UnderShoot

I am on the verge of another 4-day weekend, due to both Monday’s holiday and the Tuesday the students earned off as a result of selling enough raffle tickets (which led to the teachers having Tuesday off, too). For me it’s actually a five-day weekend, since I took Friday off to spend with another friend from work who is in desperate need of a mental health day. We were going to zip out of town but that didn’t work out, so we intend to do some lunch and shopping instead.

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I’ve edited a few more plane pics since the  last post, but not many due to time constraints. I seem to be leaning towards a more stylized look to these shots than other plane sets I’ve edited before; not sure why since I usually desire accuracy and detail when working with my airplane photos, but I’m just going with it for now. It could be because with this set I’m seeing the limitations of my cheaper telephoto lens and in an attempt to repair some of the graininess I keep creating this surreal quality anyway so I just keep going with it.

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At some point over my long weekend I hope to throw on a bunch of wild makeup and do some portraits, which I haven’t done in awhile. I also haven’t done any leaping or movement shots in forever, but the truth is that I injured my knee back in December (doing nothing, as usual – just stood up one day and it hurt. Yep, I even once injured my tailbone doing nothing and had to have six weeks of treatment to get it re-aligned; a process that is NOT fun, let me tell you) and I still can’t jump or move much at all if it involves bending my right knee (which pretty much everything does). So I’ll have to settle for portraits, if I have time to do anything at all. With work in high gear I’ve seriously slacked off with the photo-taking, but that always happens.

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That’s a close-up of the little lock on one of my Vuitton bags – I love my macro lens! Speaking of Vuittons, my obsession with the bags has slacked off a little, but I’m still acquiring them here or there when a good deal pops up. I have one on the way as I type from Fashionphile, and another one on layaway over there. I also quite accidentally donated one to the school’s silent auction gala – I brought my little refurbished Papillon up to the school just to see if the women organizing the gala thought it might sell for a decent amount, and they immediately whisked it off to take photos and do a write-up for the auction’s program, so yeah, I donated it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to, but they had taken it and claimed it before I had to a chance to object, and I would have felt like a heel asking for it back after that. It sold for about $300, which isn’t bad considering I paid $180 for it to start with.

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Took this one through the car window with my iPhone

In other shopping news, Stitch Fix has really upped their game, and I’ve liked a lot out of the last two fixes they sent me. In fact, the Fix I got for February was so good I kept the entire thing. So I guess even when the shipments get disappointing it’s a good idea to stick with them. The most you’re out is twenty bucks for the styling fee, so why not? I’ve not been doing a lot of clothes shopping lately anyway, so getting a few new things in once a month is a nice way to supplement the wardrobe without leaving the house. And speaking of clothes – I recently had to buy several new pairs of pants because since the last time I bought a bunch of them, which was during the Black Friday online sales, I have dropped another size and none of those fit anymore. I am now a size ZERO – which I haven’t been in probably ten years. I’d been noticing my size 2s being loose on me for a few weeks now, and finally on Monday someone at work said something about my pants being too big, so I knew it was time to bite the bullet and buy some more.

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Sprocket is much better now and seems to have recovered from whatever illness he had about a month ago. And my father-in-law has also managed to stay out of the hospital for almost a month, so that’s good too. And as you can see in the phone pic above, my perm is pretty much done – the curls are still there, but the layers have grown out and new growth has come in flat so the shape is pretty off – and my now-straight hair has finally hit my shoulders. You can see how much the dye has grown out too; I’m surprised by how little gray I’m seeing as my natural color comes in – the gray is there, but not nearly as pronounced as I thought it would be. I still have some layers to grow out,  but they are long enough to at least look decent.

I think that about gets me up to date, so here’s hoping I have more shots to share next time instead of all this rambling.

Thoughts

I have not had much time to edit photos or write blog posts, but I would like to pop in and get some opinions from readers about something that, unfortunately, I am going to be rather vague about here. So, feel free to give me vague opinions if you are so inclined to say anything at all.

Last week I decided to try seeing a counselor about one specific issue that I would like to work on. I’m not going to mention the issue because, well, I don’t want to. So there. Anyway, I made an appointment to speak with a psychologist; this is a new person for me, because my last “real” counselor was quite a distance from where I live and work and I’ve decided I don’t want to make the long drive anymore to work on this. So, this was our first meeting. We met Saturday, she was very nice and even though she was a bit younger than my previous counselors and perhaps has not been in practice as long as they have, she seemed to know what she was doing. So that was all fine.

But. She asked me a load of questions about my past and my childhood and my home life growing up, etc. and made many observations about the dysfunction and even some of the abuse that occurred. It was obvious to me that in moving forward she intends to work on these past issues and integrate them, somehow, into this current situation I want to improve. There were also times when I was talking about things going on in my life currently and she “corrected’ me in a way – or rather, she pointed out ways in which I was behaving or thinking that she clearly felt were not the most productive or even – I don’t know – strong? I was left with the feeling that she sees some real flaws with the way I conduct myself around others, ways in which I have major defenses up and at the same time might be really passive in a manner that, according to her at least, does not serve me well.

