Archive of ‘Photography + Travel’ category

Photography: How to Style Your Family for Photo Sessions

Photo credit: Synthia Therese Photography

Let me start by saying that I am not a style blogger and don’t consider myself a fashion icon.

Most of my outfits come straight from the sale racks at stores like Nordstrom, Zara, and H&M. (Out of principle, I won’t pay full price for something.)

There have been many mornings before work where I’ve worried whether my outfit looked alright and resorted to asking for advice from my husband and two kids.

However, I’ve done a ton of family photo sessions over the years. I’m sure many who have had a family photography Minneapolis session knows that isn’t as easy as booking the cameraman and arriving on time. I completely understand the struggle and stress involved with getting out of the house looking presentable and keeping everyone in a good mood so we are happy in front of the camera. Or at least look happy in front of the camera.

I’ve blogged about the suckiness of family photo sessions here.

Spoiler alert: it ain’t for the faint of heart. On the same token, it gets a lot easier as your kids get older, so moms of really young kids, you’ll be out of the woods soon. Once that happens, you will have some amazing pictures of your family, whether that’s to put on a wall in your house or to make personalized necklaces (personalisierte Foto Halskette) for you and your children.


    Five Best Things About Growing Up in a Small Town

    DeLand’s main street, Woodland Boulevard, in the 1960s

    Well I was born in a small town / And I live in a small town / Probably die in a small town / Oh, those small communities.

    Educated in a small town / Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town / Used to daydream in that small town / Another boring romantic that’s me.

    No I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me / Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town / And people let me be just what I want to be.

    – John Mellencamp, Small Town (1985)

    I can relate.

    I was born in the small Florida town of Eustis before my family moved to the even smaller town of Palm Coast before finally relocating us to the small town of DeLand, which I consider home.

    Because we were always moving around a lot during my childhood, we used to put our furniture into storage.

    Not only is it far more economical to reuse all your furniture but it is also useful to keep bulky items stored away while you redecorate and turn a new house into a home.

    One of my friends in Australia moves around a lot with her work and she used some of the best storage in Perth while she renovated her new house.

    It’s little things like this that make the moving process that little bit easier. This makes me think, back then there weren’t companies that would offer similar services to this SUV shipping and for other vehicles, if you wanted to keep your car while moving elsewhere in the USA back then, you’d have to drive it yourself! Talk about expensive and stressful?! Moving has never been easier than in today’s technical climate!

    Back to my home now though and wedged between Daytona Beach and Orlando, DeLand is the county seat of Volusia County. As of the 2010 census, DeLand had a population of 27,031. It was the filming location of the 1999 Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy. Notable DeLand natives include baseball player, Chipper Jones, and singer-songwriter, Terence Trent D’Arby (Wish me, love, a wishing well…).


      La Bamba: Fear of Flying

      Why I motherfreaking hate flying | The Champagne Supernova

      My parents (really, my mother) were always relatively liberal regarding what movies and television shows they let me and my sister watch as children.

      Granted, that was thirty years ago and before the rise of MTV and reality shows, so things are a lot racier now than my Southern Baptist upbringing would have permitted.

      As a young child, my mom let met watch La Bamba. The movie starred Lou Diamond Phillips (a 1980s heartthrob) and was about Ritchie Valens, the Mexican singer who died in a plane crash after hitting it big with his popular song, La Bamba. Buddy Holly and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in the same crash. The movie took place in the late 1950s timeframe and came out in 1987, when I would have been five years old.

      It was pretty much my first introduction to an airplane.

      No bueno. (Pun intended.)


        Travel: Five Best Places to Vacation with Kids

        The best places to go on vacation with kids | The Champagne SupernovaAs fall is in full swing and people are starting to think about where to spend next summer’s vacations, I wanted to create a post dedicated to family-friendly travel. Not the expert, I enlisted the help of my longtime law school friend and fellow blogger, Anastasia, for tips and pointers. I hope you enjoy her perspective, and scoot on over to her blog for travel tips on a budget.

        Family vacations: where to go, is there anything there to entertain the kids, how much will this cost? I am assuming this is what goes through every parent’s mind when it comes time to plan the family vacation. I bet it feels more like a chore than an adventure, so I am guessing that most people just go back to what they know: Disney.

