Monthly Menu – An Easy Way to Plan your Dinners + a Free Printable

monthly meal planning britainearl

I’m going to state the obvious for a second: my transition from full time lawyer to full time wife, then wife and mom, then add 2 more children, and a photography gig, then 2 more kids, all in the space of 9 years has been quite challenging.

Prior to staying home, I always thought that I would love cooking if I could just stay home.  I mean, I love food, and I love cooking shows, now if I just had the time, I would love cooking gorgeous delicacies for my family.  What I learned about myself is that while I love to eat delicious food, I do not love spending countless hours planning and preparing said food, only for the 6 additional mouths to feed to push the gorgeous food around on their plates and whine about how they’d rather have some Mac and Cheese.  After a significant inner battle, I came to terms with the fact that I would like to plan, make and serve, easy meals that are delicious enough for all to enjoy, and then spend my spare time trying beautiful delicious delicacies out at my favorite restaurants – without my children.

So, after years, and years of learning from others, reading blog after blog, attending seminars, talking to moms I admire, and trying, and trying again different meal planning techniques and calendars, I’ve finally developed a menu plan that works for my family. Here are the steps I used to come up with my simple monthly meal plan:

1)     Create a Home Store. I followed the outline set forth in Provident Living, and created a home store of 3 months of food that our family ate regularly.

2)      Track the foods your family likes and eats.  This is as simple as just keeping a list of dinners everyone says, “Yum!” to.  At first I felt pressured to have a large variety of meals, like 30 or forty to create a varied menu.  But after making a record of what we liked to eat, I realized we were pretty simple in our tastes.  I noticed some trends in our eating habits.

3)      Take the trends and make a weekly dinner meal plan based on your favorites.  The weekly meal plan has changed and grown over the years, but it now looks a little something like this:









Crock Pot







4)      Multiply by 4 (or 5), Make it easy and flexible.* To make a Monthly plan, multiply your weeks by 4 or 5, depending on how many recipes you have.  We basically had a list of 40 or so meals that fit into these 7 categories.  When I first did this menu I was serving the Young Women of my church every Wednesday night, so every Wednesday night we had Spaghetti.  When I had more time at home, Spaghetti night became Pasta night and moved to Thursdays.

5)       Write it down.  I committed my plan to paper and posted it the pantry.  Each day only takes a glance to know what’s for dinner.

easy meal planning for busy families

6)      Build your home store.  I took all the recipes for the dinners on my monthly meal planner and made a shopping list.  I bought everything at the beginning of the month.  (But for perishables that I buy weekly.)  I made a plan to double up on a few items each month until I had my pantry stocked with a 3 month supply of the foods we eat regularly.  (Additionally, I started a plan to store long term items as well, but that’s a post for another day.)

The benefits of working with this monthly meal plan are:

1)      You always have an answer for, “what’s for dinner?”

3)      Everyone in the family enjoys dinner.

Free Printables!!!!

My Family’s Plan:

britain earls monthly meal plan_my plan

Choose your own adventure:

easy monthly meal

I’m including our family’s monthly meal plan, and also a blank calendar to plan your own month.   I recently decided to take my monthly meal planner off the pantry wall, and give it a new glam home inside this fabulous Recipe Binder from the ever chic Sugar Paper.  I love having all our favorite recipes in one beautiful place.

easy meal planning for busy families


*when my husband saw this post he said something to the effect of, “we don’t do that.”  I was not surprised for 2 reasons, 1) he’s a little clueless to this kind of stuff and would probably not notice if I served spaghetti every night for a year; 2) the plan (and I) are so flexible that I commonly do burritos on Monday and crockpot on Wednesday, etc. the point of the plan is that I have a meal plan each week with little to know effort based on the idea of themed nights.  Once I explained that to him, he understood how we actually do “do this.”  I hope this meal plan makes sense and serves to help your meal planning efforts.

Art Camp! Learn about art history and technique this summer! Gilbert kids summer camp

summer art camp

I am so excited to be offering Art Camp this year.  I love the opportunity to share my love of art and art history with young artists.

