Happy New Year 2013! The clock strikes 12

There are just a few hours left until 2013 bursts out with showers of fireworks, champagne and joy.

Are you having a New Year's party at home with your family and friends?
I send you the candles ( well, just the picture) to bring you good health and fortune in the year to come.

Though the main focus is always on the feast, the mood is also important.
The golden glow of candles creates a warm,  festive ambiance while having the end-of-the-year meal and raising a glass to salute the New Year, when the clock strikes midnight.

Wishing you all, much happiness and a peaceful heart filled with hope and harmony.

Happy New Year 2013!

Happy New Year!
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Blue Christmas balls on window frost pattern

Blue Christmas balls on a season specific, window frost pattern background is the theme of this Christmas card.
You are free to send it to your friends in an email and use it for personal use.
Click the download link under the image to save t to your computer.
I wish you all a blessed,
Merry Christmas!

Carved pumpkin and vegetables-table centerpiece

Download image     Terms of use, please read.

For commercial use, the high resolution image can be purchased in different sizes at very low cost by clicking the link.
The feathery frost patterns  and frost crystals on window glass can be purchased separately as well.
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Candlelight with reflection-Christmas glam

Candlelight, red candles are the perfect accessories to create a festive holiday mood for the upcoming winter holidays.
Candles are the most popular symbols of the season creating a subtle and elegant Christmas ambiance in our homes. The reflections on the dark background add even more glam to the image here.

Spice up your computer screen with this beautiful desktop wallpaper and feel the magic of the Holiday Season!
I wish you all
Merry Christmas!
Yes, you can use my photo for personal use, as a desktop wallpaper or as background image on your website (with credit) but distribution or uploading in a blog post is not allowed.

This is one of my copyrighted stock photos, so please , read the terms of use bellow.

Candlelight with reflection
Candlelight - desktop wallpaper

Download image

To download, click the download link, right click and choose "save image" from the context menu.
The image size is 1280px x 800 px, the screen resolution most visitors have, visiting my site.

If you need a high resolution photo for print or commercial use, in different sizes, you can purchase the image for pennies, royalty-free, by clicking on the link.
You'll find help at this link, if you need it, to change your wallpaper.
Enjoy the new photo!

 Terms of use:
All images labeled with "Christmas, wallpapers or free" are for personal use only.
You can:
- use them as desktop wallpaper
- email them to a friend as a greeting card
- use them as webpage background, if you credit my blog
You CANNOT:
- upload my work to your personal site and claim that they are yours.
- sell my work,
- make my work available for download,
- redistribute my work anywhere, in any way.
- redistribute/submit/upload/share my work to any Free Sharing Site.
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Create Festive Computer Desktop Wallpapers

With all the beautiful Christmas decorations in our homes, it's easy to forget about our closest friend, the computer.
Dressing up your computer screen with some Christmas glam, will help you feel the magic of the Holiday Season and create a festive holiday mood.

The reason I write this post is that I have some Christmas wallpapers on this blog that you can download and use as desktop wallpaper.
Most people know how to personalize the desktop but there could be others that don't.

Creating custom desktop wallpapers for your computer can be done in three easy steps. The first thing to note is that the size of the image needs to match the size of the desktop, so the first step is to:
Find monitor screen resolution

Step 1. Find out your monitor's resolution.

Right-click on any blank area on your desktop and

- In Windows 7 click screen resolution, in the context menu (picture at the right).
- In Windows XP click Properties and click the Settings tab on the Display Properties box.


The next window shows your actual monitor's resolution, that will be different, probably, from what you see in the picture bellow, marked with the red oval.

This is the size your image must be. Note the resolution and close this window, or click cancel.
Actual monitor screen resolution

Step 2. Get your image ready

What you need is a clear picture with an uncluttered background and some free space, so you can see your icons on the desktop. If you don't have such and image, you can use one of my gift images, offered for my readers or you can purchase some stock photos for a few pennies.
  • Choose images with the closest aspect ratio (proportions) to that of the monitor, 4:3 or 3:2 for wide screen monitor.
  • Use any (free) image editors like InfranView, Paint.net, Ghimp or Photoshop to resize, crop or flip the image.
    When resizing the image, don't forget to check the box that says "Constrain Proportions" or "Preserve Aspect Ratio" to avoid the resulting image being distorted after resize.
  • After resizing, if the difference between the size of the image and the size of the monitor is significant, you have to crop a part or the image.
  • Another solution is to use a smaller image and place it on a matching solid color background. Jingle bells are traditional symbols of Christmas and New Year.
  • When you are satisfied with the result, save your image.
Set new desktop background

Step 3. Set the new background

Go to the folder where the image is saved, right-click the image and choose "Set as desktop background".

