DIY · Home · Japan Life · Rental Decorating

Tiny Pantry Renovation |Rental Friendly Decorating

We have had small pantries before, but man, this one in Japan takes the cake for BY FAR the smallest. We have tons of drawers that we can pile stuff in, but honestly it’s just so hard to find what we need when things aren’t sorted and organized.

I have found a bit of a love for open shelving, especially when items are displayed in beautiful jars and are so easily accessible. That being said, I also have a deep-seated hate for paying a lot for my home decor. (Hence my DIY hacks that are almost always under $20.)

So of course, I turned to my trusted Japanese Dollar stores for help.


So, I made a trip to both Daiso and Seria (the dollar stores here in Japan) and I got to work. In all reality, most dollar stores will have containers similar to the ones that I bought here. I decided to only stick with glass, simply because I knew it would probably withstand future moves better. (Fingers crossed for smart packers, right?)

I do recommend ONLY buying jars that are airtight for storing food, though. I purchased ones that were airtight, but also totally dishwasher safe.

Daiso flowers displayed in a Daiso feed sack
All jars from Daiso. Top jars were 250 yen each, and the bottom ones were 100 yen each.
The hooks installed on my wall are also from Seria, and are the same hooks I used to make my DIY coat rack. I have not yet gone over the screws with my iron paint to make them not a super glaring silver- oops. 😉 The two small grey baskets can be found at Daiso, and come with the lids. They are also stackable! Jars with the white handle lids come from Seria. These are the BEST with our toddler, because he picks up what he wants and carries it to us.

First, I removed the doors and hardware from the main pantry cabinet in our house. Read below for some tips on successfully removing hardware in rentals.

My white bowls are from Target YEARS ago, unfortunately they no longer carry them, but I am waiting to find some similar to link for you. The regular mason sized jars on the bottom come from Daiso.

Next, I removed the hardware and doors from above the sink, just to give an accent cabinet to the room.

300 yen jars from Daiso- these hold our entire supply of rice, pasta, and several boxes of our cereal. Get rid of ugly boxes, and you can see EXACTLY how much you have. Win-win.


Take off hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy.

I mentioned this in my past post about how to convert a small closet to a mudroom, but here is the information again!
So, yes. Take off all of the hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy. Or, simply leave it attached to the doors! We take all the screws and pieces that don’t remain attached to the doors, and store them in a plastic baggy, then tape it with painter’s tape to the door. This way the tape doesn’t damage the door, but we are able to know for SURE that the hardware stays put with the door. When moving out, we just place the door with the taped hardware beside the closet for our housing inspection. (Or if you are required to replace the doors where you live, all the hardware is right there, and you don’t have to go searching for it!)

Store your doors under a couch or bed.

This way kids, pets, or adults don’t damage them in any way, and they are totally out of the way! We store ours underneath our king size bed, so they are totally hidden under there. (Thanks to our sweet friend Sierra, for the idea of storing things under couches or beds. This works so well for us.)

The largest 300 yen storage containers.
These are 100 yen containers that I believe that have BOTH at Seria and Daiso. If I remember correctly, these came from Daiso. It was just big enough to hold our bag of granola and our bag of quinoa.
All of the above are from Daiso. The cross hatch storage baskets are my FAVORITES too. I have these in our closet upstairs, and you can also purchase lids that allow them to be fully stackable.
I keep my non-refridgerated pantry items in small crates from Daiso (100 yen) that allow air to flow through them.
Very top containers are from Seria, and 100 yen each. I use these for my granola and overnight oats. The beige containers are from Daiso (100¥ each!) Unfortunately my flour and sugar jars (the four across with the pattern) are SUPER old and from Target. I will link some if I find them!

Happy hunting for those dollar store bargains, and be sure to share your pantries on Pinterest with me! (Here is a link to the board this is pinned to.) If you redo yours, I would LOVE to see the results on the “try it” section of my pin!



Japan Life · Travel Guides

Tenno Shrine | Azalea Festival – May 12

This was our second year visiting the azalea festival, and again, it didn’t disappoint. We even went before the azaleas were in full bloom this year, and it is SO worth the short trip from base. Located maybe 3 minutes from Namiki gelato, it really makes for a great day trip for families or even single service members.

Here is the pin directly to the parking lot: 40.697251, 141.151309
(If you go on the weekends, typically there will be city workers directing traffic.)

Here is the pin directly to the main shrine:
12ー1 Tenno, Shichinohe, Kamikita District, Aomori 039-2525

Here is the pin to the small park with playground equipment & other couple shrines:
30 Shichinohe, Kamikita-gun, Aomori 039-2525

There is LOTS of open space for kids to run, just please be respectful as the shrines are a place of worship. We brought our two year old and 8 month old, no problem. But we do make sure to keep them quiet and not let them run right next to the shrines.

