Step In Front of the Camera

Taking photographs is now just a part of life. Our children revel and communicate their every move on social media sites, mostly dedicated entirely to pictures. Parents fill their own Facebook pages with adorable photographs of kids near and dear to their hearts. What’s missing? The parents!

While the world at large probably does not need another Kardashian selfie fiend, as parents sometimes we end up behind the lens and not in front of it enough. When my Dad passed away, my family all realized that while we each had a few pictures that he was in; most of us did not have a lot of moments captured with our Dad. If I search for a picture of my Mother and I, well I might come up with three.

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I was as old and heavy as I thought I was…last year.” Let’s face it; some people are just ridiculously photogenic. For the rest of us, there are tricks of the trade that you can use to feel better about stepping into the actual photographs. Professional photographs are always a solid bet for everyone looking their best, but sometimes it is not always workable in time or the budget. If you have multiple kids like I do, then trying to find a day when everyone is in the right “mood” for picture taking is next to impossible…there is always one sour face!

I am going to toss out several tips for trying to be your most flattering self in photos, but let’s face it-if you start to take a picture and are trying to execute all of them-you might end up with  a cramming for an exam face than elegant picture face. Pick one or two to keep in mind next time someone says “smile!” While you are busy snapping pictures of your kids over the holidays, remember to jump into a few pictures with them. Those will mean more to them and their own children for years to come.

First trick, use your tongue to stop the façade of having a double chin. When you smile, push your tongue to the roof of your mouth and it automatically lifts the area under your chin.

Angles matter. There is a reason you hear this one all the time. Maybe you have perfected the direct head on shot, but chances are unless you have a professional photographer with the right lighting following you around, front and center face shots can be unflattering. There are no shadows when you snap a picture straight on, so your face that looks great in the mirror, will look wider in a picture than it really is. If you are going for the head shot, stand a little sideways and tilt your chin up or down slightly. Eyes should be focused just above your natural line of sight. I find that sticking your chin out (slightly here people) and tilting your head forward just a bit makes your jawline appear better in photos. Unless you have a chiseled face like David Beckham, this is a great tip.

Arms by far I think are the easiest fix in photographs. How many times are we standing in a group photo with our arms at our sides and then when you look at the picture your upper arm area looks bigger than your head! If you are bored with this post and only walk away with one tip-this is it. Make sure your arm is a least a little ways from your body. This trick is why you see most red carpet celeb pictures with a hand on the hip because it keeps your upper arm from being smashed against your body. You do not always have to do the old hand on hip, just practice moving your arm out even slightly so it is not actually touching your body (think floating) and instantly your arms will look better in pictures.

Like your mother always said, cross your ankles ladies. If you are taking a full length picture and facing forward, crossing your ankles at your calf muscles will make your hips look narrower and your legs look longer. Same thought when you are sitting for a picture. Sit up straight move towards the edge of the seat if you can and cross your legs at your ankles.

Men posture is so very important in pictures. Shoulders back, chest up. If maybe you feel like peeked in High School Rob Lowe, avoid shots where you are turned too much to one side. Think 45 degree angle (you’re men you love numbers). Loving reminders ladies if you are trying to get him excited about picture time.

If your waistline is what keeps you camera shy, try using your hands to give your waist definition. Instead of putting your hands on your hips at your sides, move them closer towards your navel area to essentially cinch your waist for the picture- just don’t squeeze!

Finally, if you want to look good in a photograph, my best advice is you simply need to enjoy yourself. Not wanting to have your picture taken, shows in the picture. Accept that it is just a photo and worry less! Believe it or not you will instantly start to look better in the pictures.



Confessions of a Middle School Substitute

So I’m sure you have all probably noticed our conspicuous absence over the past month or so.

We are utterly, abjectly, hang-our-heads-in-shame sorry. Both Jamie and I have recently taken on new jobs and I think we are both finding the settling-in process to be a bit of work. I’ve gone from working a very flexible, work-if-you-want-to kind of proposition inside the home to teaching again outside the home, coupled with my regular editing and writing commitments. After being home for the past ten years as a night owl who can wake up, get the kids off to school, and then bleary-eye the morning hours away until the caffeine decides to kick in, it’s been a fun awakening. No pun intended.

But I am loving being back in the school again, even if right now I’m just subbing until my long-term English position kicks in, in a few weeks. I subbed for a middle school art class Monday and Tuesday, and was forcibly reminded of why I have always said I’d never teach middle school. Never, no how, no way.

