Let's Just Try It

a compilation of inspiration and creative endeavors of a mom and daughter duo

Black and White Experiment: Photoshop Actions

Mom and I are having lots of fun learning our new cameras. She’s doing great practicing getting her camera in people’s faces and shooting. I hope she shares soon more about what she’s learning 🙂 I learn so much from her!

Remember my frame a day challenge?   I am not keeping up as much as I wish I was, but I have about 8-9 frames representing Jan, and 4 or 5 from Feb so far.  I still forget to take my camera with me when I leave the house, most days are devoid of interesting tidbits to shoot. But one day recently, after dinner, we felt a little bored, and we drove to a nearby coffee shop for strong cup of coffee.

I fussed and fiddled with my camera, but in the low light situation of the restaurant, I really struggled to get a clear, crisp photo. Most were blurry, and fraught with bad composition, and terrible shadows. As I uploaded, I was so sad and felt that I couldn’t toss all the photos on upload, purely because I couldn’t miss another day! With the odds clearly against me, I felt awful that I wasted a good days shooting on *trying*  low light manual tricks without success.

But I looked again.

This photo of my husband isn’t *very* blurry. Sure, the focus is on his hands, not his eyes like I prefer, but at least there isn’t too much blur going on in his face. I tried to fix the colour, but it just wasn’t working.

then I accidentally desaturated too much.

and magically the colour problems disappeared! But with the absence of colour, a new problem arises. It’s boring!

So, I looked through my photoshop actions to see what I could use to spice it up.

Here I ran an action from one of my favourite action sets from Alex Beadon.

(Get the set here)

Suddenly, Dave looks like a 70s rocker, and my poor composition is an artistic accident.

I tried another set of actions from Pioneer Woman:

This is the B&W Beauty from this set. I like the subtly of this one. It is a nice groundwork for more post work, since it doesn’t try too hard. I think it looks like the desaturated photo I started with, but on steroids.

Then I tried running one more from that same PW set.

And finally, here is one with burned edges and a dark moody feeling.

I think it’s great how Dave looks like a cool rocker in the first to a moody thinker in the last. I haven’t yet decided which photo I will use for my frame a day, but it sure was an interesting experiment. And I was able to salvage a photo I should have thrown away!

Which is a good thing. Because look how handsome he is 🙂

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Zesty Potato Curry : Whole Food Recipe

Lately, I’ve been focusing on eating less meat, less preservatives, and more fresh fruits and veggies at home. It’s been a challenge convincing my husband of the benefits of the “less meat” idea- especially since his favourite meal is a steak and potatoes. Ah, the stationary diet of South African men.

That said, I’m thankful for his adventuresome spirit. Since starting our whole foods journey in August 2011, I’ve heard nothing but good things about our new lifestyle from him. He is supportive, encouraging and willing to try anything that smells good.

And that meat story? It’s changing too! He’s choosing plant based foods over meat based foods more often than not, and so am I. Together, we’re consuming less meat and more veggies and legumes. Hooray success!

This recipe fits into our new way of eating, and is finished within about 30 minutes. It is flavourful and filling- and doesn’t require an ounce of meat to do so. And did I mention it’s cheap to make?

Potato Curry

With the beans and chickpeas, there is enough protein to keep your tummy cozy for a while. It’s really good just the way it is or served over brown rice, with  sliced bananas, sambles (chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro and onions) and raisins. The peanuts add a nice crunch, but can be omitted.

Here’s how you can make it:

Peanut Potato Curry

2 pounds baby potatoes (scrubbed)
2 tins tomatoes (whole or chopped or both)
1 tin chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 tin red kidney beans
1 cup water
1 small onion
1 cup peanuts
Handful of sesame seeds
1/2 head garlic
1 T ground coriander
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2 T ground turmeric
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste

Prep work: about 10 minutes
Total Cook time: 20 minutes (mostly inactive)

Makes 8 servings as pictured

1. Scrub potatoes. If using baby potatoes, slice in half. If using medium potatoes, dice into 1/2″ cubes. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and beans.
2. In a medium pot, add the potatoes, tomatoes with the juice, water, drained and rinsed chickpeas and beans. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
3. Smash and peel the garlic cloves. Dice the small onion. Add to pot. Add spices, peanuts and sesame seeds. Once boiling, reduce heat until just simmering.
4. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Note: I used tinned (or canned) tomatoes, chickpeas and kidney beans for convenience sake. It is ideal to use BPA free cans, or to can your own. You can also be a super pioneer woman and cook the beans in your crock pot over night, and blanch and peel 4 fresh tomatoes for this curry. Go you!

