T-Shirt Alert

Featured

A few weeks ago, my husband came home from a visit with his father (who is elderly and ill – Doug is his primary caregiver but we recently hired a full-time nursing service to stay with him 24-7) with a collection of old t-shirts he’d dug out of a closet at the house. They’re mostly t-shirts he wore in high school, but there are some from as far back as elementary school. His mother (who passed away many years ago) never threw anything out, so I’m sure this is just a small sampling of what’s over there.

discodead1a

So of course, the first thing I did was take pictures in them. 

I’d also ordered a few new wigs from Sam’s Beauty recently, so I immediately got to work dressing up and photographing myself in some of the shirts. A lot of them are old, original concert tees (Genesis and Rush, mostly), and even though they’re pretty cool, I didn’t feel like they would make very interesting photos so I bypassed those. But there are some rather silly ones, like the Disco’s Dead shirt above, that I just had to use – this one was made for Doug by his mom, in one of those old tee-shirt shops that were all the rage back in the 70s and 80s – does anyone else remember those shops? Most of them were in malls, and you could go in there and choose whatever type of shirt you wanted, and have the shirt say whatever you wanted it to say, in whatever style of lettering you wanted. They also had all sorts of decals and iron-on transfers you could utilize. In the days before the internet, all of those choices and options for personalization were a BIG deal. Who didn’t go into one of these shops at least once and get matching “so-and-so’s best friend” tee shirts with a buddy? I searched Google looking for a photo of one of these places, but the search terms were just too broad – but how I remember walking into those stores with their decal samples plastered all over the walls, and that acrid smell of slightly-singed iron-on-transfers from the big press-iron (not sure that’s a word, but it is descriptive) they would use to steam the letters and decals onto your tee. Ah, memories…moving on.

rocknroll2

The flip side of the “Disco’s Dead” shirt. Notice the apostrophe is on the wrong side of the N.

This shirt was made for Doug by his mom – and I just love it because it’s a great example of a mom trying to be cool and failing miserably. No actual teenage boy would have worn this shirt, even in the 70s, which is why it’s still in pristine condition. But hey – how could Mom have known that 30 years later her daughter-in-law would fall in love with it and use it in her photos? It’s absolutely awesome for pictures.

confused_collage

This was a band shirt from when Doug played the tuba in high school. It was actually was worn repeatedly, and was pretty threadbare. This is the back side of it; the front has the school band’s logo on it, and apparently there were three tuba players who all got some phrase added onto the back that described them in a private-joke, you-had-to-be-there kind of way (those were always the best shirts back then). Unfortunately, I hated every single photo I took in this shirt; I’m not sure why, exactly, but I think it had to do with my color settings being off and wearing a wig that just didn’t work with the shirt. That’s why these are so over-edited; I kept trying to make them work when they didn’t. I hate both of them, which is sad, because this was the shirt I was most looking forward to photographing. I may try again with a different approach later, because in spite of my best efforts I never got anything out of these shots that I liked.

rattlers1

I loved this one though; this is a baseball tee from a team Doug was on in fifth grade – it fit me, but just barely; I had a bitch of time getting it on, and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to get back out of it, but I managed. Isn’t it weird how some shots from the same photo session can be so good while others (the I’m Confused ones) suck so badly? I get that the outfit and hair are totally different, but the lighting was the same, as was the makeup I wore. The only difference in that regard was the aforementioned camera settings, which I know was part of the problem, but at the same time – how can it have made that much of a difference? I’ve had this happen before; since I usually do at least two major costume changes when I shoot, there will always be outfits that turn out better than others, but usually I can salvage something even from a costume change that doesn’t yield great results. But every once in a while I’ll come across something I put together that completely and utterly fails – and often when that happens, there will be other outfits from the same shoot that I think are some of my best. I go back over those ‘bad’ shots time and time again to analyze them and figure out the secret to their lack of success, but it still eludes me.

withband1

I intended to look like a really burned-out groupie in this shot, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make myself look good. Sue me. 

