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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wrapped in a grandmother's love

Week 2 of my photography class has me focusing on an area I find challenging: shooting mid-day in full-sun.

I usually like to shoot in the open shade, where I don't have to deal with "hot spots" of light on my subject or the background, or harsh shadows under the eyes and nose, etc. One of the things I love about shooting in the open shade is how wonderfully reflective the eyes can look. But, shooting in the open shade usually means I miss out on gorgeous light.

So, with this challenge in mind, off we went on Mother's Day for a little photo shoot.

Many of you know that my mom makes beautiful quilts - or if you didn't know before, you know now after seeing my recent post on the PJ quilts she made. Awhile back, Mom gave me a purple quilt she knew I admired. She knows all too well my love for the colour purple! (This is the lady who had to make me a purple birthday cake in our motor home for my fourth birthday while on vacation in British Columbia. She is also the owner of the most magnificent purple dress that I coveted as a child. I coveted it so much, in fact, that I asked her to bequeath it to me in her will! Can you say 'morbid'?!)

Anyway, since I wouldn't be with my mom on Mother's Day, I thought of a way to honour her: I wrapped my sweet daughter in my beloved purple quilt.

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For some families, treasures consist of limoges china, fancy crystal or silver tea sets. While we do not have such riches, we do have a wealth of beautiful creations by our mom in the form of handmade gifts: quilts, attic dolls, embroidered pillowcases and cross-stitched items. These are our treasures that will become heirlooms as we proudly hand them down to our children and grandchildren with stories of the loving and creative woman who made them.

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Thank you, Mom, for these treasures. But most of all, thank you for the greatest treasure of all: you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Scrunched up nose

In our family, we all love how Claire's nose wrinkles up when she laughs or giggles. Basically, we love everything about seeing our girl (and boy too!) happy, and this adorable face just happens to be one of the signs.

Scrunched up nose
My online photography class with Lisa from A Long Road to China started on Sunday and I've already learned so much, all in the area of post-processing (that is, editing the photo after I've taken it). For years I've stuck with Photoshop Elements, the introductory version of Photoshop but have felt its limitations many times. With Lisa's encouragement, I took the plunge with Photoshop Creative Cloud. At first I was completely daunted with it because so many things are different but with amazing tutorials from Lisa that she has made available to her students, I'm getting more comfortable. And the things I can do! So many things that I wanted to do before but couldn't do at all easily in Elements.

This photo of Claire above doesn't reflect anything new I've learned because it was meant to show my current style of shooting and processing. But look out - new things are coming! :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pussy willows in the spring

Is it safe to say it out loud? That Spring may have finally arrived?

Well, I suppose in Canada it's never safe to say that but at least we are now seeing double-digit temperatures (yeah, on the 'plus' side!). And one of my favourite harbingers are spring has already come and gone: pussy willows!

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Claire's best friend Mihn brought her back some stems from her Grandma's farm a couple of weeks ago. I finally managed to snap a few photos the other day. I find it harder and harder to find time for special photographs (that is, not "lifestyle" photography) with the kids now in full-day school and
many activities.

I am starting an online photography class next week. I am really looking forward to being challenged with new ideas, techniques and critiques. I've already warned my kiddos that they will be more subject to my camera perhaps more than ever!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

From baby pajamas to heirloom quilt

Well, I'm a lucky mama AND a lucky daughter: for many reasons actually, but right now, specifically for being the recipient of the most wonderful quilts from my mom.

It all started back when the kids were teeny tiny. I saved all of their pajamas after they outgrew them, knowing all the while that I'd like to have a quilt made out of them someday. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd give it a try myself. However, in the last couple of years I've realized I already have too many hobbies - quilting would be one too many! So, I asked my mom who is, after all, a quilter-extraordinaire.  I spent some time at the quilting fabric store, looking for just the right colours for the backing and binding, and then dropped it all of with my mom in Saskatchewan mid-July last year.

Only two weeks later, I returned to Saskatchewan for another event and Mom had already finished putting the tops of both quilts together. She still needed to hand-quilt the tops and bottoms together  but given her progress already at that point, I knew it wouldn't be long!

Here is what the quilts looked like at that stage ...

Claire's quilt:
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It was so exciting to see their little pjs turned into tiles on a quilt, and so fun to look at each one and remember what stage the children were at when they wore the pjs.

