Monday, December 27, 2010

Favorite Droid apps of 2010


I love my Droid for its apps, no question. I check Market every few weeks, as new apps are coming in all the time.  Some apps have stayed on my phone, some come and go.  If you got a new Android-based phone for the holidays or new year, start loading it up!  Most come with a large SD card (mine is 16gb) and many apps can be stored on the card.  The apps that I seem to only use once or twice, especially the ones that are larger than 5mb, I usually wind up removing.  Apps that access large directories (like cookbook apps) can also use up too much space, so go into Settings, Applications, and Manage Applications to drop some when it's time to make room for more.  Because of this ADD-mentality I have for apps, I typically only download the free ones- another great Droid feature, free!


Apps I can't live without:
Advanced Task Killer - there are several versions of this and I've tried three, but it was one of the first things the Verizon rep told me upon buying it in the store; the apps drain the battery, so "killing" them every so often is a good idea.  The problem now however is that many apps are programed to run constantly (if updating weather information, running the GPS, etc) so it's almost impossible to have all programs off, ever. If there was a true battery booster app, we'd all buy one. Don't fall for those, there aren't any that truly boost the battery, at least that I've found.
Easy Tether - I no longer worry about wifi or a network card, ET turns my Droid into a modem, as fast or faster than many wifi locations I've seen on the road.  Great with Verizon, since "we have the largest network."   But not so great if you don't have any "bars."
Where's my Droid - This one is a no brainer if you misplace your phone often, but even better, read a recent post about how it can save your life in the backcountry.

Great Outdoor Apps:
Altitude Free - simple free altimeter app
Compass - works off satellites so it's always got a good signal
Google Sky - Longest running app on my phone, this one's great for camping, driving, wondering where the Moon is behind a veil of clouds, or finding your way in the woods if you're that good. Kids love this one too.
Journey Tracker - love this one for trail hiking without a topo.  Bring the final result into your computer for a detailed tracking of your whereabouts.
Maps - A no brainer, this app is a fave for many reasons, many many many reasons. To many to name them all, but ditch your stigmas of self-navigation skills and call yourself a master with this one. 
Ski Report- Favorite app of the ski season for sure- absolutely great information, up to date, with local ski area cams. Awesome for checking the state's latest snowfalls as well.
WeatherBug - I've tried many weather apps from Weather.com to Weather Underground and while I do still keep my Weather Buddy from Wunderground.com, I still like the extra mobile features of Weatherbug the best, such as the constant temperature update in the status bar, the rotating wind compass, the great satellite, and weather alerts updates.

Great Travel Apps: 
Books - if you don't mind reading on a small screen
FlightView - check your flight's status or any flight status by flight # or routeMy Sunset Finder - great photographers magic-hour tool
Maps - imperative, and standard on all Google phones
Navigation - also imperative, and awesome for features like walking directions, search nearby, or voice-directions for driving. Flaw: drains the battery faster than it can charge it in the car.
Places - great for locating restaurants, coffee shops, bars, hotels, gas stations, etc., and it offers star ratings, mileage distance from your location, hours of operation, and connects to Navigation for walking directions. Handy.
Point Inside - stuff that's not on a map- malls, airports, etc., but since I don't frequent malls, I use this one for airport terminals and locating the best lunch option on a short layover.  Finds your location and offers all mall/airport-type venues and their contents inside.
Taxi Magic - this one's huge- text your location and get a pickup time and price back almost immediately. 
Translator - has a long list of languages and translates words, sentences, or paragraphs from or to English.
Tripit - I started using this app on the computer first, but love its mobile version just as much. Updates on flights if you pay for the frequent traveler features, but when the airlines start having their own on Droid, I'll be looking to them for my mobile updates and ticket scanning. Right now iPhone has the corner on that market so I haven't used the ticket scanner yet, but plan to the next time I fly United.

Other Great Apps:
Droid Light - serves as an amazingly bright flashlight and doesn't turn off until you tell it to. 
Earth - Mobile Google Earth, purely entertainment, as Maps has a topographic view feature.
IMDB - Movie buffs, this one's a must for solving those must-answer questions, arguments, and blanks.
PrinterShare - Like a fax, but better. Find any printer by their IP address and send.
SteamyWindow - nuff said.
Word of the Day - for language lovers who are out of practice, this one comes in all languages.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Favorite Holiday Recipes part 2

As stated last week, I have been reorganizing my recipes this year and found four great ones to share for holiday surprises for friends. View last week's post for the first two: Peanut Brittle and Pumpkin Seeds.

Two additional easy sweet gift ideas:

Rachel Ray's 5 Minute Fudge
Ingredients
12 oz chocolate chips
8 oz butterscotch chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts and/or dried currants/cranberries/cherries

Directions
Dump all ingredients except nuts and currants into a heavy-bottomed warmed pot over low heat and stir until soft.  Once fully melted, add nuts and currants and pour into a round, greased, Angel Food Cake pan.  Don't smooth out the top, and put in fridge to set for 30 minutes.  Pull out and cut into pieces.
Wrap and give!



Frozen Lemon  Mousee (GREAT for warmer climates seeking winter-y goodies!)
Ingredients
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream


Directions
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan combine lemon juice, yolks, and sugar. Cook, stirring, over medium-low heat, until mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer into large bowl to remove any lumps. Add the  butter and stir until melted.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the mixture to eliminate any air bubbles. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream to form stiff peaks.  Fold in cream into chilled mixture until well combined.  Divide into a small-muffin tin with paper liners and freeze. 
Wrap and give, bring to parties. Keep frozen.


Happy Holidays from the Elven Idea Factory!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Favorite Holiday Recipes

Last year I drafted a four-part Elven Idea Factory series for making your own holiday presents, take a peek back for recipes of Irish cream, salsa, biscotti, bathcookies, and more.

This year I sorted through 3 years of recipe gathering and reduced my huge binder of sloppy recipes to a medium sized reusable gift box, making my recipes both easier to find and easier to use. I didn't know why a binder wasn't easier to use when I created it, it takes up a lot of counter space, gets spilled on, and the sheets pull out of the hole punch too easily... I switched back to mom's method of using old fashioned "index cards" so I can pull several recipes out at once (realized this was key during the holidays!) AND they're small enough for a  magnet to hold them to the metal stove hood while in use. No spills, and at eye level! Great new system. 

In sorting through the mess, I found four of my favorite holiday recipes to share with you, to wrap and share with your friends and family as a last minute holiday gifty!   Here are the first two:

EasyPeasy Peanut Brittle
Ingredients
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup peanuts
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon baking soda
    (I frequently double this recipe during the holidays for better sharing)
    (have butter and soda portioned out ahead of time)

Tools
2 quart saucepan
Wooden spoon
Cookie sheet
Candy thermometer (a must!)

Two forks

Directions
Grease a large cookie sheet, set aside.
In saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water.  Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F.
Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With two forks, lift and pull apart the mixture to cover entire cookie sheet in a thin layer. 
Cool, snap into candy pieces.
Wrap, and give!



Martha Stewart's Sweet-Tooth Pumpkin Seeds
Ingredients
Seeds from one large pumpkin, washed and dried briefly. 
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon of each:
   salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger
Pinch of cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 250, and bake seeds dry and plain for one hour.


