Friday, December 28, 2012

And now a word from the boss

As 2012 draws to an end, mum said I could have another guest appearance on her blog. Her blog?? It's got my picture on it not hers!! She wasn't too happy when she found out I'd hacked her account last time, but she eventually saw the funny side.

Mum's been a bit sad lately, because she keeps hearing about other dogs who have passed on. I think she's getting in practice for when I go, because let's face it, those stairs can be a bit of an effort for an old girl like me, and mum notices these things and gets mighty upset. When I have bad days, when the old arthritis gives me the gyps, she even cries!! I give her a bit of a lick and try and comfort her a little, but mostly, I just climb up on the spare bed downstairs and snooze the day away.

We don't go for many walks anymore, which kind of pisses me off, because I like the beach lots. My favourite thing is rolling on my back in the wet sand, here's a video:
Of course sometimes I do get a bit sore if I overdo it, but I'm pretty cruisy these days, just stroll along taking my time, checking the smells and tree mail. Mum tries to get me to go swimming, but I'm pretty wise to that one and run away. Trouble is, she's too wily for me, and she ends up tricking me by catching me, carrying me in to the water and then holding onto my hips while I try to swim back into shore. And she has the nerve to call it physiotherapy. More like humiliation!!

Because I'm such a slow coach, mum's taken to disappearing every morning while I'm still sleeping and going running by herself. I was pissed off at first, but now I just enjoy the sleep in, and when she returns I lazily stir, and think, "oh, been out exercising have you?" and go back to sleep. Aah the life!

Because of the gammy hips, mum's been taking me to the vet, which I hate, for injections and medicine. I admit they help, but mum has to force me in through those doors. I mean the place smells horrid, they seem to delight in sticking things up my arse, and they are far too stingy with the liver treats!! I'm a centenarian, give me some respect!!

Talking about respect, I've got a new little nipper causing me a few headaches. My mates next door, the gang that I stay with when mum goes away and whose verandah I like to sit on most days, have gone and got themselves a new puppy. I was pretty annoyed at first, so I chewed a shoe just to let them know my feelings, and then they went and put up the gates and locked me out!! Guess I shouldn't have chewed the shoe after all....

Maggie's not a bad young thing. She's small enough I could probably eat her in two mouthfuls, and although she persists in jumping all over me, especially jumping up in my face which is incredibly annoying, I'm being the older stateswoman. I've given her a couple of little growls, but mostly I'm just ignoring her. We've played down the beach a few times - she quite enjoys the meandering smelling game too - we've chewed a few sticks together, and she's even been over here a few times while the gang are out. Let's just say, I'm tolerating her youthful exuberance! And teaching her who's boss. Besides, I don't think she's that smart, she'll need someone like me to teach her the ropes.

Mum didn't take me camping down at Coros this year, which I don't really mind. It's nice and cool on the tiled floor in the bathroom, or downstairs on the spare bed, and these days I find I don't cope too well with the heat. Boy it's a bummer getting old!

Anyway, that's enough of my banging on about all my aches and pains. Mum didn't think I'd make it through to this summer, but here I am, still in good nick and loving life. I want to wish you all a happy 2013, when I'll be turning 15 and planning on keeping mum happy too. But you know, whatever happens happens, and it's so important to be thankful for what you've got. And I've got the best mum evah!!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Regaining inspiration

The great joy of all this time off is being able to indulge my creative side. I may be a boring old scientific type in my day job, but I'm also quite an artistic soul as well. I love arranging objects and stuff into pleasing arrangements, and finding new uses for discarded junk. I used to subscribe to quite a few house and garden magazines for inspiration, but for a long time I haven't really found the time to even look at these things online.

Many years ago I was heavily into videography, particularly underwater video, and got pretty good at it. But I never upgraded to HD, and also never finished editing all that footage into something watchable. It's something I intend to revisit, especially those clips that I can now recompress to a larger file size for better quality online viewing. And then there's the small matter of the five hours of African Safari footage......

Before video, I was into photography, back in the day before digital. I still have a film SLR camera and have recently unearthed it, ordered a new battery and some film, and intend to muck around a little with it. Why bother, you ask, when I also have 2 digital SLR cameras and a slew of lenses (most fit the film SLR also!) would I bother with film? And why did I just buy a Holga camera for Xmas??