        Chad and I don’t have kids yet, but I bet a lot of readers of this blog do, and, since the purpose of this blog is to inspire you to incorporate travel into your life, regardless of what stage in life you are in, I put together a list of the 5 best U.S. cities for family travel. Think of this as an alternative to Disney, because, let’s be honest, how many times can you really visit the mouse’s house without wondering if you (or your wallet!) can take it.


          Family Pictures with Young Children: Not for the Faint of Heart

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Does anyone have any xanax I can borrow? Asking for a friend.

          There are worse things in life than taking family pictures with young children.

          Accidentally hitting someone with your car and killing them.

          Biting into a large piece of gristle when you’re eating steak.

          Stepping on a tack with your bare foot.

          That’s about it.

          Of course, it’s much easier if you hire a photographer like Aida Llanos Family Photographer to take your family pictures because they have the experience to be able to take good pictures AND keep the kids smiling! But sometimes you feel like you’re all looking nice and want to capture the moment forever!

          From a “big picture” perspective, I know that sucking it up and taking the family photographs will result in a handful of beautiful pictures that will be cherished for a lifetime.

          And when I say handful, you better believe I mean we are fortunate to receive three decent pictures out of twelve thousand terrible ones.

          I have friends with young children who had to literally re-take family photographs after their honest photographers confessed he or she didn’t receive even one good shot during the photo session.

          However, there is a part of me that puts that down to them not hiring somewhere like this Los Angeles Baby Photography agency to do their photographs in the first place, but I also know how hard it can be to make children, or babies for that matter, sit still for a photoshoot.

          And in the age of Photoshop, Afterlight, and VSCO Cam, that’s pretty bad. But believable. Because photographing young children is one of the hardest things on the planet. Even armed with fancy photo editing tools and applications, photographers are only as good as their subjects.

          Then comes the pressure to jump online and order holiday cards the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving “because that’s when all the good deals are, and you have a coupon code that expires on Sunday, Goshdarnit!”

          And so you order a couple hundred cards to mail to all of your close friends acquaintances.

          Then you freak out as soon as you push the “confirm order” button on your computer, because you realize you chose the “Merry Christmas” card option instead of the “Happy Holidays” one, and you don’t want to insult your buddies who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Diwali.

          So you seek validation that you made the right choice from your husband.

          And he reminds you that anyone who legitimately gets offended by your card can be removed from next year’s list and, therefore, you’ll save $3.


          According to our friends at Hallmark, in 1843, Englishman Henry Cole came up with the idea of sending Christmas cards. Too busy to hand write personal greetings, he hired London artist, John Calcott Horsley, to design something he could send to his friends. German immigrant, Louis Prang, is known for bringing the Christmas card concept to the United States. In 1875, he printed a card that showed Killarney roses and the words “Merry Christmas.”

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Early Christmas Card- L. Prang & Co.

          Americans purchase roughly 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. Annual retail sales are estimated between $7 and $8 billion. Christmas cards account for 1.6 billion units of this figure, which includes cards in boxed sets.

          That’s a lotta cards.

          With regard to our personal holiday picture experience, in an effort to be proactive, we had our family pictures taken while we were vacationing in Boca Grande, Florida.

          I envisioned the pictures would be perfect and we would look like a family straight out of a J. Crew catalogue.

          In reality, most of the pictures that “didn’t make the Christmas card cut” look like they came out of a pamphlet for “How to Spot Tortured Children” provided by the Department of Children and Families.

          Like this one:

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          And this one:

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Some call it hugging. Others call it a choke hold.

          We also received “cuts” of our children doing goofy things out of boredom, like this one:

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Need to see it closer? Got ya covered:

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          To describe taking family pictures as “stressful” is an understatement. A huge one.

          First of all, getting everyone out of the house and looking presentable is a struggle. Our clothes needed to be ironed, my hair needed to be blow dried, and the girls needed to be fed. What was initially a 7pm start time with the photographer ended up being 8pm because my time management, coupled with the unpredictability of children, stinks.

          Just as we’re ready to leave the house: “Mom, I have to go potty!”

          Another mistake was attempting to take outdoor pictures in Florida in July, where being outside in the afternoon feels like walking into the epicenter of Hell.

          My makeup was melting off my face. I was terrified of getting sweat stains on my dress. The girls needed to be hooked up to an IV of cherry Slurpees to maintain their charismatic personalities until the photo shoot was over.