You are done now.
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Snow covered fir tree branches

Yesterday we got our first snow, this winter, 2012.
I went out late in the evening to take some shots of the beautiful white snow blanket and falling snowflakes  in the dark night. I was surprised to see some of my neighbors in their windows at 9 P.M., wondering what is there to photograph in the dark?

Not much indeed, just a few snowflakes but it doesn't snow all the time.

I love night photography, any low light photography and I'm pleased not to see my Nikon's favorite warning: "Lighting is poor!"

It's quite tricky to combine a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the snowflakes but slow enough to shoot in the dark . The only ambient light available in these photos was the sodium lamp you see on the top of the fir tree in the second shot.
I took several shots with different camera settings, it's all just trial and error till you find out what works and what doesn't.
I like how this pine tree branch came out with the on camera flash, though it was set to rear curtain and my snowflakes have a small tail, kind-of.

Snow covered fir or pine tree branch on dark background- closeup
Nikon D3100 - 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G lens

Download the high resolution royalty free image for just a few cents.

On this one I have melted snowflake on my lens, as I was holding the camera upwards. It's a good idea to take someone with you in these cases, to hold an umbrella.

Fir tree and snowflakes in the night

More low light photos.
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Christmas bells png - golden box png for your blog

Three more small png images with transparent background to decorate your blog.
Download the images in png format to preserve the transparency of the background. Right click and choose save image as to save it to your PC using an image editor that can handle transparent images.
There are a few free editors like InfranView or Paintnet.

Christmas bells-200px width Golden gift box-200 x 200px
Christmas bells with transparent backgroundSmall Golden gift box with transparent background
Purchase high resolution image here. Purchase high resolution image here.

Red Christmas bells with golden bow Golden gift box-250 x 250px
Red Christmas bells with golden bowGolden gift box with transparent background
Purchase high resolution image here.

Feel free to download them for non commercial use. You can decorate your blog, greeting cards or use them in any of your projects but you can't sell them of claim that they are yours.

These are all web quality images (low resolution). If you need high resolution images for prints, in several sizes, I kindly invite you to purchase them at the mentioned links under some of the images.
More Christmas images for sale at Shutterstock:
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Fruit carving - table centerpieces

Fruit carving demonstration were one of the most attractive shows at the international outdoor cooking championship, held in my town.
Turkish chefs carved all kind of fruits, creating beautiful table centerpieces from watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, in front of the curious crowd.
Here are a few of them:

 This table centerpiece of carved pumpkin and roses sculpted of beet was my favorite art piece.

Carved pumpkin and vegetables-table centerpiece
Carved pumpkin and vegetables-table centerpiece 
This image and other ones can be purchased in high resolution for a few pennies, royalty-free.

This plate of appetizers with a sculpted melon as main piece, was admired as well.

Appetizers on a plate decorated with a carved melon
Appetizers on a plate decorated with a carved melon
All these watermelon sculptures were beautiful too. I admired these palm trees made of cucumbers (I think).
Carved pumpkin and vegetables-table centerpiece
Beautiful, carved watermelons and vegetables on a table.
I captured on video one of the chefs, while carving a watermelon.
Please watch this short video demonstration of an easy fruit art piece, among more photos of carved fruits:
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Mallard duck on the rocks

There were not many photography opportunities this month for me.
We've had a terrible May, with very low temperatures and the rainy days seam to never come to an end.

I took my camera this afternoon and went out to the river, to try my luck with photographing on a cloudy day.
Surprise! The sun came out for a few minutes, very shy, but a big difference for the photo.

This Mallard duck pair is enjoying the last rays of the golden hour too.

Mallard ducks on rocks, warming up in the late afternoon sun
Mallard ducks on rocks, warming up in the late afternoon sun.
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Bristly Locust - Rose acacia in flower-Robinia hispida

Rose acacia - Robinia hispida is the little sister of flowering trees and shrubs in the pea family (Fabaceae).

