Zen and the Art of Shooting a Toddler

I am a super lucky Chocha (Aunt in Ukrainian) because I have the cutest subject available to me whenever I want, but I’m not actually responsible for him 24/7. Best of both worlds! Simon is pushing 2 and is smart, funny and just a real joy to be around. And he gives the best hugs!

Simon at the fence

The sun was behind this fence, but it was reflecting beautifully off of a nearby building. Thankfully he thought it was fun to run to the fence, lean for a second and run back to us!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of a park outing with Simon & his Mama (my lil sis) where we changed his outfit about four times but otherwise just let him be a toddler. The only prop we used other than Hemingway, who is never too far away (lucky monkey!), was a bottle of purple bubbles.

Yaaaayyy!!!

His mama is holding his monkey above his head. Fun, until it isn’t anymore. Get your shots while you can!

Pre-photoshoot I read a bunch of articles about shooting toddlers looking for advice and inspiration. Other than the bubble idea (which worked a bit differently with Simon), the main concept I picked up was something I think I already do. Just let them be themselves, and be ready to shoot at all times. Anyone who has spent any time with a toddler knows that you can’t make them do exactly what you want. Make sure they feel safe and comfortable, then it is your job to get in there and capture the moments when they happen.

Simon blowing bubbles

Alternately blowing and tasting bubbles. More entertaining for him than chasing them, so that’s what we went with.

The bubble idea is a pretty stock one, but Simon is more interested in exploring how they are made (and how they taste) than in chasing them around and squealing in delight. He was actually more entertained by his own game of throwing his monkey on the ground periodically as if Hemingway had just jumped out of his arms! The important lesson here is to just go with it. If he’s fascinated by the bubble wand and how to make them, then just hand it over and wipe the purple bubble goo off his face as required. Withholding the bubble wand would have resulted in a cranky kid, potentially ending our shoot right there. Instead I got some great shots of him being his naturally inquisitive self.

Hey! I dropped my monkey! Hahahaha!

Hey! I dropped my monkey! Hahahaha!

My quick tips on Shooting a Toddler: 

  1. Go with the flow that the toddler provides and don’t bother to try to fight it. Use what they give you – there is a lot there if you are ready for it. Always be ready!
  2. Make sure they feel safe and comfy.
  3. Be prepared to change course constantly, lie in the dirt and run around a bit (a lot).
  4. Props are good but don’t expect them to work for long. Get your shots fast.
  5. Outfit changes are fun if (and only if) the toddler thinks so too.
  6. Bubbles. They do work. Just be prepared to have them work in a different way than you originally planned.
  7. Final thought – I love shooting with my old-school manual lenses, but I can definitely see the value of auto-focus for shooting a toddler.

Simon blowing a bubble

Simple Get-In-My-Mouth Concord Grape Jam

Small batch jam, No pectin, No canning, 2 ingredients, 2 hours from raw fruit to in your mouth! Tart & sweet, this is a grown-up jam, not the sickly sweet stuff we ate as kids.

We are lucky enough to have concord grape vines covering our back patio, and although a shortage of bees this spring meant that a lot of the grapes didn’t mature, there are enough ripe ones ready now for the raccoons to visit in the night! To save them from the critters, I decided to try my hand at some jam.

Concord grapes on the vine

The nice thing about jam is that you can make just one jar for your fridge and eat it until it’s gone. No need to make a HUGE batch with enough jars to survive an apocalypse! No need to go through all the canning steps if you just start eating it right away.

INGREDIENTS:

  • A bunch of grapes – I used about 8 cups of grapes (I just filled a big bowl!)
  • Some sugar – I used about 1.5 to 2 cups of raw sugar (It’s what was left in my sugar jar!)

***Before you start, put a little plate in the freezer. You’ll use it at the end to test the jam.***

STEP ONE:

Concord grapes

Pick or buy some grapes (maybe you have a neighbour whose vines have grown beyond their property line?)

I make sure that I remove the stems and any “icky” grapes as I do this because it’s just easier to work with less variables. We have a lot of the “icky” grapes due to a lack of pollination so I’m pretty careful as I pull them off the vine one by one!