Artists will Learn:  Principles of Art and Design, a Brief Overview of the History of Art, use a variety of Artistic Meduim, plus learn some particulars on an Art Master each day

Artists will Receive: a Snack each day, a Tee Shirt, Sketch Book, and Portfolio for the 5 works created in camp and beyond!

When and Where: Camp is held in my Gilbert home.  Monday-Friday June 13th-17th, from 9:30-12:30 each day.  There will be an art show for family and friends,  Friday night.

Who: Artists ages 6-11 are welcome.

Registration: Space is limited to 12 artists per session, a $50 deposit is required to hold your spot. (The remaining $45 may be paid the first day of class.)  Contact me with any questions, or to reserve your spot, or pay here: PayPal

‘Tis the Season – Holiday Mini Sessions

With the Holiday Season upon us, many are scrambling to get that perfect holiday card ready to be sent to family and friends.  But let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest thing to gather coordinating clothes, find a photographer, and fit it in a session between now and Christmas.  That’s where the Mini Session comes in!let it snow


What is a mini session?
A mini session is a shorter version of a custom session with discounted prices.  In the case of these Autumn sessions, it is a time for families to get some great shots to use on holiday cards.
How is it different from a custom session?
Unlike a custom session, the location is selected by Britain, the shooting time is much shorter, and shoot yields approximately 15-20 photos rather than the 30-40 usually in a custom session gallery.
Who can be photographed during mini sessions?
Mini sessions are open to adults, children, and even pets!
Can we do multiple groupings during our mini session?
We typically do more than one pose per session,but the sessions are too short to enable more than one grouping.  For example, in the case of a family of 5, you will get a few great poses of everyone together, and I usually fire off a few quick shots of each child.  In a custom session we would get all the kids in multiple poses, mom and dad alone, each child with each parent, all the girls, all the boys, throw in the grandparents even, we may travel to a second location, make a wardrobe change, etc.
If you have a variety of family combinations, we would be happy to schedule a custom session for you.
When are mini sessions offered?
Mini sessions are offered throughout the year in Arizona, and usually 2 times a year (Spring/Fall) in Southern California.
How long is a mini session?
The photography session usually lasts 15 minutes.
When do I place my order?
Your online gallery will be emailed to you one week . One week!  And you’ll have the perfect family portrait ready for sharing!
What is the session fee?
The $250 session fee reserves your date and time, and includes up to 15 hi-resolution digital images, with a limited copyright release.
What if we miss our scheduled time?
We understand that sometimes the unexpected happens and you miss your appointment.  We ask that you please contact us as soon as possible and we will try to reschedule.


20 Christmas Card Ideas


20chritamas_card_ideaslet it snow

For the past few years one of my all time favorite holiday family photo sessions has been trending on Pinterest.  It has inspired many a Christmas Card Photo Idea.  I have received many an email about how I captured the “perfect snow image.”  I thought I’d reveal the step by step process here on my own website!

Step 1) Styling.   Coordinate—but don’t be matchy/matchy &  Accessorize!

If you’re shooting with a group, make sure your outfits complement one another’s. Choose a consistent color palette (which does not mean the same color).  Scarves, hats, bows, bands…it all adds a fun twist to an otherwise “standard” look. Accessories are also a great place to coordinate looks.  In this example, brother is wearing a bold pattern with blue, white and gray, and the girls are rocking  gray hat/headband.I was lucky to work with a family that ROCKS when it comes to styling.  But I always share these tips with clients, and even text outfit ideas back and forth to ensure a coordinate look.

Step 2) Choose the Right Backdrop

The snow (or confetti, or glitter, etc) can be tricky to pick up against some backgrounds.  Here it works because the Christmas tree is first appropriate stylistically, but also because it’s dark color highlights the flakes.  Avoid lighter backgrounds, and backlighting for the perfect snow shot.

Step 3) Take a Before Shot.

What really makes this shot is the Before and After.  First we filled the kids hands with “snow” and then told them to pretend to blow.  This made for cute expressions, and focus on those fantastic baby blues they all have.

