DIY Fun: Toy Camera

Homemade toy camera

I remember a simpler time in my life, I must have been five or six years old. I would walk about with this camera around my neck. It belonged to my mother, who in a fit of mad generosity had given it off to me. It was love at first sight, I took it everywhere with me! I don’t know which brand it was or what kind of lens it had, but it was a film camera with a slim, steel and black body. It had a view finder that made everything look so much more beautiful, and the lever to click pictures made the perfect ‘click’. The thing was encased in this gorgeous tan leather case.

If my memory serves me right, I usually wore a hat when I was clicking – one of the floppy variety – and I’m certain I felt pretty professional in my gear. Alas! There is no picture of me with the camera, so I cannot produce proof.

I would potter around the house, garden and terrace peering at quizzical things through my lens. Once I was lucky enough to be able to observe a garden lizard for quite a while…I lay prostrate in the yard, gazing away, comfortable in the knowledge that the camera was there to protect me.

Back to the present-ish, I was looking for toys to buy for little Mr. K close to his birthday. We had already decided to get him a balance bike as the big present – he was turning two after all – but I had saved up a little to be able to splurge on his big day. And toddler cameras were a real thing! It made me wonder if that vintage treasure from mum had fostered my shutter love. But whatever was available in the market was either too ‘flashy’ (I abhor light and sound toys) or was for older kiddos.

The next best thing was to make one. Thankfully, crafty and inspirational parents out there have shared their DIY tutorials on building cameras ranging from simple to actual working models. I chose to keep it simple given my child’s age and my low level of expertise.

I’m a bit obsessed about re-purposing cardboard, so the natural choice for me was to start with a small cardboard box as the base. The shoe box of Mr. K’s  first shoes was the perfect size. I then collected other bits and bobs to put together our funky little camera. You could come up with your own version depending on what you can corral together.

Here’s what I used:

  • a small shoe box for the base
  • a cloth kitchen-towel to cover the camera so that it lasts longer. You can go with a paper cover too
  • a cardboard circle cut out for the lens edge. I painted it black to add a punchy contrast
  • a ‘viewfinder’ – a plastic piece from a ‘dismantled’ bubble gun
  • a cap from a shampoo bottle for the magical ‘click’ sound
  • a strap/belt from an old satchel
  • a needle and some thread
  • a bottle of Fevicol MR General Purpose

You can create a cute camera with just these supplies. The lens just adds some flair and makes Mr. K feel very important. I also like the fact that it adds a bit more scope for interactive play.

For the lens:

  • a 2-inch piece from the cardboard of a kitchen paper roll
  • 2 plastic caps from the cans of a bottled-water dispenser
  • acrylic paint
  • a 3-inch bit of string

Armed with these supplies, I began my project. First, I stuffed the shoe box with some newspaper and bubble wrap to prevent it from collapsing when stress tested by the said toddler. Then I covered it with the kitchen towel and sewed up the edges that gave me a neat, rectangular box to work with. Then I glued on the black circle to the center of the front face of the box using Fevicol. To this, I stuck one of the caps from the water dispenser can to create a holding point for the ‘lens’. Then, I sewed on the ‘viewfinder’ and stuck the shampoo bottle cap on the top face of the camera. Since the bottle cap was plastic, it refused to be held down by Fevicol…I heated the bottom edge on a candle flame and pressed down firmly to fuse it with the cloth. The pictures below try to capture the key points.

diy toy camera

Now, on to the lens. Since I was working with a yellow kitchen towel and had found a bright vermilion strap for the camera, I decided to go with a similar colour for the lens. I painted the piece of kitchen towel roll a sunny vermilion and left it to dry for a few minutes. Once it was dry, I pierced a tiny hole near one edge and inserted the bit of string. The second cap of the water dispenser (I painted this white with acrylic paint) became the ‘lens cover’ once I had strung it through and knotted off the tiny bit of string.

Ta-da! Our homemade, simply adorable little camera was ready for a test drive. After attaching the strap to the sides, I adjusted the length to fit my bub. It had been a major task fending him off until I had completed the task, so he was thrilled to bits when I finally handed the camera to him. And he went shutter-happy in an instant!