I left feeling pretty down and in a fog, as if my life choices had been judged and found wanting. I don’t mean that she was negative or rude, but I did get the impression that she perceived my life as having serious problems, when really I just wanted to focus on one thing. For example, she kept repeating these little mantras to me while we talked, one of which was “we teach people how to treat us,” and I mean, yeah, I know that already, you know? And also, is there some way people are treating me that is so bad I should be concerned? Because I really didn’t think that until I walked out her door after our session. Ever since then I’ve felt out of sorts and bothered, questioning my relationships and interactions with others as if seeing them through this woman’s eyes – wow, am I really being mistreated by others because I haven’t “taught” them how to treat me properly?

I’ve done counseling many times in my life, which I know I’ve mentioned here before, but I can honestly say I’ve never felt flat-out depressed after leaving a session, and certainly not my first one with somebody (I’ve had two others). I’ve always left feeling better about my situation after talking about things. But I left this time feeling like shit, quite honestly. Of course, at the same time, all the literature says things usually get worse before they get better when someone enters counseling, so just because I’ve never experienced this before doesn’t mean I won’t go through that this time. Perhaps my low mood is just that idea put into action? Maybe I’m supposed to feel this way, and question my relationships in this manner?

Also, counseling is expensive, quite honestly, and this woman wants to see me once a week at $115 a pop (she doesn’t take insurance, which is more and more common nowadays than it was when I first started going back in the 90’s). I mean, dang, that’s a lot of scratch each month just to feel crappier than I did before I started. I did make two appointments with two different therapists, with the idea that if I liked the first one I’d cancel the other, and the other one isn’t until this coming Monday – maybe I should hold off on going back to this woman and see how the other one does? Or maybe I should just blow the whole counseling thing off and go buy some books and work through the issue myself. As I’ve said many times in relation to my recent depression, I’ve talked about my childhood and my dysfunctional family in counselors’ offices enough over the years, and part of me does think that if all that talking was going to work it would have done so already, and at this age I am truly not interesting in dredging it all up again.

But here’s where I’m asking you for your opinion (and I realize this may be too difficult to answer without knowing my specific issue, but I’m going to try anyway): is the only way to fix a current problem digging back into the past and opening up old wounds? I know there are counseling philosophies that would say no, and that’s more of what I was hoping to find this time. But what do you think? And also, if you went to a counselor for an initial consultation and left feeling as depressed and “wrong” as I felt when I met with this woman, would you say that’s a sign the person isn’t the right counselor for me, or is she the right one and she just managed to hone in on some real problems I really need to fix?

I realize those are huge questions I’m asking you without much information for you to go on, but please weigh in if you can. I know some of you can’t ever get your comments to post here so feel free to email or message me wherever we keep in touch. Thanks!

Sprocket Drama

Many people have asked about Sprocket, and while he is feeling better and no longer running a fever, we still do not know what is, or was, wrong with him. All of the tests the specialist originally ran have come back negative, so all former conjectures as to the problem are off. He’s had no fever for days, but is still moving about a little tenderly so we are continuing him on pain medication for now.

I am inserting photos of current and former pets into this post, so you’ll have to excuse the picture quality, because most of these were taken before I knew (or cared to know) anything about photography. But first, Sprocket:

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At our last trip to the dog neurologist, she pressed on his joints and said he no longer appeared to be in pain anywhere but around his tailbone, so I don’t know what to do with that. Last time she was sure he had this virus that causes all-over inflammation in the joints but the test was negative. She ran more bloodwork (third time  since this started) then told us Sprocket needs to see another specialist at the center, because now they’re thinking it’s a bone marrow infection. Oooookay. We called our regular vet out of frustration over all this, and he encouraged us to go ahead and meet with the next specialist, see what he has to say, then stop looking for answers if whatever that one recommends doesn’t work. Once we reach that point, he says we should just keep an eye on him, monitor his pain level, help him be comfortable, and hope whatever it is passes. The positive thing is that other than some random pain that seems to be moving around, he is behaving as he always has; he is bright-eyed and friendly, and eating a ridiculous amount of food. So, no one is concerned he’s going to die anytime soon- except Doug and I of course. But so far no one is seeing anything to cause alarm in that regard, and he’s certainly had every test known to man by now, including x-rays and ultrasounds. So we’re trying to reassure ourselves and stay calm.

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Ramone – after he died we adopted Simon

In fact, the two of us got to talking last night, and we realized that throughout our pet-owning years this very thing has happened more often than going to a vet, taking tests, and getting definitive answers. This is the third mystery illness Sprocket has had alone. We had one cat, Yoshimi, who only lived five years and was constantly sick – every test in the world was administered and no cause ever found. We are coming to accept that we are unusual pet owners in two ways: 1) we take our pets in at the first sign something is amiss, while most people wait longer. While this is probably what saved Sprocket’s life when he had distemper as a pup, for the most part it only costs us money and creates confusion, because it’s simply too early in the game to know what’s going on; and 2) we push things farther than most people, and continue to look for an answer long after others would have stopped. In short, we simply are expecting much more from these veterinarians than they are able to provide; probably because we think of our pets as our children and expect them to be treated as such when they are sick. But the service providers just don’t have the capability – not even the so-called specialists. Moving on.

