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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Best Camera + Picture Practice

They say that the best camera is the one that you have with you.  For me, that usually means my iPhone.  While I often wish I had my DSLR with me to capture certain shots, I do always have my phone with me.  In recent years, the cameras in our little phones have gone through so many improvements that they take pretty decent photos these days.  In addition, there are all kinds of apps out there that allow you some different choices in cameras and also allow you to edit right there in the palm of your hand.

One way I am using my 2017 word--Light--is to focus on using light effectively in my photography. But, there are so many ways I can improve that I thought it might be fun to focus on a different technique each day for the month of March, using only our phones!  Of course, you might want to get out your "real camera" to practice, as well, but I use my iPhone exclusively for Instagram and would like to improve my photography with it as well.

Here's the way it will work:  Each day there will be a prompt that represents some sort of photography technique.  I will post the prompt here on my blog, as well as some information about how to use it to improve our photography using our phones. In some cases, I will show examples to compare as well.  Not all phones are alike and this will give you a chance to learn about the settings on your own phone's camera.  My husband has a Galaxy 7 Edge phone that takes wonderful photos, so I will try to include how to find the various settings on that phone (or Android in general) as well.

If you need to skip around, that is fine, but you will probably be able to do most of these in order since you can use any subject you wish for the prompts.  As usual, be sure to tag your photos with the hashtag #MTPicturePractice2017 and if you have any questions, leave a comment either here or on Instagram and I will answer it the best I can. If you are new to these challenges, leave me a comment with your Instagram info so that I can follow along.  It's great to get inspiration from others, so check out the hashtag from time to time to see what others are doing with their phones!

To get us started, let me just remind you of a couple of a very basic ways you can improve the quality of your phone pictures---
1.  Clean your lens! This may seem obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many times I have taken a photo and then looked at it and realized the lens had been foggy or had a speck on it or whatever.
2.  Keep auto flash OFF by default. A flash throws a lot of light a very short distance, so anything more than a few feet away will not receive the light anyway and the flash was pointless. In most cases a flash is not needed and when it is, you can easily switch it to the on position.

Here is the list of March prompts--have fun and be sure to check here each morning for a few tips/explanations/examples for that particular prompt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Happy Campers Again

Over the weekend, after finally finding a creative salesperson that was able to make us an offer within our budget, we made a deal on a travel trailer.  A brand, spanking new travel trailer at that!! We had done our homework by visiting RV stores, an RV show, and conducted lots and lots of internet comparisons to determine exactly what features were the most important to us. We eventually narrowed things down to one particular model--the Heartland Mallard M27.
We chose this model for several reasons-
1.  The quality of construction of the Mallard is great. It has aluminum framing with a fiberglass skin and every compartment is fully finished: even the underbelly is enclosed.
2.  Size--The M27 is one of the smaller Mallards, which is what we wanted. While a good bit longer than our previous camper, it is pretty small compared to many of the trailers/RV's out there. It has one slide-out that makes the interior feel much roomier.
3.  Arrangement of the interior--I learned that almost every travel trailer is arranged according to a few basic floor plans. At first, we bounced back and forth between a bunk-style model (M245) and rear living model (M27), but, in the end, we settled on the rear-living style model. While we hope to include grandchildren on future trips, most of our trips will most likely be just the two of us and we don't need bunk beds. Both models have a queen master bed and similar size kitchens, dinettes and bathrooms.
However, instead of bunk beds for extra sleeping, the M27 has a love seat/sofa that folds out into a bed for extra guests. (The dinette folds out into a bed, as well). During the day, however, it is additional seating for people visiting us.
And, one of the most attractive features for us, is the two easy chairs located in the back of the camper. While we will spend most of our camping time outdoors, on rainy days or evenings, those chairs will be great for relaxing indoors.
We drove over to Jackson, MS to get the camper and drove back home the same day, with camper in tow.
As you might expect with our luck, there was one slight "bump in the road" on the way home. We stopped in Monroe to activate the "rear back-up assist" feature on Ron's truck and discovered that one of the tires was almost flat.  :-(  
Backing in to get air at the service station was a good chance for Ron to practice actually using the feature.
After church on Sunday, we spent a good bit of the afternoon, hauling our supplies out of storage and getting things set up inside the camper. We were able to salvage most of our belongings from the camper accident, but not everything, so I have been measuring and shopping for organizational items that will work best.
The upholstery and curtains are more neutral in this camper--finally trailer makers are starting to turn from the heavy floral tapestries and dated patterns--but, I hope to add a few of my own touches soon.
Callie and the boys came to visit our new little "home away from home" on Sunday afternoon and to try out the beds and chairs.
I can't wait until Ron has a free weekend so that we can venture into the woods for a while!  Yep, we are definitely happy campers again!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Shop Your Shelves

