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How To Find Your Photographer Soul Mate

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Having that picture perfect portrait of your family can feel overwhelming. Just the thought of getting kids organized for a portrait is always stressful for me – never mind worrying about how my family is going to gel with a photographer. Photography is such an intimate experience so finding your ‘photographer soul mate’ is important. Follow these 5 tips and you’ll be on your way to an amazing family portrait experience.

1) Stalk them on social media. I LOVE a photographer that is always sharing their latest family photography on Instagram or Facebook. Why is this more important than an updated website?  Nobody has time to keep their website updated daily, but that’s a different story when photographers are active on Facebook.   A photographer’s portrait location, style, placement will continually be changing. I love watching the evolution of portraits through a well updated Facebook page before making a decision to book. I knew from watching the Lark Rise House House Facebook Page for over a year, that the style and editing in her photos was a great match for how I pictured my portrait.

The below picture is from my phone as I watched Raeleigh style my girls and get them totally happy to be barefoot sitting in a barn window. It was at this moment I knew I was going to get a picture of the twins I would always treasure.

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2) Location, location, location. I think back to the stress of portraits at the Mall when my children were really young. The entire experience was anything but enjoyable. Here’s a little secret about finding the right photographer. The experience shouldn’t be terrible. A little stressful with children yes, but not something that gives you nightmares. I know my clan and they need to run around a lot. We met my photographer soul mate, Lark Rise Horse House, at a 200 year old farm with multiple barns and room to run. While my daughters were styled and photographed together, my boys got to collect owl pellets in an old barn, jumping in hay. This freedom gave me time to concentrate on getting my girls organized and not worry (too much) about my boys.

2.1) Location was one of the most important requirements on my list. Most photographers have access to a general location spot for pictures. Are you an outdoorsy family?  Or does the thought of light rain make you break out in hives?  A little mist doesn’t bother me and I was determined to have pictures with lots of leaves and Fall colours popping out everywhere. If weather elements have you concerned, does your photographer have a backup, indoor solution in case of freezing weather or rain?

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3) Will you click? Feeling comfortable with a photographer is important. For my clan, I need someone who is soft spoken, funny, and relaxed. I’m high strung enough for everyone, so having someone stay calm when you are feeling anxious about getting ‘the perfect picture’ is a must for me. I also know my children and a person that can yell “stinky farts” is the perfect fit for my kids. Getting them to laugh at the right moment or look dreamy in the next is great gift in a photographer. You’ll usually get the feel for this though their Facebook page.  Personalities shine through on social media – refer back to point 1) as it’s important.  I knew I had completely ‘clicked’ with my photographer when she showed up to our photo shoot with handmade fresh flower wreaths for my daughters and me to wear. She also brought some vintage looking dresses and vest for my girls – totally styled us all. I don’t have this ability and finding it in a photographer was SUCH a bonus!

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4) How do you feel about candid pictures?  I always end up loving these the most. They are always taken when you least expect it and it takes a certain eye to capture a perfect candid. Are you looking for a photographer that can tell a story of the day? Here is my favourite candid from our Lark Rise Horse House portrait. It was taken in a moment of one child saying ‘my mommy’ and being goofy. I love the expression on her twin sister’s face…bemused. And I’m so glad I just accepted the love of her grabbing my face rather than telling her to behave for the camera. It resulted in this candid picture I’ll treasure forever!!

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5) Referral. Word of mouth is also very important. Don’t know of a photographer in your area?  Ask your friends to show you their latest pictures and explain what the experience was like. Was it structured, relaxed, how long did it take to receive pictures, was their editing included, prints? I am one of those people that can’t wait to see pictures – if it’s going to take three weeks to get edited photos, I’m probably not a good candidate. I love seeing watermarked images shared after a family’s portrait – little sneak peeks a few days after the pictures have been taken. All of these questions can be answered by friends – a referral is so important because it means the photographer has left a happy trail of clients.

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I had been four years since I last took pictures with my clan. A few of these will be blown up on canvas as a surprise to my husband for Christmas. He doesn’t know we did this portrait and I’m sure will love the updated pictures of our kids. I am so grateful to Lark Rise Horse House for these pictures – they will be treasured forever! The below picture is the winner for going up on the canvas for our entrance way.  I love black and white pictures and all my kids and their different personalities are captured perfectly in this picture.

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Want to know one last thing your photographer soul mate will have you do?  A picture that wasn’t on your list. A picture that takes you out of your comfort zone. A picture just of you. Thank you Raeleigh. xx

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Technology & Kids Going Back To School

What do I think is the most important conversation you can have with a child returning to school? Two issues I’m talking about daily with my older children are clean food/nutrition habits and how to manage technology responsibly.