STEP TWO:

Pulp with seeds Just the skins

After you rinse your grapes, separate the skin from the pulp. You just squish the concord grape in your fingers and the pulp pops out! It’s mildly tedious, but really doesn’t take all that long. If you have kids available to you, this might be a good job for them!

STEP THREE:

Cooking the pulp Cooking down the pulp

Over medium heat cook the grape pulp (the middle of the concord grape). It’s approx 15 to 20 minutes of a light simmer (little bubbles, not big splashing rolling boiling mush!). I use a flat bottom slotted wooden spoon to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. I stir frequently and keep an eye on it, but I don’t stand over the pot the whole time. Good tunes for kitchen-dancing are helpful at this stage!

You will notice that the seeds are suddenly all through the cooking pulp and that the whole mixture is becoming more liquid. Don’t worry about perfection. As long as most of the pulp has softened and let go of the seeds, then you are ready for Step Six. (Four and Five are not 100% necessary, but they help and can be done during Step Three or by your minions)

STEP FOUR:

Grape skins in the blender Blended grape skins

While I’m cooking the pulp, I toss the grape skins (which do have a bit of grape flesh attached to them) into the blender for a very quick zip-zip. Some recipes I looked at don’t do this, but I found it a nice easy way to make sure that I didn’t have big skins in my jam, and so I didn’t have to do any extra straining (because no one likes straining stuff).

STEP FIVE:

Warming the sugar

I’m not sure how vital this step is, but apparently it keeps the sugar from cooling your pulp. Toss the sugar into a cake pan or something similar and put it in the oven at the lowest temperature. My oven starts about 150F I think, but the numbers actually start at 200. Regardless, just make sure it’s at the lowest temp, and if you happen to miss this step I’m pretty sure it won’t wreck anything. Warm sugar sure does smell nice though.

STEP SIX:

Straining the pulp Just the seeds left to discard De-seeded pulp

If you have a metal sieve that will work, I have also heard that cheesecloth is a good alternative. Basically I just mush the cooked down pulp around the colander a bit at a time until I only have seeds left. At first I kept the seeds aside in case I wanted to look up how to make Grape Seed Oil! Then I came to my senses and threw them in the compost bin.

STEP SEVEN:

Mixing the pulp & the skins

Adding the sugar to the mix

At this stage I moved to a bigger pot because I like to see just how many things I can get dirty in my kitchen, and also because I realized I now had almost double the goop when I added in the grape skins.

I stirred the sugar into the grape pulp and skin mixture. If you choose to use more sugar than I did, then I would suggest adding the sugar a bit at a time. Still on Medium heat, and still looking for a gentle little simmer and NOT a big rolling boil.

Cooking the jam

This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART! You will be cooking for about 30-45 minutes now, and you must gently stir more and more frequently as the mixture cooks down a bit and gets thicker. Take a potty break BEFORE you start this.

Again, a square bottom spoon is helpful to keep the jam from sticking to the bottom, but it’s not necessary to go shopping if you don’t have one. Just be thorough when you stir.

Almost jam

Here it is starting to look like jam, but it is still really smooth and runny. Be patient. (My first batch resulted in really delicious Grape Sauce – terrific on ice cream or yoghurt, not too great for spreading on toast) Oh – this is also the stage where you may regret the white shirt you are wearing…or maybe that’s just me. The thicker the jam gets, the more apt you are to find a fine spray of grape goo in a small radius around the pot.

We have jam!

See how it has changed texture here? Now it looks a bit lumpy and thick and it is time to test it on the plate you tossed in the freezer before you started!

Testing the jam

Throw a spoonful onto the cold plate and put it back in the freezer for one minute. If it stays clumped like jam and starts to form a little skin on top then it’s ready! I had to do this test twice. Instead of washing my plate quickly and popping it back in the freezer for test number 2, I licked it clean and savoured the tastiness!

I turned off the heat and got a couple of recycled jars (jam or spaghetti sauce jars work just fine) and after letting the jam cool for a few minutes I filled a little jar to take to a dinner party that evening, and put the rest in a couple of little jars for my own fridge. Nothing like handing a jar of warm jam to your host when you arrive for dinner! Just be sure to tell them it must be refrigerated and consumed within a few weeks because it is not pressure sealed as it would be if we processed the jars like my grandmother used to.

