Stories about sharing memories at home

Pretty in Pink

press tour8Anyone with daughters under the age of 10 will absolutely know two things: One, the entire soundtrack to Frozen; and two, that their birthday parties are pink and about princesses.

Being the mother of twin six-year-old boys, I’ve escaped these frilly realities of life, but that doesn’t stop me admiring the photos of parties other mothers have thrown for daughters. And while I just admire, other mothers are scouring Pinterest and other sites with serious intent, desperate for ideas for the next party. Yet some parents are realizing that a solution is closer than they think. In fact, it’s sitting on their home office desk.

“Kids’ birthday parties are expensive, and can be stressful. I used to spend $200 or more on invitations alone!” explains my colleague Stacey, mother of two girls. “My five- and three-year-olds are always changing their minds on the design—and the quantity needed.”

Luckily, Stacey realized that her Epson Expression XP-810 could solve many of her problems by setting up a print shop in her house. “Nowadays I just order printable templates from and print invitations, banners, tent cards and other décor directly from my printer,” Stacey says.

Using your home printer also makes personalizing the party decorations and favors that much easier, and cost-effective, to boot. “I’ve always loved personalized items for my daughter, and when her 6th birthday was coming up, we decided to make these cute, personalized party favor bags. She loves her name, pink and being a princess, so the design was easy,” says Diane, mother of my son’s classmate, “Princess Ione”. “They are very easy to make—perfect for busy, working moms.”

ione6Diane chose clear plastic poly bags she found at the party store, which look fancier than sandwich bags, and printed the toppers they designed on card stock. “It was so easy, my daughter did most of the work! We just filled the bags with candy, folded the topper over the bag opening and fastened it with a few staples,” says Diane. “We were both very proud of how they came out.”

Looking at sites like, it’s easy to figure out how to use a home printer to cut costs while still making a birthday party unique, whether it’s for a son or a daughter. With even less effort, customized stickers can be applied to bags from the party store, with the birthday child’s name on them, or personalized for each guest.

And since many of these ideas can be used for both boys and girls, it looks like it’s time for me to move from just being inspired by the photos and actually making some. At least I still have the advantage of twins—it means I only have to host one party for both boys!

Scanning into Summer: Tips for Sharing and Organizing Children’s Artwork

Jaiden Gallery_FinalAs parents, we have the propensity to think that our child is likely to be the next Picasso or Matisse. While my children’s artwork may or may not adorn the walls of museums and galleries across the globe some day, currently it resides in heaping piles throughout my kitchen & dining room.  While I enjoy the memories that a project represents, it’s always a struggle to sort through them and choose the special pieces to share and display.

Now that school is out I wanted to look at what other parents and crafters have done with their kids’ art.  The following is a roundup of my favorite ideas for digitizing and saving school artwork, with the help of a scanner and printer:

  1. A Framed Collage:  It’s extremely hard for me to pick just one piece of school art to frame, which is why I love this idea by blogger Ms. Moth at Moth Design. By scanning and shrinking all of your favorite art projects that you’ve collected over the year, you can fit them into one large framed display.  After scanning a selection of projects you can arrange them digitally in the desired framing size and print one single glossy or semi-glossy page.  You can also have some fun with the frame color and style you use to color coordinate with rooms and other décor items in your home.
  1. The Noteworthy:  Seeing your child’s reaction to their work printed on mini photo cards is worth the work. Identify some of the more colorful pieces from your child’s collection of projects and consider scanning and printing them onto photo quality ink jet cards to turn them into personalized greeting cards for family and friends.  You can also have the kids help embellish the note cards by adding glitter, ribbon, tags or other fun items.
  1. It’s in the Bag: Need a reusable shopping bag?  Personalize your tote by printing your favorite scanned graphics directly onto iron-on transfer paper (Hint: choose the “Flip Horizontal” option on your print settings for a mirror image).  After printing the image, simply cut the graphics, leaving 1/4” of white space around the image and iron onto your bag.
  1. Digitizing Your Favorites: Epson’s blogger Jennifer St. James recently sat down with Sara Caputo, founder of Radiant Organizing + Productivity, to look at ways to digitally organize your content. The blog post looks at Evernote – a cloud-based service that allows you to collect, organize and access information when you need it. There are some tips for capturing photos and scans and uploading to Evernote that help you ensure artwork projects are conveniently accessible on your smartphone or tablet when you’re traveling or visiting with friends and family.

