July 11, 2014

Things I don't miss (about blogging)

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Dress here from Target

I have become what I hate. That blogger that always blogs about how much they don't blog. UGH. But really, it's been a couple months since a style post or a post with any photos that definitively prove I'm alive and my blog hasn't been taken over by robots, so I thought I'd make that happen. 

Since I've cut back on blogging dramatically, a few things have happened, the most notable being that I am actually much happier and more at peace with my life. I never had any major complaints about blogging, and I don't regret the years that I was really committed to pumping out multiple posts per week, but now, it simply doesn't quite fit into my life the same way it used to. Maybe someday it will again. But for now, here's a few things I've come to realize that, well, I DON'T miss...

1. Constantly feeling like I need new clothes for "outfit posts." I mean, seriously. How do you fashion bloggers do it? I know you get a lot of free clothes, so I guess that's mainly it. But I always felt like every time I got a free shirt, I needed to go out and buy a new skirt or pair of pants to match it, or a new pair of shoes to match that free dress. Bottom line, I suck at fashion blogging, and didn't really enjoy it, and can't tell you how refreshing it is to wake up every day and put on a shitty outfit and just not give a shit.

2. Along those same lines, begging people in my life to take "outfit" photos of me, which often didn't end well. It's no secret, I'm mainly referring to my husband here. The man hates everything to do with pictures. Both being in them and taking them. Ironic, since he's married to a professional portrait photographer. So it was this constant ridiculous struggle: 
Me: "Babe, I need outfit pics tonight."
Matthew: "Noooooooooo NOT AGAAAAINN!!!"
Me: "You're so unsupportive of my blog! Why are you such a jerk! Other blogger husbands love taking pictures of their wives!" 
(? - unsupported claim, needs further research)
*Fight breaks out*
Yup, don't miss that.

3. Comparing lives. I've really never gone down that path too far (thankfully), though I know some people really struggle with it. But it's easy. It's easy to read a blog and see that peephole view at someone's curated reality, and be like, "well CRAP! My _____ (life, blog, wardrobe, home, design skills, husband, bank account, timeline-for-starting-a-family) SUCKS compared to hers!" I've experienced it a couple times, and it's a slippery slope.  Lately, I've truly enjoyed simply living in MY life for a while. Appreciating it, working on it, truly being in it.

4. Trolls. Critics. Assholes. You all know the ones I mean. I'm not all that sensitive - in fact, compared to some people, I have the skin of an alligator. I wish everyone would like me, but I know that's not possible, so when I hear about someone who doesn't, it stings for a second, but then reason weighs out and I'm like, "....mehhh." But still. I've truly enjoyed living my offline life and not wondering what misguided conclusions bitchy strangers on the Internet are drawing about me. 

5. Pretending like I have something to say when I don't. I can't tell you how many times I cranked out a post that had no heart behind it, just to meet a quota and appease my sponsors at the time. I know a lot of my readers saw through that. And I'm happy those days are behind me. Although now, I seem to have the opposite problem. I have plenty of things I'd love to write about, but I'm mostly just too lazy to do it (or too busy, really. J. Noel Photography keeps me on my toes these days).

Having said all that, there are probably equally as many things that I miss about blogging. I will always have a soft place in my heart for this medium and all the good it has brought into my life. I haven't given up on it (obviously!), but our relationship has changed. Lately I've seen blogging as a whole from a bird's eye view versus the view from in-the-thick-of-things, and it's helped me to reevaluate and move priorities around. I'm lucky to be able to do that now, since this blog is no longer my primary source of income. 

Anywhoo. Happy Friday, my friends. Thanks for reading today. I appreciate you, and hope you have an excellent weekend!

July 8, 2014

Smoothie Obsession

Smoothies!  Can we talk about them for a minute?

I have this weird and possibly annoying personality trait that requires that I share, nay, SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS, when I discover something eye-opening or life-changing or otherwise wonderful. So naturally, I feel the need to share my smoothie obsession with you in hopes that you might experience this eye-opening, life-changing wonderfulness too.

