Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Photographing the Stars

When Silkworm and I look up at the sky over our backyard on a clear night, we can probably count the amount of stars we can see. But when we bring out the camera, we get to see this:

ISO: 1600 || Aperture: f/1.8 || Shutter speed: 6 seconds

ISO: 1600 || Aperture: f/2.5 || Shutter speed: 5 seconds

ISO: 1250 || Aperture: f/3.5 || Shutter speed: 10 seconds

I think the coolest thing about photographs is that they don't really capture a split second, when you get down to the science of shutter speed. As long as the shutter is open, the camera is capturing time and turning it into pixels. That means that there is a whole stilled moment in every photograph, whether it was a fraction of a second or a handful of seconds--even minutes. And that means, you can bring out the stars human eyes can't see, because your camera is patient enough to wait for the light to reach it from billions of light years away.

Here's how we do it.

|| You'll need ||
Camera with ability to adjust shutter speed and aperture (DSLR)
Shutter release cable or remote (optional)
Starry skies

|| Camera settings ||
Set the aperture to a low number/wide opening (f/3.5 or lower).
The wider you go, the more light will reach your camera's sensor, which means more stars will show up. I often use anything above f/3.

Set the ISO to a high number.
High ISOs are usually used for steadying movement in action shots, but in this case, it's about how much light is allowed to reach your camera's sensor. The higher the ISO, the more light the sensors can slurp up and document, so set it pretty high--but not too high (over 1800) because then you'll end up with grain and noise stealing the stars' show.

Use a long shutter speed.
Anything over 6 seconds should bring out some stars. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light the sensor can detect and therefore the more stars your camera can capture.

|| Other stuff ||
Wait until about 2 hours after sunset to shoot.
If you go out too early and the sky's still a bit light, you won't be able to leave the shutter open long enough to capture a lot of stars without overexposing your photo or making it look like daytime.

Set your camera up away from any lights.
Streetlights overhead or house lights beside the camera might cause flares--and not the cool kind. Make sure, to the best of your abilities given your location, that you're surrounded by nothing but darkness.

Use Bulb Mode to keep the shutter open longer than 30 seconds.
If your photos aren't coming out bright enough or you're not capturing enough stars, switch to "Bulb Mode," which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you're pressing the shutter button. You'll have to keep your finger very still for this, but if you have shaky hands, you can always use a shutter release remote or cable that's compatible with your camera. However, keep in mind...

Unless you want to shoot star trails, don't use shutter speeds longer than 25-30 seconds.
Stars move. The longer you keep the shutter open, the more likely you are to capture their movement in pixels. It's like light painting at light speed--slowed by the distance of millions and billions of miles. Star trails can make for some pretty cool shots, though.

Shoot in RAW format.
Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG allows you so much more freedom over the exposure of your photographs. Only certain programs like Photoshop Elements have RAW image converters that allow you to turn RAW images into JPEG images to edit or use them elsewhere, but it's well worth it.

You want a lot of light to reach your camera's sensor. Use a high ISO, a wide aperture, and a long shutter speed while your camera is steady on a tripod, and play around with the settings until they're perfect for the sky you're shooting. Wait until the sky is as dark as it's gonna get, shoot where there's no lights overhead or close beside you, and use RAW format for the best control over your photographs post-processing.

If you have any questions, leave 'em in the comments! We'll reply by email if you leave an email address, or you can just come back here to see what we said.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Tree Substitutes

1. A live plant
Who officially named poor pine trees Christmas trees, and who decided they should be cut down and killed to serve as such? Buy a potted baby tree and call it your Christmas tree this year. Save the trees, buy a potted plant!

2. A cardboard tree
Start with two pieces of cardboard. Cut them each to look like a tree, with branches upon branches, leaving a "trunk" of untouched cardboard in the center of each. Then cut a slit through the trunk of one and fit the other tree in the slit, making a standing tree.

3. A tulle tree
Arrange pieces of tulle together in the shape of a tree. Adorn with lightweight ornaments and garlands.

4. A pine cone (or a bazillion)
A potted pine cone makes for a little desk-sized tree. Or, you can make a bigger tree by gluing pine cones to a Styrofoam cone.

5. A tree-shaped wall arrangement
Make a Christmas tree outline with lights strung up on the wall. Hang lengths of string across the "tree" to hang ornaments from, and use tacky (or clothespins on the string) to hang things like photos or greeting cards.

6. A ladder
Set up a cute-lookin' ladder--perhaps a thrift store treasure find--and wrap string and lights all the way around it. Ornaments and things can be hung from the strings, and you can also wrap garland around the legs.