The azaleas bloom in mid to late May, and usually there is a pretty good update on when they are fully flowered posted on Out the Gate. Most of these photos from this past weekend are when the blooms are only around 50-60% bloomed. Last year we went at full bloom- both trips were absolutely beautiful.

From Spring 2018, when the azaleas were at full bloom.

The shrines right around the big hill of azaleas are absolutely beautiful too, and it is worth climbing the HUGE hill to the left of the main hill to see a couple different shrines.


Even at partial bloom, the flowers are gorgeous!

After parking, there will be a small walk to the hill that the majority of the azaleas are planted on. Before you reach this, there is a small road to your left that will lead to a couple other shrines- this is where the tiny azalea trees are sold, as well. If you go under the big arch and up the big hill, there is also a small playground area for the kids. There are water fountains, porta-potties, and plenty of room to sit out if you decided to have a picnic as well. I recommend you wear bug spray though, because last year the mosquitos were pretty bad. This year we didn’t notice them.

Nothing better than good friends that will wrangle your toddler.

Would be a very pretty place for a picnic, but this area is PRISTINE, so PLEASE make sure to clean up after yourself!

We kept Henry (2.5) to the smaller wooden playground, but there are a couple pieces of equipment for bigger kids, too.

From 2018, at full bloom.
From 2018, at full bloom.

Definitely a must-see during the Spring. We always hit up Namiki afterwards, and did this day too- but I have SO many photos from this day, that I will save that for another post. Stay tuned.

azalea pin.jpg


Desserts · Hospitality Food | Meal Trains · Recipes

Sopapilla Style Cheesecake Squares | Meal Train & Comfort Food

Okay, so I say lots of things are my favorite… but these really are my favorite. If you’ve been to ANY holiday that we have hosted at our home, I will have made these. I LOVE them, because I always have cream cheese, and I always have crescent rolls. And they’re CHEAP. A couple bucks for crescent rolls, a couple bucks for cream cheese, and you have yourself a $4 – $5 dessert.

cheesecake pin real


They’re also my favorite to make for meal trains, because they are so easy to make right alongside a main dish. As a very low-investment dessert, that’s always what I want when I am trying to multi-task.


I have tweaked my recipe over the past 4-5 years, and have decided this one is my favorite.

Tip: You can use different sized dishes to create different thickness levels of cream cheese. Personally, I like a very thick layer of cream cheese, but Drew likes them when there is more flaky parts. You can play around and decide what size works best for you (and also how many squares you will need.)

Sopapilla Cheesecake Squares

  • Servings: 15-20
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


2 packages of 8oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 cans crescent rolls
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar, mixed with 2 tablespoons cinnamon (if using unsalted butter, I add a couple pinches of salt to the mixture)


1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
2. Grease your baking dish. (13×9 is recommended.)
3. Unroll one can of crescent rolls, and spread it across the entire bottom of the pan. Pinch any seams, and make sure all areas are covered.
4. (Optional) Bake for a few minutes (usually 4-5) or until layer is just starting to rise and look less doughy. I let them get slightly golden, then remove them from the heat.
5. In a stand mixer (or by hand) mix together cream cheese and sugar until well combined. Scrape the bottom at least once.
6. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the baked crescent roll. There most likely will be some lumps of cream cheese left- that is fine.
7. Roll the second crescent roll over top of the mixture, and pinch any seams together.
8. Pour melted butter over the top, and spread evenly with a brush or spoon.
9. Mix together sugar-cinnamon mixture in a bowl.
10. Sprinkle sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the top of the butter. Some parts will still be gooey, some will just look like sugar.
11. Bake 24-25 minutes, or until the top begins to brown.
12. Let cool first in the fridge, or eat warm. It is highly debated on which is better, but I think they are better cold!



1. Gather your ingredients, and preheat your oven to 350°F. Make SURE that you leave out your cream cheese to come to room temperature. I typically take it out of the fridge 1-2 hours before prepping. This makes your cheesecake mixture blend SO much easier.

2. Grease your baking dish. I make sure to spray my dishes really well, because the squares just really seem to come out better when cooking spray has been used.

I usually use a 13×9″ glass pyrex or cake pan. I do occasionally make these in my round pyrex deep-dish, but to get a nice, even layer of cheesecake, I recommend a 13×9″.

3. Spread your first layer of crescent rolls over the bottom of the pan. Pinch together any seams.
4. Bake the first layer of crescent rolls until just barely brown. This is optional, but personally I think it makes them SO much better. I like to give the bottom a little extra baking time, just because I like these to have a fully baked bottom. If you don’t choose to prebake, they will still be baked in the regular cooking, but will likely be bit more doughy.
Thus, this isn’t 100% necessary, but I think it makes them so much better.

5. Mix together your cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer. You can beat by hand, but cream cheese is rather hard to get lumps out of- so my KitchenAid really comes to the rescue for this recipe.

