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How To Create Amazing Portrait-Like Photos

shooting in manual mode

5 Reasons Why Shooting In Manual Mode Will Get You To Portrait-Like Photos Instead of Those So-So Pictures

To me, there is a difference between making “photos” and taking “pictures”. Anyone can take pictures with point-and-shoot cameras or DSLR cameras set on auto. To create amazing portrait-like photos, you want to set your camera on manual.

think about this . . .

your camera takes pictures but you create photos

When you set your camera to manual mode, you are the one creating the photo. You set all the features to what you want your scene to look like. But when you keep it in auto mode, your camera decides what the settings should be.

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I have also used point-and-shoot cameras and had my camera set in auto mode, over the years. The pictures that were produced with these cameras were not too bad. But looking back and knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back in time and kick myself in the butt. Lol!! Shame on me. I found so many things wrong. The perfectionist in me. Lol !!

The pictures that I produced with these cameras were dark and just plain flat. Either not enough light or too much light. So, then I craved to learn all there was to create portrait-like photos. And I went out and took my subjects (my brave kids – lol) and practiced ’til they hated me. Lol. Well, not really but I drove them nuts. Still do once in a while.

I want to show you that it is not hard at all and it’s the way you want to go. You are probably expecting your firstborn child or perhaps you are going to become new grandparents and you want to take memory-making portrait-like photographs. You probably are a pet-lover and you just got a new dog or cat and you want to take photos of it to mount on your walls. Perhaps you just retired and you now want to travel the world and capture amazing memories to last a lifetime.

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You can capture all these moments and I can show you how to avoid producing those “so-so” pictures. For now, you just have to remember to have:


My Photography history

pocket camera

I have had a passion for photography since I was about 11 or 12 years old when I was gifted with my very first pocket camera. My passion grew over the years as did my collection of cameras.

I will never go on any road trip or vacation (short or long) without my camera.  We go away for the weekend, my camera comes with me.  Speaking of road trips, check out my latest article on “Essentials To Take On Your Next Road Trip”

We recently went to a wedding out of town.  It was 4 hours away and I wasn’t even the photographer.  I still brought my camera.

A Sly Design Photography
A Sly Design Photography
Edited in Lightroom

why you should use all the camera’s features

You probably finally splurged on getting a real quality camera but are struggling with how to use its features?  You can use the auto mode but it’s still like using your point-and-shoot camera or even your cell phone.  They take great pictures but YOU are not creating the photos, your camera is producing them.  When you use the manual mode setting, YOU are the boss, YOU are the artist creating portrait-like photos.

Take, for example, the photo I took above at my nephew’s wedding. This is “SOOC” (straight-out-of-camera). A term you should get used to when you begin to shoot in manual. It was during the time of day when the sun was still high which I had to take that into consideration when I fixed my settings.

In the beginning, when I would see how bright it is outside, I would panic and freak out. But, when you have the knowledge of where all the appropriate settings should be, you can achieve awesome-looking photos. All you need is patience. And you need to do 3 more things:

practice, practice, practice


You need to have patience. Take it from me. If you love the art of photography or you want to be a better photographer, the knowledge will come. Whether it’s for your new and growing family or maybe you want to get into the business. If you are patient and willing to learn, you will do it.


You know the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”. Well, remember that because it is so true. I always want things done or learned yesterday. But it takes time. And how will you learn if you don’t go out and practice?

Why I Love Shooting Manual

On our recent trip to Croatia this summer, I was using all my devices.  Lol !! No really.  I do.  I had my Canon camera on my hip (pretty heavy), my cell phone in my back pocket and sometimes even my video camera on standby.  Yes, I too am guilty of using my cell phone to take photos. But only so I can post on Instagram. That is for another post: the pros and cons of cell phone photography. Lol!

I’m telling you, I LOVE photography.  And that’s why you are here right now, am I right?  You have a love for photography as well and want to learn more.  Shooting in manual is the way to go. You can create so many amazing shots by just changing the settings on your camera. One more thing to remember is to shoot in RAW. This is also important.

When you shoot in RAW as opposed to jpeg, you will have full opportunity to alter any images when you download your photos to a program such as Lightroom and/or Photoshop. If you shoot in jpeg format you will be limited to the amount of correcting you can do in these programs.

