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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Mini Review of the Think Tank Retrospective 5 Camera Bag

The reason that this is a “mini” review is that I’ve already reviewed its big brother, the Retrospective 10, here.
After traveling with the 10 version, I decided to trade it in for the smaller 5. This trade-in worked well for me. I found the Retrospective 5 to have all of the good features of the 10 (sturdiness, ruggedness, not being a prime target for thieves), while being more compact and easy to travel with. After an 11 day trip to Barcelona (sometimes dubbed the pickpocket capital of the world) and staying right on Las Ramblas (pick pocketing central), I was able to safely transport this bag comfortably with no attention from thieves. The Pinestone color camera bag just looked like a messenger bag, which I carried across my shoulder. In the evenings, this also doubled as a large purse, carrying my iPhone and travel essentials. The shoulder strap was comfortable and I had no issues carrying this for long walks, hikes, and Metro rides. I even hiked up a steep trail in the Pyranees with it on.

This bag would only be useful for you, though, if you were traveling with minimum photographic equipment. I carried my Canon 5D Mkii with one lens on it, with a few small accessories (memory cards, USB cable, battery charger, and lens brush). If you need something to transport more than 2 lenses, I would go with big bro Retrospective 10.

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Free Gift Tag Project – What To Do with your Old Christmas Cards

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Yesterday I spent taking down the Christmas decorations, de-cluttering a bit, and getting the house back to “normal”. One of my mini-projects that I did yesterday is something that I learned from my mom…a simple way of having custom gift tags for free next Christmas.

Most people don’t have room to keep every Christmas card they receive each holiday season, but I don’t like just tossing them out and letting them go to waste. So, after the Christmas decorations (and cards) are taken down, I usually set aside a little bit of time (usually while I’m watching TV anyway) and make tags out of the old Christmas cards I received. Just grab your cards and a pair of scissors. All you have to do is look for little patches or areas on the card designs that would make a good tag. There should be some blank area somewhere on the new tag to allow for writing. Also make sure that there isn’t already some handwriting on the back of the section you cut out.

I usually pick little designs that are on the card…a Christmas tree, a horn, a reindeer, a star, etc. and cut out a square or rectangle, usually 1 or 2 inches on each side. Even a solid area of red or glittery gold can make a nice tag. I also like this process because I get to look through this year’s Christmas cards and letters one more time. Sometimes during the holiday rush, we also rush through everyone’s thoughtful letters and notes, and may forget something that they have said. At the end, I have a large stack of free gift tags to use next year. I store them in a small container aptly labelled “Gift Tags” for next year. Happy snipping!

Turkey Leftovers Idea: Turkey Coconut Curry

Turkey Coconut Curry

Turkey Coconut Curry

It was our fifth day of turkey leftovers and I longed for something different. I didn’t have much time, between work, errands, and the gym, but craved something tasty. I decided to try the turkey in a coconut curry simmer sauce. This was also a way to use up a variety of vegetables that have been sitting in our fridge for a week. This recipe can be very flexible and is a good way to use what you have on hand, as long as you have coconut milk, curry spices, and some vegetables, along with your meat.

Since I had a very short time to make supper, I used a jarred Taste of Thai simmer sauce (red curry flavor), and added my own spices to make it taste more like the real thing. Of course, if you’d like to make the simmer sauce from scratch, use a can of coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and items such as ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir. These can be purchased at your local Asian market or other specialty store.

  • Coconut curry simmer sauce. To save time, I used Taste of Thai jar sauce, which contains coconut milk, curry spices, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir
  • Turkey leftovers, separated into bite-sized pieces
  • Curry spice or paste, for added flavor
  • I also used my Penzeys Spices Turkish Seasoning, to add some kick
  • Pinch of Red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (I use Kerrygold because it’s from grassfed cows, is more nutritious, and tastes SO good)
  • Vegetables. I used cherry tomatoes split in half, julienned radish, sliced leeks (delicious in this sauce), and sliced mushrooms. Many other veggies would work, such as eggplant, onions, garlic, peas, carrots, broccoli…
  • Herbs. Fresh basil is great for this, but I used fresh thyme because that’s what I had on hand.

I melted the butter in a skillet and sauteed the fresh vegetables for a few minutes. Then I added the turkey pieces and the simmer sauce. I then added the spices to taste. 15 minutes later we had a quick, tasty but unusual meal that used our leftovers!

Tips for Photographing the Family Christmas Card

It’s the time of year where we get our mailing lists together, buy holiday stamps at the post office, and prepare to send out the family Christmas cards to family and friends. Family photo Christmas cards have been very popular for quite a few years now, and if you are new to creating your own photo card, or just looking for ways to improve your annual creations, here are a few tips.

