My Journal

Star Wars Birthday Party Ideas

Awesome Star Wars Birthday Party Ideas

In a week or so we’re leaving on a trip to Italy and various parts of Norway.  (Looking forward to some rockin’ picture taking opportunities!) My husband is from Norway so we usually go there every other year or so to visit his parents and brothers.

Anyway…one of the things we usually do before a big trip like this is to sequester ourselves a week before we leave so we don’t catch any nasty flu or cold bugs.  I mean, we still go to the grocery store and places, I just don’t take my child to the YMCA childcare or other places with lots of kiddos who could be sick. Who wants to be sick on a European vacation?!!  Not me! Blah!

This leads me to my post today.  I needed to find something fun to do with my daughter to keep us busy in the coming days.  Her 6th birthday is coming up at the end of September, and since we’re gone most of August, she starts Kindergarten full time in September, and every weekend in September is already booked, I thought now was a GREAT time to begin planning for her Star Wars birthday party!  Not only does it give us something fun and creative to pass our days with, but she gets to be an active part of planning her party and we get some time consuming things done now.

I realize this is mostly a photography blog, so here are some of the quick images from today.  Even photographers don’t have time to set up the scene all the time, and with Mod Podge all over my hands, I did the best I could to capture some images that we can look back to in the future.  After all, that is what it’s all about for me with photography for me…capturing memories and emotions!

Death Star Piñata

The first item on the agenda for the day was to make a DEATH STAR piñata! Never thought I’d say that! (I’m so glad I have a geeky kid!)  This Death Star won’t be destroying planets, but the kiddos at the party will have fun destroying it and racing to grab all the candy they can! I found the idea on this Kristen’s “More Than The Mulberries” blog and thought it was a great idea!

Items needed for a making a Death Star Piñata.

Items needed for a making a Death Star Piñata.

I took a beach ball, covered it in plastic wrap so that the Mod Podge wouldn’t stick to the the ball. We tore up some newspaper and went to town with the Mod Podge.

We began with using a paint brush and soon went straight to using our hands as brushes.  Much easier!  My daughter wasn’t so sure about having such sticky hands and not being able to push her hair out of her face, but she did enjoy peeling the layers of Mod Podge “skin” she accumulated.  Yeah, it was kinda gross.  We left an opening around the place you blow air into.

Picking off the Modge Podge!

Picking off the Modge Podge!


What one does when you can't use your hands to get your hair out of your face!

What one does when you can’t use your hands to get your hair out of your face!

Several layers later we added a top layer of black construction paper and we had ourselves a Death Star!

Almost There!

Almost There!

Finished with the Death Star!

Finished with the Death Star until it dries!

Building a Death Star, it can take a lot out of you, but we washed up, checked on the garden, and began on our next project:  R2D2 cups.

A yummy Lemon Boy tomato from the garden!

A yummy Lemon Boy tomato from the garden!

R2D2 Party Cups

For her party we’ll all be enjoying Yoda Soda (more on that in a later blog!), and what better to drink Yoda Soda in than in a R2D2 cup?! I found a link to this great R2D2 pattern on Catch My Party Blog. I enlarged it a bit in Photoshop to fit my cups better, printed it out on whole sheet of label paper (so it was basically a large sticker), and my daughter and I had fun cutting it out and decorating our cups.  Just as a planning FYI: it required two R2D2 stickers per cup.

R2D2 cup patterns

R2D2 cup patterns

Final touches on the R2D2 cups!  My daughter thought R2D2 needed his red sensor, so she added it with a marker.

Final touches on the R2D2 cups! My daughter thought R2D2 needed his red sensor, so she added it with a marker.

After I lined the cups up to take a photo of the final product, my daughter thought they looked like a droid army.  This was when the real memory-making magic came in.  She ran upstairs to get her “army” and proceeded to set up her stuffed animal dogs in a line and give them a pep talk about their upcoming battle with the droids.

Awesome R2D2 party cups!

Awesome R2D2 party cups!

My daughter prepping the troops for a battle against the droid army!

My daughter prepping the troops for a battle against the droid army!

Getting ready to attack!

A dog’s eye view.

Getting ready to do battle!

Getting ready to do battle!

I love spontaneous moments like these, and I’m so thankful to be able to capture them in  images that I’ll have forever!

