Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 365]

Goodbye and hello, as always

Do you see that number there? The big 3-6-5? That means I am finally done! I did it!

I know I'm hardly the first person to successfully finish a 365 project but I thought I'd take this opportunity to distill some of my thoughts on the venture. I missed every milestone along the way, mostly because I was busy focusing on the idea for my next photo rather than the numbers, but this is one milestone I can't help but notice.

It's amazing to see how far I've come from my first crappy photos, even if I can compare myself to some of the talent out there and see that I still have much to improve. That said, it's the days (and sometimes months) when I was feeling down or life was hectic and my shots often suffered as a result that I'm the proudest of. I got through an entire year of ups and downs and managed to stick to this promise to myself. As I look forward to celebrating my 30th birthday in a few weeks it's one of the accomplishments I can carry with me into the next decade. Although at my age I probably shouldn't be carrying anything heavy lest I slip and break a hip. :)

While I can't say I ever doubted that I would finish out the year I was hoping for a much more triumphant conclusion. As it is, I find myself limping and dragging myself over the finish line, grateful for it to finally be over. I knew my obsessive German personality wouldn't let me allow myself the luxury of quitting, even at the toughest times, but the enthusiasm and creative drive that carried me through many months seems to have petered out. I still love my camera, love the process of coming up with ideas and coming up with a shot to match, and I wouldn't give up photography for the world. However, the days when it's a struggle to carve out the time to take a decent photo are becoming more and more frequent. It feels too much like an obligation, a chore to add to the vacuuming and laundry that awaits me at the end of each day. For that reason, I'll be happy to step back from my project and loosen the rules for myself in the year(s?) to come.

For one, and this is the part that makes me happiest, it will no longer be about quantity over quality. If I can't think of a good idea for a shot or if none of my shots pan out I won't feel compelled to post yet another blurry picture of my cats to fill the gap. I can already hear your sigh of relief. I know I still have a long way to go skill-wise but at least I'll have the luxury of waiting another day until the lighting's right or inspiration strikes.

I want to be sure to thank all of you who went on this journey with me. Let's face it; without your awesome, supportive comments I might have wound up hating this project but thanks to you it's been rewarding and wonderful. Your comments have meant a lot to me so thank you for each and every one!

Hope to see you all soon with photo #366. Now then, where's my celebratory cake?

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 364]

Because I do not hope

"At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man's mouth driveling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark. "
-T. S. Eliot

I've been wanting to do a shot inspired by this poem using my spiral staircase for the better part of this year. I figured it's high time I got around to it with only two days left to go in my project.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 363]

As you can see, I survived the dreaded hurricane unscathed. In fact, I managed to sleep through most of it as it didn't amount to much more than an abundance of rain and wind. Fortunately, we don't live in a flood-prone area so no harm was done.

Part of my pre-hurricane preparations involved bringing in everything from outside the house that wasn't nailed down, including a mat outside our back door. This morning I noticed that some algae had grown in the areas not covered by the mat. Before I cleaned it up I figured it would make for a neat shot for the day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 361 & 362]

Be mine?

My Snape Lego man and I had a touching moment yesterday. I think he loves me.

A processed version of one of my pictures of my latest baking experiment, peanut butter brownie cups.

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us the natives are getting restless. Their panic is driving them to the stores to stock up on water and fill their tanks with gas. My panic, on the other hand, is driving me straight to the kitchen. What if there's a power outage that lasts for days? Sure, I've got plenty of non-perishable foods to sustain me but what if I have to go all that time without getting to eat freshly baked goods?! The horror, the horror.

This morning I rushed downstairs to bake something to satisfy my craving for chocolate and peanut butter. These brownie nuggets are baked with both chocolate and peanut butter chips. To make them incredibly indulgent I deviated from the original recipe and topped them with both rich chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting. I don't even want to consider the calorie count but can tell you these sure worked to satisfy that craving.