I steal it when he’s not looking just to go, “Click, click, click.” Okay, I might be too much in love with it. I hope Mr. K enjoys it for a long time.

Balcony Love: Hand Painted Planter

Auto Rickshaw paint

Balcony Love: Hand Painted Planter

 

Now that I’m on a break from paid work, I have some mornings when I need to get onto a project for the sake of staying sane. So, I’ve been trying to fix that cursed black thumb of mine…anything I tried to grow promptly died on me in the past. But I am so happy to see that some of my new green friends are positively thriving.

To break the jinx, I bought plants from my local nursery and had them potted by their gardener. A couple of palms, a fern, a native bush that has pretty peach blossoms and a lemon tree. As they began to thrive under the care of little K and me I began to dream of bigger things. I was bold enough to bring out two old tubs that had been purchased a couple of years ago with the intention of growing tomatoes.

I really wanted to add more colour to my balcony garden, so the pepper saplings (I grew them from seed. Hurrah!) were planted in a tub that I painted turquoise blue. I stencilled on a simple graphic of elephants and voila, I had a happy place to nurture my bright coloured peppers. (If and when they actually arrive, that is. Fingers crossed.)

The baby steps I took towards sprinkling some balcony love, have added a lot of happy mornings to our life. K and I spend time watering, pruning, weeding and learning about nature in the early morning sun. What a great activity for a toddler, which also gives him the daily dose of vitamin D.

So to add a touch of whimsy to our morning ritual, I decided to paint a plastic basket before I planted some basil in it.

Now, much to my dismay, my wee one is head over heels in love with vehicles of every kind. His love affair began with ‘bus’ and ‘auto’, and now has spun out of control. I’m dismayed because I didn’t want him to be such a boy. I do find some solace in the fact that he loves ‘cooking’ just as much. So to begin with, maybe I should try not to slot him.

I’ve been meaning to paint an auto rickshaw for a long, long time. With the renewed burst of optimism from nature, I thought I could do it this time. Or maybe it was just a case of too much sun, if you know what I mean. For over a week the poor basket had sat on my table painted a staid grey on white just crying out for some colour. And against my initial inhibitions against kitsch, I went for it.

I used acrylic colours for this planter since they hold up well to rain and sun. The simple joy those couple of hours brought me is something I will hold onto for a while. As K napped, I pencilled in the outline and went to work with the colours. It’s been a few years since I’ve held a brush, so I was thrilled with the final product.

 

Auto Rickshaw painting

Balcony Love: Hand Painted Planter

Hand Painted Planter with a polka dotted back

Hand Painted Planter with a polka dotted back

 

My special props assistant did a smashing job as I clicked these pictures. But by the end of his shift, he’d had enough and decided that the only way to stop his mad mum was to make away with the ‘ahtou’.

 

Props Assistant: Various Moods

Props Assistant: Various Moods

 

The results are here for you to see. What do you think?

DIY Handpainted planters1

The Makeover: a shabby plastic basket turns into a quirky, fun planter

 

 

Loving the Sea

Hello! Been a while hasn’t it?

It’s good to be back after my long sabbatical from this sunny nook. The sabbatical began as a forced leave due to medical reasons. We were expecting our first offspring, you see. And somehow, I wasn’t ready to share the news until…well, until I had said offspring safely tucked into my arms.

But once that happened, my life, it sorta stopped being my life. I was transformed into a 24-hr snack bar and thus began my zombie phase… Being a new parent, it is a job that is difficult to prepare for. I am so grateful to my family for being the most amazing support system in the world. Couldn’t have done the first leg of this journey without them.

So, in short, priorities changed (duh!). This blog was my baby until a real baby came along demanding my complete attention. I put on my training floatie and dove into my new role, focussed on bonding with my wee panda. And here I am, a year later, trying to rebuild some semblance of an adult person’s life.

My toddler is a fount of joy and life has never been as fulfilling for me. My little man K keeps me busy all day…and when he naps, I read. The blog has been on my mind, I have a couple of unfinished posts sitting as drafts. Somehow, I never hit the ‘publish’ button. After months and months of consuming content – books, articles, blogs, ad campaigns, movies and music – I feel I’m ready to share again.

What better way to start than begin at home?

