Erika Ray Photography » blog

When I fall in love, I don’t fall in love.  I jump head first without checking if I’m in the deep or shallow end.  I fucking jump and hope for the best.  And for a while, I’m swimming in bliss with my latest obsession.  A couple things have clung to my heart…  Photography.  The One Second app.  Costco.  Abercrombie sweatpants.  And some slip away very quietly (maybe it’s shame or regret for spewing love) like sneaking veggies into food, repurposing zip loc bags, Serial, etc.

The above is truly a Disclaimer for my friends and family.  Because if they were awful, they’d say: Remember that time I needed an ice cream maker?!  Remember when you swore on the virtues of only eating homemade bread?  My head hangs low for only a split second, because…

Guess what?  I’m in love again!  I see this thing and I literally get weak in the knees.  I blush and giggle when I see it.  I get flummoxed and stammer.  I’m like a schoolgirl in its presence.

I adore the shit out of my Instant Pot.

What’s not to love?!  It’s a multi powered demon in the kitchen!  Pressure Cooker/Slow Cooker/ Yogurt (if that’s your thing)/Kitchen god.  Yes, I’ve written about my love of a pressure cooker.  I believe in it’s power.  Don’t worry about old tales from your Grandma.  Those have been fixed with lots of safety measures.

But the Instant Pot takes it a step further…

Sure, it’s electric so it takes a little longer to come to pressure.  Sure because it’s electric it does take a little longer to cook (not much longer…, but a smidge).  Sure it’s another appliance for your kitchen.

But…

But it’s amazing!  I use it almost every single day.  It’s really quiet compared to my stove top PC, so my family loves this fact.  But ignore them…  It’s all about my feelings!  There’s a speed (please factor in the time to come to pressure, but you’ll still come out ahead on 95% of recipes) that you can’t ignore.  The fact that I don’t have to stare at the pot waiting for the button to pop, HELLO?!  I’m lazy.  Plug it in, set it and it listen for the beep.  It’s literally plug and play.  I can saute, cook, and eat.  I don’t even need my stove.  No shit?  No shit.  And oh yeah… It’s also a slow cooker when you want a longer cook time.  And has a delayed timer?!  You should love it.  You will love it.

Let’s talk about how I use it for the basics…

I use it for rice probably twice to three times a week (less when I remember to make a huge batch and freeze it).  White rice is my favorite (scroll to the bottom), but brown rice is equally as good.  I said it.  Here’s the formula for moist and almost sticky brown rice.

  • 1 C. long-grain brown rice
  • 1 3/4 C. + 1 T. water
  • 1 T. oil/butter
  • Some salt

Bring to pressure for 31 minutes.  When completed, unplug and let it return to normal pressure (usually 12-15 minutes) . Open and fluff.  Enjoy.

We eat a lot of burritos (fine…  I eat a lot of burritos).  I prefer homemade beans.  They’re cheaper and with an Instant Pot, they’re almost always ready.  I’ve soaked and not soaked.  If you soak for 12 hours, beans (depending on bean) can be ready in 30-40 minutes.  I freeze mine in 1.5 Cups portions.

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Hard boiled eggs are (were…  Coop has decided that he doesn’t like them for lunch any longer) a favorite in the house.  They take about the same time conventionally, but…  Here’s the key!  They peel in two pieces when done after a quick cool (don’t want to burn your fingers) and maybe 2.5 pieces if left in the fridge!  Two pieces!!!  I follow the recipe below and I use my finger to run a crack up the center.  And I basically peel the two sides apart.  I’m not kidding, Folks.

  • 2 inches of water in the bottom of my pot
  • 1-12 cold eggs in a steamer basket
  • Cook for 3 minutes.  Reduce pressure for 8 minutes and then quick release the rest of pressure.
  • Run under water and peel or store in the fridge.

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Mashed potatoes?!  HELL YES!!  You basically steam the potato chunks and drain.  Use the saute feature and make them like you’d do on the stove.  Best thing?  Done in about 15 minutes.  Sure, not much longer than stove top.  But…  You aren’t watching the boil. You chop.  Insert a steamer basket.  Add potatos.  Set and go. You’re using minimal water, so it’s steaming lots of nutrients.  It’s dump and go, People.  That’s perfect for busy people.  Dump and go!

