Monday, December 31, 2012 by
Does anyone else have fabulous icicles like this at their place today?  Truly one of winter’s magical gifts.
It gave me the idea of doing a little photo-documentary of favourite winter moments.  Believe me there aren’t that many as far as I’m concerned.  So it may improve my perspective to be on the lookout and capture them as a reminder.  In that vein I went searching for some of the Photo A Day type lists that are posted as inspiration.  SERIOUSLY DAUNTING!  So instead I’ve come up with my own list for a Photo At Whim of moments…items…scenes that capture the magic of winter in this desolate land.
So here’s my short list.  In no particular order.
A fire in the fireplace.  OK I lied.  I started with my favourite.  Jack Frost.  Skating.  Snow covered branches.  Snowflakes.  Icicles…check.  Sledding.  Hot chocolate.  White on white.  A snowman.
Hmm.  Bit of a short list.  Maybe there will be others that come to me as the season goes on.
Here’s to making the best of winter.

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Christmas Presents

Thursday, December 27, 2012 by
Well, it has all been enjoyed…the baking, dinners, decorations and wrapping a la Pinterest.  What remains after it’s all been said and done are the gifts.  Carefully (or hastily) shopped for.  Or handmade.  Here are a few that were under the tree for me.
IMG_6019_willowtree_flute“Angel of Harmony” by WillowTree.  This from flute-playing Teenaged Daughter.  Very awesome gift on so many levels…the WillowTree, the flute and the Harmony.  This has found a perfect home on the library shelves in the living room, also affectionately known around here as the Music Room.
These from The Boys.  I have a collection of Christmas mugs that comes out for the season.  All tasteful, none tacky!  This one will make an excellent addition, and also I claim it as my personal mug, just in case anyone else thinks they can use it. 
And Christmas Blend Via.  Because Christmas Blend rules, and sometimes you don’t want to make a whole pot, or grind beans, or run the Nespresso.  There’s something very comforting and homey about instant coffee.  But still, it has to be good.  The Boys know their Mom.
This from my award-winning woodturning Dad.  Stunning.   Very worthy of being displayed on the countertop.  Small enough to hold in your hand and press the “grinder” down with your thumb. Especially appreciated since I have somehow been living with a grocery store quality pepper grinder for ages, with Children constantly complaining of having actual peppercorns in their food. 
My life was improved this Christmas.

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Decorating the Tree

Thursday, December 20, 2012 by
So, this year I let the boys decorate the Christmas tree.  By themselves.  Aha, you’re thinking.  There’s a wonderful mother, and she doesn’t care how her tree turns out.  Not so.  Well, I am a wonderful mother, but I do care…deeply…how my (did I say my?) tree turns out.  You see, there’s a method to my madness.
First of all, I did a “base” decoration of white lights, white mesh garland, and white decorative vine balls.
Second, I did a preliminary sort of all my ornaments.  I took out ONLY the ones I wanted on the tree this year…in the same rustic/white/natural elements theme as my mantel.
With a little bit of coaching along the lines of Don’t Put Them All At Eye Level, it was pretty hard for them to go very far wrong.  So now the tree looks great and we are all one big happy family.
A few of my favourite ornaments…
A couple of these textured but clear stained glass stars.  I think I got them at the One Of A Kind show in Toronto.  Great show!  Catch it if you can.
In German these are called Strohsterne…straw stars.  I made this one!  Actually!  With my mom, back in the day when I had time to create such intricately beautiful things.  Sigh.
My dad made this one.  A few years ago he made quite a lot of them and gave them away as Christmas gifts.  All with different designs cut out of the centre.  Epically talented, my dad.
Oh, and the tree is real.  Always.  I’m a little diehard about some things…

