Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 2 - Uh-Oh and Photoshop

Uh-Oh is my buddy.

When Uh-Oh was a kitten, he spent a lot of time getting into things he shouldn't; we spent a lot of time saying "uh-oh" as we scooped him up to save him from danger time and time again. The name stuck.
It is difficult at best to take good pictures of Uh-Oh and his brother Beneigt because they are both solid black. Many times their pictures just look like a black blob...and sometimes the sun will actually reflect off of their sleek black fur, resulting in a glare just as blinding as the sun when it reflects off my laptop screen. When this happens, the result is a black blob with a glare...not at all acceptable when compared to how handsome these two fellas actually are in real life :)
Another specific challenge when photographing Uh-Oh and Beneigt is to show the true color of their eyes...again, because of the way the light reflects off their pupils. Uh-Oh's eyes are yellow, and if he's walking in the dark, all you can see is the yellow of his eyes...pretty spooky if you don't know what you're looking at...and sometimes even if you do :)
For the Shutter Sisters 365 Project I knew that many of my pictures would be of my cats and my children...they are my subjects of choice most of the time anyway. I am not a fan, however, of posed photos...in some sense I feel like they're fake...a set-up even. I'm no art critic, but I personally like to capture things as they truly are. Of course, my collection of family photos does contain some of the traditional posed group photos...but I also like to take lots of photos while the group is preparing and again as the group members disperse as well as the posed final shot.
If you've spent time with cats, you know there's really no way to pose them anyway...cat's do what they do and that's just the way it is :) Cat lovers accept and as a matter of fact expect this behavior in their feline family members.
Uh-Oh enjoys sitting on the back of the recliner as the sun shines through the narrow glass windows in our front door. When I found him there this morning, I decided to take a few shots and see what I could come up with. This was the shot I chose from the group I took to use for Shutter Sisters 365 Day 2:

While still a good picture (to me anyway) the sun is glaring (as usual) off Uh-Oh's head and washing out the color of his eyes, the recliner and the background (see all my beautiful books in the background?) I decided to open this image in PhotoShop and play around.

I chose to begin with the Quick Edit tool and played with the sliders for color saturation, hue, sharpness etc. just to experiment with them and get a general idea of what each tool was for. Color Saturation was what I decided to play with extensively today. I increased the color saturation until I thought I had what I wanted. This shot is the result:


The glare is somewhat alleviated and the color of the recliner is richer. The increased color saturation also highlighted the various colors in the background as well...just enough to make me want to play with it more. I increased the color saturation even more and then also increased the sharpness of the picture:


I absolutely love the richness of the red against Uh-Oh's black fur...as well as the colors in the books behind him against the whiteness of the book shelves and our mantle...these colors are muted in the background though so they add warmth I think. I especially love that I didn't set this photo up...the background stuff especially was pure accident...further justification to me that I cannot and should not control the world around me...(I need to be reminded of this frequently for some reason).
You can see some of the yellowness in Uh-Oh's eyes in this photo...not as much as I would like...but at least they're not completely fabricated by a flash of light and the glare of the sun. I'm hoping to get some feedback from the Shutter Sisters group to help me combat this challenge in the future.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hamburger/Vegetable Stew and Cornbread

Another reason I started this blog was to share recipes. I am by no means a foodblogger; I don't have enough cooking experience or expertise for that (as you will see by the following recipe). I am a Southern girl at heart and grew up on fresh vegetables from the garden, cornbread and whatever venison my dad brought home. I learned (and am still learning) from my mom how to eat as close to the natural product as possible, make the most of whatever ingredients you have on hand and to not be wasteful. I do LOVE to try new things...whether I'm making a new recipe in my own kitchen or going to a new restaurant in town (or somebody else's town since I live in a town the size of Mayberry).

My husband (a non-hunting Southern man) is a picky picky eater...I actually cannot think of anything off the top of my head that he actually LOVES that I cook. To make things even more complicated when it comes to planning meals, of my 3 daughters, only 1 (the oldest) is really an adventurous eater. She'll try just about anything, enjoys the creative cooking process herself and can actually give constructive feedback about a new recipe. My middle child, however, likes bread, sugar and coke, and my youngest likes McDonalds...period. See what I mean! Imagine being responsible for feeding these people every day!

Anyhoo...in this blog I want to share the tried and true recipes that I depend on when I can't come up with anything else (that means that at least half the people in my house will eat it)...but I also want to keep up with the new recipes I try. This first recipe is one of the old standbys and is never the same twice because it is very much one of those old fashioned, put whatever you have in a pot and cook it to death kind of recipes.