          Worst of all, after ten minutes in the humidity, my blown-out hair looked like something out of a 1980s Tina Turner music video.

          Another struggle was getting all four of us to simultaneously look at the camera and smile. By the time the kids were both looking at the lens, I wasn’t looking. Or I was staring at the ground. Or making that hideous face I subconsciously make when I’m stressed out.

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Hey guys… look at the camera!

          amily pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          It’s all fun and games until someone is picking their nose on camera…

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          … or completely freaking out.

          We were grateful to get one good shot of us standing on the famous Banyan Street, even though Arden has a look on her face like The Spanker Man is standing behind the photographer.

          Gotta take what you can get.

          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

          Complaints aside, I have a confession.

          I love getting the mail in December.

          I love rushing home from work to open my mailbox and receiving cards with my friends’ beautiful faces. I love seeing pictures of my cousins, who were my first true friends, showcasing their growing families. I love reading the funny anecdotes, stories about adopted pets, children starting school, and news of friends starting fresh chapters in different cities. I love holiday cards that double as birth announcements.

          I love it, I love it, I love it.

          Below is the final Christmas card product. It didn’t turn out perfect, but we aren’t perfect, so the East Brunswick family pictures were a perfect choice for us.

          Special thanks to Synthia at Synthia Therese Photography for her talent, patience, and sense of humor. You are a treasure to our family!

          I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and hope it involves massive amounts of love, family togetherness, peace, memories, chocolates, cheese trays, nut rolls, fruit cakes, and champagne.

          Lots of champagne.


          Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

            If God had a Score Card

            Jennifer Burby and her family in front of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina.

            Jason and me in front of the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. Getting young children to look at the camera is a golden delight, let me tell ya!

            For the last six years since we’ve been married, my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our home. This has included various venues from our wee little rental on Davis Islands after we first got married to the “big kid” home we bought five years ago in a quaint little ‘hood in Tampa.

            Hosting Thanksgiving is exhausting.

            Especially because I don’t cook.

            So what I mean to say is watching my mother cook a Thanksgiving feast is exhausting.


            To change things up this year, my husband wanted to spend Thanksgiving out of town and in the mountains. But this wasn’t just any Thanksgiving. My Dad’s 60th birthday also happened to fall on Thanksgiving day. So we called my sister and my brother in law, got them on board, and rallied our family to rent a home in Maggie Valley. The small city is nestled in the mountains of North Carolina roughly three hours north of Atlanta (depending on your speed) and 35 miles west of Asheville.

            Maggie Valley was the perfect Thanksgiving destination because my Dad’s sister, Aunt Lynda, and some of my cousins and their extended families have cabins in the area, and they were also planning on spending Thanksgiving in the mountains.

            Hot diggity.

            It would be an epic Thanksgiving birthday soiree.

            Instead of flying to North Carolina, my husband and I drove from Tampa with our two young daughters and an SUV full of junque. Essential junque, that is.

            Goldfish crackers. Coloring books. Two packages of diapers. Feather down pillows. Blankets. A stroller. A large Vera Bradley duffel bag (hello- college!) filled exclusively with my cosmetics and hair taming equipment. Twelve pairs of shoes. Ten pairs of jeans. Boogie Wipes. Stuffed Animals. A DVD player. Except ours was broken, so we settled for my husband’s 20-pound old school laptop.

            Fitting even another raisin in the car would have been challenging.

            We were the Beverly Hillbillies Griswolds.

            Articulating the nightmare associated with traveling 10 hours with an eighteen month old and three year old is another blog post in itself.

            Use your imaginations.

            The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

            Our cabin in the woods. If I keep telling myself I like to hike, maybe it will eventually be true.

            When we arrived at the cabin at 4 p.m. the day after we left Tampa, we were greeted with three large packages on the front porch. The first contained a bottle of wine (my favorite!) and the second was filled with children’s toys such as crafts, coloring books and crayons, magnets, playing cards, Christmas movies, and a Barbie sing-a-long CD. The third package was The Grand Imperial Poobah. It included gourmet popcorn, a soy candle, Skinny Girl margarita mix, whiskey, maple syrup, pancake mix, assorted teas, hot cocoa, matches, nice-smelling hand soap, and stationery.

