Gift ideas for kids | Sending our love and aid to Puerto Rico

UPDATE: Thank you for helping us raise $225 for Puerto Rico!

At this time last year, we felt called to create a social justice gift blog post, and we were happy to hear our followers found it both helpful and meaningful. Continuing the focus on compassion during the holidays, we decided to create another list this year, this time featuring ideas of gifts for children. We are using Amazon affiliate links to raise funds for our neighbors in Puerto Rico--50% of whom are still without power and many without homes or jobs--in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Maria and subsequent storms this year. For each purchase you make using the links in this list--as well as most other items purchased in the same transaction--we will receive a small portion of the sale from Amazon and we will designate it for our donation. We invite you to utilize this list in your holiday shopping to help us raise funds for our organization of choice: Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Disaster Relief and Recovery Program.

These gift ideas were personally selected by us based on a combination of factors: favorite items of our own three children, recommendations from friends, and bestsellers. Each item we feature also has excellent reviews. We aimed to encompass a wide range of ages, interests, and prices. We encourage you to share this in your circles! Note, current sale prices aren't always reflected in the list, so it's worth clicking if you are interested in an item.

Thank you for helping us give back and support those less fortunate this holiday season!



On the Move


Puzzles and Games




safe tools for curious kids




Imaginative Play


Music, Arts, and Crafts


Kick, Catch, and Throw


Infants and Toddlers


Tweens and Teens


Books (infants - 6)

Burt's Way Home
By John Martz
The Book with No Pictures
By B. J. Novak
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
By Drew Daywalt
By Kathryn Otoshi
Press Here
By Herve Tullet

Books (6-10)

Her Right Foot
By Dave Eggers
Malala's Magic Pencil
By Malala Yousafzai
The Magic Misfits
By Neil Patrick Harris
My Journey to the Stars
By Scott Kelly
Freedom in Congo Square (Charlotte Zolotow Award)
By Carole Boston Weatherford
The One and Only Ivan: A Harper Classic
By Katherine Applegate

Books (10+)

The Wild Robot
By Peter Brown
By R. J. Palacio
By Alan Gratz
By Nidhi Chanani
The Crossover
By Kwame Alexander

stocking stuffers

My Lensbaby Journey | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I have a confession...over the winter I began to feel some major burnout creeping in. Galleries and videos to edit, time on-call and at births, and being away from my family either shooting or editing so much was taking a toll on me. I recognized it was a problem when I had a stretch of time during which I felt too exhausted to photograph my own kids. While I adore documenting birth and family stories for others, sometimes it doesn’t leave much time or creative energy for my own family. I knew I needed to get my groove back with my personal work. So I thought about what might help me become re-inspired to document my own life.

In my search, I came across Lensbaby and was intrigued that it could achieve the look of freelensing (a creative technique where you shoot through your lens when it’s held against the camera body instead of attached) but without the risk of dropping the unattached lens or introducing dust into the camera sensor. I opted for a versatile ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm lens and before I knew it, my perfect little Lensbaby Edge 50 Optic with Composer Pro II was on my doorstep and I was planning my first opportunity to make some magic just for me. In the hours after our last snowfall of winter, I unboxed my Lensbaby and took it for a spin...and here--in words and pictures--are the highlights of my Lensbaby Journey.

As I clicked off my first few shots that day and tilted the lens around to different angles, I could tell right away that this lens gave me newfound control over what I could bring into focus and what could be blended into the background. It wasn't merely separating the subject from the background, but rather there was so much more to it. This was one of the very first images I created when I received the lens. There was a learning curve at first, and I only made a few images that spoke to me that day. Here, I used the soft bokeh to mask the dirty old snow and also to create a dreamy effect against the trees. I angled my slice of focus to fall right across my daughter's smile. Both the process and the resulting image felt intentional, yet unique and creative. Exactly what I needed to feel reinspired to shoot for myself.

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As springtime came and the colors and textures in my yard inspired me, I decided to play with the macro feature, which is just a simple extension pull of the lens. I have always found macro photography in my garden to be my happy place, where I can go to relax and unwind. With still life, there is no rush to capture a moment. It is calm and controlled and just what I need sometimes during a busy day, or in the morning when I have a few minutes to go into my own little world.

I became more comfortable over the weeks using my Edge 50, and it came along on our adventures. It is my smallest lens and is no trouble at all just being slung across my body for quick access while I hiked and made daytrips. I was happy to get this first image of all three of my children in a single frame. The blur of the Lensbaby made this more interesting to me than it would have been with a traditional lens. 

