5 books I've read lately (and loved)


via my Instagram (@becauseofjackie)

I am a book nerd, through and through. The feeling I get when I walk in to the library, the smell of old books? All those possibilities? I adore it. I devour books, really, if I think of it. Reading for me is a lifestyle, something that is as necessary as breathing and eating. I was always that student caught with a book under her school work, or reading in a  place that I shouldn't be (work…), but REALLY, is reading for pleasure such a bad thing? (I mean, my fourth grade teacher thought so, but bah humbug to her;) 

I am an equal opportunity reader, going between my Kindle and the library for my book fix. I don't really stick to one genre, either! I DO get obsessed with certain authors and read my way through them, or a genre sometimes, too, but for the most part I read anything that sounds good to me. I've been checking out a ton of great reads from the library lately, and I thought I'd share my faves with you.

Here are the best 5 books I've read lately:

I read Eleanor and Park earlier this year and really enjoyed it, despite the heavier subject matter. I find this author to be very John Green-esque. She writes about quirkier people who live a bit outside the norm, but you'll love the banter and how she creates a story line that sucks you in. I've read almost all of her books (still waiting for The Attachments…), and Fangirl was my favorite.

This books was initially hard for me to get into, but once I figured out that the protagonist was a bit different (in the best way possible), I really got into it. The quirkiness of his character, and how it makes you fall in love with those that are a bit offbeat in life? That seems to be a theme with me, and I adored the whole story. 

I read this for book club a couple of months back and I was so reluctant!  I had to force myself to start, but once I did I found it was full of gems. I think the book is a zillion times better than the movie (as always), and is so full of beautiful little nuggets of wisdom that you want to highlight and save forever,  you will end of wanting it for your library to reference for years to come. I promise.

Another book club book! I started this reluctantly (what can I say, I hate begin forced to read something I didn't choose…), yet when I started I could not stop. It is hard to read at times, but the story sucks you in and makes you realize how lucky we are as women to live in the times we live in today. This is a must read as a woman, and as a citizen of the United State (or anywhere, really.)  I am also a sucker for fictional historical novels, so this fit the bill for me.

Lately when I walk into the library I go straight to two places: the new releases, and the YA section. I found this book in the YA corner and it was really great. I find that I love finding books meant for a younger audience, I guess they touch on something for me that often feels long gone? Despite searching for books alongside sweating 14 year old boys, I unearth some of my best reads here;) This book was awesome because it was told from the point of view of a boy (again, reminds me of John Green), and also reminded me of a time when you are growing up and realizing the who the people are who change your life for the better, and how. 

Tell me, have you read any good books lately?

blogging 101: taking photos with a tripod and timer


This post first appeared on Because of Jackie in March 2014, it has been updated and revised!

One of the biggest and best part of a blog in most instances are the photos you use. Quality, size, and the placement of your photos are all part of the aesthetic of what you are trying to show on a daily basis, so it matters how they look. I happen to be a personal style blogger, so most of my photos are outfit shots. For my photos I almost always take them myself with a tripod and my Canon Rebel. It's taken me some time to come up with a system that works for me, as well as a way to troubleshoot issues that come up. I don't have a regular photographer who takes my photos for me, and I don't have the time to wait till the "magic" hour of photography. My husband can sometimes fill in and help, but this can be a real hassle, because when we are all out together on the weekends we have the kids, and blog photos aren't our top priority. Hashtag style blogger problems. Ha!

Four steps to taking better photos with a tripod and timer:

1) The first thing you have to do is gather up your equipment. My biggest investment was my camera. I bought my camera off of Amazon a couple of years ago and love it. I have the Canon Rebel t3 (I bought it refurbished), and use this lens exclusively for outfit photos, (it shoots with great detail and I love it.) I researched long and hard for a camera that had a timer on it that could also take continuous photos (more than one at a time) on the timer setting. This is so important! 

You will also need a tripod. I have had several really cheap versions, but found they broke down really quickly. (Perhaps because I carry it in the back of my car all the time and toss my groceries on top of it each week? Hmmmm.) I invested last Fall in a more expensive one at a local camera shop that I really like. It has a lifetime guarantee and is really sturdy. It was worth the $100 investment! 

2) When it comes to camera settings I find that I like to use it in the manual most often, and shoot with the continuous shot timer. Like I said above, one of the main reasons I chose a Canon over a Nikon is that it has the ability to take continuous shots on a timer. This is important because I can set it to take up to 10 continuous shots on a timed setting. When I stand behind the camera and focus it on a background (and then dash to my spot and pose), it will then take a bunch of photos in one burst. This makes it quicker and easier than taking one photo at a time and increases the odds that I can get four or five good photos in the whole batch. On a typical shoot I will take probably 70-100 photos to get the four you see in a blog post. On a good note, the amount of continuous shots I take means an actual photo session may only take 5-10 minutes. 

