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Category Archives: New Skills

DIY Photography Soft Light and Reflector

Lately I’ve been so uninspired by my pictures from the kitchen. I take a photo (almost) every day of Kiddo1’s lunch so I can post it in order to motivate me to make good lunches with a variety of foods. It’s hard to get a good shot in my kitchen because there isn’t a lot of natural light in there. And now heading into winter, there isn’t any natural light when I’m actually packing lunch so I need a little brightening up.

Thank goodness I found this tutorial for making a photography soft light from The Tip Toe Fairy. I highly recommend reading her tutorial first since that is what I used to make my own light. The only difference with me is that I’m super cheap, so I even made my own box for the light (The Tip Toe Fairy uses a lamp shade). Therefore, I wanted to share how I made the box and everything just in case you’re as thrifty as me.

DIY Photography Soft Lights

Here’s what you need:
Cardboard – enough for four 8-1/2″ x 11″ pieces plus one 6″ x 6″ piece
Piece of letter-sized paper for making a template
Glue
Aluminum foil
Duct tape
8-1/2″ clamp light, it looks like this and you should be able to find it at most hardware stores:
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Also a good quality light bulb (I got a LED bulb that’s equivalent to 100w, but it cost twice as much as the clamp light! It also has a warm light and I’d rather go for something a lot more cool next time.
And a scrap of clean white fabric that’s at least 13″ x 13″

Here’s what you do:
First, make a template from the letter-sized piece of paper (that’s a regular 8-1/2 x 11 piece) Use scrap paper cause this isn’t going to be part of the finished product.

Just take the piece of paper and fold it in half “hamburger style.” The grab the outside corner and fold it back at an angle like this:

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Once the two sides are folded at the same angle, unfold the middle of the paper so it looks like the above picture. Now you have a template to make four identical sides for the light box.

I found a cardboard box in the garage that I could use to make the light box. I just traced the template on all four sides of the box and cut them out.

Then it was time to glue.

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I put one of the box sides on the counter and ran a line of glue near the edge, the stood another box piece on its side. I used a mason jar to support the box piece so I didn’t have to stand there with it.

I did this for two pair of sides:

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Then ran off to play with the kids for awhile. The glue needs to dry so just leave it in a place where it won’t be disturbed. If you have children and pets, check every now and then to make sure no one has disrupted the creation. I left mine for about an hour.

Once the pairs were ready, it was time to combine them, like so:

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More mason jars in action. The box will want to tip until the glue sets, so support the sides like this again and run off to play with kids. Or clean something if you want.

Once the glue was set I used duct tape to reinforce the connections, just in case. Just a little bit of duct tape like in the above photo.

Next it was time to make a piece of cardboard to seal up the back end of the box. I just tipped the light box over (once the glue was dry, of course) so the more narrow opening was down on a piece of cardboard. I traced around the light box so I had a nice square to cut out.

Then you need a hole in the center so the clamp light can go through. To make the whole, I just found the mid-point of the cardboard square, then guessed at the hole size. This is not exact science. Unless you don’t have any more spare cardboard. If you don’t, you might want to do a little measuring so you don’t waste your piece.

The end cap should look like this. I’ve also already added the lines of glue needed to secure the end cap to the light box.

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See how my pictures are turning out blurry with the crappy light in my kitchen? Maddening. I made the hole in my piece a little big so I just used some masking tape to make it slightly smaller.

To know how big the hole should be, you’ve got to take apart your clamp light. The big aluminum shade screws off the light ballast. The black ballast (the part that holds the light bulb) is what needs to go through the hole. You don’t have to remove the clamp – that will be on the outside of the box anyway. There’s a picture coming up of the ballast secured in the box top, but for now we just want to make sure the ballast will fit in there.

Anyway, now stand the light box up on the end cap to set the glue, like this:

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One last time… take off while the glue dries. Give it 30 minutes at least.

Once the glue is dry, do some more duct tape reinforcement between the box top and the sides. I add the tape on the inside and outside of the box.

Now the inside needs to be covered in aluminum foil so the light bounces around a bunch in the box. I used that same paper template from making the box sides to fold the aluminum foil before trying to secure it to the sides. It made it so much easier! Just lay the template down on the foil and fold:

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Now you can just slide the aluminum foil in the box without too much of a struggle. Once you’ve got a piece in place, pull it back a little and use some folded-over tape (homemade double-sided tape) to secure the aluminum foil down. You can also skip that and just tape the edges of the foil onto to inside of the lid. Also fold the foil over the outside edge and tape it down to the outsides of the light box. When you’re done it should look like this:

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Now you can put the black ballast from the clamp light into the hole and thread the aluminum shade (the one that came with the light) back on.

