10-minute photo invitations for under $10

A couple weeks ago we celebrated Kembe and India’s 6th birthday. They were just a few weeks into kindergarten and haven’t really established their friend group yet, so instead of trying to narrow down a few kids for the party, I decided to invite everyone in the class. They are in separate classes so I needed about 50 invitations. I also wanted to make a photo invitation so that the parents could identify which child the party was for, since it’s a bit early in the year that every parent knows their names.  Photo invitations can get pricey, so I decided it would be cheaper to create the invite on a photo that I could cheaply print at Target. Here’s how I did it. how to create simple photo invitations for under ten bucks The first step was to get a clear photo of the kids, leaving a large background space where I could write the invitation text.  I snapped this picture with my iphone with the kids standing in a shady spot near the side of the house. Photo Sep 12, 3 08 52 PM Next, I pulled up the photo on my computer and added some text.  You can add text in any number of photo applications, but I used Microsoft Paint.  The key to making it look good is choosing a nice font and complimentary colors. I love the font Sketch Rockwell, and matched the title to India’s dress. kembe india birthday invite public After saving the photo, I uploaded it to Shutterfly, and sent the photos to print at Target’s.  They were ready in about an hour. Prints thru Shutterfly are 15 cents, so I got all 50 invitations for just $7.50. Not too shabby – and it was much less time-consuming that filling out store-bought invitations or trying to get invitations lined up on my printer.  I bought some plain white envelopes to put the invites in, and sent them to school with the kids. Inexpensive and easy – just my style.

five awesome features of the windows phone

I am a bit of a tech-junkie when it comes to phones, so I was excited when Windows asked me to take their new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone for a spin.  The Windows Phone is shaping up to be a serious contender in the smartphone market.  I’ve been using one for the past month, and wanted to share some of the aspects of this phone that I really like. In the coming weeks, I will also be sharing some of the features I think moms are looking for most in a phone (namely – what apps will keep my child quiet on a plane or help reinforce their academic learning.)  For now, though, here are some of my favorite features that are unique to the Windows Phone.

1. Seemless app interactions in one place
When my phone arrived, it prompted me to enter my account information for Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live.  Once I’d added my info, the phone automatically populated my calendar and contacts. But what’s best is that each account is compiled – so that if I pull up the contact for my husband, for example, I can see all of HIS contact info in one place.  I can see the info I have for him from my Google contacts (phone number, address, etc) but I can also see the data he has entered for himself on his Facebook page (his website and birth date) along with his Twitter info and bio.  From his contact page, it also gives me the option of sending him a text message, sending him an email, tweeting him, writing on his Facebook wall, or calling him. I don’t have to switch into a different app – I can pull up any friend and from there, decide how to reach out to them.

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2. Keep track of interactions with friends in one place
Let’s say my friend Sarah had sent me the info for a soccer camp she thinks I might like, but I’ve forgotten where she sent the info. Did she email it to me? Text me? Send it to me via Facebook?  DM me on Twitter?  Instead of hunting down all of those places, I can go to her contact page in my phone and view our interactions on all of these networks in one place. 

3. An easy walk to stalk see what everyone is doing
It’s also great for checking in on what your friends are doing. For example, maybe I wanted to call Jillian to set up a time to hang, but I can’t remember if she’s in town.  I can go to contacts, and look at “what’s new” and it will show me all of her social media activity or recent emails to me in one place.  I can see from Facebook that she has a new podcast up – and her recent twitter update tells me she’s already in rehearsals for her Mother Tongue show in Scotland. Stalking status, achieved!  I can also go to “what’s new” for all my contacts to see what everyone is doing at once – sort of like a twitter/facebook/text hybrid screen.

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3. The ability to create “groups” for sending emails and texts
Another feature I really like is that I can create groups within my contacts that will allow me to text or email a pre-determined group of people quickly and easily. If I wanted to send a video of the kids saying Happy 4th of July to my family, I can shoot the video, and choose the family group, and it will text it to them.  If I am having a childcare crisis I can shoot a quick text to the group I set up for local friends.  This feature also allows me to choose a group and view all of their social media interactions in one place as well.

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Easy photo sharing
Have I mentioned the seamless app interactions?  On the Nokia Lumia your photo album also includes all of the photos you have uploaded to Facebook, in alphabetized folders, so you can access even more of your photos. You can interact with those albums as well as the ones you’ve taken.  When you select a photo, you have the opportunity to share it via text, email, or social media networks without visiting those apps.  You can pull a picture from Facebook and text it to friends. You can upload a photo to twitter.  You can choose from others sharing apps, without leaving the photo album.

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These are some of my favorite features so far – I’m excited to keep trying it out. 

What are some of the features you look for in a phone?