So remember to shoot in RAW format.

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    reasons for going manual

    When you start shooting in manual, you will not want to go back to shooting in auto. I never did. Every time I went out to shoot something or someone, I learned something new all the time. That’s why I want to share with you why it’s important to shoot in manual mode.

    1. Harsh flash

    When you were in auto mode and you were in a low-light situation, your flash would pop-up. Your camera would see that the lighting was dark and it would automatically take the photo with its flash. The outcome would leave the photo looking flat and very unappealing. In manual mode, you don’t have to worry about any flashes going off. You have the control to set all the features in-camera. The iso | shutter speed | aperture

    2. lighting

    You have control over the lighting by changing the settings. You can change your exposure ratio. You can make it brighter or darker to whatever you want the outcome to be. It could even be a good thing to have your shot overexposed. As you see the photo to the right – I shot towards the sun. It created exactly what I wanted – a little bit of haze and some bokeh. You don’t let the camera make the exposure for you.

    3. The Art of bokeh

    Bokeh can be pronounced and spelled so many ways. Lol !! I pronounce it “bo-kay”. I love creating this. It’s really a really cool effect. It’s when you put your focal point on a subject and blur out the background behind your subject. It’s especially pleasing when there are lights behind your subject. The background turns out twinkling. Just like the photo above. But in this photo, you see a bit of the bokeh in front. To create it, you need a shallow-depth-of-field. You need to put your aperture at its widest setting.

    4. focal point

    This setting allows you to put the focus on your main subject and make it super sharp, while the background is a trail of a moving subject such as lights from a car. There are different focus modes you can use. If you have a fast-moving subject such as being at the race track and you want to catch the speeding car dead in its track, you would capture it by using one of the settings.

    5. creativity

    Shooting in manual mode allows you to be creative with your photography journey. In the photo below, I was shooting at the “golden hour” and held a gold-colored diffuser to my right to bounce from the sun onto my subject. I got this beautiful golden glow on my daughter’s face.

    When you go out and practice, practice, practice, try different techniques that you learned here today. I am still always learning and looking for that magical shot. Even when I don’t have my camera with me, I see shots that would look incredible in my viewfinder.

    Go out and have some fun with your camera. Trust me you will get it and you will have fun.

    you are on your way to creating amazing photos. with a little patience and a lot of practice shooting in manual mode, you will wonder why you didn’t do it before now.

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    How To Start Off The School Year Right

    Student Planner

    It’s that time of the year again.  It’s a time where most parents are jumping for joy and are in a most delightful mood.  Then, on the other hand, there are some parents that are kinda sad to see their babies grow up for their very first day of school.  They don’t want to let go.  But it’s ok.  Your kiddos will be more than fine.  We all did it.  I did it.  Many years ago.  Lol.

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    Student Planner

    It’s the beginning of a new school year again.  Boy did this summer go by fast.  But don’t all summer months go by fast.  Our spring wasn’t the greatest and it took so long for the real summer to kick in.  And now it’s already time to go back to school. 

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    Well . . . we have to make the best of it.  Don’t we?  I too still dread the going-back-to-school day as does my teenage daughter.  To me, it means summer is coming to a close.  No more going to the beach, no more picnics in the park, no more sandals and shorts.  Hence the start of heavier sweaters, then graduating to coats, then hats and boots.  Whaaaaaa !!  It also means driving my tardy teenage daughter to high school on the way to work and coming in late.  Ugh!!

    But I digress . . .  the weather for the start of a new school year will still be fine and it’s going to be decent for at least a few weeks.  Therefore, the transition will be awesome.  We can still wear shorts and sandals.  Yay!!

    My dad (God rest his soul) was a stubborn man and refused to wear anything but shorts until the Thanksgiving weekend at the cottage.  (That’s October for us) I think he managed to pull it off for the most part.  Lol.

    Now that we have gotten accustomed to the news of a new school year, let’s talk school planners and staying organized.  If you have read my other posts, I am all about being organized.  I have watched my daughter with her school work and how she tries to stay organized with all her school activities, projects, exam and test schedules.  She uses different notebooks and different coloured pens to keep organized. 

    student planner opt-in

    So, it gave me the idea to create a bunch of helpful worksheets, schedules and calendars that will benefit not only high school students but elementary and college/university levels.  Start the school year off right by being organized and ready to buckle down and get things done.

