Thursday, June 21, 2012

Homemade Fabric Softener

Every time I make a new homemade cleaning sauce I could just kick myself for not making it sooner.  This homemade fabric softener is awesome!  And it's so much cheaper than the store bought stuff.  I started using it a couple of weeks ago and wanted to give it a good try on several loads before posting about it.  Well, as you can already tell, I love it!  The clothes not only have less wrinkles, but there is no static, and they are soooo soft when they come out of the dryer.  Seriously!  I kept seeing people pin the recipe, and I was anxious to try it out.  When I finally ran out of my store bought stuff, I made me a batch.  And NO!  The clothes don't smell like vinegar when they come out of the wash. :)

Here is what you need:
6 cups of HOT water
3 cups of White Vinegar
2 cups of cheap hair conditioner

That's it folks!  The water is FREE.   The vinegar is cheap. I get the big ol' container at Costco and it comes out to about .19 cents per cup.  So, we'll just round it up and say that it cost .60 cents for the recipe.  The hair conditioner you get at the dollar store for, uhmmm....$1.  You only need the 2 cups, which is about 1/3 of the bottle, so it costs you about, let's say....33 cents.  So, this fabric softener will cost you a whopping .93 cents!  You know how many loads you'll get out of it?  80!  That's just a little over a penny per load!  Get right out o' town!

All you do is get out a pot that will hold all of the liquid and put it on the stove.  Pour in your water and vinegar.  I turned the burner on low-med to warm it up.  Next you pour in your conditioner.  Stir for a few minutes until the conditioner is completely melted.  Oh!  You'll need a container to pour your awesome fabric softener in to.  I just used my old store bought container.  I didn't have a funnel, but I did have a small empty container that fit nicely into the spout of my large container. So I cut the bottom off and voila!  A funnel!

You only need 2 TB per load.  I added a little blue food coloring to my example so you could see the liquid better.  Didn't want you to think that somehow it comes out blue like that after you mix all the ingredients together.  I'm gullible like that. I would totally be wondering how in the world they mixed white conditioner with vinegar and water and ended up with a blue liquid.  Oooh!  Science!  ...Yeah, that's me.

OK, so  start saving some cash and make your own fabric softener!  I'm also running out of my fabric softener sheets (I guess I like even MORE softness).  I'm in the process of making my own instead of buying more.  That post will be coming in the next day or two.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I love my homemade greek yogurt!, I've made several batches of greek yogurt and it's come out perfect every time.  Yum!  I absolutely love the stuff.  When I was buying it at the grocery store I would get the big container of vanilla flavored greek yogurt, the 32 oz.  I prefer the greek yogurt because it has about double the protein and less sugar than your regular yogurt. We go through 1-2 of the 32oz containers every week.  At an average of $4-5 each, it adds up.  So I finally went online and did a thorough investigation on how to make my own.  I watched several YouTube videos and read many other blog posts about the subject.  After making several batches now, here are some tips before showing you how to make some for yourself:
Tip #1 - Make sure you plan when you'll make your yogurt.  You'll need about an average of 8 hours to make your yogurt.  I know it sounds like a lot, but most of it is just waiting.  A big chunk of that time can be spent while you're out running errands or while you're sleeping. :)
Tip #2 - You NEED a food thermometer.  I use a cheapy $5 meat thermometer.  I read where a lot of folks just follow a certain set of directions, but never actually check the temperature.  These are the folks that will sometimes end up with a failed batch of yogurt.  It's not a total loss because you can just start the process over again with the same batch.  
Tip #3 - You need to have a place for the yogurt to sit for several hours at about 100 degrees.  If your oven will allow you to set it that low, that will be perfect.  Otherwise you can use other methods which I will talk about later in the instructions.  I know it's starting to sound really tedious, but once you figure out which of these methods works best and easiest for you, it's smooth sailing.

It's good to actually understand why you're doing what you're doing. That way if for some reason it didn't work, you'll know or have a better idea what to fix.  I will be putting the "what's and why's" in italics throughout the tutorial.

Let's get started!

You will need:
1/2 gallon of milk (I use 2%, but you can use skim or whole milk as well)
A few tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures  (As far as I know, as long as it's fresh non-expired yogurt, it will have active cultures.  Either way, it should say on the container "active cultures".  Once you make your first batch, you'll already have some yogurt to use for your next homemade batch and you won't have to worry about going to the store to buy one little measly container of yogurt.
Large bowl  that will hold 2 quarts and is microwaveable
Another Large bowl that will hold 2 quarts
Cheesecloth (This is a cloth typically used for straining out liquids to make cheese and/or yogurt.  I got mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  They're pretty cheap.  Couldn't find it at Wal-mart)


(Need to heat up the milk enough to kill the bacteria.) Start with your 2-quart microwaveable bowl.  Pour in 2 quarts of milk (1/2 gallon).  Microwave for 17 minutes.  

Check the temperature. Your milk should now be around 
180 degrees.
Now you just let it sit and cool down to below 120 degrees. 
This will take about 1 1/2 hours.  

OK, so no picture here, but after the milk has cooled to below 120 degrees you will add your starter, the two Tablespoons of your plain "live culture" yogurt.  Whisk, and whisk until it's melted into the milk. (If you mix the yogurt/starter in with the milk before it's cooled then the heat of the milk will kill the live bacteria that's in the yogurt.  You want the live bacteria to stay alive and continue to grow.  That's how you end up with more yogurt later.  That little bit you added has grown into a whole bowl full.)

