Thursday, October 30, 2014

Picture Editing | Favorites

Photography has become such a hobby for me.  I had interest in it, pre-babies, when I was a way amateur food blogger and took pictures of my food (and still do for the WE EAT posts) and LOVE my food as a beautiful 'subject' (and then in my belly). 
Taking pictures of Parker and Jolie has become a challenge, as I mentioned HERE, but out of 1 bazillion shots, I still get the most precious pictures and facial expressions out of these two.  I can probably even say that I prefer the 'unposed' smiles.. but girls, you must sit really, really still!
This goes over okay for about 1 minute.  
Tops.
Instagram introduced me to the world of 'editing', and for a long time I simply used the filters provided there, but have since come to love a handful that use on a regular basis. AND because I get asked this question a couple times a week, I decided to put together a post that covers my favorites (and the why's to my selections).
I'd say 95% of my photos are taken with my iPhone 
(I legit just typed out the word EYE-Phone..it is entirely too early.)
4% are taken with my 'real' camera. 
1% are taken by my photographer friend (the best ever).

To be honest, I point and shoot with my Canon Rebel SL.  I never use the flash, and always play around and go back and forth between the Manual and AV (Aperture Priority/Value) mode settings.  Mostly because, again, I am still learning how to use it.  So, to my photography guru readers, don't cringe too hard, and please keep reading:) 
Just so we are clear, I LOVE my 'big' camera.  Best investment I've made in a long time.  Once I get a little more in tune with how to truly use it, I plan to look into other lenses and beef it up a little.
Back to the reason why we are here.. Editing.
I am no photographer at all, but I do have a vision for how I like to see things.  I think about photo-opportunities, and often wrangle Jordan into it at some point.  
He rolls his eyes most of the time, for the record. 
Once I take the pictures, what I do from there is where the 'magic' happens.  SURE- my raw photos are just fine, but the filters and editing apps are so flipping fun, it can completely change the entire look of a photo - and it is really simple! 

My FAVORITE 
Pic*Tap*Go $1.99 (with in-app purchases available)
This is my most recent editing tool, and quickly became my favorite.  
   One of my best twin momma friends introduced it to me, and I must say.. the best $1.99 I ever spent on an app.  I often use FREE apps, but she convinced me that it was 'the best everrrr', so I took the bait.  She was RIGHT.  This is now my "go to "photo editor. It's super user friendly, as most photo apps are, but the quality of the edits is what I really love.  Outside of the traditional filters you typically think of, you can do basic things like brighten, darken, shadow, or highlight your photos without losing the integrity of the shot.  You are also able select the option to 'float' a larger photo into the Instagram frame.
Number Two
VSCO Cam FREE (with in-app purchases available)
The best FREE app I've ever used.
I dowloaded this app forever ago and never played around with it enough until recently.  Before I discovered PicTapGo, this was my go-to.  The filters are much fewer, but you can purchase more, bundled and individual, which is typical for a free app anyway.  This app gives you the options of leveling the filters, as well as highlighting, saturation, shadows, sharpen, and fade.  All great things to have in a user-friendly app for photos.  I have spent a lot of wasted time trying to find 'filters' that work best for what I am going for, simply because the filters were too harsh.  
My favorite filter is T1, in case anyone was wondering.
For the FACE
Whitagram FREE
Free app, allows the option to frame the photo into a size that will fit into Instagram, but most importantly  (for me, anyway) - edits blemishes, lines, and whitens teeth! 
Let me clarify.  I use this one mostly for when I am in the photo.  Not for editing my children, if that makes me any less vain for having this app among my favorites.  I do not have perfect skin, and this app helps with the 'smoothing' out of those blemishes.  This editing feature is subtle and does the job well.  Plus, it makes me feel better about sharing it with the world, and you'd be lying if you didn't secretly feel the same.
Teeth whitening is always a plus.  Probably use this feature the least, BUT, when I need it, I have it.  The Blur feature is used for things like wrinkles, or smoothing out clothing creases (or forehead creases), but you have to be careful with this one, because it can be really harsh and it is easy to go over board and make it very obvious that you edited this photo.  The whole idea behind these sort of edits is to make them as natural as possible.
Just For Fun
Waterlogue $2.99
It is among my favorites, because it is fun.  Period.
You have to have the right picture for this one.  It is easy to lose the picture all together.  There are a handful of pictures I've used this app for and LOVE it.  I even printed one for my office, because it looked cool.  Not one that I use every day, but when I'm bored at 11pm trying to keep myself from marching into the nursery to wake two of my besets friends, I'll pull this one out and play around.
TEXT
Typic $1.99
LOVE the font options for text-add to your photos, and you are also able to create a sizable image for Instagram. 
If ever I want to put text on a photo, or create a text image from scratch, this is my go-to.  There is a FREE version of Typic, and if you do not already use it, I would download that one first before up-grading to the $1.99 version to see what you think.  Limited fonts, 'doodles', and color options, but still a great free app.  This app is also really great because it allows you to upload and add your own logo to images.  I haven't done that yet.. mainly because I don't have a logo, but it is a fun option to have when you want to 'claim' the photos as your own.  REALLY user friendly.  