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Penny with Bickley; he got cancer and had to be put down. Sprocket came next.

I must tell you about out latest billing experience though, because it’s another winner. Doug had noticed that in the past the receptionist waited to ring us up until after we had out dog back in our possession, which led to distraction and getting overcharged. So, when the person checking us out this time said we needed to wait until we got our dog to pay, we insisted that they “ring us up” first. What that consists of here is the front desk person looking at the computer, typing in a name, and reading off a total to the customer. What was recited to us was $1482 and some change, then a hand was outstretched to take our debit card. Instead of paying, Doug asked for a printed statement, and when we got it, we saw we’d been charged for the ultrasound they performed on Sprocket twice, so we asked that one of them be removed. At this point the receptionist was very confused, as if she’d never had to do this before, so she called back to the administrative offices for assistance. As soon as she said our last name, there was all sorts of commotion on the other end of that phone – remember, we’ve raised a ruckus over charges here before, to the point of calling the owner of the company (who laughed at us and dared us to call the BBB).

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Yoshimi, our sickly kitty.

Long story short? At the end of that frantic phone conversation we received a new bill – for FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS. That’s right – a few simple questions for clarification of our charges resulting in them lopping almost a thousand dollars off our bill. Now, I’m sorry people, but whether or not vets can make a decent living, this is not the way to get around it. To routinely overcharge by that amount is pure scumbaggery, even if it’s not illegal (according to the owner). After we left, we were so pissed we did not keep the original printout with the $1500 total so we could show the comparison to our vet, or to anyone who doesn’t want to believe that this place is as bad as we say it is. But we forgot to get it back from them before we left.

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My beloved first pet, Wiley – little rat terrier found in a ditch when he was a pup. He held on to age 17 and I was heartbroken when we finally had to put him down.

We are going to go back to this clinic one more time, to see whatever specialist can determine if there’s a problem with his bone marrow. But then we are good and done – at least with this place. And I seriously doubt they will try to overcharge us this time. If nothing else, it’s clear they know our name and don’t want to even deal with us anymore, so most likely they’ll suck it up and charge one of their customers fairly!

And last but not least, let’s not forget:

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Simon!

(P)up-date

Lots has gone in the past week, and even though I’m in the midst of a four-day weekend, it hasn’t been very relaxing. But, I’ll update you anyway, and throw in a bunch of random pictures I’ve managed to edit over this crazy week. Haven’t had time for any new photos, but I did take a ton over Christmas break (and as you can see I still have a ton to edit from my airshow set back in November) so let’s get to it.

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Sprocket started behaving strangely Wednesday afternoon; he was moving about gingerly, especially when going to sit or lie down. Sometimes he leaps about too much and temporarily pops a knee out of joint, but it manages to pop back in quickly (gross I know) so at first that’s all we thought was going on and he’d be back to his usual sprightly self in no time. But by Thursday Doug was growing concerned, and he texted me to say he was taking the dog in to vet that afternoon. Turned out Sprocket’s temperature was quite high (106) and he appeared to be in pain around the spine. The vet recommended we bring the dog back in Friday morning for some tests that he would send to a specialist for analysis, and based on that we would decide what to do next.

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I’ll keep the details brief because it all became a blur anyway, but it was late Friday afternoon before the specialist called us back and recommended we take Sprocket in for the night to be monitored and have more tests run. We rushed him up there around 5 PM, and after spending some time with the dog, the specialist (a veterinary neurologist) said she believed he had an infection that had manifested itself in his joints, and that he was basically in pain all over. Poor thing! She thought there was a slight chance of Lyme disease and tested for that too, but we don’t have the results yet and are fairly certain that’s not what he has (he’s never outside long enough to get anything like that). Anyway, the upshot of all this was that whatever he had was treatable, and he was not in any danger of dying, which of course was our concern. Sprocket stayed with the vet overnight and was back in our care by Saturday morning, but he was on a fair amount of pills, some of which made him goofy. By Sunday he was more bright-eyed, and his temperature has stayed down, but he still requires a lot of attention and care, and he’s taken up a lot of our time this weekend.

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Without getting too much into it, though, I have to discuss this specialists’ clinic where we took the dog Thursday. I’ve dealt with them  before – they are the ones that nursed Sprocket through his distemper, as well as taking one cat there when she fell ill to be put down, and a few other specialty treatments over the years, one for a dog who had cancer, and another for Sprocket when we were concerned about his knee problems and thought he might need surgery (we decided against it because the specialist and our vet could not agree on a diagnosis about why he kept limping). Every time I’ve dealt with this place, I’ve come away from it feeling like I got mistreated and overcharged; they are terrible at communication to an extent that it feels it must be intentional, and I always get the feeling I’m being scammed and/or given a runaround. In fact, every time I do deal with them I end up swearing to never go there again, but there’s a catch: they have a load of specialists in their facility and they are basically the only game in town for specialist treatment for our pets (with the exception of driving over an hour through heavy traffic to another specialist clinic across town). Since they didn’t even bother to call us back until late Friday, we really didn’t have a choice but to use them – something I suspect was intentional. They basically called us at 4:30 and said they could take Sprocket, as long as we got him there by 5 PM. So, what were we going to do? We had to take the chance.

