Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Magic of Food Photography

I find it fascinating that most of that food we see in ads isn't really edible, and yet...I still salivate whenever I see those ads. Everything just looks so good!


And yes, I know that these talented photographers need to know about and be skilled in the art of lighting, negative space, use of props, use of shadow, placement and so much more. But I also know that there is an entire bag of tricks they use to make that food look delicious even after hours of shooting under hot lights. Real unadorned food just wouldn't hold up or look as good, and the idea is to make the presentation as enticing as possible. So what are some of the gimmicks they use to enhance and stabilize the food? These two intriguing (and admittedly long) videos from Blossom let viewers in on some insider tricks and tips.




I have to wonder, how many hours (days, years?) of trial and error went into discovering what worked best and how many food failures occurred on the road from just photographing food in its original state to these genius methods that fool our eyes (and make us drool)? So much fun to watch!

Myrna

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Touching Story of an Intriguing Artist

I'm more than a little behind on my movie watching, but yesterday I saw the movie Maudie about Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, and I was entranced. Lewis had a difficult life, having rheumatoid arthritis at a very young age, a condition that only worsened with age and poverty. But she apparently had gumption, presenting herself to Everett Lewis when he advertised for a live-in housekeeper. It was a difficult life in more ways than one, but she was a voracious painter of simple things she saw or remembered, and her folk art eventually brought her a small degree of fame (although not much money during her life).

Maud Lewis Art

I'm sure that at least some of the movie was Hollywoodized. Still, it's a wonderful example of a woman (and an artist) overcoming adversity and shining through.

When Maud was alive, she sold her small painted cards for twenty-five cents each. Last year, one of her paintings sold for $22,000 CDN (a little less than $17,000 USD).

Maud and Everett Lewis' House in Marshalltown (NS) -- Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Halifax (NS) September 2017

I was fascinated by the fact that she and her husband lived in a house so tiny (about 12 foot square)  that it was eventually moved inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Maud painted right on the house, the windows and even on the stove.

Here's the trailer to the movie. Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke and Maude and her husband are wonderful (aren't the always?), and I highly recommend the movie. I wish I could find a book on her life, but there are a number of articles about her on the internet.


Now I'm off to look for more on Maud Lewis. What an inspiring individual!

Best Wishes,

Myrna

Friday, July 19, 2019

Make Your Own "Romantic Evening" Box

Today I received an email from this cute little online store I've purchased things from in the past (mainly at Christmas). Being a romance author, my attention was drawn to their Romance Kit, which cost $10 USD. The contents are: two incense sticks and a holder, a tealight candle, a matchbook and 6 silk rose petals.

I think it was the 6 rose petals that got me. I mean...seriously...six? And this is supposed to be romantic? What would a person do with six silk rose petals? I can't even imagine, and I think that as a writer/professional daydreamer, I have at least a halfway decent imagination.

So, despite the fact that I actually like this store and will shop there again, I decided to see what I could come up with by way of a do-it-yourself romance kit (I blurred the store name on the product above, which is why it looks a bit strange--an artist I'm not).

First of all, the box. Although I like the little tin (not sure of its size), I'm sure I could easily dress up a cardboard box or basket or gift bag I already own, the advantage being (other than the cost savings) that I could totally personalize it. What's more romantic than something a person took the time to make with their loved one in mind?

As for the rest, again to keep the cost down, I've concentrated on dollar store buys. Candles of various types (scented, unscented, colorless, colored, tealight, votive...) were available in sets of at least 4 for $1. These (below) are unscented (I get headaches from too much artificial scent). If you really want scent, you can buy the scented candles, buy incense and a holder (also available at the dollar store--40 sticks of incense!) or make your own scent. There are some good ideas at this website.
As for rose petals, I found this package of 300 (also available in red or white) for one dollar at...well, you know where.

With the money you've already saved on the basic ingredients, you can embellish a bit. Add some chocolates. If you like wine, you might include some wine glasses (maybe add some decorative wash-off messages on the glasses)?

Cut out some hearts from colored paper and write notes on them, scattering them in the box/basket/bag. Or make a trail of them through the house, leading to the basket. Include some romantic music you already own in the box (no one said it all had to be new, just romantic). If you're not good at cutting hearts, here are some cute sticky notes with hearts on them (yes, they're from the dollar store). Or make your own, decorating sticky notes you already own.

So no, there's nothing fancy here. You can embellish this as much as you like or as little as you like. But at least you'll have more than six rose petals. 

Have fun with this!

Myrna

Sunday, July 14, 2019

How to Decorate Your Walls on a Budget

I'm not a particularly gifted decorator, but I know what I like, and one thing I like is to make the wall art in my house fluid. I want to be able to change it up now and then. But there's a problem. Art can be expensive. After all, artists have to eat, too.

