Friends, Let’s Make Our Parks Even Better

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my favorite park (link) — Salt Fork State Park — as a part of Coca-Cola’s America Is Your Park program. I wanted to take a minute to share another photo with you from a few years ago:


I love this photo, and not just because all of the children in it are three years younger than they are today and still look like itty-bitty babies or small children and not the big kids and tweens that they are today. Well, okay, I do love it for that reason, but I love it for other reasons too.

One of the best parts of our local park is that it offers our family a basically endless list of fun and mostly free things to do there. We come together, as a family, and do things together, as a family. But the other great thing about the park is that we can get together with friends there. Friends are important, whether you’re a child or an adult. We’ve met with various friends at the park over the years, including friends who are no longer with us. The memories of laughing and playing and fishing and swimming and on and on make me hope that someday our sons will come back to this park — even when they are old and grown and have maybe moved on — to create memories with their children, their friends and, yes, our family.

I’m sure you have a park where you and your family and your friends make memories too. Or maybe you don’t yet make memories there but you want to. Whatever the case, you can vote for your favorite park to win a $100,000 grant. Need more information about the America Is Your Park program? Watch this helpful video.

The truth is that you can help your park win this money just by doing the things you already do online. You can write a post and share it. You can encourage your local friends — and the friends who aren’t local but love you all the same — to vote for the park of your choosing on Facebook. You can engage your Twitter friends to give your park a click; remember, you don’t have to register to vote, so people are more likely to spare a click because it’s so easy! Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Contact your local officials to see if they want to get involved in the push for votes. In fact, call your local park and ask if they want to get involved in the endeavor. I’m sure they will be!

You have a chance right now to help make a difference at your favorite park so that you can continue building memories with your family and friends. Don’t let it pass you by!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Only legal residents of the 50 U.S. (and D.C.) who are at least 13 years old and reside within the U.S. at the time of participation are eligible to vote for a Park. Participate on behalf of a Park by: July 15, 2012. The 3 most popular Parks will be offered a grant and there will be 1 Wild Card drawing at the end of the Contest to award an additional grant. To participate, for Official Rules, and complete details including grant descriptions, visit Void where prohibited.

From Eating Sand to Riding Horses, We Love Our State Park

I grew up in a very rural area. My play place was mostly on my parents’ property, an old farm, but we occasionally made our way to the local state park for swimming, picnics, hiking and other fun. As a child, I loved it. As a teenager with a much younger brother, I felt it was torture. As a parent, oh, I get it now. My husband and I frequent out local state park, at least once a week, because it’s the cheapest, easiest way to get the kids into nature and out of our hair.

That makes it sound like we don’t like our kids. We do. A lot. But there’s something about fresh air and a bunch of wide open space to do any number of things that we simply adore.

My husband introduced me to Salt Fork State Park shortly after he moved me to Ohio. I remember winding out the long road to the lodge, amazed at the number of deer that were grazing alongside the road, not bothered at all by our slow moving vehicle. Since that time, we’ve seen more deer.

134.365 - Fawning Over You

And done a billion and one other things with our sons.

We’ve gone hiking with our oldest son on my back.

Another fun Focus Picture

We’ve taken the boys to ride horses at a special event.

That? Is Love?

We’ve taught the boys how to fish.


We’ve tromped around in the lake in firefighter rain boots.


We’ve boated.

Nice Farmer's Tan

We’ve laughed really hard while swimming in the water at the lake beach.

Best Face Ever

We’ve eaten sand.

Sand Face

We’ve released balloons for Maddy.

Releasing Purple Balloons in Memory of Maddie

We’ve camped.


We’ve geocached. We’ve gone — just the two of us — and stayed overnight at the lodge for a grown-up, not-so-far-away getaway. We’ve just taken a drive. We’ve had family pictures taken. We’ve taken other peoples’ pictures. We’ve had picnics. We’ve attended a wedding. We’ve gone to birthday parties at the indoor pool. We’ve gone on a photo walk — or twenty. We’ve driven down roads that we didn’t know where they would lead us. One time, we were so caught up in enjoying the fall scenery that we almost ran out of gas. Oops?

In short, we love Salt Fork State Park. A lot. In spring, summer, fall and winter.

I tell you all this now because Coca-Cola is hosting the America Is Your Park campaign which lets everyday people vote for their favorite park. Which ever park earns the most votes this year will win a $100,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Live Positively initiative and a second place winner will get $50,000! To boot, one lucky park in the Top 25 will be selected at random to win $15,000! The initiative wants to improve the places where people go to play, and I can think of nothing more awesome than simply voting for the place where you already go to play with the chance that they could win that much money. I already voted for Salt Fork State Park. You can vote for any park of your choosing — big or small — which I think is just awesome. There’s an interactive map that lets you search for a park by name, by city or by zip code. Then you simply select which one you want to vote for and, bam! You’re done!

So go vote now for the park of your choosing. And then encourage those in your community — the people that you know already love and utilize the park — to do the same thing. It’s really that simple (and there’s no registration required to vote; though, a tip: the captcha entry to cast your vote requires caps lock).