Step 4) The Action Shot

We instructed the kids to “blow slowly”.  One big gust and you’ll miss your shot.  With them blowing continuously I fired away.  It’s important to shoot in rapid succession, because there are so many micro-expressions going on here, you really don’t want to miss the perfect one.

Step 5) Clean Up

The snow used in this shot was the synthetic plastic kind you buy at Target during the holidays.  We gathered up all the pieces afterward as best we could.  Having a solid surface, like concrete under your subjects will help in clean up a lot.  I have since been using the blanket i bring as a tarp to catch all the “snow.”

My good friend Erin used the photos from this session in a fantastic Christmas Card that she designed.  If your looking for an original and beautiful Christmas Card idea, check her out at Bringing Up Burns.

Here is my contribution to the Christmas Card Ideas to inspire you:

1) Let it Snow.  Perfect for this snow shot.  The “Let it Snow” idea is great for a winter family photo.

let is snow card



2) All You Need is Love.  Get up close and personal, let the warm fuzzy feelings spark family hugs and kisses.

all you need is love

3) Best Gift Ever!  This Christmas Card Idea is perfect for a new baby, or even a wedding photo.

best gift ever

4) Blessings.  This Holiday Card Idea greeting works for nearly any special holiday or family photo.  But, I love it especially for this extended family photo, grandparents smothered in grandchildren.

blessings 5) Joy!  and all of its derivatives, is another holiday card idea just bursting with possibilities.  This caption could easily be “Jumping for Joy.”  Have fun with your holiday family photos and let the JOY flow freely.  Your happy smiles will be perfect to spread the JOY of the holidays. christmas card idea joy

6) Classic Merry Christmas.  You can’t go wrong with the classic “Merry Christmas” holiday card idea.  Here, the perfect family photo is framed with a beautiful, ornate frame and banner.

classic merry christmas

7) Classic Merry Christmas with a Twist.  For our card last year, we kept the Christmas greeting simple.  But added the twist of the gold foil trend.  Also trending lately, is the greeting directly on the photo.  If this is a look you’re wanting, make sure to let your photographer know, so she can provide enough space to add text to your Christmas Card photo.

gold foil


8) Welcome Christmas.  This is one of my all time favorite Christmas Card Ideas.  In 2009, I was really into watching the holiday classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  My favoite scene is where the Whos join hands and Welcome Christmas in song.  That concept, and this photo by the very talented Jonathan Canlas, brought this Christmas Card Idea to life.  “Christmas day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.” Dr. Seuss really said it all!

hand in hand

9) Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.  This is such a great greeting for your Christmas Card.  And a happy smiling family photo is the perfect compliment. These cute girls and their parent just screamed, “Holly Jolly.”

holly jolly

10) Joy to the World.  Sometimes babies aren’t cooperating, and 2 year olds aren’t looking in the camera.  But you know what, that’s life!  This family photo is perfect just the way it is. The best portraits are those with personality, and here this family’s personality is on full display.


11) Laughing all the Way.  Get the family close together and laugh and play for this Christmas Card Idea.  These smiles are the perfect holiday greeting.

Laughing all the way
12) May Your Days be Merry and Bright.  These sundrenched portraits were perfect for the bright and merry season.

merry and bright

13) Happy Holidays from the Bottom of Our Mistletoes.  This photo is from one of my very first family photo shoots.  I love the dog pile we had going on in this chair.  The focus on the toes makes it perfect for this Christmas Card Idea.  You could use your family’s sandy toes at the beach, or your newborn baby’s toes, the possibiliites are endless.  mistletoes 14) Who’s been Naughty or Nice?  When you have a cranky baby, don’t fight it.  Embrace the moment and you could end up with the perfect Christmas Card.  I’ve seen the naughty and nice Christmas Card Idea used with kissing couples, silly kids, and crying babies like this one.