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Almost done! Put in the light bulb and plug in the clamp light to test that it works. If it does, we can move on to installing the shade (ie scrap of white fabric).

At this point you have a choice – you can secure the fabric with duct tape like I did or you can use Velcro like The Tip Toe Fairy did. I used duct tape because I don’t think I’ll ever change the light bulb in this baby (LED bulbs last for years). Plus this lamp isn’t anything pretty and I left lots of extra fabric so I could pull off the tape or even cut the fabric off if I really need to. There are pros and cons for both methods!

The fabric helps defuse the light so it isn’t as harsh and spreads over a broad area. Make sure the fabric you choose is clean and stain-free so you don’t have spots of shadow. Even the smallest stains can make noticeable shadows in your photos.. I used an old t-shirt. The front was stained, but not the back! So I cut out a sizeable piece – mine was 20″ x 20″ but you want at least 13″ square so there’s enough fabric to fold around the box opening and secure with duct tape (or with Velcro if you go that route).

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Now you can see how the ballast of the clamp light stick out of the box lid. It isn’t a pretty light but it does the job! Here it is in action:

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I love the clamp because I can secure it to my kitchen cabinets and change the angle until it’s just right. The light is small enough I can stash it away or just turn the shade around so I don’t splash it while I’m cooking. Things can get crazy in the kitchen!

So that’s how you make a soft light. Do make sure to read The Tip Toe Fairy’s tutorial so you have the background on where I’m coming from for my tutorial. I think it will really help. Unless you like to just wing it, in which case, go for it.

But wait, there’s more! I quickly discovered that the light alone is not enough. I also need a reflector to bounce light around within my shot, otherwise one side of my subject is in dark shadow. A reflector is 1000 times easier than the light box. Here’s how to do it.

DIY Photography Reflector

Here’s what you need:
Cardboard
Aluminum Foil
Clear tape

Here’s what you do:
Well if you’re me the first thing you would have done is photograph the cardboard before wrapping it up in aluminum foil… but this reflector was so easy to make that it was over and done before I thought to get out my camera! Oops! All I have is are photos of the finished product…

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Find another piece of scrap cardboard that’s in decent shape. It doesn’t have to be a specific size (mine isn’t even symmetrical!)  but ideally the cardboard already has a bend down the middle of it so it can stand up on its own. Tear off a couple sheets of aluminum foil that allow for about an inch of overlap around the sides of the cardboard.

Secure the overlapped edges of the sheets of aluminum foil to the back of the cardboard with any tape – it doesn’t have to be clear because the back won’t face your object. The clear tape is used to secure the sheets of aluminum foil to each other so it looks like one big sheet of aluminum foil.

Here it is standing up:

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A reflector can also be something as simple as a white piece of paper. Whatever you can find that will bounce light back unto your subject.

Here are a few test shots!

This one is without the light or reflector, just the lights on in my kitchen. See the harsh shadows and how it seems a little blurry?

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Just kitchen lights on

Next I turned off the kitchen lights and turned on the soft light, but I didn’t use the reflector. It looks so much more in focus! The shadows are less harsh but they’re dark.

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Just soft light on

And here’s the full set-up with kitchen lights off, soft light on and reflector in use. There’s very soft, light shadows and true color. I took all three of these photos with the exact same camera settings.

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Soft light + reflector

Now my pictures are much less frustrating to take because they don’t turn out blurry all the time! I can take one or two pictures instead of 10, trying to get just one that isn’t too blurry. This has cut down on my lunch prep time!

But wait… there’s still one more!

One of the first pictures I took with my new soft light was this:

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A loaf of the best gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free bread that I’ve made in the three months that I’ve been trying to make allergy-friendly bread. And I’ll be posting the recipe in just a few days! So go make your soft light and reflector and come back soon to learn more about bread!

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Eliminating Kitchen/Cleaning Paper

Yesterday I wrote all about my very first tie dye experience. I was inspired to tie dye because I really wanted to switch to cloth napkins, but I didn’t want some boring white ones. We have a blue kitchen and I saw some beautiful shibori on Pinterest, so I put all those thoughts together and I got the need to indigo dye some napkins!

This was a pretty cheap project, just $12 or so for the indigo and another $10 for a bundle of cloth napkins. Compare that to spending $5 or more every couple months on a bundle of paper towels and we’ll recoup our cost and start to save money in just a few short months. These cloth napkins should last us a lot longer than that!