            Man, I thought. These home owners went above and beyond welcoming us into their home. They didn’t have to do this. It’s incredible!

            Suddenly, the cheapskate in me hoped the owners wouldn’t take the cost of these goodies out of the security deposit.

            Then I opened a card that was attached to the wine bottle.

            The care packages weren’t from the owners. They were from Aunt Lynda.

            This was so typical of her. Always giving with a generous heart. Giving out of love and the sheer desire of pleasing others without expecting anything in return.

            How many times has someone done something like this for her? It doesn’t matter because Aunt Lynda doesn’t keep a score card.

            A couple weeks ago when I was sitting in the nail salon, I overheard a woman say she wasn’t attending a girlfriend’s bridal shower because that friend didn’t go to hers. Two years ago.

            I also observed a work colleague get angry with another colleague who didn’t cover a court hearing for her after she did her a favor.

            Neighbor A got fed up with Neighbor B for not bringing her dinner when she had a baby, after Neighbor A was the one who organized Neighbor B’s meal train when Neighbor B had her baby last year.

            Guilty over here as well.

            Hate to admit, but there’s been times when I have- or haven’t- done something for another person because I’ve been held hostage by my mental score card of what that person did or didn’t do for me.

            It’s ridiculous, immature, and emotionally taxing. Nonetheless, I’ve occasionally tried to justify myself.

            Then I got to thinking.

            What if God had a score card?

            What if He kept track of all the gifts and blessings He’s given to me, as well as all of the gratitude He received in return?

            What would happen if God made his blessing contingent upon my good deeds?

            I would be screwed.

            Thank God (pun intended) He doesn’t keep a score card.

            Look. I’m not trying to say we should set ourselves on fire to make other people happy. I’m also not saying we should let other people take advantage of us. What I am saying is that we should do kind things for others because we want to do them, and not because that person did or didn’t do something for us in the past.

            On the other hand, if we choose not to do something for someone, it should be because we genuinely don’t want to do it. It shouldn’t be because that person didn’t do something for us, and we know this because our stupid score cards told us so.

            As 2015 closes, can we make an effort to burn those ridiculous score cards?

            Special shout out to Aunt Lynda for her kindness. She will never know how appreciated and special she is in my life.

            Another special shout out to anyone who has traveled, or plans on traveling, with little ones around the holidays. May the force be with all of you.

            And wine. Lots of wine.


            The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

            Me and some of my cousins on Thanksgiving Day. The girl gene is coming on strong!

            The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

            When you’re three, what is better than riding the ponies outside the grocery store? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

            The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

            Hey, they aren’t arguing. I’ll take it.

            The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

              What I Would Have Missed By “Missing Out”

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              The Entrance to the Everglades Rod & Gun Club

              Sometimes in life, we have to do things we don’t necessarily want to do because it’s better for “the collective.” This is true in all relationships: husbands and wives, friends, parents and children, bosses and minions.

              Bending. Compromising. Being a good sport.

              Let me share with you a time when sucking it up resulted in one of the singlehanded best memories I’ve ever had.

              As background, my husband’s been trying to get me to go fishing with him in the Everglades for years. He routinely attempted to talk me into it and, envisioning a landscape chalk full of marshes, tall reeds, and crocodiles [read: Hell], I’ve always dodged the bullet.

              Arden has gymnastics on Saturdays. She can’t miss it.

              It’ll be too hot on the boat in the summer.

              I need to get my hair cut and colored.

              I can’t go because I have to stare directly into the sun, gargle razors, and eat a raw cockroach.

              I didn’t want to go.

              The time eventually came where I ran out of excuses and was forced to agree to go with him. We decided to head to the Everglades during the recent Labor Day weekend, and the carrot my husband wagged in my face was that our dear friends, Darin and Robin, would share a cottage with us at the Rod and Gun Club, the hotel where we would be staying.

              Ok, so if anything else, Robin and I can sip cocktails by the pool while the girls swim.