naughty and nice

15) Oh Christmas Tree.  We take a jammie photo in front of the tree every Christmas Eve.  I like the idea of sharing our photo on a Christmas Card,  This could also work at the Christmas tree lot, when your decorating your tree, or visiting a special Christmas tree (think Time Square)

oh christmas tree

16) Oh What Fun.  I love the idea of a collage to capture what a wonderful year you’ve had.  This Christmas card captures special moments from and extended family photo shoot. 17) Peace on Earth. This family  silhouette portrait is a great photo for this Christmas Card Idea.  The serene setting and beautiful sunset capture gratitude for the Earth and your family.

peace on earth

18) Dear Santa, Is it too late to be good?  This shot is a personal and family favorite  It is from one of my very first family photo shoots.  I love when kids are perfect at a photo shoot, but I also love to capture these real moments between siblings.  This sweet girl was perfect for this family photo shoot, so when she stuck out her tongue it was a funny and cute slice of her personality.  This type of silly shot works great for this Santa themed Christmas Card Idea.

santa card

19) Warm Wishes.  Do you like warm hugs?  Of course, we all do.  That’s what’s so adorable about this family Christmas Card Idea.

warm wishes

20) We Wish you a Merry Christmas.  Another classic.  This Chrsitmas Card theme works for nearly any family photos.  Another idea would be to just use “And a Happy New Year” and send your cards out after Christmas.  we wish you a merry christmasThis particular card also served to announce that we were expecting our 5th baby.

5x7 BackBut that’s a totally different post.  Happy holiday season, and enjoy the inspiration for your Christmas Cards.

With a very full fall schedule, I am offering 1 day of Mini Sessions.  December 6th, 2014.  The turn around time will be one week, so you will still have time to get some last minute holiday cards in the mail.  Each session includes 20 minutes of shooting time, and 10-15 images in an online gallery.   Contact me soon to take advantage of this last minute deal!



family mini sessions

 What is a Mini Session?

Mini sessions are a scaled down version of our regular photo sessions.  They last approx. 15-20 minutes and do not include an outfit change.  We provide a fixed date and location.   Finished images (approximately 10-15 total) are provided online afterwards for downloading, printing, and sharing with family and friends.

Spaces are limited and will be available on a first come first serve basis.

Tips for Planning What to Wear for Family Pictures

wear family pictures

it’s one of the most commonly asked questions, “what should we wear for family portraits?”  well, let me walk you through the process I went through last year.  this session was for an extended family shoot, primarily 9 cousins.  here’s where it all began.  first, I found this blanket, and it screamed, “BEACH PORTRAITS” to me. so i set out deciding what we would wear.  which leads me to step1) follow your inspiration.

what to wear family picturesnext, I texted my sister in law with a photo of the above color scheme and said, “here’s what we’re wearing.”  she responded, “i can work with that.”  which is step 2) coordinate, don’t match.  this can be a hard skill to master, but the essence is: pick your anchor piece/color and build around it with complimentary colors.  here, the blanket served as my anchor, so everyone was in blue tones, and some bought in a pop of pink.  my nieces and nephews did the same, and I think you’ll agree the results were splendidly cute!

step 3) have fun and let the kids light up the photos.  the beach is a fantastic place to capture children in element.  you can see that our posed shots didn’t get all the smiles we were looking for.  but, when we let the kids play and have fun (within the framework of the poses we wanted) we got all the great expressions that we see everyday.  a perfect preservation of these sweet cousins!
extended family what to wear family pictures girls lifeguard tower

what to wear family pictures kidsstep 4) get those Christmas cards made.  i knew  we would be using this portraits on our Christmas card, and had the whole design worked out in my mind before the session.  my mom had an idea for her card too, but changed it up when she saw these portraits, and I made a design that incorporated them both.


step 5) don’t stress.  too often people overthink their family portraits, and stress out.  this leads to a frustrating session with one or more family members irritated.  I am a certified mediator, but really it would make the whole thing easier if you took a deep breath and had some fun.  hire a photographer you can trust to make you look fabulous and capture the vision of your family portraits!