Months ago, Valine gave me a small begonia when I came to visit.  I have managed to keep it alive on my kitchen windowsill, which is the only room in the house that lets in enough light to grow plants.  I has been getting quite long and dangly, and was still in the original plastic wrapped pot.  In addition, I picked up a several small herb plants at Wal Mart the other day and wanted to keep some of them indoors. Time to spruce things up!  
I have been in a purge and donate regime at the house, so I really didn't want to purchase new pots, but I did look while at Wal Mart and Joann's. Since I didn't find anything that I really liked, I came home and decided to shop my shelves. I'd almost forgotten about the small terrarium I purchased several years ago at Round Top. It was tucked away in one of the bedrooms with fake plants inside, but not being used in a very effective way, so it was time to bring it out again. I've never had much luck growing my herbs indoors, so I thought I would see if being in a terrarium might help. Terrariums capture the moisture and act like a mini greenhouse, so it was worth a try. 

The next challenge was finding something to pot the herbs in. Clean tin cans to the rescue! I poked holes in the bottom of the cans for drainage and transferred the plants into the cans. 
Using ordinary scotch tape to secure it, I wrapped a piece of burlap around each one. 
I was afraid that I might mix up which was oregano and which was thyme, (which isn't a big deal if you aren't actually going to use them for cooking), but becomes important when using them in a recipe. I wrapped a strip of chalkboard tape around and wrote the herb on it. (I've had the tape in my scrapbook stash for a while). 
Next up was the begonia. 
While shopping my shelves, I noticed an old teapot that had once belonged to my mother and my grandmother before that. 
The handle had been broken in several places and glued back together and the top was missing, but I always liked it nonetheless.  While there are no drainage holes, I'm hoping that the spout will provide a little bit of drainage and keep things from getting too moist.
I re-potted the plant and then gathered a few other things onto a metal tray and set them on the butcher block cart. 
Putting things onto the tray will make it easy to move if I need to use the top for cooking or baking preparation. 
Back in the late fall, all of my herbs suddenly died all at once. I had huge rosemary, thyme and oregano plants which were all well-established, as well as a potted Satsuma tree on a small patio by my storage building and one morning I discovered them all dead as can be. It was so weird, but I think that it coincided with the day my yard was sprayed with weed killer, and I think some of it must have been accidentally sprayed onto the herb patio. So, as soon as it warms up again (which I'm sure won't be long), I will plant the rest of the herbs outdoors. But, these will stay on my windowsill, with hopes of happy growing and cutting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love After Loss

