The Case for Photo Books

I’m a big believer in photo books. I make them a couple times a year, and have tried several different services.

The process is a mixed bag. The software or site can be clunky to use, and it’s tedious to sift through the thousands of pictures I take in six months and the hundred more restrained J manages. (A friend says she’s set up Dropbox so the photos from her phone and her husband’s both automatically import there, so I’ve got a new goal.) I usually spend a few evenings sitting beside J on the couch with our matching laptops, something inane on the TV, and crank out another photo book to add to our stash.

But the end result is alchemical: something magical out of a mess of poorly focused shots, duplicates, blurry snaps of children in motion. Looking back at these books reminds me there is good in every season, no matter how morning sick it was. Recently I pulled one volume from the shelf to show Pippin the winter he and J made a snow fort in the backyard, and suddenly I found the kids immersed in photo albums, Scout reverently whispering, “Baby” as she pointed emphatically at photo after photo.

I’ve used Shutterfly, Blurb, MyPublisher, Mixbook and Pinhole Press (this one just for board books). Of these, probably MyPublisher is my favorite for prettiness (cloth covers!) and Shutterfly/Mixbook are cheapest and easiest to use. (I just read MyPublisher is closing up shop, though. Figures.)

Along the way, I’ve assembled a stack of photo books that vary in size and quality but all serve to tell the story of our family. It’s easy to snag one off the shelf to show a neighbor how impressively bald and round-headed Pip was as a baby, or to show Pip what our old house in Granby looked like. Sometimes he’ll ask for one to be read to him as a story book, or Scout will page enthusiastically and violently through one. I remember my own childhood fondness for those static-page photo albums of the ’90s and so I soldier on with clunky software and crashing websites, building up the Grimm Bowers family record one photo book at a time.

IMG_0905.jpg
Toddler Pip sharing memories with his uncle

How to Find Outrageously Narrow Shoes

When I was a kid, I had really, outrageously narrow feet. For years I wore the same Reebok Princess sneakers  in a variety of sizes that my sixty-year-old gym teacher sported. It was the worst. My mom was always sympathetic — we are both 7.5 AAA — but there’s only so much you can do, especially when you have a limited budget for rapidly growing feet.

And then I got pregnant.

And my feet stayed the same. Twice.

Everyone says pregnancy can make your feet bigger, flatter, wider, but not this moi. Apparently, however, judging by what is commonly available in even A-narrow shoes (much less AAA, my size), the only other narrow-footed women are octogenarians.

Still, in the past ten years, I’ve developed some strategies for you rare youthful unicorns with narrow feet:

  1. Adjustable features. Even though I often take a S or AAA in picky shoes like pumps, I can often wear normal sneakers or boots that lace up. Last summer I also found some pretty narrow (A) sandals that worked because their straps are Velcro, so I don’t have to try to punch more holes for buckled shoes.
  2. Use a site that only lets you look at narrow shoes so you aren’t tempted. Online Shoes is a good starting place. I’ll sometimes filter by width and the maximum I’m willing to pay, then browse like a normal human might at the store.
  3. Find a shoe you like on a site that doesn’t sell narrow shoes, then borrow search terms from its description to search a site that lets you filter by width. So you find boots you like on Madewell or wherever, and then search for “chelsea boots” to help sift out all the old lady styles.
  4. If, by the grace of ye heavens, you find inexpensive narrow-fitting normal-person shoes, buy a zillion pairs. This has really only happened for me once, with these Target Toms knockoffs. Since that glorious idle spring day a couple years ago when I happened to try on a pair, I’ve bought like…six pairs. Sometimes I get cocky and try to wait for a sale where they’re $10 instead of $20, but if you’re used to paying $60-100 for a pair of shoes, this is exciting territory.

If you have narrow feet (or quite wide, I suppose), what hacks have you found for tracking down shoes that will fit?

Cloth Napkins

unnamed.jpg
The napkins that launched a thousand napkins are the ones on bottom. Also, happy Easter, STILL!

When we left Uganda after six months of living on a hospital compound, our friends there gave us the gift they’d given many expats before us: a length of batik fabric.

I was a bit stumped as to how to use our gift — I already had a locally made dress or two. Eventually, I settled on cloth napkins, and my best friend’s sainted mother, who had just made six bridesmaid dresses for me the year before (not to mention my veil), agreed to cut them out for me.

The thing is, if you have cloth napkins, you might as well use cloth napkins. And if you use cloth napkins, you might as well have enough to do a load of just dishrags and bibs and cloth napkins, because you don’t want melted butter or whatever coming off onto your nice clothes in the laundry.

And over time, I’ve really come to embrace cloth napkins as a tiny but not insignificant part of our family culture and our practice of hospitality. I come from a paper napkin tribe, so this is a special Grimm-Bowers thing. I haven’t bought the plain white jumbo pack in years.

A table setting at our house rarely matches, but each set has a story: first the Ugandan napkins, next a few scrounged at a Target after-Christmas sale, then a set from a church sale with Pippin’s godparents, a thick stack from John’s grandmother, a rainbow of vintage napkins snagged at a neighborhood yard sale this fall with my mom and granny.

Once you start looking, cloth napkins are cheap to come by, if you’re not too fussy about matching, and they aren’t much work if you’re not intent on ironing. You can keep a little bin in or near the kitchen (mine attaches to a cabinet) to chuck the napkins and rags into as you clean up after dinner. I do a load about once a week, and fold them in five minutes listening to something fun or watching TV.

It’s a small, green, distinctive touch that helps make our house a home.