Outside influences are constant and demanding when it comes to our children and technology so I reached out to Jesse Miller of Mediated Reality to ask him for advice and best practices to share with parents with children that live in the age of technology. He speaks in schools across North America educating on the use of technology, social media, cyber bullying, with blunt delivery for pre-teens and teenagers.  Here is Jesse’s advice for what you should know with technology and kids heading back to school.

Over to you Jesse…

The new school year is upon us and new learning and engagement activities are being developed by teachers who are eager to use the technology available inside schools and the tech your kids will most likely be bringing with them in the form of a mobile device or tablet. The excitement and novelty of a new school year is usually overwhelming, but the children with smart phones, tablets and computers are juggling with a number of education concerns especially as it applies to focus, constant communication with friends, and the chronic dialogues about cyber bullying. It’s a lot to maintain while trying to focus on learning.

As a parent, you can use this opportunity at the start of a school year to keep your kids safe and online aware while allowing them the freedom to enjoy technology by introducing the topics of social media use, Internet gaming, texting, and online behavioural expectations by setting the tone in September.

Start by considering how you would control use of the Internet at home.

You’re saying you can’t control the Internet?

Well you are right, and you can’t. The Internet is omnipresent and seems overwhelming to many parents when it comes to the expertise of the kids but you can take steps to monitor how the Internet is accessed in your house.

I never recommend filters or monitoring software unless your child has given you previous reasons to not trust their online activities but by requiring laptops, tablets, and computers to be in open areas of the home, you are preventing your child from isolating themselves when they are online. Explore control of the Internet in a number of ways with the following ideas around communication and expectations of use.

  1. Consider limiting the amount of time to use the Internet for your kids and the parents in the home. Reduce “double screen” time where they watch television and look at their iPod or phone. Consider setting the standard for the family by establishing the tone for when the phones go down, not just for the kids, but for all family members.
  2. How about disabling the WiFi or locking out the router at certain times of the day to restrict Internet access? You don’t know how to? The kid knows more than you? Why not learn how the Internet is coming into your home? Especially after bedtime – many kids find that their mobile device is a chronic distraction at night while sleeping, if you control the Internet as it comes into your home, you have a better sense of when it is usually accessed. Google is your friend on this – there are plenty of YouTube videos available. If your child has a mobile device with Internet access provided by a cellular carrier, set up a home charging area so that all phones sit overnight – this area might need to be in your bedroom if you believe your child will want to bypass the rule and sneak a peek.
  3. Do not hesitate to set rules for mobile devices. Reflect on when you were a child and the fear you had when a friend called past 8PM – your parents were guardians of communications in your childhood home and it was rude to call past a certain hour – let’s not move too far from that value of respect just because your child has their own communication tool. Set the rules as you expect the devices to be used – they will mimic your use.
  4. Is your child texting on their phone or mobile device? Have they downloaded multiple applications to text for free (parents love free) but you don’t know which? Look at the download history and don’t hesitate to ask your child about every application they use. Google that application and look at reviews, news stories and other parents reviews. Encourage your kids to read their most recent text messages out loud to encourage communication based on your expectation of appropriate use. I would highly suggest against snooping through the messages (unless you can defend the reasons to your child) as it is similar to your parents reading your diary or journal as a child – privacy trust is key when it comes to online communication but don’t hesitate to parent that communication based on the values of your home.
  5. Learn about the trends. Kids love photographs these days and send them with the eagerness of a flyer campaign. Set a value to the photos your children are placing online, ask them what the world needs to see before they post and try to encourage a sense of self as it applies to giving pictures away to the Internet – would they post the same photo if it cost $1? If the answer is no, remind them that a photo of your child is priceless to you, no stranger online needs it for likes. The current trend of Instagram or Snapchat encourages kids to post pictures online to share for fun, likes, followers, or the perception that it deletes. Users, including unknown adults, rate, and solicit these pictures and flirtatiously or without mercy comment. This can lead to a number of social media issues including bullying and digital footprint/reputation concerns as your child moves through school.
  6. Pay attention to warning signs! If phones are placed screen side down on a chronic basis and held close to the chest like a poker player with a good hand, you might have an issue around how your child is shielding communications with peers. Maybe your kid is afraid of your response to language or topic but never chastise based on emotion for what you discover. Open dialogues and set expectations of access and use -discipline as needed and always encourage appropriate use.

Going back to school is a busy and exciting time of the year. Parents, teachers and those connected kids are busy Texting, taking “selfies” on Snapchat, filtering on Instagram, posting to Facebook, Tweeting class events on Twitter, and sharing a lot of information. Keep this time safer, secure, and aware by encouraging your kids and yourself to share the minimum amount of personalized information with the online world and communicate as if the world is listening – because with social media in hand, everyone is eager for a good story to post about someone else.