1) Shoot while other family or friends are in town. We like to do our photo shoot when my mom is town for Thanksgiving. She is also a photographer, and can help with the setup and pressing the shutter button. Other options are to use the self-timer option (with 10 second delay) or to subtly use the wireless remote shutter release while you are posing in the photo.

2) Use a clutter-free background for your photo. You want to keep the backdrop simple – a neutral background, a blurred background with bokeh, the lit Christmas tree  (slightly out of focus can be a nice effect, especially with some bokeh), or simple scenery (grass, woods, etc). You want the focus to be on the people, and not the  background. Make sure that everything in the background of the photo is intended to be in there. There is nothing worse than getting your 80 prints back from the printer, only to find out that you accidentally show a can of Pringles in the photo next to the family pet.

3) Blank areas or less appealing parts of the photo can be covered up in a graphics program, with solid areas of color, text, or clip art. For example, in this posted photo, I covered up the bottoms of my husband’s dirty sneakers with a solid brown area, and included our names on it. I use Photoshop, but use whatever graphics application you are comfortable with.

4) I use at least 300 dpi resolution. Different printers use different standards and specs, but 300 dpi is a good standard. You can always downsize afterwards, but you can’t successfully up the resolution, without losing quality.

5) You don’t have to match your outfits exactly, but at least make sure the colors go well with the theme (I tend to wear greens, reds, or neutrals) and that they don’t clash with each other. If you decide you’d like a blue theme for your Christmas cards, well then, make sure you all wear blue that doesn’t clash, and if Aunt Edna is in the picture, make certain that she gets the memo and doesn’t wear orange stripes that day.

6) Add some Christmas ambience. This is optional, but I find that it makes it look like a Christmas card, without even much effort. Include the family Christmas tree, holiday decor, snowy deck, fireplace, etc. but remember to keep the background fairly simple (tip #2)

7) Sharper isn’t always better, especially with holiday portraits. Dimmed lights, a warm glow, Christmas lights shining in the dusky light…these all add a holiday ambience, give a warm feeling, and make everybody look flattering. Tack sharp is not a requirement for this type of portrait. Of course, make certain that your family members’ faces are all in focus. This isn’t an excuse to hand out really blurry and poorly executed photos.

8) Try including the family pets, in addition to all family members. This can be logistically difficult (my cat doesn’t like to be held or forced to “model”), but it gives the photo a sense of your whole family and adds some personality and cuteness to the picture.

9) Instead of something in the background, try something interesting in the foreground. For instance, in this posted photo, I liked the look of the string of Christmas lights laying in front of us and the reflections on the hardwood floor. But again, keep it fairly simple. The focus should be on the people.

10) I find that using one of the many online or local print services are actually cheaper than doing it yourself. With the cost of glossy printer paper and ink, it is less expensive to upload your photo and send away for the pictures. I’ve also used the fast printing services of a nearby drugstore (Walgreens, CVS, etc) or Target. You can usually pick up the results in the store within a couple hours. This year I’m using Shutterfly online. You can choose holiday cards if you want a card that opens, or simple prints (less expensive). If you already have an online photo account with this type of website, by all means, use it. Some online services even can address and mail your cards for an extra cost (you need to upload your mailing addresses to them). For me, it’s not worth the cost, but if you’re in a time crunch, go for it!

11) If you have added design elements to the photo itself (tip #3), you should choose to just make basic prints, or at least select a very simple card layout template.  You don’t want to add additional greetings, text and art to your photo, if it already contains this. Make sure you preview your photo within any template very carefully and make sure it isn’t too busy or that nothing is cut off (some of these sites tend to crop the outer area of the photo a little bit).

Hope these tips help you create the perfect family photo Christmas card! Happy Holidays!

Christmas Card Family Photo

Christmas Card Photo

Homemade (and Free!) Christmas Wreath

This weekend has been spent eating turkey and decorating the house for Christmas. We are expecting 55+ people at our house for our neighborhood annual progressive dinner, so wanted expand our usual holiday decor. But I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So, I decided to try my hand at an evergreen wreath (picture to come shortly).

Tips for making a free homemade wreath for your door or wall:

1) Use old coat hangers for the base. I used three old metal coathangers, and, using pliers, twisted them into a frame onto which to attach the greens. I kept the hook of the first  hanger to  hang the wreath when it’s complete. I then twisted the triangular hanger shape into a rough circle. I intertwined the other two bent hangers around the first hanger, to create areas where greens can be attached.

2) Use greens from your yard, Christmas tree, or even a home improvement store. We found FREE Christmas tree greens in a bin at Lowe’s. Right after Thanksgiving is probably the best time to find these freebies, because the Christmas trees have recently been delivered to the store, and there are lots of branches cut off the trees when they are packaged for sale. Various types of greens can be used, including pine, fir, and holly. Find holly with the red berries, for some pretty red accents on your wreath.

