15 April 2014

What a difference a day makes!

This morning we awoke to a Winter wonderland ... in the middle of April! 

The snow fell in big, heavy flakes but it won't last long.  In fact, it's already melting.  This was just Winter's way of saying good-bye ... and don't forget me.

Yesterday ... and today!
Remember those scilla from yesterday?  Well, this is what they looked like this morning!  I think this is it for the snow and cold.  Warmer days are coming!

14 April 2014

Hints of Spring

This morning I took a walk in the garden and was pleasantly surprised to find these scilla blooming!  Surprised because I didn't plant them there ... but I like this kind of surprise.

The lilacs are starting to bud.  A few warm days and a little rain does wonders!  The snow has finally melted from our yard and we've gradually started to clean up.  It feels so good to be outdoors again!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your comments and emails on my last post.  I'm so thankful for friends like *you*.

4 April 2014

April showers, pussy willows and a health update

It's raining.  There's something so very welcoming about a Spring rain.  Not only does it wash away the last remnants of snow but it also washes away the dirt and grime Winter has left behind.  The grass becomes greener and life begins to stir in the garden.  April showers bring May flowers ...

Pussy willows have always been a favourite Spring addition to my decor.  I love their soft catkins and usually keep them around well into Summer.  I can't seem to let them go.

I had another CT scan last week and got the results a couple of days ago.  The tumours are larger than they were in December.  In fact, they've pretty much tripled in size since last October.  Not the news I was hoping for.  But there is a bright spot.  My CA125 dropped from 5700 at the beginning of March to 4400.  That's significant.  And hopeful.

After a lot of discussion with my oncologist, nurse and my husband, we're going to delay restarting treatment for a few more weeks.  I'll have another CA125 at the end of this month and another scan next month.  (I swear I'm going to start glowing in the dark!)   I'm feeling well and still not having any symptoms, which is good.  I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, but I began adding curcumin (turmeric) to my diet last Fall.  One of my neighbours gave me a bottle of it along with the book Anti-Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber.  Among other things, he highly recommends adding curcumin to help destroy tumours.  I added it faithfully to my salad and in cooking on a daily basis and I think it helped a little.  After the 5700 CA125 reading, I decided to switch to capsules to increase my consumption.   My CA125 went down.  It could be a coincidence but my oncologist has other patients taking curcumin that have had good results.  So he told me to double the dose I've been taking and see if it goes down again.  Now I'll take curcumin capsules over chemo any day!  Especially since he told me that second line chemo has a 1 in 5 chance of working.  Yeah.  How's that for sobering?  Thankfully he's a little more optimistic - he says we just need to find the right drug and gave me info for 8 different chemo drugs we could try.  The remaining cancer is referred to as "platinum resistant" which is why the chemo didn't get it all the first time and why they won't use the same chemo again.  (Remember when I posted about those red, white and green jelly beans?)

I've made a lot of lifestyle changes since my diagnosis.  I've increased my intake of fruits and veggies.  I've cut back on refined sugars and flours with the goal to eliminate as many of them as possible.  I pray.  I meditate.  I try to exercise regularly but still need to work on that.  I think the warmer weather will help.

It took me a few hours to digest this latest news but I'm more determined than ever to fight and win.  I know that God has this under control.  He sees the big picture and knows what the next step is.  After all, it was expected that I would resume treatment last August and I still haven't needed it.  He's put healing into my path and all I have to do is trust Him and let go.  That's easier said than done but I'm working on that too.  Every so often I get scared.  And worried.  I have to remind myself to surrender it all to Him.

I hesitated whether to share this with you or not.  I haven't gone into much detail about the cancer or treatments, mainly because I want to focus on everything that's beautiful around me.  And believe me, I have a lot to be thankful for!  Having a life threatening illness really makes you appreciate the little things in life.  But every so often I need to share what I'm going through.  Thanks for being there when I need to.

31 March 2014

Ranunculus and tea cups

Do you think Winter is finally winding down?  It's a beautiful Spring day here today.  I've got the windows open just a little to enjoy the fresh (although still cool) air.  The mounds of snow are getting smaller every day and yesterday, for the first time in ages, I was able to get out for a walk in the garden.  I even noticed a few green shoots coming up!  Unfortunately, the rabbits have already gotten to most of them (darn rabbits!).