Laughing in my face yet?  I love this picture SO much.  
It perfectly portrays Parker's sass to the 10th degree.  
..and Jo just smiles.  Per the usual.

So, there we have it.  Of course I have others on my phone, but these are the ones that Jordan says "I spend 5 hours on editing one photo."
Which is 100% a lie.
Liar.
Why you gotta call me out, dude?

I do not spend THAT much time playing with these apps, but yes - they are my absolute favorite.
Any editing apps (or apps in general..) you use on a regular basis?  Share away!! 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fun Run | FREE Registration

Remember when I shared about The Color Run {HERE} back in April?  We really did have the BEST time with our sweetest little bits 
(they were still so little.  And practically bald.  Where is time going..)  

I was so glad I decided to include them in this event - I think they actually had more fun than I did.  They sang and played the entire time, and provided prime entertainment to the other runners. 
We all loved them.
We have been talking about wanting to do another, but just finding the time was the
trouble.. 
If you have followed this blog for any length of time (forever..), you would have read about my runs here and there.. and now they are few and far in between.
I think this one was circa 2008 in Austin.. pre-blog, and when I had hair halfway down my back.  Take me there. NOT to 2008, but gimme that hair back.
I digres. 
Jordan and I would have SO much fun doing these kind of things together.  We would wake up early on Saturday morning (voluntarily), go for a run or something of the like, and then head to a pancake breakfast afterwards.  It was our thing.  
again from 2008 - the night before the race above.  We were like.. babies.
It was what we did a couple times a month - together.  
I would love to get into the habit of doing something (not just fun runs) now that we have a family.
I really want to be more active in the community, and bringing Parker and Jolie along to introduce them to this sort of thing gives me even more motivation.  
We (Jordan) did the Stair Climb Event back in September, and even though I didn't actually do anything, the girls loved it!

Enter The Corner Store Country Run in Dallas.  This one is a 5K family fun run hosted at Fair Park (the same at the Color Run) in Dallas on Saturday, November 8, 2014.  I'm totally going to tote my girls out and stroll them the entire 3.2 miles!  I am not a runner any more (whomp whomp..) but that doesn't mean I can't still have fun!  
In doing a little research for fun community events, this one caught my eye for a couple reasons.  
This is the first year for the Corner Store Country Run - which is actually an inaugural signature charity event - all net proceeds from the run will benefit Big Brothers | Big Sisters along with local children's charities in the Dallas area.
NOT to mention, it is Fall-themed.  After the fun time we had at the Color Run, I was so excited to do something similar again.  Hay bales, corn stalks (and giant inflatable cows and pigs) - so more FARM than fall.  But you get the idea.  
I see hay bales and corn stalks and it makes me think of cool crisp weather. What about you?
I'm going to do my best to encourage over-the-top country attire.. maybe even get Jordan to pull out his cowboy hat.  I am positive we have little cowboy hats for the girls somewhere from some family member.  We do live in Texas after all.  It is like a thing

After the run there will be tons of activities like carnival games, face painting, balloon twisting, a photo booth, live music, food, a beer garden and tons of sponsor giveaways. 
Best part? Once you are inside the fair, everything is free. No need to bring cash, all you need is ID (if you plan to consume an adult beverage)
 Even BETTER part??
I am REALLY excited to share that my readers can register for FREE using the promo code CSCRDALLAS
Regular registration fees for the event are $30 for a single runner, or $75 for a family 4-pack.
The website says free registrations for Dallas have sold out, but  readers can still use the above special promo code to register for the event for free! 
SO- Who is with me?? I would love to meet up with other mama's and their families (but families are not required!) and run/walk this thing together!  I have met so many wonderful people through blogging and social media, and would love to connect with a few more.  
I'll be out there with Miss Parker and Jolie, and their cowboy-ish daddy, so c'mon!