There are just so many…emotions.

And smells.

And noises.

The sixth and seventh graders were kind of okay. They watched a VHS video made in nineteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death and giggled when Degas and Mary Cassatt flirted awkwardly with each other. They were cute.

The eighth graders, though…whew. (And you know it’s not just you when the custodian visits you after school to ask how it went, because “some of them kids can be ‘rough.’”) One of them, a young lady, motioned me over urgently.

“I have a question that’s kind of embarrassing…I’m having an argument with my friend and was hoping you could help.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Which hurts more, pregnancy or getting kicked in the balls?”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face. REALLY? Did this sweet-looking young lady really just ask me that? Thoughts rolled swiftly through my head. Maybe I should tell her to Google it. Nah…no telling what she might come up with. Ask your mother? I can see that one now. My substitute told me to ask you…No. Definitely not.

“Well…I assume you’re referring to giving birth over just being pregnant?” At her nod, I continued. “As to the other, I really wouldn’t know. I assume your friend is a male?” She nodded. “I’m thinking that’s the most painful thing he can think of to use as a point of reference, so for him it would be very painful, just like giving birth can be very painful for a woman.”

“Oh, okay.” From the back of the room came a sudden loud farting noise, distracting both of us from the suddenly awkward conversation. I gave FartBoy The Look, and after a couple of smaller bugling noises, he subsided.

Next there was the young man who did everything but ask me to the eighth grade prom.

“Are you going to be at Winter Glitz?”


“But why not? It’ll be fun.”

The other students poked him. “Dude, she’s a substitute! She doesn’t have to come!”

He sidled up to my desk a few minutes later. “Are you sure you’re not going to be at the Glitz? I’m going to be there.”

“Er…tempting. But, no.”

To put a cap on it, FartBoy slipped out of a crowd of four students anxiously awaiting the final bell at the door. There’s a small alcove by the door, so I didn’t think much of it. He was no doubt grabbing for as much freedom as he could get.

A minute later, I realized he was doing the worm on the hallway floor when another teacher stuck her head in the door, gave me the evil eye, and him a dressing down. After she left I caught his eye with my own.

“Thanks, dude, for making me look incompetent.”

“Uh…you’re welcome?”

Yup. I love eighth graders. And actually, I do. As tough as they can be for a once-in-a-while-sub, they are funny, wide-open, challenging, and oddly captivating.

Halloween Costumes for Middles

Let’s face it, Halloween costumes ideas are almost limitless for the toddler and younger kids but middles? Chances are if you go to purchase a costume; they do not fit in the smaller kid sizes. I don’t know about you but I am not okay with my eleven year old daughter being a “sexy” anything, which are likely the only options in her size.

If you scan the Internet there are some great ideas but unless you have hours of time, many require a huge amount of effort or skills I just do not have! Even if you’re not a super-crafty-nothing-but-free-time-Pinterest-wizard, now is the time to break out the scissors and glue gun!

We are passing along some costume ideas in case your middle is still not too cool for trick or treating or has been invited to a costume party that are easy and age appropriate. We promise these can be made even if you are a beginner!

The peacock. This is a combination of the local party supply store and no sew crafting. Buy elastic and measure it to your child’s waistline. Different colors of tulle fabric simply cut into long strips and tied in the middle around the elastic. The mask was a purchased item from the party store.

Elvis is a crazy easy to do fun one. However you might have to explain WHO Elvis actually was to your middles. For this one, search the thrift stores for wide legged pants and any over the top tacky belt. Pair with a men’s white dress shirt, add a colored scarf and some cheese glasses. You can either buy a wig or if you’re a-okay with cleaning your shower from the wash out mess-a bottle or two of that temporary black hair spray from the party store. We had my kiddo do an air guitar windmill when they said “trick or treat” and then a “thank you, thank you very much!” Lip sneer and all.

I adore this idea. Personally I could do without the metallic colored leggings but with a little t-shirt paint a tutu and some wings-social butterflies is sure to be a hit.

When it doubt or for a last minute costume…find your inner nerd. Pin a ‘kick me’ sign on your back and roll with it.

This one I did for my full pledged teen and a friend for a party. This could easily be made a little more conservative with the addition of a shirt and leggings. It would also help keep them warmer! I used a slip simple tank dress and a whole lot of safety pins bubbling the tulle. Bought some rope and tada instant loofas. While this one is not hard…it does take a little time to make.