I’ll revisit this in a future post to dive in deeper on scanning and organizing, but in the meantime,  would love to hear from you on some of the interesting ways you’ve shared and organized your kid’s artwork.

DIY Wall Art: Q&A with Craft Hobbyist

I encounter a range of creative enthusiasts in my daily life – Mom’s with young kids who love the opportunity to creatively capture and share images of their little ones; crafters who carve time out of their busy schedules to pursue creative projects as a means of relaxation and artistic expression; and my personal favorite group (one I aspire to be part of one day), empty nesters and retirees who spend their new free time expressing their creativity through photos and design.

Their stories have inspired me to start a series that explores my community of craft peers who are passionate about photos. My goal is to share tips, ideas and how-tos for creating with photos to help inspire others.

Enter my first creative spotlight: Merritt, mom of two and self-proclaimed DIYer, explains an easy wall art project inspired by a family trip.

Q: What inspired your latest DIY project?

A: Last Mother’s Day my family surprised me with a trip to Carmel, CA – it was a full day of sand castles, rolling in the sand and amazingly warm weather. We returned home with a camera full of images that I wanted to display together as a memento of the day without using a typical multi-photo frame.

Q: What materials are needed for the project?

A: It’s a fun and easy project that requires just a few items for the photo display:

  • 4×4 inch mini square canvas panels (quantity depends on size and number of photos for display)
  • Glossy or semi-gloss photo paper and printer
  • Mod Podge® (choose satin or gloss finish)
  • Craft satin paint as accent color for canvas edges
  • Paint brush and scissors

Q: What are the steps for creating the canvas photo display project?

Step 1: Choose the photos and quantity of images that you’d like to display. A series of six or eight square panels works nicely arranged in either a horizontal or vertical pattern on the wall.

Step 2: Crop and size photos; print two square-sized photos on glossy or semi-gloss 8×10 inch paper. Make sure to choose the corresponding media type before printing. Trim final photos from full printed sheets.

Step 3: Paint all four sides of the canvas and approximately a 1-inch border of the top of the canvas panels with an accent color. Choose a color that accents the photo or room that you’re displaying the photos. Allow drying time and repeat as needed.

Step 4: Apply Mod Podge with a clean a paint brush to the top of the canvas panel and adhere a photo. Apply even strokes of Mod Podge to the top of the photo; allow drying time and repeat 3-4 times until desired surface is achieved.

Step 5: Hang the completed photo squares in a series on the desired wall in your home or office using adhesive mini hooks and enjoy.



Mom at Blackpool

There are a few things in particular that I enjoy about Facebook. I love reconnecting with old friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years. I just reconnected with my old friend Richard, and learned about his life on a rice farm in the beautiful Japanese countryside with his wife and two sons. The proud Mama in me also loves to share stories and photos of my twin boys.  They dominate my FB page.

My newest favorite thing to do, however, is to share old family photos.  My parents have tons of old photos, most of which are still stowed away in shoe boxes – of themselves as young hipsters, and of me and my brother as toddlers and teens.  Of late, I’ve been stealing the occasional photo, scanning it and sharing on Facebook.  One of my recent uploads was my Mom sitting beach-side in Blackpool, England in 1966.  The beautiful picture delighted so many in my FB family – people who knew my Mom back then and friends of mine who have never had the pleasure of meeting her.  Super fun!

I equally love it when others post “throw back” photos, I enjoy baby pictures of my friends, or better yet, high-school prom pictures, complete with puffy dresses and big hair. Posting old photos has become so popular that Facebook has deemed a specific day, “Throw Back Thursday” (aka TBT), encouraging users to post old pics of themselves and/or loved ones.  So, dig up your old photos, grab a scanner, and start sharing. Not to mention, you are also digitally preserving these fabulous photos for generations to come.