Combine spices and 3T. sugar in bowl. Set aside.
Heat oil over high heat until hot, add seeds and remaining 2T of sugar.
Cook until sugar melts and seeds caramelize (45-60 seconds)
Transfer to bowl with spices and mix well.
Bag in small baggies and give!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photography 201: Photographer's Holiday Wish List

A big part of Photography 201 is adding accessories and beefing up your photography inventory... here's the shortlist of what's inside my pack and on my Holiday wish list this year...

I currently own a little Canon Rebel Xsi that is lightweight for skiing and hiking with, and have two lenses, 18-55mm and 75-300mm.

The first accessories I purchase for a new body are extra memory cards, and then get lens filters, cap keepers, and hoods (I prefer the flexible ones over the rigid version for price and damage control) for all my lenses.  Swapping out one set of each accessory between two or three lenses just gets old, really quick, so stock up.  Lenses also don't always come with lens bags, so finding padded bags or a divided camera bag/backpack is also a must-have. 

The next addition to my current setup was an angling external flash/speedlight with a white reflector. The on-camera flashes for any body, DSLR or point-and-shoot, are weak, too close to the lens, and not dynamic enough in size or angling to take a great night portrait.  The angle-action is the key to good photographs (bouncing light), and ones with swivel are even better, although I suggest you start with just one angle, and progress as you learn the techniques of bouncing light.   I have the Nissan Di466, which came with a stand as well for using it off-camera (in "slave" mode).  It's only downfall is the battery usage, and it drains a set of 4 in 5 hours (and they come out smokin' hot). To save on usage I take the batteries out when the speedlight isn't in use, and have found that unfortunately it doesn't run well on rechargeables.

The next thing I purchased for my camera body was a battery grip, which adds an extra battery slot (must also be purchased) in a side-mount grip with side controls for shooting portrait.  It adds weight, but well worth it for the extra juice on a long shoot, as well as the speedier shutter for action and sequence shots.  Save yourself the mark-up dough and buy a secondary brand for this one. I bought Zeikos, and what I like about this one is that it comes with both the Canon standard battery pack, and an alternative AA (6) battery pack, great for a great backup (although as with the speedlight, it doesn't run well on rechargeables).


Camera straps are also a must-have upgrade, I'm currently looking at this inexpensive posture-saver, the RS-5.  In a line of handy and comfortable options, the RS-5 excels for its 3-layer storage unit on the shoulder.  But they all have the bumper to keep the strap in place, and all help the posture with that side-sling action. The shoulder storage includes a top, phone-sized pocket with silent flap, a long, flat pocket for memory cards or batteries, and a flat, zippered pocket against the shoulder which can be used for lenses, caps, granola bars, etc. My only dislike of it is that it's boring old black.  So if you can skip the shoulder padding and storage, check out the lady-like designs at Jodie's.  Many photographers love them (below).


Once you're packing in the clients, upgrading lenses is everyone's constant expense it seems.  Lenses keep improving, and they aren't cheap.  This is one area where spending the extra for the name brand is probably worth it, although Leika, Sigma, and Tamron seem to get high reviews.  Covering all your distances (such as right now I'm missing the 55-75mm range) is a good place to start, as is an all-in-one lens like a 18-200. Those are heavy and not as fast-acting, however, and if you're unsure, I have a great place I just found out about to rent them and test them out.  Visit LensRentals.com, they're really inexpensive and I plan on renting a telephoto- the 70-200 f/2.8L - for our January ski camp.  I tested it at the Canon workshop I took in October and loved its speed, weight, and results.

Last, once you start upgrading with additional camera bodies and multiple lenses, don't forget to add personal property insurance through your home insurance agent.

Please, share your favorite camera accessories in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Nissan Leaf - Green Car Vision Award 2010

I watched a movie last year called "Who Killed the Electric Car," and have carried around a pit in my stomach about it since then. Perhaps electric isn't the way to go, but why would someone eliminate possibilities?  Two weeks ago I watched "Fuel," which was far more educational and enlightening than "Who Killed...", but it still offered up some conspiracies about Henry Ford and his Ethanol cars during the prohibition era that shocked me. My head flooded with other theories about all those who have suffered death or torture in contradicting the oil industry over the last 100 years. And as a green enthusiast since the early 90s when I turned of voting age, I have spent the last two decades wondering, when, if ever, will things change?

Then I saw Nissan's latest commercial. A polar bear is lounging on a last chunk of ice in the glacier melt.  He jumps off and swims south, then walks further south, past what is obviously the Alaskan-Canadian-Pacific Northwest coast, down to, presumably, California.  He trots up to a little blue car, stands on his hinds, and hugs the driver, who is just about to get into his Nissan Leaf.  The ad reads "Nissan's first Electric Car."

WHAT?

Electric car? Wait a minute, Big Oil killed the Electric Car, I watched it all.

But no. Nissan fights back with the Leaf, and Green Car Journal Editors awarded it the 2010 Green Car Vision Award at the Washington Auto Show in the spring, and it hit the lots shortly after.

The Leaf is truly visionary.  But it's not alone.  The Ford Focus went electric (Henry would be proud), Mercedes-Benz released a hydrogen fuel vehicle, and the Toyota Prius hybrid just went plug-in as well. I am astounded by the progress and innovation this year in the automobile industry.

But some questions remain.

1. Is zero emissions a good trade-off for plugging into the grid?  General consumers are not yet taught to alter where their energy is coming from, and while Nissan claims that the upfront cost and monthly electric bills are comparable to a traditional combustion vehicle and its cost of gasoline, are consumers thinking about where that electricity is coming from?  Is coal a good tradeoff for oil? Perhaps not, but it seems like a good temporary detour.

2. When will the government subsidize these alternative vehicles, like Germany did, in order to encourage the transition away from oil?  If these alternative options stay at $25,000 and above for a new vehicle, the general public won't buy them. When the administration launched "Cash for Clunkers," they never encouraged alternative fuel options, and most consumers chose guzzlers like Hummers and Tahoes over hybrids.

3. Where are these cars being made?  Consumers are also not yet fully aware that when purchases come from abroad, they come with a hefty carbon footprint already.  No matter how small the item's future footprint is, is that sensible? Does America still hope to support itself on Chinese industry?  Do the rigs who bring cars here run on diesel?  Do most people even know who Rudolf Diesel was?

Heck, are cars even our future?  Sometimes you just have to stop asking questions though and support progress.  Either way, way to go Nissan for its award in excellence and ingenuity this year. I want one!  My husband is still holding out for his Porche911. Luckily that just went hybrid too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Greening up your Holidays


This past Tuesday the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council hosted its monthly Talking Green event on "Greening Up Your Holidays," and I spent several days gathering tips in many categories to present on.  I thought I'd post it here as well, enjoy!