I think it might have something to do with interest on some level – most outfits I put together have some detail that takes it out of the realm of just a head shot into something more interesting; it could be a detail of the clothing, or the colors in the fabric, or the movement of either the hair or the clothing. Sometimes it’s actually the makeup that does it, if I really went out of my way to do something different, or sometimes I get all the colors working together so well that it unifies the shots.

zipper_collage

Interesting eye makeup and a wig with great movement saved these, for example, from being boring

In the shots that fail, I do get the sense that at least one of those elements is off, but usually it’s a combination of them that knocks something down. If the wig is short and boring and doesn’t have any movement to it, usually the clothing will, or perhaps the hair is in a really interesting color that makes it work anyway even if it’s short. But sometimes a wig is longer and just doesn’t move well, or something about the makeup is so off it ruins things (I’ve noticed some of the more pastel-colored lipsticks I wear at times tend to look ‘off’ on me, for example). Believe it or not, I can still vividly remember shoots from years ago where I didn’t get one good shot out of a costume – those shots haunt me, and I keep going back to them and trying to find some way to make them work, especially after buying new editing software, because I think maybe that new tool will be the one that makes those bad shots work in the end. But so far, that’s not happened. Oh well.

blah_collage

Some older shots I’ve revisited this month, after buying some new software and thinking maybe it would make them work. It didn’t. I still don’t like any of them.

I’ve gotten a bit bored with posing for and editing portraits again, also, so I may back off of them for a while. I’ve gotten spoiled, though, by the relative ease of posing for them as opposed to full-length shots, however – so I’ve taken to trolling more old sets for movement and motion shots to play around with rather than putting myself through the motions for taking new ones.

petticoats1

I’m trying to play around with processing to get more comfortable really mucking things up; in spite of all the experimenting I already do, I have fallen into a big old rut of editing photos the same old way – mostly because I have gotten so used to doing what I know ‘works’ that I don’t think outside of my own little box; for example, I love using the PortraitPro software for my portrait work, but I know that it works best when faces are looking directly into the camera, so I’ve started to limit myself to posing as dead-center as possible. This makes using the PP program easier, but it also gets boring, so at some point I need to lessen my attachment to always using it if I want to keep my photos feeling fresh.

curtain

The bubbles are from a fairly new editing program I purchased; it’s a kind of cheesy effect but in order to break out of my rut I’m forcing myself to be comfortable with cheesy-ness.

I also have established a sort of routine when editing, even though it’s not something I’ve done intentionally, so working with older photos like this gives me a chance to break out of that mold as well; purposely changing up my workflow to see if it gives me different results. It’s all a little uncomfortable for me, and a lot of the results I don’t particularly like, but I feel like I need to do it at this point just to shake things up.

blur_collage

I also decided to work with some blurry shots for the hell of it. 

On the work front, summer has been pretty busy; as I’ve mentioned before, none of my clients stopped working with me over the summer and I picked up a few more, so my June calendar was particularly full. But one of my clients took the whole month of July off, and another one has taken a week off here and there as well; I just found out last Thursday that another client isn’t continuing with me for the coming school year, and one of my academic coaching clients finishes up his program next Monday. So, all of a sudden I am looking around and realizing my dance card has gotten thin again, and it may be time to make some noise to drum up some new business as we move into the fall semester. This doesn’t concern me as much as it did last year; I did recently hear that a client I’ve been working with for the summer is going to continue with me in the fall so that’s nice, and besides, I’m just not all that nervous about having to advertise or network a little for business like I was last year. That said, I really want to get the academic coaching aspect of my business up and running – especially now that I’ve actually done it a few times and feel confident that I can coach kids successfully – so in order to move that along, I decided to head on over to Vistaprint and create a brochure I can leave at libraries and other places I think I can generate some interest.