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Christmas Mantel

Thursday, December 13, 2012 by
Christmas Mantel | IKEA decorative balls, SOCKER flowerpots, lantern, pinecones | personallyandrea.com
My favourite place to decorate for Christmas.  The mantel.  I’ve decided that creativity reigns, and tradition does not dictate.  As it does…and should…for other aspects of Christmas decorating.
This year, I’m feeling a white/rustic/natural elements vibe.  A swath of burlap as the basis, tied in a huge bow at each end of the mantel.  The mirror was already there…I think I bought it at Homesense.  And my decorative spheres from IKEA have made another appearance!  I bought a box of pinecones at Home Depot c/o Martha Stewart.  Love Martha.  The tin buckets are also IKEA.  Here with a twine embellishment and holding pinecones, these are another staple in my decorating/entertaining/PersonallyPackaged repertoire.  Hugely versatile and incredibly useful…I keep tons of them around.  Another item I recommend to stock up on!  A galvanized lantern and white pillar candle complete the scene.
Christmas Mantel | carved wood Nativity family | personallyandrea.com
(Cool how you can see the reflection in the mirror of our Advent wreath.)
On the other side, a wooden carving of the holy family wrapped in the embrace of an angel.  One of VERY many nativity scenes that come out each Christmas.  This one is my favourite.  Simple and bit rustic, but profound.  Add a repetition of the tin bucket/twine/pinecone ensemble and the decorative spheres, and that’s it. 

All ready to have stockings hung on Christmas Eve.  A white/rustic/natural elements plan in the works for those as well. 
Wait and see.

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DIY Family Photo

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 by
Props.  Not the fist-bump kind. The kind for using in a photo shoot.  
Of course, “photo shoot” is possibly an elaborate term for trying to get the family to co-operate for a current family picture for the Christmas card.  However…in real life this scenario can be an unnecessary stress, and a few props will make your life easier and your photo better.  So here we go.
First of all, outdoor overcast light in an open space is the easiest to photograph in.  No weird shadows, no squinting. 
Secondly, if your backdrop is NOT something fabulous like the Rocky Mountains or a Caribbean beach, then try to make it as simple as possible…fence, brick wall, hedge, etc. 
Third, props.  Two things…something on which people can sit, perch or lean…and something simple that lends purpose or timeliness to the photo.   In this case the bench from the deck and a little fir tree borrowed out of the indoor decor.
Set up.  Even a little bit of thought and prep will help this go a lot more smoothly.  One co-operative assistant is also useful.  Warn everyone ahead of time so all the groaning and eye-rolling is out of the way.  Pick through their closets (or floors) and find what you want them to wear.  Set up your camera.  Explain to each one where and how they will sit.  Then let them chill while you figure out the last details of focus, exposure, timer/remote.  And you’re ready to go.
IMGP5506_family 2012_01
Not perfect.  It was –3C and it did actually start precipitating some frozen substance.  Husband forgot to fix the boot/pantleg situation.  Two other shots were maybe better but The Dog wasn’t looking.  And see how happy everyone looks!?!  It’s worthy of being sent out to the family and friends who love you.  Some may even keep it on their fridge for an entire year.  All for zero expense and a little time and effort on your part.
We wish you a Merry Christmas.

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Celebrating Advent

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 by
I am a believer that some things in life can remain simple and sacred.  And one of things is the Advent season.  Technically beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas and culminating on Christmas Eve, it is a season of preparation for and anticipation of Christmas.  Retail and media in our culture do dominate.  But for a few minutes, as many evenings as we can, as many as are home will gather around the lighted candles to sing a few carols and reflect on the meaning of Christmas.
So, now you are thinking thoughts like idyllic, romantic, religious maybe.  Not so.  If only you could imagine the elaborate schedule of turns for the lighting and snuffing out of candles that evolved over last year’s Advent season, instigated by Teenaged Daughter.  It required lengthy debate over fairness vs. unfairness at the start of EACH evening, I assure you!  Or how about the evenings when The Children decide that musical instruments should be played?  By the time instruments are out and tuned, and carols have been chosen that everyone can play in their key signature of choice (“What, am I supposed to transpose this on the spot????”), romance and religion are the farthest things from anyone’s mind.
Nonetheless, we persevere, because it helps us to stay focused in the midst of a consumerist, over-the-top, too busy culture.  And on occasion, there IS an idyllic moment…simple and sacred.
O come all ye faithful.