We moved two cities in the interim. From Porbandar to Kochi and now to Visakhapatnam aka Vizag. All along this cross-country tour, the sea has been with me. It is the one thing that has instantly soothed away the feeling of being in a new place. I really is a kind of a home for me. Given the choice, I will  always want a holiday by the sea, choose to breathe salty air instead of crisp mountain air and would rather buy a tropical island than a log cabin (ahem…once I have the dough, of course I’m buying an island).

This is the first time I have lived on the East coast of India…so I’m pretty excited to glimpse the Bay of Bengal everyday from my balcony. This quote I found on Pinterest explains my addiction better than I can. I added it to my favourite click of the morning sea in Porbandar. Perfect inspired creativity for my muse – the Sea.

She loved the Sea

 

Wanderlust: Ant’s-eye View of The Taj Mahal

In my short life, I’ve had two encounters with the Taj. While one was at that tricky age of 16, the other was at a slightly more befuddling 31 (does maturity really come with age?). Each visit is sharply etched in my mind, and I’m happy to see that by the second one, I seemed to have grown up a little. Or so I’d like to believe.

For most Indians, the trip to see the Taj Mahal is like a tiny pilgrimage. It’s after all the poster child of India, famed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We grow up listening to the magical experiences of people who’ve been to this inimitable symbol of limitless love. On my first trip to the Taj, all of this was pretty much lost on me.

I recall being armed with a Kodak point-and-shoot camera, wearing a hideous blue tee-shirt identical to the ones worn by 40 other teenagers. It was a school trip with my batch mates. All of us had recently faced one of the biggest hurdles in our academic careers – the 10th standard board exams. We’d been slogging out butts off for over a year and now, were finally taking that well-earned break. The trip focused on a seven day trek in the Himachal hills and the visit to the Taj Mahal was just a tick on the North Indian itinerary.

And what a rotten time to pick for a trip to the Taj! It was the peak of summer, the sunlight glinting off the white marble made it difficult to see anything without squinting. People have to walk barefoot to get near the main dome but on this day, the tiled floor was so hot we had to make a mad dash for it. All we wanted to do was sprawl out under a tree and doze off in the gentle breeze. We weren’t interested in the back story; none of us had experienced true love yet. During the one hour guided tour, the only thing that made us pay attention was the barbaric folklore of how the hands of master artisans were chopped off so that no one could replicate the majestic Taj ever again.

We’d brought packed lunch from Delhi. It was made by our school cook at the crack of dawn and had been emanating promising smells on the four-hour bus ride. By the time it was lunchtime however, the food was stinking so ferociously that even rodents steered clear of the dustbin! The heat had been too much for the poor fried rice. Our fiscally prudent principal was in a fix, but made a stupendous, last-minute recovery with some packets of chips and flavoured milk.

As we left Agra, I felt a pang of dissatisfaction. I vowed to myself that I’d be back some day.

Taj blog 1

Now, almost 15 years later, I had once again come to Agra. This time around I was with family – N, his brother and my dear friend who’s married to N’s brother. We’re all shutter-happy people, so we had four cameras of differing capabilities to make some memorable pictures. We drove to the place where you have to park your cars, about 2 km away from the main grounds. From there, you can either take a ride in an eco-friendly electric rikshaw or ride along with an uber-friendly horse cart.

Taj blog 5

Is it a surprise that we chose the horse cart ride? Our awesome steed, Sajaan, was quite a cute fella. His owner claimed that Sajaan was super busy during the peak wedding seasons. North Indian grooms are notorious for riding up to the mandap on a beautiful stallion. Who can blame them? There’s probably no other way to match up to the gorgeousness of the brides. But I digress.

After a full-body search, we entered the sprawling compound. While my troops lingered around, I was impatient to get a first glimpse. When we entered the main archway, I remembered something the guide had told me all those years ago. If you stand directly facing the Taj and walk briskly towards it, the building appears to move back, and shrink in size. And, if you back away quickly while still looking at the Taj, it grows steadily and comes closer to you. This delightful quirk of the architecture was interpreted by our guide, “when you gallop towards it, the Taj bows and welcomes you but when you try to run away, it rushes forward and says ‘don’t leave me’!”