Now is when you just let it sit.  Put your container into your "warming vessel" (that's just what I call it) and put a plate on top.  Leave it for 6-12 hours.  The longer you leave it the more sour the flavor.  I don't like mine too sour, so I leave mine anywhere from 6-8 hours.  But the trick is letting it sit while keeping the temperature around 100 degrees.  Some of the newer ovens will allow you to set it at 100 degrees.  Most won't let you set it that low.  I have a large toaster oven so that's what I use.  Now my toaster oven's lowest setting is 150 degrees.  What I do is just turn the dial to below the 150 mark right where it clicks on.  It's hard to tell from this angle in the picture, but I also have the door open a little bit to let some of that excess heat escape.  (Keeping the temperature around 100 degrees will set the perfect environment for the bacteria to continue to grow and make more yogurt.  If it's too hot then you may end up killing the bacteria altogether and therefore no yogurt. )  When I make yogurt, I will either start the process in the morning and then once it's gotten to the point of sitting in the oven, I go about my day running errands, cleaning house, whatever.  Around dinnertime it's done. Otherwise I'll start the process 2 hours before bedtime, then when it goes in the oven I go off to bed.  It'll be ready for me in the morning.  If the oven/toaster oven option doesn't work for you, then you can try the crock-pot method.  It's pretty easy.  I've never done it that way because it takes more babysitting.  But if I plan on being home all day and I have the time to stop and babysit, then I wouldn't mind.  I'll put instructions for the crock-pot method later in the post.
Moving on......
6-12 hours later, you go take the bowl out of your warming vessel.  At first glance it doesn't look like anything happened.  But then you stick a spoon in there and what do you know!  It's yogurt!  The liquid at the top is the whey separating.  This happens with all yogurt.  It's separates a little.  If you just want regular yogurt, you're done.  Give it a stir to incorporate the whey and add whatever sweetener or flavoring you want.  

**This is where I go ahead scoop out a few tablespoons to keep for making my next batch.  You have to remember, I make this stuff once, sometimes twice a week.

If you want the higher protein, little bit thicker, creamier, delicious, oh so yummy Greek yogurt, then read on.

OK, so now you get out that other 2-quart+ bowl.  Set your strainer on top, and then place you're cheesecloth inside the strainer.  Don't skip out on using the cheesecloth.  The strainer isn't enough to hold back you're yogurt.  You only want pure liquid to be strained out.  Again, the liquid is the whey separating. There is one exception: If you happen to have a bouillon strainer, then you don't need the cheesecloth.  A bouillon strainer is much more tightly woven than your standard strainer.

Now just pour your yogurt in.  WARNING:  It doesn't actually pour in.  It's more of a big "plop". Be ready for a little whey splatter if you're not careful.  Not a big deal.  Especially if you have kids, I'm sure you've had worse things splatter onto your clothes. :)

Fold over the corners of the cheesecloth so it covers the top.  Set it in the fridge to sit for about 30 min- 1 hour.  I usually set my timer for 30 min.  After 30 min, I pull it out and pour off the whey that's strained out so far.  It's usually quite a bit. You don't want your yogurt sitting in the whey liquid if you can help it. Otherwise you defeat the purpose of straining.  I put it back in the fridge and let it sit for another 30 minutes.  I just pour the liquid whey down the drain.  Some people use it for baking breads.  Others use it for their dogs.  Flavor up their food by adding some liquid whey.  I almost feel bad for throwing it out because it's a lot of liquid that could be used for something else.  I'm not a big bread maker, but it's never too late to start. :)  OK, back to our tutorial.  The longer you let it sit and strain, the thicker your yogurt will be.  One time, I forgot to set my timer and it sat for well over an hour.  I ended up with some pretty thick stuff.  Still yogurt, but it kind of stuck to the roof of my mouth when I would eat it. If you leave it too long, you will no longer have Greek yogurt, but you'll have yogurt cheese. Really.  Yogurt cheese.  Still edible. Add some salt, garlic, sugar cinnamon, whatever, and spread it on your toast.  But for this tutorial, we're going for Greek yogurt.

After you get it out of the fridge, pour off the rest of the liquid whey and then spoon out the Greek yogurt into a container. I use a yogurt container I kept from the days of old. :)  
If you like to flavor your your yogurt as you scoop it out, that's cool.  We all like it with a little bit of a sweetness and then we can add whatever we want on top of that. So I add 2 packets of Truvia natural sweetener.  It's the perfect amount.  Not too sweet, just a little flavor.  I use my little hand mixer with just one of the attachments to whip it up and get the sweetener thoroughly mixed in.  
Then that's it!  Homemade Greek yogurt.  Good for 10-14 days. Mine doesn't last any longer than 5 days. I usually get my milk for an average $2-$3 per gallon.  So at the most, my homemade version ends up costing me about $1.50 for a 32 oz container.  Not bad.  I haven't had a failed attempt yet (knock on wood) and the kids think it's pretty cool to see how the whole process works.  I honestly thinks it's so much better than the store bought stuff.  It's definitely creamier and definitely not as sour.  My biggest issue with the store bought stuff was the sour/bitter taste, and some brands are really thick.  Not creamy, just thick. Thick and sour. I really had to doctor it up to make it my own.  Even then, it was still bitter.  Maybe I'm a yogurt snob. :|    I don't care.  I love the homemade version!  

Crock-Pot Method:  OK, so if the oven method is not an option for you, then you can still use the crock-pot.  Everybody has a crock pot, right?  You just have to make sure you do it on a day where you know you're gonna be home most of the day.  Total time is 10-12 hours.  So plan to start early so that it's done before bedtime. This is not a method that allows you to leave it overnight. Here we go:  (no pictures, but it's pretty simple)
You will only be using your Crock-pot up until it comes time to strain the yogurt.