Happy Mother’s Day! – Sabbath Inspiration


my best friend’s baby – newborn portrait

while i love photographing newborn babies, i have never been a “birth photographer.”  nor, did i ever consider it an interest.  i didn’t even have a photographer for any of my children’s births.  but the circumstances of my best friends newest arrival made me reconsider.

upon the call that the baby was coming, i grabbed the girls out of school, and headed straight to California, hoping to offer some love and hugs before the birth and be among the first to meet the baby.  when i pulled into my parents, the baby wasn’t yet born, so i eagerly sped to the hospital.  to my surprise, my best friend and i were both totally cool with me staying in the room for the pending birth, something neither one of us had considered an option before.  during the course of this sweet experience, i did not think or even offer to pull out the camera, but it did open my mind to the idea for sometime in the future.

mom and dad were whisked off to the operating room for an unplanned c-section, and finally Nash was born.  this is why i brought my camera!  what a sweet little boy!

so, am i thinking of adding “birth photography” to the repertoire?  i don’t know, but i’m more open to it after such a sweet experience.


inspiration for your sabbath – happy Easter

in our family, we are happy to know the focus of Easter is the Savior Jesus Christ.  it is such a glorious time to reflect on not only the perfect example of his life, but on the simple truth that “HE LIVES.”easter-printable-ldsquote

TBT – my most embarrassing moment

whenever i’ve played that game, “what’s your most embarrassing moment?” i’m always at a loss.  it’s not that i haven’t been embarrassed, i have.  it’s just that i don’t tend to dwell, and so when put on the spot i just have nothing to say.  but, laying here for two days has given me a lot of time to dwell.  out of the blue i had a memory of possibly the most embarrassing moment of my life.

a few years ago, in Costco, i kept seeing this poor guy, maybe 19/20 years old, disheveled, dirty, muttering, going around countless times to the sample tables.  my heart was filled with sympathy for him, i wanted to help.  clearly, this guys was homeless.  clearly, he was hungry.  my mind was racing for a way to help.  could i buy him some groceries?  (come on Britain, he’s clearly homeless.)  should i give him money? (no cash on me)  i know, hot dogs!

i approached the homeless guy, and invited him to sit down with me for a hot dog after i checked out.  it took a little explaining, “i’m going to eat lunch here after i check out, would you like to have a hot dog, my treat?”  blank stare.  “i’ve been watching you eat samples, would you like a hot dog?”  blank stare.  “i’d love to buy you lunch.”  homeless guy, “you want to have lunch with me?”  me, “yes, yes, i would love to have lunch with you.  “oh, i would like that, but my mom and sister should be here really soon to pick me up.”  pulls out cell phone.  “yeah, they should be here any minute.  but, i’d love to get lunch another time.  can i get your number?”

so, this guys is not homeless.  and i just basically asked him out on a date.  i’m a little flabbergasted.  i don’t know what to do.  so, my old college impulses kick in and i give him a fake name and fake number.  he dials it into his phone and heads off to meet his mom and sister.

i’m humiliated.  i guess it may not be embarrassing in a typical way, because i was pretty much the only one who knew what was going on, but i was dying!  i checked out, got into the privacy of my own car, and proceeded to call Jason and tell him about how i just stalked and hit on a young man at Costco.  through his laughter, he asked if it ever occurred to me that not many homeless people have Costco memberships.  no, no it didn’t.

so, i’ve seen this kid around since then.  he is not an independent guy.  my observation is that his mom and sister care for him, and give him little independent outings all over town, like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc. every time i see him in a store, i feel the need to ditch behind the aisle and wait for him to pass just like i might have done in college when i gave out a fake number.  i’m not even sure he would remember.

i think if i could go back in a time machine and do it all over, i would not give the fake name and number, but would maturely say something…..i don’t even know.

how do you handle a situation like this one?

homeless-dad-arrested-developmentthis embarrassing moment reminds me of Lindsay Funke’s run in with a guy who “had the lean look, effortless hair and dressed down manner of a movie star”, but was really homeless.  But really, he was a movie star.  (Arrested Development, The One Where They Build a House.)