Jam and Bread!

STEP EIGHT:

Treat yourself to some freshly baked bread and pile on the jam!


 

I’m not a canning expert, so if you want to preserve your jam to give away at Christmas, do some googling and make sure you are making a safe product. For now I’m happy with the eat-it-now method of jam making!

I’d love to try this with alternate sugar sources (my sister is allergic to cane sugar) so it would be great to hear from anyone who like to experiment a bit!

Robin’s Nest Watch – Days 9-12

On June 28th I held my phone above the nest in our grape vines and took another snap of the eggs. One had a black dot that appeared to be a small hole in the egg, but I started to question my eyesight the more I looked at the picture.

Is this the beginning of the hatching?

Is this the beginning of the hatching?

And THEN………..

On June 30th I thought I’d check on the eggs again while the mama was out of the nest and THIS is what I saw:

3 beautiful blue eggs magically turned into 3 blobs of pink and fuzz with alien eyes!

3 beautiful blue eggs magically turned into 3 blobs of pink and fuzz with alien eyes!

I’ll admit I was a little shocked to see that the eggs had been replaced by this strange pile of babies and I was reassured via some bird-loving friends on Facebook that it was ok that they were sleeping. How was I to know? I had only ever seen images of the babies with their mouths wide open begging for food!

On Canada Day, I thought I’d try to take a little video of the fledglings, and I’ll definitely take more as they grow!

Robin’s Nest Watch – Day 4

On Friday we noticed an abundance of bird activity in the grape vines over our back patio. A robin was scrimmaging with a couple of chickadees, but I just assumed that the scuffle was over some really tasty bugs!  Turns out that it’s actually a Robin’s nest, complete with a trio of beautiful blue eggs.

Robin's Egg Trio

I’ve done some reading, and it seems that the eggs gestate for about 12-14 days, with the mama robin spending lots of time sitting in the nest, or giving us the stink-eye from a few metres away as we try to enjoy the backyard.

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I’m working on a name for our lovely Robin mama, so do let me know if you have any suggestions!  In the meantime I’ll be keeping a close eye on the nest and will update as things develop.

My Backyard Garden Through My Eyes

Gallery

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I recently took a 20′ x 1.5′ unruly garden patch and made it into my summer vegetable market. It was full of 2 foot high weeds with incredible root systems, lots of worms and quite a few dandelions.  Some crawling … Continue reading

Are you creative?

Whether you believe it or not, we are all creative!  Everyone starts at the beginning, with little skill, and maybe not much more than a vague desire to make some stuff.  Whatever your ‘thing’ is, just do it. Even if you think you fail miserably, you’re a step ahead of where you were before you tried.

For my birthday, I finally got a lovely new camera that is beginning to let me create what I see in my mind’s eye.  I’ve had a bit of access to cameras the last couple of years, but other than my sister’s (which had too many buttons and was too heavy to carry everywhere!) none of them have given me the freedom to create.  I was longing for the days of my lovely Olympus film SLR! 

I often get stuck partway with steep learning curves, but I’m tackling this one one step at a time, rather than all at once.  Instead of seeking perfection, I’m just looking to have some fun!  As long as I keep learning new things, I don’t mind some flops.  I look forward to looking back at these photos and seeing how far I’ve come!

My first night with the new camera I happened to be an awesome rock n’ roll show with a great bunch of bands and got a few lucky shots (considering I was still learning where the ‘ON’ button was located!)

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The only way to really learn is to do, so I’ve tried to keep the camera close at hand with the battery charged and memory card inserted!  As a result I captured some fun shots of a friend’s little guy:

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Yesterday I took myself on an Artists’ Date!  It is one of my favourite (long-ignored!) tools for creative growth from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  The premise is that once a week you schedule an activity for yourself and you keep the date!  It actually should be less about creating art, than about refilling the well and hopefully inspiring you to create more.  I decided to go on a 12km photography walk through urban trails.  I’d been feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much there is to learn, so I focussed on 2 things – depth of field & macros.  Here are a few of my favourite shots:

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