I've always thought that ranunculus were beautiful.  I've never seen them as cut flowers where I live but they are sold in pots in the Spring.  I nabbed this one last week.  It had one little flower but it also had a couple of buds so I bought it, hoping that it will keep blooming for a couple of weeks.

The buds are getting larger and I think will probably open up later this week.  I've enjoyed a steady stream of potted plants this year without spending a lot of money.  A local garden centre gave away small pots of primulas as a promotion every weekend in March and this pot of ranunculus was only $3.99.  Pots of flowers last so much longer than cut flowers which means I get to enjoy them longer. 

This tea cup belonged to my Mom.  We've started going through her things.  I know some of you have had to deal with this so you know how difficult and emotional it is.  I'm trying to keep only the things that I will use or want to display.  Of course, there will be a few sentimental things that will be tucked away but I don't want to stash everything in boxes and shove them in the basement, never to look at them again.  Mom wouldn't want that.  She enjoyed her things and I believe that they should continue to be enjoyed.

I kept her tea cups.  I plan to display them and change them seasonally - and enjoy a cup of tea in them every so often!  They always sat on a special shelf, some of them given to her when she was married 60 years ago.  As I washed them up, I thought how often we stop noticing the beauty of the things in our homes.  I made a decision to try to enjoy my pretty things and actually use them for more than just photo props.  Do you use a pretty cup when you have a cup of tea?  Or, like me, do you grab the closest mug?

My grandmother always thought tea tasted better in a pretty tea cup.  I think she was right.


20 March 2014

Random bits and how I edit my photos

It's anything but Spring-like on this first day of Spring! A cold, blustery wind is scattering snow flurries around which, thankfully, are not adding up to anything. But yesterday, there were two rabbits scampering about my front garden and a robin sitting on the fence chirping merrily away. Today, a pair of mourning doves are attempting to build a nest on our front porch. Unfortunately, the winds are scattering their building materials as fast as they gather them.  I'm taking this to mean that warm weather is coming!

As I mentioned in my last post, I thought I'd walk you through my editing process. I used to literally spend hours on each photo, running photoshop actions and applying texture upon texture. Now, I spend 2-3 minutes editing a photo.

Here is my image SOOC (straight out of the camera).  All I've done here is cropped it square.  I usually crop my photos either 5x7 or square.

I use Lightroom 4 to edit my photos.  At first I found LR intimidating but after taking Kim Klassen's Round Trip class, it began to make sense and I don't know how I edited photos without it.  I wish I had discovered LR when I first started photography.

My typical LR edits include:  increasing the exposure (if necessary), lowering contrast, lightening shadows and lowering vibrancy and/or saturation.  Lowering the contrast, saturation and/or vibrancy gives my photo a softer look.  My camera tends to read reds and oranges very strong so I'll often reduce the saturation more for those colours.

That's pretty much it for LR.  Sometimes that's all the editing I want to do.  Other times, I want to add a texture or apply an action to further soften the photo so I make the final edits in Photoshop CS5.

Here's my final version.  In CS5 I used a couple of Florabella actions - Soft Centre Light and Light Haze.  I usually lower the intensity of the actions then, using a layer mask and a soft brush (opacity about 30%), I mask off the areas that I want to stand out.  In this photo, it was the primroses and the flowers on the tea cup.

You can see the progression from SOOC to LR to CS5 in the photo about.  Nothing drastic but you can definitely see the difference.

Sometimes I'll apply a texture instead of using actions to get that hazy softness.  If I do, my blend mode is usually Soft Light with an opacity of around 55-75% (sometimes even higher).  Again, I'll use a layer mask and a soft brush to remove the texture from the areas that I want to emphasize.

My favourite actions are from Florabella Collection.  I use some of her textures too but Kim Klassen's textures usually give me the soft look that I'm trying to achieve.  If you're not already on Kim's mailing list, make sure you sign up.  She's very generous and regularly sends free textures to her subscribers, which is a good way to try them without spending a fortune.

So now you know all my secrets.  :)

I'm not familiar with the free editing programmes that are available (like PicMonkey) but you could probably make some of these edits using them.  Any programme that uses layers will allow you to use textures.  Again, if you have any questions, ask away!


12 March 2014

Is it Spring yet? ... and some photography tips

Yesterday the sun was shining and the temperatures soared to almost 50°  - and today, it looks like this ...