7. Pieces of spare wood
Take one long piece of wood for the "trunk" and nail perpendicular pieces to it, gradually increasing in length from top to bottom to look like tree branches. Add small nails or screw-in hooks in random places sticking out to hang ornaments and garlands on.

8. A driftwood tree
Nail together alternating pieces of driftwood starting with long pieces on the bottom and gradually decreasing to short pieces at the top.

9. A pile of books
Stack all the books on your shelves, making each layer more condensed than the last one to shape the sculpture into a tree. This one is pretty cool, too.

10. Suspended ornaments
Hang ornaments from the ceiling, lining them up to look and act like a floating Christmas tree!

What'cha got goin' on in your home this year?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Blanket Fort a Month: November '14

Crocheted Silkworm's Christmas sweater, scrolled through Tumblr covered in goosebumps, sketched some photo shoot ideas, and wrote to Erin.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Ode to the Stars

"When you're feeling too big
Or too much, or too full,
The stars will come out
And they'll together they'll pull
Every piece of your heart
Back together, you'll see
You'll feel rather small,
But that's how you should be."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Would You Rather: Samantha at Samantha Heather Photograhy

This is Samantha Heather. She is a twenty-something dreamer and explorer based in Sydney, Australia, and her blog is a collection of thoughts, dreams, and passions from the perspective of her lens and her ever-evolving imagination. She photographs beautiful moments and adventures like the time she had the most peaceful row boating voyage or the time she took a trip to see the magicalness hiding just outside her city. This is what we asked her:

Q: Would you rather live without hands or without feet?

A: This is such a tricky and delicate question. You see, a strong part of me would rather live without my hands. Some of my favourite feelings in the world are that of being barefoot in my surroundings, feeling the sand shift between my toes, the gravel of the street on my soles, or the grass engulfing my feet as I lay in the park. Those memories are beautiful to me. They are memories I love to recreate. It is such an amazing feeling and losing my feet would mean that this amazement, this sensation would be lost

If I were to lose my hands however, I would also lose some amazing moments of touch. I would lose the ability to hold my child as he/she entered the world, or to tousle my partners hair, or to run my hands through a bed of flowers as I walked by - all of which are things I love doing.

So in this in mind, which do I choose to live without? To lose the ability to walk or to hold is not so uncommon anymore and as technology has advanced so has the opportunity to provide life back into the lives of those who have lost their feet or hands. Wheelchairs, prosthetics and physical therapy have allowed many to gain basic movement ability again. I think for me therefore, I would choose to live without my feet. I feel mobility is easier with the advancements in wheelchairs and prosthetics and while there are opportunities to feel and grab again with arms and hand prosthetics, there is something about being able to touch the world with my own fingers and hands that I would miss all too much.

- Samantha Heather

Assembly Required Christmas Tree Care Package

My best friend is away at college right now. I didn't want her to have to wait to come home for Christmas to have a tree in her dorm.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to Make Candy Wrapper Bracelets

Making the "beads"
Flatten a candy wrapper. Fold it length wise, then unfold. Fold each half in half towards the center crease. Fold both halves again. Fold both halves into each other. Fold short edges in a few millimeters short of touching. Fold the wrapper in half at the middle, making a little bird/heart shape.

Making the bracelet
Make another wrapper. Insert the second wrapper into the slits of the first wrapper, making sure the side with the neater folds is facing the first wrapper. Pull the wrapper through. Insert the next wrapper into the previous wrapper the same way. Pull it through. Continue adding more wrappers until your bracelet has reached a desirable length.

Closing the bracelet
Make another wrapper "bead" and unfold the flaps folded into each other. Insert both "legs" through the slits of the first wrapper of your bracelet. Insert both "legs" through the slits of the last wrapper of your bracelet. Re-fold the flaps you unfolded and tuck them into the slits of the first wrapper of your bracelet.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Brain Says "Maybe Like Accept Yourself Possibly I Don't Know Let's Try It"

E'scuse me, I'm gonna make this all about me for a sec 'cause Silkworm luckily isn't having an identity crisis like I am right now and I feel like it's something I need to share just in case any of you are going through the same thing. Hokey pokes, let's go.

I'm almost positive that if I was physically on Cloud 9, I'd miss everything because I'd be too concerned about what Cloud 10 is like or if perhaps, deceivingly, Cloud 8 has the fluffier dance floor.

