Monday, 6 July 2015

Please Don't Say Cheese: Online Photography Course Review

Last week our ten year old said, "Before I have children I want to learn how to take really good photos so I can take good photos of my children." Whilst she made me giggle she was 'spot on,' taking good photos of your children is important and something I wish I had learnt before I had my children. I also realised anew the power of modelling, as all things photography is what I've been modelling for months now.

Several months ago I embarked upon a new adventure, I began an online photography course with Robyn at Please Don't Say Cheese. I'd long been frustrated with my lack of photography skills and desperately wanted to improve but had no real idea how to 'go about it'. When I heard of the PDSC course I lamented that Robyn was in far away Sydney where she offers workshops to Sydney mums on the Northern Beaches. However after reading Chareen's review I realised an online workshop was a possibility.



Signing up for the course gives you a six month membership for an 8 week workshop, the time flexibility demonstrates an understanding and acceptance of busy mamas. There are other courses available as well, including 'in real life courses,' challenges and a VIP membership.



As a participant of the 8 week workshop you can access: Robyn's blog, video tutorials, images of all members and most exciting of all your course content! It is not necessary to own a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex camera) for the course, I only own a compact 'point and shoot' camera, though thanks to the course I have now learnt how to use my basic camera to a far better capacity than I was.

Covered were basic camera skills, exposure, composition and light, further the course challenged you to think photo potential in a creative manner, stressed the importance to avoid the 'cheese moments' and to tell stories with our photos. Lastly we undertook a lesson on how to edit our photos, in which I discovered I still had much to learn.



There are eight lessons in the course and many lessons have subtopics, some as many as five topics within a lesson. Each lesson is comprised of a teaching section, which is thorough and extremely well explained and an assignment. Robyn makes no assumptions as to your knowledge but explains all in terms that even a complete beginner like myself understood. At the conclusion of each lesson the content is summarised and then you are given your assignment, which you undertake and then select your four best photos to share.

Robyn continually encourages you to refer to the manual of your camera to familiarise yourself with all your camera is capable of. Robyn's mantra is 'practise, practise, practise' and the more I practised the more I saw wisdom in this mantra. Some days I would do a 'photo shoot,' take 200 and then only keep 5.


The assignments were challenging and interesting.  You read your lesson, put your new knowledge to practice, then it was time to be vulnerable and share. Robyn was always encouraging, though challenging to always do my best. Without Robyn's encouragement I would never have taken my camera off its auto setting and discovered manual and aperture priority. Robyn's feedback and practical advice on each submission was extremely helpful not only in regards to skills but in teaching me how to see the world creatively in a way I had never done before. Robyn has helped me analyse my photos, to notice positives and detractions in my photos, to be aware of factors such as background clutter, shadows on faces, catchlights present or not on eyes and iso noise (grainy).

At the conclusion of each lesson you must upload your image before the program allows you to progress to the next lesson. This systematic approach, building blocks of knowledge and skill was indeed wise, though for a girl who sometimes likes to read the last chapter of a book, yikes, it was difficult to follow the rules, blush.

During our lifetime there will be several 'game changer' decisions we make, in all honesty I can say undertaking an online photography course with Please Don't Say Cheese has been a 'game changer' for myself and our family.  The growth that I saw from one of the first photos I submitted


to my last really says it all. 


Robyn has kindly agreed to give my lovely readers a very special offer. 
A FREE trial of her newest version of the 8 week course - Moments That Matter! 
You can explore it for 3 days and if you decide to not go ahead, simply cancel and you will not be charged at all, no questions asked! 
Even better, a payment plan is available that enables you to pay in small increments over 6 months, making it even more affordable. 



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Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, in which I have given my honest opinion, I was offered a free place in the Please Don't Say Cheese online photography course.
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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Kitchen Creativity: Wins & Losses

I've been enjoying a creative time in the kitchen recently, claiming quite a few wins along with a spectacular loss.

Wins
Kale Juice 
I was rather dubious about the look of kale juice, it was so green! A friend reassured me it didn't taste green and it didn't. I love kale juice, it's so refreshing. My usual 'go to' choice for breakfast and it always leaves me energised.

My recipe: Squeeze 3 oranges, 2 kale leafs (strip off stalks) and a pear (optional)
Blend and drink, that simple.

Spinach Quiche
Spinach quiche has long been a favourite here, PC in particular loves it, which I know makes me very fortunate as many men aren't quiche fans. I was particularly happy though as I found a 'formula' that was 'just right'. I've long had to play with recipes as we always use more quiche than a recipe due to our family size.  This formula has been a rave hit both times I've made it.