Arts and Crafts in Cash-Strapped Times

I am certainly not an historian and do not have a degree in Art – but after recently visiting a few of the worlds most amazing museums in Paris, I realized that it doesn’t take an art major to draw the conclusion that economic and social climate certainly impacts what is considered beautiful in the eyes of society.

Who doesn’t love beauty?

Here we are in a world-wide economic down-turn  – does that mean that we all must don grey and black clothes, let the garden die and line our lives with illustrations with images similar to a Charles Dickens’ novel?  Not a chance!

In fact, art has a way of picking up the spirits and brightening  the future – so let’s get busy!

“What to do?” you may ask…  “I don’t have money to decorate” you may say… Not to worry!

Art does not have to be a stodgy effort of oil and canvas – nor does it have to be a perfect example of skill. Art is what decorates our lives and gives beauty to the dark corners of our rooms. 

I am a recent Twitter convert – and while my husband loves to follow political stories, I prefer something more positive, so I have looked for posts on all things bright and beautiful. In my quest, I have come across  a few Tweeters who are sharing their amazing ideas for adding beauty using materials that are all ready on hand – giving a whole new perspective to the word “recreation”. Isn’t it true that those who love to create find it recreational? – and if you are using recycled or repurposed materials, you have joined the upcycling (or as I call it “re-creation”) movement. 

My head is spinning with ideas – some old, some new.

         How about teddy bears or place mats sewn with old denim jeans?  

    Wreaths or adornments made from book page roses?

  Lamp shades from old milk bottles?

    Garden art from old soda cans?

Here is a hint: A quick internet search of “upcycling” or “crafting with recycled materials” will give you an endless list of projects – and if you are a Twitter fan, look for posts from Trashthetic, Triftybydesign and Hipcycle for some daily inspiration.

And don’t forget to WATCH THIS SPACE for some of our efforts!

Quick But Warm Two Tone Lap Blanket – No Sew!

While I have basked in 91 degree weather today, my friends and family back in the States have endured a winter of note – snow, power outages and now flooding. In honour of them, I have spent my Saturday making some lovely warm lap blankets – perfect for an evening of book reading or television viewing. Come July, I’ll be ready!

It all started with a bargain R99.00 ($12.00) for four beautifully colour coordinated polar fleece blankets on sale at my local Pick N Pay shop. They are a little thin, but perfect for the project I had in mind.

Materials and Tools:
1) Cheap and ready-made polar fleece blankets, but fleece bought from the local fabric shop would be as good, if not better.
2) A pair of Scissors
That’s IT!

Step One:
Layer two coordinating blankets (or lengths of fabric) on top of each other


Step Two:
Cut slits through both layers – 8 or 9 centimeters deep, spaced 3 or 4 centimeters apart. It is important that the cuts are consistently the same depth.


Step Three: Starting at one corner, begin to tie a basic square knot, using the bottom blanket’s strip tied to the top blanket’s strip.

Tip: Don’t tie too tightly as this may cause puckering.

Work around the blanket until the top is tied to the bottom along all edges.

Extra scraps of fleece could be used to decorate the center of the blanket – imagine flowers cut and fastened with a big bright button scattered across the face of the blanket.

Project Document Life

Last year, on our trip to Dubai, my hubby bought me a DSLR camera. I had been drooling over one for eons, and I was super excited to get it. But life got in the way. From October to December, the camera sat virtually alone, while I pondered what to do with it. Without many interesting events or challenges to photograph, I waited for the time to use it.

At Christmas time, we went to Mozambique and I brought dusted it off to practice shooting in Manual.

When I got home, I was truly surprised at how great my photos turned out. In just 3 weeks, my photos were crisper, brighter and less grainy. Bonus. Then I looked at the number of photos I took. Over 1500 frames in our 2 week trip and countless more that I deleted before heading home. No wonder I improved!