Halloween Costumes
  • Buy face paints and lipstick without lead, nickel, cobalt, chromium, which can affect brain development cosmeticsdatabase.com
  • Buy safe nail polish from Skin Deep
  • Avoid powder cosmetics which can affect the lungs
  • Skip the hairspray which have toxic chemicals
  • Use non-paraffin (petroleum based) and non-scented candles for cleaner air
  • Create low-impact costumes (used, homemade, etc), or host your own costume swap
Food
  • If hosting larger parties, see our Zero Waste Event Guidelines
  • Compost all food waste
  • Use paper bags instead of plastic for baking the turkey
  • Replace canned ingredients with local foods with minimal travel distance for reducing carbon footprint
  • Buy organic to reduce intake of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and radiation
  • Use reusable cutlery and plates instead of paper or plastic
  • If you must put out non-reusable cutlery and plates, purchase compostable ones and schedule a pickup from Twin Enviro (or your local composter) after the holidays
  • Clean and recycle your used aluminum foil
  • Rinse and recycle liquor bottles
  • Use the crock-pot where possible for less energy usage
  • Reduce energy consumption by only using the large burners for large pots
  • Keep your burners clean, spots on burners can increase energy needed to heat
  • Stop using the disposal and decrease your carbon footprint- this waste goes to a water treatment plant, then the solids get sifted out and trucked to a landfill.
  • Use green or homemade cleaners

 Gift Giving
  • Use recycled papers and papers that can be recycled
  • Even better, use reusable gift bags and boxes, cloth, or newspaper
  • Start a re-gift pile of all the gifts you will not use but don’t want to throw away
  • Purchase local gifts to support the local economy
  • Replace secret Santa game with toys-for-tots drive or similar
  • Make your own gifts by canning your garden produce, and other DIY gifts like homemade bath and body products  
  • Replace family gift giving with group donations to a green organization
  • Buy USA-made toys for kids and earth-conscious gifts for adults
  • Recycle your cardboard boxes
  • Replace holiday cards with photo slide show email
  • If you must purchase holiday cards, buy recycled paper cards
  • Recycle or better, reuse holiday cards you receive
  • Recycle your old cell phone and electronics if you get new ones
Travel
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by:
    • Offsetting your airline and car travel by purchasing Carbon Offsets (www.carbonfund.org, between $10-20 per flight)
    • Try a “Staycation” or more localized vacation
  • If you do travel, buy local to support their local economy
  • Take an “Eco-tourism” or “voluntourism” trip
  • Choose a green hotel
    • IE: Locally owned, one that recycles and composts, doesn’t change sheets and towels daily, has energy reducing programs (such as lights automatically turning off when you leave by just removing your key card), and contributes to the local economy
  • Rent a green, high miles-per-gallon or hybrid vehicle
  • Rent a bicycle in warm climates
  • Use your at-home energy reducing practices while on the road. Just because you’re not paying for their electricity, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help reduce it. 
Decorating
  • Find natural decorations like tree leaves and limbs, pumpkins, dried gourds, etc
  • Make your own wreath
  • Purchase a tree certificate from the Forest Service and cut your own tree, or make sure to purchase a pesticide-free tree
  • Recycle your tree after the holidays
  • Use non-paraffin (petroleum based) and non-scented candles for cleaner air
  • Use low-energy or solar-powered lights outside and on the tree
  • Retain your good-practices for energy consumption during the holidays, encourage your guests to do the same (turn off lights, take shorter showers, use the automatic thermostat, etc)
  • Print holiday fliers on non-neon or dark red, green or blue papers


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Photography 201: All I learned from Canon and more

Earlier this month I was blessed to spend an entire weekend with Canon (camera)'s best of the best in Moab, Utah at the Red Cliffs Lodge photographing Arches National Park and cowboys at the ranch.

One of Canon's esteemed "Explorers of Light," Tyler Stableford instructed the class, and four Canon tech representatives and Tyler's #1 man Draper assisted us with trying out high-dollar Canon bodies, lenses of all angles and lengths during the sessions. We were instructed on Tyler's workflow, programs, and editing techniques as well, and went home with three huge prints of our best work after Sunday's critique.

All in all in was one the best experiences of my lifetime in terms of photography; having not been in a classroom setting since college, I was able to pack in as much learning as I could in a short two-day workshop.

Needless to say the take-away was indescribable; here are some major points for those of you who want to take your photography to the next level.

Tyler's tips
We started the workshop inside Saturday morning, with an a.m. session of Tyler's tips. I will try to condense the 12 pages of notes into a reasonable blog post! Here are some of his great tips:
  • People (subjects) always add dimension, contrast, and quality to a landscape image.
  • Shoot in the AV setting, and always "brackets" your shots (see below).
  • Use manual focusing, and use the camera's custom focus settings to have the focus button be something other than the shutter (see your manual under custom settings).
  • Pay attention to horizon lines, Tyler considers them among the most important. Don't break the horizon line at your subjects neck or knees, and play with it's location to get the best composition.
  • Coach the model to look relaxed and natural, as well as "composing" them to form the best shots.
  • No shadow, no shoot. Shadows add dimension, work with the lighting so they don't block compositional accents.
  • Check the internet for other shots of a specific location to get ideas and learn mistakes.



Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.


Arches National Park
At Arches we all took out wide angle lenses, and I upgraded from my 18-55mm to a 16mm on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Some students even shot with fisheye lenses, but I liked spending the day with just one new toy and the shots we all got were amazing. We focused on lighting, "bracketing" especially, and shooting directly into the sun, which most photographers have trouble mastering.

Bracketing
Using the AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) setting in either custom settings or on one of your main menus (depending on camera), you can have the body shoot 3 photos at once, in 3 different exposures. Once in this setting, use one of the roll tabs to expand the AEB from just 0 (no adjustment) to -1/3 0 +1/3 or up to +/- 3, in 1/3 increments. It's always good to start with 1/3, but often times I'll find I need an entire stop (+/-1). Using this quick shooting feature, you'll be shortening your correction time for each image. Having grown up in the film world, we did this with light meters, but the digital age has sped things up and made this exposure correction feature a must for shooting in all temps of light. Learn more from one of my favorite online learning centers on AEB here.

Other tips from Arches:
  • Try shooting with the sun in front, moving the glare spots out of the main focal point, to give the composition a bold look.
  • Focus on the rule of 1/3's for composition.
  • Shoot from the ground with wide angle lenses to create exaggerated dimensions
  • Focus on the negative space and try increasing it and reducing it for different compositions (space between the arch above, space between hikers' legs, etc)

Cowboys at Red Cliffs Lodge
On Sunday we focused on the locals at the ranch, spending time with just the cowboys first, then a herd of horses, and a herd of cows. Tyler was always very specific with his direction of the models, and wasn't afraid to have them do several takes of the same shot to get the best versions of our images. Instead of just getting "what's natural," his careful direction made for much better composition, subject matter, and details, all of which the students seemed to take a lot away from.

He had us really focus on manual focusing in this setting as well in order to avoid the automatic shifting focus during action shots. He also made sure to remind us about the importance of model waivers and thanking the models somehow- either by sending them a photograph through email (he pointed out that no one opens up and prints from a CD so don't bother), or sending them tangible photographs or something like a calendar, which can be printed for pretty cheap these days. He gave examples of offering to pay an amateur model for their model waiver (usually around $50) if needed as well.

For this session, we were shooting with long lenses, and I got to try out the amazing 7D and EF 70-200 2.8 $2000 lens.


Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Last thoughts
While learning from your manual and online blogs like this is enough to have you test new techniques and try new things, the experience of being around 15 other photographers (amateur and professional) and in using Canon's amazing equipment (note, they never did try and push a sale on us, which was great) was irreplaceable. If you have the opportunity to learn from the best while trying their equipment (which most workshops most definitely do NOT offer), do so. I get no perks from Canon in saying this, they offer their Live Learning series workshops all over the country as well as a Canon in the Parks series. Check it out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Photography 101: Weddings

Photographing a wedding is a fun, magical experience for me; I feel like each wedding is its own unique adventure that is propelled by the personalities of the couple and their families. But it can also be a stressful day if the events are hurried, so I have a thorough checklist that I prepare for myself to make sure every shot request gets taken, my equipment is up for the job, and the day flows smoothly for the bride and groom. Having planned my own wedding, that experience now lends its expertise to my day as well.

Before the wedding:
I always meet with the bride and groom several weeks or months beforehand to discuss their expectations and their package of choice, but then we meet again the week or day before their day to go over the site and day of events. It's often easiest to meet just before their rehearsal to see the location once again. I take these meetings to double check:
  • List of formal and informal shots the bride has requested
  • Wedding colors
  • Number of guests and numbers of bridal party
  • Timing of the day's events
  • Multiple hooting areas for the couple
  • Additional important shots: Details of reception, perhaps family member is chef, entire wedding attendance shot, or other big group shots such as college, sport team, or work team.
The day prior to the wedding I also check my equipment, charge batteries, clean lenses, and shoot a few tests of the location based on current seasonal lighting. I also check sunset time and make sure we arrange the last bride shots around then if we can.

Day of the wedding:
I always print my list of formal shot requests from the bride and double check that list several times throughout the formal session- several settings of the same group of people always makes sure to get at least one good photo.
Other things I pay attention to are:
  • For outside bright sun glare I use a UV filter or a hood to protect shots from those round sun glares that can ruin an entire setting.
  • Remind family guests sit in the front row, those seats are sometimes left empty and look vacant behind the bride and groom when shooting out towards the crowd.
  • Remember the importance of the maid of honor and best man, not just the entire wedding party. The bride and groom have chosen these two for special reasons, so I always make sure to get some formal and fun shots of the bride or groom and their best friend.
  • While the day feels rushed, I always remember to slow down and take a step back from the camera to look at the background for things like random bags, shadows, people not in wedding if in a public area as well as little details you can't see in the viewfinder such as groomsmen coat buttons (all buttoned or all not?), angles of feet, smiling children, etc.
  • When I shoot an entire-wedding guest shot, I set the F-stop to 18 or higher and use a tripod to make sure everyone is in the same focus and the lighting is optimized.
  • I try and shoot the cake cutting from as many angles as possible, and remind the couple to eat slow, pose often, and even redo the shot if necessary.
  • If you have a mount flash watch the angle of it and practice how it bounces light of ceilings. In churches and other community buildings there are often strange angles, wood beams, or other obstacles that will direct the light wrong or even obscure it.
  • Remind the couple and parents to dance slow and look at the camera a few times during their solo dances; while it's nice to get some candids of them laughing and crying together, I also get some of them smiling directly, it's daddy's last dance with his little girl!
Last, I always try and make the day fun. I remind the bride to relax, that we have all the time in the world and that the day won't start until she's ready! I'm with her the entire day, so I help make sure she's drinking water, eating, and, most of all, having fun. It's an honor to be a part of this couple's commitment to each other, and I always feel like if I put that honor first and foremost, the day works out exactly how it's supposed to!


Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kitchen Maintenance

It's been quite a while since we've had a total McGuyver moment in our house, but last weekend's kitchen maintenance was worth a quick post...

At some point last month our freezer started getting warmer, ever so slightly at first, until this month, when it started making water in the ice container. We pulled out the ice tray, cranked the temp knob to max 9, and waited. We turned it on and off, we cranked the fridge temp... nothin'.

Then our fears manifested- there was a considerable amount of water in the foot pan. After asking around, it sounded like we were going to need a new unit entirely, but luckily we aren't inclined to give up that easily.

So we pulled out the unit (unplugged it and turned off the water for safety) and I took off the back panel to find 10 years of nasty, furry dust, as well as a pan full of water. Neither are easy solutions, apparently. I tried to vacuum the dust out with the hand held and the big vacuum, but that dust wouldn't budge. So I gathered about 20 Q-Tips and went into each vent hole like the ones in your car, cleaning each strip one at a time, and used a rag on the rest of the unit until it was about 60% cleaner. Some of the dust was settled too far into the fan unit to reach it, but I have intentions to go back in a few weeks and do it again, next time with something even smaller and longer, like a pipe cleaner.

For the water, a rag (ShamWow!) simply wasn't picking up enough of it, so I got out the turkey baster and removed about 10 cups of water in 20 minutes. A ShopVac would have been better, but we just couldn't have gotten one back there.

There was also a considerable amount of ice buildup inside the freezer that we also scraped off.

We reset the unit (some have buttons, some just need to be unplugged) and within a day we had a freezer again, the filtered water was coming out at least 20degrees colder, and the ice unit was cranking out ice.

Needless to say kitchen appliances don't last forever. Ours is only 10 years old however, and we weren't ready to drop the cash on a new one, so we've learned a couple of valuable lessons!

1. Don't forget to clean out the filters and regularly maintain all appliances so they last as long as they can!
2. Don't buy into the throw-it-away culture we live in. If it's worth fixing, it's probably do-able!
3. But if it does need replacing, look into Craig's List.

We need a chest freezer anyway and had planned on buying a used one this winter, so when the possibility of the freezer dying came into view, I got on Craig's List immediately and found several options in Denver for under $100. There were also a plethora of both Fridge-Freezer units that I feel better about knowing about, just in case! But luckily, for now, our freezer is running like a champ!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photobook Printing - 25% off Mixbook.com

Because the market is always changing, early this summer I logged several weeks of research on the subject of Photobooks for a wedding I'm doing later this month. After reviewing dozens of sites, I only came up with about 6 that stood out above the rest.

But I had overlooked one that has turned out to be one of my favorites: www.Mixbook.com
Mixbook is similar to several other sites in its ease for beginners, offering dozens of templates and programming that's easy to learn. But where Mixbook excels is in some key areas for me.

Their tutorials are quick and extremely helpful, from choosing themes to getting ideas to general help, these short videos are an asset to this website for sure.

Mixbook offers a huge variety of packages, many different sizes of books and tons of themes, from weddings to baby books to yearbooks, Mixbook definitely makes the design process more fun than its competitors. Within each design set are dozens of page layouts to choose from, from 1 to 20 pictures per page, straight or slanted, with a variety of backgrounds as well. And if you're a scrapbooker, they've even got a category for you that allows you to insert stickers and other unique design pieces you don't normally see in a photobook! Mixbook also offers cards and invitations as well.

The book I ordered came quickly and definitely stood up to my standards of solid design. Everyone that has seen it so far has said they've loved the layout, the smartly-designed cover, and the thickness of the pages.

But above all, what stood out to me the most was their customer service. In a world where everything is now online and call centers are stationed in foreign lands, the personal attention to my orders and the careful follow up were both something I'm simply not used to. Not only are they making sure their customers are satisfied, Mixbook also sends coupons and customer appreciation discounts out via email often.

This company's so nice, they're even offering YOU, the READER, a discount without even purchasing anything yet! Go to www.mixbook.com to start your photo book now and use the code IDEAFACTORY to get 25% off your first book! No expiration date on that!