For more information, you can check out Corner Store Run on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  Check the Dallas race schedule here
Register here for the event.
Race begins at 8:00 a.m. and packet pick up is at the venue Friday, November 7 from 11am - 6pm.


Shoot me an email if you are interested in walking together:)
See you and your fam-bam in a few weeks!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WE EAT | Apple Chicken Sausage Meatballs & Smashed Butternut Squash

I often forget how much I love meatballs.  I mean, they are like bite-sized meat loaves - and meat loaf is pretty much amazing.  When I make meatballs the realization that meat balls are absolutely my favorite comes flooding back to me, and I vow to make meatballs for the next 4 months because I love them so.  
Bottom line: Meatballs are always a hit in this house.
Apple Chicken Sausage Meatballs
adapted from Mix & Match Mama 
1 pound Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
1 small honey crisp apples
1/2 red onion, minced
3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
--
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, combine sausage, apple, onion, cheese, egg, garlic and Panko.  Form mixture into 1-inch meat balls and place them on a foil lined baking sheet.  You'll get about 18-20 good sized meatballs.  
In a small bowl, combine ketchup, apple juice, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard and cider vinegar with a whisk.  Set aside.  After your meat balls have cooked for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and drizzle 1/2 of the sauce over the tops.  Continue to bake for another 8-10 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and just caramelized.

Smashed Butternut Squash
2 large butternut squash, 3-5 pounds each
2 small garlic bulbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
--
Line 2 large baking sheets with aluminum foil coated in cooking spray. Arrange squash halves, cut side down, on baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 1 hour, switching baking sheet positions after 35 minutes. Let cool to the touch.
To 'roast' the garlic, simmer the peeled cloves in a small saucepan with olive oil for 15-20 minutes over low/medium heat.  Remove from heat and set aside until you are ready to use.
Scoop out the roasted squash, and place in a large bowl. Mash your 'roasted' garlic cloves with a fork and add to the bowl of squash. 
Stir in half-and-half, Italian seasoning, butter, salt and pepper.
Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Serve hot.

Make Ahead: Prepare squash mash as directed. Cool, cover, and chill up to 3 days in the fridge. Reheat loosely covered with heavy-duty plastic wrap in the microwave OR bake it in a covered casserole dish at 350° until warmed through.
 I have learned a few tips and tricks along the way when it comes to b'nut squash.  After nearly cutting my hand off multiple times, I started to nuke it for just a few minutes prior to cutting to make it a little softer (and less dangerous!)  Prick the squash with a small knife; microwave each squash on HIGH 4 to 5 minutes.  Did you see what I just did there?  Saved your life.  And like 3 fingers.  
 While chicken tends to be bland alone, the apple in this recipe adds subtle sweetness, moisture, and lots of flavor.  I used the honey crisp variety because they are oh-so-delicious and crisp (as their name boasts) this time of year, but any other sweet/crispy apple would work, also.  You could totally substitute turkey or pork sausage, too!  And don't forget the delicious apple bbq sauce drizzled over top.  I especially love it in combination with the smashed squash.  A perfect substitute for mashed potatoes during the fall months. 

Have I mentioned that I absolutely love this time of year?!
Well, I do. And my cooking shows it. 

 Jo was okay with the meatballs, but questioned the texture of the butternut squash.  We have had it before, but not smashed up.  She took a couple bites, and thats what matters to me - she tried it.  I can call 2 bites a success.
 After her allowed 2-bite minimum, she provided the evening's entertainment.
Her sseeewwious face.
 HAPPY face!
 and.. of course.  The cute face.
 Too much attention to Miss Jo Grace means Parker must show out.
Having two (twins or not) is way too much fun.
Even when it is at the dinner table.  The place we should be eating and not playing.  But sometimes, their daddy proves otherwise.  
Mama joins in, as well. 
We break all the rules.

Other WE EAT meatball recipes 
Pesto Turkey Meatballs HERE
Turkey Meatballs and Guacamole HERE

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Weekend Happenings with Flower Girls | The Non-Nappers

It was a whirlwind of a weekend to say the least.  We started strong on Friday and didn't stop stop stop for air until Sunday evening.  