We also do a lot of bone-in chicken thighs for salads.  Salt and pepper.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Natural release for 4 minutes and release the rest of pressure.  Shred and go.

Recipes are really important with a pressure cooker.  There’s no tossing “Cause I feel like it”.  You need liquid levels and fats with certain ingredients.  Some spices won’t work.  Particular veggies need to go in the right spot.  So buy a book or Google some recipes and get cooking!

You can even stack different foods in the Instant Pot.  Meatloaf AND mashed potatoes?  Hell yes you can!!  And if you pick up “Miss Vickie’s Real Food Fast” you’ll find one with meatloaf, potatoes, and brownies!  I always recommend Lorna Sass’ book, but this one is my new favorite (The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book)!  It’s written for stove top and electric pressure cookers.  Nice solid foods.  No cream based soups.  Tons of veggie recipes and great knowledge.

Those are my basics.  As for standard recipes, I’m just making my way through cookbooks.  I’ll share soon.

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tonight’s dinner: Coffee-Braised Chuck Roast with Balsamic Vinegar

*if I had two, I’m make the polenta in the other one.  Instead…  I’ll use my stupid stove.

And this cheesecake.  Yeah, I did that.

  • Kathy Faller - Could you share which model you bought and if you shopped around for good deals? Thanks.January 25, 2016 – 6:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Angela Thomas - Ice cream maker, juicer, blender … Cotton candy machine. These are the ghosts of my past.
    I’ve been eyeing a rice maker for a couple years now but am haunted by the afore mentioned ghosts. Now you’ve woken the beast again.January 26, 2016 – 9:41 amReplyCancel

    • erika - Minus the cotton candy machine, been there. I’ve even owned two different sizes of a rice maker. WHY?!

      If it helps, you totally don’t need the rice maker if you go with the Instant Pot. :)January 27, 2016 – 7:54 amReplyCancel

Are you comfy in your craft?  Feels good, right?

You see the moment that needs to be saved and you snap the photo.

You aren’t afraid of whipping out your huge camera in the middle of a swanky restaurant.

You’re confident with your edits.

You are a photographer!

I think when you feel really comfortable, you should step back and ask yourself a question:

What’s important to me about my photography?

  • Is it a tack sharp image?
  • Is it a clean scene?
  • Is it a subject free of any distractions?
  • Is it emotion driven?
  • Is it exactly how you saw it in your mind?
  • Is it an image that you’ll be proud of in 10 years?
  • Is it a well constructed scenario?
  • Is it that your images resemble the compositions/edits of your favorite photogs?

Maybe one or more of those answers is important to your photography.

What’s important to me about my photography?

Answer the question and then follow it to your vision.

Not the latest trailblazer’s.  Not the latest class. Not a big group of photographers’ vision.  Not how the current Preset Designer wants you to edit.  Not how the FB crowd does photography.

Follow your answer and create those images without an apology.

Don’t be afraid because guess what?!  In a couple months, you can ask yourself the same question and give a totally different answer.  There’s no shame in switching it up.

Art always allows you to change course.  As long as you keep asking the question.

So ask…

What’s important to me?

After reading “Women of Vision” from National Geographic, I’m asking my question again.  And that’s exciting.

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  • Angela - I love the photos you take of your boys. So handsome and often so silly.January 20, 2016 – 8:49 pmReplyCancel

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So let’s answer some questions from my Facebook page

  • If you take several pictures you love in one day – how do you handle those? 

It varies.  Some days when I’m really feeling it, I take lots of photos.  My first 365 I overshot.  Wanted a great moment everyday.  I also had tons of passion.  An obsession with photography, but my love has leveled out.  Photography isn’t all-consuming any longer much to my family’s happiness…  But other days I take one just to get it done and then later in the day, the boys are extra cute.  So my 365 pic turned out better than hoped.  Sometimes it’s one shitty photo.

  • Do you still edit and blog them or print them in a book along with the 365? Or do you keep them separate?

