Running from the Law: July 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Mommy Confessions - Part 15

It's been a while, but here we go again! 

- I constantly find myself doing things that I always said I would NEVER do as a mother.  My naive judgmental pre-baby self would be horrified.  For example: I let Mac have Oreos before dinner; I stood back and had a glass of wine while he rolled around in the dog water that he just spilled all over the floor at a baby shower; I've begged him to just watch 5 minutes of TV so I can make his dinner (I've also considered duct taping him to the floor); I once put him in a giant box just so he'd stay still for a few minutes; I let him pull all the toys off the shelves at Target and play with them in the middle of the aisle while I responded to a work email; I've been known to sing "The Wheels on the Bus" at the top of my lungs, complete with animal noises and corresponding actions in front of random strangers to prevent a meltdown.

- Mac's birthday party was now over two months ago and I have yet to send out thank you cards.  I am the worst.  I had grand intentions of sending everyone a card with a photo from the party (either of Mac or their own kid).  Ha!  I haven't even bought cards yet, so I'm not confident in my abilities to get my shit together enough to pull that off.  And don't even think about leaving me a comment that you don't need a thank you card if you gave us a gift.  Shut up, you're getting a fucking thank you card.  It just might not be until November.  

- Mac is still not consistently sleeping through the night.  WHY?!!  He is getting better though.  However, when he does end up sleeping straight through, he wakes up at like 5:30 a.m.  FIVE THIRTY!!!!  I think I'd rather not sleep at night than get up that damn early.

- Does leaving the house with a toddler ever get easier?  I love taking Mac to visit friends/family, but I easily forget that not everyone has a baby and a house that's fully baby-proofed.  Inevitably he will find anything breakable under 3 feet high, every uncovered outlet, every sharp corner, every crumb or dried-up (months/years old) piece of food on the floor and anything that can be dumped or spilled within 2 seconds.  It's absolutely exhausting trying to constantly redirect his attention to something less dangerous (boring) and impossible to even attempt to always stay one step ahead of him.  On the plus side, I'm thinking about renting him out to soon-to-be-parents so they can figure out what they need to do to baby-proof before their baby arrives.  It's about time he started earning his keep anyway.

- Mac has started sleeping with a stuffed puppy and it's the cutest darn thing that's ever happened in the history of the whole wide world.  When it's time for bed, I hand him that little black and white puppy and he smiles and wraps his arms around it so tight and snuggles his face in it.  And then my heart explodes and I die.  

- I do not understand "kid-speak" at all.  I kinda understand what Mac's saying (mainly because he just repeats what we say), but I cannot for the life of me seem to understand what anyone else's kid is saying.  One of the neighborhood kids was "talking" to me the other day and our conversation went like this:
Me:    Hi (insert kid's name here).
Kid:    Blah blah blah baa aaaa babbaaa a abbba  
Me (looking at the kid's mom):    What did she say?
Mom:    She said she likes your necklace.
Me (to kid):    Oh, thank you. Do you like to wear jewelry?
Kid:    Yayayaya ayaya ayayaya ayayaya 
Me (to mom):    What did she say?
Mom:    She said that mommy only lets her wear it when they play dress up.
Me:    Oh. Do you like to play dress up?
Kid:    Mmahsy ywyyw ama sysbka a qmlkdjao alslakj aokna
Me (to mom):    What?????
And then the mom rolls her eyes at me and tells me to stop talking to her child.  Not really, but kinda.  I am a child linguistics failure.

Your turn!  
Fess up!

Catch up on the rest of the New Mommy Confessions series:

Monday, July 29, 2013

July Photo Challenge

I hope you all have been having fun with your camera this summer!  It's now time to submit your best/favorite WATER photo.  It can be one you took last weekend or last summer, anything goes as long as there's WATER in the photo. 

Please remember to choose only ONE photo.  I will be taking submissions this morning through Wednesday night.  You can submit your photo a couple different ways:

  • Put your photo in a blog post (make sure you reference/link to this blog post) and add your permalink (URL) to my linky below.  If your post has more than one photo in it, please make sure you clearly designate which photo you are submitting.

  • If you don't have a blog, email me your photo (my email address is to the right) or submit it on my Facebook page  (make sure you're a "fan") and make sure I have your name and email address.