I decided that this process cannot be forgotten. As an effort to improve my camera skills, and to better appreciate this very special time in my life where I have freedom to do what every the heck I want, I am striving to capture 1 frame a day.  I am not going to stress about making sure I meet a picture every single day, but to just remain more mindful of the beauty around me. If I can get 4- 5 frames a week on different days, I will be happy and will consider it a win.

Life is beautiful, even the everyday mundane moments.

I’m not going to be Type A about it- I’ll look back and appreciate the attempts I took to document the year- I won’t look back and pine over the one day I missed.

What are you doing in 2012 to help yourself focus on the parts of everyday that bring you joy?

Watercolour Play

Beautiful Setting + Loads of Time + Creative Itch + a new set of Watercolour paints and paper = two weeks of fun

I am in no ways an artist – but I do have a ton of fun playing like one. And when you have a view like this one – it is impossible to not be inspired.

Elizabeth and I both had a go at it, and it was fun to see our different styles. Elizabeth is much more free-flowing and captures the beautiful translucency of the paint, while I tended to work it very similar to the acrylic paints I am more accustomed to. The results of the same images were drastically different.

My compositions were from actual settings, but in the last one, I composed the scene from my “drive by (photo) shoot”.

Painting No. 1:  The scene from sitting on my bed in the loft of our holiday cottage.  I literally just sketched (did I say I am not an artist?) and tried to duplicate what I saw with the paint.  My big lesson on this painting – aside from the fact that watercolours need more water – was that using other tools than brushes can work well for some effects. I used the end of a piece of card dipped in the paint to make the lines in the grass and reed walls.  It was a good practice – however I am disappointed in the feel of it as it ended up looking like a nice colouring in job.  More water, looser brush strokes – and some basic perspective adjustments as well.

 

Painting No 2: This was part of a photo I took at Inhambane Bay. I started this as a practice piece for a larger painting I want to do one day.  Because I had decided it was just for practice, I was a little more relaxed. I still tended to overwork the focal point, however I did work on the composition and colour value a bit. I tried to reserve white without masking fluid, but it was a bit of a challenge.  The end result was much more satisfactory and I might even put this little guy in a frame.

Painting No 3:  This one is a completely composed scene from 4 different photos I took. It isn’t yet finished, but because I am now back home and no longer indulging in the luxury of relaxed afternoons, I might never get it done, so I’ll post it anyway.  I worked specifically on the composition and detail on the focal point. My biggest challenge was that I cannot paint faces (yet) and in my photos, because of the darkness of the interior of the shops and the darkness of the complexions, the figures appeared to not have heads. This just did not look right in paint. Also, the man pushing the wagon will soon get a hat, because he required more detail on his face and I just can’t yet work it out.

All in all, I think I have found some definite bonus points for watercolours that I haven’t seen in acrylics. The paint is much more sensitive and willing to be moved and worked. I enjoyed playing with it, and whether or not I treated it properly, it was still a great learning experience.  I also love the ethereal feeling it can give when not overworked, and as I get better, this will be something I may strive for.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with watercolour and what tips and techniques you find useful ! 🙂

 

Drive-By (Photo) Shooting

On my list of things to learn… number 4….. Photography. Thanks to a generous gift from my hubby, I have a fantastic camera, but I find that I suffer from photographic shyness. Something about pointing a camera in a public setting makes me feel like I’m intruding into people’s lives uninvited…. yet I long for those amazing shots of beautiful faces, candid moments and picturesque settings.

On a recent trip into Mozambique, Elizabeth and I tried a new technique we call “Drive By Shooting”.  A word of warning: do not refer to this technique casually in a public setting. It tends to draw strange looks and unwanted interest in your conversation.

A long stretch of road lined with a collection of informal shops as well as many people was the setting.  I set my camera to action (remember that I am still in beginner status here…) and clicked off a series of shots with the camera placed on the open car window as we drove at about 40 km  down the road. I played a little zooming in and out and came up with many quick glimpses into the local life. A quick run through the shots, deleting those that were of nothing interesting, left me with a collection of photos that have given me many great subjects for artistic endeavours as well as a great memory of the feeling of the area we were in.  A little Photoshop help for lighting and composition and I will be happy. 

(please forgive the low resolution…. we have a VERY slow connection, and I had to reduce the size of the photos to get them loaded)

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Where have I been for the last 30 days?

I just might have been writing a novel.