Taj blog 2

Over the years, Shah Jahan’s ode to his precious wife has turned a mild shade of yellowish-cream. Despite this unfortunate reality, it is one of the most enchanting buildings on Earth. When you see it across the water canals and lush green gardens, its hold over you intensifies. You cannot run away from it, if anything, you almost never want to leave.

The Taj Mahal’s beauty stunned me, I felt paralyzed. How do I capture an authentic bit of what I see and feel in a few photographs? How can I translate this inexplicable sense of wanting to get closer and yet being afraid of missing out on seeing it whole? Of wanting to touch the perfect reflection in the still water? Of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the art that has witnessed the turn of over three centuries? How do I convey the delicate, gossamer dreams carved out of Makrana marble? The peace and serenity that I feel here?

Eventually, I realized it was my only chance, so I had to try my best. The pictures in this post aren’t entirely satisfactory, but someday I hope to get another chance to improve on my humble attempt.

Seeing the Taj with grown up eyes was a gift. Having lived through some of the highs and lows of love myself, I think I better understood the creation this time around. When you see the Taj, you can’t help but think about how deeply the emperor had loved his sweetheart, and how inconsolable his grief must have been to inspire this final resting place for her.

Tagore perhaps interpreted it best when he wrote, “let this one tear-drop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.”

 

 

SEASON OF LOVE: FREE PRINTABLE VALENTINE CARD

I know it’s quite cheesy to say this, but am going to risk it – Love is in the Air! It is February after all.

While I believe that we don’t need a special day to tell people that we love them, I still like to indulge mildly in this month of pink and crimson. Yes, St. Valentine’s Day is a one of those hyper-commercialized days even in India. But, if we don’t give in to the hoopla, isn’t any excuse great to have special time together? To simply expresses how grateful you are that you found this person. To tell them you are the luckiest person alive to be with them. To just put all your feelings down on paper. And to do it in a fun and special way.

Each day of the year, we express our love through actions – by showing care, by tuning in to the other person’s needs and even by just lending a helping hand. On hallmark days, a simple gesture to express your love tells your partner that you have taken the time to think about them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be surprised with a love note yourself?

Ever since I can remember, I have never really obsessed about Valentine’s Day. That specific date. Back in college, we used to have a ‘Rose Day’ sometime in February. A day celebrating secret crushes and love (because you could send anonymous rose cards). When I started working, my agency used the same idea, but we didn’t make a day of it. A half hour after lunch was spent listening to poetic messages (most were anonymous, again) and swapping chocolates. All through my teen years, it was mandatory for girlfriends and boyfriends to give each other cards. So the point am trying to make, is that for me, the celebration of love is closely linked to messages on paper. An email will just not cut it.

All of this was running through my mind last week, and I wanted to create something that would let us say ‘I Love You’ without being predictable. I saw the abundance of flowers, cute animals, hearts and chocolates swirling around as tokens of love,  but my mind kept searching for more. Like most ideas that pop into my head, the one for this card popped in when I was engrossed in a totally unrelated activity. I was pickling! So bizarre. Red chilies being pickled led to me the image you see above. I refined my initial thoughts to craft a couple of messages that I think will work.

The picture above and a message variant is now available as an art print and on other merchandise like iPhone covers, totes and throw pillows in my Society6 Shop. And just for you, I have created a FREE printable card to tell your loved one that they are indeed the spice of your life!

To download your free printable click on this link: Only You Valentine Card

Can you think of a message that will go with this image? If there is something else that you’d like to say to your sweetheart, drop me a line in the comments section below and I’d be happy to work on a custom card for you!

Hope you have a lovely season of LoVe!

MIDWEEK TREAT: LOW FAT BROWNIES

I firmly believe that chocolate, ice cream or brownies can fix anything.

A few days ago, I had a super high intensity craving for brownies. Now, I can’t get my hands on any brownies, living where I live. Thankfully, I had on hand all the stuff I needed to bake some and a nice Sanjeev Kapoor recipe too. I improvised a little tossing in some walnuts and adjusting the flour ratio.

Since they turned out pretty yummy, I had to spread the love! So here’s the recipe with some modifications and tips.