A late Winter storm is dumping a whole lot of snow outside.  Talk about going from one extreme to the other!  A perfect day to stay inside and catch up a little.


Last week, I discovered a swollen lymph node on my neck.  I called my oncologist and he took me in right away.  My CA125 was up last month (remember that lovely 888 reading I had?) to over 5200.  He took it again last week and it was over 5700.  So it's possible that the cancer is becoming active.  He moved my scan up to the end of this month so we can see what's going on.  As he says, the scan trumps everything so we'll wait to see what it says before we make any decisions.  I took a few days off to rest and not do much of anything.  I'm still feeling great; I have lots of energy, my weight is up (apparently that's a good thing!) so we'll just wait and see.  Worst case scenario is that it's time for more treatment.  Considering that I was supposed to start treatment again last August, I'm hoping that it still won't be needed yet.  I know I don't have to ask, but if you could say an extra prayer, I'd appreciate it! 

Now back to some fun stuff!  I bought these cute wellies yesterday.  They are such a departure from what I'd normally buy - something neutral and probably black.  Can't you just imagine splashing about in the Spring rain in these?  I'm keeping them by the front door so I can jump into them as soon as this snow melts away.  Just looking at them makes me smile.  (Isn't the rabbit sweet?  I bought it for the garden.)

More primroses.  Our local garden centre holds a farmer's market every Saturday from January until Easter and last week they gave every customer a free primrose.  I chose another yellow one just because I can't seem to get enough of that colour.  This one has the most wonderful fragrance!  Almost like freesias.  They don't normally have much of a scent so I was very surprised at how intense this one is.  Nice though.


A few readers have been asking me about how I take and edit my photos so I thought I'd share my process with you.  I'm splitting this into two posts because it's just too long to go through my camera equipment, settings and editing all in one.  Today, I'm just going to talk about my equipment and what settings I normally use.

I'm a Canon girl - always have been, always will be.  I have a 7D and absolutely love it.  The best camera I've ever had.  When it came time to upgrade from my Rebel xsi (which I still use now and again), I was torn between the 7D and the 5D Mark III.  Why I chose the 7D is a personal one, even though at the time "everyone" was buying the 5D.  I liked the way the 7D felt in my hands so much better than the 5D.  The 5D was heavier, clunkier (to me) and I didn't like it.  At all.  I'm telling you this because you might feel pressured to buy what other people are buying but what you really need is the camera that's the best for you.

My favourite lens is my 50mm 1.8.  It's probably the best of the cheap lenses out there.  I've had it since the day I got my first dslr and I still use it.  When I'm taking photos indoors, I always, always, always use a tripod.  And a remote.  My other must have piece of equipment?  A white foam core board from the dollar store.  It makes a great reflector.  See?  You don't have to spend a lot of money on equipment.  :)

The settings I use vary depending on what I'm photographing and the light that's available.  I never use flash.  It's off permanently and I highly recommend you do the same.  When indoors, I usually use Aperature Priority (Av on the Canon) because the only thing I might change is the aperature (please, please, please! don't use auto to take your photos).  If I'm using my 50mm lens, I like shooting "wide open" at 1.8.  I sometimes go smaller but not usually below 3.5.  (Learning aperatures and shutter speeds took me years but once I did, it was like a light bulb going off.  It made everything so much easier.)  Most of the time I set me lens to automatic focus because it does a better job at focussing than I do.  I play with my exposure compensation depending on the available light but at this time of year, I usually use 1 (or higher).  And indoors, I prefer using the automatic white balance setting just because, on my camera, it gives me the best result.  ISO ranges between 200 to 400; mostly 400 this time of year.  The higher you go with your ISO, the more "noise" you'll have in your photo.

Are you nodding off yet?  :)

The best advice I can give you if you want to improve your photography is to read your camera manual and practice, practice, practice!  The manual has all the information you need.  Learn the rules.  Then break them.  :)  Photograph your coffee mug, your shoes, your table.  Whatever.  You don't have to show them to anyone.  Just play with your settings until you know your camera inside out.  I'm still learning about mine and I've had it over 2 years.

I hope this is somewhat helpful.  If you have any questions or something isn't clear, ask away!  Leave your questions in the comments and I'll answer them there so everyone can see them.  Or you can send me an email if you prefer. Next post, I'll go through my editing process.