Suffice it to say I feel like I've made a new friend in Phil at Mixbook, and am excited to continue to use this wonderful and wonderfully helpful company!


photos courtesy of





Photo Book:
http://www.mixbook.com/

Photo Books:
http://www.mixbook.com/photo-books

Wedding Invitations:
http://www.mixbook.com/cards/wedding-invitations

Baby Shower Invitations:
http://www.mixbook.com/baby-shower-invitations

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Photography 101: Food Photography

I was lucky enough to dine with Steamboat F&B Director Liz (and our husbands) earlier this month to shoot some of the great dishes at Hazie's on-mountain Restaurant. We had a long sunny evening to work with and some interesting photo results that made me realize this would be a great Photo101 post.

From Hazies Food 7.31.10

When photographing food there are some key settings that your digital camera can improve your shots with. If you've been reading the other Photography101 posts, you'll already know I vehemently urge you to take the Auto Setting training wheels off and shoot in manual modes to make the most of your camera's technology and artificial intellect, which IS smarter than you (deal with it).

In regards to lighting, I prefer natural lighting to flash, and an attached flash to the standard on-camera flash. The on-camera flash will make your photos look unprofessionally blown out or ill-exposed, so my tips below are focused on NOT using that standard flash. By using a tripod and the camera's 2-second timer (just so you don't have to wait as long) eliminate shake and a need for the flash all together.

Key points for shooting food indoors on manual modes (P, Av, Tv, M on Canon):
  • Set a high ISO (800 or 1600 if you have it) to give yourself advantage on lighting
  • Play with the light balance/WB settings ("Trunsgten" for a lot of interior lighting, "Cloudy" or "Sunny" for natural lighting)
  • Meter/AV settings usually require a +1 or +2 adjustment to fill in the light on the food
  • A note on shutter speed- the rule of thumb is your hand is shaky at any speeds less than 1/60 (1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 2", etc), so make sure your shutter speed is higher than that. If not, bust out the flash (accessory flash, not on camera flash if possible)
  • A note on F-stops: smaller #s mean less in focus, so choose f10 -f2.5 to focus on the food creatively
  • Always try multiple angles
  • Watch what's in your background and make sure objects out of focus or cropped so focus is on the food
  • Watch for window glare

Tips for attached flashes:
If you DO have an attached flash, use it. If you do not, find a tripod or something like a stack of books to steady the camera on and set the timer.
  • Bounce the light off the ceiling or a nearby wall to have creative lighting and no glare on food
  • Return ISO back to 100 and Speed to 1/125
  • Leave focus/f-stop low

From Hazies Food 7.31.10

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Healthy Living 4 of 4: Use the Experts

In previous posts in this series I've highlighted finding healthy options for on your body, in your body, and in your environment, but I realize this is barely scratching the surface of Healthy Living and want to offer up some additional ideas from the factory for follow-through to keep you on the healthy path!

Firt, your body knows best. It really does, believe it or not. It's just a matter of whether you can hear it or not! Find the best method for you (meditation, prayer, guru) to get in touch with your higher self and do it sooner than later. This will go a long way for both physical and mental health, security of self, intuition, etc. And when your body begins to speak to you, listen wisely to all the nuances you once ignored. What gives you energy? What gives you peace? What makes you happy? What makes you angry?

Second, don't just rely on Western Medicine. While this medical philosophy is great for cutting cancerous moles off your skin, fixing broken femurs, and testing your blood for allergies, Western Medicine is not the end-all to optimum health, and I hope that's not news to you. Find a Naturopathic Doctor, Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Aromatherapist, Nutritionist, Yogi, or Ayurvedic Doctor (or all of the above as I do) to help wean yourself off some or all medications and unhealthy solutions to simple physical and mental problems like sleep disorder, IBS, depression or anger.

What holistic doctors offer is a comprehensive look at your overall body and mind, your whole-health, your history, your body's signals, and bringing you back into balance. In my personal experience, western doctors don't have the training or take the time to look at your health history as it pertains to each health issue you have, nor do they read your body's signals with intuitiveness or healthy solutions. That's not to say there aren't any good doctors out there who care about your overall health. Combining the two is the best of both worlds. My comments purely reflect upon our system, and this post is meant to continue to give you the incentive to look out for yourself, as you, an no one else, will do best.

Some methods are more tried and true than others, but don't let your ego rule out anything, and work at shifting your consciousness when it comes to alternatives. Ayurvedic Medicine= circa 4000 BC. Acupuncture= circa 200 BC. Aromatherapy= excellent results for animals and kids. Naturopathic Doctors= legal licensing in 15 states and climbing, applies to diagnosing illness.

And last, read, read, read!
What's on my shelf? Rosemary Gladstar. Jeanne Rose. Gill Hale. Deepak Chopra. Wayne Dyer. Elizabeth Gilbert. Stephen Gascoigne. Doreen Virtue. Mary Lambert. Louise Hay. Diane Stein.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Healthy Living 3: Environment and Sustainability

In parts 1 and 2 of this series I discussed the insides and outsides of your body as an aspect of Healthy Living. Read the label of your bath and body products to avoid harmful toxins and improve physical and mental health. Same goes for your food labels and choices and healthy eating, in the post prior to this one on Healthy Eating.

But for me a big part of how I live healthy is the health of my environment and my personal sustainability. The overall health of your environment reflects on your overall health.

First, I have spent years perfecting our home's energy- in Chinese Medicine the flow of the home is central to the personal health of those dwelling in it. Read up on Feng Shui if you haven't heard of it, but the finer points are easy: remove the clutter, create movement, balance the dark space with light, bring in greenery, and pay attention to electronics (turn them off regularly!) and other potentially energetically harmful items, locations, etc. Such as, don't build your home under the powerlines, but if this was the best purchase for you, you can combat that energy with Earth Acupuncture.

Support the healthy interior space with healthy exterior space as well, such as a garden, or even just a deck for some outside space and time. Make sure the exterior around your home is as welcoming to YOU as the interior is. Pay no attention to how this might affect your guests at first, make sure it is comfortable to you! Most importantly, give yourself a space for quiet time, whether it's a "library" in your home, a prayer or meditation room, a garden to tend to, or a pond to relax by, inner peace isn't achieved easily, so give yourself tools to assist you. Learn to quiet your mind and body, this goes a long way for your overall health.

Once you know that your home, environment, and peace of mind are attended to, it's time to start looking at sustainability: What healthy ways can you impact your surrounding and personal environment in order to achieve your own personal sustainability as well as nature's?

For starters, give your family the gift of growing their own food- gardens can be as big or small as your needs require, but the rewards are huge. You will teach your family nutritional sustainability with this one addition to your home, as well as feeding your home for three to four seasons depending on where you live! Many botanic gardens, children's camps, and other community service organizations teach gardening basics; often for free or a nominal fee because these organizations want to encourage sustainability. Look around, even Whole Foods offers courses.

After you start gardening, you'll be inclined to start composting and creating a food storage. Composting is a great healthy addition to your environment; create healthy soil AND reduce your landfill input by making this one small change to your home. Composters come in all shapes and sizes, from large outdoor churning piles to indoor electronic models like the Nature Mill that we use, your options are limitless. A great science project for the kids: Worm composting.

If you don't have a garden don't be afraid to grow your vegetables in pots (like we do). Previously we belonged to a CSA club, and when the location changed and prices skyrocketed this year, we opted to grow indoors and on our deck. Granted we're not getting the yield we did in prior years by being part of an actual farm, (enough to create last summer's CSA series), but it's fun watching our tomatoes, jalepenos, and herbs grow right here at home. It's even more fun to be able to say "this mint is from my herb garden" when we bring Mojitos to a neighborhood party!