              As background, the Florida Everglades are a natural, tropical wetland system that begins at the Kissimmee River (near Orlando) and discharges into Lake Okeechobee which, for all you non-Floridians, is the huge lake in the southern portion of the state when you’re looking at a map. During the wet season, water leaving the lake forms a river that slowly flows southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. The Everglades have a wide range of weather patterns and the landscape includes a complex ecosystem including cypress swamps, mangrove forests, pine rockland, hardwood hammocks, and the marine environment of Florida Bay. The nature is beautiful and landscape rich in history, but the area is extremely remote and there aren’t a tons of non-outdoorsey things to do. As a result of it being so remote, the internet access here in general isn’t great either. I presume this is because there isn’t the infrastructure for broadband here. I’m still surprised at the slow speeds though, as there is satellite internet which provides decent speeds to remote areas. Reading from the Satellite Internet Now website, it sounds like more people here need to look at HughesNet plans ASAP.

              Let me be clear. It’s not the place for city slickers or people who enjoy the finer things.

              My husband is an avid fisherman who’s been driving down to the Everglades to take advantage of the good fishing since he was a youngster. It’s a four hour drive from Everglades City to our home in Tampa. Part of the fishing area is so remote that he had to buy a fancy emergency GPS to wear around his neck in case there was an accident because nobody would otherwise find him.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Everglades City, the town where we were staying, is located in Collier County and has a population of roughly 400 people. The nearest city, Naples, is 35 miles northwest. It is the source of 95% of the world’s stone crabs and its annual Seafood Festival is popular among the locals.

              There are a number of “Mom and Pop” hotels in the area, but perhaps the most notable is the Rod & Gun Club. Barron Collier, an advertising entrepreneur who became the largest landowner and developer in the entire state of Florida, purchased it in 1922 and turned it into a private establishment for his highfalutin friends. The Club’s hosted five presidents- Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon- as well as celebrities, to include Mick Jagger, John Wayne, Sally Field, and Ernest Hemingway.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              The Rod & Gun Club, as it sits today.

              We arrived on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and the hotel was not what I expected, based on pictures I saw on the internet.

              I felt like an extra in the movie The Land That Time Forgot.

              The city was pretty much a ghost town, and because August and September are considered “off season,” many of the restaurants and novelty stores were closed until the beginning of stone crab season (October). There were only three other restaurants open in the entire city, and they served primarily fried food. There was nothing green on any of the menus. I’m by no means a health food nut, but by the end of the weekend, I felt disgusting and never wanted to see another hush puppy in my life.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              This home across the river from the Rod & Gun Club is rumored to be owned by the Bic (lighter) family.

              The hotel was also a ghost town, with maybe a handful of other guests the entire weekend. From what I’ve read, a family purchased the Rod & Gun Club in 1972 and, in my opinion, have pretty much let it go. There is no “receptionist” and you’re lucky if someone actually answers the phone when you call. There’s also no answering service, so if you want to make a reservation, you have to repeatedly call until someone answers. This happened to my husband. There is a restaurant on the property, but the hours are strange, and sometimes the owners unilaterally decide to send the staff home if there aren’t enough customers.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Interior bar where Teddy Roosevelt would sip drinks and discuss politics. Photo Credit: Peter W. Cross

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Interior lobby area. Photo Credit: Peter W. Cross

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              The patio door leading to the restaurant.

              Oh, and they accept only cash.

              One highlight of the weekend was when my three year old locked us out of the hotel room early one morning. My husband and Darin were fishing, and, of course, the hotel lobby was closed and nobody was answering the “after hours” phone number. Surprise, surprise.

              Robin spotted a man driving by the dock with a “MAINTENANCE” magnet on the side of his pickup truck. I walked down to the water to speak with him, and he reeked of cigarettes and was sipping a Busch Light.

              It was 8 o’clock in the morning.

              Hair of the dog?

              The maintenance man couldn’t get ahold of his boss with the skeleton key, so he climbed into the unlocked window of our hotel room and opened the door for us. He then asked me to “put in a good word” about him to his boss. Which I did. Because I was dang grateful the dude got me and the kids back in the room, where there were diapers and air conditioning. It reminded me of how much work goes into keeping the optimal performance for an air conditioner going, just like how much work that man put in to help me out.