Mom and Dad, scanner coming your way, so prepare to lose the shoe boxes!

Photo Medicine for the Homesick College Student

Recently my daughter left for college. Her mother and I were excited and worried—excited that she had obtained her goal, but worried that she would be homesick and lonely. Although our daughter Margaret easily makes friends, we knew that she and her sisters are very close. Additionally, she had never made it through a sleepover without one family member in the house. In fact, we were sure we’d get a call in the middle of the night to come and get her. And at her chosen college, she would be little more than a quick midnight ride away.

Fortunately, Margaret knew herself better than we thought, and planned for success. The day after high-school graduation, she started planning what she was going to take with her to college. And boy, was she well prepared as we stuffed the minivan with bedding, towels, and more. A colleague sympathized with my situation, describing the difference between guys and gals. Evidently he shipped his son to college with two suitcases, while his daughter required her own a packed minivan.

The next day we moved her in. Fortunately, the school arranged drop-off times and provided a gang of people to empty the lines of SUVs—apparently, we weren’t the only parents with daughters. Soon enough, we got ‘er all moved and in and left for our hotel.

The next morning, we dropped by to see how she’d settled in. I noticed several framed family pictures on her desk. On the wall above her bed, she assembled a huge collage of photos that she made to keep her from feeling lonely. She made the collage very simply by choosing 30 pictures from our family’s digital photo collections and printing them in 4×6 format from our printer’s photo tray. No frames were needed, nor holes drilled for hanging a corkboard. Instead, she attached them to the wall with putty for hanging pictures.

The collage contained pictures of her friends, her sisters, grandparents, and us! As her parents, we felt great to have made the cut—although the dog seemed featured prominently. One photo in particular made me laugh out loud after hearing her explanation for choosing it. “This picture is for when I am feeling homesick. Do you notice what Katie and Lydia are wearing? Every piece of clothing belongs to ME. While I love them, this will remind me of how irritating it is to not be able to find a scarf and then go downstairs to see my sister wearing it!”

Falling in Love With a New Twist on Family Cards

The Twins

Last year I received an adorable card for Valentine’s Day, and I’ll be honest: It wasn’t from my husband or kids. Don’t get me wrong—those were fantastic…even though they were a bit heavy on the glue and glitter.

But the aforementioned adorable card was a family photo card from my cousin, and its star was her beautiful 2-year-old daughter. Like most people, I’ve gotten tons of cards to celebrate the holidays and the new year from friends and families prominently featuring their twins, singletons and/or rescued pup, but this was my first family card to honor Valentine’s Day. I fell in love with the card, and not just because of the holiday.

My cousin is a busy working mom, as many of us are, and all her good intentions to send her usual family holiday card were derailed, thanks to long hours at work and a determined and debilitating flu-bug that her daughter brought home from preschool—not the holiday gift she was hoping for. Anyway, once everyone had recovered from the flu and returned to their normal routine, the holidays were long gone. While she briefly considered an “Appreciate Your Dragon” Day card (seriously, it’s January 16th), she ultimately decided to send out Valentine’s Day cards instead.

And since this was the only family Valentine’s card I received, it stood out. If it had been a holiday card, it would probably have gotten lost among the flood of cards usually sent during the holiday season and not been awarded primo positioning on our bulletin board, as it deserved.
I loved the idea so much that this year I—ahem—intentionally didn’t send out my traditional Happy New Year cards, so I can send Valentine’s Day cards this month. I perused all the recent photos on my iPhone, found the perfect one and have my cards ready to go, thanks to my XP-810 and photo cards.

Now, all I need are address labels and stamps, and I’m good to go. This 2014 it’s Valentine’s Day cards for all my friends and family! That is, unless my plans are sabotaged by one of the boys bringing home a “present” from kindergarten for me….

How I Became the Favorite Son-in-law

Let me tell you a story about my mother-in-law. She lives across the country from all six of her children and their families.