    Labor Day

    Students of all ages have a lot on their plates when school starts. When the projects, assignments, tests and exams start coming their way, it will be very hard to stay committed to being organized. Unless you have a plan and a system to write important dates and material down on a schedule. There will be no more excuses to tell the teacher “miss, the dog ate my homework” Lol !!!

    The schedules and calendars I have created could be kept separately in a special binder with dividers and clear sheet protectors to keep things tidy and organized.  You will not have to worry anymore about missing an assignment deadline or what to study for on an upcoming test. You will have written all that information down on these easy-to-use worksheets.

    here are some of the things you could use FOR YOUR STUDENT PLANNER:

    1. Colourful binder
    2. Spine Labels
    3. Paper – at least 24-30lbs to print out your student planner
    4. Clear Sheet Protectors – keep your new schedules and lists clean and free of sticky fingers
    5. Dividers – for each calendar, schedule, checklist – makes it easy to find
    6. Divider Labels – for the dividers and the binder spine
    7. Colourful Pens
    8. Pencils
    9. Pencil Case
    10. Erasers

    You will see how these worksheets will be invaluable to the student in your household. You will appreciate the fact that you or your child will only have to worry about getting good grades.

    With These Worksheets:

    1. You will have a 2-page view of the entire year to put important notes
    2. You will have a place to list your subjects, important dates, your goals, your achievements, your contacts, etc
    3. You will be able to record the due dates and dates of all your assignments/projects, tests and exams
    4. You will be able to keep track of your class schedule
    5. And much much more

    Good luck to you all. I wish you nothing but the best and all the success in the world. And I really hope that my worksheets keep you organized.

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    What Essentials Will You Need For Your Next Family Roadtrip

    Road Trip Essentials

    Do you love going on a roadtrip with the family? Do you love planning all the essential items you need to take on a roadtrip, to make everyone happy? Are you afraid of forgetting to pack essential items for the roadtrip? It could be overwhelming. But don’t fret. I’m sure I can help you out in that department.

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    Roadtrips are a wonderful time for the family to be together and have fun. It’s a time to really bond as a family. It’s a time to forget about all your worries and troubles and just enjoy each other’s company.

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    I always loved going on road trips as a child, with my family.  Whether it was a short trip to the beach or an hour away to see friends or all the way to Chicago to visit family, it was always an exciting adventure for me and my brothers. Back in the day, that’s how we did most of our traveling. . . by car.

    My favorite road trip, of course, was our 13-hour trip to Chicago.  My brothers and I in the back of our Ford Station Wagon and our parents waaaay in the front, taking turns driving.  We would leave early in the morning. Our parents plopped us in the back and we would continue sleeping. My favorite line would be: “Are we there yet?” 🙂 . . . As we were barely out of the city. I know . . .cheesy right? I was excited. What can I say?

    We made many stops along the way. There are so many beautiful little gems of picnic areas that we would stop at to stretch our legs and have something to eat.  My mom was a pro at knowing what to take on our road trips.  She packed a cooler full of fruits and juices, cold cuts, a loaf of bread, condiments, Mostly healthy stuff. Nowadays our main go-to snacks chocolate-covered pretzels or yogurt-covered almonds, potato chips, etc. 🙂

    As we got older, we continued these road trips. This time we all took turns driving. That was even more exciting. I loved driving (still do). I loved driving on long trips. We made the same stops (I mean the exact same spots) and reminisced about the time we spent there in the past. It was still as beautiful as ever. The large trees and an endless amount of grass area and picnic tables.

    We even took a road trip when we were in Florida. We flew to Daytona Beach and half-way through our trip we rented a van and drove to Disney World. Now that I look back, my parents loved roadtrips. 🙂

    Just before I met my husband, I went on the most memorable trip to California with a group of great girlfriends. I wrote a post about that trip that you can find here. While on that trip, we rented a car in San Fransisco and drove along the Pacific Coast Highway. OMG . . . was that the roadtrip of a lifetime. I hope to replicate that trip someday soon.

    Venice, Italy

    When we went to Croatia for the first time (for my brothers and I) in 1975, we took a roadtrip to Venice. WOW! That was an amazing road trip and far. Part of it wasn’t the greatest. I wasn’t feeling too good. Probably car sick. That’s another item you need to put on your list – motion sickness meds.