One of my favorite things about this recipe (and Henry’s) is that there are no eggs- so licking the spoon & bowl as much as you want is TOTALLY fine.
He knows every time that I make these that he will get to lick the bowl, and he stands and watches me as I make the mixture every single time.

6. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked crescent roll layer. There will still be small lumps of cream cheese- that is perfectly fine, they will bake well.

7. Roll the last crescent roll evenly over your cream cheese mixture. Pinch together any open seams. I like to try to pinch the corners to the pan a little bit too- it keeps the butter from rolling down the sides when you pour it on.

8. Spread your butter evenly over the crescent roll. I choose to use unsalted butter, and add a pinch of salt to my cinnamon sugar. You can use salted butter, but in my experience I feel it gives the squares too salty of a taste.

9. Mix your cinnamon and sugar together, and sprinkle evenly over top of the butter. There will be dry places and wet & gooey places.

10. Bake for 24-25 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and feels more firm to the touch. If you prefer a more chewy/gooey style, you can shave off 3-4 minutes. There isn’t really a way to underbake these, as long as you make sure the top layer of crescent rolls are fully baked.

And voila! I could eat an entire pan of these in one day, and full disclosure: I have. They’re addicting and SO good for sharing with friends.




7 & 8 Months- Ellie

Ellie’s jumpsuit is linked HERE, her bow pack is linked HERE.

Weight: 7 months: 16lbs, 10oz & 27 inches long.
8 months: My scale today says she’s 21.4lbs, which wouldn’t surprise me because she’s huge, but that also seems like a huge jump from 7 months. Maybe I will actually weigh her on my fancy scale and update this. Probably not.

Linked my wallet, which can be personalized HERE.

Eye Color: Blue, blue, blue. Our friends tell us she has white walker eyes.

Bow from Little Ella Rae.

Hair: Blonde! It has finally started to come in thicker, and as of month 8 she can officially wear a clip bow, and it is finally starting to touch/cover her ears!

Size: 9-12 months. 12/18 month pants fit her butt best, but she could still wear 6 month tops, honestly. Baby has some THIGHS, that’s for sure.

Ellie knows I come into a room the second I do. She senses me, she follows me, she never takes her eyes off of me.

Lots of month 8 was spent wearing masks after the craziness with HFM hit. Henry even had a mask of his own.

Month 7 was fairly uneventful, but man, month 8 was nuts. Dealing with HFM seemed like it consumed all of the last YEAR, even though we were only sick for around 7 days all together. It was BRUTAL for Henry and I.

Girlfriend handled her fever and spots the best by far out of all of us, still smiling while she had a 103 degree fever. By the way, she smiles ALL. THE. TIME. Like, you can just make eye contact with her and she will smile. She is definitely a mean mugger to those she isn’t sure about, though. Much like Henry did at her age, she has the eyebrows for glaring.

This is the look she gives 99% of the Japanese who try to talk to her. Poor people.

My favorite new Ellie-ism is the fact that she hyperventilates like 90x per day. Any time something is even remotely funny, you will hear her hyperventilate laugh at it. Daddy is her favorite to do this to.

Girlfriend LOVES food. LOVES it. The boob, purees, random cheerios off the ground, whatever is on our plates- she is ALL about it. She is much better at eating semi-solids than Henry is. Ellie loves the little yogurt melts and can easily handle whole ones. We broke up Henry’s into small pieces for months and months longer than we have to with her. The girl will down a whole package in no time at all.

Ellie likes to randomly stand in the middle of the room, and is ALMOST walking. I am betting that month 8 will be the “walks unassisted” month, but perhaps it will be month 9.

The child will nose dive into a bowl of rice if we let her.

She LOVES her brother, which clearly hasn’t changed since birth. This month, Henry is starting to love her. And by love her, I mean he screams “AHH! SISSY! SHE COMING! SHE COMING!” when she starts crawling towards him. He also tickles her regularly, and pushes her over if she stares at him too long.

Vest linked HERE, jeans linked HERE, bow pack linked HERE, similar moccs linked HERE.

Much like Henry, Ellie loves the outside. She absolutely hates her carseat, but does sleep rather well in the car if we take long rides.

Girlfriend still has some serious stranger-danger. Mama is still the only one she loves consistently, but Drew is starting to grow on her, FINALLY. She grins every day when Daddy comes home, as of 8 months old.

Ellie has two teeth, but sported one single tooth on the bottom for her entire 7th month. I was REALLY hoping that the one top tooth she has coming in would pop through before her second bottom one. Can you imagine a baby with only one top and one bottom tooth?!

Lots of baby cuddles when she had HFM, but honestly the worst of it for her, she just slept through.

I definitely have to watch her in her swing. She will go from 100% awake to 100% slumped over like this in about 14 seconds flat.