We keep four napkins – one for each of us – hung up on hooks in the dining room for easy access. There are 12 napkins so we keep a napkin hung up between meals until it is in need of a washing. That way we aren’t over-washing them but we aren’t letting them get super gross either! I can only handle so much reusing, knowwhatImean?

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Ready for meal time!

So far the system is working out really well. We’ve stopped handing out paper towels before meals and have started tossing the cloth across the table.

It just feels nicer to use cloth. The napkins are bigger, they cover more of my lap while I eat. I feel more… refined? Even though they are hippie fun tie dye! I super highly recommend getting some. Even if they’re not hippie fun tie dye.

We have also changed up our kitchen cleaning routine a bit. I was pretty attached to cleaning wipes. You know the ones – little disposable baby-wipe like clothes that come pre-wet with a cleaning agent. I got the Seventh Generation ones and told myself, it’s cool, you’re being good to the Earth because of the brand. But I knew I was telling myself a fib. Just because they’re a little bit better than the toxic bleach ones doesn’t mean they’re perfect! I sought out a new system.

The thing about wipes is they’re so easy! When mess happens, just open the container and wipe away! Toss in the garbage like no mess ever happened. How could that ease possibly be replicated in something reusable?

Then I found my answer. Mr. Handsome was clearing out his old undershirts – the ones with holes, stains, etc. I had struck cheap cotton gold! After I procrastinated and finished up my “I swear this is the last container” of wipes (like three “last” containers), I triumphantly pulled out those t-shirts from the box I stashed them in and cut them up into squares about the size of those wipes I love. I saved two of the Seventh Generation containers and put my dry cloths in there for easy keeping. Those containers are great because they have a snap lid and they’re easy to carry all over the house.

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T-shirt rags in a jar

The only hurdle left was… how to I get the wet cleaning stuff into my cloth wipes? And just what is that cleaning stuff made of, anyway? I have no idea. And I don’t have time to research what Seventh Generation really uses (because you know they don’t put every ingredient on the packaging). So I went with a great natural, all-purpose cleaner: vinegar. I have a little spray bottle and I use it combine and hold about one part water and one part orange-infused vinegar. Now I spray down the counters, kitchen table, and stove top, wipe it all down with one or two of my rags and put the rags in the wash for next time. I have a ton of rags – they totally fill up my two containers (one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen).

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Infused vinegar: just put orange or lemon peels in a jar, fill with vinegar to cover the peels and wait a couple weeks. Replace the vinegar as you use it to keep it going for a couple months!

I literally have not missed the pre-soaked disposable wipes at all. If there’s a small mess it is no problem to pull out a t-shirt wipe and either use it dry or spray a bit of vinegar – either directly on the mess or on the wipe. If a wipe is super, duper soiled, I have the option of tossing it out because I have so many and a virtually (to me) endless supply of more wipes as my husband clears out his t-shirts every year or so. I never go through the whole container of wipes, no matter how messy things are.

One last thing we’ve done to reduce our paper use is to get some microfiber towels for cleaning. I have always used newspaper to wash my windows. It is the only lint-free way, right? Nope! There’s the magic of microfiber!

I got a set of 36 cloths in three colors. The colors help me organize by use. Here they are all organized and pretty in my linen closet:

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Their organized look makes me happy to open the linen closet!

I need to start using them in the kitchen to do things like polish the stainless steel appliances and faucet, but I haven’t gotten around to that chore yet. So far I’ve just used them on windows and mirrors and they’re fantastic! A bit of lint came off in my first couple uses but now they’re just about lint-free. I can use them on windows and mirrors with just water and they do a great job! For a little deeper clean, though, I use this awesome diy window cleaner I found on Crunchy Betty. See the site for the specific recipe, but it is vinegar, rubbing alcohol, water, and, get this – cornstarch! I thought the cornstarch would be all streaky but it is actually the opposite! My windows and mirrors have NEVER been more clean!

*Update/side note: I’ve learned that microfiber is actually made with polyester and other petrochemicals, so it isn’t very Earth-friendly.  However, they clean with only water (no harsh chemicals) and can be reused for years. Since I already have mine I’m going to use them for as long as I can. By then hopefully there will be something amazing and not crude oil-based.

