can’t express enough how much I love the convenience of having my own printer. It means I can print photos as I go when I’m working on my scrapbooks, rather than having to wait and do them in batches. I love the flexiblity of being able to print single 6×4 photos, or 18 miniature photos on an A4 piece of photo paper, or anything in between. It also means I can easily print title pages or dividers or anything else I fancy when it comes to memory keeping.

In terms of printing quality, I’ve been very impressed with the Pixma. It produces professional quality photos when you use the right photo paper. For 6×4 photos, I like Kodak’s 250gsm premium photo paper which sells for approximately AUD$20 for a packet of 100. You could probably get it for cheaper if you bought in bulk.

Time commitment

Apart from the basic materials and the ability to print photos, the other thing you’ll need is time. Realistically speaking, the first Project Life spread that you do will probably take anything up to five hours. The reason for this is because it can be quite daunting as you try to work out what photos you want to include, how you want to include your journalling and how you want to lay out the whole page. The important thing is to take your time with your first spread and to not let it put you off the project. I can almost guarantee that you will become quicker at it, and with each week that you do, the task becomes less daunting and more enjoyable.

On an ongoing basis, I would recommend setting aside at least two hours every week. Decide on a time that works for you (e.g. in the evening after the kids are in bed) and commit to using that time every week to work on Project Life.

For me, I spend about 30 minutes sorting through my photos from the previous week on Sunday and then Monday evenings are spent working on Project Life. If I’m focused and not distracted by reading blogs or watching television, the entire process takes me about an hour. This includes selecting and processing photos, adding text and other graphic elements as necessary, making the photos print-ready, printing them out, trimming the 3×4 photos, deciding on the page layout and of course slipping everything into their relevant pockets.

[click to continue…]

I’m back with my second instalment of The Happy Closet today.

Like I said, I was quite overwhelmed by the big response to my last post about this.

Clearly, this is something that resonates with a lot of you.

So let’s start at the beginning by identifying what I think are the basic principles of ‘the happy closet.’

1) The happy closet is not a perfect closet by magazine standards.

2) The happy closet looks different for everybody. My happy closet will be very different to what yours would look like.

3) A beautiful item is one that’s been worn over and over again. It could be an old t-shirt, a faded pair of jeans, a second hand dress or a fake fur coat. Brand, material and age are all irrelevant. It’s all to do with how much YOU love the item, which should be reflected in how much you wear it. The Happy Closet is made up of items that are loved and worn.

4) You should know 100% of what’s in your happy closet. In other words, there should be no ‘black holes’ in the happy closet.

5) Whilst there is no limit on the size of the happy closet, it should be more of a minimalist closet than an excessive one.

6) The happy closet is an organised closet.

7) All items in the happy closet should be easily accessible.

8) The happy closet changes as you move through different stages of life.

9) The happy closet is one that you’re content with.

10) If you have a happy closet, you should feel no inclinication to purchase anything new, including thrifted items (at least not until a big life change).

* * *

So over to you guys….

a) What do you think of the list? Too extreme? Anything you would change or add?
b) Are there any ‘black holes’ in your closet?
c) What are some of the clothes that you actually love to wear?

You can read all The Happy Closet posts here.

Cabbage flowers

Wow, this has been the longest I’ve been away from the blog for some time now. Thanks for all your sweet messages and well wishes. Rick is doing really well, and all three boys seem to have bounced back to their usual selves. Unfortunately, it’s been a slower recovery than I anticipated for myself. It’s made me realise how important my health is, and how I seriously need to start taking better care of myself. No more slacking off with exercise. No more late nights. No more excuses.

I bought these beautiful flowers over the weekend in an attempt to bring back a bit of colour into my life. Angus and Pete were with me when I chose them, and they both took turns carrying them for me afterwards as we walked to the car. It was so sweet. They’re called cabbage flowers, and I reckon they’re the most gorgeous flowers I’ve seen in a while. You can surely expect to see a bit more of them around here this week.