The answer is inspiration, mainly gained through following a podcast and online masterclasses run by an American chap, Ted Forbes, called Art of Photography. He's not about gear and equipment, but getting you to be inspired, to think about what sort of photos you want to take, and to step back from the shotgun approach that digital photography inevitably leads to. I like his honesty, his knowledge, and the fact that the site is not just a front for sponsored advertisements. Check it out.

Anyway, I've been going through the archived Masterclasses and have found the exercises really inspiring, so in this post I'm going to show you what I went through in trying to get a shot I wanted. None of the shots I'll show you have had any post production editing, and yes, they are all taken on a digital SLR.

So the exercise was to pick an object, and spend at least an hour trying to find a way to make a really good shot, something unique or unexpected. Think about mood, lighting, setting, motion, what to add, what to take away, and both write down ideas in a journal as well as actually take shots with the camera.

I chose my Canon EOS 50D SLR with my 60mm EFS macro lens, to take a picture of a toy car. I mounted the camera on a tripod, and I used lighting from a LED desk lamp. The photos were taken at night.

The toy car is a Trabant 601, which was a classic car in East Germany back in the 1980s. It ran with a two stroke engine, sounded like a souped up lawnmower, and spewed dirty pollution everywhere. It was an archetypical symbol of Cold War communist Europe. I'd picked up my toy car in Berlin when I visited in summer 1990, and had strong, if not totally fond, memories of these little cars chugging up behind me as I cycled through the recently liberated East German countryside. My toy came mounted in a box commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall in Nov 1989, but I threw away the box years ago.

The idea was to photograph the car juxtaposed with a symbol of the commercial capitalist society of today, and what else could symbolise this better than the Apple logo? Great concept, just got to realise it.

I started by taking photos of the Trabi sitting on the surface of my Apple MacBook Air. I tried lots of different angles, lighting directions, and aperture settings and although I was happy with some of the shots of the car, I couldn't get the Apple logo to stand out the way I wanted. And without that, well it just looked like a picture of a car right?

It took me a while to realise that one big problem was that the silver top of the MacBook was reflecting far too much light back onto the composition and adversely affecting the exposures and hence the contrast. Even with exposure compensation I was blowing too many highlights. What could I use instead?

My iPhone of course! With its black shiny back it was the perfect foil, and so I took a few more shots but still felt I wasn't really getting much more than a picture of a car, plus I hadn't quite managed to get the logo into shot.

So I decided to turn the iPhone on its side and use it as a backdrop. Then I noticed the reflection of the car in the black screen, so I took a few shots of car plus reflection, and then the Eureka moment happened.

I didn't need to photograph the car at all.

Only its reflection!!

So here it is. Shot at f22 for a 30 second exposure. The only lighting is from a LED desk lamp coming from about 11 o'clock, i.e. upper left side. The phone is angled back diagonally, in order not to get the reflection of the camera in shot, but also to achieve the desired focal depth of field. You'll also notice, if you compare it with the photo just above, I masked the reflection of writing (a telephone book) by popping a piece of white paper in front of the book.

What I love about this photo is it actually looks like a modern cover for an iPhone, but it's not! I love that the car isn't quite in focus although the Apple logo and writing are perfectly clear and the car fits well between them. I like how the right hand side of the phone is out of shot and the shadow of the car also extends off shot, as if the car really might be just driving through. I also love the lighting, very moody and film noir, it creates for me the imagery of cold war Europe, clandestine spies and all that! The background has worked out really well, with the shadowy lines looking like they just might be buildings or something - in fact it's the bars from the top of the staircase where my desk resides in a little nook.

I've really enjoyed this little exercise and I have Ted and his podcast to thank for it. It's inspired me to take my time thinking about taking good shots, by spending the time composing and experimenting rather than just shooting and seeing. And I've dusted off the film camera as well!

I hope this inspires others to have a go doing this exercise, it's alot of fun. And I'd love people to leave comments about what they think about this photo.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Garden notes, Dec 2012

One of the most enjoyable things about not working has been nurturing the vege garden, and eating the fruits of my labour. It's awesome being able to walk outside and pick what I'm having for each meal. Add eggs, or some chick peas or lentils and rice, and that's it. Sure I have to buy in dry goods groceries, but mostly, I'm eating out of the garden.

Let me show you around what's growing right now.

The eggplant (aubergine) plants are fruiting nicely. The other night I made a baked eggplant dish with onion, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, star anise, paprika and chickpeas. I quickly rushed outside to snip a capsicum off the bush to add a crunchy bit of greenery. Yummo!