proof_front

proof_back

This is a proof of what I’ve put together so far; Vistaprint has some really easy to work with templates and really decent prices (100 for $60); I’ve sent this to some friends to review before I place an order, but I really want to get some in-hand before I finish up my work with the coaching client I have now, so I can give some to his mom to hand out to other people if she’s willing. I also want to make up a postcard similar to this one to promote my English tutoring business and leave those at the same places I put my coaching brochures. I probably need to update my website, too, since it’s been a year since I put it together and I didn’t really know what my business was going to look like back then. It’s pretty astounding to look back at where I was a year ago with all this and how far things have come.

hotrodangel

I had lunch last week with one of the teachers who worked with me in the program I ran at the private school, and I admit it was validating to have it confirmed for me that things did not exactly improve after I left. In fact, the general sense is that the people who stayed behind at least realize how hard I worked and understand that I had good ideas that would have benefited the program had I been able to stay on. I don’t think anyone feels that the arrangement the school made with current director was the proper one to make, and even though it doesn’t matter to me either way now, it’s still nice to hear that there are at least a few people there who understood and supported what I wanted to do. Moving on.

That’s all I have for now – happy end of the weekend to everyone, and I hope you all have a great week!

 

Duck Duck Oops

So I want to preface this story by saying it has a basically happy ending. I say basically because while for most of the parties involved, the situation worked out to their advantage, one particular party may have ended up less than happy. But honestly, I did my best. Here we go.

Every other Sunday I have a routine – sleep late, do laundry, plan my tutoring sessions for the week, and go get a manicure and pedicure around 4 PM. So on this particular Sunday, I let the dogs out around 1 PM, with the plan being I would ring up the salon where I get my nails done after bringing them back inside, schedule my appointment, and hop in the shower. Except, as soon as I let the dogs out and step outside to monitor them while they do their business – as I always do because I am one of those people who treats animals like little helpless human beings and therefore never lets them out of her sight if she  can help it so no danger EVER befalls them – I look over at the swimming pool and see THIS:

duck2

It’s Episode One of The Sopranos in my backyard!

That’s right – a mama duck and three baby ducklings are paddling around in our pool. My first reaction is, oh my gosh, I need to get the dogs back into the house so they don’t either try to attack them or scare them away (which probably didn’t need to happen because the dogs basically act like the pool doesn’t exist and have never spent one second paying it any mind), so I yank them back into the house as soon as I can (which was basically putting the needs of the ducks over the needs of my poor dogs, who ended up having to wait another 3 hours to come back out and pee, but again, give me a break because I did my best here).

My second thought is , of course, holy shit I need to get my camera and take some pictures of this! But I admit, I was very flustered, not to mention it was very hot outside, this being Texas in July, and there was not a cloud in the sky and about 98% humidity, which probably affected my decision-making capabilities, so I grab my SL1 in a rush and use the 40mm lens, which was a poor choice but was the lens that happened to be on the camera when I grabbed it, so these pictures are not all that great but whatever. Being the middle of the afternoon and all, the light was also way too harsh which made for even worse shots, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that.

duck4

So I’m taking pictures, and I’m sweating my ass off after about 15 seconds due to the heat, humidity, and almost complete lack of shade in our backyard (or at least, shade that was close enough to the pool that I could get decent pics without a telephoto lens), and as I’m slowly inching closer to the pool, I see the mama getting twitchy. She starts fluttering her wings and whatnot, and I’m thinking, oh no. Because I don’t want to startle them and cause them to fly away, or stress them out or anything, so I back off as much as I can while continuing to snap photos.

duck5

Our neighborhood actually has some ponds on the golf course, and ducks with their chicks are not an unusual sight. Often residents have to stop and let ducks cross the street while out driving, so it’s not a total surprise to come across ducks and baby chicks anywhere out here. And even though we do not live near the ponds at all, I’ve seen them in neighbor’s yards before, and we see them flying overhead all the time as well as have them hanging out in our trees. In general, these ducks aren’t freaked out by people, or cars, so at first I wasn’t overly concerned about that – but once I got done snapping photos I started, of course, to worry. Mainly, I wasn’t sure the baby chicks were going to be able to get out of the pool, or if the mama would be able to get them out. This concern was exacerbated by going inside to put up my camera, then looking out the window to find that the mama duck had exited the pool and was standing over the chicks, who were still in the water.