So don't worry about me in the days to come as the rain and winds buffet my home. As you can see, I am all set to weather the storm.

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups
Recipe adapted from Cookies & Cups

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips separated as follows: 3/4 cup (to melt), 1/2 cup (to stir in)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 12 cup muffin pan.
2) Combine sugar, butter and water in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute or until butter is melted.
3) Add 3/4 cup semi-sweet chips; stir until melted.
4) Add egg and vanilla extract and stir well. Add flour and baking soda and stir until blended. Allow to cool to room temperature.
5) Stir in 1/2 cup each of PB chips and semi-sweet chips. Spoon a heaping tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup.
6) Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top is set and wooden pick inserted center comes out still slightly wet.
7) Place muffin pan on wire rack. Centers of brownies will fall upon cooling. If some do not, with back of teaspoon, tap center to make a hole.

Chocolate Ganache Filling
Recipe adapted from Crustabakes

3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream

1) In a small saucepan, combine chips and cream. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is thickened. Cool slightly. Spoon into hollows in the center of each brownie cup.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp heavy cream or milk

1) In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together confectioner's sugar and butter until creamy. Add peanut butter, beating well, Add milk and beat until smooth and creamy. Pipe onto brownie cups.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 359] - Sweet Rolls

I made these rolls to accompany tonight's dinner. I halved the recipe below and wound up with 16 tasty rolls. Click the link if you're interested in trying the sweet butter meant to accompany it. I'm trying to be good and cut back on sugar so I skipped that part.

Texas Roadhouse Sweet Rolls
Recipe from Chef in Training

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
6-8 cups flour
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 whole eggs
2 tsp salt

Activate yeast in warm water with a tsp. of sugar.

While yeast is activating, scald milk and cool to lukewarm.

Once yeast has doubled in volume, add yeast, sugar, and milk to a large bowl and enough flour to make a medium batter. (medium batter is about the consistency of pancake batter). Beat thoroughly. Let stand alone until light and fluffy.

Add melted butter (which has been cooled), eggs, and salt. Beat well. Add enough flour to make flour to form soft dough.

Sprinkle small amount of flour on counter and set down on it to rest. Meanwhile, clean out the bowl and grease clean surface down with crisco. Place dough in bowl and flip over to grease the top as well. Knead dough until smooth and satiny.

Cover and let rise in a warm area until double in size.

Once double in size punch down. Turn out on floured board. Divide into portions for shaping and let rest for 10 minutes.

Once dough has raised, shape dough into desired forms. Place on greased baking sheets and let rise until doubled.

Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 358]

What follows is a true story from my traumatic childhood. Growing up with two brothers I had to become accustomed to a certain amount of teasing. And by "certain amount" I mean a never-ending barrage of insults that to this day remains our primary form of communication. My dad found this ugly little critter at a yard sale and brought it home for his offspring to enjoy. I'm not sure what my mother's reaction was but we kids loved it. Even if I had to endure variations of the following on a regular basis:

Brother #1: "What's that?"
Brother #2: "It's a brain sucker." *puts creature onto my head*
Brother #1: "What's it doing?"
Brother #2: "Starving."

Har. Har. Har.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 356]

The happy couple

Aww. Ain't love grand?

It's just too bad their arms are too short for them to hug. I guess a kiss will have to do for now.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 355]

Sorry for my tiny, crappy handwriting. And my strange alien-like face.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 354]

Here you get two challenges for the price of one! Not only am I doing another copycat photo but I'm also doing my first abstract shot. I think. I'm still a little unclear about what constitutes an abstract image. I hope this qualifies. Since so many others at 365 Project have been devoting the month of August to abstract shots I figured it was high time I gave it a go.