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And, they were still shady. We knew enough to demand proper service from the beginning, and at least we got that although we had to sit around for about two hours to make it happen (the people in charge at this place are very good at never being available to sit down and talk to you – they prefer you talk to a lab assistant who takes notes and then delivers those to the vet, whom you only speak to briefly). We finally got to speak directly to the vet, who at least appeared intelligent and confident, but when we starting asking pointed questions about how many times we could expect to get an update on our dog and when exactly she would have an answer regarding a pick-up time for Sprocket the next day, she got visibly nervous. You could tell she wasn’t used to people doing anything other than bringing in a pet and leaving it in the hands of what they believed to be trustworthy veterinarians. But we were very clear that we hadn’t always gotten good service from the place, and wanted to be sure we got it this time. We did get good service, in fact, and our dog got a lot of attention – but that is only because we demanded it.

Now for the really shady part: after talking to us for awhile, the neurologist sent in her assistant to show us the estimate for Sprocket’s stay. We were given a “high” and a “low” estimate, then told we would be paying the “middle” between these two costs that day, before they’d done any work on Sprocket at all, and before we even knew whether or not they’d be able to help him. Out of curiosity, we asked the assistant what the clinic would do if we refused to pay upfront and said we wanted to pay after services were rendered, and of course she didn’t really want to respond with the answer, which was clearly yes. Now to me, demanding payment upfront when your clientele is pet owners who are, in many cases, beside themselves with worry over the health of their pet, is bad enough; to refuse to treat a sick animal because it’s owners won’t (or can’t) allow themselves to be forced into paying in advance is unethical as hell. Our “middle” estimate was three thousand dollars, which after much arguing and grumbling we paid; I get how people do not want to haggle like this when it comes to their pet’s life, but at the same time, this practice seems vile to me, and well, someone has to point it out to them rather than just doing whatever they say.

Also, on our estimate, not one line item was an even dollar amount, yet when we got our “adjustment” on Saturday before paying the bill, we were told that our refund amount was four hundred dollars even. We pointed out that was odd, given that none of the charges on our estimate were an even number, and asked to see exactly what it was that they removed from it. Not surprisingly, no one was able to explain what they’d taken off, and then, as we were still haggling with them over this, another guy came to get his pet out of the clinic, and they adjusted his bill as well – by four hundred dollars. So, I’m guessing they just overcharge everyone who walks through the door, then refund them four hundred bucks and hope no one questions it. Well, question it we did, but we were never able to get anything straight and were given a phone number to the manager of the clinic, who of course was not available on weekends. We are definitely going to be calling that person, and deciding what to do next with what we experienced. It isn’t right to fleece people who are trying to be responsible pet owners and take emergency care of them, and even though the treatment these animals receive is, in the end, successful, that simply doesn’t justify behaving kinda like scumbags when it comes to the cost.

On top of all that, I’ve injured my knee again doing nothing much whatsoever, so I had to go to the doctor for that (also Wednesday) and then had a mix-up over what medication the doc was to call in for me. First he called in the one anti-inflammatory med that makes me sick, so I had to call him again to get him to prescribe a new one, and that took me two days to straighten out; when I went to pick up the second prescription, I had once again received the wrong one (!), so I spent two more days trying to get that changed again. And, this is my second round of anti-inflammatories overall  and so far nothing is making much difference, so I’ll probably end up at an orthopedic specialist getting MRIs or x-rays at the end of all this. Sheesh! What a week.

Monday I go see another doctor, then run errands. Then, it’s back to work for another week. There’s been drama there as well, but at least it’s not directly related to me this time. Perhaps I can talk about it at some point, but for now I’m staying mum. Let’s see how things go this week!

Ladybug Funeral Blues

Last night I spied a ladybug in our house, which my husband said was good luck. I scrambled to get my camera together before I lost her, and when I rushed back to the endtable where she’d been with what I thought was my macro lens attached to my Canon, I realized after trying without success to focus it that I’d put my telephoto on it instead. Needless to say, by the time I got the lens switched to the proper one and rushed back to the appropriate piece of furniture, the ladybug had vanished. But Simon was hanging around, so I took pictures of him instead.

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I don’t know how I feel about that ladybug, and if it was good luck or not. The next day was a weird one – we buried my 91-year-old grandfather Thursday morning, and it was an odd experience for me. I have not felt particularly close to my family in many years, and I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has more to do with me and my emotional detachment in general than anything in particular they may or may not have done. Plus, alcoholism. It is not rampant in my family, but it is definitely present, and the ones with that particular disease have it pretty bad (my grandfather was not one of them, by the way). And lately – they are really going downhill. One was so bad at Christmas Eve it was shocking to me; makeup slid all over the face and slurring words by 8 PM, that kind of bad. There was a time when these people could at least hold it together long enough to get home from the family gatherings, but those times are in the past. Several of them were drunk upon arrival at the funeral this morning, which began at 11 AM.