  • You start off by pouring 2 quarts of milk into your Crock-pot.  Turn it on high heat, cover and leave it for 1-2 hours.  You want the milk to heat up to at least 180 degress.  I would check the temperature after about an hour and a half.
  • Now you have to let it cool.  Turn off the Crock-pot and let it sit for about 2 hours.  It needs to cool down to below 120 degrees.  
  • Once it has cooled, now you will add your starter, the 2 Tablespoons of "live culture" yogurt.  Whisk and whisk until it's thoroughly mixed in and melted down.
  • (Now the babysitting REALLY starts) Put a folded towel over the lid of your Crock-pot.  This will help keep the heat in. Turn your Crock-pot on low for 10-15 minutes.  Then turn it off.  After 2-3 hours, put it on low again for 10-15 minutes.  Turn it off.  Repeat this process twice more.  Your timer comes in pretty handy here.
  • After about 9 hours of babysitting the Crock-pot you should have yogurt.  Now you can go back to the instructions above and start where you see the **.    Done!
It sounds like a tedious process, but honestly if you're gonna be home anyway it's really not a big deal.  No different than doing laundry.  Put it in the wash...go back to put it in the dryer...go back about 10 min later to pull out and hang the stuff that will wrinkle if you let it dry too much(or at least that's what I do).....go back and get the rest out of the dryer...fold, fold, fold.....make deliveries to the proper drawers, rooms, etc.  Know what I'm sayin'?  Sounds like a lot, but it's really not.  In the end, it's pretty awesome when you end up with this yummy homemade yogurt that YOU made!  There's no doubt what's in it, no worries about the bad artificial sweeteners (Truvia is one of the good ones), and it's a healthy snack you're providing for your family.
Here is a daily treat I absolutely love.  I get the bag of mixed berries from Sam's or Costco, and instead of granola I use Honey Bunches of Oats cereal to top it off with some crunch.  I actually get Aldi's version of the cereal.  It's cheaper and just as good.  You know, anywhere I can save a little more money, I do it.  Anyway!  Layer it in a glass and I have a guilt-free snack!

Happy yogurt making!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bluebonnets all around

Well, we finally made it out to get some pics in the beautiful Texas bluebonnets.  The little man was not being very cooperative.  He just wanted to act silly.  My poor daughter had to just sit there and hold her smile the entire time while I kept pressing the shutter button hoping one of them would come out somewhat decent.  She knows the drill.  Here's what we ended up with:

Tips on taking your bluebonnet pics:

Avoid harsh daylight!  Otherwise you end up with nasty shadows on your peeps faces.  Eeek!  You always want nice even light.  The best thing to do is to take your pics during the "Golden Hour".  You know, that hour before the sun sets.  Unless you've got some equipment with you to help make your own shade.  Our sunset is around 7:30p and we actually went out around 5:30p.  I was taking a chance, but we had other plans for afterward, so I took my big reflector with me.  I didn't put the cover around the reflector, just left it sheer white.  My husband held it up to block where the sun was still beaming down a little too much.  The kids sat in the "shadow" of the reflector and that gave me the perfect amount of light to get what I wanted.  They're not the best, but I did what I could with what I had.  

Those bluebonnets won't be out for much longer, so get out there and get your pics!  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Breakfast anyone?

Hey! I wanted to share two of my little kitchen gadgets with you this morning.  Let me say that I am a gadget freak.  I love all the kitchen gadgets, photography gadgets, sewing gadgets......I love em' all!  These items I'll be speaking of today aren't gadgets per-say, but they are helpful little kitchen extras.
First of all, I never miss breakfast.  It IS indeed the most important meal of the day.  (Did you know I got my degree in Nutrition?  Seriously, I did) Plus, if you're like me and could stand to lose some extra pounds, it's the perfect start to your day because it gets your metabolism zooming. (And just because I got my degree in Nutrition doesn't mean that I'm a perfect eater.  Just sayin') That being said, I also like a good hearty breakfast.  Something that's gonna keep me full for a while. My homemade Egg Muffins are the perfect answer.  They're quick, easy, packed with protein, filling, and I can even take it on the go for those extra busy days.
You will need an "egg muffin maker".  OK, I don't know what it's officially called, but it allows you to cook your egg in the microwave and it turns out the perfect size to fit onto your muffin.  I got mine at Walmart years ago. I think it was around $5.

  • English muffin (or you can just use regular bread)
  • Sliced or shredded cheese ( I buy it by the block, so I just cut a few slivers)
  • Morningstar sausage (Veggie sausage patties. Only 80 cal and packs in 10g of protein per pattie)
  • 1 Egg
  • salt/pepper to taste
Here we go!

Here it is.  Gadget #1. It's small, takes up no space at all, and easy to clean.  I actually keep mine in the microwave because I use it pretty much every day.  If you go looking for one, you'll find it where the "microwave safe" plastics are in the kitchen section.  Same place they have those plastic trays with the grooves for cooking bacon in the microwave.  
Although, I eat turkey bacon and just put it on a paper plate with a paper towel on top.  Works great.  Anyway!

I made a side note to spray it with cooking spray before dropping your egg in there.  It's not a must, but it will be much easier to clean when you're done.

Now you just whip it up with a fork.  

Before microwaving you can add salt/pepper if you want.  Sometimes I chop up some ham and put the bits in along with a little shredded cheese.  Just depends on what you have on hand.

Now stick it in the microwave and cook for 1 minute.  beep.....beep.....beep....beep.  (that's my microwave telling me that it's done)  And there you have it!  a perfectly cooked, perfectly sized scrambled egg.

So before I put my egg in the microwave I go ahead and put my English muffin in the toaster.  When it pops up I like to spread a little butter on them.  Now, I'm not a fan of the fake butter because it's, well, uhm,.....fake.  It's like eating plastic.  I prefer the real thing.  It's not like you're sitting there eating sticks of it. (which by the way, if you need to put the stick down and go talk to someone.  really.  that's not good for you at all) In moderation folks!  Only problem is that you can't get spreadable REAL butter.  I know the container says spreadable, but it's not.  It's still hard as a rock.  It's just the nature of the beast.  Enter gadget #2, the Butter Crock.  I love it.  Its what they used to use back in the day to keep their butter out on the counter and spreadable.  The top is actually an upside down bowl.  It will hold 1 1/2 stick of butter.  I just put a stick on the counter to soften and in about an hour or so I use my butter knife to put it into the top bowl and push it against the sides.  The bottom bowl is where you put a little cold water.  This is what keeps the butter fresh at room temperature while also sealing it.  The butter never goes bad.  You just have to switch out the water with new fresh cold water every 3-5 days.  I'm in the habit of putting fresh water pretty much every other day.  I use it all the time, so it's easy to remember.  It is also small and takes up no space.  See it just sitting there next to the toaster.  These Butter Crocks are a little harder to come by.  I don't think I've ever seen them at places like Walmart or Target.  You can definitely find them online.  We have a Williams-Sonoma in town and that's where I got mine.  They don't have this red one anymore, but they do still carry one.  I think it's blue and the style is a little bit different.  Same concept though.  So if you're like me and you prefer real butter and like to be able to spread it onto your bread with ease, this is perfect.  Let me warn you though, it's a little pricey.  BUT!  It works great and I will never need to replace it.  Ever!  OK, unless someone breaks it. Where in that case, I'll just have a lovely new blue Butter Crock sitting on my counter. 