All my photos are imported into LR and organized daily and kept in monthly folders.  Not all are for the 365.  My 365s are flagged and in a LR collection.  I’m pretty diligent about keeping the 365s together. Because I upload them to Tumblr (Flickr in the past), I need to have them in order.   Forget to put one of the 365s in the mix and your count is off!  Day 246 could be Day 251.  There is nothing more annoying to be off in your count.  Stay on top of that…

I’ve done both: book and print.  I really enjoy the actual print in my hand.  Books are easy, but I haven’t found one that gives me the same thrill as an actual photo.

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  • How do you stay on top of editing?? I can shoot daily ….well, daily is debatable let’s just say I’m working on that but I fall behind (really far behind ) when it comes to editing.

This is my biggest tip for any new 365-er.  Edit on a regular basis.  Please.  When you’ve got 2 weeks of images to cull and edit, it becomes overwhelming.  And if you’re already feeling uninspired by the project, it’s easy to quit.  Edit.  You don’t have to edit every single day, but you have to do it regularly.  Right now I can get away with editing once a week.  I also don’t take as many photos as I did my first couple of rounds.  I have less to cull and I’m pretty comfortable with my editing.  A few clicks, I’m done.  But please please, trust me: Stay on top of your edits!  It will get easier, I promise.

  • Do you try to plan shots or be intentional or do you just go through your days keeping your eyes open for the right moment?

A little mix of both.  I keep my eyes open.  “Planning” isn’t quite the right word.  I’ll admit it.  Here goes…  Sometimes I ask the boys to recreate a scene I just witnessed.   So how about recreating? But most of my photos are me just being present and aware in my life.  That’s my reason for a 365: My Life.  But every photographer has “pushed” a scene.

  • How do I stop?! I finished my first 365 on 12/31 and honestly the thought of stopping scares me. What I’m scared of exactly, I’m not sure I can articulate. The 365 takes up so much “space” that I’m not sure what would/should fill it. I’ve quietly kept shooting daily since…

You’ll know when you need to stop.  I think about quitting every single 365 project.  I think about quitting multiple times each round.  I quit once and it felt completely right after I got over my hang up about Quitting.  I kept on shooting afterwards, but I needed a break.  I still remember the first day I didn’t shoot.  I had to force myself to not use my camera.  I just had to stop.  I don’t regret it for one second.  I know a few people who have been going strong from 5 years.  That’s amazing to me!  I need a break in between and that break has always varied.

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During those tough periods, remind yourself why you’re doing a 365 project.  If it feels forced or uninspired, stay put for a little longer.  I can look through each of my 365’s and feel the excitement or love I felt during that year.  I can also feel the pain and frustration.  I can see my growth and my inspired periods.

I can see my life.  And for me, that’s the point.

Find your point and follow it.  Chase it.

Let it be your guide.

You got this.

I

…all photos from last 365 round…
  • 365 Tips » Erika Ray Photography - […] Tomorrow, I’ll answer some questions asked on my Facebook page.  If you have anything specific, just ask! […]January 14, 2016 – 9:05 amReplyCancel

  • Angela - This is what I needed. I’m starting tonight.January 15, 2016 – 7:22 pmReplyCancel

Or should I say 366?

I love this time of year.  Friends’ feeds full of 2/366, 10::366, or 8-366.

I’m a sucker for 365 projects for a couple of reasons.

  • I think it’s a perfect project to push a new photographer and to inspire a seasoned one.
  • It’s a big undertaking, but worth it even if you don’t write 366 :: 366.
  • I love seeing other people’s lives.  I’m nosy.

But look at the second bullet point.  Yes, it’s a huge undertaking.  And I think that’s the reason most don’t start.

I’m afraid I’ won’t finish.  I’ll get bored.  I can’t take a great picture EVERY DAY.  I can’t stay on top of the edits.  I’m sure I’ll forget a day.  What’s the point?

Those are all concerns, but just excuses.