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My grandfather holding my mother

Then my husband and I fought in the car on the way to the wake – he feeling cranky over the reminder, I am sure, of his father and his failing health, and me feeling out of sorts about being surrounded by so many family members from whom I feel oddly disconnected – so when we arrived there we were not speaking, which is always so easy to hide from others, isn’t it? I was already feeling strangely awkward and out of place among my own family, and then had to try and pretend (and fail) not to be pissed at my significant other, which made me all the more sullen and distant. We got tired of trying to ignore each other eventually, but it soured what little sweetness there might have otherwise been in the day (there are some family members I usually enjoy seeing and talking to, but not this time; I just couldn’t muster up a fake smile and some casual chatter until the meal was done and we both got over our anger).

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My grandfather with his sister, Betty, who died long before I was born

The truth is I am not sure how to describe my grandfather. He was, I suppose, a simple man, as most people in my family are. He fought in WWII, came home, got a job in the shipyard where he worked until retirement, married my grandmother and had two kids. After he retired, he took up residence in a brown reclining chair in a corner of his den, and that’s pretty much where he stayed until my grandmother died. He was always sitting, and watching television, and occasionally cooking chili or taking trips with Granny to visit my aunt, who lived out of town. He was surly and a little scary, especially when I was a kid, and he had a sarcastic sense of humor with more than a touch of a mean streak to it. I am sure there is more to him than this, but as I moved into young adulthood I pulled farther away from my family in general, and never really reconnected to either him or my grandmother. After my granny died two years ago, what was left of his old mind finally snapped entirely, and he spent his last remaining days in a home, confused and frustrated by his fate.

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I don’t know what to say about this one. Probably an odd choice to include it here. But as a photo, it’s kind of cool.

I felt it more deeply when my grandmother died, because even though we were no longer close, she had been a major figure in my childhood. But my grandfather’s death felt more like an inevitable conclusion than the end of an era, like Granny’s did. And I feel pretty bad about that. I was always a fairly detached person, even as a kid, and I guess because he was big and occasionally mean and sometimes scary, I shut him out early on and stayed disconnected. He’s not the only person to whom I have done this. I know we can’t possibly feel close to all of our relatives, and we all have our favorites as well as the ones with whom we never really bond, but the experience of sitting in front of his coffin surrounded by family members whom I rarely speak to or see, listening to them sniffle while inside I still felt distant and removed from it to a degree, was disconcerting and disorienting, nonetheless. I’d like to believe I possess that depth of love we are always told we will automatically feel for the people to whom we are related by blood, that bond my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles repeatedly told me exists, but the truth is I always questioned it. It seemed to me more was required to feel love for another person than just accidentally being related to them. It was as if to them love was a magical thing that just happened when you were born – sort of like how my mother described sex to me when I was a child (you meet someone and feel something special, then you get married, then SOMETHING HAPPENS and you have a baby – OK, later she did give me a book that explained it better, but still). I guess it’s thoughts like this which explain why I was such a detached child; questioning things like why I should love this or that relative is probably not the typical ten-year-old’s inner dialogue, but it sure was mine. It’s not that I didn’t love my grandfather, it’s more likely I just decided at some point that he wasn’t as lovable as Granny and we weren’t as close and never would be, and left it at that without ever trying harder, not even when I was an adult and he was dying. I’m a bit disappointed in myself, that I never reevaluated impressions I made while still in grade school about a man whose role could have been a bigger one in my life, but there it is. That’s how it was, and that’s what I did.

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I’ll sum this ramble up by sharing that in the midst of the wake, surrounded by strangeness and still feeling very disoriented and distant, I went to the ladies’ room and locked myself in a stall, pressed my head against the cold door, and suddenly thought of Simon. I wanted nothing more than to be at home, so I could press my face into his warm fur and hear him purr and feel comfortable again. I’m not sure what this says about me, either. That I can feel more love for my pets than for my own family? Maybe that’s not so unusual after all. Simple relationships and all that. Or maybe I am just more like my grandfather than I know, and I prefer to keep things simple, to stay home and sit in a chair and savor the comfort of doing nothing. He was always the one who stayed silent at family gatherings, watching and listening rather than playing any big part, and with every passing year I do more of that myself whenever I am around them. In fact, I took on that very role today. I sat, and I watched, and I stayed silent, and I felt a little overwhelmed by it all, and I was relieved when it was time to get away. Who knows – maybe I understood my grandfather too much instead of not enough. Maybe we were too similar, rather than too different, to ever connect.

Anyway, for what it is worth, rest in peace, dear grandfather. I am glad the unpleasantness of your last few years are over. I am glad you died in your sleep, and it was peaceful. I’m glad you left your flag to my poor lost soul of a nephew, and I hope it strengthens him in a manner that helps him, at twenty-three, to finally grow up. I hope my grandmother was waiting for you, and I hope you are, and were, happy. The truth is, I could never really tell. But maybe that is just your generation, one that, as the military chaplain pointed out, is rapidly dying out. At ninety-one, I guess it was your time. I’m sorry I never got to know you better, but I hope I got to know as much about you as you wanted me to know.

Moving on.