She likes to smile with both her top and bottom teeth, and her overbite is so bad that her top gums completely cover her bottom teeth. It’s rather hilarious.

Typical faces given to strangers in public. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding about the mean muggin’.

Baby girl unfortunately still has her heart defect- we are hoping at her 12 month cardiologist appointment we will find that it has closed.

Ellie’s favorite word is “mama” and she says it ALL night when she wakes up. “MAMAMAMAMAMAMA.”
She also thinks it’s hilarious to repeat it when I ask her to say “mama.” She will say “mama,” “dada” and sometimes shakes her head yes and no. She also will punch me in the face if I ask her if “she wants a boobie.” Apparently that is a stupid question, because yes, yes she does.

Ellie loves Blippi too, and will watch any time her brother is watching. Girlfriend is also almost as obsessed with the cats as Henry.

I will do a Henry update separately soon, but he is a doll as well. Everything in his world is exciting, and my favorite thing in the world is the fact that he will run up an entire flight of stairs, just to tell us about the number 3. The kid is a hoot right now, and learns so much every day, I swear. He is cuddly and sensitive and ornery and strong-headed, and I think that three is going to be so much harder than two, but also so much more fun.

But this little goober of a girl just lights up our whole world. It seems like there has never been a part of our lives without our Ellie, but I also can’t believe she is well on her way to turning one.




Health · Life · Recipes

Starting Your Day With Probiotics | How I Get Mine Through My Coffee

Probiotics are our GO-TO during cold and flu season. We cling to the stuff to make sure that our immune system is strong, and our family is protected when that bad bacteria is circulating so rampantly.
I’m a kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, and kefir fan, but never in a million years did I think I could

get my probiotics through my lifeblood: coffee.

Here’s the thing… When I first heard about vitamin-infused coffee, I was totally skeptical. I mean, VITAMINS? In COFFEE? I just knew that as soon as I sipped that first brewed cup, I would be greeted with the bitter, horrible taste you get when you leave a vitamin in your mouth too long and it starts to dissolve.

I’m happy to say that I was SO wrong with that assumption.

I applied for a collaboration with VitaCup a few months ago, tasted their Energy Blend in a French Roast, and fell in love. I HAD to get my hands on their Probiotic Blend, because probiotics are huge in our home, so I reached out to them to collaborate a second time. I must say that the French Roast is still my favorite, but I love their Probiotic Blend, especially with the hints of vanilla I catch every time I take a sip.

So, aside from me genuinely loving the taste, why do I choose to consume probiotics through their coffee?

This post is sponsored by VitaCup, but the opinions are completely my own, and all the research was done by me.  I will never promote a company I don’t wholeheartedly love and believe in, and I actually reached out to VitaCup myself in order to collaborate, because I adore their product so much.

Here are 5 reasons that I choose to drink my probiotics through VitaCup coffee:

1. Not all bacteria is bad

Maintaining a balance of good bacteria in your gut is so important for SO many reasons. Seriously, Google it. Immune system, digestion, weight loss/maintaining healthy weight, brain function… you name it, there is likely evidence that probiotics directly or indirectly support it working properly.
Bacteria lives naturally in your gut, even the nastiest and scariest of bacterias. It’s just a fact of life, they are there! Adding good microorganisms, in partnership with getting good sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and maintaining healthy stress levels can boost your immune system so that you never fall victim to those scary, gross germs that are naturally residing within your gut.

And I mean, who likes gas, diarrhea, or bloating just in general?! Not me, that’s for sure.
Whether you have chronic gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or just face regular everyday digestion issues, probiotics and prebiotics can be one of the greatest things you can put in your body to keep these nasty conditions away.

2. I don’t forget to drink my coffee, so I don’t forget my probiotics

VitaCup knows what they’re talking about when they say that everyone forgets their vitamins, but no one forgets their coffee. I mean, what parent does forget their morning coffee?
When my eyes open in the morning to Henry’s fingers poking my face saying, “wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up,” I can tell you the first thing on my mind isn’t about my probiotics or vitamins. Rather, my first thought is “GET ME SOME DANG COFFEE.”
By consuming your probiotics and antioxidants in your coffee, you can almost guarantee you won’t forget to fill your gut with the good stuff.

3. The probiotic blend used is heat resistant, and thrives in the heat

I mean, duh.

You need microorganisms that can withstand the heat of brewing in order to live and thrive in your gut.
Most probiotic strains are not heat resistant, and several actually even have to be stored in the refrigerator- one of the reasons I never imagined being able to drink my probiotics in my coffee. VitaCup has picked the perfect strain; allowing for the probiotics to thrive in the hot coffee.