  • So you don’t finish?  You’ve got a tons of great photos up until your last one.
  • Hell yes, you’ll get bored.  But you’ll also be inspired the other days.
  • You don’t have to take a GREAT picture every day.  You only have to take a picture.  But trust me.  You’ll shoot some breathtaking photos during the year.
  • You have to edit them.  It’s a habit that you need to create.
  • Ok, you forgot.  Check your phone.  Did you use that?  No?  Whatever.  Pick up the camera tomorrow.  And set an alarm.
  • The point is everything.  The point is you and your creativity.  The point is Everything if you want it to be.

 

366 Tips

  • Edit on a regular basis.
  • Keep your photos organized.
  • Know why you’re doing this huge project.  And then follow that path 100%.

charlies_last_day

In my gut, I just knew this would be her last day.  The next day the house was so dark and empty without her presence.  My heart is heavy when I look at these photos, but I’m grateful I took them and the dozens of other times she showed up in a 365.

  • Take your camera everywhere and get comfortable shooting in public.  Never apologize.
  • If you want your 365 to be a true reflection of your life, learn to deal with pissy light.

crap_ass_light

I wish I could say that I get jealous of those 365 photographers who never have awful fake light.  But I’m not.  My life is full of crap light.  So I deal with it.  And sometimes I enhance it.

  • Be ok with the shit-ass photos.
  • Be ok if you don’t feel the photo.  It will pass.

shit_ass_photo

L: crap ass photo that I was ok taking. I literally just clicked.  I didn’t want to worry about taking a photo.  I actually didn’t want to take one.  So I just clicked and went on with the night.  Know when it’s important to be in life instead of documenting it.  R: This frame was planned as a throw away, but then I got sucked in and took many frames with different compositions.  Sometimes a shit photo blooms into something you actually care about.

  • Just shoot one photo a day.  That’s it.  One click.
  • Just because you think about quitting doesn’t mean you have to quit. Just keep shooting.
  • Just because you miss a day doesn’t mean you have to quit.
  • If do you quit, it’s ok!  Look back with pride.

Tomorrow, I’ll answer some questions asked on my Facebook page.  If you have anything specific, just ask!

  • Kaci Tellefsen - I needed this. Last night I took a picture and decided that after that, I was giving up on the 365. Again. My pictures are repetitive and boring. I work during the day as a school nurse. Not a lot of opportunities for picture taking. And it’s frowned upon to take pictures of other people’s children. So I’m limited to a very short amount of time before work and a few, very dark pictures in the evenings. These generally consist of the kids doing homework, or playing video games or watching t.v. Booooorrrring. I’ve never been good at shooting inanimate objects, which is something I could work on. In any case, your words have inspired me to press on. To keep at it. If nothing else, someday the mundane may be beautiful. And even if it means I get one really awesome shot every few tries. Thanks again!January 13, 2016 – 2:39 pmReplyCancel

    • Erika - I know exactly what you mean! “How many photos can I take of the boys playing video games?” and “Yup, the cat AGAIN.” This is the worst time for 365-ers. It’s dark by the time work ends and shooting at work is difficult if not impossible. But keep going. Please. Mundane is beautiful if you let it be seen that way. Find it. Accept it! You got this!!January 14, 2016 – 9:07 amReplyCancel

I never do resolutions.  But this year was different.  Things felt stale and I got lazier than usual.  I missed the things I used to love and I got bogged down by my laziness.

So I hashed out a few key resolutions with a friend who had similar feelings.  Wrote them out and toasted to a new year.

Monday.  1/4/2016.  That was when my effort would begin.  The return and freedom of a routine day.

Kids were back to school.

Emails were checked.

Supervisor called for a quick catch up.

Laundry started.

Errands began.

I was getting lost in Whole Foods ignoring the new foods I wanted to sample.  Moved on and started tossing staples into my Costco cart.

And I got sad.  By the time the kitty litter hit the cart, I was pretty dark.

Today was like every other day.  Just like the ones I was bored with.

Every other day…

At almost 40, I fell for the myth and hope that a new year is truly New.

Today was like yesterday and the 363 before it.  Nothing was new.  There’s no magic wand.  No special day for things to change.  No POOF.

If I wanted to make it new, I had to do some work.

So I found my sneakers and watched some snow fall.

