Posts Tagged by family

2017 National Park Free Admission Days

Free Admission Days 2017

Looking for the 2018 National Park Free Admission Days?  You can find them right here!

Looking for a a great hiking trip or a just a national parks trip for your family?  How about some help keeping a low budget for your trip?  How does free admission to a national park sound?  Hint…the first one is January 16!  Start making plans to take advantage of this amazing program when Uncle Sam throws open the gates to so many of our nation treasures and invites you to take advantage of the national parks free admission days.

Olympic National Park - Free Admission

Plan to enjoy National Parks free admission days! Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2017:

  • January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 20: President’s Day
  • April 15-16 and 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 30: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
Only 120 of our country’s 409 national parks usually charge an entrance fee. See the list of parks participating in free days here. So start Planning Your Visit to Carlsbad Caverns, Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Padre Island, Cape Cod, even the Grand Canyon!
Muir Woods
If you’re planning a trip that includes multiple national parks, you might consider the $80 annual pass that provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and many other Federal lands-more than 2,000 in all. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. The Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over. Information on these and other pass options is available online.
And, in fact, many parks do not charge any entrance fees year-round.  So, there are many ways to plan a fantastic national park excursion without breaking the bank.Death Valley Ntional Park
*Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Where will you go?  Have you been to any of these parks with your family?  Have any great tips or advice for the rest of us?  Be sure to share in the Comments!

Take Amazing Family Christmas Pictures

Christmas Portrait Ideas


Family Christmas Pictures Ideas That Aren’t Stale and Outdated

Some professional family Christmas pictures can be so…boring. Reserved. Run of the mill. Everyone in your photo is dressed just like all of the other professional Christmas photos and they all look like they’d rather be doing anything else except sitting still for a family Christmas photo.

Does that sound familiar? You can still have a great professional portrait done for the holidays, but think outside of the box. Don’t settle for the same old idea that’s been done a hundred Christmas seasons past for thousands of other families.

Did you know that many professional photographers are more than happy to incorporate your ideas into the portrait? After all, you’re part of the finished project and they want you to be happy. If you don’t see the holiday themed background you want, ask for it.

At the studio, for Christmas effects, have the photographer let a gentle ‘snow’ fall. Photographers have special effects they can add to the photographs.

christmas-portrait-ideas-sepiaAsk the photographer to photograph some of the shots in sepia (as shown to the left) and some in black and white.

Ask if you can view the photographer’s selection of backdrops before the appointment. If you don’t like the choice of backdrops the photographer has, find one you do like (did you know you can shop for Christmas as well as other photo backdrops online?) and ask him or her to use that one.

Remember that to young children, the unknown can be frightening. Bring younger children to the studio before the scheduled appointment to familiarize the child with the surroundings.

Make sure you get what you want. Photographers are professionals who know how to take stunning portraits of your family but they might not know exactly what you’re looking for.

But you can be completely satisfied with your family Christmas portrait simply by telling the photographer your concept of the portrait. If you find that the photographer isn’t willing to work to put your ideas in, then go to one who is willing.

How to Dress for Christmas Pictures

Traditionally, knowing how to dress for Christmas pictures done in a studio or by a professional meant everyone dressed formally and wore red. You don’t have to dress that way! You can have everyone in your portrait wear blue jeans and white sweaters if that suits your family’s style better.

Here are a few ways you can dress for your holiday portrait:

  • Have everyone in the family dress like Santa’s helpers – or maybe dad could be Santa, Mom could be Mrs. Claus and the kids could be the
  • You can also have the family dress in blended colors, like a candy cane theme. Have one person in a red Christmas vest, other boys or men in red ties, mom and daughters in red pants or skirts with white shirts.
  • You can have everyone dress as Christmas carolers and ask the photographer to use a backdrop depicting a street complete with a gaslight. To figure out how you’d like everyone to dress for a caroling portrait, study images of carolers done in the early 1900s.
  • Have the photographer use a completely black backdrop. Have every family dress from head to toe in white clothing and hold candles. At the last minute, before the picture is taken, light the candles. Of course, if you have children that are too small to handle this idea safely, then obviously, don’t try it.
  • You can also have the photographer use a stark white backdrop. No frills. Then bring in the family dressed in eye-popping colors. Reds, greens, silver, and gold. Tie each color in together. The contrast between the vivid colors and the white background make the portrait both sharp and festive.
  • christmas-portrait-ideas-familyHow about everyone donning Christmas aprons over their clothes with Santa hats and being photographed in a kitchen baking scene?