Once you start paying attention to how you affect your environment and how it affects you, many other sustainability topics may start to interest you. Look up Transition Town if you're intrigued on how to wean yourself off of Peak Oil. Join a local sustainability network like ours to get some new ideas.

This barely scratches the surface on environment and sustainability, but "The Green Movement" is all around you, you won't have to go far to find it, and I encourage you to seek out healthy living in all aspects of your life!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Healthy Living 2: Healthy Eating

Last week I began the 3-part Healthy Living series for returning to the basics to achieve overall physical and mental health, and covered "Read the Label." This series is intended to remind you that everything you need to be healthy is within your reach, and to act now for your long-term health rather than re-acting later to any health issues that arise.

In addition to being proactive about what you put ON your body (as discussed in Read the Label), it's imperative you do the same WITHIN. But in this day and age, our society doesn't exactly make that easy on us, with quick, easy options at our fingertips that seem on the surface to be healthy, often we make the wrong choice without even knowing it, and even more often, without knowing what the true healthy alternative is.

Clause: I'm no nutritionist or medical practitioner, but I find it frustrating that those two jobs are rarely combined. What is written below is from my personal research, years of my own healthy eating, and listening to my own gurus. I urge you to choose your own path, find what natural solutions are right for you, and always listen to your own gut.


In 1980 I learned a very valuable fact/lesson that I literally never put into practice, and still struggle with today, 30 years later. Fact: Coca Cola DISSOLVES copper pennies. Lesson: it will do that to your intestines. Coke and Pepsi have spent decades on marketing that avoids this lesson, yet the fact remains. Somewhere in my late 20s I realized that when I drank a soda, my intestine had this weird fluttering twitch and I could no longer ignore the fact that still haunted me from elementary school.

But bottom line is, it's not the soda that does this. It's the laundry list of nasty ingredients in these products, the first of which is High Fructose Corn Syrup. Which hits the physical system like an adrenalin shot of sugar, and in 60 minutes, your energy level is down below your norm. Wellness Coach Nick Hodgson explains it well in his blogpost on Coke. But it's not just Coca Cola, this applies to Diet Coke as well, and you know this.

In fact, remove the word "diet" from your vocabulary right now; everyone cringes at that word, and everyone has their own version of "healthy diets." I am certainly NOT saying cut out everything that makes you happy. This is in essence, contradictory to the "Healthy Living" topic, as being happy is central to being healthy. But the point is that Diet Coke is no more "healthy" than regular Coke. So let's just lose the word diet right now.

Instead, look for the alternatives as if it were a healthy challenge, and once you find them, sitck with them for a few months (3-6). Then go back to Coke, tell me if it still makes you feel good.

For healthy, natural soda seek out Hansen, Blue Sky, IZZE, Jones, and Ginger Brew to name just a few. Make sure the label says "cane sugar," has no coloring, and most of all, tastes good. (Recycle the can of course.) You can also choose natural juice and mix it with straight soda water to make your own, but remember that 64-80 ounces of water a day will keep your insides moving healthily! Avoid corn syrup in everything if possible, but especially the high fructose kind.

Since this isn't meant to be just about drinks (got side tracked!), other healthy choices for "American Living" include:
  • Choose chocolate to replace unnatural candies (no brainer!).
  • Replace your white sugar intake with cane sugar or honey (HUGE! White sugar is bad for your blood, digestion, caloric intake, bones, liver... on and on)
  • Use olive oil instead of Canola Oil (HUGE! Honestly, please take everything that is genetically engineered OUT of your kitchen!)
  • Choose organic when you can, but buying veg at a farmers market is actually better for you than buying organic at Giant, Safeway, or Albertsons. Do your research- Where does your food come from-IE how far does it travel? Is it picked pre-ripening and does it ripen in a truck? Does their organic stamp refer to pesticides or soil? All these factors equate to your overall health as well, believe it or not. Buy local when possible, eat in season, and freeze some vegetables for winter months.
  • Remove "hollow" foods from your kitchen all together; these are foods with no nutritional value whatsoever, "junk food," like Twinkies, M&Ms, etc. Replace with healthy snacks like apples and nuts. By removing temptation, and replacing with food that makes you feel good, you will begin to lose the need or temptation for "junk." I promise you will eventually notice that Twinkies don't make you feel good, no matter how good they taste.
  • Listen to the gurus of healthy eating and make changes slowly, but stick with them. Such as: cooking with olive oil, baking meat instead of frying it, using fresh or frozen herbs instead of dried, eating more raw foods than cooked ones, etc.
  • Don't buy anything that says "homogenized" or "pasteurized" if you can.
  • For added health, supplement your diet with vitamins, Kombucha, ProBiotics, WheatGrass, protein powder, etc.

Last, learn what absolutely doesn't agree with you, since we are individuals, and listen to that. Many people get red cheeks from alcohol or strawberries without realizing it's an allergic reaction. Listen to your body. Many people get migraines and don't look at their diet as a solution or symptom. I have cut wheat out of my diet because of arthritis and psoriasis, and wish I'd figured that out decades ago. What you put in your body always reflects how well it performs. Always; no different from your car, except your body is priceless and irreplaceable. Take care of it!


Keep reading: Healthy Living 3: Environment

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Healthy Living 1 - Read the Label

Since I took an internship at a sustainable learning center in Oregon in 1995, I have been aware that what I put in or on my body reflects the overall health of my physical as well as mental being. So often around me I see people ignoring this fact. This life is our own, and we can make of it what we choose, yet more often than not I hear people say they feel helpless against their health or emotional issues, and don't realize it might just take some minor changes to feel good again.

In this series I will address the four topics that I feel are most important to my personal physical health and illness prevention, and hope they align with your needs as well.

Part 1 - Read all labels - Be proactiveThe National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that 884 chemicals available for use in bath and body products have been reported to the U.S. government as toxic substances, yet the FDA allows many of these chemicals to be used as ingredients because of their low dosage within each bottle. However, over an extended period time these chemicals have been proven to cause harm to the skin as well as internal organs.

Preservatives are among the worst ingredients. Top on the list of wide-spread use is the family of Parabens: Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethyparaben, ButylParaben, and Isobutylparaben. These are well-known to be toxic and allergenic preservatives which have been linked to increasing estrogen levels in women and are implicated in the rising incidents of breast cancer.

As with food, chemical preservatives are used because they are much cheaper and longer-lasting than natural alternatives. Skin care products do not (and should not) last for ever. All-natural products have a very limited shelf life of only 6-12 months, and in this mass-production-world we live in, many products don’t even make it to the shelves in that short amount of time, and so these chemicals go into our products unchecked. The bad news is that parabens, often disguised in labeling as PHBs, are nearly everywhere. The good news is if you do decide to use products without parabens, storing these natural alternatives in the fridge to help extend their life, and in turn, yours as well.

Other Synthetic Preservatives include: Imidiazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, 2-Bromo-2-Nitro-Propane-1, 3-diol (Bronopol), Benzalkonium Chloride, Dantoin 685, Quarternium, Chloromethylisothiazolinone, Isothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). Nearly all of these preservatives, including Parabens, contain and release Formaldehyde, a colorless, irritating substance that is severely toxic when inhaled or swallowed.