The Mr.Coffee website claims that the best tasting cup of coffee, no matter what brewer or coffee you use, is consumed between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. As stated in a US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health article, the particular strain of microorganisms used in VitaCup’s Probiotic Blend have been shown to activate and grow in up to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. So not only will your cup of coffee be the perfect temperature to drink after a few minutes, but the probiotics will be absolutely thriving in the heat of it, too.

4. Prebiotics matter too

Honestly, I have known about probiotics for years, but I had no idea what “prebiotics” were, or why they were important at all.
Prebiotics are almost as essential as probiotics, in the fact that probiotics do not thrive without them. Prebiotics are a form of non-digestible fiber that probiotics feed on, meaning that both probiotics and prebiotics are necessary for a healthy and balanced gut. You can find prebiotics in many forms, mostly through leafy greens.

VitaCup’s probiotic blend includes Aloe Vera and B vitamins, which act as “prebiotics,” feeding the good bacteria to keep them growing.

5. VitaCup actually cares

I love that VitaCup is conscious about the environment; and I know this is one of the main concerns that so many have regarding single-serve brewers and pods. After all, those things add up if you are like me and drink several cups of coffee every single day. Their pods are 100% recyclable, and totally BPA free.

And, to top it all off, VitaCup gives back. A portion of their sales goes to Vitamin Angels in order to help provide vitamins to battle deficiencies across the globe. So as you drink your coffee, you are not only helping to provide for your own body, you are simultaneously helping the health of another individual across the globe.

So, it’s pretty clear that I absolutely adore the VitaCup family, and all that they are currently working on. Their company has things pretty figured out, in my opinion. Not only do they have amazing blends, but their customer service is fantastic, they are beginning to expand to major retailers, and their coffee seriously tastes GOOD. (It’s the only coffee I will drink black!)

I’ve linked my two favorite blends below, as mentioned above, but a comprehensive list of all of their blends can be found here.

I mean it, if you are skeptical, give them a try. I didn’t expect a vitamin coffee to replace my list of favorite coffees, but they did just that. Why not do double-duty for your body while drinking your favorite coffee? Win-win in my book!


The above statements should not be taken as medical advice, as I am not a medical doctor, and any above promoted products should not be used to attempt to treat a medical condition. You should always ask your doctor before beginning a regimen of any vitamins or supplements.


Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)

 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.

Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!


Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.

We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.

Desserts · Hospitality Food | Meal Trains · Recipes

Homemade Classic Chocolate Crinkle Cookies | Kid-Friendly Baking

Ah, these are one of my very favorite treats to make. I’m a dark chocolate fan, and love using real cocoa to bake with. There’s just something about the richness of homemade chocolate recipes that doesn’t compare to boxed mixes.

They are Henry-approved, and a definite Henry favorite, too. So addicting, and even when I double the recipe, we eat them all within two-three days.

These are also included in my “hospitality food/meal train ideas,” because these are one of my favorites to bring to families when I am making food through a meal train. They are very easy to make simultaneously with other food, and I usually make a double batch when baking them for others so our fam can enjoy them, too.

pin cookies.jpg

Because I hate blogs that make you scroll through 400,000 photos of the recipe being made before ACTUALLY giving you the written recipe, here is the simplified recipe, followed by my kid and baking photo spam. Ha.

I love making these cookies with Henry, because the rolling of the cookies in the powdered sugar is a super fun way to incorporate even toddlers into the baking process. It’s a bit messy to do with kids, but doesn’t that make it even more fun?

Classic Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

  • Servings: 20-30cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder – (1/2 dark, 1/2 regular is my favorite to use.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar 


    1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    2. Beat together cocoa powder, oilgranulated sugar, and salt until well combined. The dough will look like a gritty soil. Only mix until ingredients are fully incorporated.
    3. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Beat until fully combined after each egg.
    4. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
    5. In a separate bowl, combine flourbaking powder. 
    6. Take the dry mixture, and combine it to the dough slowly. Mix until combined, but do not over-mix.
    7. Roll dough into approximately 1″ balls. If you find the dough is too sticky, you may refrigerate it for a few hours, or simply coat your hands in powdered sugar before rolling.
    8. Pour 1/4 cup of powdered sugar in a bowl, and roll balls in the sugar until they are fully coated.
    9. Place them on a greased baking sheet at least 1-2″ apart, and bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes. The cookies do not spread out much, so I fit more on a sheet than I usually do for other cookies.
    10. When the tops begin to crack, they are ready to remove from the heat. Centers will likely still be gooey.
      (You can bake them for around 10-13 minutes if you do not like a chewy center and want them to be crunchier- just not my preference for these.)
    11. Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes or so before moving them to a cooling rack. With the gooey center, the extra time on the sheet keeps them from falling apart.
    12. Enjoy! They are 100% enjoyed best with a cold glass of milk!