Flash forward to summer, when I decided to take just my Lensbaby Edge 50 on our trip to the farm where I would have typically brought both a wide lens and a portrait lens to capture the breadth of our experience at the farm. I wondered if it would fill my need for details, environmental portraits, and general storytelling images. When all was said and done, I was truly amazed I could document the story of our trip for our family so artistically and effectively with just a single small lens. Here are just a few images that fill my heart and mind with memories from that day.

I used the Lensbaby a lot during the summer and became comfortable with knowing when it would shine as a tool. Most of the time I shot outdoors because the weather was so nice and because nature inspires me, but I also love the effect indoors...

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Whenever I found myself craving something different or looking for the beauty and interest in the mundane, my Lensbaby was my go-to for adding visual interest to an image that may have otherwise been uninspiring.

I remember the day when I knew I had come a long way on my Lensbaby journey. I had developed a strong appreciation for the buttery softness I could create, the ability to control my slice of focus, the portability, the uniqueness of my Lensbaby images, and the creativity I have when composing with the lens. I was with my children on one of our favorite summer hikes and I knew that I wanted to create a set of images that would be reminiscent of summer memories tagging along on their adventures while they played in their own little world together. I knew Lensbaby could help me make that vision happen. Shooting that day was like hanging out with a friend I've only known for a few months, but yet with whom I feel natural and comfortable as if we had years of friendship together.

In this Lensbaby journey, what I gained most of all was the permission to let go of perfection, to release the compulsion to grab precise focus, to step out of my tidy comfort zone...and all the while I was reminded to live in the moment and create pictures of my life that truly make me feel something deeper and richer. They are more than pretty pictures, these images...they bring me right back to a real moment and show me how it felt to be right there in the haze and imperfection of motherhood and childhood. Thank you, Lensbaby, for helping me find the extraordinary in my ordinary.

Have you experimented with a Lensbaby? Which LB lens should I try next? I'd love to see some of your Lensbaby work or hear about your favorite Lensbaby lens!

{Z-Finder Review} What's in my bag | Northern Virginia Filmmaker

In my mentoring sessions and conversations with other photographers, I am often asked what tools I use to create my photos and films. So, I decided to create a series of blog posts telling you what equipment and products I use and why I find them useful. I’m kicking it off today with one of the newest additions to my bag. I've had the opportunity this year to review the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro and I’m so glad I did. Read on for my take and why it’s part of the family now...and don't miss the awesome discount code for my readers at the end if you are ready to purchase one for yourself!

It all started because I had been searching for a way to both reduce glare from the sun on my LCD screen when I film outside and to improve my general viewing of the screen both indoors and outdoors because it is sometimes difficult to see if I am nailing focus. In my research for tools that could help me, I came across a range of optical viewfinders and the Z-Finder Pro was both well-rated and well-reviewed for my specific purposes. Since I always pay attention to the brands that supply the products I like, I want to quickly mention what Zacuto’s brand is all about: Zacuto’s USA-made, production-grade, filmmaking camera accessories and rigs are designed by filmmakers for filmmakers. Their mission is to create products designed to make our lives as filmmakers easier and our long shooting days more comfortable and streamlined. In their own words, Zacuto’s original designs free filmmakers to focus on innovation, inspiration, and creativity. Sounds good to me!

My Z-Finder (my specific model is the Z-Finder Pro 2.5 for 3.2” Screens) arrived promptly and well-packaged. There were clear instructions with graphics and I had no confusion as I read through everything.

I attached the Z-Finder and took it for a spin outside. Looking through the viewfinder for the first time I was simply AMAZED at how well I could see the scene I was filming. The eyepiece blocked out the bright afternoon sun so that I did not need to pull my camera into a shadow at the correct angle to either film or preview my clips. I adjusted the diopter and the screen was perfectly magnified so that I could view even small details, and with enough general contrast to see defined edges within the focal plane quite well.

I was able to track movement well and render focus according to my screen quite easily, even with a long lens, which is usually tricky to handhold and focus quickly and accurately at a low aperture. I also appreciated that I had another point of contact (my face pressed against the eyecup) with which to stabilize and maintain control of my camera. I was so impressed. I also had a nice surprise when I went back to edit. I pulled my clips into Premiere Pro and saw that they were mostly exposed just right with nice rich shadows and preserved highlights, which is sometimes difficult to do when filming outside because I just can’t see clearly enough due to light and glare. I owe this to the Z-Finder because I was able to view my screen so well and consistently monitor my exposure and colors. My editing time was greatly reduced because my clips looked so great straight out of camera! I shot this little film of my kids using the Z-Finder on a Nikon D750 along with 35mm and 85mm lenses. Note the focus and stabilization.