Unlike the large Black locust tree, Rose Locust is a medium-sized shrub, 1.5-2m tall with the same spread, ideal for small gardens.
Though its branches are very fragile, these twigs are very well armed, being covered with dense, sticky bristles. That explain some common names of this species like Bristly Locust and Hairy locust.

I don't see this tree very often in gardens and I was surprised to find this one on the street, near the sidewalk.
Blurry because of the wind, my close-up photo still shows you its dark-brown to violet bristles and the long, sharp thorns at the base of the branches.

Close-up photo showing rose acacia flowers, bristles and thorns
Bristly Locust - Rose acacia flowers, leaves, bristles and thorns 

Flowering Rose Acacia tree - Robinia hispida
Flowering Rose Acacia tree
Rose acacia has very showy, rose-pink flowers, formed in short clusters in May-June. Sometimes, on a hot summer, it flowers for the second time at the end of July- early August.

Its leaves are mid green, pinnate with 7-15 leaflets which are larger than on black locust.

This shrub needs no maintenance except some protection from strong wind as its branches can easily get broken.

It is drought tolerant, prefers full sun, sandy, poor soil and dislikes wet feet.
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Strawberry shortcake recipe - Delightful Dessert

Home made strawberry shortcake with fresh berries and whipped cream is a delicious dessert in early summer. Here is an easy recipe, to surprise your family with.
Delicioush home made strawberry shortcake with cream

Ingredients

For the shortcake:
  • All Purpose Flour - 1 1/2 Cups
  • Sugar - 1/4 Cup
  • Butter - 1/2 Cups
  • Baking Powder2 tsp
  • Salt - 1/4 tsp
  • Heavy Cream - 1/2 Cup
  • Egg Yolk, beaten - 1
  • egg for egg wash - 1
For the filling:
  • Strawberries - 2 pounds
  • Sugar - 2 Tbsp or more, depending on how sweet the berries are
  • Lemon - 1/2
  • Heavy whipping cream - 1 Cup

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (176°C), line a baking sheet with parchment paper in a cake pan and set aside.

Strawberry filling:
  • Place about one third of the strawberries in a bowl and crush them with a fork.
  • Slice the rest of the strawberries and add them in the same bowl, along with the sugar, lemon zest and juice.
  • Mix well and place the bowl in the fridge until the scones are done and completely cool.
Shortcake - scones:
  1. In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients: the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or an electric mixer, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the cream, beaten egg yolk and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and combine together just until a dough forms.
  4. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead the dough gently into about half inch thick.
  5. cut the dough into rounds with a cookie cutter or with a common water glass, 7-10 cm (2.8 - 4 inch) in diameter, as to your liking. Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheet and brush the tops with egg wash or a little cream.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden. When done, transfer to a wire rack to completely cool.

Serving:

  • When cool, carefully split the shortcake into two layers and set the top half nearby.
  • Spoon the mashed berries with their juice over the bottom layer of the shortcake and spread the lightly whipped cream on top of the berries.
  • Place the top half on and top with whipped cream and a few more strawberries.
    The few kiwi slices add also some color contrast to the decoration.
Makes about 6-8 servings, scones of a 2.8 inch (7 cm) diameter .

Bon Appétit!
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Snowball viburnum - Viburnum macrocephalum photos

Snowball viburnum bushes in full bloom are an impressive focal point in the May landscape.
I'm following this Chinese viburnum more than a week now, waiting for the green flowers to finally turn pure white. Too much rain and too low temperature is what kept it from blooming earlier.

Viburnum macrocephalum is a hardy, large growing shrub, up to 3-4m (10 - 13 feet) in height with an equal spread.

Snowball viburnum flowers - Viburnum macrocephalum branch
Chinese Snowball viburnum bush branches with flowers 

The flowers are born in clusters of an apple green color at first,  growing into large, white snowballs when in full bloom.
The heavy, ball-shaped flower head is composed of many, tiny, sterile florets. Puffy, pristine-white blossoms nearly cover all the branches on the shrub.

Snowball viburnum flower-closeup photo
Viburnum flowers - white snowballs 

It prefers partially shaded growing conditions, slightly moist but well-drained soil.