You can have fun with this using Gingerbread Men, frosting and candy décor as props – along with a lot of smiles.

What If I Want to Take My Own Family Christmas Portrait?

If the idea of heading out to a professional photographer’s studio doesn’t thrill you, you can still get a great family portrait done right in your own home. You don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to have expensive camera equipment to take the photos, either.

You can take the photo with your digital camera. Digital cameras of today have time delay and two shot settings. That means that if someone blinks in the first photo, you can get them with their eyes open in the second one by using this feature.

Remember that if mistakes do happen, such as red eye or something in the picture you don’t want in there, they can be edited right out thanks to all of the photography software available for computers.

Backdrops won’t be a problem, since you can either make them from sheets or fabric rolls. Using fabric rolls in a Christmas print can give you a great backdrop. You can also purchase different Christmas backdrops (cloths made of muslin) from an online store.

Before you get everyone together for the shot, take the time to see which time of day you get the best shots if you want to use natural lighting. Your camera doesn’t always ‘see’ what you can. What’s bright red to you can look paler in a picture depending on the light used.

How to Take a Christmas Portrait at Home

If you’re using a digital camera, you should be able to take great shots no matter what the lighting situation is. But sometimes, you’ll need to take a few shots in order to figure out the right balance.

If it looks off to you, then you can set it to balance on the camera manually. Look for the settings on the camera that change the lighting in regards to indoor or outdoor, overcast or bright daylight, regular bulbs or fluorescent lights. Sometimes photos taken under fluorescent lights have a tendency to appear too washed out.

Decide what style of Christmas portrait you’re aiming for – informal or formal and then have everyone dress accordingly. Better yet, take both kinds (just make sure you remind everyone to bring a change of clothes to the shoot).

For more formal Christmas portraits, everyone can wear black tie or silver dresses if you don’t want to use reds or greens. If you have a large family or want to have a portrait that includes extended family, think up.

You climb up a few steps on the stairs and take the photo. If you don’t have stairs, use a small stepladder. Resist the urge to take the ‘family on the staircase’ photo.  No one every really looks good hunched together on a set of stairs. Plus the people further up the steps can end up looking like floating heads if the lighting is too dark.

Create a scene where everyone’s trimming the tree together. Let everyone pick an ornament to hang for the picture. That way they’re all together in the shot, around the tree, but it’s more natural looking that scooting into close quarters and standing in a still pose.

In order to get every family member in the shot and not have an MPT (missing photo taker) then you should use a tripod or other method for holding the camera.

Using the delay button will give the picture taker enough time to zip into the picture. Remember that it’s okay to be relaxed during a photo. No need for stiff, forced smiles.

If you have older teens who would rather scrub the house and skip junk food than have their picture taken, you might want to forego any posed photos and instead take ones that are teen friendly. You might even try to take some funny family pictures.

Funny Christmas Portrait Ideas

Look at this Family Christmas portrait:


Nice enough family, but that has to be one of the most BORING Christmas portraits in existence. And it’s a shame because this is what’s happening to many families across America.

Even the dog looks un-amused.

Don’t let this happen to you.

If you have a wacky sense of humor and you’d like that to be part of the picture, you can easily make it happen. For example, you can dress like the characters from a favorite Christmas movie such as the Grinch or Frosty the Snowman.

You can do North Pole themed family Christmas pictures. You could have one person dressed as Santa, the rest as elves right down to the curved toe jingle shoes. You can pose various family members working in Santa’s ‘workshop’ while Santa checks the naughty or nice list.

For added fun, zoom in on the list and make sure it has family members’ names under the naughty heading. You can even turn this one into a personalized Christmas card. Put a copy of the photo on the outside and on the inside, the zoomed in photo of the list. Add funny words like, “You’re getting coal. I checked the list twice!”

Another funny Christmas portrait idea is to have all the family members dressed in pajamas with PhotoShopped thought bubbles of what each is dreaming of getting for Christmas. The gift thought bubbles can be quite funny if you really exaggerate what the gift could be.

christmas-portrait-ideas-2Hot cocoa is a staple of chilly Christmas nights. Have everyone grab a cup with whipped cream on it and accidentally get a face whipped cream moustache on them like the picture to the left!

For a real Christmas portrait full of laughter, create a family patterned after the characters in Whoville.

You can tease up hair like the Whos wore theirs or you can get Who hair when you buy a wig in that shape. You can add to the fun by designating one member to dress the part of the Grinch.

Who’s in the stocking? You can buy or make oversized stockings. Have each family member get into a stocking. For a funnier portrait, get a super sized stocking that many members can fit into. Have them stand in front of the fireplace. For props, place giant suckers and toys among the family members.