I've quite a few self seeded pumpkin plants this year, due to my previous habit of throwing out the seeds in the compost. These days I dry fry the seeds with salt and spices for a very yummy snack, or add them to another dish: last night it was baked pumpkin with chickpeas and quite a bit of chilli. I've just seen a nice pumpkin and lentil curry soup recipe, so I think I'll make that this weekend.
 My love of asian food means I grow quite a few asian herbs, spices and veges. I'll take you on a bit of a tour:

This is kangkung, or water spinach. I bought some from the farmers markets, kept back a few stalks and planted them in a pot, which then sits in another tub full of water. Once the pond is up and running I'll pop it in there. There are a few mossie wrigglers in the tub at present, just waiting for a promised donation of a goldfish to turn up to decimate them!

I bought a mixed seedling pack of different chilli varieties a year or so ago, and some have done well, others not so. I've actually forgotten what's what, so my chilli dishes are often more, or less, hot than I'm expecting. Even with my usual chilli input of at least two per dish, I'm more often disappointed in the lack of heat than the other way around. My chilli palate is so far outside the realm of almost anyone I know that I usually only serve chillies on the side when I have guests. Anyway, with all those chillis in the garden I've got even more self seeding and new plants popping up all over the place.

Lemongrass is one of my favourite herbs, but must be foreign to Estonian house sitters, because all four plants had disappeared when I returned from New Zealand, I presume pulled out as weeds. Luckily, due to an ongoing divide and share policy with the lemongrass plant from next door, I now have a new plant thriving.

The Kaffir lime is putting on more leaves, but I've had to spray it for citrus leaf miner, which does dreadful damage if not kept under control. I found a biological oil to use rather than petroleum. No sign of fruiting yet though.

While we're on fruit, the dragon fruit plants are all thriving. I think next year should be my first year to expect fruit. Although the fruit look great, they don't really taste of much, which is a pity, but I love the plant itself for its architectural beauty regardless. I've got both red and white fruit plants growing, lets see which delivers first!

The mango is liking its spot in the front yard. It's a more practical position than up in the backyard because I can nurture and protect it from the winds and pests. It had a touch of scale which needed some removing and spraying too. New growth this week, so I'm happy.

The asparagus is over for the year. A small crop this season saw me having a few asparagus and chive omelettes for breakfast. Am hoping for a much bigger supply next year.

By the time I got back from NZ the spinach had all gone to seed, so I collected it, and planted out some. I plan to do successive plantings over the next few months and get some greenery for salads. If I grow it in the shadier spots, hopefully it will survive long enough.

I planted a few more carrots when I got home in September, but am still harvesting from a crop sown earlier this year. The quality and taste of home grown carrots is by far superior to anything you buy in a shop. And you get some pretty whacky shapes as well!!

I'm between tomato crops at present, with lots of new self seeded plants popping up here and there and being transplanted into position. I've a few older plants which have only green fruit at present, so I should be back in supplies in a couple of weeks.

I've one surviving zucchini plant, which is being a little slack at producing fruit, so I may need to get out the paintbrush and do some fertilising. Given the amount of insects in my garden it's surprising that I'd have to resort to this, but I do love a zucchini and mushroom quiche...

I've lettuce plants coming out my ears. Most have gone to seed, and I'll be deadheading and collecting seed this weekend. Again, successive seeding seems to be the best approach.

I'm trying cucumbers again. The growers at the market have advised me to only grow them in shade, apparently they just curl up in the sun. I've grown them before, but can't remember whether they were well shaded or not, so we'll see how they go, as my shade moves throughout the day.

Last week I planted watermelon seeds, and the little seedlings have emerged. They're a variety that produces small fruits that fit nicely in the fridge veg drawer, so I'm looking forward to them in a few months.
I've recently struck some mint cuttings, again from herbs bought at the market so, along with my myriad supplies of Italian parsley, I shall be eating Tabouli forever! I also have okra seeds, one of my favourite vegetables for adding to curries so they shall be sown this weekend also.

I've not yet resurrected the chook run to make it safe against fox attacks and get some new hens, so I'm still buying eggs. They're local free range eggs from up the road, so I'm at least doing the right thing ethically. But hopefully by this time next year I'll have chooks again, and my own eggs.

Anyway, it's lunchtime, time to go enjoy some home grown food! Bon appetit!!