This last picture was taken about a week earlier than the previous ones. The yet green flowers among the leaves are barely visible.

Snowball viburnum shrub with green flower buds

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Flowering Black Locust tree-Robinia pseudoacacia

Black locust trees are in full bloom in May, feeling the air with their pleasant fragrance, similar to orange blossoms.
Its white flowers are pea-like, borne in long, pendulous racemes, just like Wisteria and Laburnum tree flowers. The flowers are edible and an important source of the renowned acacia monofloral honey.
Its fruit are long pods containing 4-8, dark orange brown seeds. These seed pods ripen in late autumn, hanging on the branches until next spring.

 Black locust trees  are planted alongside streets and in parks in my town, as ornamental trees. One of its common names is False Acacia.
Old trees of this species can reach 1.6m in diameter and even 50m in height.

Black Locust tree branch with white flowers-Robinia pseudoacacia
Because of its huge size, this tree is not for small gardens but its little sister, the Rose Acacia or Bristly locust is an ideal garden tree.

The wood of Black locust trees is extremely hard, durable and rot resistant. It is used for furniture, flooring, paneling, fence posts and highly valued as firewood.
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European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris in silver birch tree

Breeding season begins for the European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), in April.
The mail greenfinch takes on its colorful breeding plumage and begins its elegant, undulating flight, part of the courtship behavior.

I've spotted a pair of European Greenfinch perched high on the silver birch tree, in front of my window. I rushed to fetch my camera but the female was already gone.
European Greenfinch mail - Carduelis chloris

Appearance - display

The plumage of the adult male greenfinch in breeding season is olive-green washed yellow over its underparts and its face. Its upper-wings are darker grey with a bright yellow leading edge on its wing primaries. The same bright yellow feathers are visible on its undertail.
Greenfinch mail in breeding plumage - Carduelis chloris
The head of the greenfinch is olive-green with a pale grey patch on head-sides, and a pale grey collar on the foreneck. It has a powerful, conical bill and dark brown eyes. Legs and feet are pinkish with relative long, curved claws. The hen is duller, with a browner overall coloration.

Habitat

This bird is widespread throughout Europe, north Africa and south west Asia.
Green finch mail - side view showing yellow underpart
The common, sparrow size bird is a regular garden visitor in rural and urban gardens, in parks and in orchards, being adapted to human presence.

Diet

These birds are mainly seed eaters, the favorite ingredient of their menu being the sunflower seeds. They also take fat seeds of several other plants, berries and small insects for their babies, during the nesting period.
European Greenfinch and house sparrows in a tree

Courtship rituals

During the breeding season the male displays a specific flight with slow wing beats alternated with glides with closed wings.
To attract a mate, the greenfinch mail repeats continuously its sharp twittering and wheezing song, very similar to that of a canary.

Click to listen to the greenfinch call!
The mail's song could be a warning off competition as well. This silver birch is sparrow territory, but now, with the greenfinch on top of the tree, the noisy sparrows are sitting quietly on lowers branches.

Have a look at three new House Martin baby birds in the nest.
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Pink climbing rose bushes-rose photos

I always admire these wonderful, pink climbing rose bushes at the front entrance of this old house, down the street. Besides the spectacular floral display welcoming everyone, this arch or roses is a discrete solution for creating privacy for the owners.
Pink climbing rose bushes arching before the entrance
These fragrant roses are repeat flowering. The long, flexible canes are all covered with flowers during the summer and than again, later in the season.
Climbing rose bush arch at the front entrance
These old garden roses are a perfect match for the old architecture of this cozy little house.
Bunch of pink roses on a climbing rose

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Marzipan fruits-almond paste recipe

Modeling marzipan for the holidays is an old tradition in many European countries, during many religious celebrations.
Marzipan, also known as almond paste, can be molded into any shape, limited only by your own artistic skills.