How to Take a Christmas Tree Portrait

Something to consider when taking a Christmas tree portrait is the color on the walls. If you’re going to use a fully decorated and lighted tree in the photograph, don’t shoot the picture from too far away if you have white walls.

White walls make are glaringly noticeable. You want the focus to be on the Christmas tree and the people in the picture, not on the walls.

One of the easiest and most traditional family Christmas portraits to take is the one where the family is all gathered in front of the Christmas tree. But you don’t have to do it that way if you’re looking for something a little different.

You can take a photograph of the entire family in front of the tree but with each of the kids inside a box decorated to look like a Christmas present. If you have teenagers, you can wrap the box they’re sitting or kneeling in paper depicting their favorite things to do – music, sports, as well as their hobbies.

If you’re using a live Christmas tree, before you put any decorations on the tree, have each family member dress warmly in sweaters, mittens, boots and scarves (turn the furnace down in your home so no one gets overheated) and sit in front of the bare tree.

Put snow fluff and Styrofoam balls representing snowballs. Have each family member sitting or kneeling in the ‘snow.’ You can do this with an artificial tree, too.

Instead of the family gathered in front of the tree, you can have a photo of the family gathered around the tree in profile. Each one is looking at the tree and their faces are bathed in the lights from the tree. Silhouettes also make great Christmas portraits. You can also get a picture of everyone in the photo reaching toward the tree to hang a special ornament.

If you’re a couple without children, both of you dress in white with pale blue scarves. Stand together, slightly angled toward one another in front of a white Christmas tree decorated with blue ribbons and blue Christmas balls. Use the zoom feature so that the Christmas tree doesn’t have a lot of it in the background. This makes a lovely portrait.

Taking a Family Christmas Picture That Includes the Dog

Animals are surprisingly easy to photograph and most dogs will sit still for inclusion into a family Christmas picture. You can take a more traditional photo of the family seated in front of the tree with the family pet sitting or lying in the middle.

christmas-portrait-ideas-3Or you can create a unique family picture with Fido. Though pets are easy to photograph, like children, they have short attention spans, so the second you get them ready for the shoot, don’t dally. Take the picture.

Have every family member dress in Santa hats including the dog. In front of each member, give them a sign that reads either ‘naughty’ or ‘nice.’ If you have or can find a red sleigh or sled, here’s an idea that’s different:

Put the harness on the dog (this works will if you have more than one dog too) add reindeer antlers. Have the family members sit in the sleigh or pile onto the sled. If you have a small dog, you can dress him up in a mini Santa suit and have him ‘drive’ the sleigh.

You can also create a family wreath complete with bow-wows of holly. Spread evergreen boughs on the floor (place a sheet on the floor first to catch loose needles). Everyone sit holding a dog (bigger dogs can lie in front of the family members) and each dog is dressed in bright red with holly bow hairpieces.

How to Get a Great Outdoor Christmas Picture

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that family Christmas pictures have to be taken inside the house.

Or even in your front yard. To find a spectacular photo opportunity, you don’t have to look any further christmas-portrait-ideas-4than what the world around you has already provided.

You can find some wonderful settings and great backdrops to make a special picture this year.

If you live in an area where it doesn’t snow – maybe your state is more famous for its beaches than for creating a winter wonderland, you can head to the beach.

Think you can’t create a Christmas look at the beach? Think again. Head to the beach and use the damp sand to build Christmas decorations. Giant balls and ribbons, Christmas boxes, a jolly Santa or two and a snowman or two.

You can bring props from home to give the sand decorations added pizzas. Bring oversized bows for the sand Christmas boxes. Take along a Santa hat, beard and boots for your sand Santa. For the snowman, bring along a few scarves, a black hat, coal and a carrot. Not only will you have fun, but you’ll have a unique picture as well.

If you would prefer not to leave your yard to make an outdoor Christmas picture, then use your own if you have it or rent a gazebo. Before it’s time for the picture, decorate the gazebo in hundreds of tiny white Christmas lights. Hang Christmas wreaths and bows. Have family members dress in red or green or silver and black and sit on white wrought iron benches.

If you live out in the country or on a farm, then you can have a country Christmas photo done where everyone gathers together in a wagon decked out in Christmas lights and bells. Taking good family Christmas photos can be a way to forever capture those special moments. Remember these final tips when you’re taking Christmas photos.