Second only to parabens are Sulfates: Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. These ingredients, used for emulsification in body products, are as widely used as parabens and just as controversial. Although the American Cancer Society has stated that Sulfates do not cause cancer (non-carcinogenic), these studies were conducted over only two years and do not attest to lifetime usage. These studies did conclude that these additives “can be harsh and drying to the skin,” and are “harmful to marine life and the environment.” Worse, sulfates have been found to increase the absorption of other chemicals, break down lipids (fats), and impair the skin's ability to retain moisture (irony or conspiracy?). Abroad, sulfates have been used in Japanese studies to promote bacterial mutations and are classified as mutagens, meaning they alter cellular genetic material. GROSS!

More specifically, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is an industrial de-greasing agent, and widely used in automotive garages to take the grease off floors and equipment. When applied to the skin, it strips off the natural oil layer and erodes the skin, leaving it rough and pitted. Studies have shown that shampoos with SLS can slow healing and keep children's eyes from developing properly. It can also be linked to cataracts in adults and delay the healing of wounds on the surface of the cornea. SLS builds up in the heart, liver, lungs and brain and can cause major problems in these areas. It is such a caustic cleaner that it corrodes hair follicles, impairing the ability to grow hair.

Petroleum, essentially a crude oil, is another unhealthy substance that goes unchecked by the FDA. Many products contain petroleum, such as most commercial lip balms, most candles, paraffin wax, mineral oil, and of course, petroleum jelly. It has been proven to deplete the body’s own natural moisture, as in the case of lip balms, causing you to need increasing amounts of their product (irony or conspiracy?). Petroleum is toxic, and remains on top of your skin, clogging your pores and blocking natural perspiration, excretion, and absorption of nutrients while contributing to blemishes. When used in waxes, it becomes a sticky sealant that attracts pollutants, dirt, and bacteria to the skin as it seals the pores. When used in solvent alcohols, such as propyl, isopropyl, Sd40 and ethyl alcohols (all “petrolatums”), they strip the skin of its protective acid mantle and cause chronic drying of the top layers.

There are two more ingredients related to the oil industry that are found in body products.

Toluene, originally used in gasoline as a blending agent, is used as a solvent in cosmetics, especially nail polish and dyes. It is toxic and narcotic in high concentrations.

Propylene Glycol, a common ingredient in brake fluids, paint, varnishes and anti-freeze compounds appears in beauty creams, cleansers, make-up and children's toiletries as a moisture-carrying ingredient. Drums of this chemical come to suppliers with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which reads: "If on skin, thoroughly wash with soap and water." The American Academy of Dermatologists published a clinical review in January 1991 that showed that propylene glycol caused a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin even in low levels of concentration. Yet it is still quite widely used.

Finally we get to the most ironic ingredient found in bath and body products: Alcohol. Generally we know cosmetic (rubbing) alcohol to be used for cleaning, cleaning wounds, sanitizing hospitals and other health work areas. But as a skin product ingredient, it is a known drying agent to the hair and skin. It is more of a preservative than anything else, and can provoke a late allergic reaction in some users. Some alcohols have been stated by suppliers as helpful, leaving the hair and skin with a “velvety feeling.” This velvety feeling is due to a wax buildup from Cetearyl Alcohol, a thickener and carrier used in most lotions that will clog the pores and tax the natural defenses of the skin.

Other alcohols you will see in your bath and body products include Lauryl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol (or Ethanol), Methyl Acetate Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), Bronopol, Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Oleyl Alcohol, Benzyl Acetate, Ketones, and Acetone.

The worst of these is Benzyl Acetate, a known carcinogen that has been associated with pancreatic cancer. It is also an eye and lung irritant. Even Witch Hazel, a “natural” astringent can have as much as 20% alcohol content, so make sure even when making natural choices that you still read the label! Thayer’s Witch Hazel, for instance, has no alcohol and can be purchased at most health-food stores.

The Cosmetic Labeling Act of 1977 legally requires suppliers to include all ingredients on the label. If the label includes the words “and others,” put it down. These “and others” can be harmless, but could also cause allergic reactions or worse. Same with "fragrance."


Reading all the labels in your life is a daunting task, but one that will improve the health of you and your family. For the first few months after this research I carried around the list of harmful substances in my purse for reference when I shopped and suggest you do the same. Many products that claim to be natural include some or many of these ingredients! Educate yourself and others and buy (true) natural.


And finally on to the DIY IDEA: Many of my favorite lotions and shampoos have been removed from my bathroom becuase they don't stand up to the label test, so I began creating my own with Whole Foods' generic brand of unscented lotion and body wash. The ingredients list is short, and I just added my own favorite essential oils to smaller bottles and made my own line. You can add aloe, hemp oil, olive oil, shea butter, or other favorites to this mix as well.


Other nasty ingredients to avoid:

Acetic Acid- a skin irritant that is toxic to the lungs.
A-pinene - A major component of turpentine that can damage your immune system.
A-terpineol - prolonged exposure can cause edema and/or respiratory difficulties.
Benzaldehyde - a narcotic and anesthetic that can depress the central nervous system.
Boric Acid - poisonous at doses of 1-3g for babies, 5g for children, and 15-20g for adults.
Calcium Chloride - causes lung difficulties
Fluoride - a toxic substance that is very harmful to the liver if swallowed.
Lanolin - causes allergic reactions and is NOT helpful in treating topical skin rashes
Linalool - a narcotic substance that can impair respiratory function and motor activity
Nitrosamines - carcinogenic compounds such as DEA, MEA, and TEA.
Polyvinylpyrrolidone - PVP- inhaled particles cause problems in the lungs. Quaternium-15 - toxic chemical effective against bacteria.
Triclosan - causes liver damage and eye deterioration.

Products known to cause allergic reactions: Palmitate, Para-aminobenzoic Acid (PABA), Sodium Thioglycolate, Thioglycolates.

Coloring additives that are permitted but suspected of being carcinogenic, teratogenic, or toxins: Blue Aluminum Lake 1&2, Red No.19, Aluminum Lake, Zirconium Lake, and Yellow No.8.


Keep reading: Healthy Living 2 - Healthy Eating

Friday, July 16, 2010

Photobook Printing

In starting to look at photobooks as a professional add-on, I'm diving into the options with my researcher's eye. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of photo book printers and photo hosting websites out there, where does one begin? I started with the reviews at the bottom, but shortly began to see that I already had my opinions...

AMS
If you're an amateur, there is a plethora of choices for family-grade materials. I say family, because with little hands all over photobooks, it's a waste of money to get the super-archival, plush leatherbound versions that are meant for the treasure locker.

To start, Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, and Snapfish are all in the same league, some with more options than others, some with better base designs and help, but all starting at a reasonable price. What you get with these types is photo sharing so families can contribute to the same album.

Shop them all to see which format you like the best, which is easiest for you to navigate, and which stands out the best to you and your style. Also test multiple sites if you're new to uploading, one might work better with your operating system or version of Java than the other. But they're all very similar, and you may already be using their photo storage and sharing, so stick with them for easy uploading- your photos are already there!

I've used all three of these sites, and personally I like Kodak Gallery the best for the quality and options for design, frequent sales and discounts, and ease of uploading. Plus, you know you're getting Kodak paper.