A couple of weeks later and voila, Mom was completely done! That was last August, by the way.

Fast forward to Easter of this year when I finally was able to pick up those beautiful quilts and then to today when I finally photographed them.

Mom always signs the back of her quilts.

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I chose the multi-coloured fabric for the backing and binding based on the colours of Claire's pajamas. Her pjs were mostly pink, red (from Christmas!), green, and some orange. 

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Mom incorporated the sweetest details from Claire's pjs, including embroidery, pockets, ribbons and ruffles.

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 I just love how they both turned out. Here's Ren's:

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Like Claire's, I looked for fabric that echoed the main colours of Ren's pjs: orange, green, blue, red, etc. I really lucked out with the fabrics for both quilts, I think. I especially love the diagonal stripe on the binding.

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You can't see Mom's hand-stitches in every picture but you can see some in the next picture below, near the bottom of the grey fabric. But of course, her hand-stitching is everywhere on the quilt! That's one of the things that makes it so special. 

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Aren't they fantastic?! Thanks to Mom, our children's precious childhood pajamas are now preserved in the form of heirloom quilts. Thank you, Mom! xoxo

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dancing in the rain

Claire had her first dance competition of the season Wednesday afternoon. They won gold! I didn't take many pictures of her before heading out to the competition because we were sorely lacking in beautiful natural light due to heavy rain outside.

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After we got home from competition, Claire still had her groove on, despite the rain. You might not be able to tell from the photos below but she was actually dancing in the puddles!

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 Gotta love that happy girl of ours!
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Claire's woodland birthday party

Our darling girl is eight! How did this happen?! Wasn't it just yesterday that we were encouraging her to take her first steps or say her first phrases? And now, she talks a mile a minute, sings clear as a bell and right on tune at the top of her lungs, all the while dancing her heart out. 

Claire chose a "woodland" theme for her party this year. Together, we decided on decorations, food and activities. I can't count how many times Claire has asked in the last several months: "Can we talk about my birthday?" or, "Can we look at Pinterest for ideas together?"

I won't lie and say Claire's party was easy or quick to pull together. We started a few months ago - no joke. But the truth is, we both really enjoy crafting and planning so it was a labour of love for sure.

Without further ado, here is her party in pictures! (Please note that most of the kids' faces are cropped out of the picture because I did not obtain permission from the kids' parents to post their pictures online.)

Our girl, getting ready to party:

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Check out those newly-pierced ears!

We had a lot of fun with the decor: think toadstools, woodland animals, moss and birch wood!

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My favourite decoration was this mobile made up of paintings by Claire. Thanks to my sister-in-law Chrissy's dad, we had a bunch of beautiful birch to work with. Claire drew her designs onto wood rounds in pencil (which allowed erasing if necessary) and then either she or myself went over her drawing in a black Sharpie. She then used watercolour paint to colour the images.

Claire's paintings

This cute little vase holder is a close second for favourite:

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Most of the food was pretty quick to prepare: pocky became known as "chocolate-covered twigs",  babybel cheeses were transformed into ladybugs, timbits became hedgehogs, mozzarella cheese strings and cherry tomatoes became toadstools, etc.

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To label the food, we just picked out a bunch of rocks from our front flower beds, cleaned them and wrote on them in Sharpie. A bit of spanish moss and a flower or two completed the look.

Instead of a birthday cake, we had birthday toadstools. The little white dots on the cupcakes are white chocolate chips, pointy side in. For drinks we had 'bear-y' punch, served in little milk bottles with 'birch-bark' straws.

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Claire chose to only invite four girls this year, which made for a nice small group. Since we would then have only six children at the party, I decided to invite some of Claire's favourite adults as well: Baba and Dido, Rod and Marianne, and Stu and Chrissy. I thought that perhaps the adults would mostly congregate downstairs while the kids worked at the table but the adults gravitated to where the kids were.

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That ended up being quite helpful, as the kids were working on a rather tricky little word search I made using an online generator. Many of the words were simple enough to find but some were backwards or upwards in direction.

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Look how Claire's friend Mihn is holding her hand in the pic above ... so sweet!