  • Take more than one shot of each kind you want in case someone blinks or moves. Add some funny photos to the mix. Even if someone is doing something goofy in the shot. It’s often the pictures that aren’t posed that turn out to be the ones that are the funniest.
  • Practice before you take the shots – especially if you’re using a new camera – but don’t expect perfection. Sitting still is boring. Subjects get restless.
  • If you’re taking pictures of a large family gathering for your Christmas portrait, don’t have them all in the exact same pose. In the top row, have family members standing back to back, the second row kneels and the front row should sit.
  • Get in the shot. Don’t always be the one behind the camera. You’re an important part of the family too.
  • Turn the camera sideways for a shot from a different angle.
  • Try taking your Christmas photos in black and white.
  • If you’re trying to get dogs in a picture and they keep looking away, their attention is easier to get if you keep a squeeze toy in your pocket and squeeze it gently.

With a little patience and a little practice, you’ll have a family Christmas picture that you’ll love for years to come!

Happy Holidays!


Creating an Online Family Tree


Finding a Home for Your Family Tree Online

Finding our roots is becoming more than just a passing hobby – it’s an obsession for many who want to discover just how far back they can go to find their ancestors and place them on the family tree.

Traditionally, these roots were mapped out on paper, pen in hand – a tedious task that made more people loathe the process than embrace it.  But now, with the onset of digital evolution, men and women alike are mapping their family trees using software and online websites devoted to genealogy buffs.

Discovering who should go onto your family tree is only part of the process.  You’ll find that you’re able to track down many more distant relatives if your ancestry is hosted on the Internet where a global audience can find you.

The features and tools vary from one site to the next, but you can usually find exactly what you need for free or for a very small fee.  Of course, you’ll discover that some sites have more bells and whistles that allow you to flesh out your family tree more than the average branch with text on it technique.

The best family tree websites will be those that combine the features you need, minimizing the amount of outside research that you need to do.  For instance, some will have blogs you can use, areas to post pictures, and chat rooms you can congregate in for an instant online family tree reunion.

Your ancestry research may not date back thousands of years yet. It’s okay to start with your immediate family and grow your roots from there.  Online tools simplify the process and storing that information online at a family tree website lets everyone share in the treasure you’re creating.

But it also makes your job a little easier.  When people are able to track down their roots and realize that somehow, they’re connected to you, they can contact you and get added to a branch of their own on your family tree website. Then you can plan events, keep in touch, and share memories and stories with all of your family in one central gathering place.  Sometimes families have a hard time planning a reunion that everyone can attend.

A family tree website lets everyone enjoy the closeness of family on their own schedule, logging in and participating to keep in touch from wherever they happen to be in the world.  Before you invest in an offline family tree keepsake, consider the various options you have for technology-driven treasures that will hasten the process and deliver much better results for you and your loved one around the world.

Five Things You Need to Launch a Family Tree Online

When you finally make plans to get an account on a family tree website, you’ll need to have five basic elements in place to help you branch out in the right direction.  As your genealogy efforts take root, your family tree will grow at a more rapid rate when others contribute their knowledge.

The first thing you want to include when building a page on a family tree website is some basic information about your family name.  You can tell where you are now, what information you know to be true, and what stories are just speculation.

Second, you want to include pictures for your family tree website.  They can be of you and your immediate family, close relatives, deceased family members, and ancestors you believe were a part of your family but aren’t yet sure about.


The third thing you want to include on your family tree website is a little bit of information about each family member.  It’s okay to start with just a name, but distant relatives will want to learn more – like what career path they chose, how many children they had, or major accomplishments they gained in life. This kind of detailed information helps make your family tree website more than just a static page of dates and names.  It makes it an interesting gathering place for people who could possibly be your kinfolk.

Fourth on your list of must-have ingredients for a family tree website is information you’re still seeking.  What gaps are left in your research that you’re hoping someone else can fulfill? Do you need contact information or to flesh out the dates and times events took place in your family’s history?  Broadcasting it on a family tree website can help others know what they need to do to pitch in.

Last on your getting started list for the family tree website should be to include a directory of family members.  Gather the names, ages, and phone numbers of relatives that don’t mind having their information within the account and assure them that you’re guarding their information from the general public if you’re managing the site yourself.

Consider the building of your family tree website a potluck reunion of treasured relatives you haven’t seen in years (or ever)!  Allow everyone to contribute to the mix and you’ll soon find your genealogical research overflowing with valuable information that you can share with your own heirs one day.

Free Databases to Help You Create Your Family Tree Website

When you make the decision to trace your family roots, you may not initially understand the vast amount of research that has to be done on order to expand your familial history beyond that of your great-great grandparents.