I am one of those many people out there in the world who has a hard time eating enough fruits and vegetables because, well, I just tend to prefer the salty crunchy snacks and things like bread and cereal and, you know, stuff that does basically nothing for your health except keep you alive and slogging through every day, never feeling your best and certainly never feeding your body the best. Sound familiar?

A couple months ago I decided to start replacing breakfast with a nutrient packed smoothie, mainly because I wanted to lose the 3-4 pounds I had gained and I thought this would be a great way to start each day on the right track.

Now fast forward two months, and I am STILL having my daily morning smoothie, and I can honestly say they've kinda changed my life a little (a wee bit dramatic, but true!). Just this simple act of starting my day on the right foot helps set the tone for the rest of the day, and of course the nutrient-dense salad-in-a-glass itself gives me this punch of energy and overall motivation to continue clean, fresh eating throughout the rest of the day. I lost those few pounds, saw great improvements in my skin and moods, and generally feel much lighter and like my body is working at top capacity instead of always plugging away on its lowest setting.

The wonderful thing about smoothies is that they incorporate the finest, freshest ingredients, and there is literally no end to the variety you can enjoy each day.  All of my smoothies are "green" in that they include a nice handful of some type of leafy greens, but they are sweet and easy to enjoy because they also incorporate delicious fruits and natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar. Depending which fruits you throw in on a given day, your smoothie may be more of a sludge color then a pretty green like in the first above photo, but sludge-color or no sludge-color, it will still be delicious and nutritious and you'll be doing your body a huge favor.

While smoothies are definitely filling, you'll be hungry again a couple hours after breakfast, so have some healthy snacks planned to get you through to lunch. My current favorite mid-morning snacks are:
+ Whole grain toast with smashed avocado and sea salt
+ A handful of dried figs
+ A handful of raw nuts like almonds or walnuts, with a little fresh or dried fruit
+ A healthy muffin
+ A small bowl of muesli or granola with milk or yogurt
+ A small bowl of healthy cereal

As for smoothie recipes themselves, there are literally endless ones you can find on Pinterest and other sites (here's a whole slew of them!), but I find that this is a pretty fool-proof group of measurements you can use to make one single smoothie that fills a mason jar:

1 cup of coconut water or milk-of-your-choice. I rotate between unsweetened vanilla almond milk or rice milk and coconut water
1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit
1/2 frozen banana or 1/2 small avocado
1/4 cup yogurt (I prefer vanilla Greek yogurt for protein content)
Sweetener to taste: Honey, agave nectar, stevia, chopped dates (I put about 2 tsp of honey in each of my smoothies)
1 to 2 Add-ons: 
Bee pollen (1 tsp)
Chia Seeds (1 TBS)
Hemp seeds (1.5 TBS)
Ground Flax: (2 TBS)
Ground Cacao or Cacao Nibs (1 TBS)
nut butter
..or any number of other super foods and power-packed ingredients you can learn about online and purchase at health food stores or more health-conscious grocery stores!

Here's a great graphic I found on HERE that basically illustrates what I just wrote above:

It's important to remember that you really can't mess up a smoothie, so don't be intimidated. Some will be thicker than others, some will be thinner than others, so just adjust accordingly if needed (add ice, frozen fruit, or yogurt to thicken, or add water/milk to thin). I think it's more enjoyable to drink them with a straw, so have some on hand!

Here's my current favorite smoothie recipe, since peaches are so delicious and in-season right now!

Peach & Greens Smoothie
3/4 cup coconut water
1/2 cup ice
1 whole, very ripe peach cut into chunks (de-pitted, of course). I prefer it un-frozen because it's more flavorful
1/2 frozen banana
1 packed cup or handful of spinach (or Kale or Collards)
2 tsp honey
1 TBS chia seeds
1 tsp bee pollen

Blend in a blender and enjoy :)

You'll never waste fruit again - just freeze anything you have that's about to be over-ripe, and use it in your next smoothie!