(f/1.4, 1/2500, ISO 320, edited in PSE with Florabella Subtle Color action)

I'd also love it if you explained why you chose that photo, how you got the shot, what settings you used, if you did any post-processing to the photo, or any other fun info that could help others achieve a similar shot, but that's not required.  The more info, the better so we can all learn together.  

Winner will be chosen (and announced on the blog) later this week!  The winner will get a gift certificate to Pinhole Press to use your own photos to create personalized coasters or a custom Memory game for your kids.  

Good luck!  
I can't wait to see your photos!

*Gift certificate donated by Pinhole Press

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dining Room Tour

I was approached a while back by a prominent website that saw my dining room plate wall on Pinterest and wanted to know if I'd be interested in having a feature on their site.  Of course I said HELL-to-the-YES! and grabbed my camera to take some updated photos of the wall and the entire dining room.  I straightened up the room, cleared out all the baby crap that was piled sky high in there and I even dusted - that's how excited I was.  I sent them off to the site, along with a write up on how I did it, where I found the plates, my inspiration, etc. and got all excited to become super famous!  And then...nothing happened.  

I don't know, maybe they forgot about me?  Maybe they hated the room?  Maybe they realized I don't have a clue what I'm doing decor-wise?  Maybe they went with a cooler plate wall from someone else?  Maybe the woman who contacted me was in a horrible heli-skiing accident in the Swiss Alps and was rescued by St. Bernards and is now in some little Swiss hospital with amnesia and doesn't realize there's a blogger out there (not so) patiently waiting her five minutes of fame?  I'm pretty sure that's exactly what happened.  

So, since I did all that dusting and have the photos, why let them go to waste.  Without further ado, here's my dining room (like you care).  Just pretend, ok?  Thanks.

The dining room is painted a bright apple green, with cherry wood accents and natural elements. The gorgeous (and very large) antique dining room table is on loan from my mother-in-law, who purchased it at an estate sale a few years ago.  With both leaves in it seats eight comfortably.  I think we've even managed to get 12 at the table once. 

The gorgeous china hutch and black wooden chairs are a consignment sale purchase from a local shop up the road from our house.  Rumor has it that the chairs were actually on the set of The Price Is Right for years before making their way to our dining room.  I love telling people that they are sitting on a piece of TV history!  COME ON DOWN! 

The most fun part of the room is the plate wall.  A few years ago I started collecting plates with the thought that I’d hang a few to give the wall some added color and interest.  I found plates at department stores, yard sales, online boutiques, consignment shops and even found one at the grocery store.  Somewhere along the way I developed a flower/daisy motif and have a few that almost even match.  

Back when I originally posted about the plate wall, I wasn't sure about that big dark plate.  Well, you all convinced me to keep it but try to add some other dark plates to balance it out, so I added a few little Kate Spade plates with the brown stripes and polka dots.  What do you think? 

Yes, I hate the chandelier. It came with the house and I have had grand plans on replacing it with something a little more modern (and way less gold) for almost six years now.  Someday...  

The curtains and sisal rug are both Pottery Barn.  
I don't remember where I got the place mats, but similar wooden mats can be found here.  
The cactus is fake.  I can't keep real plants alive for anything. Not even a cactus.

Do you recognize those tree trunk trays from our wedding?

Well, that's it. Make sure to tip your tour guide!  

Now who wants to come over for a dinner party so we can mess it up again?  
I'm not used to having it so clean!  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Announcing a Photo Challenge

Since we had such a great reaction to the idea of a photo challenge, I'm pleased to present the very first...

Running From the Law Photo Challenge!

And since we're smack dab in the middle of a summer heat wave, I figured it would be appropriate for the theme to be: 


Here's how it will work:

ONE.  Get out your fancy camera and play around with it this weekend.  Take a couple photos (heck, take 600 photos!) that you feel represent this month's theme (water).  For example, take photos of your kids in the pool, playing in the sprinkler, at the splash park, going down the Slip 'n Slide, taking a bath, jumping in rain puddles, etc.  Or if you don't have kids, take a picture of your dogs swimming, or a photo of waves on the beach, you fishing or your friends lounging by a lake/pool.  Get creative with the theme or go traditional.  Anything goes, as long as there is water in the photo somewhere.  Easy enough, right.  