My story actually starts with my sister-in-law Anne, who made a trip to visit her mother. Once she got settled in, she made her way to the kitchen, which always seems to be the social hub of the household. What she discovered was incredibly unsettling. In fact, she was seriously appalled—the only pictures on her mother’s refrigerator were ones that featured my daughters. And there wasn’t just one or two; the entire top of the fridge at eye level was completely covered with photos of my two girls.

Indignant, Anne confronted my mother-in-law. “Mom, why are only Ellen’s kids pictures on the fridge? I send you pictures weekly! I got you set up on Facebook so you could share the pictures!”

Her response was simple. Although she loves everyone equally, she confessed that Joe and Ellen send her actual PRINTS of pictures. And although she enjoyed getting pictures electronically, it was too much work for her to get the pictures onto the fridge from email or Facebook. And although physical prints take longer to transport than through email or social networks, once they arrived, they were ready to display.

It’s no surprise that since that fateful trip, my wife’s family has gone back to sending prints. Emails and Facebook can’t be beat for immediacy, but you can bet it’s more difficult to show them to your bridge group. Fridge photos win every time.

How to Make the Perfect Holiday Gift

What is the best holiday gift? It’s the beginning of November.  Halloween is over, and fall leaves have replaced the candy at the local grocery store. Santa and his elves are peeking out of the aisles, and the gift-giving season is upon us—whether we’re ready or not.

Truth be told: I love it. I love to give gifts and I love to receive gifts, no matter how large and no matter how small. And ever since my children were born, one gift I have always given is photographs. Sometimes the gifts have been professional pictures, but most of time they have been snapshots.  Snapshots are usually more candid, and seem to capture a moment in time much better than a formal studio shot could ever hope to.

Here are a few ideas for choosing the right photo for the perfect gift:

  • Organize a “leaf fight”: I take my daughters to a local park with a rake. As my wife has never complained about having an hour or two on her own without the kids, finding this time never seems to be a problem. I let the kids play as I rake a pile of colorful, fall Kateleaves. Then I let the girls loose in the pile of leaves while I snap the photos. As my girls became “sophisticated” teenagers, I thought they might find this tradition getting a bit old. I’m happy to say that this was not the case! As they got older, the leaf fights became more animated and the laughter increased. In this scenario, you really can’t go wrong—the fall colors make great photos. If you forgot the camera, don’t worry. Use your phone! You can print photos from most smartphones directly to a printer. Be sure to get close-ups of the kid’s faces. As I mentioned in my previous post, take several pictures, as you’ll be sure to shoot some great ones. Each year, we choose several of these up-close pictures and print them to give to our family members as holiday gifts. We don’t always frame the photos, but just include the pictures in holiday or birthday cards. When Grandma feels the picture frame under the wrapper, she reverts to a five-year-old kid, ripping the paper off excitedly.
  • Make a memory book: They are not as hard to make as you might think! Here’s an example: My cousin always throws the family gatherings at her house, and the only “payment” she insists on is that a group picture is taken at each party. In the past, our family’s Christmas gift to her family was some sort of basket of treats. Last year, I got a hold of the pictures and created a photobook I called “Ten Parties in Two Years.” All I had to do was get copies of the group photos and a few candid shots of each party, which took about an hour. It took about another hour to upload them to a site that produces the photobook.  There are so many online, and it does not matter which you use—they all produce a very nice book.  Choose a layout, chose a credit card, and a few days later, the book arrives. Note: Although you can spend a fortune on covers, you certainly don’t have to, as all the covers look amazing in the finished product. It was a smash hit! In fact, it was so popular, my cousin had me order two more copies for her children. And the best thing was that the actual cost for the photobook was less than the annual cheese and sausage basket.
  • Have ‘em sign the mat: The best gift I ever gave was a photograph.  But not just any photograph—it was a shot of my wife’s entire family. All of us—five brothers and sisters, plus their families—rented several houses on a lake for my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. On the last day of the trip, we rounded up all the grandkids on the dock in secret and took pictures. That year, about this time, I was thinking about a Christmas gift for my wife’s parents, and I had an idea. I purchased two frames with matting. I removed the matting from the frames and docksent them to each of my wife’s siblings and had their children sign the matting. My fingers were crossed…at least one would make it back in one piece, I hoped. Luckily, both made it back. I framed the picture of all the grandkids with the signed matting, and we sent it to my in-laws as their gift from all of us. Generously, they had told everyone not to send gifts since we had all traveled to be with them on their anniversary, so they were surprised but overjoyed to receive such a thoughtful present. Five years later, the picture still hangs in the entryway at their house. It will keep that pride of place for years more, I’m sure, as my mother-in-law confessed that she only moves the picture to the dining room when she has people over for bridge nights. The perfect gift? I like to think so. Try beating that with a cashmere sweater or set of golf clubs.