My recipe: 1 cup spinach, 4 eggs, 1 cup milk, 2 cups cheese, 1 sml onion, 3 tbs butter
I always buy two bunches of spinach which equates to 5 cups of spinach, therefore I times the recipe by 5, yep that's alot of eggs and cheese, though I ease up on the cheese a little.

Gluten Free Muffins
Made these gluten free blueberry muffins but as per usual I tweaked a little. I didn't have xanthan gum so omitted it. I also added a banana therefore I reduced the sugar to 1/2cup. Delicious and moist. A huge win!


Gluten Free Pancakes
This week I was so excited to have a major win with fluffy pancakes, afterwards I rang my dear friend to share my excitement, my daughter said to me when I hung up, "Did you ring M___  just to tell her you made fluffy pancakes! I can't believe you did that!"(just imagine the disbelief in her voice;) Yep I was that excited and my sweetest friend was too:)

An intimidating part of learning how to cook gluten free are the many warnings, 'stick to the recipe or flop' possibly all true however I'm a bit of an improviser, if I'm wanting to cook and the pantry is lacking I tend to 'scratch around'.  So this recipe sort of evolved and isn't an exact science.

My recipe: 1 cup of self raising gluten free flour, 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup sugar, then.....a handful of: potato flour & buckwheat flour.
And somehow these were the tastiest, fluffiest pancakes ever!

Chicken Broths
I've long wanted to be nourishing my family with broths, so I purchased a free range chicken from our local butchers. I wrote to my friend who'd recommended the butcher, "The healthiest dead chook I've even seen!", they were indeed plump, though I realise the irony in referring to a dead chook as healthy;)

My recipe:Chicken carcass (remains after a meal), 1 onion, 4 carrots, 2 celery sticks, 1 bay leaf, some herbs (whatever I was in the mood for) 2 Chinese leek leaves.
Placed all in slow cooker on high overnight, cool then strained.
Used chicken broth in pumpkin soup, no one was aware, so win.

*Storage of broth has been an issue, a friend stores her's in glass jars, I'd tried that but all the glasses shattered:( Same friend suggested I place a couple of freezer bags inside a small ice-cream container and fill. When frozen remove bags from container and stack stock neatly in freezer. A win!

Losses
Beef Broth
Keeping in theme with my 'nourishing my family with broths' ideal I made up a batch of beef broth using a huge bone from a local organic beef farmer (delicious meat) using the same recipe as the chicken broth.

My recipe:Beef bone, 1 onion, 4 carrots, 2 celery sticks, 1 bay leaf, some herbs (whatever I was in the mood for) 2 Chinese leek leaves.
Placed all in slow cooker on high overnight.

Where I erred: I didn't wait until the broth cooled, instead I strained, washed the slow cooker, added makings for a stew then added back in the beef broth immediately. This meant the fat wasn't able to rise to the top and be skimmed. It was so fatty and unappealing and some of the children refused to eat the stew which I understood.

Next time: When/if I'm brave enough to try again I've learnt a couple of 'tricks', bake the bone first to ensure the juices run. Cook the broth outside so the smell doesn't permeate the house, I didn't mind the smell but the sensitive noses did.  Most important allow the broth to cool, skim the fat off and then use or freeze.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

'Winter Workshops' Create Enthusiasm

Term 2 came to a close yesterday here in New South Wales, though we aren't stopping for a break yet. Partially because we haven't achieved as much learning as optimal in the past month due to life's interruptions, also we're waiting until our two City boys come home in a fortnight to be able to enjoy their visit for the two weeks they're here. One of the benefits of home education is we can be flexible and work around family time.

Truthfully though we're all feeling a little stale, students and teacher, and in need of a change of pace. I'm always of the mind that 'there's more than one way to skin a cat', outcome is that the children are learning, process is always negotiable. With this in mind midweek I came up with the idea of a fresh presentation with a relaxed atmosphere, and the deep immersion and explosion of learning resulting has been so heartening. It's been awhile since we've seen this Reggio Emilia type of approach.