There are a few things to note when considering the Z-Finder Pro optical viewfinder. The first is something that one may notice with any single-eye optical viewfinder and that is that the non-shooting eye may become fatigued from squinting after a while of near constant filming. For me, after subsequent uses it was not as noticeable as the first time. Another thing to consider is that when the Z-Finder Pro is attached, you are unable to shoot still images (unless in live view). So if you have a hybrid (film and photo) session this means you would need to either have two cameras or simply snap the Z-Finder Pro off and hang it while not in use on the handy neck lanyard provided by Zacuto. It’s a bit stiff to snap on and off the first few times, but then it loosens up a bit and is quick and easy.

Let’s take a look:

Advantages: Magnifies screen x2.5, blocks glare from indoor and outdoor light sources. Low profile, portable, and does not require batteries. Comfortable self-closing eyecup. Provides an extra point of contact to stabilize camera. Customizeable for different camera models. Excellent customer service and warranty. Built by filmmakers, for filmmakers.

Considerations: Screen does not swivel while Z-Finder Pro is attached. Possible eye fatigue of non-shooting eye. Unable to look through viewfinder to shoot stills without removing the Z-Finder Pro. This product is a higher-end optical viewfinder (solidly made with high quality materials) priced at $395.

In conclusion, the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro fills a distinct need for filmmakers wanting a premium optical viewfinder. It is made extremely well and comes with a lifetime guarantee. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for improved viewing of the LCD screen indoors or outdoors, to magnify the screen, and to monitor exposure and focus consistently and accurately, as well as to improve stabilization. You will definitely notice a difference. The more I use my Z-Finder Pro, the more I love it!

This is my personal experience with the Z-Finder Pro, but you can find out all the details about it and where to purchase here on the Zacuto website, along with all the other tools and accessories they create for professional filmmakers around the world. 

And here comes the fun part for all of you who are now thinking the Z-Finder might be just what you need! Zacuto is kindly offering readers a $50 discount off their purchase of the Z-Finder through the end of the month! Just use the code ANGIE50 at One time use per customer. Cannot be combined with other offers. Ends at midnight CST July 31st, 2017.

Disclaimer: I was provided a Z-Finder Pro in exchange for an unbiased review of the product. The opinions expressed here are my own, are truthful, and are reflective of my actual experience using the product. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will give my honest insight.

Life in Motion: March | Northern Virginia Birth Films

Another year, another film as part of our Life in Motion video blog circle. This time I'm sharing a film from a home birth earlier this year. This birth really touched me in many ways. Beginning with the continuous emotional and physical support from the birth team throughout both parts of labor, and the incredible genuine love and spiritual connection that radiated within this family, to the surprising location in the home where baby decided he wanted to be born. There were so many unforgettable aspects of this birth, and I am so grateful I was able to be there to document this beautiful story as it unfolded. Thank you to the wonderful providers at BirthCare and BirthPartners. Always a pleasure sharing the birth space with you.

Check out the highlight images and video below, and then stop by my friend Stacey's blog next to see her sweet summer memories film, and follow the circle around!

A Mother's Dance: Northern Virginia Maternity Photographer

Yauri connected with me in December to discuss having her pregnancy and the birth of her fourth child documented. When I learned that she was a professional dancer and how passionate she is about self-expression through movement, I knew in my heart that dance would be infused into the keepsakes I was to create for her. And so our vision evolved into a casual but meaningful winter session portraying dancing as an artful tribute to motherhood and God's blessing of new life.

I asked Yauri to tell me a bit about the role of dancing in motherhood. Today, I'm honored to share excerpts of her beautiful writing with you, along with some image highlights from her maternity session:

I think of dance as communication. A way of storytelling. And so dancing--performing, taking classes, and teaching classes--means my movement and artistic voice comes from an even deeper place since I have become a mother. I believe it is a result of experiencing vulnerability during labor and giving birth, needing support through the labor process, and coming into my womanhood as I have become a mother. So my movement and dancing tells that story, too.
This is our fourth baby, and with every pregnancy, there is a specific rhythm each of our children has. I can feel it. I can name it. It becomes familiar, even after birth. Dance is certainly a way for me to grow closer to my baby. I have danced professionally throughout my pregnancies. Being able to perform while also growing and carrying a life, I have felt that my babies were dancing with me. I know what my body is capable of as a dancer and therefore I know what my body is capable of as a woman and a human being. I have confidence and I feel empowered throughout the labor process because I allow my body to do what it needs to do.