TWO.  Make sure you read last week's tutorial on taking better photos (HERE).  That will give you some good advice on how to improve your photos.  Think about your location and the settings you want to use.  If you're outside, lower your ISO.  If you want bokeh, use a wide open aperture (lower f/stop number).  If you want to freeze water droplets in the air, you'll want a faster shutter speed.  Play around with angles and perspectives - get low, get high, get behind something or shoot through something!  Work on getting exactly what you want to highlight in focus.  Experiment!

THREE.  Pick your best/favorite photo to submit next week.  ONE photo.  On Monday I will have a post on here where you can link up over the next couple days to submit your photo.  I will be taking submissions Monday morning through Wednesday night. You can submit your photo a couple different ways:
  • Put your photo in a blog post (make sure you reference/link to this blog post) and add your permalink (URL) to my linky (lnky site will be up and running on Monday).
  • If you don't have a blog, email me your photo (my email address is to the right) or submit it on my Facebook page  (make sure you're a "fan") and make sure I have your name and email address.
I'd love it if you explained why you chose that photo, how you got the shot, what settings you used, if you did any post-processing to the photo, or any other fun info that could help others achieve a similar shot, but that's not required.  The more info, the better so we can all learn together.  

FOUR. I will pick a winner out of all the entries (and maybe a couple runners-up) by the end of next week and announce it on the blog.  The winner will get a gift certificate to Pinhole Press to use your own photos to create personalized coasters or a custom Memory game for your kids.  Such an awesome prize!  Pinhole Press is one of my favorite companies and they graciously donated this gift certificate for our little contest here (seriously, they are the bomb!).  I made some of their coasters for Ryan for Father's Day and they're awesome - super thick and gorgeous.  I can't wait until Mac's a little bit older so I can make a memory game for him.  Either product is an awesome way to display your photos. 

So make sure to get out there and take some photos this weekend.

I'll see you back here on Monday for the link up.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mac's One Year Photos

For Mac's one year photos, we decided to take a trip to the St. Louis Zoo!  We absolutely love our city's zoo and try to make it there as much as we can.  Even though it was 8:00 a.m., it was about 600 degrees outside and our little man didn't last too long in the heat.  But Caroline of A Better Story Photography captured some really adorable photos of him exploring the zoo and hanging with his parents. We rode the carousel, checked out the sea lions, took a train ride and got splashed by the penguins.  Not a bad way to spend the morning.  

 All images by A Better Story Photography

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Five

1. I am SO excited about my weekend plans.  Ally is coming in town and we are doing all kinds of fun St. Louis stuff.  We're going to a Cardinals game, taking the baby to Grant's Farm, seeing Les Mis at the Muny, having dinner at Brasserie, and probably doing some shopping somewhere (because that always seems to happen).  We'll also be doing a lot of celebrating, because someone got accepted to the graduate program at King's College and will be moving to London!  I'm so excited for you, Al (and I also hate you a little bit because I'm so horribly jealous).  I promise to take lots of pictures!  (Although I just realized that I never posted the photos of the trip Mac and I took to Dallas a few months ago...blogger fail.)

2. I have been reading the same book for going on 73 years now.  And it's a good book! One that I'm interested in and want to read, I just don't have time.  I fondly remember those days when I could read 2-3 books in a week.  Can you even imagine?!  Now, any time I have an extra free minute or two, it's usually spent doing dishes or scrambling to put laundry away (who am I's spent playing Candy Crush Saga).  On a side note, if you have any idea how to beat Level 140, please email me immediately.  

3. Speaking of reading, are you guys reading the "Motherhood Around the World" series on A Cup of Jo?  I have been reading that blog forever and I love this series.  There's only been one interview so far (an American mother living in Oslo, Norway), but I just found it absolutely fascinating.  It reminded me of another post she wrote on babies sleeping outside in prams in Denmark (HERE) that absolutely shocked me.  I find this all so intriguing.