Disclosure. This is sponsored post, however all opinions and reviews of the product are my own.

how to do simple edits and easy youtube uploads using windows movie maker

I’ve mentioned before I’m a part of the Windows Champions team, which means from time to time I get to share tutorials on some of the features that come (free) on Windows computers.  I wanted to share a little bit about Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’ve always felt daunted at the process of getting my videos uploaded to YouTube, but Movie Maker allows you to do quick and easy edits and then save to YouTube without leaving the program.  It’s made it much easier for me to add easy titles and captions to my videos.  If you are a techie, this is probably not news to you, but if you are like me and get overwhelmed at just the idea of getting your videos to YouTube, then hopefully this will be helpful.  In the video, I’m showing how India makes a home movie by herself, and how, in a couple seconds, I can add a title frame to the movie she’s made and then upload it to YouTube.  Movie Maker is also great for making edits if say, for example, you realize after filming that your child picked her nose in the shot, or if you refer to the camera as “your phone” and are too lazy to reshoot. In the video, India is using the HP TouchSmart 600 computer along with a Microsoft LifeCam HD-5000 ($25 at Amazon right now) that makes movie making really easy for kids.  I’m filming her with a Sony HDR-CX160 Handycam, and then I edited the video of her making a video with Movie Maker as well.  So meta!  If you have a PC, your computer should already be loaded with this program, but if it’s not you can download it for free right here. [disclosure]

protecting kids from pornography: the new responsibility of parents in the internet age

When I was seeing clients as a marriage and family therapist, one of the most common reasons families came into my office had to do with pornography.  I had many couples seek counseling services for this issue, which is a conversation for another time.  But I also had many, many families come into my office after discovering that one of their kids was looking at explicit material online.  These were not bad kids. In fact, most of them were great kids from great families.  Some of them were girls.  Some of them were as young as 11.  And always, the parents were completely shocked by their behavior.
I’m gonna lay something down that I want every parent the world over to consider:

There is a lot of pornography on the internet, and your teen will probably try to look at it.

Yes.  Your kid.

Because kids are naturally curious about sex.

Sexual curiosity is completely normal.  It is a part of growing up.  I can remember being very curious about how things worked as a teen.  I can recall looking through our family’s Encyclopedia Britannica looking for answers to what this whole sex thing was about.  Not because I was a troubled kid or because I had a strained relationship with my parents.  But because I was a normal teen.

What’s NOT normal is that today, kids can access video and images that are way beyond what their developing brains can handle.  When I was a kid the most salacious thing I was going to find in my home would be some anatomical drawing or a definition in the dictionary.  Nowadays, when kids go searching for answers, they are likely to stumble upon videos of real people in the act of sex. 

Talking about porn can be morally loaded conversation, even when kids are involved, so let me just say this up front: I believe that kids need to be protected from pornography, regardless of your own feelings about pornography.  I realize that adults have varying opinions on pornography, but I don’t think that a conversation about shielding kids from porn should just be a conversation amongst the conservative set.  Because, the thing is . . . it just shouldn’t be viewed by kids.  Even if you think it is perfectly acceptable for adults.

The problems with viewing pornography in adolescence are well documented, both empirically and anecdotally.  Studies have shown pornography use to result in a greater likelihood to sexually harass others, and a tendency to view women as sexual “play things.”  In the publication Social Costs of Pornography, which assembled leading experts in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neurophysiology, and sociology to study the effects of pornography on our society, the problem with adolescent pornography use is described as follows:

There is abundant evidence that children and adolescents use pornography to coerce each other into sexual behavior, while adults also
groom or coerce children by the same means. One therapist reports, “I am also witnessing more female adolescents tolerating emotional, physical,
and sexual abuse in dating relationships, feeling pressure to make out with females as a way to turn guys on, looking at or producing pornography so
that their boyfriends will think they are ‘open-minded’ and ‘cool,’ and normalizing sexual abuse done to them because they see the same acts
eroticized in pornography.” Indeed, one recent study finds that adolescent girls who report using pornography are more likely to report being victims
of passive violence, where they experience sexual harassment or forced sex at the hands of male friends or acquaintances.

A study focusing on juvenile sex offenders found that a disproportionate number of such offenders had been exposed to pornography as a child;
specifically, twenty-nine of the thirty juvenile sex offenders had been exposed to X-rated magazines or videos, and the average age of first exposure was
about seven-and-one-half years.

Internet pornography is often the first exposure that children and teens have to sexual images. This introduces a skewed view of human intimacy that is difficult to extinguish. These early learning experiences can negatively affect their future relationships and marriages, but they can also lead to casual attitudes towards sex and more risky behavior amongst teens.  Dr. Lynn Margolies explains this further:

In the absence of any context, and without having learned about or known healthy sexuality, children may experience depictions of sex as confusing and take the images they see to be representative models of adult behavior. They are thereby introduced to sex before they are ready through images they do not understand, which often involve sexual deviations, and sex detached from relationship or meaning, responsibility, and intimacy.

To recap: we don’t protect our kids from pornography because we think sex is bad or dirty. We protect our kids from pornography specifically because we want them to have a healthy sex life as adults.