Oh!  I forgot to mention that after the egg is done, I put the frozen sausage patty in the microwave for 30 sec. If you're not fond of veggie food, you should at least consider these Morningstar breakfast patties.  They are sooooo good.  You wouldn't even know that it's not real meat.  Seriously.  I've had some other brand of veggie breakfast sausages and they taste kind of pasty.  Not this one.  Nuh-uh.  
OK, so within 3 minutes, everything is done, including my coffee.  I put all the food together to make a little sandwich and there  you go!  Healthy, hearty, ready-to-tackle-the-day breakfast!

Speaking of cooking eggs in the microwave.  Did you know that you can drop your egg into a coffee mug and cook it in the microwave?  Yup!  Follow the same steps, except use a coffee mug instead of gadget #1. OR you can make your own little scrambled on-the-go omelet.  Chop up some ham, throw in a little cheese, maybe even some tomato, onion, whatever you like.  Whisk it all up in the mug, microwave for 1 min and breakfast is served!  If you're feeling a little spicy (which I always am) then put a few dollops of salsa on top after it's done.  Grab your fork and eat up!

Happy Tuesday!  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Say cheese!

......or not.  Today I thought I'd give you just a few photography tips.  As most of you know, I am also a professional photographer and absolutely love it.  I think there's a lot of folks that think, "hey! I've got a camera like that.  I can be a professional photographer too!"  Well, I'm here to tell you if you haven't figured it out already, it's not an easy job.  It takes a LOT of practice and it's not a cheap.  You have to just start out with the basics and you'll naturally build up from there.  My camera is a Canon 7D, and the main lenses I use are my 24-105mm/4.0, and a 50mm/1.4.  I prefer to use natural light.  Not only that but it's much cheaper than going out and purchasing a ton of lighting equipment.  I always have my small step ladder and a 42" collapsible reflector with me.  The reflector allows me to bounce light onto my subject if needed, or I can use it to create some open shade.  I also have a 580EX external flash along with a basic tripod/umbrella kit.

Let me first say that it is extremely helpful if you own a digital SLR camera.  You know those larger cameras that allow you to switch out lenses?  You can definitely still get a lot of practice in with a small "point and shoot" camera, but honestly you can only learn so much.  Not only that, but you will quickly learn that it's not about just having a "good" camera and putting it in P mode, or Automatic mode and firing away.  You want to get to a point where you can put your camera in Manual mode and tell the camera exactly what you want. There's nothing worse than taking a picture and not getting the image that you were hoping for, and then not knowing how to fix it or what to change on the camera to get it.  OK, there could be worse, but you know what I'm saying. I'll get into more detail in other posts, but today I just wanted to cover some basics.  Here we go:

1)  Move in!  I mean, get closer to your subject.  Get rid of all that dead space around your subject.  Part of taking an image, for me anyway, is telling a story.  If you're kids are outside playing and you're taking some candid shots of them, do you care to see the entire front yard with who knows what taking up the dead space.  Are you telling a story about those folks that live across the street, their trash bins that are still out,  and that old green Monte Carlo that they drive?  Of course not.  (Or I don't know, maybe you are.  It kind of sounds like there might be a good story there. ?) So, first get as close as possible....then if you're still picking up a lot of distracting items, now you can use your camera to zoom in.  I say this because people think that just because you have a zoom lens, that means you can stand really far away and still get a great image.  Not true.  You'll notice when you take images like this, your subject doesn't look as clear as you had wished.  When you're using a good zoom lens, then your subject should still look decent, but if you have a zoom point and shoot camera..not so much. 

2)  Move around!  That's right, take shots at different angles.  Get a feel for what looks best.  Do you like the shot of your little one as their looking up at the camera?  Do you prefer the one where you squated down and got eye level with them?  Or maybe you really like the one where you're actually looking through the legs of a chair, but focusing on the little one?  This is where the foreground, the legs of the chair, may look blurred out, but your subject is crystal clear.  Kind of a cool image.  Everyone has different taste, so move around and get several different views.  Find the one that you like the best.  

3)  Rule of Thirds.  I'm sure you've heard of this one.  This is where you look through the viewfinder of your camera and imagine the space being divided into 9 equal sections.

image from

Place your subject in one of those sections.  Either off to the left, to the right, or in the top half or the bottom half, or depending on the situation maybe you place it dead center.  Let's say you're taking a picture of a beautiful horizon.  The image would look much more interesting and creative if you set the horizon in the bottom 1/3 of the frame rather than putting it right across the center. 

Here is an image I took of my daughter at the beach.  The water isn't my subject, and the horizon isn't my subject, but she is.  Part of my story telling is a nice sunny day at the beach playing in the sand.  I obviously wanted to include some sand, the ocean, even the jetty in the this is what I shot.  I had also bent down some to be more at her level.

4)  Leading lines or natural frame.  Look around for opportunities to take some creative shots.  If the tree limbs are creating a natural frame to place around your subject, use it.  You can see here in these images that I used leading lines.  When I went to do this Senior photo shoot, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the old standing railroad ties.  

Here is another image from a day at the beach. Again using leading lines.  Those birds are everywhere and I wanted to make sure they were included in my storytelling.