4. I haven't blogged about the beach vacation we took last month (because I haven't had time to get through all the photos yet (stupid Candy Crush Saga!)), but I did want to share a couple of pictures of Mac and baby Emma.  Emma is the daughter of one of my best/oldest friends in the world, who just happened to be vacationing (and getting married) on the very same beach, on the very same small island where we were vacationing, the very same weekend we were there.  And we had no idea!  How crazy is that?  Jamie and I have known each other since birth.  I probably haven't seen him in years, but our families are very close and we've kept in touch with how/what the other is doing.  Jamie and I are one month apart growing up.  Mac and Emma are one month apart.  We were even invited to the wedding, but my mom failed to send me the invitation/information.  I found all this out because of a Facebook post, which happened to have a photo of the menu of a restaurant we ate at the very night before.  Isn't that wild?  What a small world. 

So they stopped by, of course.  I got to meet his wife and daughter.  He got to meet Ryan and Mac.  Do you believe that some people are put in your life for a reason?  Maybe meant to pop up occasionally, perhaps to keep your rooted to your past or remind you of where you came from.  I don't know, but I hope we see a lot more of this family in the future.  

5. I've received such great feedback on my photography tutorial earlier this week!  Thank you all!  I'm so glad to hear that my tips are helping you guys take better photos of your kiddos.  So, to keep up with that idea, I was thinking of doing a little photo contest for you guys next week so you could put your new camera skillz to good use?  Would anyone be interested in that?  I will choose a prompt (or theme), announce it mid-week, give you next weekend to take some photos of your littles (or whatever else floats your boat) and then you would submit your photo the following week.  Winner gets something fabulous.  What do you think?  Any interest?  If so, use this weekend to get out your fancy camera and play around!  Let me know...

By the way, are you following me on Instagram or Facebook?  If not, what are you waiting for?!  I'd be honored and am happy to follow you back!  I'm always looking for new ways to connect with you guys!

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Best Summer Toys for Tots

I've already mentioned this, but we are absolutely loving summer at our house!  Mac's favorite word right now is "OUTSIDE" and he says it non-stop and points to the front door anytime we're inside. He would rather be outside in the heat with the hose, than inside with all the toys in the world. Fortunately, there are some pretty cool outside toys for little ones right now.  Mac was lucky enough to receive lots of fun outdoor toys for his birthday in May and we've been slowly amassing enough toys to keep the entire neighborhood busy!  Our front yard is "happening" these days!  I thought it'd be fun to share some of Mac's favorite things /outside toys right now.  There's still a LOT of summer left!  

Best Summer Toys for Tots (1 year old)

Radio Flyer Pathfinder Wagon - Such a classic summer item. This one is plastic, has 2 seats and drives like a dream! It even has cup holders!

Little Tikes Gas 'n Go Mower - Possibly Mac's favorite summer toy.  He loves mowing the lawn with daddy.  This one (thankfully) doesn't take any batteries, but makes great noise.  He loves pulling the cord and "starting" it.  So cute.

Bubble Machine - This bubble machine is no joke.  LOTS of bubbles.

Crayola Sidewalk Chalk  - We love our sidewalk chalk at our house (Mac also loves to eat it).

Step2 Fun and Sun Climber with Sandbox - Slide and sandbox combo.  Amazing.

Inflatable Kiddie Pool - This little inflatable pool is just the right size.  He has very little interest actually getting in it, but he loves throwing things in it and splashing around.  

Sprinkler - This is similar to the sprinkler we have and love.  Shoots in all different directions.  So much fun to run through.

Little Tikes Spiralin' Seas Waterpark - If your little one doesn't have a water table, you are SO missing out.  Greatest toddler invention ever.

Melissa & Doug Sand Set - For making mud/sand pies and other delicious treats in the park sandbox.

John Deere Sit-N-Scoot Tractor - How cute is this mini John Deere tractor?  The country girl in me cannot get enough.

Little Tikes 2-in-1 Snug 'n Secure Swing - This little swing is hanging from the tree in our front yard and gets a LOT of use. The neighbors across the street had to get one too because their girls loved it so much.

Puddle Jumper - Perfect for visits to the pool or the lake.

Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Watering Can - Because Mac loves to help me water the plants.

Melissa & Doug Happy Giddy Chair - For lounging. Just in case he ever wanted to stop moving for 5 seconds.

Am I missing anything?

What are your kid's favorite summer toys?