So… the big question… are the paper towels totally gone?? Well… no. I still can’t get away from using them for some things. Killing an errant ant is at the top of my list at present. It is ant season and we get one or two on the counters some days. Also cleaning the very sticky fingers of the children… I haven’t gotten myself to use the t-shirt wipes on them yet but I totally should! With a little water they are the perfect face wipe – softer than paper towels I imagine. But the biggest reason I keep them around is grease. When we have a bit of bacon grease left in the bottom of a jar, the best way we’ve found to get it out is wiping it out with a paper towel. I don’t think that much grease is good for my washing machine… I have yet to find a full replacement for those dang towels. BUT we are using a less towels, and that’s less waste, less cost, less environmental impact from the production and distribution of the product. So still something to feel good about. We will find a way to eliminate them entirely someday. I’m open to suggestions!

The HOW (and the when)

Okay, after a couple days of updates and a break for Father’s Day, I’m back to the goal stuff.

The What and Why have been documented, and we know Who is doing this (me and my family!) and Where (at home and in our community) – all that is left is the How.

How am I going to be more productive and consume less?

The answer is… I have no idea! I’m new at this. I guess I’ll be finding out as I go? Well, that’s not entirely true, I have some ideas. Have I mentioned toothpaste?

But really, though, how do I produce more than I consume? I think I should start by being mindful, and encouraging mindfulness in my family. By mindful I mean that I should start looking at everything like I’ve been looking at toothpaste. I want to ask questions – What is this? What’s in it? How are the ingredients made? Where does it come from? Who created this?

Of course, I have to figure out how to encourage these questions from my family without being annoying. I have been kind of annoying to them lately. I mentioned that I’ve started changing our diet already. Well, I did some things kind of fast. No more white bread or white pasta – when enriched flour foods were gone I replaced them with whole wheat or I banned them (still trying to keep the Little Debbie-like shit from coming in my house but that’s a separate fight, and at least one that I don’t have to have often). No more Jello (I make some using fresh juice and grass-fed gelatin now). I added lots of veggies – veggies at every meal when before we had them only a couple times a week. Way less pasta – once a week for dinner and that’s it (and now it is only half the dinner instead of the whole thing). And the biggest one (but honestly seemed the easiest to implement when it was all said and done) – no more sugary cereals AND cereal is now just a “lazy day” breakfast. We now eat home-cooked breakfasts at least five days a week or more. Kiddo1 had cereal this morning (first day of summer!) for the first time in weeks. Trader Joe’s O’s, plain, with raw milk. Oh yes, our milk went from convention to organic to raw pretty quickly.

That’s not the annoying part. I’ve been telling them why I switch things when they ask, and how much bad stuff is in some of the things we’ve been eating. I try not to lay it on thick, I really do, but sometimes I get away from myself! I have also not allowed them much of a transition. I am trying not to swap out the whole pantry at once, but I will change the bread they get overnight. One day it was white, the next is was wheat and no matter how much they protested I did not go back. They’re actually lucky on this one – I’m still buying bread but I would like to do away with it all together. More on this later; it’s more complex than it sounds.

So I am not shy to tell them what they’ve been eating sucks and I’m not slow to take it away. I’m a “yank the band-aid off while they’re distracted” kind of nurse I guess.

I digress! Mindfulness! That’s all I’m trying to get at here. I need better ways to encourage mindfulness in my family, and I’m not sure what those are yet, but I know being more aware of what we’re eating and what we’re buying is going to be helpful.

Step 2… I also want to read whatever I can. Reading books and articles about what I’m doing helps. Reading will be a way for me to broaden my scope and skills. I’ve read a couple homemaking-related books since I started writing again last week (I’ve been sick, lots of time to lay around and read) and I’ll write reviews of those soon. I want to research homemaking, the art of domesticity, etc. I want to learn all those things our grandmothers knew – how to sew, how to clean, how to use all parts of a cow, how to raise chickens and garden year-round, etc.

Step 3… Community (this is the hardest one for me!). I need to get out of my house and find other people who feel the same way. I’d love to take a gardening class or find a mentor that will help me learn. I want to meet a local farmer that I can buy meat from today but maybe trade for meat when I have something of value. I want to meet folks who tinker with cars and would do anything for a few jars of the jam I make every year.

I’m sure there are more steps. Learn to try things without fear of failure. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Meditate. Turn off the TV more, put down my phone more. Talk about my goal with others. Write about my goal 2 or 3 or 5 or whatever times a week.

I think I really will be find out how to do this as I go. I’ll be sure to write it down though.

 

Oh wait! The When! I left out one question – when. I’ve actually been thinking about this one a lot this week.

Obviously I’m starting now, or I’ve already started I guess, but when am I done? Better yet, because I know I’ll never be “done,” when is my target to have the production-to-consumption scale emphatically tilted to producing?