Makes about 16 brownies | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cooking time: 25 mins or more


Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup wholewheat flour
3/4 cup refined flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda bicarbonate
3/4 cup caster sugar (Original recipe calls for a cup, but I cut down on it for a less sweeter version)
2 egg whites, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 tablespoons oil (Original uses 1 1/2, but I found this makes the brownies too dry and flat)
1 tablespoon butter, melted or a blob will work too
My own little fourish, 1/2 cup of walnuts broken into tiny pieces. Avoid the temptation to chop or bash the walnuts, you will end up with quite a bit of crushed powder.

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C / 350 deg F. Grease an 8 inch square tray or line with butter paper.
Sift the flours, baking powder and soda bicarbonate into a bowl.
Melt the butter over very low heat. Add the cocoa powder to this and slowly stir over the low heat for two minutes. Make sure the mixture doesn’t boil or burn. You can also add some of the milk to this, to prevent the chocolate from burning. Melting the butter and cooking the cocoa powder makes for a better tasting, non-doughy batter.
Beat the caster sugar with the eggs until combined and fluffy.
Divide the flour up into three parts. Start with folding the egg whites and sugar into a portion of the flour. Alternating between dry and wet ingredients mix in the remaining ingredients until everything is well integrated. Be careful not to over beat the mixture. If you’re using an electric blender, keep it to low speeds.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until it’s firm to touch and an inserted knife comes out clean. Leave in the tin until completely cooled.
Use a sharp knife to cut into 16 odd squares and remove from tin using a spatula.

These low fat brownies are a real treat, especially if you have been on a diet. The walnuts add a crunchy texture and crank up the health quotient too. A perfect excuse to stuff face.

They are great as a dessert after a scrumptious lunch or even better as a midnight snack. You can wash them down with some chilled milk.

Have you ever been consumed by a craving so much that you’re willing to do anything to satisfy it?

Goodbyes and New Adventures

Photograph: Mood for Reflection by Priyanka Nayar

It is time for us to move again. Yes, I know, seems too soon to me too. We’re all packed and ready to push off to Porbandar for our next adventure. It’s been a good first stint in Kerala. The people, the food, the beaches and the wildlife have made their excellent first impressions.

It’s been just over a year since we came here, but we’ve travelled away from home so often, that we haven’t seen everything that there is to see and experience. We’ll be back some day. Maybe to another part of the state.

This has been the kind of sabbatical from normal life that only very few lucky people can manage. It has spoilt me, for now, wherever I go, I will miss the lush greens. The place where we lived afforded us a view of the Arabian Sea on one hand, and the beautiful backwaters that Kerala is famous for on the other. Will be hard to find something to beat that.

Am one fourth Keralite, but have been to Kerala only once, over two decades ago. I’ve learnt some local cuisine, picked up a few words of Malayalam, and bought my first ‘set saree‘! It’s been wonderful being introduced to my roots. I’ve floated through most of my life not belonging to a particular part of the country, I surely will continue to do that for the rest of my life too. But now I know a little more about where my grandfather came from, and perhaps a little about why I am a fan of curry leaves.

There are still a bunch of things that are on my bucket list – am yet to take a cruise on a house boat, live in floating houses and watch a Kathakali performance. I haven’t had a whole host of dishes that I dream about, haven’t caught a glimpse of Periyar, Thekkady, Kumarakom or Munnar and not even had fresh seafood by the sea in Cochin. So I am far from satiated and my heart wants to come back and complete the journey.

Au revoir Kerala and my lovely friends here. Unfortunately, I’ve had to use the farewell cards I designed a short while back. But like the card says, it’s goodbyes only until we meet again.

The picture above captures my thoughts as I sign off, and prepare for the train journey tomorrow morning. If you’d like to see the art print for this and other pictures by me, you can find them at my store. Some of them are available as iPad and iPhone skins too.

I may not be able to write again until we’re well and settled in Porbandar. But my head is all abuzz with ideas for DIY projects and cozying up the nest there. And I’ve been busy pinning inspiration on my Pinterest boards. So when am back in full swing, there will be loads to share. On our way to our new home, we’re spending a few days in Mumbai, I should also have some stories to share of my time at markets, old haunts and with dear old friends.

Have a super weekend yourself, and an even better week ahead. xoxo, Sunny Nomad me.