5)  See the light! Probably the most important thing you can practice on is seeing the light and utilizing it to your advantage.  This is one of the reasons why it's so important that you learn how to use your camera in Manual mode.  You will be able to adjust the settings in order to bring in the amount of light that you need for an image.  That being said, your lens plays a big role in that as well.  A typical kit lens (the ones that come with your camera when you purchase it) is not going to be the best lens, and I can bet that before long you'll be at the camera shop looking for a better one.  There's a reason why lenses get pricey.  Not only is it a really good piece of glass, but one of the benefits is that you can get one that will help you produce the type of images that you want.  For me, I do mostly children, couples, and families.  I'm in pretty close range, so my 50mm/1.4 is perfect.  It's a fixed lens, meaning it's not a zoom lens.  I am the zoom.  I just walk in closer or step back until I get what I want in the frame.  The 1.4 is the big difference.  This is the aperture.  The lower the number, the more light the lens will allow to enter.  This will also give me a better bokeh.  Bokeh is that nice blur you see around a focused subject.  Notice the railroad ties in the picture above.  They get more and more blurry the further back they go.  Again, she was my focus, not the railroad ties.  They were just there to add character to the image.  So I naturally wanted to use a setting that would blur out the background.  The more light that is allowed to enter, the lower ISO I can use.  The lower ISO I can use, the less grainy the image will be.  The less grainy my image is, the more crisp it will be.  Now sometimes, you may want a grainy image to give it a gritty feel, or give it some texture, and that's fine.  IF that's what you're going for.  Again, in Manual mode YOU make the choice in how you want your image to look.  Later in post processing you can always add other textures, overlays, and whatnot. (that's for another future post)  The other thing to think about when seeing the light is seeing EVEN light.  If your subject is standing in harsh sunlight, you may end up creating some pretty nasty shadows.  It's best to look for nice open shade.  "Evenly lit" is what you're looking for.  If your subject is standing underneath a tree and there are harsh sunrays bursting through the limbs onto your subject, that's not evenly lit.  You'll end up with basically white lines going across your subject. Take a look at my little man in that first image.  It was in the middle of the day, super bright sun.  I had him hold his arms up to block the sun from his face.  This gave me nice even light over most of his face and gave me the shot I was looking for.  I shoot mainly outdoors, but you can get some decent shots inside as well.  This is where a good piece of glass with a nice open aperture comes into play.  Enter my 50mm/1.4 lens. (By the way, there is also a 50mm/1.2 lens which allows even MORE light to enter, but that's another $1000 that I don't currently have in my tight budget) By utilizing the open window light and setting my camera to a 1.4 or 1.8 aperture, I can get a beautiful evenly lit shot.  I rarely have to use my external flash.  Unless of course you are in a setting where it is dark outside, you're inside, and then you'll need to use that flash.  But again, think "evenly lit".  No harsh light.  This is where you want to have some sort of diffuser attached to your flash.  It helps to spread the light out and make it more even.  There are several different styles out there, some you can attach directly to your camera and others that attach to your external flash.  I don't think you'll ever see a professional photographer using a flash without a diffuser.  

Well, gosh!  I think I went on a little longer than I had planned.  I know it's not everything that you need to know, but it's something to start off with.  There's absolutely no way I could fit everything into one post anyway.  It's just too much. There really is so much to learn when it comes to photography.  The important thing is to practice, practice.  I can't say it enough.  A few recommendations I will leave you with are:

  • Learn your camera through and through.  In other words, read the manual.  And then read it again.  I guarantee you you'll learn something new every time.  There's nothing like taking pictures for a friend and your camera does something that you're not used to and you don't know how to fix it.  Or you know that you're camera does something that you really need right now but you don't know how to use it.  
  • If you have a dSLR camera and are thinking about upgrading your lens I would recommend renting.  If you live in the DFW area, Fort Worth Camera and Arlington Camera are great places to rent from.  They are very professional and helpful folks.  They know their stuff, and they know photography.  Lens rentals are anywhere from $20-$60 depending on the lens.  I would also recommend renting it for the weekend because it's the same price as a one day rental, except you pick it up after 3p on a Friday and don't have to return it until Monday morning.  Allows you more time to practice!
  • If you're thinking about going professional, a good external flash is essential.  You never know what type of lighting situation you will be in, and having that extra light will be a life saver.  You can also purchase some lower end remotes for your flash.  This allows you to put your external flash on a tripod behind an umbrella and setting it in a place where you need more light.  Oh, that's another thing....the tripod and umbrella.  You can get a lower end kit for under $200.  You don't HAVE to have these items, but I will tell you that there will be instances that you say to yourself, "OMG!  If I just had some more light!". In the meantime, you can just get a diffuser for your camera's flash and stick that puppy on there anytime you need more light.  One of the other differences is that with an external flash, you have the ability to rotate the flash head.  You almost never want the light bouncing directly onto your subjects face.  You typically want to point it up at a 45 degree angle, or point it behind you, or bounce light directly off of the ceiling or off of a wall.  Options, options.  
  • If you can afford to take a basic photography class, do it.  If you can afford to take the occasional photo workshop, do it.  From now on, you will constantly be learning.  I remember a few years ago I told my husband about a specialty workshop I had signed up for and he said, "Mel, don't you know enough already?"  WHAT!  I will never know enough!  There is so much to STILL learn.  Continue to educate yourself. If anything, make a trip to the bookstore and purchase a book on beginners photography.  I would even check out the University book store for new and used books that the kids have used for their actual Photography courses. Oh, and learning Photoshop.  Eeeek!  That's a whole 'nother monster all by itself.  
  • Purchase some sort of image processing software.  Of coarse, Photoshop is the standard.  There are TONS of tutorials out there on using Photoshop.  I'll be posting some in the future. Now, the ridiculous thing is the price.  The standard Photoshop CS5 is around $700.  Ouch!   I use Photoshop CS2.  It's the version that was out when I got into photography and I never upgraded.  Too expensive.  They already got me for my $600 back then, and the newer versions don't do enough "new" stuff for me to rationalize spending even more money on it. :)  If you're just starting out, PSE (Photoshop Elements 10 or any older version, I think 10 is the most current) will do just fine. You can get it all day for under $100.  There are so many things you can do to your image to make it look even more superb!  
  • In the beginning of the post I typed "Say cheese.....or not".  This is because you don't always need your subject looking directly at you.  Candid shots of them having fun and doing something natural are just as great as the ones where they're looking right at you saying cheese.  