I hope you enjoyed today’s installment of Star Wars Birthday Ideas and photos!  I’ll have more to show you in the next view days of finishing the Death Star and some yummy Star Wars party treats! (*UPDATE*- The post of Day 2 is here!)

Thanks for reading!


P.S.:  Feel free to share these ideas on Facebook or Pinterest!!




5 Must See WordPress Templates for Photographers

Responsive_Web_DesignOn The Hunt For A Fantastic Photography WordPress Template

It should be fairly easy, right?!  With all of the templates out there available for websites, you’d think that finding a great template that meets almost any want and need would be easy to find!

Well, as in many situations, it depends upon what you’re looking for.

My purpose in writing this post is to take the knowledge I’ve gained over many hours of searching the web for my own website template and help you in your template search. This post probably suits small photography businesses the best, but if you’re an avid blogger or run a business that needs to display portfolios, you will find some great sites here as well.

Template Options that Aren’t Included Here:

First, let me start off by saying that there are many different options out there for you.  Since I already have a web host, Site5 (I LOVE their customer service!), my search excluded those sites that sell you templates and hosting all in one. 

Second, although I looked at sites such as iThemes Builder design and Headway, which are some really sweet looking drag and drop themes, I didn’t really consider them contenders for this blog post.  This is due to the fact that once you buy their template, you only receive one year of support and updates.  Unless you are super fly with writing code, this means that you are going to be shelling out more money in the long run because 1) eventually you will run into issues and need help and 2) updates are necessary to keep a website current.

ProPhoto is another template company that many photographers use.  They have some really nice looking designs (13 are included), but they are pricy to start -$199 (all of the other templates I reviewed were between $50-$90). Also, they sell fantastic add on designs, but it’s going to cost you – many of them $100 and up – on top of what you’ve already paid.  Right now the system uses Prophoto4, and once they upgrade to Prophoto5 this will be another paid upgrade if you want updates.

Searching For a Great Web Template

If you haven’t already, make a list of characteristics you want for your website or blog.  Here are some of mine as a photographer.


It has to be relatively easy to use for non-coders.  I’m no stranger to using a computer, however, I am not a web designer, so it needs to have a admin. panel that makes customization ‘easy’.  Any unnecessary time spend learning something that could already be found in a user friendly template = a loss in productivity for me.

 There have to be a variety of gallery options for displaying photos:  fullscreen, masonry grid, inline slideshow…at least some options besides the plain old WordPress standard gallery.

SEO optimization is must.  It would be useless for me to create a website with all the bells and whistles and rank poorly in search engines.

It has to be responsive and work well not only on computers, but tablets and smart phones too.


It has to have a killer front page with room for displaying multiple photos at one time. Someone web searching for photographers may only spend 8 seconds on my website.  If my front page doesn’t draw them in and make them want to see more then I can spend all the time in the world making my other pages awesome and it won’t help me a bit.

 Woo-commerce templates built in.  Although I don’t currently sell my Fine Art Photography on this website, it is definitely something I will probably do in the future and want to have that option available.

Honestly, I want something a little more feminine or gender neutral. In my search I found this difficult.  So many templates are designed by men for (what it feels like) men.  This just isn’t the trend right now in everyday portrait photography, and I don’t want prospective clients to shy away because they get the wrong impression about my photography from my website.

Must See WordPress Templates for Photographers: The Top Contenders

I literally looked at hundreds of templates.  These were some of the best as far as I could tell from their demos, ratings, and the questions I asked their creators.  Just as a disclaimer, I did not have access to actually being able to try these myself except the last one, Flashlight.


The Pros:

  • a modern, clean and bright look

  • drag and drop layout builder

  • front page that displays multiple photos at once

  • multiple gallery and blog templates to choose from

  • responsive design

  • built in social media integration

The Cons:

  • no e-commerce templates built in

 Duotive Three


The Pros:

  • front page displays multiple photos at once

  • huge potential for modifying the look of the theme over time

  • fantastic page layouts

  • the designer responded quickly to my questions

  • many built in color schemes that are easy to change

  • social media integration

  • responsive design

The Cons:

  • no e-commerce built in

  • the front page looks awesome, but may be too ‘busy’ and overwhelm potential clients 


thumb_theme_chamomile (1)

The Pros:

  • a more feminine theme (which is really hard to find in a stand alone template!)