              It is hard to find things that come close to that feeling you get when you enter a room filled with air conditioning. There was a time when my friend had forgotten what it felt like, but that was all resolved when she found this ac parts jacksonville fl service to come and fix the problem. When it was finally working again, she also agreed that nothing comes close to this feeling. On a warm summer’s day, nothing can beat it, and just having the chance to cool down can help you stay productive during the day. I’m just so thankful that the maintenance man was able to sort it out for us. My friend was glad when I told her about this dilemma, as she has been having problems with her own air conditioning, and it reminded her to get in touch with a company similar to Indoor AC, in the hopes that they will be able to get her problem resolved. I hope they can, as everything seems to feel better when you have access to a fully-functioning air conditioning system.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Our cottage. Not pictured: the window where the maintenance man broke into the cottage because my three year old locked us out.

              In short, I quickly learned that sipping cocktails with Robin by the pool was a pipe dream. While there was a nice pool, there was no poolside beverage service and no pool towels, so we had to use the hotel’s bathroom towels. Which would have been fine, except there was no laundry person available to exchange our wet, chlorine-filled towels for dry ones. Oh, and the pool deck was surrounded by the hottest material- no clue what it was- but it felt like walking across hot coals.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              The front entrance to the Rod & Gun Club when arriving by boat.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by “Missing Out”- The Champagne Supernova

              I was initially mad at my husband and had a bad attitude. I’m wasting a three day weekend on this? How will we keep a toddler and three year old busy all day? What. The. Frick?

              Then something happened.

              I ended up having fun. A lot of it. I realized that after the weekend came and went, I’d likely have a pass with my husband for having to return in a long time. I could say I’ve “been there, done that.” And going back to the theme, I decided to suck it up and try to have a fun weekend with the family and our friends, despite Everglades City not being the first place I would have chosen to spend a long holiday weekend.

              Our last night in Everglades City, we had dinner at a local restaurant and decided to head back to the hotel. On a whim, my husband said “let’s take a late night boat ride, because the sky is so clear you can see the Milky Way.” Ordinarily I would have been apprehensive because it was late, the mosquitos were brutal, and the girls needed to go to bed.

              What the heck?

              Ok, let’s do it.

              So we drove the boat down the Barron River, stared at the stars, and listened to the Yachtrock station on satellite radio. Kenny Loggins’ This is It came on, and the girls danced around the boat, merrily belting out the “words” to the song. They were so happy and their joy was so pure. They were having a blast.

              I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

              If I wouldn’t have agreed to go with my husband to Everglades City, I would have missed that precious moment.

              If I would have kept my bad attitude, I would have missed that precious moment.

              If I would have insisted we not take the boat out late because it was past the girls’ bedtimes, I would have missed that precious moment.

              I would have missed it.

              This got me thinking. What other great opportunities in my life have I missed because of a bad attitude? What other chances did I miss out on because I was selfishly unwilling to bend from the rut of my own comfort zone? What else was there?

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              The Barron River where moonlight dance magic happened.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Arden by the front entrance to the Rod & Gun Club.

              The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by

              Sweet little Ellison enjoying herself on the cottage porch.

              I hope I can use this experience as a reminder to lighten up and enjoy finding the beauty in doing things I don’t necessarily want to do. Otherwise, I’ll lose the opportunity for memorable experiences.


                Summer Reading: 9 Great Books that Don’t Require a Thinking Cap

                Best Summer Reads that Don't Require a Thinking Cap: ‎

                Last year, I made the mistake of trying to get through The Goldfinch during summer vacation. As Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer prize for this novel, I figured toting it around the pool would make me look sophisticated it would be worth the read. It took literally four months to get through all 784 pages of this bad boy, which could have been shortened 500 pages if Ms. Tartt wouldn’t have been trying so hard to impress readers with her verbosity.

                C’mon… get to the point!

                While the book had a great story (or three great stories combined into one book), I don’t want to have to put on my thinking cap when I’m doused in sunscreen, drinking a pina colada, and trying to prevent my kids from drowning.

                I got together with some of my favorite bloggers and entrepreneurs to come up with the best summer reading that doesn’t require you to think too hard.

                Casey of Fly Away with Me recommends The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. “I couldn’t put this book down one summer. It took me back in time immediately! It’s a historical fiction novel about the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge. It’s a long but heart-wrenching story about family, love, loss, strength, and the human spirit. It’s also a beautiful story about medieval architecture.”