Many marzipan sweets are shaped and colored as to resemble real fruits, like oranges, pears, apples and prickly pears.
Marzipan fruits can be used for decorating cakes and dinner tables.
Prickly pears-Marzipan fruitsMarzipan pears

Marzipan sweets are very healthy holiday treats packed with a lot of nutrients and a small amount of carbohydrate.
These ones from the pictures are ready made, I just bought them for Easter.
Marzipan orangesMarzipan fruits-apples

Hand making marzipan is not difficult to do and is a fun family activity to make with kids, though time consuming.
If you want to try homemade marzipan, here is a marzipan recipe from my old cookbook:

Marzipan-almond paste recipe

Ingredients:
  • 200g (8oz) ground almonds - from your local grocery
  • 200g (8oz) caster sugar (very fine sugar)
  • 200g (8oz) confectioners sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • almond essence
Method:
  • Step 1. Pass the sugars through a sieve, into a bowl to avoid any lumps. Add the ground almonds and stir together.
  • Step 2. Break the eggs into a bowl, add a few drops of almond essence and beat.
  • Step 3. Add them to the mixture with the ground almonds and sugar. Mix well until it forms a paste.
  • Step 4. Tip out onto a board sprinkled with icing sugar and knead it until is is smooth.
Now your homemade marzipan is ready. It can be used immediately or refrigerate it for later use.
You can use it to cover a cake or color the marzipan paste and use it to shape little marzipan fruits, flowers or sweets of any shape.

To color the marzipan, divide the almond paste into as many pieces as colors needed.
Add a drop of food coloring to each piece and knead until evenly colored. If you want a more intense color, add another drop of coloring but be careful, you can't take it out once you drop to much color.

Almonds are said to lower cholesterol levels, which is very welcome especially during the holiday season when we can't (don't want to) avoid all our traditional, delicious but fattening and unhealthy foods.
Check out this homemade cake with marzipan decoration and grated fruits.
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Franciscan Church Cluj-Baroque style interior photos

The church in the background of the first picture is a Roman-Catholic church, the Franciscan Church.
It was built between 1260 and 1290 and is on of the oldest buildings of Cluj-Napoca (my town). It may not tell much from the outside but it does from the inside.
Franciscan Church in Cluj
In 1390, the Benedictine monks extended the church by building a small Gothic cloister near it.
It is the red painted building near the church, which is hosting a music school these days.
Franciscan Church in Cluj-Biserica Franciscana
The monastery was built in Gothic style with the support of Hunyadi János (Iancu de Hunedoara-Romanian) the Voivode of Transylvania (1440–1456), and father of the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus.
It has a heritage consisting of various objects used in liturgy, altars, series of old manuscripts and a library.
The Roman-Catholic church was reconstructed in Baroque style in the early 18th century (1728-1745).

Passing by, I can often hear the old organ playing, a sound that slows you down even when you are in a hurry and invites you inside the church.
That's how I managed to take some photos of the beautiful, Baroque style interior which is not always an easy task, with people praying inside.
The organ-Franciscan Church Cluj
Detail of the main altar

Main altar-detail-Franciscan Church Cluj
See more interior photos in this slideshow:

This old church building, like everything else in my town is very neglected, no restorations were made in the last decades.
The bright side of this is that I was able to take some puddle shots, reflecting the church building.
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Spring Snowflake flowers-Leucojum vernum

Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum) is a bulbous plant native to southern Europe. Romania, my home country is one of its native places.

Leucojum comes from Greek, meaning "white violet", though they look nothing like violets.

Spring Snowflake is blooming short after snowdrops, as soon as the snow melts in its wild habitat.
In March they are blooming in many gardens as well.
Spring Snowflake flowers are bell shaped, having a green spot at the end of each tepal.
The flowers are slightly fragrant, just like some varieties of snowdrops.

This delicate flower is poisonous if ingested, all parts of it.

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White crocus flowers-spring crocus photos

It's another warm, sunny spring day today. I just took some photos of gorgeous white crocus flowers during my short Sunday walk.
They were graciously smiling at the passers-by from a, yet empty flower bed near the sidewalk.
These are very small, just 5-6 cm tall crocus plants, growing wild in Eastern Europe's woodlands and gardens as well.

Beautiful white crocus flowers-top view
Beautiful white crocus flowers 

They bloom in early spring, shortly after snowdrops.
In full sun the blooms open up and show their pure white petals. As the sun goes down, these white Crocus flowers close up for the night.

White spring crocus closeup
White spring crocus closeup 

The underside of the petals have a light purple coloration which is only visible when the flowers are closed.

White-purple crocus flowers-side view
White-purple crocus flowers

See also our autumn flowering, purple crocus.
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