With a family tree website, you have tools available to you that make the process run smoothly – and at a much faster pace than if you were keeping records offline for you and your heirs.

Many family tree website services offer built-in research tools for their members.  But with genealogy, you always want to use multiple tools because you never know when one might pick up on a small detail the others didn’t produce.


Heritage Quest, located at, is one tool you can use for free with a library card as your access to the database.  You can search Census records, databases about the Revolutionary War and Freedman’s Bank, and gain access to information published in book on people and places described throughout history.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission at makes it easy for you to access information on over 1.7 million men and women who were casualties during the two world wars.


At, you can search databases of cemeteries from all over the world.  You can also submit your own transcription of information. This is a good idea because someone else in your family that you don’t yet have added to your own family tree could be searching these records and your information could lead them back to you.

The links go on for miles at because you can search all over the world, for different types of information.  The site is run by volunteers, so it’s helpful if you contribute to the site as well as take from it so that others can benefit from the research you’ve already done and vice versa.

Once you visit the various free genealogical resources the internet has to offer, go back to your family tree website home and populate it with the new information you’ve discovered.

Always be sure to check back and see what new data has been added to both free and fee-based tools that you use because you never know when the missing piece of a puzzle with fall in place one day and your family tree will be complete.

Added Features to Make Your Online Family Tree Site Flourish

Whether you’re new to genealogical research or you’re a seasoned veteran at tracing your family roots, you’ll be glad to know that sites are continually developing new features and tools you can use to make growing your family tree a little easier – and a lot more fun!

Remember the days when you had to trace your family tree in elementary school, maybe going back as far as your great-grandmother and grandfather?  You can throw away those Big Chief notepads because family tree websites are taking genealogy high-tech, but so simple a second-grader could use the tools.

Instead of a tree with branches and names, you can trace your roots on a family tree website using features like ahnentafel reports where you can see your roots listed in a generational pattern.


Or, populate your family tree website with ancestor charts to give a visual outlook on which relatives descended from whom.  More visual tools include online photograph albums or charts that can be laid out chronologically. Advanced tools can let you share who’s in the picture, and how the two are related within the family tree.  No more writing on the backs of pictures and paying for expensive copies to be mailed out!

Instead of having to start from scratch if an error is made or an update needs to be added, when you use a family tree website as opposed to a paper recording, you can quickly and easily edit your recordings to reflect new findings. Plus, you can usually customize the look and feel of your online family tree home.  It usually requires no programming knowledge – just the ability to click and choose which backgrounds and designs you prefer.

In an age where families are spread out and no longer living in the same communities, family tree websites are enabling loved ones to stay connected or to unite with other relatives they previously didn’t know existed. Make sure that before you invest in your genealogical quest, you take time to figure out which tool you like best that will serve the purpose of providing a home to your family’s detailed history.

Planting a Genealogy Tree in Google’s Search Engine Garden

 Whenever you create a family tree, you want to get as much input from other family members as possible. This is one time it’s good to have relatives sticking their nose into your business! By choosing to build a family tree website, you’ve just boosted your ability to expand your roots even farther. Keeping records by pen and paper isn’t just tedious, but limiting as well.

Now that you’re planting your roots on the internet, you want to make sure your family history can be found by others.  The more people who find your genealogy, the more hands who can help you discover unknown facts and revelations.

If you chose a family tree website that allows you to create blog entries, then you’ll want to post to that often to help search engine robots find it and index it for their results pages. That way, whenever a distant relative goes online seeking information for their ancestry, Google or whatever search engine they’re using will return your blog as one of their choices.

Google and other search engines like to categorize websites based on keywords.  So if your family name is “Brown,” then you want to create a list of words and phrases you can use within each blog entry that relate to the Brown Family Tree. Devote each blog entry to a new keyword or phrase.  The more you blog, the more often search engine robots will visit your site and post updates to search engine users when your page displays.

If your family tree website doesn’t include a blog feature, then you can create one for free at  Blogging is one of the best ways to get picked up by Google and broaden your horizons for genealogy research, but it’s not the only way.

The more family tree blogs and websites you have linking to your primary family tree page, the higher your site will raise in the search engine results.  Hopefully, in time, you’ll be in a top 10 position on Google and your relatives and ancestors will be able to click on your link for a fast, easy, and effective virtual reunion.

Don’t waste hours trying to make sure you develop the perfect content for your blog. Write naturally about your quest to find information on your family name and Google will recognize your organic efforts and reward you with a spot in their search engine.