In fact, this year, I was crazy enough to try for 50000 words in just 30 days. Sure, I didn’t write every day (just managed 12 days total with exams and other obligations) but I cranked it out – just short of my 50k goal. My story isn’t finished yet, but it is on it’s happy little way.

I guess I was waiting for the perfect time, the perfect inspiration, the perfectly honed skills to write my book. But that might never come. So I might as well just do it now.

It was good practice- and more fun than I ever would have expected. And now, I am ready to get off my butt and get things done. There is nothing like a little challenge to motivate progress don’t you think?

Fear of Failure: Living Authentically

Taking risks is scary. Even little risks, like paint choices or whether to use the blue paper or pink, can scare the pants off of me. I get the heebie jeebies at the thought of having to make an impulsive irreversible choice.

What if it’s wrong?

What if I waste money on it?

What if I do it the way I wish and someone makes fun of it?

These questions echo quietly in my heart and in the hearts of my dear friends who gather every once in a while to create together.

Creating is deeply personal. And as a woman with a sensitve heart, I am crushed at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. It’s as if I put all the icky parts, all the pretty parts, all the hidden parts of me out in the world to see.  When I create something, I am confident that whomever sees it will see that I am a terrible measurer- and all my pieces are slightly off centre. They can see that I am not very tidy and somehow manage to get glue all over the place. They can see that I am not very trendy and my creations are all a little homespun. They can see that I have a particlular taste for blue and more blue and white.

They can see me.

But I am learning something. It’s okay to be living authentically! The perception of perfect trend appeal just isn’t who I am- and those I bring into my home or who see my crazy office desk know who I am and it’s okay to be Elizabeth when I create!

When these feelings of panic creep into my heart, I need to do something crazy.

Doing something crazy seems to scare the scary thoughts right out of me. Like making enormous outrageous posters. Or nailing 100 tacks into the wall and making a twine mural. Or even switching out something green for bright pink.

It’s okay to live authentically. It’s okay to allow your creations to echo your heart, not the magazines. It’s okay to be who you are in your creations.

Even if it is scary.

Easy Tamale Pie – Made Healthy


One thing we have missed since living in South Africa is South American food. Our home town in the States had a population of people from south of the border, and the cuisine readily available was “muy bueno”. I am always on the look out for food that we can make with ingredients we have available, but it’s not always easy.

Tonight’s dinner was a first time shot at a recipe in my new Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that I was given as a gift this year (imported from the US, of course). It was a huge hit. Conversation around dinner was “You haven’t made this before…. please don’t stop”.

A few alterations made it a little more nutritious and didn’t take away from the flavour or texture of the dish. Next time I will add more green peppers and maybe sneak in some extra grated veggies on the sly such as zucchini (marrows) and carrot. I am sure that corn would also be a nice addition.

Ingredients:

â– 1 onion, chopped
â– 1 green pepper, chopped
â– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
â– 1 Tb. olive oil
â– 1 lb minced chicken breast (leave out for a vegetarian dish)
â– 1 1/2 tsp chili powder (more if you want extra zip)
â– 3/4 tsp cumin
â– Salt and Pepper for seasoning
■1 can kidney beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
■1 can cannelleni beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed (substitute black beans if available)
■1 can pinto beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
â– 2 c. tomato juice (or V8 style juice if available)
■1 can green chilies (I substituted one-seeded fresh green “Thai” chili, chopped fine)
Cook the onion, green pepper and garlic in the oil until softened. Add the optional minced chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook until no longer pink. Add tomato juice, cumin and chili powder and the undrained tin of green chilies (or fresh chopped chili as preferred) Heat through.

Transfer into a 3 qt casserole, or 9Ă—13 pan. Heat oven to 400 F or 200 C.

For the topping

In a medium bowl mix the following:

â– 1 cup cornmeal
â– 1 cup whole wheat flour
â– 1/2 tsp salt
â– 2 tsp baking powder
Add to the above ingredients

â– 1/4 cup canola oil
â– 1 1/2 c. milk
â– 1 egg
Stir until just moistened.

Grate in 2 oz cheddar cheese and 2 Tb chopped flat leaf parsley or fresh coriander leaves

Spoon over the top of the bean mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of spicy salsa for some zip.

Finish as a meal with a nice side salad and you’ve got it made! Enjoy!