I’d love to hear if you go vote — for your park. Or, you know, mine. I also love to hear what people do at their favorite parks, so don’t hesitate to share a story with me.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Only legal residents of the 50 U.S. (and D.C.) who are at least 13 years old and reside within the U.S. at the time of participation are eligible to vote for a Park. Participate on behalf of a Park by: July 15, 2012. The 3 most popular Parks will be offered a grant and there will be 1 Wild Card drawing at the end of the Contest to award an additional grant. To participate, for Official Rules, and complete details including grant descriptions, visit Void where prohibited.

Photography Tips: Capturing the Ordinary and Making It Extraordinary

What’s the most ordinary flower you can think of? In fact, what’s the most ordinary weed you can think of? Dandelions, right? What’s beautiful about dandelions?

To a child… everything.

You see, my boys have always loved dandelions. On a recent photowalk by myself, I happened upon this amazing little field of dandelions. Just steps off a local walking trail, it was as if it was created specifically for my two sons. And me, because I love a good wisher — as we call them — as well.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

It was high noon when I was bopping around in my newfound favorite secret place, but the trees surrounding my field of flowers were tall. Still I knew that the evening sun would bring some gorgeous tones to the little valley next to the creek and I vowed to bring the boys back to make as many wishes as their little hearts desired.


I didn’t tell them where we were going or what we were doing. As we cross over the arched bridge, they knew. They started running and yelling. “Mommy, there are so many wishers! How will we make this many wishes!” Even before the words were all the way out of their mouths, they got started.

And I started snapping.

I went with my 50mm, 1.8 lens attached to my camera because I knew I wanted great light and great bokeh. The 50mm is just a lovely little lens that does those things, and it’s light, compact and easy to use. I usually roll at 2.2 when I’m trying to shoot fast moving little boys with faces and eyelashes and noses and such. Shooting at 1.8 often means that the tip of a nose will be in focus but the rest of the face will be slightly out of focus. 2.2 in outdoor, lovely “Golden Hour” evening light is almost fail-proof. Almost meaning that, yes, even then some of my shots are out of focus.

I will admit that I shoot mostly in Manual now. When I worked at the newspaper, I was pretty much broken of my Auto habits. I sometimes still end up with kids in a snowstorm or a blackout type of “Oops-my-ISO-was-too-high-or-low” mistake photos, but my fingers are fast to change the settings. This evening I was working anywhere from 250 to 500 ISO, depending on where the sun was hiding in the tall trees. My shutter speed started around 1/1000 — the higher the number, the faster the speed which means you might best catch blowing dandelion seeds — and ended up around 1/640 as the sun continued to dip.

Technical jargon aside, there are some things you can do to take an everyday experience and turn it into a beautiful photograph.

Get close.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

The photo on the left is okay. You kind of get the feel that we’re in a field of dandelions. You can see some seeds blowing. The colors are okay. But compared to the photo on the right, well, there is no comparison. I simply got closer (and got lower than he was). Doing so may have made the field of dandelions disappear, but it made a much more visually appealing image. The dandelion seeds are easier to spot when not lost in the sea of puffs. The seed in his hair is priceless. The light and bokeh in the trees is just beautiful. The one on the left is a memory. The one on the right is frameable.

Don’t force kids to look at you and smile.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

I mean, you can. I do. But that’s just for the “grandmas like pics of the boys smiling at the camera” type of photos. For the interesting, “this series of photos tells a story” type of photos, just let them be and get to snapping. Shoot them concentrating on what they’re doing. From the side. From behind, dwarfed by the tall, tall trees. Not every photo has to be about eye contact and their signature grin.

Change up the focus from one shot to the next.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

While I do work in manual settings, I normally work in auto-focus, mainly because the boys move so quickly. My camera does have an Auto-Focus Continuous setting, meaning that it will continue to follow the center of focus even while there is movement. However, sometimes I still flip it into manual to get the exact focus I want, or I’ll center my focus just to the left, right, top or bottom of what I was just focused on to see the difference. In these two photos, I was focused on one brother to the right and then clicked over to focus on the other to the left.

Let your children lead you.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

Follow them with the camera, don’t dictate where they’re going to stand or what they’re going to do. Just let things happen naturally. Like, you know, finding a spiderweb and blowing dandelion puffs into it, ticking off the spider. It made for a great picture in the end!

But encourage them to try new things too.

I knew the photo I wanted: I wanted the boys blowing dandelion seeds at the same time, in mass quantities. So after they had fun for about 20 minutes, me following with my camera and making wishes of my own, I had them each pick a handful of dandelions, center themselves in front of my camera and, on the count of three, they blew those seeds. And I snap, snap, snapped. The result?

Only my favorite photograph. Ever.

Wisher Field

Of course, to get that amazing photo, I had to cycle through quite a number of… humorous… ones.

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

Dandelion Collage Tip Post

In the end, I got a few photos I can use and some that are just plain fun to look at even if they aren’t perfect.

I absolutely love that I got a crazy gorgeous, super fun photo on an ordinary Monday evening in a field of un-impressive flowers that society dubs weeds. If I would have forgotten my camera, we would have missed it. If I wouldn’t have let them have their fun before asking them to do something for me, we might not have captured that one great photo. If I wouldn’t have snapped 40 in a row as they were blowing, I might have missed that one perfect frame.

My photos of the ordinary came together to tell the story of one great photo. Yours can too, you just have to go take them and then tell that story.

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