I think that's it for now.  Please let me know if there is something specific you guys want to learn about and I'll be sure to add it to the post list.  All I know is that there are so many tips and ideas I wish other people would have shared with me when I was starting out.  I've learned a lot on my own and still learning.  I've taken several classes, workshops and looking forward to more.  Nowadays, there is so much information out on the web.  You can learn just about anything really.
Until next time!  Have a great weekend! and have fun shooting!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Traditional Rice pudding

Hey guys!  Hope everyone had an awesome weekend.  I for one have not been feeling well.  Came down with some viral upper respiratory infection and pink eye, and was down in the dumps for a good 3 days.  Yuck!  BUT!  I am feeling tons better today and ready to tackle the laundry and some much needed clean up.  Yahoo!

So, today I'm gonna show you guys how to make traditional rice pudding.  Well, traditional for MY family anyway.  As far back as I can remember, rice pudding was a favorite breakfast meal for me.  Especially in the winter.  I can remember waking up in the morning and smelling it as soon as I stepped out into the hallway.  Mmmm.  I love the stuff!  My parents are a combination of Mexican, American-Indian, and Spaniard.  Most of the cooking growing up was Mexican food.  Mom and Dad always called this recipe "Atole" (ah-tol-ay).  Atole actually means oatmeal, but I guess to them this was Mexican oatmeal.  If you look up other recipes you may also see it called "Arroz con leche".  That means rice w/milk.  I know there are tons of other variations of rice pudding recipes out there.  Just depends on where you grew up.  Not only that, but you know how people tweak recipes to their liking.  I've seen some recipes even call for eggs and cream. Anyway!  This recipe is the same one that my mom would make for us.  I haven't changed a thing.  It's easy, simple, and most of the ingredients you have on hand anyway.  Let's do it!
You'll need:
2 C rice
1/8 tsp salt
1/2-1 C sugar
1 TB cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 C raisins

First you want to cook your rice according to package directions.  I say this because regular long grain rice takes 1 1/2 C water for every cup of rice, and brown rice takes 2 C water for every cup of rice.  FYI: Each cup of dry rice will yield about 3 cups of cooked rice.  Just so you know what you're gonna end up with.  If you have a rice steamer, you can steam the rice first and then just put 6 cups of cooked rice into a large pot for your rice pudding.  I have a steamer, but I prefer just to make it all in one pot.  Less clean up.  OK!  So, you cook your rice.  You want to make sure that the rice has soaked up all of the water.  We don't want watery rice pudding.

 Now that you're rice is cooked, this is where you add the milk.  I didn't put a measurement for the milk, because I never measure it.  You just pour in enough milk to completely cover the rice and maybe even about an inch more.  
 Now you will add your salt, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.  I would start off with just a 1/2 C of the sugar.  I made a double batch.  Enough to last us the next 4 days.  I barely had enough room to add all of my ingredients.  Eeek!

When you add the rest of the ingredients you want to gently stir it all in.  If you get too aggressive with it, you'll break up the rice and make it mushy.  If you're going for mushy, I guess that's OK.  To each their own, right?  Either way, it's still edible and tastes gooooooOOd!
Now comes the hard part.....cover and let it sit on low-med heat for about 30 min-1 hour.  This is important because this is where the flavors come together and the raisins get nice and plump.  After about 30 min, go ahead and stick a spoon in there and taste it.  If it's not sweet enough for you, this is when you'll add that other 1/2 C of sugar.  Make note on how much you ended up putting in so you'll know for next time.

That's it!  Just a few ingredients and you've got a yummy breakfast.  I love it as a snack or even dessert.  If you make it as a dessert you can drop a dollop of whipping cream on top.  For me, that makes it an official dessert.  Store it in the fridge and when you go to warm up a bowl, you may need to add some more milk. It will dry up quite a bit after cooling.  
 You can see that some of my raisins aren't very dark.  That's because I used half regular raisins and half golden raisins.  They were there, so I used em'.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Homemade baby wipes!

Oh my gosh!  I absolutely cannot believe that I waited this long to actually try making these homemade baby wipes.  I had heard about it and seen youtube videos about it, but just didn't feel like trying it out I guess. Mr.D was potty trained shortly after he turned 2yo.  (In case you're wondering, he WAS NOT ready, but I was.  He's a smart kid, so I did it.  I bought him some big boy undies, put em' on him and that was it.  No diapers during the day.  No pull ups. We went to the potty regularly, and sure he had some accidents but after about a week he got the hang of it.  Patience young Jedi....patience)  Nonetheless, he still wears a diaper during naps and at bedtime.  He just sleeps right through it.  So!  I do use the wipes when he's wet after the naps or in the morning.  I also like to keep some in the car for sticky fingers and what not.  You know what I'm talkin' about. So I got down to the bottom of my wipes container and thought, "you know what Mel, let's go ahead and try making some!"
A while back I had thought about trying this out so I bought the little travel size baby shampoo and baby oil specifically for this task.  Here we go:
OK, so I've really looked around, read other tutes, watched several videos, and essentially here is all you need.