DO IT! :)

June 23, 2014

Photoshop tutorial for portrait photography

Rob & Lauren over at Photography Concentrate have done it again. Those two are seriously the photography tutorial ninjas, and they have finally provided an incredible Photoshop tutorial. (Where was this two years ago when I first started learning Photoshop?!!).

You've heard me talk about Extremely Essential Camera Skills, Super Photo Editing Skills, and Incredibly Important Composition Skills. The first two were a huge part of my education before I started up my business, and I thank goodness for those and the way they helped me learn my camera and Lightroom so quickly and so easily. LIFE (and money) SAVER.

I went through their newest tutorial, Really Easy Retouching with Adobe Photoshop, and even though I've been using Photoshop retouching techniques for two years now, I still learned so much I didn't know before. For example, HEAD SWAPPING. When you're photographing families with young children, it is damn near impossible to get everyone looking at the camera at the same time. One of the videos in this tutorial explains how to seamlessly bring a head over from one photo to another, to complete that happy, smiling picture where all family members at least APPEAR to have been fully cooperating. ;) No more throwing out otherwise perfectly good shots because I don't know how to head swap!

Other techniques addressed in the tutorial are as follows:
+ Photoshop skin retouching such as brightening undereye circles and smoothing skin/removing blemishes & shine
+ Brightening eyes and whitening teeth
+ Removing distracting elements in your background
+ Slim down chins, arms, waistlines, etc
+ Composite images (head swaps!)
+ Photoshop shortcuts and other tips on layers, masks, and panels

This tutorial is worth every penny and absolutely perfect for the new portrait photographer looking to save time and money on their photography education. Check out all Photography Concentrate tutorials here, and go here for more info on Really Easy Retouching.  It is currently 30% off through June 30th only (this coming Monday), which makes IT UNDER TWENTY DOLLARS! That is insane, you guys.


PS - Did you know you can download a free 30 day trial of the latest version of Photoshop HERE? (top right, blue button!)

You can also download a free 30 day trial of Lightroom HERE (again, top right, blue button!) My favorite editing software is Lightroom, and I use it for about 90% of my editing, however, Photoshop IS necessary for certain types of retouching, unfortunately!

June 17, 2014

Lifestyle Revolution

I have been quiet lately. In some ways I’ve been aching to get back to this space and express again, and yet there is so much keeping me busy and fulfilled in the other parts of my life, that I don’t need it here like I used to.  There are seaons and this is just one of mine.

In this particular season I am undergoing a strange transformation and I think it’s called maturing into full adulthood. Maturing into full adulthood for me, though, has had interesting side effects, and I can honestly say that I am happier in this time of my life than I’ve ever been before. So much of it has to do with opening my eyes and educating myself about nutrition and health, oddly enough, and I’ve hesitated to really express it here lest this blog turn into post after post about, well, FOOD.

I’m not really sure how it happend. I guess it all started with some food documentaries we watched several months back. One was about Veganism (called Vegucated), and I can’t remember the other one but it was about farming and the importance of supporting local farms and really getting aquainted with your food - making it personal. Now, I don’t really have plans to go Vegan, but YOU GUYS. I beg you to educate yourself, TODAY, THIS WEEK about the common factory-farming meat practices in this country and our world. Ignorance of it is not OK and it’s not an excuse. It is absolutely discpicable what we do to animals raised for food, and I was forever changed after aquiring this knowledge. After watching Vegucated, I cried. Hard. And didn't sleep well for days. I was devastated by what I learned, because my heart is for animals. I was sickened and horrified and so sad that I’d been ignorantly buying in to this system my whole life - as are so many others of us who simply don’t want to know. It’s a system that will only be perpetuated unless as many of us as possible do what we can to make a difference (and the simplest, easiest way is with our dollars - the products we buy at the grocery store).