  • e-commerce ready

  • a front page that supports multiple photos, which photos linking to different page

  • social media integration

  • responsive design

The Cons:

  • only one page option for both blog and photo gallery

  • ?? Customer service lacking ??  – I don’t know if this is typical of BluChicwho makes this template, but I emailed them a few questions (through their support site) on Thursday, and it’s now Monday and I haven’t heard back.  They claim they respond within 24 hours.  



The Pros:

  • woo-commerce ready

  • many different portfolio options

  • multiple built in skins

  • responsive design

  • they actually give you a preview of the admin. panel and what it would be like to work with their template

The Cons:

  • no specific gallery template, although the portfolio template may suffice depending on what you need



Before I begin, I have to say that this is the template that I use for my site, so I have a much better working knowledge of it. Overall, I’ve been happy with it and the support and updates I receive.  It responds well to plugins and widgets.  It’s been a little bit of work learning how to navigate it, but I’m sure that is true of any template when the person is new to website creation.

The Pros:

  • woo-commerce ready

  • responsive design

  • some built in social integration

  • fantastic tech support (way to go Kriesi)!!

  • multiple gallery and portfolio layouts

  • SEO optimized

The Cons:

  • The front page has a nice looking fullscreen page, but I find that it doesn’t fit my pictures well without modification.  It makes the picture fit the screen which can make a image of a child’s head go out partly out of view – not so great for prospective clients.  So, I have to be a little picky about which images I choose, or modify them in Photoshop by shrinking the photo and adding a black background. It also makes portrait orientated photos hard to display on the front page, unless doing something similar.

  • no built in Facebook commenting

  • From my search, it looks like some of the other sites reviewed may have a more extensive admin. panel for making changes without using code.


I really hope that this post can help you in your search for your own personal web template.  There are so many options out there, but honestly, if I were going to change templates now, it would be to one of these – and I’ve looked at SO MANY!

I would love it if you would drop me a note or comment below!  Happy template hunting!!



Getting Children to Smile For Photos: Tips and Tricks

untitled-5466I had the privilege of having an awesome photo shoot with two sweet little boys ages 6 months and 3 years a couple of weeks ago.  I LOVE taking photos of babies around 4-7 months!!  They still have their baby fat and look adorable, aren’t too mobile yet, and they give you some AMAZING smiles…ones that come from the gut!

That got me thinking about writing a post with some tips for parents or beginning photographers who take photos of children.  Sometimes for children in that preschool stage, it can be like pulling teeth to get a real smile with emotions.

You can find more photos from my photo shoot with these two cuties at the bottom of this post, but first…

Getting those REAL Smiles:  Tricks and Tips 

1.  PLEASE don’t make them say CHEESE 

It’s almost as ingrained in the American consciousness as apple pie.  We get in a pinch, want our kids to smile, and we automatically say: “SAY CHEESE”.  Although it may make the corners of their mouth turn up in what looks like some resemblance of a smile, it is not the kind of smile you’re going for.  Saying “cheese” can easily lead to a squinty eyed, all teeth barred smile that looks fake.  For some reason, I’ve also noticed that children tilt their heads and stick out their chins when they say “cheese”.  Bottom line:  Just don’t say it!

2.  The child needs to feel relaxed.

Especially during photo shoots, it pays off in smiles later to help the child feel comfortable around you first. In my photo shoots, I try to talk a little with the child before we start shooting. I ask them questions about themselves and tell them a little about me.  I let them pet my pet bunny Dini if they want.  It helps to make them more comfortable and cooperative.

This goes the same for parents trying to take photos of their children.  If you are super stressed out about getting that perfect photo – the stress is probably rubbing off on your child too.  Parents can get a little intense sometimes -especially when it’s a photo of a special Christmas outfit or birthday.  We want the photos to be beautiful, but the process needs to be as relaxed as possible.

3.  Make sure the child isn’t cold, hungry or TIRED.

Let’s face it -NONE of us feels very cooperative if we’re starving, cold, or tired.  This should be pretty self evident, but sometimes we just forget – or we don’t want that perfect outfit ruined by a big blotch goo on the shirt before the photo shoot.   Try giving them a string cheese, fruit snack, or other non-sticky-gooey-crummy snack to fill those little tummies.  Oh, and don’t plan a photo shoot during your child’s nap time.  Help your child have a successful photo shoot by planning according to your child’s needs.