  • A roll of good paper towels.  NOT a cheapy brand.  Apparently they're cheap for a reason.....they tear up easy.  I always buy the "tear-a-size" paper towels because the regular size is always way more than what I need.  The "tear-a-size" seemed to work really well for this project because they are well, just the right size when you pull them out.
  • A sharp long serrated knife, or a bread knife.  
  • A container to store your new homemade wipes.  I just re-used my old container.  Other folks have just used a plastic storage container that is large enough to house the new wipes.
  • Baby oil.  Some folks use olive oil or other special organic oil.  I just went with the basic baby oil.
  • Baby shampoo.  Some folks use special organic baby shampoo.  Really it's your own preference.  It's the gentle good smelling shampoo that you want.  I love the way Johnson's baby shampoo smells so that's what I got.  Honestly, any baby/kids shampoo would be fine. 
First you need to cut your roll of paper towels.  I originally cut mine in half, which is what ALL of the tutorial/videos say to do.  Well, when I got to where I put the 1/2 roll into my container, it didn't fit.  It was too tall.  I wanted to be able to pull the wipes out from the center hole.  You know, like you do the Clorox wipes?  So, I would suggest measuring how tall your container is.  In order for mine to fit into my old wipes container, I actually had to cut my roll into thirds.  Yay!  More wipes out of 1 roll!
My container is a little over 3 1/2 inches tall and a roll of paper towels is 11 in. long.  11 inches divided by 3 is a little over 3 1/2, so I measured 3 5/8 in. from both ends and mark.  Now get that sharp knife out and cut. Just an easy back and forth motion.  Like sawing a log.  Here is my post-cut picture.  Yikes!  Obviously my knife was not a sharp one.  Oh well, it's all the same.  Remember I originally cut my roll in half per original instructions.  I didn't take a picture of the new roll cut into thirds.  But you get the idea. Just remember if you're going to reuse your old container like I did, cut the roll into thirds! This half roll actually makes a perfect size napkin so I'm sticking it on my paper towel holder.

Next, you'll get a bowl and mix your ingredients.  Let me say that apparently there are large fatty rolls of paper towels, and then there are smaller regular rolls.  I guess the ones I buy are the large fatties.  I didn't realize. I say this because you'll need a little more sauce for the larger rolls.  My rolls actually say "Super Roll" in the top left hand corner.  For a regular roll you'll need:  1 cup of hot water, 1 TB shampoo, and 1/2 T oil.  For a fatty roll you'll need: 2 cups of hot water, 2 TB shampoo, and 1 TB oil.  (it's not rocket science, right?) Put your water, oil, and shampoo into the bowl and stir.  Set one of the cut rolls into the container you're going to store them in.  Now you'll pour your mixture all over the cut roll.  Just try to evenly soak the roll.  Close the lid and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  After the 10 minutes go back and turn your container upside down.  This is just to make sure that the paper towels soak up all of the liquid.  Honestly, it should have all soaked in during the first 10 minutes.  The flip and do 10 min more is just to make sure.  Anyway!   Here is a picture of my roll after it's been soaked.

You'll notice in my soaked image, the center cardboard piece is gone.  That's the next step.  Since it's soaking wet, you should be able to pull it out pretty easy.  This can be tricky because it may tear into a few pieces at first, but no big deal.  Just stick your fingers in there, pull it away from the edges, grab it, and pull it out.  You know how when you use a roll of paper towels, that last paper towel is kind of stuck to the cardboard tube?  Well, it's still stuck.  So when you pull that cardboard piece out, you'll have you're center paper towel pull out with it.  Yay!

Here are my ready to go homemade wipes in the container with that center piece ready to poke through the top of the container.  They pull right on out one by one with ease.  Pretty easy, huh?  If you've got some friends that use regular wipes all the time, maybe you can ask for their empty wipes containers when their done.  Either make all 3 at once, or put the other 2 cut rolls in your commissary  for when you run out of roll no.1.  (Please don't let me word commissary fool you into thinking I'm one of those food hoarders.  We have an extra little closet in our house where we store any and all extra stuff.  Nothing to write home about.  Just some extra toothpaste/toothbrushes/floss/soap/lotions/tp/paper towels/etc.)
So that's it!  Homemade baby wipes for the baby or to keep in the car for messy kiddos.
It took me all of maybe 10 minutes labor time to make these things.  Again, I wish I would have started making them a long time ago.  I try to keep my paper towel purchases at no more than .75 per roll.  When they're on sale, .50 all day and twice on Sunday.  The baby oil and wash cost me a couple of bucks for the travel sizes, but a lot of us already have that stuff on hand anyway.  Not only that, but I only used a few Tablespoons from each and there's tons left to make who knows how many more containers of wipes.  Better yet, get the regular size bottles from the dollar store!  Oooh!  Even bigger savings!  ChaChing! All that being said,  I figured out that my homemade wipes cost me no more than .68 cents, and that's estimating pretty high.  I think this makes a great side gift for a baby shower.  Print out the basic instructions, tie it onto a string, attach it to the container, and she'll save tons of money for several months, maybe even years to come.  OK, maybe not TONS of money, but a significant little chunk anyway. Sass it up if you want and make a cute basket out of it along with a pack of diapers, the rest of the baby oil, shampoo, a cute Tablespoon for measuring, and on and on I could go.  Happy Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's parties ahead!

So, both kids have their Valentine's parties tomorrow at school and I wanted to show you guys which treats we went with.  There were so many great options out there on Pinterest, right?  I think I've got plenty of ideas for several years to come.  First up, we have C's Valentines:
C picked out the Heartbreaker Valentines.  I know, I know, I told her it WAS Valentine's day and typically there's red or pink in there somewhere.  Well, you'll learn that she likes to go with the flow but always likes to add her own sense of style.  For this project, she was feelin' the neon green and orange.  That's fine.  My little gypsy.  She's so awesome.  I used my Silhouette software to create my hearts and to cut them out.  We filled them with a packet of those Nuggets from Florida's Natural.  Have you seen these?  I love em'.  I first came across them during Halloween last year. Actually I'm not that crazy about any of the gummy type snacks, but I can go for these.  The box is around $4 at Wal-mart and has 24 little pouches.  The pouches are full of these teensy little fruit chew nuggets.  There are 4 different flavors: Strawberry, Blueberry, Green Apple, and of course Orange.  They're right there where the other fruit gummy packs are.  My Wal-mart has them on the top shelf away from the other gummies, so they're easy to miss if you don't even know that they're there. 
Next up is the little man.  He's about to be 3 and is in a little pre-k class with other 2-3 year olds.  I really hate to pass out candy for these little people, but the dentist does say that the best candy for a kid is chocolate.  If their gonna eat candy.  No kidding. That's because it doesn't stick to the teeth.  It just melts away.  So I compromised.
Got those little bubble's from Wal-mart in the party section and a pack of Hershey's kisses.  Already had the little plastic bags on hand. (I keep a stock of different sizes for business and such occasions) Typed up the little bag toppers, printed them on cardstock to match the bubble's.  (the bubbles only came in pink or turquoise, and Miguel didn't want Dane passing out "blowing pink bubble kisses" treats to everyone. :) Then I also printed out some little labels for the Hershey's kisses from the same cardstock.  I just used my 3/4" hole punch to punch em' out, ran them through the Xyron sticker maker and stuck em' to the bottom of the kisses.  Voila!  The back side says "Happy Valentine's Day! Your friend, D"
I got an email last night from C's karate studio and there was a note stating that we are welcome to bring valentines to pass out in class.  Hmmmm.  I'm sure C is gonna want to participate in the exchange.  That one is definitely last minute, so we'll see what we end up doing.  Not only that, but I've been working on a Valentine for Miguel.  OK, working on it in my head.  I haven't actually put scissors to paper yet, but I'm hoping I can get it done.  