* This post contains affiliate links. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Going Beyond Point & Click - Part 2

Back in January, the amazing and talented Anni of Anni Cee Photographie did a guest post on the blog called Going Beyond Point and Click on ways to improve your photography.  I absolutely loved her advice and I think my photos have improved since I've started learning how to back button focus and playing around in Manual.    I'm still not as good as I want to be (sometimes I nail the picture and sometimes I'm way off), but I'm practicing and that's the best way to learn.  I still delete a lot of photos.

However, after my post on taking more photos of your kids, a lot of you have asked for my advice on how to take better pictures of your little ones.  While I'm completely flattered, I also don't really feel qualified to teach you guys anything about photography since I'm still learning.  I don't know what I'm doing half the time and I certainly can't tell you what you should be doing.  That being said, I'm going to do it anyway!  

So, here's the second installment of Going Beyond Point and Click - 8 easy ways to improve your photography, written by someone who has absolutely no training and zero credentials...ME!  Since I'm not a "real" photographer (total fauxtographer here), my advice is going to be on a much more basic level.  Some of these are the exact same things that Anni discussed, but from my (amateur and kid-photography-based) perspective.  It'll cover some of the stuff I've found helpful and learned about photography over the last couple years.  Consider it the prequel to Anni's post describing some of the things that I do when I take photos (in case you care).  Maybe these things will help you, or maybe you're way beyond this stuff.  Feel free to leave a "Duh, Sara" comment below.  Or leave your questions - I might not know the answer, but I'll try to help  :)  

1. Learn the 3 basic settings: aperture, shutter speed, ISO

The very first thing I did when I got my "fancy camera" was to learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice.  And the most basic of the basic camera functions/settings are aperture, shutter speed and ISO.    There are a ton of tutorials out there that teach you what all of these are/do, so try a few out.  Here's how I remember them:
  • Aperture (or f/stop) - this determines how much of your photograph is in focus.  The f/stop numbers refer to how open or closed the aperture on the lens is. The wider the opening of the lens (or the smaller the number), the greater the amount of light that enters your camera at one time (and the less will be in focus).  Remember, the SMALLER the number, the LESS is in focus.  A wide open aperture (LOW number) is how you get the blurry background in a photo (bokeh).  Aha moment!
  • Shutter Speed - is how quickly the shutter opens and closes. A faster shutter speed will freeze action whereas a slower shutter speed can create a blurred effect.  When you set your shutter speed on your camera, you’ll see numbers like 60, 120, 250, 1000 and so on. These actually represent 1/60th of a second, 1/120th of a second and so on. So the HIGHER the bottom number on the fraction, the FASTER the shutter speed and the less blurry it will be.
  • ISO - is the film speed, or how quickly the camera captures the photo.  Upping the ISO will bring light into your photos in lower light settings.  But the higher you set the ISO, the more digital noise (or grain) is created in the image. A good rule of thumb is that anything 800 or over will begin to give you digital noise in your image. 

Now that you know the basics, play around with your camera and adjust them and see how it changes your photos.  When I was learning how to use my camera, I spent hours just taking pictures of random things around my house and my yard with various settings.  Start by putting your camera on Av (aperture priority mode) and take 20 photos of exactly the same thing with various aperture settings, starting at the lowest one and going up from there.  Keep your focal point the same and check out the background.  You'll be amazed at the difference.  Then put the camera in Tv (shutter speed priority mode) and take 20 photos of the exact same thing (something moving, like running water or a wheel spinning or your child running around the yard like a wild banshee) with various shutter speed settings.  With both, adjust your ISO to brighten the photos up, but not enough to where they're grainy.  Play around!  Take 500 photos and then delete them all.  That's the great thing about a digital camera.  After this, you'll get it.

2. Buy a prime lens

This was also one of Anni's tips, but I want to re-stress the importance of this.  If you really want to up your game and take beautiful, bright photos with that dreamy blurry background, you'e going to need a good lens.  For those of us that aren't professionals, a good lens is probably more important than a super fancy camera body.  So, what I'm saying is whatever DSLR you have is good enough, if you spend a little extra money on a good lens.  Why?  Because a good prime (as opposed to zoom) lens will have a much wider aperture (remember from 2 seconds ago, the wide aperture (low f/stop) is what lets in light and creates that shallow depth of field).  That cheap "kit" lens that came with your camera probably only has an aperture of f/5.6 or something.  You can get a very good prime lens (50mm f/1.8) for just over $100.  f/1.8!  That's WAY wider than f/5.6, which means it's going to really brighten up your indoor photos and help you achieve that beautiful blurry background (bokeh) you're after.  Even a good zoom lens will only go down to f/2 or so.  My 50mm goes down to f/1.4 - that's two full stops below the very best zoom lens, which means FOUR TIMES the amount of light.  That's major, y'all.  Our house is dark, I need that lens.

