Four mid-summer mini-projects

Photography self-assignments mean to focus on a single theme, which simplifies the picture-taking process. In this case, the photographer concentrated on pink flowers, such as this Kamchatka rhododendron. 

This week we are going to celebrate summer in four small bits. As in, mini-projects. I figured with COVID-19, many of us might be burned out on coming up with projects. It’s like eating salads: Why is it that a salad made by someone else tastes better than your own? With that, let’s get started ...



My photography work for the past few months has not focused on broad, sweeping landscapes. Rather, I’ve enjoyed following what I call “self-assignments.”

In fact, COVID notwithstanding, self-assignments are where I often create my most satisfying images. 

For example, before running my trapline (checking the garden) this morning, I decided to take my camera (and look for slugs at the same time). I assigned myself one lens (my 100mm macro for close-ups), no tripod (hand-held shots) and small f-stops, such as f/4 or f/5.6. Small f-stops create a narrow depth of field, which means only a narrow band remains in focus. 

On another day, I decided to concentrate on pink flowers.

Self-assignments simplify picture-taking. Cooking, too. I have a friend who refuses to follow a recipe with more than four ingredients. Simplicity can be applied to all manner of activities. It’s something we all crave these days. In photography (including smartphones), there’s no fussing with controls, getting bogged down with decisions, just play.

So grab your big camera or your smartphone and have fun with these self-assignments. Come winter, you can make a photo book:

Assign yourself one color.

Try for lines: curvy, diagonals, cross-cross.

Look for one shape: round, square, triangle.

Seek out textures: smooth, hairy, rough, fuzzy.

Photograph boat names or car license plates.

One subject: flowers, shoes, letters of the alphabet.



Multi-tasking is a myth. Reading and listening to music, watching TV and folding laundry, or driving and talking on the phone. Research in neuroscience tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly.

That start/stop/start process is rough on us. Rather than saving time, it costs time, even in micro-seconds. It’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and, over time, it can sap our energy.

So, if you have multiple tasks to accomplish in your day, begin each one by setting your timer for, say, 30 to 45 minutes. Focus on that one project until the timer goes off. Apply this to weeding, sorting through clothes to donate, cleaning tools, writing your memoirs.



Cut a sponge into shape, such as hearts, diamonds, stripes, letters. Then dip it into indoor/outdoor paint(s) and dab it onto the container. 



It’s summer, which means it’s time to clean out the freezer to make room for fresh berries. “Out with the old (berries) and in with the new,” says Stacy Studebaker.

Stacy, an innovative cook who loves to include wild edible plants, has developed a recipe for fruit leather, which I think is one of the best ever.

“I’ve worked on the recipe for years and I finally have it down, after much trial and error,” she said.

Stacy uses an Excalibur food dehydrator with washable and re-useable silicone sheets. The key, she says, is to get the texture right so that you can peel the fruit leather off the sheets and roll it up.


Mixed Fruit Leather

5 cups chopped rhubarb

5 cups berries

3 tablespoons Minute Tapioca

2 cups unsweetened applesauce


Directions: Cook rhubarb until soft. Add the berries and cook on low heat until very thick. Add honey to taste, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Put mixture in a blender and puree until very smooth. Ladle onto the dehydrator trays and spread the puree evenly. Set the dehydrator temperature for 135 degrees and cook for 8-12 hours. When leather sheets are dry to the touch, turn off the dehydrator and let the leather cool. Then peel the leather off the sheets and roll them up. To store: Wrap the rolls in parchment paper and store them in the fridge for a few weeks.

“We are blessed here on Kodiak with different berries that all work well for this recipe,” says Stacy. “Salmonberries, blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, and garden currants and strawberries are all good to use.”

Fruit leather makes a wonderful snack, and this recipe is fairly low in sugar. As for nutritional benefits, Stacy shares that “studies at the University of Alaska show that our native berries have higher concentrations of anthocyanins than commercial berries.”

There you have it. Four mini-projects to celebrate our awesome Kodiak summer!



De-bud spent blossoms from annual flowers.

Make compost tea from kelp, comfrey, compost, manure and so on. 

Blast off spit-bugs.

Be on aphid alert.

Sow another batch of salad greens.

Give hanging baskets and containers a mid-summer feed.


Get Marion’s free Photo Tips PDF, a collection of her favorite photography tips, on her blog at Connect with Marion: Facebook and Instagram or send an email to Marion at

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