Oh.  And the twins did not nap.  I say that as a plural because PARKER is really the non-napper MVP this weekend and Jolie got in a cat nap here and there, but nothing like the usual 2.5-4 hours they get between the hours of noon and 4pm.   
Not because we didn't encourage it and for a reason unbeknownst to their mother.  The mother that saved one billion tasks for nap time.  

Friday morning we met the gals and pals of our small group from church for a Chic-fil-a lunch.  There was a ton of kids..even though we showed up early.. so I didn't want to steal two high chair boosters when my girls could do just fine sitting in a chair to eat.  
I was so impressed.  I think their cooperation and completion of their lunch in its entirety goes to the highest quality of people watching that was available during that lunch hour.  
headbands / bub and bug studio // sweatshirt / kid and kind
Baby(ies) First Alert.
We enjoyed our first ice cream cone.  Really.  It was impressive the sharing capabilities of these sisters.  I think the entire restaurant was waiting and waiting and patiently waiting for things to go south and the creamy goodness to hit the floor.. or laps, and it never did. 
 They housed it, and liked every nook and cranny of the cone.
 We headed straight home after 3 cups of sugar (probably why Parker never napped, and why it took Jo at least an hour to fall asleep, only for me to wake her just 30 minutes later so we could get ready to go to the wedding rehearsal dinner).
Parker laid in her crib and sang what could only be the longest song in history. 
She hit the snooze button the moment we pulled onto the street of the event center.  Great.
ZERO pictures of THAT night because of what a wonderful time it was.  Parker had a full-on meltdown of a blast that lasted the entire hour and a half we were there.  Refused to do a thing she was asked.  It was awesome. 

Jolie. She was sneaky enough to leave with the bride's rehearsal bouquet.  Sweet girl, no one would have said no to her otherwise. 
Saturday morning we kept to our normal routine as close as possible.  I wanted them to nap well so badly- for a couple of reasons.. ONE- I needed them to cooperate and be in good spirits for all the special events of this day.  TWO- we had a long night ahead.  I needed them to make it through.

No nap.  

So, it was questionable how it was all going to go down.
Thankfully, we had a successful afternoon, and only time would tell for the actual wedding.  
 It was a gorgeous evening..and even with the refusal to leave my side, we got a few 'action' shots of the bride with her tiny flower girls during picture time.

 Of course we wore moccs.
 and then we waited.  Waited for what seemed like forever.. Lots of snacks.  LOTS.
headband / royal bowtique
 Even though its blurry, I had to share.  #princessproblems.
The time was finally here.  I had to sneak away and take my seat while I left Jordan to do his daddy duties of making the girls feel as comfortable as possible before making their entrance.  
I cried.  I cried to see my sweet sleepy girls step it up to walk down the aisle. 
Parker was shy like I had never seen, and Jolie was proud to parade her 'pretty dress' down the aisle for everyone to see.  

After the wedding (and more pictures) we headed out to the dance floor.. and basically never left.  They did this the entire night.  I couldn't pull them off to eat.  To drink.  To go potty.  Nothing.  They were jammin' and having the time of their little lives.
We finally called it a night around 10pm.  They were wiped.  We disrobed them of their princess duties, and into comfy jammies and milk for the ride home.  
I don't think I remember all the thought and effort that goes into being apart of an event such as a wedding.. but then again, I had no children and was only 20 years old when I got married.. so.. my energy level was in a much different place than it is today.  

We all woke up feeling about like this.. exhausted and wanted nothing to do with the Sunday's morning light.  
Pumpkin pancakes have become their daddy's specialty, and we all needed a little comfort food after the long day/night before. 
After breakfast and baths (because we were a STICKY mess) we loaded up to make the final selections for the outdoor living.  Can I say, I'm over it?  I think we all are just eager to get it completed so we can enjoy. We are having a football watching (day) with friends next weekend.. so we are in the home stretch this week!
Sunday are for singing praises to our Jesus.  And letting everyone know it.
 tee / riley clay designs // headband / pieces to peaces
 Another nappless day.  Cat naps in the car while running errands are usually totally fine, but after two full days of no napping, AND late nights, they weren't having anything to do with cooperating and tested my patience to no end.