I hope you are all well and staying away from the flu! Looking forward to posting regularly again and catching up on all your wonderful blogs.

More flora here.

(Linking up with Jess.)

As of this moment…

…we are battling The Flu in our family. It struck our household last week and meant that Rick and I couldn’t even go out for the date that we’d planned on my birthday last Thursday. Thankfully, the worst is behind us in that we’re both on our feet again (literally) though I suspect it will be a whole week before all five of us are back to our normal selves. I’m not quite sure how we would’ve pulled through these last five days if it weren’t for our amazing parents. Rick’s parents even stayed over two nights in a row so that they could help look after the boys during the night. Do I have the best in-laws or what?

Anyway, a huge thank you to everyone for your lovely birthday wishes – it’s so lovely to have such awesome bloggy friends! I’m also overwhelmed by the huge response to The Happy Closet – who knows, maybe we can start a movement together?

When I first started high school, I began keeping a handwritten journal. It was one of those ‘dear diary’ ones, and it was filled with all my emotional angst from those early years of being a teenager. That lasted about a year. In my early twenties, I started journalling again. This time on my computer. Day in, day out, I logged my daily activities as well as bits and pieces of conversations with friends. It read a bit like a news report, except that it was not all that interesting a read. When Cameron died five years ago, I took to journalling by hand again. Every day, as I sat by our bedroom window, forlorn, empty, heart-broken and grief-stricken, I would pour my heart out into a beautiful green leather notebook. Writing in that notebook kept me sane and allowed me to get through each day. A lot of that writing I put online onto Cameron’s website, for family and friends to read.

Last year, on my thirty-first birthday, I decided to start a journal again. But I wanted to do something different this time. I wanted it to be more about images rather than words. And I wanted it to be something that was just for me, as opposed to something for the family or the children. A personal, visual journal of sorts.

The first thing I did was to find a notebook that would suit the purpose. I wanted something that was about A5 in size (ie. smaller than all the children’s scrapbooks), that used recycled paper, that had a leather cover and that was hand-bound. I didn’t want something that was sold to the mass market, so I turned to Etsy for my online search. The result was this beautiful white journal from the shop badgerandchirp. The best part was that I could specify the exact size I wanted as well as the number of pages to go into the notebook. Perfect.

In the beginning, I filled a couple of pages with words despite the visual direction that I wanted to take. I wrote about my birthday, and I wrote down all the negative emotions I was feeling one particular day. It was helpful for me to see at a glance everything that I was struggling with, because all of a sudden, life didn’t seem too big or too overwhelming once it was down on paper.

But thereafter, I began filling the pages with photos like I intended. To keep a somewhat consistent style, I only selected photos that had been processed with my CrossProcess iPhone app. Whereas my criteria for the boys’ scrapbooks were to choose photos that depicted a special moment for the child, my photo-selection method for this personal journal was to only choose my favourite photos throughout the year. This was a much narrower criteria and the reason for it was because I wanted the journal to be a personal memoir of my favourite moments. I didn’t need it to be comprehensive like the boys’ scrapbooks. The purpose was not to record everything, but to highlight and pay tribute to the events or the moments in time that were especially meaningful to me.

I think this is one of the most useful things to do when it comes to journalling or memory-keeping: work out what you want the particular scrapbook, journal or photo album to achieve (in other words, what is its purpose?) and then lay down a set of criteria (or boundaries) which you then use to create the content. For me, this is the key to starting, maintaining and finishing something.