So I try to utilize a combination of art I've bought directly from the store or from an online shop. Deviant Art is my favorite online shop, but there are others, such as All Posters, Art.com and many others.

But because I want to change things up frequently, I need to save money, and I've found that estate sales, garage sales, rummage sales (especially church and school rummage sales) and thrift stores enable me to buy art at bargain prices. Other people want to change their walls, too, and their castoffs might be my (or your) next wall art find. Here are some of the things I've picked up at such sales (apologies for some of the images. I took them with my camera, and I'm not skilled enough to get rid of the reflections. Where possible, I found a duplicate image online, but that wasn't always possible).

This image doesn't do the art justice. It's actually a poster from the America's Cup 25 in 1983, and there is faint writing on the image. The frame was broken, so we re-framed it.


I believe that this sunflower painting by Anne Worthington was formerly an IKEA item, but we bought it for five dollars at a garage sale.


This one came matted in a gaudy gold frame (there's also writing beneath the image on the matting), and we didn't have the right sized frame, so we cut the matting a bit and re-framed it. I've shown both the original and our framed version (complete with my awful photo with reflection and washed out color).


 This is on Irish Linen, and someone framed it.

A National Park poster (we framed ours, but this is the poster sans frame).




It's always an adventure at sales, especially estate sales where you can sometimes see the art hanging on the wall. I doubt that we've ever paid more than fifteen dollars for a print (well, maybe twenty for a really large one). That has enabled us to move things around when the mood strikes.

Best wishes,

Myrna

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

More Homemade Greeting Cards

When I first started writing, I wrote greeting card verse, predominantly for a company called Oatmeal Studios. It was fun thinking up clever and mildly amusing text for greeting cards, but it wasn't really much more than a hobby (I had other writing goals), so I moved on to fiction. That said, I still love the idea of making up my own cards rather than buying them. So here are some more ideas for greeting cards, courtesy of YouTube and all the fine craftspeople who post there. So get out your scissors, glue, pretty paper and any other supplies you might have, and let's see what kind of unique cards we can make.

Here's a very simple one that you can embellish any way you'd like.


Another pop up card


I like this shaker card, because you make your own shaker materials instead of buying glitter or confetti.


If you missed the earlier posts on greeting cards, here are the links:




Enjoy making your own cards (and, hopefully, saving money)!

Best,

Myrna

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Protecting the Garden from Deer

I remember the days when even to get a single sight of a deer was a glorious experience. Traveling to the mountains or anyplace wilder than my own urban environment offered a chance of seeing wildlife, and deer can be truly majestic (also cute, if we're talking about the little ones). I still thrill whenever I see a group of them even though I've seen hundreds of deer over the years.

On the other hand, for the past few years I've been in a tug of war with deer that want to nibble away at my garden. They have been particularly fond of my tall garden phlox (even though those frequently appear on lists of plants that deer don't like) and my turtle heads (also on those lists). They haven't actually eaten the plant, just the flowers or buds, so there's that to consider. 

For awhile I put a makeshift fence around the plants, using tall green garden stakes, fishing line (I read that they don't like the feel of it when they brush against it to get to the plants) along with a couple of rows of jute where I didn't put fishing line (I wanted them to be able to see the barrier, not hurt themselves by getting tangled in it). That worked fine for awhile until they ended up doing this:
Once I ended up with a photo of one inside the fence, munching away. So, I decided to go another route and plant only things that deer aren't fond of. I don't mind sharing a little bit, but I'd like some flowers to survive, and deer like to eat all the blossoms. More research was necessary, including looking at what had been surviving in my garden all along.

Here's what I've come up with so far (your experiences may vary).

Plants the Deer Have Never Touched in My Garden

lilacs

four o'clocks (which I don't plant anymore, because they tend to reseed and take over)

correopsis

peonies

columbine

larkspur


pieris forest flame (a type of japonica I've only had for a year, but in a hard winter it stayed safe)


shasta daisy


daffodils
tomatoes
pumpkins
common milkweed

Plants I'm Trying But Don't Have Enough Data on Yet

Rose of Sharon


Plants that Regularly Appear on "Will Not Be Eaten" Lists That I Want to Try

Bee balm
Butterfly Bush 
Milkweed other than Common Milkweed

Plants the Deer Have Feasted On

berries (of course)
hostas
turtle heads

garden phlox
Japanese anemone

Wish me luck!

Myrna





Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Where to Find eBook Bargains

Years ago I had a professor who told me that he and his wife were book poor. No need to explain that to anyone who has been in love with books all their lives. We tend to be obsessed with acquiring books. There are many reasons for that and they're probably different for each person, but my personal reasons for being a mad book buyer have to do with the fact that every book contains stories, secrets, possibilities, the answers to questions, hours of entertainment and more. I take one look at a book, and I just can't help looking inside...and often, buying.