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Winter urns, part II

Friday, November 30, 2012 by
Well.  Here are the humble beginnings of this project.  Is anyone else inspired by this?  (Besides The Dog?)  Pile of materials, plenty of Pinterest pins, endless magazine articles at my disposal.  No excuse not to get the job done. 
But in fact, the best thing that ever happened to me in the decorative urn department, was winning a silent auction prize of having my urns done for me a few summers ago.  My friend of incredible talent and impeccable taste purchased all the plant material and then showed me how to put it together to be stunning and beautiful.  My life has never been the same.  Now I go boldly to the garden centre, choose things like I know what I’m doing, and create as if I were a pro.  It’s a lot of fun.
Here is the front porch after the first one.  Yikes what a mess.  Still inspired?
Can I just say, that as I was working, the temperature dipped several degrees below freezing, the sun disappeared behind black clouds, The Dog ate one of the fingers off my gardening glove, and it started to snow heavily.
Yay!  Done.  One on the front porch, one on each side of the driveway, one on the back deck.  And nothing left.  (Well, one magnolia branch…to be used inside.)  Even had to snip a few boughs of cedar and yew from the yard to finish the last one.  Oh well, that’s what they’re there for.  Hopefully I have done my incredibly talented and impeccably tasteful friend/teacher proud.
Bring on winter.

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Photography Class: Interior Available Light

Saturday, November 24, 2012 by
Interior | Available Light | Twinkle Lights in a Teen's Bedroom | personallyandrea.com

Well, this tells you a lot about Miss Personally.  The fact that she loves this photo and promptly made it her Facebook cover photo tells you even more.  She snagged this string of lights as soon as the lights came out for Up on the Housetop.

So the assignment for this shot was:  A descriptive image of any room in your home.  Make a statement.  Use only available light and show deep depth of field.  (In non-tech-y words that means no flash, and everything in the frame is focused.)  The verbal instructions in class were Do not tidy up your living room and take a pretty photo.  Good thing.  That might have been even harder.
So mission accomplished technically, along with elements of design, histogram, blah blah blah.  But even better, I think it makes a statement about Miss Personally loving Christmas.

But really, it’s so much more than that.  Merry Christmas!

xo andrea

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Urns: Winter edition

Well, this was the scene on the back deck early this morning.  Yes, snow.  And looks like The Dog managed to paw through it before I was able to get my camera out.  So much for fresh-fallen.  But I guess I must concede that winter is indeed on it’s way…
…meanwhile, this is the sad state of affairs in the “decorative urn” department.
Sadness indeed.  Note particularly the entirely dead contents of urn #2, and the incredibly wilted red sweet potato vine in urn #3.  Not to mention, pumpkins.  Seriously.
Clearly something must be done.  Except not today.  Maybe tomorrow?  Nope…Grey Cup party. 
Happily, I’ve at least been inspired by this excellent purchase from my fave local IKEA. 
I discovered these last year.  They are cheap, versatile, trendy…but they sell out like hotcakes!  So if you find them, stock up!  Also available in white/silver combination which has inspired my indoor tree. (Coming soon.)  I’ve used them for PersonallyPackaged, gift wrapping, mantel decoration, centrepieces, flower arrangements…you get the idea.  Stock up.
Urns:  Winter edition part 2…also coming soon.

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Life of Pi

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 by
What a great book!  I read it after it won the Giller Prize once upon a time.  Perfect tension between the magical and real, with no answers as to which one is the stronger.  Brilliant.

So here's the thing:  the movie version by Ang Lee is being released today! Awesome!  Never expected it could be done, and to boot it is being HIGHLY rated...four stars from the Globe and Mail!  

So here's really the thing:  I have (so far) successfully instituted a rule in this house that you read the book before you watch the movie.  

Alright, I made one exception for Lord of the Rings, which Teenaged Son (who was not Teenaged at the time) had not yet read.  And is, in fact, STILL reading...but I digress...

I do WANT to take The Teenagers to see this film, but guess what? Yes.  Neither of them has read the book.  Although I have been throwing it in their direction for years...yes years...there it sits.  Charmingly displayed on Teenaged Daughter's shelf with other colour-co-ordinated books which have all been read and a matching piggy bank.