Once everyone was well settled in, we began our first offical activity Claire had dreamed up: making woodland stuffies! She had seen some adorable little creatures on Pinterest and asked if we could make them to stuff at the party. I contemplated buying a pattern or two on Etsy and then realized I could just draw them out myself, create my own patterns and then sew them out of felt. Here are some of the creatures, ready for stuffing:

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Let the stuffing begin!

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Once they were nicely stuffed, we put them aside for me to sew up later in the party when the kids had a little dance party in the basement. (First on the playlist: "What does the Fox Say?")

The next activity was to make little hedgehogs and toadstools out of Sculpy to be added later to a small grapevine wreath. Here's the example I made ahead of time:

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To make the hedgehog's prickles, you insert scissors that are slightly open and snip as you pull them out. I can't find the tutorial I originally followed but there are several online that are pretty similar.

It was really cute to see how the kids' hedgehogs took shape.  Mihn even made eyelashes for hers! Claire quickly followed suit :)

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Then on to the toadstools, using the tutorial pinned here.

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The hedgehogs and toadstools needed to bake (25 minutes at 275) so we moved to the next activity, knowing that we'd complete the wreaths later. Next up: bird treats using bird seed and just enough gelatin to moisten the seeds.

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After working so hard on the crafts and bird treats, it was time for the kids to have some snacks. The pocky sticks and popcorn were probably the favourite treats. I never expected, though, how the kids would eat their popcorn!

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Yep, she's using the pocky sticks for chopsticks! What a smartie! Soon, the other kids were doing the same thing ... that is, when they weren't using the pocky sticks as weapons!

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I was worried that the kids might be getting crafted-out so I figured it was time for them to let off a little energy dancing. That gave me a chance to sew up their stuffies and tidy up the table. Much to my surprise, they were excited to get back to crafting again after a few dances! These are my kind of kids!

The next activity was to make a faux terranium. I had made a couple before the party to use as decorations, and although the kids' glass container was different, it gave them the idea ...

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I gave each child a piece of floral foam (pre-cut to fit into the cylinder vase), along with some twigs, spruce tree clippings, moss, stones, teeny toadstools and a small fawn. Before the party, I stuck a couple of stick-pins into the bottom of the fawns' feet so that they could be secured into the floral foam.

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Once again, it was neat to see how the kids used their imaginations for their terraniums! One girl used spruce needles to create a grass-like effect, while another decided that the colourful pearl-topped stick pins I had would make great berries! When they were done decorating their little fawn habitat, they simply had to drop their arrangement into their vase. The toadstool-inspired ribbon covered up the floral foam base.

The only things left to do were to (a) finish the wreaths by hot-gluing the hedgehogs and toadstools on, along with some moss ...

Claire and Ren wreath collage

and ... (b) sing Happy Birthday to the birthday girl, which they did, by the way, in English, Mandarin and French!

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I'm proud that our girl once again chose to ask for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts. This year she chose the Edmonton Humane Society.

After more merriment, that was it: the party was over and my work was done. Whew! We now have a happy and slightly-exhausted 8-year old on our hands. Oh yeah, and a sweet and funny seven year-old who is already talking about his big birthday plans for December. Let's hope I get a little break before he puts me to work!
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bubble tea

I often proclaim that I hate cooking ... but evidently I do like trying special recipes now and then because I'm back with another little experiment from my kitchen ... bubble tea.

The idea came to mind a short while ago when I was making tapioca pudding for the kids. I made the real kind: the kind you have to soak overnight and then cook for a couple of hours on the stove the next day. I realized then that if my kids liked tapioca pudding (they did!), then they may enjoy bubble tea. (Incidentally, they had tried bubble tea once before but the tapioca pearls - which happened to be black - had been a totally new concept to them at the time and they did not understand what they actually were and therefore were a little suspicious of them. Before I made tapioca pudding, I was sure to show them the hard little tapioca beads.)

Anyway, with a little research on Pinterest and trips to the nearby T & T market for the pearls and dollar store for the bubble tea straws, I was ready!

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I bought the rainbow pearls because I thought they looked so pretty. The package says they are ready in five minutes but I liked them better after about 20 - 25 minutes.  That was a fairly common sentiment online.

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I loosely followed this mango recipe, which has pretty basic ingredients: green tea, coconut milk, mango, oranges, and honey. As soon as the kids were home from school, I blended it all up (minus the pearls of course!) and the after-school treat was ready! It was a sweet success!

Bubble tea collage