In fact, I can't remember a time when I wasn't a bit obsessed with books and reading. When I was a girl in school I loved the days when we could order Scholastic Books and I eagerly awaited each shipment. When I became a teacher, I was just as entranced, and I always ordered extra books for my classroom. Bookstores call out to me (at least it seems that way). At garage and estate sales, I always gravitate to the book shelves. Library book sales suck me in every time, so I understood when, visibly six months pregnant and waiting in line at a huge library book sale, I was nearly knocked flying by eager book buyers trying to get in the door to access all those books!

But here's the thing. Even though I buy a lot of books and even though I'm a writer who totally understands that writers need to eat (i.e., make money), I'm also still a fan of bargains. Don't get me wrong. I buy a lot of books at full price, but now and then a discount comes my way, and I'm happy to be able to save a dollar or two.

So without further ado, here are some of my favorite ways to save on books (note: these are all for ebooks, so feel free to mention places to save on print books in the comments section).

eReaderIQ - You sign in with an email address, indicate the books and/or authors you want to keep watch on, indicate what price you want to pay or how much of a discount you're looking for, and when the books go on sale, the site sends you a notice. I have a tendency to forget and just buy the book without waiting, but now and then I've gotten some great bargains.

BookBub Daily Deals - You can access the site to look for deals and/or sign up for alerts, indicating your preferences, and every day you'll receive an email with a bunch of bargains in it. I love it!

Bargain eBook Hunter - I haven't used this one much at all (although there are lots of free books here. I used to get their emails--like BookBub, you can get a daily email with bargains), but some time has passed, so I'm no expert on this one.

Kindle Daily Deals - you may need to go to a different Amazon address if you're in a different country (just google Amazon daily Kindle deals and add your country name at the end), but every day Kindle has daily deals which can be accessed via the site or--again, as above--via a daily email. I get the daily emails, but I also visit the site, because there are also monthly deals and other short-term deals.

Nook Daily Find - If you're a Nook reader, there's a daily deal, try this. Also, once you're there, look in the sidebar for other deals.

Kobo Deals - If you have a Kobo, you might try here.

Bargain Booksy - You have to look at the details of individual books. Some are only offered as Kindles. Others are offered on other sites, include Apple.

If you have other favorite places to find books (ebook or print), share it in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Reading!

Myrna



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Why I Love Crossword Puzzles (and Where You Can Find Free Online Puzzles)

We're crossword puzzle fans at our house, and we do them together. On most days, we settle in with a cup of coffee and collaborate on the daily Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. We work together until we get close to the end. Then we have a fun competition to see who can fill in the last word. There have been some crazy rushes to finish. Holding several answers in one's head and then quickly dashing off three or four words in one shot is not unheard of (because writing down those answers helps the enemy...er, spouse competitor, giving them clues they might not have had otherwise). Anyway, it's great fun, it helps improve vocabulary, keeps me up to speed on modern cultural references (and older ones), and even gives me a chance to use the French I studied years ago. I do sometimes wish I knew more about sports and maybe Italian and German as well. Those would help a lot.
newspaper crossword with eyeglasses resting on the newspaper


Our daily crossword competitions are done on paper, but there are many options online for people who also like crosswords, and some of them are free. Here's a smattering of the choices available. Note: if you're unfamiliar, some of these look like videos, and there may be an ad at the beginning, but the crossword will follow.

Click through to the puzzles at the links below:
Merriam-Webster Daily Crossword

The Guardian

The Washington Post

The L.A. Times

USA Today

AARP (and no, you don't have to be a senior or a member to play)

Dictionary.com

The New York Times crossword is, of course, the gold standard for crosswords, but it's not free (at the moment the monthly rate is $6.95 or $39.95 for a year). Also, it's really challenging and I'm not always up to the challenge (in the past, I've owned books of the New York Times Sunday crosswords).However, the paper also offers a daily mini (usually just 5 x 5) and that one is free. As it's timed, I enjoy trying to solve it in less than a minute. Sometimes I succeed. Other times...well, I still enjoy trying.
The New York Times mini crossword

Also, this page has some archives of the mini (the other one might, but I wasn't sure).

This, of course, is just a smattering of the puzzles out there (although I think these are some of the best). So if you're a crossword enthusiast, enjoy!

Best Wishes!

Myrna






Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Silly but Fun Gimmicks from the Internet

Years ago I used to post oddities from the internet (weird little websites or things you could get your computer to do). A lot of those have either dropped off or they haven't added securities (the https) to their sites, which might make people nervous. So I set out to see what I could find that was still available out there and I turned up more than I expected. Have a look:

Pointer Pointer
This image doesn't do this justice, because you can't see the pointer, but basically the idea is that you put your cursor in the box, and the site flashes an image where people are pointing to your cursor. Move the cursor and a new image appears where, yes, someone is pointing toward the cursor.