This first recipe also encompasses two of my favorite pieces of cookware: my LeCruset dutch oven and my small cast iron skillet.

My LeCruset dutch oven is new; I've had it maybe a year, but I cannot imagine cooking roasts, stews, soups, chili etc. in any other piece of cookware...even though I did for years before my mom gave me this piece. In my opinion there is no other piece of cookware that holds heat like this dutch oven...I don't know how but it is also virtually stick proof...NOTHING sticks to the bottom of it, and if you're a piece of cookware who's going to live in my kitchen, stick proof is the first item up for inspection.

This is my small cast-iron skillet, perfectly seasoned by my mother and possibly my grandmother before her. Supposedly some people are successful at buying these new and seasoning themselves...but I promise, I've tried...nothing works like this little 50-60 year old skillet. I think it's all the love and all the pans of cornbread that were baked in it before me!

Like any good Southern girl worth her salt, I use Crisco in the bottom of my cast-iron skillet when I'm making cornbread. Now, what's in the picture is actually too much. I usually only use one little glop of Crisco. I put the pan with the glop of Crisco in a 450 degree oven and let it get good and hot. (Sorry, I can't tell you how much a glop is - just enough that when it melts it leaves a nice thin layer of melted oil to make a nice thin cruncy crust on my cornbread).



When the Crisco has melted and is really hot, I pour in the cornbread batter...the Crisco should be hot enough that when the cornbread batter is poured in the pan, it sizzles on the sides like shown in the picture above.



After baking in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, this is what I have. I try not to bother the cornbread once I put it in the oven...I watch through the window, and when 20 minutes has passed and the bread has this nice crunchy crust on top and seems to be pulling away from the sides of the pan, I open the oven door and insert a knife right through the middle. If the knife comes out clean, it's ready. I simply take a salad plate and invert the pan onto the plate (be sure to use a thick mit to hold onto the pan handle....cast-iron HOLDS heat...the first time you grab a cast-iron skillet by the handle with your bare hand will be a memorable experience...for you...your family...and your neighbors).




Hamburger/Vegetable Stew to go along with the cornbread is made by browning hamburger meat and onions seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. That's just about the only thing in this recipe that stays constant. I then add tomatoes (whatever I have on hand...usually the diced kind, sometimes fire roasted and sometimes the kind that has been seasoned with various spices and flavorings). Then, I add the veggies.
The best Hamburger/Vegetable Stew veggies are those that have been saved for months as leftovers from suppers. I just pour the leftovers (no matter how little) into a large zip loc bag and let them freeze; the next time I have leftover veggies, they go right in on top of the already frozen veggies...over and over again. When the bag is full of frozen leftover veggies, I'm ready to make soup!
My mom gave me a bag of veggies for the soup in the picture above. I made this soup the night before we were expecting a winter storm that never happened. Our temperatures did dip into the teens, however. While temperatures in the teens are nothing to some folks, in the deep South, that's "you gotta be kiddin' !" weather. At least that's what a smart Southerner says in response to a suggestion about venturing outside for ANYTHING :)
The last ingredient to add is beef stock. I just add however much I want, depending on whether I want a soupy soupy or a thicker stewy consistency. I accidently added chicken stock to this batch of soup...I really have no idea why...so don't ask....but it made for an interesting flavor! Now you know why recipes that are not supposed to taste exactly the same every time you make them are PERFECT for me!!


This is what the soup looks like when served in a pretty little bowl like these gems I found at Wal-Mart a few years ago for $1 each! I love the big hunk of potato over on the left...shows you just how authentic this soup is...potatoes hand-chopped by my mom who loves me enough to save all her veggies so I can make soup like she used to make for me.


I like books, cats, my family, and cheese...so I always add a little cheese in my soup - this is sharp cheddar cheese and the flavors really seem to meld well...must have something to do with that chicken stock :)



A little cornbread added on the side and melted cheese on the top....mmmmmm...this soup warms your bones and fills your tummy :):)
***I ate two bowls of this soup and my oldest and middle children ate a bowl each...oldest thought chicken stock was different but interesting, middle child was just hungry but likes to crumble her cornbread in with the soup and cheese. Youngest child skimmed all the cheese off her soup and then announced her tummy was full so could she please have some ice cream now? Picky husband announced that he didn't like soup and ate a PB & J sandwich...whatever floats his boat.
I froze the leftovers for another day. The entire pan of cornbread was eaten :)...even picky husband ate some cornbread!