  1. Beat together cocoa powder, granulated sugarsalt, and oil until well combined. I prefer to use my KitchenAid, because the dough is very sticky. Usually I stop mixing, scrape the edges of the bowl once, and mix for a few more seconds to make sure everything is combined well. The dough will be gooey, gritty, and dark, and somewhat resemble muddy soil.
  2. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Beat until fully combined for each egg. Make sure not to over-beat the eggs. 
  3. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flourbaking powder.
  5. Take the dry mixture, and combine it to the dough slowly. Mix until combined, but do not over-mix. I usually combine about a cup at a time and mix until no flour is visible each time. I will scrape the sides of the bowl once, then mix for a few more seconds before rolling the dough into balls.
  6. Roll into approximately 1″ balls. I sometimes make them a tiny bit bigger, because I prefer gooey and thick cookies.
    If you find the dough is too sticky, you may refrigerate it for a few hours. I adapted a couple of my favorite recipes to make this one so that it normally does not require chilling, though! This one sticks together better, and doesn’t seem to stick to your hands nearly as bad as a few other recipes I have tried.
  7. I start with 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, then add more if I run out.
    I wipe out the inside of the previous dry ingredients bowl, and dump the powered sugar into it, because I hate making more dirty dishes.Henry LOVES rolling the cookies in the powdered sugar. He does a really good job at age two, and even places them on the cookie sheet himself.
  8. Coat your cookies completely in the powdered sugar.
  9. Place them on a greased baking sheet (I linked my favorite air bake sheet that is HUGE and allows for less batches in the oven) and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.
    When the tops begin to crack, they are usually ready to take out. They will be very gooey, and I find they are not really able to be effectively moved from the baking sheet for several minutes.
    (You can bake them for around 11-12 minutes if you do not like a chewy center and want them to be crunchier, just not my style. I think they lose a lot of their chocolatey richness if they aren’t chewy.)
  10. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes or so before moving them to a drying rack.

    This girl can’t wait until she’s big enough to eat everything Henry eats.
No fun is possible without making messes, right?

11. And finally, ENJOY!




Photography · Saving Money

Best Portrait Cameras & Lenses For Beginners | What Gear is in My Bag?

This is totally not sponsored by anyone, I just sincerely love these brands. Most of these images are edited in Lightroom mobile, which I also love and am not sponsored by. Haha. (But it also means image quality is compressed a bit, since all of these came from my phone.)
Below are affiliate links, but feel free to shop around for the best price at various retailers if you choose to buy something! 95% of my camera equipment I personally DO buy on Amazon, though.

I have always been a pretty open book when it comes to photography, and have always been a little bit irked when other photographers are not. I remember doing the research for YEARS to find the things that I liked best, and being totally ignored often when I would reach out to other photographers for advice.

I mean, I get it. EVERYONE is a “photographer” now.

Does this make me a photographer yet?

But honestly, isn’t that kind of cool? We live in a digital world, and we live in a VISUAL world. And honestly, I am captivated by images.
So bring on the new photographers! I can’t promise you I will pay you to photograph my family, but I totally want you to take gorgeous photos of your babies. There’s shots you will get in your home that NO photographer will ever have the ability to be paid to take, and THAT is special.

And honestly, in the end, I think that every single photographer is different. There are hundreds of ways to use cameras, hundreds of opinions on what is best and what works, and hundreds of different editing styles.

So take my advice as you may, but this is the equipment that I know and love.


The most asked question that I get?

“I want to start taking photos of my kids, family, pets, travel, home, small business, food, makeup, ect… What camera should I start out with?”

It’s somewhat of a loaded question, because of course, not all cameras are created equal when it comes to what they are best made for, especially when you start talking about lenses. There will definitely be equipment that is better suited for landscapes vs. portraits, and vice versa.

That being said, I have experience with several brands over others, and I definitely have a strong opinion on which cameras will produce the best images with the littlest amount of effort (or knowledge.)

So, here are the pieces that I have in my camera bag, meaning they are the pieces that I have fallen in love with over the years. At the bottom, I’ll give you my recommendation for a great camera for beginners, especially those wanting to get started with portrait photography, which is what I know best.

Mirrored Cameras:

This is all of my “professional” equipment, so this is the equipment that I take when I am being paid by a client to take their portraits. I have shot with Canon for years, and am particularly glued to their 5d Mark line. I have owned the 5d Mark ii as well, and think it is a GREAT camera to start out with if you are looking to dive into the world of more professional portrait photography. Full frame cameras will definitely be more expensive, but when paired with a great lens, they are so worth it.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4
Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon Mark 5d iii

As stated, I adore the 5d line. Full frame, excellent resolution, and just really easy to use cameras. That being said, if you are looking for a starter camera on the more amateur end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t recommend this line. The 5d cameras do not have an “auto” feature, and you must know how to meter your images yourself in order to use them correctly. That being said again, they are GREAT for forcing you to learn how to correctly meter your images. Ha. I started out with the Canon Mark 5d iiwhich is a great price now that it is one of the oldest models. These cameras taught me how to do completely manual settings, and I actually even back-button or manual focus on them now too.