I was thankful these places were empty.  The baby screams when they didn't want to share anything were less embarrassing.
Finally we came home for dinner on the **almost** finished patio.  
We all felt like this by 7pm.  OH - and since it is the week of Halloween.. We plan to wear these every single night.  And for most of the day. 

Happy Monday!

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

WE EAT | {Crock Pot} BBQ Chicken & Cheddar Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

One of my first ever ever ever recipes to be published was one similar to this (HERE).. except the pregnant belly I was toting didn't allow for energy to make a trip to the store to pick up the remaining ingredients I lacked.   

I was 82 weeks pregnant with Parker and Jolie, in a state of disgust over poultry, and as an attempt to 'mix it up' and avoid cereal for dinner for the 11th time that week (because I did, in fact, eat 2-3 dinners a night..) AND of course, for the hubby's sake, I threw the three most simple ingredients I had on hand in the crock pot and figured they would taste semi-delicious.

I figured correct.  To be honest, I didn't miss the other ingredients my original recipe called for- the tang of the tender slow cooked chicken, paired with the sweetness of baked sweet potatoes and cheddar cheese was JUST as delicious and has become my go-to prep for BBQ Chicken ANYthing.   

BBQ Chicken Cheddar Stuffed Sweet Potatoes 
Serves 4
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 2 large breasts)
1 (16oz) bottle Zesty Italian salad dressing (I use Kraft)
1-2 cups BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray's)
4 medium sweet potatoes, skins scrubbed clean 
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese 

Arrange the chicken breasts in the bottom of your crock pot.  Pour the Italian dressing and the BBQ evenly over top.  Cover and cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork.  
During the last hour of cooking the chicken, pre-heat the oven to 425°F. Rub the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and prick them with the tines of a fork. Place them on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and cook the potatoes for 45 to 60 minutes - until their skin is crispy and sticking one with a fork meets no resistance. (You can also wrap them in foil, but this 'steams' the potatoes and doesn't release the sweetness of the sweet potatoes as well as if they are baked without.   This method offers up deliciously crispy potato skins!  Totally your preference.)
Remove the chicken from the crock pot, and shred or chop.  With a sieve or fine mesh strainer (like this one), strain the cooking liquid into a large measuring cup or bowl.  Place the sauce and the chicken back into the warming crock pot until ready to serve. 
To serve: slice the baked sweet potatoes lengthwise, and gently push the side inward to 'plump' up the insides of the cooked potato.  Place 1/4 of the shredded BBQ chicken into the potato and immediately top with shredded cheddar (the heat of the chicken and potato will melt the cheese pretty quick). Drizzle with the strained BBQ sauce and serve immediately!  

I served these with Grainy Mustard Brussels Sprouts - my all time favorite way to cook Sprouts!    
These little fingers were pleased with dinner - and couldn't help herself to wait 3 more minutes to be served. All up in my frame while trying to capture this yummy meal. What you don't see is the mustard-y palms Miss Parker had from swiping a Brussels Sprout or two before I could get in a shot.  
For serving the little birds, I pulled the skins off the smallest potato and cubed it before sprinkling with cheese, and served the chicken on the side.  I figured that the stuffed potato would turn into a game really quickly at the dinner table, and I wanted them to eat.  Not play. 
We have been working on prayer before our meals, and hold hands together while we pray over dinner.  I cannot help myself but to glance up at these two while we are praying- their sweet sweet smiles and giggles are beyond precious.
'Thank you God for good food..'

Its amazing to me, looking back, on how far we've come with eating and using utensils.  
..but, often our hands are still the easiest.

Parker, use your fork.  Parker, don't touch your sister.  Parker, quit feeding the dog.  
EAT, PARKER.
everything is a game.  
everything.

chess, peease.  mo' chess? 
(cheese, please.  more cheese?)
So.. can anyone take a shot at guessing where she has learned to use her fork for combing rather than eating?
Every meal she does this, and every meal I am picking food out of her hair.


Once again, a crock pot winner in this house.  I love using my crock pot for this time of year - I'm not even sure what I would do without it.
It is by far my favorite kitchen tool EVER.
Three years ago, Jordan bought me this bright and shiny crock pot (HERE) and it is still like new.  Plus you can brown meat in it, so when you are able to remove a step in the 'clean-up' process, I am sold with no questions asked!

Whip up this meal over the weekend - you won't be disappointed AND you probably already have all the ingredients on hand.  
You are already winning.

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