 

Leader of the Banned

I have to pop in and share this article I read today at washingtonpost.com:

This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom

I haven’t talked much about my intentions for the coming semester, because I feel it’s probably pretty boring for most people. But when I read this article, I felt a big old YES about it, because it accurately sums up the problem I’ve been having. As I may have mentioned before, a lot has changed in the five years since I was last a classroom teacher, and the presence of laptops and cell phones is one of the biggest. Technology may be, in fact, the only change that’s occurred, actually; it’s just so huge it feels like 99 problems when it’s really only one (unavoidable joke, sorry).

I struggled all semester with the laptop/cell phone/internet problem, and until i had the chance a week ago to talk it out with a friend, I could not hit upon a solution. Were I simply teaching an English class, the solution would be simple: no cell phones in the classroom, for sure, and even though we are not allowed to ban laptops, I would have my classroom set up in such a way that I could see what they were doing on them most, if not all, of the time (had to do that in the past when I taught in a computer lab, and it’s quite doable in a normal classroom with desks you can arrange).

However, I am in this special program that does not have a content area, and one of the major accommodations our students with learning differences receive is the allowance of laptops in classrooms – primarily for note taking. So, I can’t exactly ban them outright when they are with me for their study hall. Furthermore, one of the things we want for the center is for it to be a more relaxed and open environment than a regular classroom, so I allowed students to have their phones out at all times, to listen to music while they studied, for example. The problem is, even when students did use the technologies available to them, they still ended up distracted by Twitter or Pinterest or YouTube more often than they actually studied. And the texting was non-stop (and was often coming from their parents!).

You’d think these things would be easy enough to control in a classroom of six students or less. But the truth is, these kids are incredibly skilled at appearing to be working when they are not (put a few books on the table, hold a pen in your hand, and look very serious). And even though I only have six students per class, I am often working closely with one or a few of them, and as soon as I am occupied, they’re off-task.

One thing I like about the article linked above is that it doesn’t shame or blame the students for this behavior – in fact, the author admits that he struggles just as much to stay focused when surrounded by technology as they do. My weakness in teaching has always been my ability to empathize with my students to the point of being lax, and I definitely fell down in this regard again in the fall. And, in all honesty, there were times when I myself got distracted by the Internet and caught myself sitting at my desk reading some article when I was supposed to be helping students! I don’t think your average kid engages in this off-task behavior on purpose, any more than I do – I think we all get called away from our purpose by virtual distractions before we even realize it’s happening; it’s not a conscious decision we make to check out of whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing (although I have a few students who are doing it decisively, but that’s another story). I’d like to be able to trust the students overall and give them the freedom to utilize whatever technology they need, whenever they need it, but it puts me in the position of being a constant “technology cop,” forever looking over individual shoulders and getting into conflicts with kids I catch off-task. I do not have the time nor the constitution for this approach. It’s too much work and too stressful and it puts me in the position of having to directly confront students on a regular basis, which is not my style.

But what do I do if I cannot ban technology entirely from my classroom? It’s true that for some of my students, listening to music may help them study. And certainly many of them are allowed to use laptops – it’s in their documentation. There’s also all sorts of assistive technology and apps they theoretically could be using to help them meet their educational needs (although to be honest, I’ve yet to see any app that’s all that helpful or impressive). My friend helped me come up with a few ideas:

1. Ban cell phones for a certain amount of classroom time. Classes at my school are an hour and half due to block scheduling (which I loathe, but subject for another time). So, at first, I decided they would be able to get out the phones and use them for the last 20 minutes of class in whatever way they see fit – including play a game or look at Twitter if they need a break. But then I read this article about taking small “tech breaks” throughout a class period to reduce the anxiety our social-media addictions create in us (I say “us” because I have it, too). I think this might work better, but I’ve just hit upon this research so I need to think through how do it realistically, in a manner that won’t get cumbersome for me to monitor. Bottom line is, they can use their phones to check social media or texts- at some point during the period. But not for the entire class. The truth is, they are simply not dedicated enough on their own to steer clear of the numerous distractions, and their work is suffering as a result. I think that’s what finally became clear to me – I actually have an obligation to keep them away from the distractions and assist them in learning how to focus without all that crap. I thought I was doing my job by allowing these things, but in reality I was doing them a disservice by allowing them to engage in sub-standard study practices.

2. Laptop use is allowed at designated areas of the room only. I’m not sure I can pull this one off this year, because I only have one big, jerry-rigged, makeshift room to work with and designated areas are hard to create at this point as the space is stuffed (remember August, when we didn’t even have desks or walls? Well yeah, that’s changed just a little – see the picture below as a reference). My friend suggested a few places, but it all seems a bit too forced to me to pull off, so what I may say instead is that any student on a laptop MUST have their back to me, so I can see what they are doing. What they do now is sit facing me – easy to do since we have those wonderful, inviting round tables that have turned out to be a bit of a pain in this regard – and then they incorporate way too much Netflix and Twitter into their study time while I can’t see the screen. It is not my desire to constantly pace around the room policing their laptop comings and goings, so if they sit with their backs to my desk (which is where I normally am) I can easily look up and see what they are doing. Much easier, and still little confrontation and conflict involved. Next year, we actually will have two rooms to work with (and two teachers instead of just me!), and I can be sure to create a ‘laptop friendly’ area where the use of them will be allowed while all other spaces are ‘technology-free’ zones.