Yes, this maturing into adulthood I mentioned has had a great deal to do with opening my eyes to the world I live in and not simply being a blind consumer. As I’ve inched away from my old, disengaged way of being, it’s as if blinders have come off and I can suddenly see the way I used to fumble around in the dark along with most other Americans, feeding my body absolute shit that contributed to my terrible PMS and bad skin, as well as supported a system that tortures animals and treats them like machines that feel no pain, suffering, or fear. There are tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this, because that’s how passionately I feel about it and that’s how glad I am to no longer be feeding my body with FEAR.

Besides what I’ve learned about animal cruelty in food production, I’ve learned other interesting and helpful things, about gardening and farmer’s markets and bees and healthy, whole foods straight from the Earth. We’ve had decent luck with our first organic backyard garden, and food has become so much more personal to me, versus this soul-less thing you buy at the grocery store and often let go to rot in your veggie drawer because there’s just no connection there. We waste so much less now because A) we can’t afford it due to the new way we grocery-shop, B) we’ve developed a taste for fresh, healthy food, and C) much of it is coming from our own garden and that’s just cool.

I’d like to talk more about all of this - I have so much to say about it, but I felt like I needed to generally introduce this topic first, then tackle smaller topics down the road. Basically, when something changes my life in such a positve way, I want to spread the word! I want you to experience this too!  But obviously I can’t force anyone to care, I can’t make it be magically the time in your life when you’re open and available for this information and the eventual lifestyle change that follows. But I can plant the seed, and I can tell you it’s really nice on the other side. I’m nowhere near where I want to be in my knowledge of living a healthy life and supporting humane practices, but it’s this thing I’m pursuing every day and learning a little more and a little more about.

I encourage you to watch documentaries like Vegucated, Earthlings, and Food Inc. I haven’t seen the latter two yet, but I’ve heard they are very compelling. Those will give you a push in the right direction. Just watching THIS TRAILER might be all you need to make a serious change.  Like us, you may not be willing to go full vegan or even vegetarian, but rest assured there ARE ways to remain a meat-eater but not buy into cruelty that exists in the meat industry. I’m compiling a list of things I’m now doing to help make a difference, and will post about it ASAP.  Stay tuned…

June 3, 2014

Summer Orzo Salad AKA An Explosion of Delicious

Every now and then I make a really share-worthy meal, and this is one of them. I wanted to find a yummy, cold summer salad, and this is an adaptation of one I found and changed around a bit. Matthew and I are completely obsessed with it. It may look un-assuming, but believe me it's not. One bite, and you'll get it.

This recipe can be served as a side dish or a complete meal. We like it as a complete meal, and leftovers for lunch the next day are just as delicious. Hope you try it! :)

Summer Orzo Salad

Ingredients for the dressing:
1/4 cup White Wine Vinegar
2 TBS Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tsp Honey
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper

Ingredients for the salad:
12 oz Orzo Pasta
6 cups Chicken Broth
3-4 medium chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper (may be omitted)
1 TBS Olive Oil
2 cups Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
3 TBS Chopped Fresh Basil
1 cup Baby Spinach or Arugula, chopped
1 cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
1/2 cup Pine Nuts, toasted in a dry skillet (toss often, they burn quickly!)

- Cook the orzo in chicken broth until tender, according to package directions (I don't add any extra salt).
- Dice your uncooked chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, and sauté on medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.
- While orzo and chicken cooks, dice up your tomatoes, basil, and spinach or arugula. Set aside. 
- Toast your pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, watching them carefully and tossing often. Set aside to cool.
- Mix all dressing ingredients and set aside. 
- When orzo is done cooking, drain it and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick together - this is important!
- When orzo and chicken has cooled, you may mix everything up, but wait until just before serving to add the pine nuts.  
-May be served at room temperature or cold

Serves about 8 as a side dish or 4 as an entree 

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