Mark 5d iii + 70-200 2.8


Canon 70-200 2.8

I can’t believe there are already 3 versions of this lens! I own the version linked above- the II. I personally don’t believe there is enough difference between versions for an amateur photographer for it to even matter. The only thing I would recommend is making SURE you buy an IS (image stabilization) equipped version. This lens is HEAVY, so the extra stabilization is absolutely crucial for creating tack-sharp images. This lens is perfect for kiddos in play, and is the lens I use most when I am shooting weddings, sports, or anything in fast motion. It has an excellent range, and when shooting around 135mm, the images are CRYSTAL clear. This one is my favorite to capture little ones who are on the go, without disrupting them by being super close up to them.

YEARS ago I also owned the Tamron version of this lens, and I remembered loving it so much. I upgraded to the L glass, image stabilized version only when I had saved up the money and was shooting weddings regularly.  I actually still miss the rich, warm coloring of that Tamron lens, and would love to play around with it again someday.
My Tamron retained its value, too- which is something that isn’t always true of lenses. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly telephoto, it’s a great option.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4, editing is lighter than I usually like, color is more rich in original

Canon 85mm 1.4

This is a beauty of a lens to own, and I will likely never sell it. The crystal clear images from it are phenomenal- take a minute to look up the hashtag on Insta if you don’t believe me.
I do not use it nearly as often as I imagined I would, though, and I think that is important to state. For the price, I probably should have gone ahead and just purchased the Sigma that I will talk about next, and pocketed the difference. If you are looking for an entry-level lens, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It is BEAUTIFUL for low light situations, and is absolutely my favorite to use with kiddos and with individual portraits, but if I were just taking photos of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to justify the price that I spent on it.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4

Furthermore though, I have heard super mixed reviews on the non-L glass step down from the lens, which is the Canon 85mm 1.8Personally, I have never been totally in love with a Canon lens that wasn’t L-glass, so I would most likely be on the negative review side of this particular lens. But because I haven’t shot with it, I can’t say that for a fact. It would be a great option if you are looking to just get started, but not pay an outrageous price for a portrait lens.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 35mm 1.4

Sigma Art 35mm 1.4

This is my favorite lens for everyday use by miles. I have read on many sites that this lens struggles with the slightest little hint of focusing too close or too far. (I’m talking like, the camera focused on the ends of the eyelashes instead of on your eyes kind of deal.) I chose to purchase the lens still, because there are countless YouTube videos on how to recalibrate the lens to not do this… BUT, that being said, I have never noticed anything but SUPER sharp images from it.
I couldn’t even tell you the last time I took my 35mm off of my camera body, or the last time I used my 85mm. This Sigma lens is perfect if you are trying to take photos indoors, as it allows for very close up shooting without only photographing somebody’s nose or eyeballs. I absolutely love this Sigma for my kids, and actually use it for most of my client work now, too. After reading review upon review about Sigma’s Art line, I am actually convinced it stands up to Canon’s L glass, and it’s almost always several hundred dollars cheaper. Win-win.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon 50mm 1.4

This was one of the very first lenses I bought, and I purchased it when I wasn’t able to afford the L-glass step up of the 1.2. I have shot with a Nikon 1.2 lens, and it is a beautiful lens, but personally I don’t think it is worth the almost thousand dollar increase to jump up to L glass in this case. If you are looking for an excellent, VERY budget friendly portrait lens, this little gal will be a great lens to start with. I no longer own it, as I have replaced it with my Sigma & L-glass lenses of different focal lengths, but I did sell this lens to my sister, who I believe loves it too.

So for mirrored cameras, what do I recommend for a FIRST camera?

The Rebels have a great line if you are looking for a cropped sensor that will be way more budget friendly. I shot with Rebels all through high school when I was yearbook editor, and they are excellent cameras. They will also still have a built-in flash, as opposed to the 5d line, where you will have to buy an external flash if you are looking to photograph anything extremely dark. My low light lenses give me the ability to almost never need a flash, but if you are not able to afford one of said lenses, I would stick to something with an in-camera flash. Always buy a great diffuser for any flash you use, and you will have MUCH less harsh images.

But honestly, my overall recommendation?
Any Canon. 

From WAY back in the day. Mark 5d ii (old version) and a KIT LENS. (Gasp) Honestly I believe this is the 24-105mm from Canon. Whichever kit lens came with the Mark ii back then, haha. 

I’ve shot Nikon too, and it just doesn’t compare in my opinion. The rich colors I consistently get from Canon are to die for.

Sounds funny after I just reviewed two super specific bodies, right?