Jesse Miller @mediatedreality
Jesse Miller is a social media safety educator based in Vancouver, BC – information about his work and programs available for schools & parents is available at www.mediatedreality.com

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Plastic Dolls For Christmas

Navigating through our standard list of no-no’s this time of year seems to all go out the window when we are trying to find that perfect gift at Christmas. As green minded parents we know that plastic is always a bad option for toys. But when I found myself in Toys R Us after not being there for probably a year, I was completely overwhelmed and fascinated with the obvious love the big box stores have for plastic. And why not? The perfect details on the faces of toys, the cheap prices, and the packaging that will make a child scream with excitement! However, there is a big downside to these plastic options and it’s simply ‘health’. Now I’ve got you thinking the health of who? The planet or our children?

There are many toys that even very environmentally minded parents will make exceptions; especially those that include building, constructing, and creating. Lego and Playmobil have long been favorites for one of my sons and I don’t mind when he asks for a special set at Christmas. The imagination and hours of play are a great pay off and these products are hardly cheap. They are also not made from vinyl. Now here is where vinyl gets interesting – all plastic dolls are. And these dolls will be the focus of this article. They are probably one of the hottest toys at Christmas because when you don’t know what else to buy a little girl – you can always guess ‘doll’ because you know the shrieks of delight will be heard when a doll is opened. It’s immediate gratification, where they grab the doll, release their mothering instincts, and pour their love into this little being. It’s a tough thing to not buy into. I was even curiously drawn to the new Disney Brave dolls that lined the shelves at Toys R Us – the plastic replicas look so much like the fiery tempered character that is a different role model from the usual princess role (shooting arrows, being physically and mentally strong, and brave) which we all love. But my long standing struggle with how all the huge toy makers like Mattel, Disney, etc. produce dolls is always disappointing and I believe, a health issue.

I started really thinking about dolls a month ago when I watched two girls during my son’s hockey game looking with pure love at their American Girls dolls. I had never seen these dolls up close before but heard lots from my nieces when they went through the phase a couple of years ago. They seem to be the perfect solution to keep older girls (Grade 2 and up) playing in the wonderful world of imagination and dolls. Apparently visiting an American Girl store in the US is quite the experience – you can even get the doll and your daughter’s ears pierced at the same time!  I asked the group of girls playing with these dolls to tell me about the dolls and they were so excited – the popularity for American Girls hasn’t gone away and I live in Canada! I like to prepare myself for when my own daughters see a toy like this – so I started researching immediately. I know the dolls are over $100 so I assumed the materials used to make the dolls are something other than vinyl. I was wrong – the plastic arms, legs and face of these dolls are vinyl plastic. Plus, do you want to guess where the American Girls are made?  China.  Why the hell are they made in China – they are American Girls!  And the Canadian version of these dolls Maplelea Dolls are also vinyl made in China and the ethnic option Karito Girls are also vinyl and made in China – which for Karito Girls might make sense since they represent the world collection. So I immediately asked my friends if anyone had an American Girl doll that I could see. I was trying to find out if the vinyl that they are made from is actually PVC. I checked the doll to see if there was a material listed on the plastic and no luck. I also took a deep smell of the plastic and it didn’t smell like 100% PVC normally does but since the company states they are made from vinyl – I would guess a mixed variety of plastics have been used. After all we are taught that vinyl almost always means PVC. I asked my friend Alicia from The Soft Landing for some input on this subject – it’s something she’s written about and her article ‘When Is Vinyl Not PVC‘ is awesome! She also let me use this quote regarding vinyl and dolls:

“Vinyl is PVC 99% of the time, and so far we haven’t found a single plastic baby doll made from PVC-free materials.”

After I read this quote from Alicia I found it so much easier to wrap my head around the fact that all, yes all dolls until proven otherwise, made from plastic are PVC. When we are buying to hear the shriek it’s selfish. I know if I picked up that Brave plastic doll for my daughters it would be played with and happily received but I’d rather give them one of the older doll designs from my friend Kellie at The Rice Babies. She’s combined a funky design with high fashion boots, funky hair accessories, and I even saw tattoos when I visited her beautiful display at a craft fair a few weeks ago.  There are options out there. I would have to say Christina from Bamboletta is my doll hero and after seeing Bamboletta dolls for so many years you simply can’t compare the quality and care that go into her creations. Read the story of Bamboletta here. Of course the fact that she hasn’t strayed from her first mission of keeping these dolls made with the safest of materials, by a group of sewing mamas, local to her community keeps her totally unique. And her magical dolls are truly unique in the world of Waldorf doll making. You might initially scream they are expensive but I say they are the safest toy on earth. No worries of off gassing, no worries that it will fall apart, no worries of asking questions to the manufacturer that can’t be answered. I say don’t buy the 10 plastic dolls you probably will before your daughter turns 2 years old and invest in a doll that’s been handmade with cloth, wool, and cotton. Don’t give them all the plastic, commercialized options  – only 1 or 2 dolls to love and appreciate with a story that is unique.