The inspiration for this photo came from this shot of a piece of licorice candy, of all things:

Photo by Marinda

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 353]

Some of the gals and I at 365 Project, triggered by a recent discussion about the difference between being inspired by someone's work and outright copying it, are trying our hand at imitating each others' photos. For today I chose to take the idea from this picture and put my own macabre twist on it:

Photo by Amy Hughes

I may do some more of these imitation shots in the future. It's a fun challenge, I think.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 352]

Just a random critter from around my house and some more Hobby Lobby scrapbook paper in the background. Thought I'd take advantage of the shaft of sunlight coming through to the living room from two rooms away.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 350 & 351]

Yesterday's picture was of the mocha pound cake cupcakes I made on Sunday, blogged about here.

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page."

And yes, in my house I use foreign currency as a decoration.

Theme: Money

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 349]

I'd never before heard of the artist for this week's artist challenge but couldn't help but enjoy Chema Madoz's clever way of showing the unexpected. I've wanted to try this idea all week but had no idea how to set up the shoot. Photoshop came to the rescue by letting me take a photo of one of our angelic-looking figures, a photo of one of our devils in silhouette, and arrange them just so. The background I stole since this stairway to heaven seemed perfect. Despite the Photoshop time involved it was easier to do than I'd feared.

Brown Sugar Mocha Pound Cake Cupcakes

Finally I came up with a legitimate excuse to bake a batch of cupcakes. Ever since glutting myself while on vacation I've tried to avoid dessert, which means I also need to avoid baking. I've missed my time in the kitchen so was glad that my upcoming book club meeting gave me an excuse to whip up something sugary.

Ever since King Arthur Flour generously sent me some of their mini cinnamon chips to try out I've been wanting to use them in a coffee-flavored treat. Something about the combination seems comforting and appealing. A little bitterness from the coffee and a little spice from the cinnamon. What's not to like?

I nabbed a recipe from my Pinterest board for a bundt cake, halved it and added the cinnamon chips plus my favorite coffee buttercream. The cake is as dense as you'd expect a pound cake to be and they rise so much that they come out of the oven as huge specimens. I definitely felt full after eating just one. Still, the combination of flavors is, to use a cliche, like a party in your mouth. Chocolate? Check. Subtle cinnamon? Check. A hint of maple in a brown sugary cake? Check. The coffee buttercream really ties the whole thing together and adds that creamy element these dense cupcakes need. I hope you try them out for yourself the next time you can convince yourself that you deserve a treat.

Oh, and can I just say how much I love Hobby Lobby? I don't think I've ever been in one as there aren't any within driving distance of where I live but while on vacation we stumbled across one. I've put myself on a strict budget so I didn't go crazy with the purchases but I did take advantage of their extensive scrapbook paper collection to grab a few new backgrounds for my cupcake photos. I'll have to experiment with moving the cupcakes a little closer to the background so you can really make out that fun houndstooth print.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon & Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Wives With Knives

5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini cinnamon chips
1 1/2 cups flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cups golden brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 cupcake wells with paper liners.
2) Mix chocolate chips and cinnamon chips with 1 tablespoon of the flour in medium bowl. Sift remaining flour with baking soda, baking powder and salt into another medium bowl.
3) Using electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract and maple extract. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
4) Mix in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chips.
5) Scoop into prepared pan and bake 17-22 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for ten minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Coffee Buttercream
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon hot coffee
Chocolate-covered coffee beans (optional garnish)

1) In a small bowl, mix together coffee granulates and hot coffee. Stir until coffee granules are dissolved. Let cool completely.
2) In a small bowl, using an electric miser on low speed, beat together butter, sugar, and salt until well combined. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, beating until frosting is smooth.
3) Add cooled coffee to butter mixture, beating until smooth, creamy, and well mixed. You will need to scrape down sides of the bowl several times while mixing.
4) Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and garnish with chocolate-covered coffee beans, if desired.

A Photo A Day [Day 348]

Well, this was not the shot I was working for today. As this week's theme is "eyes" I've been seeing others post all sorts of stunning close-ups of their peepers. I was hoping to get something similar but now realize I must lack the necessary macro lens or fancy equipment to make it so. Instead you get this slightly silly outtake from today's shoot.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 347]

One day I will...