Brothers in Arms


After much thought I finally decided to take the plunge and commit myself to the Shutter Sisters 365 Project. I'm a little late...since it's Jan. 8th and all...but that's pretty normal for me...ask my friend Missie :)
I was a little unsure about taking on this project since I love taking pictures...I didn't want this project to make me feel like photography is a chore...but I just decided if I ever reach that point, I'll just bow out of the project all together. I'm not saying I'll quit...well, maybe I am saying I'll quit...but photography has become too important to me to let it become something other than what it has become to me, and that is a creative outlet that's just mine and has NOTHING to do with what I do for a living. SO THERE; TAKE THAT!! (notice how I have to use a semi-colon even in a short directive statement...it's an illness; it really is...see, there's another semi-colon!!)
My goal for participating in this project is to simply become a better photographer...I have no desire at all to make my photography a commercial endeavor (read preceding paragraph for reasons why). My specific objectives or learning outcomes for participating in this project and meeting my goal of becoming a better photographer are to learn more about using photoshop to enhance my photos and to get specific feedback from other photographers about my progress so far. (I told you it was a sickness...goals, objectives, learning outcomes...AAARRRGGGG! Education is like the mafia...channeling Al Pacino in The Godfather Part 3..."Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!!!)
Shutter Sisters has a Flickr account where the photos are to be uploaded each day and the end of the year (365 days), I will have a photo journal of a year in my life...sounds really cool to me....so....I'm in! I'm also going to post those photos here...just to share and all...See, Missie, I really do play well with others!
This first photo is Uh-Oh and Beneigt...they are brothers (duh) and love each other as you can see...I suspect many of my photos will include the brothers...they are 2 of My Favorite Things! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This Ain't Twilight


One of the main reasons for this blog is to chronicle my reading. I have neglected my personal reading for so long because of being required to read so much academic "stuff." It's not that I didn't enjoy at least some of the academic material; it's just that once it becomes required reading, it's not fun anymore. I probably would have read most of the required academic stuff I've digested over the last 8-10 years anyway, but because it was required, it became a chore. Why reading can be so enjoyable until it's assigned sounds like an incredible dissertation topic for someone...but NOT ME!!

Once I finished my degree, I unconciously decided I would read as much "fluff" and non-academic "stuff" that I could. I am an avid reader and don't really dislike any genre. I read whatever interests me and at any given time have a pile of books that I want to devour.

I've always liked vampires and witches. When I was an adolescent, I was nervous about sharing that information about myself with others. In middle school way before the advent of the internet, I would sneak books out of the library about the Salem Witch Trials. Have I mentioned I'm 41 now...and I'm over it! I ain't sneakin' around no more!! I don't think everybody should like vampires and witches; I don't believe they exist in real life; and I am not obsessed. It's just fun reading! C'mon people!!

Anyway, I've read the classic vampire stuff...Bram Stoker's Dracula and all that, as well as the Twilight series and Sookie Stackhouse series. By accident, another reader friend of mine actually encouraged me to read the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by discouraging me from reading it. She really couldn't even tell me why and almost acted as if there was something really creepy about the books...so...of course...I went out and bought one!

I've just finished reading the 16th book in the Anita Blake series called Blood Noir. Twilight is tame in comparison to Anita Blake so if you can't deal with some language, violence (these are vampires, you know), and explicit sex at times, then you won't like Anita Blake. If you can get past your hang-ups long enough to experience hard, edgy supernatural fiction, then you'll LOVE Anita Blake.

Anita is a vampire hunter who is based in St. Louis, MO...the same town, by coincidence of course, in which author Laurell K. Hamilton resides. Vampires are citizens in Anita Blake's world, but Anita is one of many vampire hunters trained to rein in any rogue vampires who refuse to follow the law. Anita is tough as nails; she has issues from her past and issues with her own supernatural existence (Anita is a necromancer, which means she can control the dead - She actually raises zombies for a living because of this innate ability). Anita ends up falling in love with Jean Claude, the Master Vampire St. Louis. Anita's relationship with Jean Claude is a true love relationship (I think) without all the sappy mess that a lot of romantic notions of true love have you believe. It is a modern relationship though that deals realistically with the needs of a vampire who has a relationship with a human. That's all I'm sayin' about that. :)

Through her relationship with Jean Claude, Anita reluctantly develops even more supernatural abilities and becomes a powerful force on her own as well as through her triumverate with Jean Claude and the Ulfric of the local werewolf clan, Richard as well several other supernatural characters. Now you think I'm really nuts, right?? Mom, if you ever read this, I'm really ok.