I’ve been thinking about 9 years, mostly because of my blog’s namesake. Well I called this blog 9 years later because I started it to document my second pregnancy, which occurred 9 years after my first pregnancy. So, you know, gotta follow that up with something equally epic (which is impossible, I know, as nothing is as grand as having a child). Plus, this is, like, a really big goal. I’m talking Make. All. My. Shit. (Hahahaha – so I’m proofreading and just now realize how funny that last sentence sounds. So I can’t remove it.)

9 years from now I want to have the skills that will enable my family and me to be free. Free to live anywhere we want – stay in our current house and build on, or maybe move to a farm, move to another country if we felt like it. I want to be free to decide whether or not I will continue with conventional employment. Free to make decisions about our future that are not hindered by questions like where will our food come from and where will we buy X, because those things won’t be major players in the decisions any more.

I know it sounds like a lot. I know it is a really lofty goal. I know it could fall apart at any moment! There will be successes, there will be failures. I’ll probably give up from time to time, but that’s why the blog is here! Oh dear blog, please keep me motivated by making me accountable. I can’t promise to post my progress and not follow through, right? We’ll see.

More about my crazy goal

Day Two! In a row! I came back, dear blog, and I will try to keep coming back.

Today I’ve got my goal on my mind. Yesterday I stated it, and then promptly drank too much wine celebrating it. I’m on a wine kick (red, the darker the better). But if I drink too much of it I wake up with a headache. Today my head has been hurting all. day. Anyway…

Here’s the goal: make more than we (as a household) consume.

Aren’t the most complex things sometimes wrapped up in the most simple packages? Five words (if you don’t count the stuff in the parenthesis), but they could take so many directions. What do those five words mean to me? Like I said, they don’t (necessarily) mean I’m quitting my job and opening a shop where I knit and blow glass and shit*. They don’t mean that I’m halting consumption either – some things just can’t go away (like wine**).

Let’s go back to what I’m working on already: eating better, growing food, making stuff over buying stuff. Like I called out yesterday, that last one has some good meat in it. Not making things for the sake of making them but making them instead of buying them. I started making my own toothpaste a couple months ago. It took about a week month of getting used to the new taste and texture, but now I love it (and my mouth feels so clean! All the time!). I have yet to get the rest of the family to make the switch though. But soon the Crest will run out… and that’s when I pounce! I think. I don’t have a clear strategy for converting them yet.

What is the point of making my own toothpaste? It isn’t like I don’t have the steady income from my job – I can drive myself to Tar-jay and buy some toothpaste. But lately I’ve become more… aware? Or am I just curious? Regardless, do you know about all the shit they put in toothpaste? And fluoride… I’ve always been skeptical (and was a supporter of Portland’s push to not fluoridate water last year), but after some recent fluoride news, I just can’t feel right about putting that in my family’s bodies (even if they do spit it out). The point I’m trying to make is – why should I buy toothpaste with a bunch of crap in it when I can relatively easily and hella cheaply make our own?

And why the fuck do “they” have to put so much crap in toothpaste??? Corporations aren’t looking out for their consumers’ interests in the slightest (this is not a new revelation to me, I know they are in the business of making money, it’s more like a clarification – not only do these corporations that make this shit want to profit above all else but they don’t even care if people are hurt because of their irresponsible practices).

The toothpaste point is, this goal isn’t about making stuff just to save money. It’s isn’t about figuring out how to making money in an unconventional way and it isn’t really even about saving money (although that is certainly a very fantastic by-product of being a producing household!). It’s about… the opposite of money: learning skills, finding non-corporate resources, carrying for my family with my own two hands and contributing to my community’s body of support. It’s about becoming aware of the shit that is in the shit the corporations want us to buy and… not buying it. Ignoring their noise entirely.

I digress. I’m totally going off on “the man” and that wasn’t my intent with this post. Buuuuuut, I’m kinda out of time for today. We’ll have to get to more logistics tomorrow. I think this is going to be a pretty lucid blog. I’m documenting my thoughts, sometimes thoughts I’ve already thought and sometimes thoughts that come to me as I’m writing down my thoughts! No more sentences like that though. 🙂

 

* Not that I wouldn’t do those things, because I totally would. They’re just not the focus right now.
** This is a bad example; I could totally make my own wine. I should! A better example would be…. paper. Silverware. Garden tools. Shoes. I’m overwhelming myself now, thinking about how I can make ALL THE THINGS.