I've been thinking about getting back into running. I keep telling myself tomorrow will be the day and then tomorrow always comes and goes.

I'm inspired by my aunt who ran the Big Sur Marathon last fall and my best friend who ran her first half marathon last month but can't quite talk myself into doing it. It's not that I lack motivation since I already make sure to get my 30-45 minutes of exercise in six or seven days a week. It's not that I don't know what great exercise it can be as it was how I once lost 90 pounds. I just hate the idea of exercising in public. Silly, I know, but it's the main reason I never lace up these shoes and head out the door.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 346]

Spaghetti & Eyeballs

I hate that I ruined my rubber eyeballs for this photo. They're now all stained orange from the tomato sauce. :( I was planning to make a cheery, festive Halloween wreath out of them this year after hunting them down in the post-Halloween sales last year. Guess that plan's gone down the toilet now.

Theme: Eyes

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 345]

"It's best to kill the ones that matter, render blind the ones who see."
-Counting Crows

This shot was clearly inspired by a bizarre book I just finished reading, Infected by Scott Sigler. It's full of jaw-dropping gory scenes of a man doing his darnedest to remove the infected bits of his body, cutting them out of himself one piece at a time. Those scenes tended to coincide with my lunch break when I would try to squeeze in a few extra pages every day. So while chowing down on a nice turkey sandwich I'd get to read about the man hacking away at his oozing pustules, complete with blood and vomit spewing in all directions. Anyway, I had this idea as soon as I saw the theme and even though, once again, my finished product isn't exactly as I'd envisioned I think I've captured the spirit of my idea.

Theme: Eyes

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 344]

Mmm, my favorite afternoon treat is a sip of pickled eyeball juice. Perks me right up.

Theme: Eyes

A Photo A Day [Day 343]

I'm the master and you're the puppet

This week's theme is "eyes." I've got all sorts of evil creatures around the house with dramatic eyes perfect for the theme. Unfortunately, I had such a huge headache yesterday that I couldn't figure out how to stage this or do more than a close-up of this dude's evil dead eyes. So this is what you get.

In light of a some recent discussions I've had and the discovery of the amusing You Are Not a Photographer I'm feeling extra critical and hate that part of this is out of focus. Clearly I have a long way to go skill-wise.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 342]

Ministry of Silly Walks

This was an incredibly embarrassing photo shoot. I'm convinced that in addition to the people driving by who saw me exhibiting my craziness there was probably a CCTV camera capturing it all as well. Oh well, I guess it's a small price to pay for paying tribute to one of my favorite TV shows of all time: Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Oh, and this is much harder to do than you'd think. As if I didn't already have mad respect for John Cleese his ability to do this without toppling over earns him even more esteem.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 341]

The Eye of the Beholder

It shouldn't surprise you one bit that that one of my favorite TV shows is The Twilight Zone. Quirky? Weird? Clever? Yup, suits me to a T. I've loved it since I was a kid and my brothers and I would huddle around the television for the annual New Year's marathon, struggling to stay awake as long as possible. I can watch the same episodes over and over again with the same glee and amazement at the creativity that went into each story.

What a relief that this week's "TV show" theme came along and I was finally able to do a self-portrait without having to spend hours Photoshopping my face. Here you can see the real me. I'm sure you'll all agree that I'm quite beautiful.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 339 & 340]

Well then. This photo sure didn't turn out at all like I'd wanted.

Here I am reading "The Woman in White." It's a Victorian mystery/thriller with part of the suspense coming from the mysterious woman in white. Who is she? Where has she gone? Will we ever see her again? Why, she could be hiding right behind you at this very moment!

This week's theme is TV shows, which I'd be having a ball with if my schedule allowed it. I watch a lot of TV so it's the perfect theme but I just haven't had the time to brainstorm and put together appropriate shots.