    If you suffer from motion sickness there may be a few things you could try to help you prevent it from being severe. Something to keep you a lot more calm and relaxed. Here are a few things you could try before taking any medication:

    Preventing Motion Sickness Tips:

    1. Always sit in a position where your eyes are always seeing the same motion that your body and inner ear feel
    2. Do not read in a car
    3. In a car, sit in the front seat and look out the front and set your sights in the distance
    4. On a ship, move towards the front and look out into the distance
    5. On a plane, look out the window and/or sit by the wing where there is less motion to feel
    6. Do not look at or talk to someone who is experiencing motion sickness
    7. Avoid spicy or greasy foods before and after your trip
    8. Close your eyes, relax and enjoy the ride

    That’s why I don’t remember too much about the trip. Thank God for the photos that were taken. It helps me remember a little. Remember to take lots and lots of photos on your road trips. Living in the digital era is sooooo much easier . . . regarding photos. I will teach you all about that in a future post: how to organize all your photos.

    Now flash forward some 30 – 40 years (yikes!!! – has it really been that long ago?) When our daughter was 2 years old and son 6 years old, we also took them on a road trip to Chicago to visit family.  We thought it was going to be dicey to take a two-year-old on a 13-hour road trip.  But it was fine.  No problems what-so-ever. 

    Oh . . . I left one thing out.  Our van has a movie screen built-in.  Thank goodness for technology these days.  A lot of things sure did change from when we were younger. Now that I think about it. What kept us entertained when we were kids going on road trips? Oh, I know. It was my one-liners: “Are we there yet?” LOL!!

    Explore Europe and Americas

    My husband and I have been on the same path in raising our kids from the get-go. We vowed to always spend time with the kids, do things together, play in the park with them, go see their soccer games and always, always travel together. It is getting harder though, now that they are older (20 and 16). But, we just got back from a European trip we took together, where there was a road trip in between. (I will share that in an upcoming post. So stay tuned!)

    As I have said in previous posts, I learned a lot from my mother.  The one thing I learned was how to organize things, make lists and plan ahead.  You should make a list of the essentials you will need on your particular road trip. You don’t want to wait until it’s time to pack up the vehicle and wonder: “What do I need to take?”

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      I have made a list of the things that I think we need on the road trips I take with my family.  And I want to share it with you. And I will leave a lot of space for you to fill in things that are essential for your family road trips.


      First Aid Kit
      Ice Pack

      Bread Knife

      Plastic Picnic Plates
      Plastic Cutlery
      Wet Ones Wipes

      Road Map
      Cell Phone Charger
      Neck Pillow
      Travel Pillow
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      Other Roadtrip Essentials:

      1. Passport – if you are crossing the border to the U.S. you will def need one
      2. Motion Sickness Medication – check with your doctor what the best one for you is.
      3. Camera – never forget your camera
      4. Camera cards – I know everyone has their phones but do you really want to fill up your phone with countless photos and if something happens to your phone all your photos are gone!! My worst fear.

      Extra Cooler Items:

      1. Formula or milk – for your little ones
      2. Juices – or pop (for older kids)
      3. Water Bottles – probably the best beverage
      4. Sandwiches – or bring a loaf of bread and some cold cuts and make the sandwich at your picnic stop
      5. Fruit – we had grapes and took them off the vines and into a Tupperware for easier access for the kids when they were young.
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      The main point I want to drive along to you in this post is to do more with your family. Create some bonding time. Make more time for family-time. Once the kids are older like mine, it gets harder and harder to do things together. The young adults want to go off with their friends more. They also have a part-time job now.

      Yes, it makes me sad. But that’s life. I’m pretty sure we all did it. My family time with my parents and brothers were so special to me. And that is why I created the same family unit of my own.

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      You Need To Do This Before You Travel Abroad

      Vacation Abroad

      Thinking of going on summer vacation abroad?  It’s a big step.  When you plan a trip like this, it will not only be for a week.  You will need at least 2 weeks to enjoy the beauty and history of Europe.  With this kind of vacation, there is so much to plan.  And you want to take everything you own.  Am I right? 

      Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need too much:

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      Start planning your trip NOW !!