(shutter speed: 1/3200 sec, aperture: f/1.4, ISO 125)

3. Zoom with your feet

Nearly everyone I suggest getting a prime lens to comes back with the same response, "But I want a zoom lens, so I can get close to or far from my subject without moving."  Well, sorry, you're just going to have to stop being lazy and move!  It'll be worth it, I promise!  Moving around (and zooming with your feet, instead of your lens) makes you interact more with your subject (and for those of us photographing kids, this is so important).  It forces you to pay more attention to composition.  It makes you consider light and setting more frequently.  These are all good things, my friend.

Now this is definitely a style preference, but when I'm taking pictures of people (or mainly just Mac), I like to shoot my subject(s) very close.  Sometimes background and other elements are in the photo, but I really like the people in my photos to be the center of attention in the photo and for the viewer not to be distracted by what's around them.  I recently read an article that mirrors this style that I loved and thought was really spot-on with respect to how I like to take photos.  Here's an except:
"When I first became a photographer, I realized that many of my photographs were wider shots. I liked adding elements of the environment to tell the story, but I was lacking a sense of intimacy in my images. My subjects were getting lost. I then discovered my love for prime lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and do not zoom in or out. You become the zoom. If you want to get closer to your subjects, you are forced to step closer — and, in turn, interact with them. When you interact with your subjects, you can capture more emotions. 
Whenever possible, I always zoom with my feet rather than my lens (the 50mm f/1.2). With this lens, I am able to get close to my subjects without getting any distortion from a wider lens.  Shooting close also eliminates distractions from your image. Sometimes adding in natural elements to the image can be a good thing, but there are times when you want to focus solely on your subject. Filling the entire frame with your subject lets new details come into play, and it leaves no doubt about the intended subject of the photograph."   
(you can read the full article HERE)

Of course this isn't for everyone and it's definitely not appropriate in every situation (like on vacation taking photos of landscapes, or when you want to set the scene of a photo, or for those of you that love using negative space).

4. The eyes are key

I cannot stress this enough!  The EYES of the subjects in your pictures MUST BE IN FOCUS.  Let me say it again.  EYES.IN.FOCUS.  Capisce?  I can't even tell you how many photos I delete because the eyes of my subject were not in focus.  This is a tough one for me because Mac moves a lot and it's not always easy to make sure that the camera is focusing on his eyes.  Plus, when you're using a wide aperture, it's really easy for your camera to focus on what's closest to you, rather than the eyes.  I've probably taken thousands of photos of Mac where his hand (or nose, or foot, or something else) is in focus, but not his eyes because that was what my camera chose to focus on.  That's why back-button focusing can be really helpful - you get to choose the focus spot, not the camera.  If I don't have time to set the focus manually, I try to take a series of photos quickly in a row with the hopes that at least 1 has the eyes in focus and then I just delete the rest.

And just as important as you taking photos with the eyes in focus, you should also make this a priority (an absolute MUST) when choosing a photographer to take your photos.  I also cannot tell you how many times I've seen "professional" photographers post photos where the subject's eyes were not in focus.  Oh, the horror!  It's one thing when someone like me (not a pro, just taking pictures of my kid) posts those photos (because I do occasionally), but it's quite another when someone paid for those photos to be taken and a professional doesn't nail the focus.  I feel so bad for the person getting those pictures.  Sometimes the consumer might not even realize it - I think with time you develop an eye for that type of thing after looking at lots of photos.  But once you see it, you can't UNSEE it.  Start paying attention and you'll start to notice it more and more.