So how does this play out at home?  An internet connection poses a huge risk for kids to access adult material.  Studies show that each year, about 40 percent of kids aged 12-17 visit sexually explicit sites either deliberately or accidentally. I think that as parents, we really need to come to terms with these numbers and be proactive about protecting our kids.  I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that simply talking to our kids will be enough, anymore than I’m going to stuff my 6-year-olds drawer full of candy and tell him not to eat it after I leave the room.  I think the most loving way to handle it is to remove access altogether. 

There are a lot of services out there that can filter out adult content so that kids are free to use the internet.  The simplest one I’ve found is completely free.  Windows Family Safety allows parents to set controls at any level.  For my kids now, we restrict free browsing and only allow them to go to a few pre-selected sites.  Once they are older, we can give them more freedom while still monitoring what they are doing.  I like this program because you can also limit your kids’ email and instant messaging access to approved contacts, so that you’ll always know where your kids are hanging out online and who they might be talking to.  It locks on SafeSearch in Google images and other popular search engines.  For parents who are ready to give older kids a bit more responsibility, there is a setting that allows all websites but lets you know if kids go to potentially inappropriate ones.  You can also set it to block all adult websites, or to filter for violence or other concerns.  It also gives parents control over when kids use the computer, what games they can play, and what programs they can run.

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Do you have controls on your family computer?  What systems do you put in place to protect your kids? And how do you monitor what kids do on the iPad and on cell phones?  We’re not quite at that stage yet but I’d like to know how other families manage smaller devices with internet access as well.

blogging with microsoft live writer

A couple weeks ago I gave a little tutorial on how I blog from my iphone.  I thought I would also share on of my favorite tools for blogging from the computer: Windows Live Writer (WLW).  I am always amazed when I talk to bloggers who write their post within the native Blogger or WordPress interface, because Windows Live Writer is just makes the whole process so much easier. Windows Live Writer is a blog publishing application.  It is a desktop application, so you can use it even when you are offline.  You write the post on your computer, pick photos from your files, and then upload when the posts is complete . . . so there is no risk of losing a post in the middle of a wifi jag.  It is completely free and has a variety of great extensions . . . you can add a facebook like button to each post, or pull photos from your flicker stream.  There are any number of plug-ins you can add.  But my favorite feature by far is how easy it is to see what your post will look like and crop photos and format text accordingly.  WLW takes a snapshot of what your blog background looks like, and also saves the fonts and colors that your blog uses, so what you see is what you get.  Here’s a little snapshot of me writing this post in WLW.  image See how the space I’m writing in is the exact same size as the text box on my blog?  It even shows my blog background.  I love being able to preview as I’m writing. I also love how easy it is to post photos.  WLW allows you to add pictures to a post and then crop, frame, resize and watermark them before uploading.  For example, if I wanted to add a cute picture of the kids, I pick it from an easy interface that looks like this: image I click on the picture(s) I want, and then WLW pops in into the post, remembering the sizing, frames, and watermark I’ve specified as default.  In my case, it sizes the photo to the exact width of the blog, and then adds a shadow frame and a watermark of my blog name: IMG_2656 Now, let’s say I want to crop this picture down.  I can do that right in WLW before I post.  Like this: image Tada!  You can also fool around with the color, brightnesss, and contrast.  It’s no Photoshop, but it’s really nice for quick photo editing and posting. IMG_2656 You can also change the borders of each picture, or the watermark, with just a few clicks.  For example, here’s my usual: IMG_2970 IMG_2970 IMG_2970 Lots of quick and easy ways to change photos. You can also manually resize photos just by clicking and dragging the frame.  It also makes posting several photos at once really easy.  You can click and choose multiple photos that will all appear in the frame, and it’s faster since everything uploads at once, instead of waiting for each individual picture.  Here, I chose four pictures, and it gave me the option of having them all appear in the photo, or having them in a photo album grid.  I chose inline, so it popped all the photos into the post, sized to my default, with a frame and watermark. IMG_2680IMG_2684IMG_2686IMG_2688 There are so many other great features.  You can set it to remember hyperlinks, so that certain phrases always automatically hyperlink.  (For example, when I type ShePosts and MamaPop, it just magically hyperlinks.  Like magic).  There is a toobar with the blog’s header fonts so you can choose consistent fonts if you are doing subheadings.  It has spellcheck, it can post video, and it’s easy to move back and forth between rich text and html formatting.  For me, another great feature is that you can post to multiple blogs from the same place.  I don’t have to log in and out from the different blogs I write for.  I can even post the same post to two blogs at once.  Here’s what it looks like if I decided to switch over to Mama Manifesto: image It retains the same formatting.  I can switch between blogs from a simples drop-down menu, and I don’t have to log in or out.  When I’m finally ready to post, I hit publish, and it uploads all the text and photos at once.  You can set categories and can even set the post date and time to the future. If you are interested in trying it, you can download it here for free. Disclosure: I was invited to be a part of the Windows Champions program this year.  I joined specifically because of my enthusiasm for WLW, which I have used for several years.