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        I’m sure you have made a list or wrote on sticky notes of all the things you need to take for your vacation. Am I right? I know it helps me if I either write things down or follow a checklist, I will feel at ease that I know what I am taking with me. And if you are taking kids, you also have to plan to take their things as well.

        Preparing Your Home

        When you go on vacation abroad, it will be for a long time. And you want to secure your home the best way you can. You’re lucky if you have family close by to oversee your home. But if you don’t, it’s important to prepare your home before you go on vacation. Do you ever plan for the things you need to do before you leave for vacation, like what do you do with the mail while you are away?


        tips on securing your home

        • Re-route mail
        • Close water to fridge water supply (if you have)
        • Turn off the water completely
        • Turn off the air conditioning
        • Secure valuables in your home safe or at a bank safety deposit box
        • Make sure all garbage is put to the curb for collection
        • Tell your neighbors to pick up your newspapers or suspend it while you are away
        • Tell your neighbors to park in your driveway – make it seem someone is home
        • Put your indoor lights on a timer
        • Put outdoor lights on a timer
        • Ask your neighbors if they can water your lawn once in a while – keep grass from turning yellow
        • Remove potted plants into the shade or indoors – you stand a chance of reviving them when you come back
        • When leaving, bolt the doors, turn your alarm on and quickly go out through the garage.
        Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a Luxury Beach House for Less?

        We have traveled a lot over the years and these tips are all steps we take when we go away. Whether we are going away for a weekend or we are going to Europe, we follow this list of tips.

        countdown before you Travel Abroad

        6 Months before you Travel Abroad:

        • Check if your passport is still valid.  Make sure it is at least 6 months valid from the date you leave before the expiration date
        • If going to a foreign country where you do not understand the language perhaps learn a few words or sentences.  After all, what do you have to lose?  For me:  I always love learning new things

        3 Months before you Travel Abroad:

        • Don’t forget to ask for the time off ahead of time before you book your trip.
        • Book your trip. Perhaps even earlier.  Wouldn’t hurt.  The earlier you book, the cheaper your air fare will be.
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        1 Month before you Travel Abroad:

        • make a list of all the things you need for your trip . . . ex. Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, etc.
        • speak to your neighbors to see if they could take care of picking up your newspaper from the driveway, etc.
        • make plans to reroute your mail

        2 weeks before you Travel Abroad:

        • plan out your itinerary if you are going to visit different cities on your vacation
        • go out and buy the necessities you need to take, for ex: toiletries
        • if you don’t already have it, you need to buy comfortable, weather-permitting clothes.  As a heads-up, most of Europe is very hot in the summer.  Take it from me, you do not need a lot of clothes.  Only take cotton-based summer clothes.  Keep it casual and take shorts and light shirts or sleeveless. 
        • Buy comfortable walking shoes.  You will be doing a lot of walking. 
        • make sure you know how many bags and the weight you are allowed to take on your flight
        • Make sure you have a good suitcase.  Do not wait until the last minute as I did and find out the suitcase is too big and too heavy along with your clothes. My suitcase was (not kidding) half empty and it still went over the limit.  I panicked and went out to buy a new suitcase the day before flying.  All that panic and money spent, it would have been wiser to just go with what I had and pay any overage fee if that was the case.  Lesson learned.  Please take heed.  Funny now but then . . . yikes.  Can you say “crazy lady”?  That was me. But I got two pretty suitcases from the debacle. LOL!!

        1 week before you Travel Abroad:

        • Start putting together the clothes you plan on taking somewhere in your bedroom.  Pack away clothes (like shorts, a bathing suit, tank tops) into your suitcase.  You should follow a checklist like the one I have here
        • Pack away toiletries – buy travel-size it will fit better in a suitcase. 

        1-2 days before you Travel Abroad:

        • Double-check you have packed everything you need.  Go over your list. Make sure all the items are checked. But do not go overboard.  Remember it gets very hot in most of Europe.  Learn from my mistakes (lol).  Pack more shorts, light capris, tank tops, sleeveless tops, etc.  Pack more cotton-based clothes (breathable)

        So, there you have it.  If you follow these simple and easy quick tips, you will be very organized for this trip of a lifetime.  There is no doubt you will have an awesome vacation. You will rest assured that your home is secure and you have everything with you that you will need. You will be ready to go back next year. 

