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If you are familiar with Harry Potter then you know what a patronus is. (If not, check out this explainer.) I like the books and the concept, but also the imagery. So I decided to see if I could work out how to do the glowing-semi-translucent-super-cool-flying-animal effect in Affinity Photo.

I used a modified version of this Photoshop tutorial, and while the instructions don’t exactly translate to Affinity it was close enough to get me in the ballpark.

And of course now all I can see are the bits I’d like to change,* but isn’t that always the way? Next time!

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* Seriously, those wings are way too small. It’s so weird that a mythical Greek creature swapped into a magical wizarding world refuses to obey the laws of physics.

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Fruit Torte

Yesterday: a pretty fall day + road trip + Les Fruits du Poirier pick-your-own fruit farm = fun 🙂

This particular farm has the usual apples, pears, raspberries, etc. but they also specialize in the less usual. Not everything was in season, but they also grow fruits like haskap, sea buckthorn, gooseberries, and northern kiwi. Yes, that kiwi! The northern variety is smaller than the imported variety you find in stores, but it is sweeter, with thinner skin and no fuzz, which means it doesn’t have to be peeled. 

Photo by William Felker on Unsplash

We had to look up half of what we saw, either because we didn’t recognize the plant or because we’d never heard of it before (jostaberry?). We used a click to ID app called Picture This (free to use but you have to navigate a maze of “sign up now!” screens, but I’m sure there are others.

The day was beautiful and it was great to get outside and into the country. Recommended.

Photo by Esther Wechsler on Unsplash

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Today: baking.

I had some plums waiting for a recipe, and I ran across this one for plum torte. The original was a wildly popular New York Times recipe that ran for years. This version is slightly modified and includes comments to help triangulate your own changes.

Best Plum Torte Recipe – How to Make Marian Burros’ Purple Plum Cake

It’s easy and delicious. Of course I added a few minor adjustments.

I made a plum version a few days ago, and today I made a plum with cinnamon, a peach with cinnamon and cardamom, and two mixed berry* tortes with cinnamon and just a splash of Grand Marnier. Apparently, they freeze well.

* * *

Fruit Torte

(by way of Food52’s adaptation of Marian Burros’ Purple Plum Cake)

— makes one 8″ or 9” layer

Ingredients

  • 120g / 1 C. all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 5g / 1 t. baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 150g / 3/4 C. sugar
  • 115g / 1/2 C. butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 t. vanilla (or somewhat more Grand Marnier)
  • 9 small plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise, or other fruit (if boring, season with a little lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon)
  • 2 t. sugar and ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions

  • Heat the oven to 350° F. 
  • Prep an 8 or 9-inch cake pan. I used a round of parchment paper and buttered the interior, then dusted bottom and sides with a mix of sugar and cinnamon to avoid sticking.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Cream the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy, about 5–7 minutes with my mixer. I recommend mechanical means unless you want to be there all day.
  • Add the dry ingredients, eggs and vanilla all at once, and beat until combined, scraping down the sides a couple of times.
  • Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the fruit on top of the batter. Sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon.
  • Bake 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan for 10 minutes, and then remove. Invert onto a cooling rack, then flip back onto another rack to finish cooling.

Notes

— The recipe called for a springform pan but they aren’t my favorite. (It would make cooling easier.) I used a 9” cake pan.

— One batch of batter weighs ~475g, in case you’re doubling the recipe.

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* In addition to pints of red raspberries, yellow raspberries, pears, apples, and kiwi, we picked up a haskap pie (no judgement, they were baking and it smelled amazing), and a frozen bag of haskap, red and white currants, raspberries, gooseberries, and Saskatoon berries.

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To Democracy

Today, I voted. What a wonderful thing.

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Photo by Lewis Parsons on Unsplash

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It seems we each have a fundamental core where we feel most comfortable, or most ourselves. It may come as no surprise to those who have spent any time on this site, but for me, it’s books and food. 

Those aren’t all I’m made of, of course, but those two elements were established early, before my memories became fixed. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love books and food. One of my first real recollections is sitting on the side steps of the porch eating an artichoke with my father, and it’s hard not to feel happy in a kitchen or library.

Now, if I’d had different experiences growing up I might have become an engineer or a tailor or a computer scientist. I make things and sew and code but not with the intuitive ease some have. Instead, it’s books. And food. I’m ok with that. 

* * *

I’m in the middle of a writing class, designing story ideas and characters. It got me thinking about how experiences become preferences and worldviews underpinning our actions. 

My father and I visited the Grand Canyon once, road-tripping north to the South Rim to hike and camp. The trip was great, full of heat and happiness, astonishing vistas and challenging trails.

I may also have spent some of the visit sitting by the edge, reading a book. Because we had a few minutes and that’s how I roll.

* * *

Like places, people have layers. Understanding how time and exposure, pressure and purpose combine makes it easier to build complex and interesting motivations, or to understand our own.

We just have to sit back and consider what we’re made of.

* * *

Photo by Jenn Wood on Unsplash

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“The truth is that the world is full of dragons, and none of us are as powerful or cool as we’d like to be. And that sucks. But when you’re confronted with that fact, you can either crawl into a hole and quit, or you can get out there, take off your shoes, and Bilbo it up.”

― Patrick Rothfuss

* * *

Photo by Amanda Swanepoel on Unsplash

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Tuesdays are back to their normal busy schedule, but I am having one of those days when I’m more-than-usually aware of the good things. Not only, but also.

And R2 says hello:)

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Original Image by Jean photosstock from Pixabay

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It’s Monday. Have some rice paddy art:)

The Epic Landscape Art of Tiny Inakadate, Japan

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And they did a Star Wars version!