So what are we doing? Thinking about the subject matters I'd like the children to continue to learn plus the more creative ones we often neglect due to time and energy I brainstormed on the board, having fun with alliterations and arrived with the following list. The idea is that the children are to write their initials next to the workshops they'd like to do and I'll do my best to help facilitate or lead their workshops. As noted on the spreadsheet I was concerned that some of the children would only choose the creative workshops, neglecting the more academic ones.  To my pleasant surprise this wasn't the case and they all happily picked far more than 4 workshops a day. My challenge has been logistical, trying to be available to facilitate/lead the workshops which need my input. This weekend I'll be creating a new document assigning time slots for the workshops, I'll share how that goes next week. I'm already thinking though that I won't emphasis how many per day but how many per week. This will allow time for depth of immersion.




So how did it go? What did we learn? As we didn't begin Winter workshops until Thursday, we only had a sneak preview but it looks quite promising:)

Youtube Discoveries
  • Jem became fascinated by volcanoes, he then sparked an enthusiasm within the other younger boys. All three watched several youtubes on famous and not so famous eruptions and how to make a volcano. Thanks to Kate's tutorial on how to make your own youtube channel I can niftily save youtubes for the children to access. 
  • A decision was then made to make their own volcano, they discussed a few different ideas, choose a couple and discarded the others. One option involved newspaper which we didn't have, another needed an empty lemonade bottle, I suggested a milk bottle but Jack Jack wasn't convinced it would suffice.
  • The boys began a model that included flour, salt and water, however it was obviously too wet, JJ brainstormed if he could put it into the oven to harden a little and then mold into shape. I suggested we find a shape and cook it in that. We ended up pouring the mixture into a glass pyrex dish and placed a cookie cutter in the middle, not perfect but JJ was happy, afterwards he painted his volcano.  Many times over the next couple of days his volcano was to erupt.  
  • Jem has surprised me with his keenness to learn via youtubes, I wouldn't have expected such technicality to hold the interest of a six year old. After a day of immersions in volcanic activity he became engrossed in all things dinosaur. Jack Jack delved into fish of all things, unusual fish.
  • Michelangelo has long been a user of youtubes for his Science studies, this week he studied the elements, planets and food. 



Faith Frenzy
  • Michelangelo  continued learning with Understanding the Scriptures, it really is the best of the series.
  • I ran a Faith Quiz with the children, they pretended they had buzzers and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. PC has talked of making us buzzers, I think it's time to encourage him. Many years ago my mum compiled a huge folder of thousands and thousands of quiz questions, a real mix; catechism, saints, Church history, Bible knowledge, Sacraments, Sacramentals, the Mass and more. My mum has given me permission to share these on the 'net, one day I'll have the time to research quiz websites and sort and upload the questions. The children enjoyed the quiz format, happily surprising me with how much they knew and learning along the way. The Faith quiz will be sure to be a regular throughout the Winter Workshops.

Handwriting Boot Camp
The girls choose to do the Handwriting Boot Camp workshop, admittedly they were not the 'target audience' who needed to sign up. Jelly Bean however is keen to improve her cursive and it was a good opportunity for her to do so, Princess has beautiful handwriting and loves to write, I'm going to organise calligraphy lessons for her Boot Camp next week.

Independent Workshops
You'll note on the form I have several blank workshop spaces, these were intended for any further ideas or independent studies.
  • Michelangelo turns 16 in little over a week and intends on obtaining his Learner's licence forwith, hence he has been enthusiastically studying the Driver's manual.
  • Princess has been studying Spanish for some time now using duolingo and has impressed us with how well she is doing.

Crafty Creators
Bass asked for a craft activity, so with quick help from Pinterest we came up with a Fishy Activity, I combined a template, celery sticks and paint with a fish book and A Book and Activity made a reappearance:) Certainly planning on A Book and Activity to be a regular workshop.

Rocket into Reading
Whilst my 'target audience' here was for the younger children learning to read or needing further support, admittedly it didn't happen these two days. The older, independent readers however are always reading and continued to do so. Very happy to note Princess taking her reading 'up a notch' and currently tackling Jane Eyre, thanks to Anna Maria's suggestion, teen girls always listen to big sisters:)

Off to a great start, looking forward to what next week may bring:)

Friday, 26 June 2015

Culling Years of Photos

A few weeks ago our computer warned, "Your space is very low, you only have 10MB left". Considering our hard drive has the capacity for 500GB something was swallowing up space. Turning to my resident computer expert, he (PC) informed me it was time to cull my photos.

I hadn't culled photos in any consistency at all, well make that never, since the advent of our first digital camera in 2006.  That made for alot of work over the past few weeks, I have literally spent hours and hours, clicking through and deciding what to keep and what not too.  I have deleted thousands of photos.

What have I learnt as I have scrolled through thousands of photos, deciding what to keep and what not?