After Hadley died this past Monday, I couldn't take anymore guilt about not doing anything good or productive while precisely nothing was stopping me. I've been holding myself back from living, lately, because I've been trying to be this impossible human bean composed of every single flawless trait hand-picked out of a sea of flawed people I adore. I've been afraid of making any sudden movements for fear they'd define me as someone I'm not trying to be--but just because I'm stifling those movements doesn't mean they're not there. Even the stifled movements are mine and they make me me whether I like it or not, and I suppose it's much easier to go about liking them than despising them.

I'm pretty neat, if I think about myself without interruption. Silkworm likes to try to reassure me constantly, but it only sounds true if I think about it myself. I can take cool pictures, I wear strange clothes from thrift shops, I can sort of play guitar and maybe write songs. I'm obnoxiously optimistic, thoroughly non-judgmental to the point of putting myself in danger now and again, and sometimes after a long day of social interaction, I get to go to bed to rest my worn-out painful smile muscles. And of course, my best friend is a magical stuffed bear. Top that.

Maybe I get nervous about making phone calls and maybe I'm a bit cowardly when it comes to adventures like visiting friends at college in New York City. Maybe I'm not all that witty or entertaining, and maybe I prefer one-way conversations because I never have a clue what to say in a two-way conversation until at least two days after it's ended. Maybe I'm just a listener and maybe I'm not such a fantastic in-person storyteller.

But those things are not wrong. They're ingredients in my formula, how could they possibly be wrong? They're simply not my favorite ingredients, and the second I start accepting I can't separate cocoa powder from raspberries once they've been mixed together is the second it's all going to get so much easier to just be.

Anyway, SW and I have a to-do list of a bunch of teeny big things to make me feel better that we're gonna get done in the next few days, and I wrote a song. (Click the video title link and read the description for the lyrics!)

Don't go measurin' stuffs you shouldn't be measurin', folks. You can call nut sailing your greatest achievement if it floats your boat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hadley is Dead

He was cold when we found him yesterday. I don't remember if we definitely played with him the night before or just two nights ago. I hope it was the night before.

Both Hadley and his brother have suffered from mycoplasma--the most common rat disease, a respiratory infection, similar to a chronic common cold in symptoms--all their lives. Hadley always had it worse, constantly wheezing and having a few sneezing fits now and then. Nevertheless, until recently, I couldn't be convinced it was mycoplasma though, because both rats' breathing sounded fine and they were both endlessly energetic. I suspected it was just a strange rat noise or something, because they were both strange rats indeed. Nothing seemed wrong for almost two whole years--until Hadley stopped eating.

I feel terrible thinking if I'd been more worried, all it would have taken was a trip to the vet to get a check-up and some benadryl and everything would be okay. (That being said, Quibble is gonna have to go to the vet as soon as possible to make sure nothing ever goes so wrong so fast with him. He is sounding much squeakier than usual.)

I will miss being able to make squeaky kissy noises only to find a rat at my feet within seconds, curious to investigate the source of the exciting rat-like sound. I will miss him climbing up to my shoulder and patiently waiting for me to turn my head to him so he could lick my lips and try to pry open my mouth. I will miss him sticking his curious nose inside my ear and sniffing around, and the way his whiskers tickled all over.

But I think Quibble will miss him most of all. I've had a few pairs of rats in my life and never before have I known two male ratties to get along so well. Absolutely no squabbles, no fights to settle dominance. They played, quite gently actually, but never fought. They snuggled together in their hammock and slept on top of each other, even throughout the hot summer. Neither of them were neutered. It was a remarkable relationship. I don't know how I'll ever be able to fill the hole Hadley left for Quibble, but I'm going to try and I'm gonna play with him as much as I can and let him perch on my shoulder as much as he wants whenever I'm home.

Goodnight, sweet Hadley. We love you more than we ever proved, and I am so sorry for that.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DIY Miniature Heart Garland

With red floss...
Chain 4. 3 TR (triple/treble crochet) into first chain stitch. 3 DC (double crochet) into same stitch. Chain 1, TR into "center" (the first chain stitch from earlier), chain 1. Into "center", 3 DC followed by 3 TR. Chain 3. Slip stitch into "center" and fasten off yarn. Make several of these hearts.

With black floss...
Chain 13, then pick up a stitch near the top of one of your hearts. Slip stitch. Chain 13 stitches and continue to add on the rest of your hearts the same way.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Would You Rather: Lyssa at Playing the Music of Life

This is Lyssa. She questions everything, explores love, ponders life, and dreams big. She hopes to record an album, have more kids, write her novel, and tour the world...soon. She finds and shares interesting links on the Internet and she's rehearsing for a flash-mob this year! This is what we asked her:

Q: Would you rather be able to understand any language or be able to play any instrument?