The first dolls my girls received were from me. I was so excited to purchase Corelle dolls but with my current awareness of plastic, I would lump these high-end dolls into the same vinyl category as the rest. Made from vinyl and what makes Corelle dolls even worse in my opinion is the fact they release scent when squeezed. Yes, we probably even pay extra for it. But will the company respond to questions asked about if the perfume being released is synthetic or not?  Of course not. And to me – unless you prove and market to me that your doll is something other than made from the cheapest form of plastic that starts polluting with carcinogenic dioxin from the moment it’s first made – then I won’t even entertain the thought that you’re different.

But do you want to see something different?  Check out Bamboletta’s magic. And just in case you think Christina forgot to add the hair to the dollies in the front – this upload of dolls was on it’s way to Ronald MacDonald House in Vancouver – the dolls in the front have lost their hair after going through chemo so you can guess who the recipients are for these bald dolls. All of the dolls in the photo below have been donated from this generous company that just keeps on giving back to the community. All the time. When you follow their updates on Facebook you feel like the world truly contains people with good hearts, doing good things with their talent. The team at Bamboletta is special and there is a good reason why it takes so long to actually purchase these dolls. If you are wanting to purchase a Bamboletta doll just remember that all magical things in life are worth waiting for but might take a little hard work – these are no exception.

And here is a photo I snapped from a recent table from The Rice Babies doll selections; hip, handmade, and perfect for the older crowd.  Way to go Kellie – I’ll be proud to say “I knew her when..”

 

Related Articles:

The Bamboletta Story

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Dilly Dally Kids – Wooden Wonders

I rarely get the treat of walking into a business to write a review – normally we focus on online stores. So while this article is more directed at Vancouver consumers, the rest of North America will meet an online Dilly Dally Kids later this year when they launch their online store. So bookmark them on Facebook and stay up to date on their beautiful sourcing. The wooden selection at this toy store caught my eye last Christmas where I picked up many wooden characters for stockings and rainbow stackers for gifts. This year at Dilly Dally Kids is no different and the wooden selections are hands down unique. Why? I’m convinced you could replace or never be tempted to purchase the plastic characters we buy purely for the detail and durability. Want to see an example? All kids of any age like staples and dinosaurs are one of these toys. Check out the below design of these hand painted wooden dinosaurs available at Dilly Dally – so bright and fun that a child won’t feel ‘forced’ into sustainable play. All of the wooden play figures ranging from woodland, farm, dinosaur, fairy tale, forest creatures have such great detail. The pictures below were all taken from my visit. . .I had a little too much fun setting up the toys!

Continuing on the wooden journey at Dilly Dally Kids – more wooden wonders kept jumping off the shelf. I think wooden toys are my favourite because at the end of their play life – they can be composted. Especially now with wooden toys covered in beeswax or orange oil, then painted with veggie based paints. Do we not all wish we could do away with the hoards of small plastic toys our children collect over the span of their childhood? There is nothing to do with these toys except continue to pass them down until someone finally puts them in the garbage. Knowing these toys will then outlive our grandchildren at the landfill is not a good feeling. It hurts to give plastic toy characters and receive them! So I’m just a huge fan of wood and a classic toy that all children love – BLOCKS. Normally I would give blocks an age rating of 5 and under but I was reminded by my 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son recently how awesome blocks are. Especially the spheres and different shaped blocks – kids will build and discover with a good quality set of blocks for a long time. Invest in a great set early and watch their play evolve over the years. I love the back wall of block at Dilly Dally Kids – it’s just a solid display of all the different classic block options.

There was more magic to discover and I urge you to checkout Dilly Dally on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. They have classic games, work books, stories, stocking stuffers, Waldorf inspired, and traditional toys. I’ll be sharing more of their selections via Facebook, but the last picture I want to share is the fleet of wooden bath toys that are water safe. I also love wood in a child’s bathtub – although it’s trickier to ensure the toy dries properly; tip the boat over and you shouldn’t have any problems. You’ll find less mold on wood toys than plastic ones with holes in the bottom and you don’t need to worry about anything leaching from the plastic. With many of the wooden toys made in Europe at Dilly Dally Kids – these boats are made in Canada. Great sourcing Dilly Dally and check out their holiday gift guide to view more of their amazing toys!

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