Where I Began
  • Back in 2006 I was a completely terrible photographer, whilst the digital allowed me to progress to keeping heads were on, I was lucky to find photos that weren't blurry and weren't too dark. 
  • My photographs improved noticeably in 2011 when we purchased a new (and my current) camera.
Blogging & Practice
  • I am so glad I began blogging, I really didn't take many photos prior to blogging and therefore would't have captured many of the memories I did without my blogging incentive. 
  • My photography skills show definite improvement once I began taking more photos. 'Practice, practice, practice' is indeed true.
Children & Photography
  • Our children watched intermittently as I deleted and they cried out "You're deleting our memories!" "Child, it's totally blurry and dark".  "Our memories" they're photo hoarders!
  • Our children like to take photos of birds, I found plenty of  blurry ones, and their Lego, K'nex and block creations, of which I was only allowed to delete a few, please let me cull 20 down to 2. 
  • I found many food photos from our special Celebrations throughout the year. St Barbara's chocolate tower, our giant Easter egg making, there was a  big chocolate theme running through the years. Also found many photos of  our pavlova making, every year there were more, what's with that? I deleted them all, bake another if you want to enjoy a pav.  
Memories
  • Photos do capture memories, they remind us of moments, emotions, our 'family history and culture' and I regret that I didn't pick up the camera more often. I should have taken many, many more than I did.
  • I've taken many indoor photos of the children playing the computers, reading, playing cards but I need to get outdoors more often and take plenty of active ones.
  • My weight around the middle isn't a new problem, I deleted the truly unflattering though I'm aware that doesn't really fix the issue;)
  • Since we began building I've taken many photos of us building and I found it hard to choose which ones to delete from the hundreds, I could probably still delete more.
  • Clicking through building photos I realised anew our children have contributed enormously to building our home, they're hard workers. Proud of them. 
A New Awareness
  • Angling the camera, filling the frame are fantastic ideas, a pity I didn't know these tips in the earlier years, I see so much clutter in the background, highlights what a terrible housekeeper I was when we only had littles. 
  • The internal of a half built house doesn't always make for a pretty backdrop in photos, you can only angle the camera sometimes.
Photography Course
  • Since I began my photography course in September 2014, my photography skills have improved dramatically and I can see further growth as I've progressed through the lessons. 
  • My indoor photography is one area that has definitely benefited from undertaking the course, I still have a way to improve but tips such as; have the light behind you, don't aim your camera towards the window, increase your iso, change your white balance definitely make a difference. I wouldn't have even known what the later two were prior to.
  • Undertaking the course helped me analyse and more more aware of  'the good, the bad and the ugly.' Using this knowledge I was able to let go of photo hoarding and delete the blurry, the too dark, the nah, nothing boring photos. 
Photo Storage & Display
  • Back up your photos! Somehow along the way through various desktops and laptops we've lost the first couple of years of one of our children's life:(  Later on another whole year is missing from our annals too. 
  • It is such a wonderful feeling to know our 'photo albums' are tidied, though I could probably cull a few more in a couple of areas I've achieved a massive goal!
  • I'm now planning on creating and printing photo books. Admittedly I'm a bit nervous. Any recommendations, tips? 
Resolutions
  • Take photos, lots and lots, practice, practice, practice. 
  • Capture those memories!!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Fishy Activity


It's been many months since we enjoyed A Book and Activity, but when Bass asked for a craft activity I was inspired. Searching through Pinterest for inspiration I spied this Rainbow Fish Craft, a template supplied, paint and celery sticks, that I could quickly organise. 


A quick look through our picture books revealed, The Rainbow Fish - Marcus Pfister, though a few years ago I read Elizabeth Esther's thoughts about redistribution and this book and I've been aware and uncomfortable with the author's intent since. (Can't find the post but EE has a satirical video which I haven't yet watched) After reading I asked Bass, "What did you think of the book?" He answered "I didn't like the fish giving away all it's scales" yep he nailed it, and this from a child who happily shares. The author's message makes me itchy too, should have searched for another fish book. 


The first glitch with my celery painting sticks was when Jelly Bean pointed out whilst I was setting up that Bella was likely to eat the celery, paint and all, which she did. Obviously our ten year old was thinking smarter than her mother who got carried away with the excitement that we were actually managing to do a craft activity. 


Jem joined in the fun bringing a higher level of skill to the activity, the younger children struggled with the stamping concept and mostly had to be dissuaded from painting with the celery 'brush'. It was lovely to do another A Book and Activity and I'm inspired to do another:)