That’s because I believe the biggest way to create beautiful images lies in the LENS, and in knowing HOW to use your camera. If you are looking for a mirrored camera that would be great for portraiture, I suggest finding a body that fits well with your price range, then choosing one of the lenses I recommended above. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 will forever be my top pick, but my super budget-friendly starter lens would have to be the Canon 50mm 1.4. It was my first Canon lens, and served me well for several years before I upgraded.

Mirrorless Cameras:

Sony a6000

Wow, wow, wow. I can’t say enough nice things about this camera. After just reviewing my well over $2k camera body, I actually honestly almost prefer my Sony now. This camera is insane, and the movement towards mirrorless cameras is really exciting for me to watch. They are small, they are lightweight, and they are SO MUCH EASIER.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4 (it even shows my poor kid’s missed long hairs in the front… haha.)

I bought this camera originally to take with me on trips in Japan. My Canon equipment is beautiful and wonderful, but it just does not work well with crowded Japan trains, and I really don’t love carrying all of that money around on my back. I had read amazing reviews on the Sony a6000, knew it was small and compact for travel, and so I impulse bought it at our BX.

And wooooooooow am I glad I did.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Personally, I would buy the camera body only, as linked above. The kit lens that comes with the camera is essentially useless to me personally, because I shoot often in the low light of my home, and want a pretty blurred background in my images. I shoot my kids inside our tiny rental house, and having a wider-angle lens like a 30mm is the only way that I am able to keep their entire bodies in the frame without only taking a photo of just their foreheads.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

So I want something that serves me well in low light, can fit my entire kid into the frame at a close range, and creates a pretty bokeh (blurred background.)
The kit lens that comes with this particular camera doesn’t serve any of those things, and I will sell mine now that I have received my new Sigma lens to replace it, because I have absolutely no use for it and honestly don’t like the images it produces.

If you are looking for a step up from this camera, or more of a professional grade mirrorless body, I recommend the Sony a6500. I hear raving review after raving review on this mirrorless body, and have a feeling it would be spectacular paired with a low-light, wide angle lens. I have not used them myself, but I hear that the 16mm and 24mm Sigma lenses paired with this body are a match made in heaven. The 6500 body is next on my “want” list, but I am being a responsible saver for now, so that will probably come a little bit down the road. (Drew, don’t read that, I’m not planning on ANY more camera equipment, just like I promised. Ha.)

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Sigma 30mm 1.4

I seriously can’t say enough good things about Sigma. I purchased my first Sigma lens about a year ago, and looking back- my images with that lens were actually better than the images I took with my L-glass Canon lenses at the same time. Sigma doesn’t mess around, and they know their stuff. If you are looking for a specific lens, but are struggling to dish out the funds, check out third party lens reviews. Often, Sigma lenses are cheaper, and have better reviews. I have fallen in love with this one in the two days that I have had it, and I actually find myself reaching for my mirrorless camera with this lens attached over both my Canon AND my phone.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4, basically taken in the dark


So ultimately, what camera do you recommend for a beginner in portrait photography?


Well, again, loaded question. But if you are looking for an easy-to-use, relatively budget friendly, beginner level camera that will beautifully photograph your kids, a landscape, or the food you are eating, I really recommend the Sony a6000, paired with a low aperture lens. As mentioned, I own the 30 mm Sigma 1.4 with mine, and adore it.

Ultimately, I believe you really can’t go wrong with most choices, though- IF you take the time to research how to use them well. Avoid kit lenses (the lenses that automatically come with a camera, as manufactured.) Learn to use your camera, and watch all the YouTube videos you can on it. Take seminars, listen to podcasts, surf Pinterest. In the end, I believe wholeheartedly that you can make any camera’s shots look like they are professionally taken- it just takes some serious practice and knowledge. I know bloggers that shoot 100% with their iPhones, and you would never have any idea.

Most often, beautiful images come not only from talented hands, but from those who have taken the opportunity to LEARN their camera and lenses. It takes trial and error, and what works for you may not work for another photographer. Heck, I still totally mess up my settings on a weekly basis, and I am still having “OH CRAP, how did I not know this?” moments in regards to photography.
Take the time to read, research, and understand why reviews are posted the way they are, and what a review means coming from an individual. A travel photographer will review a lens differently than an indoor portrait photographer. You will find your niche, and the lines/brands that you love most. And in the end, I believe that probably more than 80% of beautiful photography lies in EDITING, and knowing how to do so without over-processing. I will share a post on that eventually, but feel free to message me on Insta with any questions you have about editing. Watch Youtube videos on editing styles, on streamlining editing, and on how you can make your images pop. It’s a surefire way to create beautiful images that are even better than the ones you pull straight off of your camera.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you may want to start out with, but if not, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram, asking me my thoughts on a specific body or lens! I actually respond to messages there, I promise. Haha.

Happy shopping, and happy shooting!