5. Pick your best 

Anni said this was her most important tip and I have to agree with just how important it.  While some of these tips will help you learn how to take better photos, this tip is telling you to only keep the good ones that you do take.  Why keep tons of photos of nearly the exact same thing, especially if only a few of them are in focus or perfectly exposed?  Cull, cull, cull.  Only present your best.  No one has to know that you took 437 photos of your kid playing with the hose, then deleted 200 of them because they were slightly out of focus, deleted another 100 because your settings weren't perfect, and deleted another 100 that were too similar to another photo that was better framed or in better focus, leaving you with only 37 photos that are in focus, perfectly exposed, that you love.  And 37 photos is still a shit-ton of photos of your kid playing with the stupid hose.  Serious overkill (I am SO guilty of this).  For the baby book or for posterity, you only really need about 5, right?  Maybe only 2.  THIRTY SEVEN is a bit much.  I'm working on this all the time.

(Here are 4 of about 10 of nearly the EXACT same shot - I have to learn to only pick 1!)
(In case you're wondering, I'd probably pick the top left because his eyelashes stand out so much more.)

Ok, so all that stuff about the eyes being in focus and deleting every single photo that's not perfect is important, BUT, if you take a photo that tugs at your heartstrings and brings you to tears and is just wonderful, but it's not perfectly in focus or correctly exposed, just keep it.  Don't stress about it.  Maybe it's not the one you proudly display on a 20x30 canvas in your living room, but there's nothing wrong with keeping photos that you love, whether they're perfect or not.  I have a lot of these.  I like to call them "artistic."  :)  It's ok, you can call them what they really are...blurry.

6. Be the director of your photos

You know how in moving-making (because I'm oh-so familiar with that...what?) the director is the one who tells people where to stand or how to act or what to do?  Do that!  If you don't like the background you're getting in your photos, move around to the other side or have your subjects stand somewhere else.  If it's too dark where you're currently taking pictures, move towards a window.  If the light is too harsh, find some shade.  If your living room is a disaster area, take the baby to another room.  Or better yet, do a quick 30 second clean up to remove the clutter from an area and then take the photos (it doesn't take much to create the illusion of a clean house if you remove the clutter and distractions from the photos - no one will know you just shoved all that shit under the bed!).  Don't be afraid to take charge of your photos.   Move the baby, he won't care.  Of course this won't always work or be practicable, but you might be surprised how much little things like this could improve your photos.

7. Experiment with angles

This is such a generic tip, but great when you're photographing kids.  Get down on their level.  Get close to them.  Get way up above them.  Shoot them from the side or from the back or from way below.  Lay on the floor.  Climb on a chair.  Shoot through a fence or from behind something.  Play around.  If your kid's like mine, he basically ignores me if I'm just standing next to him.  But if I lay down on my back and look up at him or stand on the table and make monkey noises, he pays attention!  And that's when I can get a good shot of him actually looking at me, which happens less and less often.  Plus, playing around with different angles can create some really visually interesting shots and give you a new perspective. I already know what it looks like from where I'm standing, why not try something else.

8. Basic editing

Again, like Anni, I think it can really help you improve your photos if you do some simple basic editing to them.  You don't need to go out and buy full-on Photoshop for hundreds of dollars, but do use something a little more sophisticated than Instagam filters.  I use Photoshop Elements (which you can get for less than $100).  I've also heard really great things about Lightroom (but know nothing about that).  I think Elements is pretty easy to use and offers WAY more things than I'll ever be able to teach myself.  I started out just using actions and have taught myself some basic editing from there.  Actions allow you to make quick edits with one click (i.e. brighten, make warmer, convert to black & white, add contrast, etc.)  As for my favorite actions, the Pioneer Woman has a great set of free actions and Florabella has some really stunning ones, but they're a little pricier.  I absolutely love the Florabella Colorplay actions (and she's got great online tutorials to show you how to install the actions and use them).  They're really simple to use.  I've never taken an editing class or anything (although I'd love to) - but there are tons of free editing tutorials out there to teach you the basics. My main edits are usually to lighten a photo, add a little extra contrast and sometimes fix color casts (too yellow or blue because of indoor lighting).  

So, that's my two cents on how I take photos.  I hope it encourages you to pick up your "nice camera" and take some photos!  Play around...experiment.  Go crazy, folks!  Like I said, I'm not a professional, nor do I think my photos are outstanding or anything, but I do think I've learned a lot over the last few years and have come a long way from where I started.  I'm happy to answer any questions you might have.  And if this series is something you like, let me know and I'll try to find a few more people to share their photography tips/advice.