A: First, you have to understand that I'm a little biased when it comes to answering this question. When I was four years old, I told my mother that I was going to be a classical guitarist for the rest of my life. At eight I started guitar lessons, and music has been my muse ever since then! So I'm already a huge fan of anything related to music.

However, I can't automatically choose what might appear to be an easy answer.

The possibility of being able to speak another language has a strong pull. My heritage is hispanic on my father's side, but since my family moved away from our relatives when I was fairly young, I did not grow up speaking or hearing Spanish. I don't really know the language well, which is a disappointment. I've always thought it would be wonderful to have that kind of language connection with my ancestors and extended family.

Other languages do not come quickly to me, despite the fact that I've always wished I could speak one! I tried studying Spanish in school, yet my comprehension never went beyond basics. In college I attempted a semester of French. By the end, I could grasp what was going on in a French movie without the help of subtitles, but barely passed my written exam, let alone the oral exam! I resigned myself to the label of "can't learn another language", much to my chagrin.

Fortunately, we don't have to be stuck with labels forever : )

Several years ago, I was privileged to go on a brief performance tour in Germany with a guitar ensemble. I was completely prepared with all the music I had to learn but I had not studied the German language AT ALL. For the first few days I was completely bewildered with culture shock, made even worse because I couldn't grasp what anyone was saying unless they switched to English! There were many, many moments when I desperately wished that I had the magical ability to learn a language instantly.

But as time went on I found that my ears began adjusting to what was being said. I couldn't reply back to anyone in German, but I began to understand bits and pieces of conversations. After a week I could almost muddle through the newspaper ads or a children's book. By the end of our tour, to my surprise, I was beginning to have dreams in German, where I actually understood most of it! It was very cool to realize that the human mind, even one like mine which had not picked up languages well in the past, could slowly acclimate to a new language with the help of total immersion.

One of the most interesting times during that trip was a rehearsal we had with several other German ensembles. There were dozens of German students and only a few of us Americans, and the conductor was German, so the entire rehearsal was in German. It was terrifying at first! The conductor would call out a place for us to start in the piece, or give directions about how he wanted a passage to be played, and my group would look around frantically for some clue as to what was happening. We felt stupid and confused. But we found relief, excitement, and happiness when the music finally began to mesh together among all the guitarists.

And that was when I realized that music truly is the universal language.

Despite our language barrier, German and American guitarists played a concert that night with stunning results. We gave each other high-fives and smiles as we walked off the stage. We didn't need to speak to know that we shared something beautiful. It was magical.

Lately I've been playing mandolin as well as guitar. Branching out into different genres of music has given me the opportunity to grow as a musician! Bluegrass, folk, blues, and Irish music are opening whole new realms of wonder for me. The best part is that I get to meet amazing musicians whom I would never get to see if I only stuck around in the world of classical music.

It truly thrills me to think of what it would be like to be able to play ANY instrument and go into ANY culture, anywhere on earth, with any age or any ethnicity, and speak to each other in the universal language of music. Music needs no translation. It can speak for us all.

- Lyssa

Thursday, November 6, 2014

10 Creative Ways to Do a Scavenger Hunt

I have probably done two or three scavenger hunts in my entire life, and nevertheless, they are pretty much my favorite way to play. They've got more potential than most people realize, actually! They're wonderful ways to reveal a big announcement, marvelous ways to give gifts, fantastic ways to make a hike or errands more enjoyable. Of course, there's more ways to do a scavenger hunt than your typical game of searching for a list of items. Check out these creative scavenger hunt ideas!

1. Puzzle pieces to put together to make one big reveal
Hide puzzle pieces that must be gathered to put together the puzzle that gives away a big announcement.

2. Maps leading to an "X marks the spot"
Hide or bury a treasure, then draw a map with a trail leading to the treasure that the person has to interpret and follow.

3. Premonition bingo
This one is two games in one! Decide on a place or time you'll be playing, i.e. during errands or at the park. Draw up a bingo board at write down a prediction about the trip or time period in each box, i.e. a crying baby at the grocery store or a deer at the park. Cross them off as they come true and wait to call out bingo!

4. Disposable cameras to photograph findings or happenings
For scavenger hunts that have intangible things listed, situations to get yourself into, or things you shouldn't be taking with you, use a disposable camera for proof that you found or did those things.

5. Yarn trails
Tie yarn along a path leading to the treasure!

6. Chalk trails
Draw a line of chalk leading towards the treasure, perhaps with a few instructions like "spin around here" or "hop three times here."

7. Clues leading to clues
The first clue is given freely and leads to the next clue, which leads to the next, and then the next, et cetera et cetera until the last clue leads to the treasure!

