6 tips for your best family picture

fp1 Family photo taken by my mom at our neighborhood park.

The leaves are just starting to turn, and you can almost smell the freshly sharpened pencils in the air. That means it’s time to take your annual holiday card family photo!

No, I mean it.

I’m guilty of planning our family picture months, if not seasons, in advance. I think of it as a bookmark in time. Someday, I’d like to look back and see my kids growing bigger every year while we parents (hopefully) remain unchanged.

You’re guaranteed great results if you book a professional photo shoot. But maybe you can’t work it out schedule-wise, or you don’t have the budget. (Look, we’ve all been there.) Here are 6 tips from a photo pro on how to take your own fabulous family photo.

1. Go outside.

Unless you are blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and absolutely zero clutter, don’t try to take the photo in your house. Find a pretty park with lots of trees, or a beautiful building. Think about what’s behind you: are there telephone poles, parked cars, lingering strangers that are going to show up in the background? And go do it now, not the second week in December, unless you like being cold and wet.

2. Time it right.

Your best bet is a cloudy day (luckily, this is Seattle). The harsh light on sunny days doesn’t flatter anyone. If it is clear, find a big, shady location. And of course, as any parent knows, shoot in the morning when the kiddos are at their cheeriest and most cooperative.

fp2It was a sunny day, so we found a shady walkway at Seattle Center.

3. Wear heels.

While you are at it, dig out a dress from the back of your closet and put on brighter makeup than you’d normally wear. It photographs better, and hey, do you want to be remembered in yoga pants and a pony tail? When dressing your family, channel your inner Michelle Obama. Solid colors, in jewel tones, look great. Avoid black or white.
It was a chilly February day, and I made everyone take off their coats for this picture.

4. Remember, your smile is your best accessory.

This is something I tell brides. If you are nervous or stressed out, it will show. So please, please, relax and think about why 6 was afraid of 7. (Because 7, 8, 9. Ha, ha.)

5. Set your aperture to f2.8.

This step is optional, and only applies if you have a camera where you can adjust the aperture (the opening that controls how much light comes into the lens). It allows your subjects to be crisp and the background to be pleasantly out of focus.

6. Get a friend to help.

Lately, I’ve been setting up my camera on a tripod and coercing someone else to hit the shutter for me a zillion times. You only need one great frame, and chances are higher you will get it if you have options to choose from. If you set up the picture, literally anyone walking by can press that button for you. I’ve used my mom, my brother, random students on the Quad… The results are stiff when I’ve tried using the self-timer, and no one wants to see your distorted arm holding a selfie stick.

There you go! Now go make that family picture that will make all the others on the fridge door jealous.

36 (really cheap) hours in Portland

Portland is a 3-hour drive from Seattle, but with traffic it can easily be 5 or more. We’d talked and talked and talked about making the trip, and last weekend, we finally did it! It was Joseph’s last weekend before kindergarten, so it was our last hurrah before buckling into the school schedule.

Here’s how we made it a frugal family getaway:

acThe International Rose Test Garden is a perfect cheap date, or in our case, pit stop after a long drive. We arrived in Portland Friday afternoon, and Paul was starting to lose it in the car. We were all relieved to get out and stretch our legs. The garden is spectacularly beautiful and smells amazing. There are even nice public bathrooms and a children’s playground.

Cost: free

p3The Pacific Science Center is convenient because it’s just down the hill from our house, but it’s got nothing on Portland’s OMSI. That place was incredible. Joseph and Paul could have played in their kids’ room all day. Paul was covered in glittery white sand when we pulled him out of there. Mom tip: the museum’s “cafeteria” is actually an upscale dining room with yummy, affordable food.

Cost: Free admission with a reciprocal Pacific Science Center membership. $25 for lunch for our family of four.

p2Just outside OMSI, we caught a streetcar over Tilikum Crossing, a pedestrian/cyclist/transit vehicle-only bridge. It’s just one stop across the Willamette River, and my kids loved the ride.

Cost: $2 per adult for a 2.5 hour pass

p4p5 p6There’s no gondola in Seattle, so I had to take our transportation-loving boys to try out Portland’s Aerial Tram. What a view, what a city.

Cost: $4.55 per adult

p1One bite of Saburo’s in my mouth and all my Portland dreams came true. Sushi that good means there’s a long line but it’s worth the wait. One friend generously stood in line for 45 minutes before the restaurant opened to snag a table for our party.