No matter your gift-giving style, any one of these simple gift ideas will have a large impact on the recipient. It’s also nice to note that they also all fit within any budget. All it takes is just a little fall planning, and a few great snapshots.

Photo Credit: Joe Keller

Frame it

keller_frame_it_smallSome people consider photography to be an art. These disciples of Ansel Adams attempt to capture light, shadow and motion in a split second, using a great deal of planning, expensive equipment and thousands of exposures. But this is not me.

For me, photos capture the people and moments I want to remember, celebrate and treasure. All of my pictures contain the people I care about. They are not pictures composed of a grand landscape with one of my daughters peeking out from the corner—they are up-close and personal. My pictures tell a story about my family at a place or event.  For example, in my Disneyland pictures, my daughters fill three-quarters of the image, and the Matterhorn takes a back seat to my family, shown just enough to remind us where we were.

I have three teenaged daughters and a wife and, not surprisingly, they feel that not one of the pictures is worth printing and framing. They can point out anything from a single flaw to a least as many flaws as people in the picture. The subjects of the shot generally point it out: “My hair looks terrible in that picture.” If it was up to them, all of those substandard photographs—those in which their hair is not perfect, their eyes do not sparkle, or did they really wear that outfit?—would be locked in the computer, never to see the light of day.

I completely disagree. Liberate your pictures from the computer or camera!  A caveat: This is not to say all pictures. Be selective. But honestly, for a week-long trip to Southern California, there has to be at least a few pictures that everyone feels are worthy of representing the trip.

I always print a least one picture of each of my girls and us as a family.  Personally, I choose 5”x7”-sized prints, as this size is best for displaying in frames. Amazingly, once they are printed we manage to find frames for them, either new frames or old, replacing a picture from a frame on my desk or my wife’s.  If it doesn’t land on one of our desks, it becomes a present for grandma, who waters the plants while we were away.  In rare cases, they get the distinction of being stuck in a daughter’s mirror frame.

The whole process for printing the pictures is simple:

  1. Unload them from the camera to your computer.
  2. Under the folder in which the pictures are saved, create a new folder called “Prints”.  This way, when you look at this folder later, you’ll know these were some of the best pictures.  This will save you time, especially five years from now when the trip is just a memory.
  3. Find the pictures you think are good and COPY them into the “Prints” folder.  At this point, you likely have five to ten pictures worth printing.
  4. Editing them may be worth it.  They may need to be a little brighter or have the red eyes removed.  Most photo-printer drivers or software does this automatically.  Personally, I am not particularly fussy about this.  They are not any worse than the pictures taken of you when you were a child. My mother still has the picture my first fishing trip on the wall red eyes, glare, and all. Even the fish looks bad.
  5. Select them and hit print.  My printer has a dedicated photo tray so I do not need to load photo paper. The pictures will be best with photo paper and the pictures will last longer. If you aren’t using photo paper, I would suggest using at least using a heavier paper stock than your usual printer paper. While these will not be as good as you can get, they likely will look fine in a frame—assuming you have a newer printer.

Alternatively, you can up load the picture to a photo site and have them print the pictures.  The result will be great.  However, it will take a couple of days to get them, and you might even have to pick them up, if you send them to one of the big box stores.

But, in the end, it’s not about the method you use to print the photo, or even the amount of precision and time you put in to editing them, it is about how the picture reminds your family of those special memories every time they see it in the frame.

Photo Credit: Joe Keller