Many of you know that I was married before, but, tragically, mental illness took him from our family. In the years that followed, I dated a little bit, but not very much. While I hoped to eventually find someone to share my life with, it all took so much effort. I had difficulty even meeting appropriate single men, much less entering into a relationship with them. It was all so confusing and scary, and when the girls were still at home, even harder. By the time they were grown and gone, I had settled into a busy routine of being single and finding the right person seemed rather hopeless.
I lost both of my parents during these years, I worked hard at my job as a teacher, did a ton of volunteer work at my church and enjoyed sewing and crafting into the wee hours of the morning. I have never been much of a cook, and being alone meant I didn't really even have to think about that chore. It didn't matter that my house was a wreck from the crafting and sewing--who was going to see it anyway?--and laundry was something I did when I had run out of clean underwear. Staying so busy left little time for meeting new people, taking risks or leaving myself vulnerable. I felt that God must have other plans for me, so I threw myself into these things and focused on being happy as a middle-aged single lady.
And I was happy. I did things I enjoyed, had a great job and great friends, not to mention an amazing family. Then all of sudden, out of the blue, Ron Perkins stepped into my life at a summer race. We bumped into each other after 30+ years and things have never been the same since.  It's not always easy--nothing worthwhile ever is--but it's been good.
In order to nurture our relationship, I backed out of some of my volunteer responsibilities and have been choosier about which ones now receive my attention. I am still not much of a housekeeper, but, I try to confine my artistic messes to one area of the house now. Instead of sewing into the wee hours of the night, I find that I am now content to stitch on the couch while he watches football or while he is at work. I don't mind doing double the laundry one little bit and --brace yourself -- I actually enjoy cooking now!!
All of that is pretty easy stuff to do when you are in a good relationship. The part that is difficult is the most important, however. You see, I can't hide my broken parts from him and sometimes we both speak sharp words to each other that hurt. It is hard leaving myself vulnerable to another person, but in the pain of misunderstanding and disappointment, he is there for me and I am there for him. We forgive and we start again and we literally old each other up when the other is unsteady.
So, you see, the difficult part is actually the best part as well.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Birds, Bees and Barking

I recently posted a short video clip on Instagram of one of my favorite animals, my little Maltese, Emmi. She is such a funny little dog.  I do believe that she feels her main purpose in life is to keep all birds and squirrels out of our yard.  And she takes that responsibility very seriously!

This winter, she has been especially diligent about keeping all birds off of our deck, which is easier said than done most days. Although she gives it her best barking effort (much to my dismay), and patrols the perimeter of the area, some of the sparrows have found a way to outsmart her.
In the flowerbed next to the deck, there is a miniature rose bush that once lived at my mama's house many years ago.  While this time of year, there are no blooms, and sparse leaves, the sparrows have discovered that they are generally safe within the thorny branches of the bush.
Emmi, and even Joy, try their best to scare them away, but there are a few brave birds that know their bark is worse than their bite since they can't actually reach them.
In other news around the backyard, new little buds are popping out all over the yard with the spring-like weather we've been experiencing. There are tiny buds on the fig tree,
and the blueberry bush I planted last year has the prettiest little blossoms on it.
Even the bees are out, taking advantage of the record-setting temperatures.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Be Mine

I've worked with children most of my life, so when I began my student teaching years ago, I wasn't at all surprised by their anticipation of various holidays. Halloween, came first and the kids planned their costumes for weeks. And, of course, notes to Santa were written and gift lists were compared and discussed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. But, I was totally unprepared for the excitement that Valentine's Day presented.

Even though there was no character dressed in a costume, the children had so much fun picking out the perfect box of cards from the store to exchange with their friends.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised--I vividly remember how much I loved making my own Valentines out of doilies and red paper and saving the prettiest ones for my best friends. Valentine's Day was indeed a very special time.

Toddler D has no idea what Valentine's Day is about yet, but I thought he might enjoy the process of decorating cards for his friends. I picked up some supplies at our local Dollar Tree--a couple of packs of cards, heart stickers, stampers and his favorite, some transportation stickers--and showed him how how to use all of the supplies.
I loved watching him work, carefully peeling away the backing of the stickers. Little dimpled hands are the best!!
The stampers were his favorite!
Later, he helped me write his name on the inside of each card--he can make a couple of the letters without any help! Then, we bagged them up so he could take them to school last week. I can't wait to see how he reacts to receiving Valentines from his friends!

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