And Teenaged Son will be studying it in English this year and I said See, I told you you should have read it!

All to no avail.  So, what to do?  It seems possible that my influence in this area is waning, and my angst is being noticed by no one but me...


But seriously, you really should read it. Really.

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Assignment #1 Shot 4 Twirly Leaf

Last shot…what’s left?  Small aperture.  Everything in the frame must be sharply focused, from front to back, and background not distracting from the subject..
Mission accomplished, and got an A on this one too!!!
Have to say I am personally biased towards loving this photo, cuz that’s my girl!  And since she was actually at home during daylight hours and willing to co-operate with Mom’s homework, well we experimented a little and this was the result.  I wanted the red leaf in the centre of the frame so I had to play with the point of view for a while.
(I actually wanted a bigger leaf, but apparently I don’t have a bigger leaf tree growing on our property.  Have to see what I can do about that.)
Love how you can see that she’s twirling the leaf while she’s waiting for me to get the right shot. Did I mention?  That’s my girl!

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Candy Box

Monday, November 19, 2012 by
Gotta have something for the sweet tooth, right?  Who wouldn’t want this little box sitting on the corner of their desk?  A little minty-ness for after lunch..something to offer the visitors to your cubicle…the boss casually passing by…

A sturdy cardboard cylindrical box with a fitted lid (yes..like a mini hatbox!) with 500ml individually wrapped Saybon scotch mints inside.  Delivered to your door if at all possible.
Of course, beautifully packaged in clear cellophane, with hand decorated gift tag, and deluxe wired ribbon.
Now there is a classy little way to say “Merry Christmas…I appreciate you!”

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Assignment #1 Shot 3 Fall

OK so who can guess what the requirements were for this shot???? 
It was large aperture, subject in the foreground in sharp focus, background related to subject but in soft focus.  Easy peasy…these are the kinds of photos I love taking, especially outdoors in soft light. I submitted this one just cuz it had other techy stuff going for it like rule of thirds, converging lines, texture, a few specular highlights because of the water, and the all important histogram was perfect.
The reason I like this one?  These are the steps from our back deck (which we designed and built ourselves) down into the yard, a place where I spend I lot of time…good time…and so it is near and dear to my heart.  Love it decorated with fallen, wind-blown, rained-on, scattered leaves.
This is home.
(By the way, got an A on this one.  Yay me.)

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Mason jars

Sunday, November 18, 2012 by
Love mason jars.

Never did figure out (yet) how to get tomatoes or pickles or anything useful into them.  But don't they look pretty like this? 

So this is the first set of "gift baskets" done...

...500 ml unscented bath salts in the mason jar, lid covered with burlap (cuz it's trendy), hand-lettered tag tied on with twine (also trendy), chocolate-mint scented Yankee Candle votive (for a scent of chocolate while in the bath...more slimming than eating chocolate!), and a seashell just for fun.

It gets wrapped up in clear cellophane as always and tied up with a hand-decorated tag and deluxe two-inch wired gold ribbon.

Lovely!  For something slightly more than a card and a "thank-you" this Christmas.    Delivered right to you, if at all possible.  Quantities pretty unlimited for this one so order as many as you need.
Start crossing off your Christmas to-do list!

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Assignment #1 Shot 2 Freeze Frame

This shot worked out WAY better...in fact this is maybe one of the best pictures I've ever made!  Woo hoo!  The requirements for this were fast shutter and small aperture, so that motion is "frozen" and everything in the frame is sharply in focus. 

I went down to the beach at Rattray Marsh on Lake Ontario and set up at the edge of the water.  It was a gorgeous day and I actually took a ton of photos.  The sun was sparkly (as you can see in the top corner), there was a beautiful family of swans swimming in the lake, and hawks were soaring above the trees overhead.  Incredible peace.

Saw this seagull at the edge of the water and knew he would take off eventually so I set up my exposure and framing and waited.  Voila...mission accomplished.

One sad side-note:  I lost one of the pieces of my mini portable tri-pod through the boardwalk into the marsh.  Now it's a bi-pod.  Boo.

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