So what did you guys do for Valentines?  Any other Pinterest junkies out there? 
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade laundry detergent....mayo or powder form?

Ok, so I'm all about saving money around here, and needless to say I have tried a few different recipes for the homemade laundry detergent.  I finally found not one, but TWO that I love!  When I came across the recipe over at The White Silk Purse blog I knew I just had to try it out. The first recipe ends up with the consistency of mayo and the other is made from the same ingredients but you just leave it in powder form instead of adding the water.  They both work great and I'm hooked.  When I made the mayo form, I used one of my husbands empty protein powder containers to store it in.  The recipe actually made two of these containers.  I gave the other one to my mom.  I just used my Silhouette to cut out the words Laundry Detergent onto white shelf liner.  Stuck it to the bottle.  Just in case anyone decides to help me do laundry, I also put a note on top letting them know how much to use.  I've got a $1 store Tablespoon in the laundry room that sits right next to the container.  The recipe makes 256 loads (that's if you only use the 1 T per load, and to be honest, 1T is plenty.  Every now and then it makes me feel better to put 2 if the clothes are just aweful dirty.  You know, when the 2yo doesn't make it to the bathroom in time, or when the clothes are a sweaty mess from exercising or working in the yard...anyway!) The cost comes out to only 1.7 cents per load! When was the last time you paid $4.35 to wash 256 loads of laundry???  OK, OK, maybe if you're one of those extreme couponers, maybe.  But still.
So!  Wanna make some?  All you need is:

  •  2 bars of Fels Naptha soap
  •  2 cups of Borax
  •  2 cups of Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
  •  and 6+ cups of hot water
  • Containers to store your new sauce (FYI: any and everything that is a liquid, paste, mousse, etc, I call "sauce")  In this case, your new laundry detergent
  Kitchen utensils/appliances you'll need are:

  • A cheese grater to grate the soap, or you can cut it up with a knife.  Sounds like a chore, but it only took me 10 minutes to grate both bars. P.S. If you're close to an IKEA, they have a cool little cheese grater that snaps onto a container so when you're grating it falls right into the bowl.  I want one and went online to purchase it, but apparently they only carry them in the store.  Pffft!  My IKEA is way on the other side of the metroplex, so it's a day trip for sure.  
  • Saucepan to heat up the water and melt the soap
  • Blender
Put your 6 cups of water in the saucepan and heat it up.  Grate the Fels Naptha and the add it to the water.  Stir, stir, and stir until it's all melted.  Remove from heat. Add the Borax.  Slowly add the Washing Soda.  I say slowly because if you just dump it in there then it will bubble up & over and that'll just be a big mess.  Stir, stir, stir until the powder has all dissolved.
I just left the new sauce in the pan, covered it and left it overnight.  Or you can make it in the morning and then it'll be ready in the evening to finish up.  When you go back to it after it's sat, you will notice that it's hardened quite a bit.  You're right on track.  Here is where you get the blender out.  I used a butter knife to cut through the new laundry detergent and break it up into chunks. I just filled up my blender about half way with detergent chunks and started adding water to thin it out, about 1/2-1 cup. You just want it to be the consistency of mayo when you're done blending.  If you feel like you put too much water, then just add a little more of the detergent.  The first time I made this I didn't use enough water and it hardened up again.  Not rock hard, but very dense and still crystallized. Which is fine because it'll just dissolve in the wash anyway.  But I like the mayo consistency.  So, make a blender full, and pour it off into a container.  Repeat with the blending until it's all mayo"like".  Use 1T per load.  Drop it in the washer as it's filling with water and then add your clothes.  That's it!
For the powder form, just don't use any water.  I cut up the Fels Naptha into little chunks instead of grating it for this one.  I poured 1 cup of Washing Soda, 1 cup of Borax and 1 bar of chopped up Fels Naptha into the blender and blended it all up.  I had a smaller container for my powder form, so that's all I made instead of the 2 cup recipe.  Use 2 tsp per load.  Yeah, just 2 tsp, NOT Tablespoon.

P.S.  Pay attention to your pots/pans, utensils, blender when you're cleaning out the soap that was left behind. They will be sparkling clean!  Seriously, my stainless steel pot has never shined so much, and the blender looks brand.  I figure if it makes my dishes sparkle, imagine what it's doing to my clothes!  I know my Mom is tempted to start washing the dishes with it.  She was so impressed with the stuff.  :)

This stuff is so easy to make either way and I love it.  Thanks to Dana over at The White Silk Purse for her recipe.  I'm so glad I found it.  This one is a winner!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy January!

Well, since we're almost done with January I figured it's a little too late to say "Happy New Year".  Maybe not.  Anyway!  This year I have decided to really put forth the effort in keeping up with a blog.  Who knows if anyone will read, but you never know unless you try, right?   Looking forward to sharing photography tips, sewing tutorials, yummy recipes and other misc projects. Here's to an awesome 2012!