Again, I chose to keep the content and aesthetic as simple as possible. Here’s an overview of my process:

  • I selected the photos I wanted in Aperture and printed them 8 to an A4 page.
  • I used a black felt tip pen for writing and no embellishments at all.
  • For each page, I chose either a single standalone photo or a small ‘set’ of photos that went together.
  • I started each new photo (or new set of photos) on the right hand page.
  • I always wrote down the corresponding date, because I know the future me would want to be able to see immediately when the photos were taken.
  • I gave each photo or set of photos a simple title – just enough to ‘complete’ the photo or photos.
  • For single photos, I centred it on the page. The title would then go above it, and the date below it.
  • For each set of four photos, I used a simple 2×2 layout. Again, the title would go above, and the date below.
  • Where a set contained three photos, I would adopt the same 2×2 layout, except leave one of the photo spaces empty. I would then centre the title in that empty space. The date would then go below the photos. (See last photo above.)
  • If there were potentially two photos to go onto a page, I would only choose one because I feel that a single photo is much more effective than two.
  • Where there were more than four photos, I would use a combination of the above layouts, except the title would go above the photo(s) on the first page, and the date would go below the photo(s) on the last page. (See photos below.)

I think that this is the sort of visual journal that anybody could undertake. You can start whenever you want. You can update it as frequently as you want (I did half a year’s worth in one go). You can adopt an even narrower criteria than I have and therefore include even less photos than me. You can add embellishments if you wish. You can easily add more text.

Do you keep a personal journal of sorts (or done so in the past)?

The Happy Closet

I turn thirty-two today and I’m proud to say that I finally have a happy closet. And by that I mean, a closet that’s not bursting at the seams and that’s filled with clothes that I actually like to wear.

My closet has been such a happy one that I haven’t bought anything since November last year. That’s almost coming up to eight months, and so far I’ve still got no inkling to buy anything new – online or offline. In fact, when Rick asked me if I wanted anything for my birthday just earlier this week, I couldn’t think of a single thing.

I mentioned in this post how I recently learnt that the fewer clothes I own, the happier I am, and that the beauty of a piece of clothing has everything to do with how much it’s worn and loved. I truly believe this, and I think that this is the secret to having a happy closet.

Prior to the end of last year, for as long as I can remember, my wardrobe had always been filled with clothes I never wore. This got me down for several reasons:

  • I always felt like I had ‘nothing’ to wear, even though I had no shortage of clothes.
  • I never felt like I had ‘the right clothes.’
  • I therefore always felt like I had to buy more clothes to fill the (perceived) void.
  • I felt like a hoarder.
  • I felt like a waster.
  • I always felt like there was never enough space in my closet.
  • Every time I was out at the shops, I would eye other women and covet their outfits. Not a nice feeling at all.

For the most part, clothes seem to be just clothes to men. I know that this is definitely the case with Rick. He’s perfectly happy to chuck out high school jerseys and favourite shirts when they get ripped, while I’m the one left all teary because that was the shirt he wore on our dates before we got married.

And therein lies the heart of the problem. For most of us women, our wardrobe represents more than just our clothes. Our wardrobe forms part of our identity. Our wardrobe has emotion attached to it. Our wardrobe holds remnants of our past life; perhaps a past life we’re unable to let go of. Our wardrobe represents in part the person we were, and the person we aspire to be.

Sometime last year after giving birth to my fourth baby in three and a half years, it dawned on me that my body was changed forever and decided that it was as good a time as any to makeover – or should I say, make under – my wardrobe.

The process didn’t exactly happen overnight and I will be the first to admit that it was both time-consuming and mentally exhausting. But the result is that I’m now at a place where I’m finally happy with my closet. I have no longings for anything new. I love what I wear every day. My closet is, for the most part, devoid of anything I don’t actually wear. And most importantly, I am content.

If you’re similarly interested in turning your closet into a happy one, I’ll be sharing some of the things I learnt in the process, and the numerous roadblocks that I encountered, over a series of posts. It’s nothing ground-breaking, and you probably already know a lot of it. But in an era where we’re constantly told we need to buy new things every day, I thought it would be helpful to gather all my thoughts on this topic in the one place for anyone who might be interested in making under their wardrobe and learning to be content with what they have.

As for tomorrow – another scrapbook shall be revealed!

You can read all of The Happy Closet posts here.

(And yes, tis the season of the chunky scarf here in Sydney. If only it were flu-proof.)