Cat Bounce
A lot of images of falling cats (not really falling, of course). Hit the reset button on the left to change the background color. Click on the Make It Rain rainbow sign in the upper right hand, and a whole lot more cats come down.


Happy Happy Hardcore
Nothing much, but a lot of falling happy, sad, grinning emojis.


Continuing on with the emoji theme, but in this case, you begin with a more or less blank screen. Move your cursor and a trail of emojis of all kinds follow. But wait, they're disappearing. I considered it a challenge to see how much of the screen I could fill up before I started losing emojis.
Your Image
A white screen appears along with these (all too quickly disappearing) instructions.
Instructions: 

Mouse Move = painting (speed effects the weight of the stroke) 

Mouse Click = new image from the Internet 

Spacebar = opens a window where you see and save your image 

Begin moving your cursor, and it looks as if you're painting, but you're really uncovering an image (I think). As mentioned above, you can change the image, change the size of the stroke and save the image if you like.

Lastly, this one creates a colorful "sand" image that looks a bit like a galaxy. Just click on different colors, move the cursor and create an image. On the right, you can tweak the way the brush strokes operate (smooth, intense, worms?...). Just change the preset, grab a color and continue on. Change the preset again, and you'll get a completely different look. When you're finished, you can download the image if you like. 

There are more, but you get the picture. So, I guess the answer is yes, those fun little time wasters still do exist. Now if only we all had more time!

Have a wonderful day. Find some time to play...or read...or whatever you like to do to relax. In other words, I hope you're able to find some you time today.

Best Wishes,

Myrna






Saturday, June 22, 2019

Gardening for Those of Us with Brown Thumbs

I have mentioned before that I'm not the world's greatest gardener/plant person. I have managed to kill house plants that are considered unkillable (a snake plant. Seriously, who kills a snake plant? They need almost zero care)!

Somehow I've managed to keep this one alive for several years (but it's a succulent, so sort of easy).

At any rate, outdoors, like most people, I have to deal with the challenges of not enough sun in some places paired with creatures (rabbits, squirrels, the occasional deer) who are super happy to find an easy snack in the way of whatever I happen to have growing.

I no longer plant marigolds, because despite their less than appealing scent, something keeps eating them (in an area where I had no trouble for years). In the spring, I've mostly replaced tulips (I love tulips!) with daffodils, because often the rabbits eat the tulips before they've even had a chance to bloom.

My phlox has been eaten to the ground by deer almost every year, so I'm eliminating it. (Also, did I fail to mention that I'm kind of a lazy gardener? Once I plant something, I don't want to have to do much other than watering and some minor weeding).

So here are some plants that have worked for me.

Creeping myrtle - a reliable ground cover that has pretty blue flowers in the spring
Vinca minor

Lily of the Valley - I cut these back when my kids were small, because they're poisonous, but in the spring they smell nice. Not the prettiest ground cover, but reliable
lily of the valley

Lilacs - I have lilacs. Nothing touches them, and they smell heavenly. We just planted a Bloomarang variety, which is supposed to bloom twice in one season if you deadhead it. We'll see. It's still too young to tell.
Bloomerang lilac

I just planted this Pieris Japonica last year, but it's already becoming a favorite. The leaves are red and green, almost poinsettia-like. And it survived a brutal winter. So far so good.
Pieris Japonica

I have Shasta daisies in several locations. They all came from a twenty-cent package of seeds I bought years ago. They're not the prettiest flowers or the most attractive plant once the flowers are gone (like peonies, the foliage becomes a bit unwieldy over time), but they're reliable and the critters don't go near them.
Shasta daisy
I've also had good luck with four o'clocks, but they started taking over the garden. It's easy to gather the seeds (which are big) and many of them fall and self seed, so if you have the space and don't mind them being everywhere, they're another safe choice. 

These days I've turned my attention to helping save monarch butterflies, so I'm planting milkweed. It takes a number of years for the plants to reach maturity, but they're easy to grow (if you plant them from scratch, the seeds need cold, so winter seed or store the seeds in the fridge and plant inside in the spring), but once you have a few, they also spread via rhisomes beneath the ground. So far, I only have common milkweed that has grown large enough to flower, but I planted some swamp milkweed this year, so I'm hopeful that will add to my milkweed collection. (Being a lazy gardener, I planted my first ones in milk jugs in the winter. Super easy. Here's my story on winter sowing. At the time, I wasn't sure, but after years of this easy-as-pie method, I'm sold).
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

I would love to be able to grow Cardinal Flowers, because they're beautiful and they attract hummingbirds, but I'm not sure I have an area wet enough for them to grow. Plus, the flowers are difficult for insects to get in, so they need hummingbirds to pollinate them, and I'm not sure there are that many of those around here. 
Cardinal flower

I'd love to hear of your own gardening experiences (good and bad). 

Happy gardening!

Myrna