I think a cat or dog and a vet would also be super easy fun. All kids at one point said they wanted to be veterinarian! Basic pieces equals easy idea that can be used for tweens.

Another idea I am thinking about doing this year is “three blind mice” because my middle wants to team up with her friends. Simple mouse ears headband and a tail combined with black shirt and leggings should do the trick. Add sunglasses and a walking stick and I think it will be an easy breezy group costume!

If you have great costume ideas for middles be sure and let us know–we always love everyone’s creative minds!

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My Mom Never…

Like all parents, I am proud of my children. When they accomplish something; I love to share my excitement and I am free flowing with the praises.

When exactly did this stop being enough?

This week my middle had her audition into the talented theater program. Yes, she had practiced her monologue for weeks. I had helped her, video taped her so she could see for herself, and even watched videos upon videos of the same performance. I am fully aware of her efforts…to the point I could probably recite it myself.

As soon as she got home today she Face Timed me with screams of joy that she had made it! I am not sure who was more excited in that moment. I let her know I would be home from work for hugs soon.

When I made it home I did just that! I was beaming as much as her and wanted her to tell me everything. But what happened next almost made me crazy. My daughter instead of taking pride in her achievement today and feeling how proud I was of her hard work…started in like a total opportunist with a laundry list of possible celebratory rewards.

I’m not a total Scrooge; I suggested ice cream after dinner. Oh no! At this point my tween felt that she had earned nothing less than a dinner out, followed by ice cream, a stop at the store for a new cell phone case, and maybe one of the new Polaroid cameras. Why she stopped shy of requesting a parade in her honor I have no idea…

One of my Mom pals called and I vented a bit. I already confessed in a earlier post to being a basic mom most days. Even though I am well aware she was beyond reason, I felt guilty. Like full pledged mom-guilt. Somehow I immediately felt myself questioning if I do enough.

She reassured me that essentially I should just look at it jokingly-as I am doing my sweet Caroline a favor.

When Caroline (years from now) becomes a mother-she can now be super mom and repeatedly use the line, “my mother never…” with her own crew! Genius! I do not over do these things so you can be a better mom than me!

She can spend weeks planning elaborate celebrations for daily events. Brushed your teeth? Who-hoo send some balloons to school! Maybe she will greet her children every single day when they arrive home from school with freshly baked cookies! Awesome!

Since my episode of mom guilt occurred while I was conveniently at the grocery store she got cupcakes in her honor tonight. 

With my new perspective there is really nothing left to do but keep on being mediocre, lick the frosting and wait for the piles of thank you notes to roll in saying, “thanks mom for never…”

Listen Up Middle School Self

If I was given the option to go back in time and do middle school again…I would laugh and say absolutely no way-no how! The middle school years are just this awkward phase of brain growth verses body changes. However, I wish I knew then what I know now about life and what matters most. That is the beauty of having children; we get to try to remember being their age and lead them in a way to walk a step ahead of where we were at during those days.

Here are four things I tell my middle school age kids and things I wish I could go back and tell my middle school self.

-Boys at that age can be mean but girls are way meaner. Be nice to everyone but realize that you do not have to be friends with everyone. In elementary grades all the kids like all the kids, but by the time you hit 6th grade, the groups are dividing. It’s a transition to accept that not everyone is your friend. Your best friend today could easily be the person you remove from your Instagram bio and delete all the silly selfies you made by tomorrow. I remind my daughter I expect her to be nice and if someone doesn’t like her–that’s okay.

– Not everyone gets their period by 6th grade. Period. While yes this is a lovely natural cycle of life, it is absolutely not a race. If there is a clique of girls that somehow think they are the bomb because they have theirs, every woman I know would tell them they are crazy. It will come when it comes and for now be glad that is one less thing YOU have to deal with each and every single month.Unless you want your own First Moon Party like thrown by this YouTube Mom, don’t feel left out when it comes to your changing body.

-Don’t let your “squad” define you. Do what you love to do, even if your best friend doesn’t do it with you. My daughter loves cheerleading and drama classes but will try to back out of cheer clinics and auditions if her friends do not sign up with her. Be brave and open to new friends and experiences; it doesn’t mean you will not still have your best friend.

-Boys will tease you and give you nicknames. Ignore them or embrace it and it will take the wind from their sails. I promise they are clueless. My daughter came home crying because the boys started calling her “wheat thin” at school. The bigger her reaction to it, the more it continued. Now that she just laughs it off, and guess what? She hears it less.

Middle school can be rough. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your middle school self?