As I mentioned, I also almost always take my photos in the Manual mode when I am by myself. I adjust the lighting (ISO), the White Balance (typically to auto), and the Aperture (how much the background is blurred), and take a couple of test shots to see which works better. It depends on the time of day, but I most often take my photos around 10am in a shady place that has reflective light somewhere, so it doesn't take me long to find the right settings and start shooting. I also have my camera set in Raw mode, which takes sharper, clearer photos, without the camera manipulating how they turn out. 

3) Location is an important detail for great outdoor photos. I have a couple of different go to spots around town that I use, depending on weather and time of year. In the Summer I have a ton more options, and in the Winter I have much less. I personally don't like anything indoors, or anything that has distracting things in the background. My favorite places are spots that have a texture in the background, like a brick wall or a distressed building. The point for my photos is to show the detail of an outfit, so keeping the background simple is key. I also like that once I have shot in one spot often enough, I don't have to fuss with tripod placement. I can just set it up quick, focus on the background, set the timer, and jump into the shot. 

Another thing I like to play with is the angle of the shot. I like to position the camera to show an angle or a focal point, which sort of tricks the eye into focusing on a single spot. For example, if I'm shooting in front if a wall or building I will angle the camera and tripod so it's at an angle instead of shooting 
straight on. I think this adds interest to the photos and keeps things more fun. The one thing that I have to do in manual setting is shoot with a background that the camera can focus on. The camera needs it to autofocus on (no open air shots, or street views), because they come out blurry. I used to have a remote to do these shots, but it broke and I find I can do without it just fine. 

I've been doing my own photos for a couple of years now, so often when I look at places I try to see them from a photography standpoint. I have a couple of tried and true spots that always work, so I switch between those a lot, and other times I notice certain places as I'm driving by and keep it in my head for another time. I'm a big fan of a cool, distressed wall (clearly), old barns, and colorful buildings. There are a lot of great places where I live that are really fun for photos and I (luckily) haven't run out of spots yet. 

3) The most embarrassing part of all this is running into people while your taking your own photos in a public place. I find that acting like you should be there is the best defense, and most people just walk right by without caring. I just smile and act like this is totally normal and say hello and carry on. Very few people stop to ask what in the world I am doing, and they are often gracious enough to not blink when I tell them I have a style blog. I almost always have at least one kid with me when I do my shoots, so they sort of act like a buffer, too. They also act as my assistants, carrying my tripod around and acting as stand ins for test shots. The side effect of all this is that my daughter can NAIL a fashion blogger pose in three seconds or less.. Ha!

4) The time of day is also important when taking good photos, though it doesn't have to be at the magic hour (an hour after sunrise or before sunset.) I don't know about you, but I can't fit my life around this ideal situation, so I have to find ways to make it work. The best defense for me is to take photos in a shaded (but not too shaded, if that makes sense) spot. Standing in direct sunlight never works and creates really bad shadows that even the best editing can't get rid of. I like to take my photos in the mid morning, usually around 10am, and find a sidewalk or side of a building that isn't in direct sunlight works best. I often take a couple of tests shots from different angles to find the best lighting spot before setting up my tripod. I adjust the ISO on my camera to add or dim down the brightness and then take my photos.

Lastly, when I edit my pictures at home in PicMonkey, I can adjust the lighting a bit more to make the photos look better exposure wise. I crop them to the size I need and make them all uniform and ready to be uploaded into my blog post.

I'm not an expert by any means, and I'm still learning daily, but taking my own photos is actually easier than having them taken by somebody else because I know what I want to show and what I'm looking for. I like having control over what I'm producing, and now that I have a system of sorts I find that I can do a photo shoot pretty quickly. 

Tell me, do you have any questions I can answer about taking your own blog photos? 

The {real} secret to happiness in your work life


H&M jacket, old (option); Old Navy tee; Target sandals; Nordstrom reversible tote; ℅ Lulu*s tie dye sweatpants.

I called my mom the other day (as I do almost every day, #mamasgirl), and my Grandparents happened to be in town visiting her. They have this wonderful little setup, where they spend six months of their year in a quaint place in southern Florida, and the other six months in a beautiful home on a lake in New Hampshire. While talking to my grandpa, I asked him if he was looking forward to the extra room and more spacious nature of their home up by the lake. He said, "you know, I'm always happy to be heading there and enjoy the home I have, and then when it's time to leave for Florida I'm always happy to be going there, too." He then said that when he was younger and not retired, he had a similar thought process. He mentioned that he always loved teaching college for the school year, but when the year was over he was tired of it, and looking forward to working at the pier and fishing again. Yet, when the fishing season was over, he was ready again to give that up and get back to teaching. 

This got me thinking. While I know this is not possible for so many, I love the idea of always having something to look forward to while working. To have not one thing that makes us happy, but several. I thing that the monotony of working the same thing is hard, and is something that has gotten to me in the past in a lot of jobs. Routine takes over, and it becomes a never ending cycle of sameness. I've had this happen to me a lot! I start something and get excited, but inevitably, the sameness of it all gets to me and I begin to want for something more. 