3) Use nuts or pinecones, also available from your yard. These can be wired or glued on, once the base of the wreath has been finished.

4) Use any wire or string you have laying around the house to attach each branch to the hangers. Keep the branches flowing in the same direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise) when attaching to the wreath. Look at your wreath in progress for any gaps or unevenness in the greens and add branches or twigs as necessary. Continue until the wreath is equally full on all sides.

5) Complete the wreath with a bow of ribbon or fabric used from last year’s gifts. I usually keep any good quality ribbons on gifts that are presented to me. I can then recycle these for future gifts or crafts.

Turkey for You, Turkey for Me…

The holidays are upon us. In fact, it is time to pick up my Thanksgiving turkey at Full Quiver Farm on Saturday morning. We put a deposit on this fresh pastured turkey months ago, so it is exciting to actually see the goods. The pickup day is an event at the farm – with tours of the farm and the opportunity to buy other fresh farm items. It will be my first time visiting this particular farm (our CSA farm is a closer one, only located 5 minutes away from us). It is forecasted to be a beautiful Fall weekend, with many bright leaves still on the trees in Southeastern Virginia, chilly air, and sunshine. That, I think, is the perfect weather for visiting a farm. I’m ready to get on a heavy sweater and boots, and head over!

Benefits of a Pastured Turkey, as opposed to a typical turkey from the grocery store:

– The turkeys are fed naturally on a pasture, producing a low-stress healthy bird that contains higher amounts of Omega 3s, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), and vitamins. All are necessary for a healthy body, and fight against inflammation and cancer. Pasture raised turkeys are also lower in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

– No antibiotics or hormones are added to the poultry, providing healthier meat that doesn’t mess with one’s hormones, digestive systems, immune system, etc.

– They are supposed to have a richer more flavorful taste (I guess we’ll find out on Thanksgiving – I’ll let you know!)

– They are produced in an environmentally conscious manner, using only manure and compost as fertilizer, not harsh chemicals that get into the land and the water supply. Turkeys aren’t then shipped hundreds or thousands of miles on a diesel truck, thus being even more environmentally friendly.

– They help promote our local agriculture and ecomony

It’s a win-win! We get a healthy, tasty bird and we keep the local farmers in business!

I am THANKFUL for the opportunity to try a different type of bird this Thanksgiving! And if anyone has any suggestions for brining/cooking this turkey, let me know!

Cork Wreath Christmas Gift

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If you are even a little bit crafty (no need to be Martha Stewart) and a wine drinker (or even a bottled Belgian Beer drinker), you have the ingredients to make a nice Christmas gift for your wine lover friends or family. I am currently working on my 3rd wine cork wreath.

If you drink wine and wonder what to do with all of those corks, here’s an idea. Gather a number of corks (one can probably make a wreath out of about 75 corks, although the more the merrier). For us, it usually takes about a year to collect this amount. You want to try to use the real corks and not the plastic ones that are becoming more common. Even if you go out to a restaurant and share a bottle of wine with dinner, stash the cork in your purse. Nobody will mind.

Materials list:

– wreath base. I like straw but these are getting harder to find. Styrofoam will work too. I prefer the light green styrofoam, as they look less tacky than the bright white foam when little gaps peak through the corks.

– ivy leaves/grape leaves. The artifical leaves they produce now are more tasteful than they used to be. I use this as a base for the corks.

– 75-150 corks (not plastic)

– wooden toothpicks

– glue gun/glue sticks

– wide ribbon or fabric that can be tied into a big bow (red, burgundy, purple, gold make good accent colors for the wine wreath)

– green wire, floral tape or floral pins

1. Wrap the string of ivy or grape leaves decoratively around your wreath base. You probably just want to use a thin covering, to allow plenty of openings into the wreath base with the toothpicks later on. You can use green wire, floral tape, or the floral pins to attach the string of leaves to your base.

2. Break each toothpick in half. Use the sharp pointy end of each half to insert into the middle of the length of each cork.

3. Place hot glue around where the toothpick is inserted into the cork and a little bit on the length of the toothpick.

4. Insert each toothpick into a spot on the wreath base, making sure there is adequate glue for the cork to be permanently fastened to the base. Vary the direction and spacing of each cork so that the overall look of the wreath is appealing.

5. Continue this process until there are no unsightly gaps left on the wreath and double-check that there are no loose corks.

6. Clean up any “strings” of glue on the wreath.

7. Use the ribbon or fabric to create a large bow on either the top or the bottom of the wreath.

8. Create a hanger on the top of the back of the wreath out of the wire, tape, or pins.

And there you go…an easy peasy, but impressive homemade holiday gift!

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