In Blood Noir, Anita goes home with one of her closest "friends," Jason, to say goodbye to his dying father. As one can imagine, even in a pretend world where vampires are legal, there are still many people who feel vampires are evil and should be killed. (Racism and social issues abound in Anita Blake novels; differences are differences and racism and prejudice are racism and prejudice no matter the details). Jason's father has some pretty serious reasons to hate Jason. Blood Noir focuses on Jason and Anita's relationship as it progresses from friends to family as well as Jason's need to settle things with his father before he dies. The conflict in this particular Anita Blake book stems around a group of assassin vampires who have been hired by another Master of the City to kill Jason in a case of mistaken identity that ties back to one of the main reasons Jason's father has such issues with his son. While Anita helps keep Jason alive, she also must fight off the ever growing precense of a master vampire, the "mother of all vampires," who has decided that Anita's powers are her ticket to rising back to life.

Edgy, spooky, heartpounding stuff...most of the time I have to read fast and skim so I get the story...then I have to go back and read slow for the details...yes, I'm one of those readers who gets so involved that sometimes I can't stand it and have to read the end!! I just NEED to know!!

I don't think Anita minds though...as long as I go back for the details :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Babies to Teenagers


I remember sitting in the pediatrician's office with my oldest who was not even 1. I was worried that I was spoiling her by holding her in my arms and rocking her to sleep every night. It was the biggest worry of my life at that point. The measure of whether or not I was a good parent depended on whether or not I was doing the right thing by rocking her.

My oldest will be 17 in March and I would give anything to be able to hold her in my arms and rock her to sleep, looking at her peaceful face after she finally drifted away, knowing that she had no worries...Today my oldest is worried about grades, activities, friends, summer camp, boyfriends, etc...and I can't make it all better anymore.

How do I measure myself as a parent now? How do I prepare her for some of the greatest disappointments in life that she has ahead of her? How do I take the pain away or even just make it hurt a little less? How do I put back together a broken heart? Or even just convince her that it will feel better with time?

Maybe she'll just let me rock her to sleep...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals for 2010

I always feel so much better when my life is organized. Those who know me well would laugh heartily if they could read this right now because my life is so far from organized. I've been thinking of tangible ways I can make some changes in my life to get our entire family back on track, and here are some of them:

1. Get up earlier in the morning. I love to sleep...always have...my mom worried about me when she sent me to first grade...she didn't know how on earth I would make it through the day without a nap. I love to snuggle under the covers in the early morning and just snooze away. I'm ok once I can get my feet on the floor, but I fight putting my feet on the floor so that doesn't help at all. When I do get up, I love to savor that first cup of coffee and read the headlines for the day...but I've got to get up earlier in order to have time to do these things.

2. Go to sleep earlier at night. Obviously, #2 will help #1...I enjoy the time after everyone else has gone to bed...my brain needs a while to settle down before I go to sleep so if we've had evening activities and are running late getting home, my settling down time pushes me later going to bed. My kids are adopting this habit of mine though and I can see bags under their eyes...while not attractive on a 41 year old, bags under the eyes of a 5, 15 and 16 year olds eyes because they're not getting enough sleep makes me feel like a terrible mother. We are going to bed earlier.

3. Eat healthier and cook more. I love to cook...but seldom do it. My excuse is that I don't have enough time...and I don't. But, I'm going to make time. My family's health depends on it. I have shelves of cookbooks and LOVE to cook at Thanksgiving and on special occasions. A full Saturday or Sunday where I have time to cook a homemade pot roast or grill in the summertime just makes me happy. What a simple way to be happy?? Eating at home is a lot healthier than eating out. When we eat out we are entrusting strangers to make decisions about what they're putting in our food, whether or not they've washed their hands (this makes me nauseous) etc. No more of that...no more McDonalds and Sonic at lunch. I'm going to eat healthier and cook more.

4. Leave work on time. My name is Patti and I'm a workaholic. However, my life will be better organized and balanced if I do just that...balance it. I once had a person ask me what I enjoyed doing in my spare time outside of work. I couldn't think of a thing. The brutal truth of the matter is if I died tomorrow, there would be someone doing my job before the day was out. My job is important and I will always give everything I've got and do the best job possible when I'm there...but I'm gonna start leaving on time.

5. Spend wisely. Ok...this should probably be #1...I am a spender. Again, friends I know well (and my husband) would start laughing out loud and making jokes at this point. I once asked my friend Missie what the little booklet inside my box of checks was (it was the check register). I was just kidding...but not really. I wish I didn't have to have a budget, but I do. And, most importanly, I have to stick to it. My husband would start shouting halleluia at this point. I'm 41; it's never too late to learn.