A lot of my friends who use Macs swear by iPhoto's versions of book printing, and as above, if you're already using iPhoto for storage and sharing, it makes no sense to switch.

For those who like the image-wrap style, stick with Smilebooks, who does this style to the hilt. Dozens of styles, but all with images on the entire cover (like a text book, to me). Great for class trips and family reunions or anything in bulk quantity. I've seen small 4x4 wedding books done this way as a guest gift, shipped with the thank you card. GREAT idea.


PROS
If you're a professional, or want professional grade results for a particular event or memory, you will pay a little more for paper quality, high-end wrapping, and layouts, but your clients will see the difference. Create a book that they can't create themselves!

Start with Picaboo, which has a library of options at your fingertips and prices that start LOW and go HIGH, ranging from $10 to $350. The platform is easy to use, like Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly, and the one-stop create-and-buy screens walk you through the process in a breeze. If you're only doing photobooks, this one's a great choice.

If you want to one-shop your photobooks and event photo sales, check out Printroom, with several easy to learn uploading and creating programs to choose from, as well as high end paper and binding, this site is great for new pros because there is a limited free option to test out, as well as a $10 or $20 per month membership option; the premium offering sales, products, galleries, and unlimited storage.

Take a step up to Pictage, which starts at $20 per month, but offers much more than other sites with marketing help, directory listings, album design services, and more, in addition to the products, sales, and galleries. Among my peers, Pictage is definitely the company-of-choice, and their customer service is impeccable!

Last worth note, Adoramapix seems to have some great reviews, great quality for printing, and super cheap prices. The site is easy to use, while offering additional perks to all mentioned above, such as custom hard covers and panoramic spreads. I also love this site because it's also a photographer's hub, with reviews of equipment, forums for sharing, and a full learning center. The only rub is they don't offer the for-sale pictures gallery that the Pictage and Printroom do.

Hosting only
One last note on photo hosting... When I first started reading into photo hosting for sale of individual photos to wedding attendees, I gathered a big list of names but for many, the names alone deterred me, just seeing my brides wincing at sending links to their guests such as "Smugmug," fearing what that implies to them! There are planty more that sound more professional- Zenfolio, Photoshelter, Pictage, but they only provide photo hosting and sale.

For me, having all this in one stop is just easier. Those companies that only offer photo hosting and sale and don't provide photographers with the creative keepsakes are missing out.



But don't take my word for it... see what other's have said
http://photo-book-review.toptenreviews.com/
http://www.digitalphotos101.com/photo-book-reviews.htm

The very best head-to-head review (but watch out, it's LONG):
http://www.digitalhomethoughts.com/news/show/97676/the-great-photo-book-round-up-review-who-makes-the-best-photo-books.html

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Joan's Gluten Free Great Bakes

It's no wonder this company has the word "great" in the business's name; I've been sampling their products for over a week now and am astonished, truly taken aback, that they are actually gluten free.

We've ordered Joan's everything bagel, plain bagel, and english muffins, all with great texture, perfect substituted-flour ratio, and delicious flavor; and after a year of being off these favorite glutenous baked goods, it's sure awesome to have them back!

What makes Joan's goods unique is that they arrive frozen in a dry-ice container and are only partially baked (if at all?), so you are instructed to let them defrost (or nuke-defrost) and bake them for twenty minutes at 425. This way you're not toasting and reabaking the bagel or muffin (and reducing the quality of their texture in my opinion), you're actually getting hot, fresh baked goods right from your own oven.

Other than Udi's bread, I haven't found anything that actually tastes like homemade glutenous bread. Although I've been off gluten for over a year now and might be biased in forgetting what "real" bread tastes like, Joan's passed the test of the non-GF's in the house as well, which is always the final test!

A truly amazing find, a big thanks to Mamma Jehn and Joan Popkin for going the extra mile in getting them in time for us to try! They also survived the trip back to Colorado in my carry-on, staying frozen for most of the day, and tasting fine out of the freezer a few days later.

Joan not only offers bagels and muffins, but pizza, breads, cornbread, cookies and rolls as well. For more on Joan's Gluten Free Great Bakes, visit their website at www.gfgreatbakes.com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photography 101: Composition

While in Las Vegas last week, exploring the Paris casino, my husband and I squeezed into a chair, held the camera out in front of us, and snapped a self portrait.

Then a stranger sitting next to us asked to help and took the same shot of us, only it was no where near the same shot. While it was a better shot of us humans, it got nothing of the background of Paris. (Notice this stranger made it into our "self" photo too!)

What makes excellent photographers stand out above the rest isn't their equipment, it's their eye for composition. If you took everything I learned in four years studying visual arts and crammed it into one word, it would be "composition." What most people do when shooting photographs is look at the shot, hold up the camera, and snap. But sometimes all it takes is a different point of view and a few reminders to improve your photos results by 100%. The goal is to achieve unique photos that even if they're of something quite familiar, you're giving the subject new meaning, new life. Here are some tips for framing the shot so you look like a pro.

Before reading further, if you're using a point and shoot camera, make sure you read previous photo101 posts on using your camera to the maximum.

Cropping: Rule #1 is definitely crop beforehand. While computers have helped us become better editors, they have handicapped us into relying on Photoshop. Back when dark rooms took up 70% of a photographer's time, pre-cropping was a must. If you look closely before you shoot and see things that shouldn't be there, zoom in a little more or move the camera to one side and crop them out. Sometimes all it takes is moving two feet to the left for the perfect shot, but if you don't move around and experiment, you'd never know the shot was there. See the two images below, and the difference it made just walking around the statue a little.


Layers: Every image has a foreground and a background. Play with the focus so these layers take different priorities, and if there is a specific subject matter (ie person, pet, object), see how the focus affects the contrast of this subject.

Thirds: Artists use the "rule of thirds" in many mediums, but in photography it's especially important to remember to frame your image around this type of grid. If you divided your image into 3 rows and 3 columns, you'd have nine squares in your screen. Many cameras have a setting that will make these guide lines appear. By placing your subject off-center in one of the side squares, the composition will improve dramatically.

Framing: Use elements in the shot to help frame it- architectural buildings, trees, lighting, shadows, and people can all help the composition through framing. Also with framing comes filling the entire frame; make sure everything that's in the image has a purpose to be there. Likewise, make sure you haven't cropped anything out that's of value to the composition.


Angle: The best angle is not always right in front of the subject, and rarely acheived by simply tilting the camera on diagonal to take your shot, although that will sometimes make for good composition, don't rely on this technique alone. Lowering the camera to the eye level of the pet or child, raising the camera above your head for a crowd shot, or even putting the camera on the ground will entirely change the composition of the shot. And then there's the rotation of the camera as well, landscape or portrait, and which composition best frames the image. With the digital age saving us from wasting film, take several shots of the same image, from different angles, so you can choose later.

Balance: Last, look at the lighting, colors, and shapes in the image, making sure there's a harmonious balance in the composition- by far the hardest of all of these rules to achieve. Time of day can even affect lighting enough so the balance is off. Especially given the "thirds" rule above, these two rules seem to condradict each other at times. If you're intentionally placing your subject off center, make sure to balance it with something on the other side.

While even just one of these rules can help improve your composition, spending a season working on all of them will dramatically improve the quality of your images, I guarantee it.