                Kristin of Better Together recommends To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. “This classic is an oldie-but-goodie. It is probably my favorite book of all time, a spot it’s held since it was forced summer reading between eighth and ninth grades. I re-read it every few years, and I feel like I glean a little more from the book each time. The theme that resonates most with me is the main character’s innocence and naivety in the face of racial injustice. If only we could all look at certain parts of life through the eyes of a child. In anticipation of the July release of Harper Lee’s long-lost (and unknown until recently) second novel, dust off your old, highlighted copy from high school and dive right in!”

                Julie of The Bedford Wife chose Little Bitty Lies by Mary Kay Andrews. “I’m only halfway through this one, but like all of her novels. It’s easy to read and hilarious (just don’t be surprised if beachgoers look at you funny if you laugh out loud). The book is written around the life of Mary Bliss McGowan, a southern woman whose husband leaves her and her daughter, without warning- taking all of her wealth with him. To reclaim what’s left, she tells one little lie… that leads to another and another.” Julie’s favorite excerpt is “Mama always said the sign of a lady’s breeding was in her chicken salad. White meat, finely ground or hand shredded, and some good Hellman’s mayonnaise, and I don’t know what all. She used to talk about some woman, from up north, who married into one of the Coca-Cola families. She uses dark meat in her chicken salad. Trailer trash.”

                Morgan of Pampers and Pearls picked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. “Set in South Carolina in 1964, the book centers around Lily Melissa Owens, a 14 year old whose life has been shaped around the faint memory of her mother’s death. She lives with her abusive father, and they have an African-American maid, Rosaleen, who is Lily’s best friend and “surrogate mother.” After Rosaleen is arrested for pouring a jar of dip on three white men, Lily breaks Rosaleen out of jail (really a hospital) and they decide to leave town. While hitch-hiking toward Tiburon, South Carolina, Lily begins a journey of learning both about the world and her mother. The Secret Life of Bees is a literary triumph about the search for love and belonging, and is a novel that possesses rare wisdom about life and the power of divinity and the female spirit.”

                Tracie of Tracie Domino Events recommends When to Rob a Bank… and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. “This books celebrates the 10th anniversary of their landmark book Freakanomics as a curated collection of their best blog posts over the years. The writing is more casual, more personal, even more outlandish than in their books. They ask and examine a host of typically off-center questions: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken? I like it because they examine every day life and provide fascinating insights about the surprising ways our world fits together. Each chapter is just a few pages, so you can easily stop reading between pool days.”

                Carlee of Crown and Ginger chose Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk. “Think Old Hollywood ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ mixed with the comical detail comparable to that of Chelsea Handler. It’s a story about a “seasoned” actress who is taken by a young, preppy buck who may be planning her demise, at least that is what her maid thinks. She narrates the entire story and believes this Gaston has planned many ways for her to fall and then sell her Tell All as his own. I love this book because, with my ADD, I need to read something that will hold my attention and not spend a lot of time in a scene or dragging out a setting. The author sucks you in, and you never have to wait for something to happen. Not to mention the amount of humor is enough to keep you bursting out loud on the beach this summer.”

                Julie of Everyday Happiness picked two books: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Husband’s Secret by Laine Moriarty. “The Nightingale is a heavy beach read, but full of romance and family drama with World War II history and it truly takes you to the place of these characters. I finished the book in two days, tears streaming down my face once it was over. It’s rare you find characters and a story with such depth.” Once you’re finished with The Nightingale and need something lighter, turn to The Husband’s Secret. “It’s a fascinating, engrossing story about Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who thinks she has the perfect life and family until she uncovers a haunting secret. I found myself wanting to be friends with Cecilia and also wanting to yell at her at the same time.”

                My choice: When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. This collection of the best selling humorist’s [short-ish] essays are purely hilarious. The stories are based on the nuances of everyday life and are Seinfeld-esque. They include anecdotes about trying to make coffee when the water is turned off, having a lozenge fall from your mouth and into the lap of a fellow plane passenger, lancing a boil from someone’s derriere, and moving to Japan to quit smoking cigarettes. When you feel like you are engulfed in flames from basking in hot vacation sunshine, this book goes right along perfectly.


                Disclaimer: some of the links in this post contain clickable affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a product from one of these links, TCS receives a commission. I believe in all of the products featured on this site and would never recommend them if I didn’t believe they were awesome.

                  Quit Screwing Up Your Pictures

                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova

                  I’ve wasted a lot of time and money trying to learn how to take great pictures.