Maybe the real secret to happiness and being content is to not do the same thing forever. To switch things up and keep reaching for more. To find a job that changes, to create a life that is less about what what should be and more about what we want. Maybe we need to do that job that pays, and then work in our spare time on what makes us truly happy. Find a way to make that dream a reality! Get up early and write, or take that class that truly thrills you. 

I'm still working on that job that makes me really happy. Maybe it will be part time teaching and writing? Who knows? I'm in my early thirties and I am still figuring it out, but I know one thing. I hope when I am my grandfather's age, I can sit on the phone and be optimistic about all that life has brought me. I want to see everything in the best light possible, and always have something to look forward to. 

a saturday morning kind of dress


℅ Walk Trandy bow print dress (wearing a size large, size up!); Rebecca Minkoff bag; Target boots.
Gah! How cute is this dress? It's my new fave;)

For some strange reason lately, I find that the days I tend to dress up more on are Saturday and Sunday's. It's partly because I have less concrete plans (no gym! sleep in!), and I can spend a bit more time putting together a fun look. I find that taking my blog photos on the weekend really works for me schedule wise. I get to wear something fun, and then grab the kids and go off exploring. This Saturday morning they accompanied me to my "picture place," and then we ambled on over to a local coffee shop. It has a really pretty outside area to lounge in (with a babbling brook to top it all off, SWOON), and a great selection of locally brewed, organic coffee. While I'm typically happy drinking coffee straight from my Keurig at home, it is really awesome sitting in a pocket of sunshine with my children and having a mocha latte (for me), and hot cocoa (for them.) We aren't in a rush, we can linger as long as we'd like, and it has become a thing for us. 

I've mentioned this before, but I'm not one to save my fancier clothes for a special occasion, because let's face it, they are few and far between. While an off the shoulder dress may seem a bit much for a Saturday morning, I find that if you wear it like you mean it, then it works. Often we get caught up in what we should be wearing, or we are afraid of looking silly. And while I get that concept, I like to wear what I like when I want to, because life is too short to leave the pretty dress in the back of my closet just waiting for that special time. 

The time is now, and I'm happy to oblige.

Tell me, do you dress up more on the weekends? Where would YOU wear this dress?

5 reasons why going to Coachella would (probably) drive me nuts


Lulu*s dress and necklace; Target sandals, old (similar); Ray ban sunglasses; Forever 21 kimono.

 I love Coachella. (We know this, right?) The problem is, I like it for the reasons you may not know. I adore how my Instagram feed blows up with the cutest looks all weekend long. I like scouring Pinterest for new and interesting ways to style myself in a way that would fit right into Coachella. YET, I probably wouldn't want to go. (I mean, unless someone wants to send me there and I can wear all the pretty clothes, then just disregard the following…;) I guess I like the idea of it more than I would like going.

One of my dear readers Linda commented on my post the other day that she enjoyed that I dress like I'm going to Coachella all the time, and don't do it just when Coachella is going on. Which I don't! (Not that I knock the themed dressing either, that's equally as fun.) I REALLY DO dress like this almost all of the time. Whether I am going to playgroup with my son, grocery shopping, or volunteering in my daughter's classroom, I dress like I'm heading to a music festival. This look feels like me and I enjoy it. We should all have "permission to play" when getting dressed in the morning, and I like to take this to the extreme from time to time. Ha!

I digress.

Since I so love the IDEA of Coachella and all the other boho/hipster/cool kids type of events, I wanted to switch it up and go into why I would most likely HATE going to one. Let's do this!

5 reasons why going to Coachella would (probably) drive me nuts:

1) There are a ton of sloppy drunk (among other things, ahem) people at music festivals, and they annoy me. I mean, I get it! I have been that person, and when you are in that mode you don't see how gross you look and how crazy you are. I like to have fun (says the old person), but I don't enjoy getting beer spilled on me by a drunk 19 year old and her seven best friends.

2) Porta potties. In the heat. Enough said.

3) I love music, I play it constantly, and it really makes me happy. But going to an outdoor concert with too many people, and not even being able to see the bands play (unless you get there early, just NO), sucks. I don't get to a lot of concerts lately, but I prefer the ones that I have a seat I paid for, I can see the person singing, and I'm not sweating in a crown of a zillion.

4) Palm Springs at this time of year is ridiculously hot, and I hate being hot. Baking in the sun while wearing a polyester kimono sounds gross to me, and I would be the person that wore all the wrong things in the name of fashion and lived to regret it.

Now I get why all those models wear nothing but bikini tops and cutoff shorts (not happening.)

5) Finally, I think that if I ever show up at the same place that Kendall and Kylie Jenner, (and Justin Bieber) all hang out, I would die. They are all 12 and need to go home.

Tell me, would you enjoy Coachella? 
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