“It’s really cold.  Do I even have appropriate pants?  All my socks are dirty.  Maybe I’ll wear two pairs of pants…  Just open the door.”

And that’s what I did.  I hit the road and carefully avoided patches of ice.  I rerouted my thoughts and got centered.

I crafted this blog post and promised myself I’d actually write it.

<Publish>

New year has started.

How did you start yours?

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  • Jackie - Your posts are always so relatable. I started with some much needed digital declutter (that’s a real thing, for real) and managed to start the year right when it was time to pick up my kid from school. Coincidence?January 4, 2016 – 3:08 pmReplyCancel

    • erika - I know all about digital clutter!!!January 5, 2016 – 9:34 amReplyCancel

  • Allyson Ilardi - I am waiting to start my NEW, but after reading this I know it is time. All the inner monologues aren’t going to make a difference if I don’t act on them.January 4, 2016 – 8:42 pmReplyCancel

  • Carol Klein Ray - Even though we work out for an hour every other day at the Y, I’m so lazy that on the off days I only get out of my chair to go to the bathroom, so I’ve decided that I will walk for just 20 minutes on the days we don’t go to the Y. Just up and down the road, I don’t need to drive to the park. Just a little change of scenery and a little less tv time!January 4, 2016 – 10:48 pmReplyCancel

I’ve been extremely honest about my bumpy entry into Motherhood.  To the point that I’ve had some people ask, “Don’t you worry that your boys will read it and think you didn’t want them?”  No.  I’ve never said that.  Not even close.

Want me to rehash it?  Here are the bullet points:

  • Motherhood was never a burning desire as a kid.
  • I married a man who wanted kids and after a few years, so did I.
  • I never felt that ooey-gooey bond during pregnancy or even immediately after birth.
  • I didn’t have PPD, I just wasn’t Hallmarky Mommy.  But it came and when it did, it was strong and deep.
  • Around age 2 with my last son, I had a crisis.  Who the fuck was I?  Was this new Mom Identity enough?

Hell no, Mom Identity wasn’t enough!  I found photography and writing.  I was more than just a mom and a wife.  I felt like a whole person again because I found MYself.  I knew who I was again!  I was more and accepted the possibility.  I was confident with this  new found identity.

I found my new suit and I looked really hot in it.

Until it didn’t fit.

I naively believed that once you found your new clothes, they always fit.

It wasn’t fitting.

The entire thing was so hot and scratchy, I wanted to rip it off.  My old Identity wasn’t fitting anymore.  And I had no clue how to make it fit again.  I told Mark after a big Adult moment (needed a new furnace), “I just want to run away.”  “Honey you can’t run away.  You can go lay down, but you’ll have to get back up and get ready for the party.”  And that’s what I did.

  • My job has changed in the past three years so many times that I felt uneasy with work.
  • Where photography and writing gave me purpose the first time, these hobbies weren’t new.  I felt like I said everything I could and everything was already seen through my eyes.
  • My boys have gotten older and need so much less from me.  This is exactly as it should be.  This is the life of a Mother.   Knowing it was coming and being at the true start of this path is a different story.  And I looked around and wondered, “What’s next?!  What am I supposed to do now?”
  • Because they’ve aged, so have I.  And so has my relationship with my husband and most people.  Not for the worse, it’s just different. Our entire lives have changed and I unknowingly clung to the past.

When I finally got off the couch, I realized that, yes, I’ve been here before.  I’ve been at the mirror trying to decide how to make this Life fit.  I knew it was possible, but I was going to have to work.  This outfit isn’t made by my Motherhood, by my Work life, or my status as a Wife/Sister/Daughter.  This outfit is made by my choices around all of it.  I have to craft it into something that fits me perfectly.  Fits my legs, my arms, my thumb prints, and expands with my heartbeat.  Something so perfect and unique NO ONE can define it or steal it from me.  Because it fits only one person.  Me.

Who you are will change a dozen times through your life and maybe you don’t notice.  But when you do, it’s uncomfortable.  I’m no longer that 18-year-old running off to college alone.  I’m no longer the 23-year-old hoping she doesn’t get lost driving to Cleveland.  I’m no longer the 29-year-old begging her newborn, “Please Baby Boy, nurse, quit crying and sleep.”  I’m no longer the 32-year-old frazzled mother of two young boys wondering if life was endless loads of laundry and uneaten lunches.  All of those suits came with trends that worked at the time, but also had some classic details that built a foundation for the next phase.