        BON VOYAGE

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        How To Motivate Yourself To Get Back Into The Gym

        Health and Fitness

        Do you find it hard to get back into working out?  Do you find it hard to stay motivated?  I know it is for me.  And I find it hard to get into the gym to work out, again.  I have been up and down on the scale spectrum my whole life.  I just wish there was a magic pill or shake that would keep us at the weight we desire. LOL !!  It’s funny but I wish there was actually some kind of magic that would take me back to my 20’s weight.  I know . . . unrealistic.  Can you blame a girl for dreaming?

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          I have tried all kinds of diets and weight loss books and videos.  So many gimmicky weight-loss products and pills flood our minds.  I have seen it all folks.  I have been at my best weight about 10 years ago.  And I blew it.  Yes, I was careless.  I thought I was cured.  I thought I lost all this weight so there is no way I can gain it back.  Well, I did and then some.  And then came the big “M” word. 

          Fall In Love With

          I heard stories about menopause . . . hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, and so on.  But the big concern was weight gain.  And sure enough it happened to me.  All the above.  It got me bad.  I kept gaining weight and gaining.  I blamed it all on menopause.  But I wasn’t doing anything about it.  Well enough was enough.

          I wasn’t going to do anymore stupid fad diets.  I’m done wasting my money.  I have to smarten up and get down to it.  I am eating healthier, lessening my portions and eating responsibly.  And getting to the gym again. 

          I must admit, I was nervous about starting the gym again.  It’s been a while.  We bought an elliptical machine a little while back.  I used it a lot but as of late we started our basement reno and things got dicey and messy down there.  I used that as an excuse for why I didn’t work out.  You need to workout along with eating healthy.  It takes two to make it right! 😊 

          You need to eat healthy and stay fit.  I’m eating 6 meals a day which works for me: 3 main meals and 3 snack-related meals. 

          TYPICAL DAY:

          • Breakfast – a hearty breakfast with at least one protein
          • Mid-morning Snack – protein bar, piece of cheese
          • Lunch – a light meal with one protein
          • Mid-afternoon Snack – a piece of fruit
          • Dinner – a light meal with one protein
          • Snack – should be avoided but if need be, not too late and should be a light snack

          So now we know to eat healthier.  What about getting to the gym?  Or maybe start off going for long walks.  When my husband wants to go for a walk, I go with him instead of the gym on that day. He goes without me but I know he likes my company.  He needs the exercise as well.  And it’s nice to have a workout buddy.  Perhaps you would like a close friend or maybe a group of you. 


          1. Health  – first and foremost you do not want to be plagued with any kind of disease that will lessen your life span.
          2. Your spouse – you don’t want to leave your spouse without a partner early in life
          3. Fit to play sports with kids – you don’t want to be out of breath when your kids or grandkids want to play ball with you
          4. For your Kids – you don’t want your children to lose a parent at such a young age. They will always need you no matter what age.
          5. Like yourself – you will like what you see when you look in the mirror
          6. Clothes fit better – you have your eye on that pretty black dress – you can make it happen
          7. Bathing Suit – you won’t have to keep wearing that cover up the next time you go to the beach – you will have that beachbod you have been working so hard for.
          8. Look good for yourself – most people want to look good for others.  Squash that myth.  You look good for youYou work hard and you be proud of what you accomplish.
          9. More energy – walking up those staircases will not be so hard anymore.  You will be sprinting up those stairs. You will wake up each morning with so much more energy.
          10. Access to Pros – you have access to the best workout machines and qualified people that will help you along on your journey to a healthier you.

          As long as you are moving a lot during the day.  If you work in an office (like me), and sit at a desk all day, get up every hour and just move around.  Go to the kitchen or go to the photocopy room or walk up and down the flight of stairs (I hope you have 😉) in your office.  If you work from home or you have little ones at home, walk around and stretch, go up and down your flight of stairs in your home or apartment building, take the kids or grandkids for a walk to the park. 

          Every little bit helps.  Make some goals from this day forward.  If you make some goals and write them down, you will be held accountable, so you will have to do it

          No excuses

          Let’s do this thing together!  I want you to join me on my journey to a healthier and fit lifestyle.  We can help each other move from one day to the next.  It won’t be easy but what in life is easy.  Am I right?  We’re tough.  We can do this.