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I promise, we’re really studying! On our PHONES!

I have a few other ideas for how to be of better assistance to the students this year, but they aren’t technology-related and this post is probably already boring as hell. But it’s been on my mind since my break started, and I feel like I finally have solutions to the issues I had last semester. I do feel badly that I let the kids, and their parents, down in this regard: I left them to police themselves in an area where I should have been enforcing better habits. We even had a few kids fail classes, and while I know that’s always going to happen, I do feel that a few of those kids would have worked harder if I’d monitored them more – and yes, even forced them to work when on their own they allowed the distractions to get them off-task. But in my defense, I’ve never dealt with technology in a classroom before, as when I was a teacher it just wasn’t allowed, plus I was trying so hard to create a unique, comfortable, and trusting environment that I hesitated to put a stop to it when I saw it becoming a problem (plus, I just didn’t have enough time away from the situation to catch a breath and come up with a workable solution).

So them’s my new rules, and I’m sticking to ‘em. I’ve actually written whole posts about this subject several times but always deleted them because they felt too work-specific to be interesting. But that article inspired me – interesting to hear what difficulty even colleges face when it comes to the subject of laptops and cell phones. By the way, I’ve certainly yet to see any way in which all these bells and whistles have added much of anything to the field of education –  I know it’s probably sacrilege to say such a thing, but one of the reasons I left teaching was because I got so sick of being sent to training after training chasing the next big technological advance only to once again have it fall short. Hell, I was still using a good old overhead projector when I left five years ago – never saw where a “smart board” did anything more than my overheads could do…and don’t get me started on the abject failure of all that “every kid must have an iPad” crap schools were all over a few years ago, mine included. I’ve never ONCE seen a student use an iPad for an educational purpose; I even tried to get my students to use ours to study and they chose to use pen and paper instead. Grrrrrrr – Kids these days! Get off my lawn!

Now, I swear I’m going to share all these photos I keep talking about in my next post. I just keep getting sidetracked.

2014 in review

I’m sure all you fellow bloggers got this in your email recently also:

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

But what the hell – I figured I’d post it here anyway. I can sum it up without requiring you to click on the report, though: Unsurprisingly, my most popular posts were the ones about wigs, as well as the Stitch Fix review the company featured on Pinterest. I say unsurprisingly because, as I’ve mentioned here before, when I ran a wig blog it got a crazy amount of hits per day, and I received emails from new people on a daily basis. It was actually way more than I could handle, and I eventually turned the blog over to someone else, who after a few years realized it was more than she could handle, and it finally shut down. And Stitch Fix blog posts are amazingly abundant on the internet, so it makes sense that people would go searching for more of them and come across my site – plus I still get traffic from the Stitch Fix Pin they shared way back in July.

So, my little photography posts don’t get much love, but as you can also see if you click on the report, I do get love from some of you regularly, and it is much appreciated. I do have things happen during the day and think, oh I will have to share about this on my blog, so you are all a part of my life now, like it or not. My virtual life, anyway – which, given the amount of time I spend online, is a significant part of it.

I used to write out a long journal entry summing up my year and pondering the things I’ll commit to in the coming one, but I quit doing that awhile ago when I realized I was saying pretty much the same things each time: worry less, play more, eat better (been making resolutions about that one since my 20’s and still haven’t done it), be kinder, keep creating, and be social. So yeah, all those things are on the list again this year, I guess.

I do know I’d like to be better at my job this next semester (but I probably say that every year too). I have some ideas for how to keep better tabs on my students and reign them in where they need more limits (good Lord, the smart phones! They are a blessing and a curse). And I’d like my photography to continue, which I am certain it will; just not sure where I’m headed with it right now. *And I’m hoping my FIL’s health continues to improve and he has a better 2015 too. I hope all my pets stay healthy, and all of you keep blogging and photographing and and writing and reading and sharing and stopping by.

I still have more creepy doll pictures to share, a LOT more to take, and another handbag restoration to write about. Not sure what all I will get to before the end of 2014, but let’s get to it regardless.

*A day after writing this, my FIL went back into the hospital due to extremely high blood pressure. So I guess 2015 is going to start off a lot like 2014 for him. :(

You Better Work

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Over the course of the semester, I slowly began to get accustomed to being back in the classroom, and in such an unstructured way. When each class only has, at the maximum, six students, you get to know the kids whether you want to or not, and as we neared mid-term exams I found myself thinking how I could come back in January a little stronger in terms of class structure. I also found myself considering staying on full-time next year, because intentional or not, I am starting to feel ownership in this little program my boss and I have started up. And I began to wonder what it would be like to have to tell some of my students – the freshman especially – that I wouldn’t be working with them next year, and it made me feel a little territorial about them, as if I didn’t want to turn them over to some new full-time teacher just yet.