This is a tribute to Black Books, one of my favorite TV shows. It takes place not only in London but in a book store. Two of my favorite places in one package! It may sound like the set up for a boring series but the charm is in the lunacy of the characters and the fantastic main actors: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, and Tamsin Greig.

To give you a little taste, this description was taken from Wikipedia about Dylan Moran's character, Bernard:
"A central theme is Bernard's odd position as a belligerent and openly hostile shopkeeper who has a loathing of the outside world and all the people who inhabit it."

I like to think that's exactly what I would be like if I didn't have the horrid flaw of caring about other people's feelings now and then.

Yesterday I was in the right frame of mind for this shot after having to deal with several difficult customers on the phone. That plus a massive headache were sure to help me nail the appropriate expression. Although I didn't quite manage to fully evoke the soul-wrenching despair that comes with having to work in customer service I feel like I've done some justice to poor downtrodden Bernard. Ignore the fact that it looks like I also have a black eye. I have no idea why it looks like that but trust me that my day wasn't *that* bad.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Photo A Day [Vacation Edition Part Deux]

Never fear, these are the last shots from my trip. I've been using them as fillers for the past few days as I decided to use the time I'd ordinarily spend photographing and processing that day's photo to instead sort through and process my vacation shots instead. Otherwise I suspect those pictures would still be sitting on my hard drive weeks from now.

Dead End

I'm so pleased with how the processing turned out on this one. I had an imperfect shot of a West Virginian road and couldn't figure out how to make it more interesting, until I stumbled across the ghoulish picture I had saved on my hard drive from a previous project.

Another one from my husband's former elementary school, now a charmingly dilapidated building falling apart and peeling to pieces.

On a Pale Horse

One of the best things we did on the trip was go for an hour-long horse ride through a state park. I can't remember the last time I rode a horse, probably not since the few pony rides I took as a child. We both had a blast even if my horse was a bit of a slowpoke.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 333]

Can't you see my walls are crumbling?

During our trip to WV my husband was eager to see some of his old haunts. Unfortunately, because his childhood was so long ago many of them are more likely to be the home of haunts and ghosts than living persons now. We intended to merely poke around the outside of this building, one of the elementary schools he attended, but upon finding an unlocked door he was curious to see inside. The building was full of debris, peeling paint, and abandoned furniture and fixtures. Not to mention some extremely curious graffiti honoring Bob Hope. Don't ask. I have no idea why either.

Unfortunately, I didn't make the most of those prime conditions so most of my shots were too dark or blurry as a result of the darkness. A shame because I would have loved for my first attempt at photographing a derelict building to have turned out better. Oh well, at least now I have some idea of where I went wrong and I learned the #1 most important lesson about traipsing around an abandoned building: make sure to wear close-toed shoes. I'm lucky I didn't slice my feet open on all of the broken glass everywhere.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 335]

The Tree of Life

Another shot from my trip, this one taken on the road from Berkeley Springs to our rental cabin.

Ok, now it's time to prepare yourself for a pseudo rant. Ready? Read on.

So I once read an interview with a photographer saying that with the proliferation of inexpensive digital cameras many folks fancy themselves to be good photographers without having any actual training or skills. To him, a proper photographer understands how to set up a shot and takes the time to do so, whereas those of us clicking away with our cameras hoping that one shot out of ten will be usable aren't real photographers. I believe it was the same guy who said that if a photo is taken from a moving car while driving down the street it's not going to impress him as any idiot could take the same shot. I'm not terribly offended by this assertion but I do have to wonder if what he's talking about is all there is to photography. I will admit that I took over 50 photos while my husband was driving down the road as much of our trip was spent in the car. I will also admit that most of those were blurry, composed badly, focused on the wrong thing, etc. But doesn't it take some sort of skill, some sort of artistic eye to be able to sort through the duds and find one worth using? I feel like I managed to do that with a few of my shots, figuring out how to crop or process it to bring out the beauty of the scene. Which I hope is what I did here. Anyway, rant over. I'll go back to my haphazard method of photography and hope there's some merit in my work after all. :)