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I have found a source of caffeine that I can actually drink and I am suuuuperhappyaboutthat!

Ahem.

I gave up coffee voluntarily in grad school (because school was stressful enough and also when you need a giant pot to get through the day that’s your body telling you something) and then had to give up tea a few years later for digestive reasons. So I’ve been living a mostly caffeine free life for too long.

Recently, through a confluence of conversational touch points, I found myself telling my mother about yaupon, the only (known) caffeinated plant native to North America. 

LuteusCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Yaupon (pronounced yō-pon) is a branch of the holly family. The scientific name is terrible (Ilex vomitoria, um, no thanks?) but the plant and tea have nothing to do with regurgitation (ok, that’s fine then!). 

Native to the southeastern US, it was used by natives for thousands of years, and traded across North America and the Atlantic.

Yaupon: The rebirth of America’s forgotten tea – BBC Travel

When picked, roasted and boiled, the leaves yield a yellow to dark-orange elixir with a fruity and earthy aroma and a smooth flavour with malty tones. As if orchestrated specifically for the mind and body, yaupon leaves’ perfect ratio of stimulating xanthines such as caffeine, theobromine and theophylline release slowly into the body, providing a jitter-free mental clarity and an ease to the stomach.

* * *

Why am I going on about this tea? Because it’s native, sustainable, and it deserves to be thought of as more than a “pesky weed.” It’s tannin free, so unlike traditional tea from Camellia sinensis, you can steep it multiple times without that unfun bitter, astringent aftertaste.

Also, because I happen to have a bag from one of the more prominent yaupon companies, CatSpring in Texas, and I’m drinking a delicious cup with maple syrup right now. 

This caffeine stuff works, y’all;)

* * *

Speaking of, let’s just take a brief moment to appreciate the role of caffeine, “the most widely used psychoactive drug on Earth,” in human history.

Beer built the pyramids, but caffeine powered the Enlightenment. 

Whatever your beverage of choice, may your eyes remain bright and your synapses active!

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Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

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So long as you go about it ethically, I don’t see any shame in shortcuts. On a general note, most of what has given us as a species an edge could reasonably be categorized as such. And personally, I am particularly in favor of techniques, tools and strategies that help me fill in gaps of time or talent.

I’ve mentioned drawing, and how I can’t. Oh sure, I used to be able to draw an almost perfect circle freehand and once drew the world’s most beautiful eye while I was supposed to be studying verb conjugations in high school French class, but that’s about the extent of my talents in that department.

That doesn’t stop me from wanting to do more. If only my fellow monkeys had developed some tools that could help me make up for such deficiencies!

Cue computer drawing programs, yes, but then what? There’s still the difference between what I see in my mind and what comes out on the page or screen.

I came across this tool the other day: the Da Vinci Sketch Addon for Photoshop. 

* * *

Ooh, I said to the cat (who paid as much attention as usual, which is to say none), that is exactly the sort of art I like, part beauty, part craft, part epistolary exploration. Too bad I had to move away from Photoshop. Now what?

First, despair! Cue gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (just kidding, that’s wasteful and I really hate to shop).

Then it was time to get to work.

I decided to see if I could replicate some version of this technique in Affinity Photo. After forum diving, video watching, and a visit to The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, I produced this:

The Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch, sculpted c. 150BC. Original photo by tabitha turner on Unsplash, text and doodles by Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t read Italian, much less Renaissance mirror writing, but I would love it if this was Leo’s to do or shopping list. “Note: buy looser robes with draping like this, because I like a healthy breeze around my private parts.”

* * *

Not bad, aside from the fact that it took forever and could use some real hatching and more dramatic outlines and the shading crashed the program about a dozen times. Still, it was progress I felt ok about.

Working through that puzzle also gave me time to think, and in that time I realized a couple of important things:

  • my computer is not the only computer in this house, and while the desktop upstairs has had the tech equivalent of a stroke and can’t be trusted with anything not backed up, I did manage to rebuild it into a functional system and it is now running a deprecated OS,
  • six bucks is not a lot of money, and
  • don’t I still have the disks for CS5, which includes Photoshop, kicking around somewhere?

True, true, and yes, yes I do.

Cue exciting graphic adventures!

* * *

I may have also sprung for a couple more tools from the same developer. Still affordable, and still worth it. This is what the Da Vinci Photoshop action produced, plus several other versions:

Da Vinci action
vintage sketch action
architecture sketch action

* * *

Have I been having fun? Yes, and here’s my absolute favorite so far:

When Leo met 3PO. Original Image by Gerhard Janson from Pixabay 

Shortcuts can be terrific so long as they don’t impede learning. In this case, I got the mental workout of deconstructing and rebuilding an effect, plus the practicality of pre-built actions.

Also C-3PO:)

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In my roles as a writer and as a person, I read a lot. Some books I purchase, but many I access through my local library. How great is that?*

So I just spent a non-zero amount of time writing a little AppleScript to automagically run a search in any of the four area library systems that share e-book resources. 

Was it necessary? No. I could click through my library portal and into each separate library system for every book I want to check, one stodgy button at a time. Ho hum.

Does this script save time and my wrists and open up new worlds of possibilities?

Yes.

Was it fun to make?

Also yes:)

* * *

I know, it’s a store, not a library. But she’s having so much fun! Photo by Ying Ge on Unsplash

* I love books, and I’m lucky enough to live in a society that supports public libraries. In fact, I made a modest donation to my local library the other day, and hope it helps bring just a little more literacy and knowledge and enjoyment to my city.

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