In short, yep, here I am considering signing on for another year. Who knows what will happen between now and then, but just the fact that I’m considering it will have some of you who’ve listened to me gripe about work for the past two years on this blog shaking your heads. I know, I know…I suppose a part of me will always bitch as long as I’m working, but this is certainly a new experience for me that, unlike counseling, I’m not sure I’m ready to quit just yet. One year teaching in this program is hardly enough to really know how it works and what it can do, and am I ready for it to be someone else’s baby already? I’m not sure I am. Technically it’s my boss’s baby, but she is not a full-time employee and is rarely in the classroom with the kids, so for the students, teachers, and parents, I’m the face of it, and for the most part, everyone loves it (even though I feel like I didn’t do much first semester except for monitor kids and keep track of grades).

For example, the week of mid-terms I was called to jury duty and had to miss a day. My boss (who was the one in the room that day) told me that the students were very unhappy I wasn’t there and felt a little lost without me, and I admit it made me smile. I’ve never been good with forming bonds with students beyond the realm of behavior and expectations, and even with these students I’m still pretty guarded, but it’s true that even the small bonds I’ve managed to form are more than I’ve ever done before. So I’d like some more time to cultivate that. I’d also like more time to perfect the actual classroom structure, having been through a semester now and realizing some changes that need to be made.

Anyway, this has turned into too much of a ramble when all I intended to share was that I’m probably going to be doing this full-time next year again, and I’ll probably spend the entire first semester griping about it, and you’ll all be saying I told you so when that happens. But whatever – there’s still much work to be done, and I’m almost completely on board to keep doing it. We’ll see.

More Love for Zenni Optical

I wrote a longer review of Zenni Optical about a year or so ago, but I took it down and now I can’t find it. Since I recently bought two new pair of glasses from them, and I hadn’t taken any photos in a while, I went ahead and snapped some shots of them and will do a quick write-up. I also took some more fun photos that I’ll edit and share in a later post, so let’s move on.

For the second year in a row, I chose to buy my yearly pair of glasses in an optical shop, and for the second year in a row my $600 glasses have ended up thrown in a drawer while I wear my $130 glasses from Zenni instead. So, you know, lesson definitely learned there.

The reason I wanted to buy my glasses in a store this year (LensCrafters, with whom I’ve never had a problem) was because I cannot get the absolute thinnest lens available through online sources due to my need for a progressive lens. The lenses I got at LensCrafters were a 1.74-index lens, and the highest I can get at Zenni is the 1.67. When I wrote up a Zenni review last year, I took some comparison photos of my 1.74 lenses vs. the 1.67s, so I’ll share those again:


1.67 Zenni lens


1.74 Lenscrafters lens

That’s a pretty big difference in thickness, something to consider when your prescription is strong (I’m -7 in one eye, -5 in the other), and yet for two years in a row I’ve preferred my Zenni frames with the thicker lens to the thinner ones. This year, it was all about comfort. I was pretty convinced a thinner lens would be more comfortable; my previous Zennis felt fine, I just thought the lighter lens would feel even better. The glasses I got were cute enough, the service and prescription were fine (as I said, never had a trouble with LensCrafters)  and yes, the lens was thin – but after five months wearing them I still had not completely adjusted to them, and they always hurt my head, especially where the temple pieces hit the back of my ear.

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Cute but OW

I don’t know if this is because these frames did not have spring hinges, which is something I’ve always insisted on but somehow forgot to check this time before I bought them, or if they were just never a good fit. But after giving it five months and getting numerous tension headaches, I decided I was going to have to buy a new pair, so back to Zenni I went. I made sure to get frames with spring hinges, and at Zenni I always go for the more ‘expensive’ frames (which at Zenni means $35), since mine are for everyday wear and have a thicker lens; once again the glasses I received did not disappoint. They needed a bit of adjusting with a blow-dryer to heat up the plastic and bend them into shape, but once I did that they were perfect from the get-go. And infinitely more comfortable than the $600 Tory Burch frames I bought this summer. Go figure.

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Zenni frame #189715 – my favorite of the two. Oh yeah, I bought two pair. Don’t judge, they were cheap.

Once again the prescription in both pair was perfect, even with the added progressive no-line bifocal. In fact, I’ve always felt I see better with the 1.67 index lens than I do with the thinner 1.74 – things appear sharper and more crisp, but maybe I’m imagining that. And as you can tell when you compare both photos, it’s not as if my eyes look more magnified with the thicker lens, or really that in looking at them on my face you can tell any difference in lens thickness. So fine – my obsession with thinner lenses is finally put to rest.

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Zenni frame #637721 - in spite of the fact that in this photo it looks like I’m trying to do so, I don’t believe these glasses have the power to hypnotize you

I sprung for the express shipping like I always do, and had my glasses within a week. Easy-peasy. And honestly, soooo much more comfortable than my store-bought glasses – have I mentioned that already? And I only forked over $254.65 total for both pair, as opposed to the $600 I spent for one pair at Lenscrafters over the summer. So once again, I’m a happy Zenni customer, and the backs of my ears are finally sore no longer. Everybody wins!

And yes, regular blog readers, I’m still playing around with the new Topaz plug-ins I bought over Thanksgiving break, so I think these shots are guilty of skin over-softening, but I’m still getting used to the best way to use the new tools. More interesting photos later, when I have time to process them. Another busy week coming up with the end of the semester looming, so I  may not be able to do any editing until next weekend, but we’ll see.