One day I won’t be an almost 40-year-old with two growing boys who are interested in video games and who still occasionally snuggle with me.  I’ll be someone slightly different.  Someone better built for the next round.

So it’s time for Round 2.  Or Round 15…  Who knows what Round I’m actually on?  It feels like Round 2.  All I know is it’s time to tailor to this new suit.  It’s time to look hot all over again.

I can’t run away.  It’s time to get to work.

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  • Helene - I can totally relate to every word you’ve said. I’m not sure what ’round’ I’m in right now but, going it alone has often been a trial. And I’m certain you’ve worn several suits during each round…right now I’m wearing the grandma suit, the working girl suit, the mom suit, and the mother in law suit…the closet is full. Soon I’ll be in the retirement round so I should find room in the closet to store more camera equipment. Love this post! Bravo!November 17, 2015 – 9:36 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - Clean out that closet!! More camera equipment is always pretty sweet!

      Thanks for the kind words which I take as encouragement.November 17, 2015 – 8:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Alisha (@Coily_Locks) - Love this!!! Sometimes I think we are just being human when we want to quit “adulting” because that ish is hard!November 17, 2015 – 11:46 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - Adulting is can be so damn hard… But I guess it’s also pretty fun too!November 17, 2015 – 8:29 pmReplyCancel

  • Jackie - Always on point! I’ve been there many times and find myself looking for a new suit yet again. Thanks for sharing these words.November 17, 2015 – 9:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Erin Perry - so ttimely, and thank you. xNovember 18, 2015 – 7:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Allyson Ilardi - I read your words and it’s like they came from my head. I want to run away all the time ( I still have young kiddos) and have been waiting for the moment when I feel like a grown up (even though I am 35). I realize that I am in the round of finding myself again. After 4 kids and the last one being 9 months (super surprise!) I am ready to tailor my suit. I am ready for the journey to rediscover me and especially my photography. Thanks!January 4, 2016 – 8:50 pmReplyCancel

Sometimes life is wonky.

Sometimes life is boring.

Sometimes it’s shitty.

That’s when a 365 gets challenging.  During those moments I begrudgingly find my camera and snap a photo.  Sometimes it’s a nondescript scene.  The kids are easy targets.  But it’s always done without passion and always half-assed.  Half-assed is being generous.  Most of my life is done half-assedly.  I snap the picture only because I’m supposed to snap one frame a day.

Sometimes I even think, “Fuck it.  Just quit the project.  No one would care.  You wouldn’t even care!  Just fucking stop and lay on the couch.  What’s the point?”

Good question.  Right now, there is no point.  Just some stupid promise I made to myself.

But a few weeks from now there will be a point.  A few years from now there will be a point.  Just because I don’t understand the point right now doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

The point is my days seen with my eyes.  Sometimes it’s shitty.  Sometimes it’s happy.  But it’s always full of life: good, bad, shit, ease, difficulties, half-assed, full-on boogie, laughter, tears, love.  It’s all there.  And when I can’t fully see the beauty, my camera always shoves it in my face when I’m ready.  “Look what you were missing, Dummy.”  My camera can be a bitch.

So I keep shooting and try to crawl out.
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  • Heather Burrell - You never fail to make me smile.October 30, 2015 – 10:31 pmReplyCancel

  • Carol Klein Ray - I care.November 2, 2015 – 2:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Cath Britton - so relatable. did you know you had a twin? 😉November 17, 2015 – 2:54 pmReplyCancel

  • 365 Questions Answered » Erika Ray Photography - […] During those tough periods, remind yourself why you’re doing a 365 project.  If it feels forced or uninspired, stay put for a little longer.  I can look through each of my 365’s and feel the excitement or love I felt during that year.  I can also feel the pain and frustration.  I can see my growth and my inspired periods. […]January 14, 2016 – 9:01 amReplyCancel