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Goal Update – New Phases

There have been so many things on my mind lately it has been hard to post! As soon as I settle on one topic I’m distracted by another.

I deal with distraction by making lists, so I’ve decided to update my Goal Phases page (tab at the top of this screen). I started the page to try to organize all the things I want to learn as part of my self-sustaining goal.

Now the list on the page is helping me to focus on just a few areas at a time. Lately I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to learn and I’ve gotten a little overwhelmed! But if I step back and recall that I’ve set a nine-year timeline, then I can break up my time into segments and feel a little more relaxed.

I’ve realized that this whole year I’ve spent most of my time learning about foods that the best for my family’s health and how to cook those foods. So that is my official focus for 2014… which I do realize is almost over. But I’ve learned so much about food this year so it’s okay that I’m just now applying the label. I’ve been focusing on this goal already without even realizing it!

So by the end of this year, just 6 or 7 weeks away, I hope to know enough about food that I can cook whatever we manage to bring home without too much stress. I’ve learned to cook a lot of things this year: I’ve learned the difference between cooking convensional beef vs grass-fed, I’ve learned how to cook a variety of winter squash (never had cooked a squash before this year!), I’ve learned how to chop an onion, how to properly hold a chef’s knife, substitutes for wheat flour and eggs, how to use a pressure cooker, how to cook in cast iron, how to lacto ferment vegetables, and way more than I ever thought I’d need to learn!

Cooking isn’t just proper use of ingredients and equipment. It’s also meal planning and shopping. So by the end of the year I’d like to have my planning and shopping systems in place well enough that I don’t have to think about them as much as I do now. Right now I spend about two hours planning meals and snacks for the week. I can’ keep spending that much time on it so I keep tweaking my planning system. I’m still using my meal planning template – that is actually working really well for me still. Coming up with ideas for what to eat is always the most difficult, so I’m working on a sort of “map” to give me fresh ideas each week. It has themed days, lists of healthy foods, and other things to trigger my brain and make planning fast. When it is more complete I promise to share it!

We spend a good amount of time on shopping for foods, too. We spend so much time partly because my planning isn’t 100% yet so every few days I realize we’re out of something and we have to go replenish supplies. I’m getting really close to only shopping once a week, but not quite there yet.

Part of planning better shopping is having a really good handle on what we actually use each week/month. So I’m working on tracking our consumption habits so I can better prepare for how much of something we’ll need to get. It’d be so much better to get say… granola only once a month and get it at a discount because we ordered five pounds.

So lots of cooking and food-related work still to do this year! But I feel like we’ve come a long way! We are WAY less reliant on standard consumer fare in order to get ourselves fed and that really is the goal here isn’t it! As long as we have ingredients and some tools, we can make ourselves a good dinner.

Once the year is over though, it’s not like I’ve totally mastered cooking. Like many life skills it requires lots of practice and a thirst for knowledge in order to keep skills sharp. So I’ll still be reading cookbooks and perusing the internet for cooking smarts in 2015 and beyond. But, I’ll try to make it less of an obsession.

In 2015 I’ll attempt to move on to a new obsession, which is to grow a lot more of the food we eat. We had a decent first year of gardening in 2014, but we need to step it up a lot in order to call ourselves self-sufficient.

For the future phases beyond next year, see the new page at the top of this screen. I will update it often!

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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:
 photo 0001739834703_500X500_zps7905789e.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.11.46_zpsessbagrg.jpg

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.

 photo 2014-10-21 22.13.40_zpsxdtnult2.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.14.24_zps9vblvk16.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.15.19_zpssezsjqns.jpg

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.

 photo 2014-10-21 22.16.04_zpsvqg777td.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.16.49_zpsod8gsj2l.jpg

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:

 photo 6db10363-f74e-4d56-97cc-54bd03366a22_zps4f98a460.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.19.13_zpsvnwtdqm1.jpg

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.

 photo 2014-10-21 22.20.26_zps6n7bjllb.jpg

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).

 photo 2014-10-21 22.23.03_zpsef31sxtd.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-21 22.24.56_zpscyrqqwhh.jpg

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…

 photo 20141022_143603_zpsmrnsep5r.jpg

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:

 photo 2014-10-22 14.43.12_zpswlhpl195.jpg

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?

 photo 2014-10-22 14.44.11_zpswrw8xh72.jpg

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.

 photo 2014-10-22 14.44.54_zpsht8fpsj1.jpg

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.

 photo 2014-10-22 14.46.15_zpsqp4wjmfn.jpg

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!