                  This entailed the painstaking hours of learning how to use my digital camera solely in manual, taking photography classes, buying fancy-dancy cameras, lenses, computers, and editing software, bugging my photographer friends for advice, and finding time to learn how to use Lightroom.

                  The latter is still a work in progress.

                  I recently attended an awesome mentoring session with the oh-so talented Justin DeMutiis of Justin Demutiis Photography, and learned more in our two hours together than I learned in the last year of “figuring it out on my own.” I learn by doing, and I think it’s important to spend the time with a photographer actually walking you through the steps on how to edit versus reading an instruction manual or relying on Youtube. Maybe I could learn more about Lightroom and photography in general from Geoff a professional helicopter elopement wedding photographer in the Canadian Rockies. His style is different from Justin Demutiis’ so having a range of influences might help me to become a better photographer.

                  While being able to edit pictures serves as the icing on the cake, no amount of editing will fix a crappy picture that has a bad foundation. If you want professional pictures, then you are better off hiring a professional, like Olga Topchii, instead of risking not getting any good pictures of your special occasion. But if you just want to learn more about photography, then here are some of Justin’s top ten things to avoid if you want a great shot.

                  Letting the camera do the work. Avoid relying on the camera’s automatic settings. While using aperture priority is very useful and widely used by professional photographers in fast moving situations, by putting the camera on full auto, you relinquish creative control. (My note: I never thought I’d be able to figure out automatic settings, but I did, and it’s easy).
                  Leaving distracting elements in the frame – This can be odd trees, plants, water bottles, etc. It’s worth the extra few minutes to clear an area before shooting, or a few extra seconds of looking through the viewfinder to create a clean composition. Of course, if the background of a location is taking the focus of the picture off the main subject or people, there are other ways to prevent this. One way of limiting the distracting elements could be to consider purchasing a lens that isolates the background. Purchasing new lenses can be expensive, which is why it’s so important to read reviews beforehand. For example, this zeiss batis 85mm f/1.8 review might be useful to read as this lens is known for being one of the best for portrait shoots.

                  Putting the subject dead center in the frame. If you hand the average person a cell phone and ask them to take a picture of you and a friend, chances are, your heads will be in the center of the frame. This is much more manageable in the age of Instagram, but for vertical portraits, it is more pleasing for heads and eyes to be in the top third of the frame.

                  Shooting with a lens that is too wide. Cell phones generally have wide lenses, professional portraits photographer generally shoot with longer and more flattering lenses.

                  Taking too many images and/or not spending enough time on a single image. With babies and children, it is vital that you know your equipment and never stop shooting. You never know when the perfect moment will happen. With older children who take direction well, you will not feel as much pressure to go on autopilot and put the camera in burst mode. If you have a loose game-plan, a beautiful location and beautiful light, you can take a few additional moments to pay close attention to the details, perfect a pose, and create a overall pleasing image.

                  Moving slowly with kids. The above being said, it’s important to be prepared to move swiftly with children. If you take too long or give too much direction, it will be very challenging to capture a genuine moment or expression.

                  Tiny Prints - Up to 30% Off

                  Being unspontaneous. With many great moments, it is necessary to just step back and let the moment happen.

                  Being unwilling to get up close and personal. Notwithstanding the above, if a newborn baby is sleeping, for example, getting closer can often be better. By simply getting closer, you can often eliminate distractions and emphasize your subject.

                  Being unreceptive to light. Light is ever changing, but many new photographers do not take the time to learn to “see” the light. When I search for locations to shoot, I first look for the light, then a pleasing background, and lastly I consider the pose. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Light is the first of painters”.

                  Lack of Patience. With photography, practice really does make perfect. Don’t get frustrated when you don’t like your product and, instead, find ways to improve it. Here are examples of Justin’s work, all of which are being published with his permission:

                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
                  Justin’s first glimpse of becoming a professional photographer came as college freshman. He became one of eight college students in North America to win a scholarship to attend the North American Nature Photography Association’s annual summit, for which he owes his style. Not long after, he found his true calling in wedding photography, a place where all his technical skills seamlessly blend with so many things he loves. To Justin, nothing compares to providing a timeless set of images that tells the story of one of the most important and happiest days of two people’s lives.

                  If you are interested in a setting up a photo shoot or mentoring session with Justin, please contact him at 813-229-5960.

                  Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova


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