With many kids, asking them silly questions really gets them smiling.

  • “So, I hear your 25 years old!  WHAT, you’re NOT?!  Are you sure?….”

  • “You’re name is Tinkerbell, right?  What, it’s Luke?!  I don’t know… I thought your mom said Tinkerbell!

and so on…   This may sound a little silly, but it often works for me and kids think it’s hilarious.

5.  Use a little reverse psychology

I often use a little reverse psychology trick in my photo shoots, and it seems to work well especially for kids around 4 and 5 years old. I tell the child (in a kind tone of voice):  “Do not smile. Under NO circumstances should you smile.  Don’t smile. Hey, you’re smiling.  No, you can’t!!”  Sounds crazy, but somehow it works!

6.  Let them be goofy!

Let’s face it.  Goofiness comes with the territory of toddlers and preschoolers.  Nobody can sit and smile for 30 minutes to an hour and not go a little nutty!  I still remember how my face hurt after my wedding photos.  I thought my face would forever be stuck in the “SMILE” position.

I often ask a child to show me different emotions during a photo shoot.

For example:  Can you show me a MAD face?…what about a SERIOUS face?

Fun Family and Photo Shoot 3Can you show me a SILLY face?…what about a SCARED face?

This goes on until I get to a HAPPY face.   I often find that this works, and sometimes I get some awesome results that aren’t from the “happy face”!

Well, I hope that these little tricks will help you the next time you are trying to get an awesome pic of your child or client! Please feel free to like, comment, and share this post!  Thanks!  Oh, and don’t forget to check out my last photo shoot with these two super cuties below!


Fun Child and Family Photography in Fond du Lac: Madison and Kinsley

untitled-4821Last week I the pleasure of taking family photos with Madison and Kinsley – two super cute little girls with a mom who has STYLE!  This was the third photo shoot I’ve had with these girls, and I look forward to seeing what awesomely cute outfits their mom has come up with for each shoot! It’s also fun to see them grow.

I love it when parents get excited about their children’s photos and put some time and effort into designing the photo shoot the way they would like it.  After all, the photos are going to be on YOUR walls for years!!  I always have photography props on hand, but when a parent brings something from home that is meaningful to the family – maybe a blanket knitted by a family member, a small rocking chair, a fun hat that a friend gave the child as a gift – it makes the photography session and the images that are born from it much more meaningful.  These little girls’ momma was rockin’ it in teal jeans for all of them, fun necklaces, a hat for the birthday girl who just turned one, bubbles, and even a BOA.

One of the things I’ve learned about child photography, especially for the under 3 crowd, is that you really have to be patient and go with the flow.  Little ones’ attention spans are short.  They get tired easily.  I try to make the session as fun and relaxed as I can.  Often times this results in the most natural and beautiful pics.


Fine Art Photography: Branson Landscape and Nature

Photography fun in Missouri

A week ago I went on a much needed family vacation to Branson, Missouri.  My mom and dad drove in, while my husband, daughter and I flew into Branson.  (I gotta say, Branson has the cutest little airport I’ve ever seen!)

I’d never been to Branson before, and quite honestly, I had kind of thought of Branson as a place people my parent’s age went to have fun (no offense mom and dad!).  It turns out that there were actually quite of few things to do there for the whole family and some beautiful landscapes accented by Autumn’s colors.

Do Landscape Photographers Get Vacations?

Sure, kind of…?!?

The times I travel somewhere out of my normal geographical area, my eyes are especially sensitive to looking for new sights and places to photograph.  Over time, I’ve become better at knowing whether a scene will translate well from the “real” world to print, and if it’s worth investing time at a certain location.  This is important, especially when you have four other people in the car waiting on you and one of them is a 5 year old!  (There are some negatives to only having ONE car on vacation!)  Eventually, I just took over driving while looking for locations to shoot.  It is a lot easier than “DAD STOP THE CAR!” once you’re already past a scenic location.

All humor aside, Missouri really did have some beautiful rolling hills, cliffs, and valleys full of Fall colors.  I was also able to capture a couple of images from inside Marvel Cave.  It was challenging, as I didn’t have a tripod, it was DARK, and we were almost constantly moving on our tour.  But, the cave especially was full of beautiful textures that I really enjoyed capturing.  I hope you enjoy these images from Branson and the surrounding area.

Enjoy this post?  Feel free to comment below!





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