8. Each of the letters of the final revealing word or phrase hidden in casual places
Decide on a word or phrase to reveal, like "we're going to Italy," and then hide each separate letter in its own place, such as an "I" on the tea kettle or an "L" on the bathroom mirror. The person hunting for letters will more than likely find them in a less than perfect order, so you can either let them have to unscramble them on their own, or you can number the letters.

9. Tasks to complete to get the next clue
Write a list of things to do for the person going on the scavenger hunt: go grocery shopping, mail a letter, visit a specific park. At each location, leave a clue to where or what the final treasure or announcement is.

10. Find the balloon.
This one is definitely a less reliable idea than the rest, but it sure would be amazing if it worked out as planned (it was inspired by a certain video, but I can't find that video for the life of me; if anyone knows what I'm talking about, let me know!). Start with a balloon of a bright and easy-to-recognize color. Tie it to a ribbon and tie your announcement or whatever you want the person to find to the other end of the ribbon. Finally, hand the balloon out to a stranger in a busy town telling them to pass the balloon along with a little explanation about what's going on ("Someone is doing a scavenger hunt and wants this balloon to be passed around town while their friend tries to find it. If anyone asks you if you've seen the balloon, say yes and tell them a short description of you passed it on to or where."). Ideally, the balloon will travel all around town, and the people will start to get acquainted with it. The person going on the scavenger hunt will go around town asking if strangers have seen a particular balloon, and the person will have to chase after each stranger's direction. It would be a rather entertaining run around, I believe!

Have you ever done a scavenger hunt?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Join the EHQ: Recruiting Enchantemissaries!

Silkworm and I have been Enchantemissaries for a long time now, since we came up with the word to describe ourselves when we go on our random acts of uncommonness and magic. While it's been lovely going on our Missions of Magic and enchanting our own neighborhood, what we'd really like to see is Enchantemissaries across the world enchanting their corners of the Earth, because it would be magical to spread magic worldwide.

We're inviting you to come join us. We've finally launched a Tumblr blog called the Enchantemissary Headquarters (EHQ) where we hope to let Enchantemissaries communicate with one another and share ideas. Anyone can submit photos, ideas, quotes--anything you feel is relevant and inspiring. Silkworm and I are going to document the behind the scenes of our Missions of Magic there, as well, in the form of anything from never-before-seen photos to sketches to stories. You should probably check it out, I think it's gonna get interesting.

If you'd like to, all you have to do to become an Enchantemissary is declare yourself one.
There's an optional form (which can be found here) to fill out to be listed as a Registered Enchantemissary, but all it truly takes is a wholehearted pledge to yourself to practice Enchantism--an Enchantemissary's magic-spreading culture--by going on Missions of Magic as regularly as you can or want to. Submit photos and stories at the EHQ--tell us what you do as an Enchantemissary!

Ultimately, our goal is to create a community of Enchantemissaries on the Internet, and maybe in person, one day--who knows? We'd love for you to come experience the magic and watch our little project grow from this tiny seedling to a massive beanstalk.

***If anyone is interested in writing short "articles" for the Tumblr blog, please get in touch with us! We have a few hands on deck who kindly pledged their help when we need it in the future, but we could use all the creative help we can get.***

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Zauberbear!

Neither Silkworm nor I are a hundred percent sure when exactly we created Zauberbear, but our earliest post went live on November 4th, so we're gonna sing happy birthday to our blog today.

Thinking back to before we danced around the Internet waving our banners of positivity trying to get people's attention, I realize just how cliche this experience was, because it really changed me. I found people, some on different continents, who I could connect with in ways I've never been able to connect with the people I've surrounded myself with. And I fed off of their energies, and I started doing things I never dreamed I'd be brave enough to do. I had a full-time job for a few months at an organic farm. I started riding my bike around town often and finding places that opened my eyes to how beautiful the place I live in actually is. I rode all the way to my and Silkworm's favorite park to hang origami dragons in the woods. Flip, I got my driver's license.

I get the most brilliant mail addressed to me (Silkworm even got a letter addressed to him from a very special friend, once!), and every letter and every package makes me want to cry--the happy kind, I mean, but the happy kind that is happy because at one point it was sad. The people I've met through blogging have made such a humungous difference to me. I'm not exactly who and where I want to be at this very moment, but I am so much closer than I would have ever been if it wasn't for you guys. I am made of little pieces of all of you, and I want to thank you for letting me have them, from the bottom of my very tiny heart that can't handle all these feels. Thank you so so much. I cannot wait to see what another year of this brings.

It's birthday candle time. Help us blow it out?

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