Cost: I don’t know! We were treated by friends. Saburo’s sushi costs about the same as other sushi places, but their portions are twice as big. So either go in ordering less than you normally do, or stuff yourself silly and leave with a big take-out box.

Other cost-savings:

  • We crashed with friends, so our lodging was $0.
  • I packed lots of fruit and snacks from our pantry, so our dining bill was minimal. Also, it’s not like you’re going to order fruit at a restaurant, and fruit is pretty much all my kids eat.

Clearly, the biggest savings is to be really nice to your Portland friends. Here’s hoping we get invited back!

Sending my first kid to kindergarten

“It’s always harder on the parents,” the nice woman in the school’s office assured me. She guessed correctly that the panicked caller — me — was sending her first kid to kindergarten.

Now that the first week is a wrap, I can start to breathe again. Joseph says he likes school — his favorite things are recess, snack and lunch. We made it through the week without using the spare set of clothes and with only a few tears. Here’s a look at those first few days of kindergarten.

I cheated a bit on the photo for that all-important “first day of kindergarten” Facebook post. I took the picture the day we met Joseph’s teacher because technically, it was the first day of school. Plus, I knew we’d be stressed out and running late on the actual first day of kindergarten.


Nearly every weekend this summer, while baby brother napped, Joseph and my husband hit the playground at his soon-to-be elementary school. We also took every kindergarten tour offered, and the new student tour to boot. I wanted Joseph to be ultra-comfortable in his new environment. This year, Seattle Public School introduced a family connections meeting for every incoming kindergartner, a half-hour with the teacher before starting school. It was great to have that one-on-one time and to explore the classroom without the chaos of 20 new students.



Joseph’s favorite thing in the world is birthdays. So we played it up, celebrating with a “Happy Kindergarten to You!” chocolate cake the night before, and greeting him with balloons at pickup.

pJoseph lives for meals (he’s my child, after all). I’d been warned about how little the kids would eat at school, but I was still surprised by his full lunchbox at the end of the day.

qI reserved a stack of kindergarten books through the public library. Our favorite: “Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten!” by Hyewon Yum. The drawings and text are simple, and it addresses the fears and worries of a kindergartner and his mom. We also loved that the characters, with their dark hair and eyes, resembled our family.

Our neighbor across the street, mom of a middle-schooler, remembered how scary that first day of kindergarten was. But just wait, she warned, until you drop off your daughter at her first dance.


Joseph loved “bowling” so much! And by “bowling,” I mean rolling a ball down a ramp to a lane with bumpers. Kids bowl free through Sept. 4.

b1 b2 The ball return machine nearly blew his mind. Joseph used the lightest ball, 6 pounds, and he could just barely manage that.

b3 Without the ramp, the ball got stuck halfway down the lane.



Paul’s first dental checkup. He was NOT a fan. Joseph loves going to see the dentist, though, because he gets to watch a movie on the TV on the ceiling!

d1 d2 d4We tried doing x-rays, but Joseph didn’t quite get the hang of “bite down and don’t move.” He’s so small on that chair.

d3We see a pediatric dentist, and the office is super nice for kids. Toys in the exam rooms, happy colors and a bouncy ball afterward.


Joseph’s handwriting was, in a word, atrocious. He learned to read and spell early on, but his writing always looked like a doctor-in-training’s, no matter how much I scolded. (Also, I am such a Luddite, I don’t buy that line about how kids now just need keyboarding skills, not penmanship.)
Then I read this article.


I realized Joseph had no idea what I meant by “sloppy.” These past few weeks, I sat next to him when he was writing and coached him on each letter form and his posture. What a difference. The “before” is from the beginning of the month, and the “after” is yesterday’s journal entry.


And here’s Joseph with Evelynn at the aforementioned Lincoln Park. What a gem of a beach.


In 2010, I was five months pregnant with Joseph and Chris asked for “golf stuff” for Christmas. I remember thinking, “Huh?! When are you going to have time to play golf?” This weekend, we finally made it to Interbay, just down the hill. In the intervening years, the golf course and clubs have gotten a lot smaller, but Chris’ golfing companions have gotten a lot cuter. Joseph completed all 18 holes, and Paul loved his new WALKING skills.

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