duck3

This didn’t look like a good situation to me, so. I get on the internet to see what people do in this situation. Mostly what was recommended was constructing some kind of ramp for the baby ducks to use to get out of the pool – interesting, since we already have such a contraption in our pool that technically the ducks could have used. It’s called a ‘frog log,’ and I got it off Amazon when I noticed frogs getting into the pool on occasion, and, as usual, worrying that one of them might drown. It’s basically a floating lily pad with a little ramp attached, and I’ve seen loads of frogs hanging out on it and using it to hop out of the water.

img-froglog1

Frog, meet Log. 

So, I think, okay, I’m actually already prepared for this scenario. Except, the mama duck is just standing there, and the babies are just floating there, and they aren’t using the frog log at all, so I think maybe I should go out there and move the frog log close to them, and maybe even nudge a chick onto it so they can see how it works.

duck6

I mean, they’re not even looking at the thing!

So right about now some of you may be thinking that I’m an idiot, and I know nothing about duck behavior, and everything I am doing and am going to do next is dead wrong, and I should be ashamed of myself or whatever. Let me just say that if you say any of that to me in the comments, I will delete it, and you will be dead to me. Because I researched every move I made before I did it, and I asked other people what they thought, and I even made phone calls to professionals, and I acted out of concern and wanting to help these living creatures (and yes, if you’re worried about it, every creature is still living). So please keep your snark to yourselves if you’re feeling tempted to throw it my way, because I’m just going to delete you anyway and probably hate you for making me feel bad. Moving on.

So when I go back out to encourage the ducks to use the frog log, and kind of nudge it closer to them, mama duck gets spooked and – flies away. She’s nearby, flying around among the rooftops of my neighbors, but she’s not coming back down to the yard, and now there’s three baby ducks in my pool that I don’t know how to handle. My husband (whom I am texting because he’s not at home) says, try to scoop them out and put them in a box, but I’m worried about scaring the mama duck off entirely, so I end up going over to the nice neighbors (not the assholes who live on the other side) and asking them what they think I should do. I’m not sure why I did this, really, except that they are new neighbors who are in their late 60s to early 70s and they seem like very  nice people, who unlike our other neighbors are very polite and quiet and I’ve chatted with them a couple of times, and I don’t know, I just don’t really want to make any duck decisions without running them by as many people as I can before I do anything. And plus, I knew they were home, so yeah. They came over, looked at the situation, and the very nice man who I know was just trying to help, actually got into the pool (fully clothed) and scooped the chicks out, while his wife grabbed one of our floats and nestled them onto it. I ran into the house and grabbed a shoe box, punched holes in the lid, and together we put the chicks inside.

duck7

I don’t know what to say here, mama duck, aside from – enjoy this time while you have it. Sorry.

Mission accomplished – chicks out of the pool, safe and sound and un-drowned. Except that in all that commotion, mama duck had completely vacated the premises. When she first took off, I could see her landing on rooftops and flittering around in our trees,  but once the neighbors showed up and got in the pool and the chicks were scooped out – nothing. They wished me luck and went home, and I continued to desperately search on my cell phone for information about what to do next – put the chicks back in the pool and hope mama returned? Drive the chicks to the nearby pond and hope for the best? Put the box somewhere shady and hope mama came back? The internet information was shoddy, and I was incredibly hot, sweaty, and flustered by this time – I felt I’d taken a fairly mundane situation and turned it into something terrible, due to my tendency to panic when it comes to animals and constantly thinking they  are all suffering and I have to save them. As I say to myself on an almost daily basis, thank God I didn’t have children. My sanity never would have survived the toddler years.

I end up taking the box, putting a light netting over the lid from a huge pool net so the chicks could be seen and heard, and placing it in our yard underneath the shade of some bushes planted in a corner, in the hopes the mama would come back and claim them. What she would do with them then was anyone’s guess, because the fact remained that these chicks couldn’t fly yet, and mama was either going to have to somehow walk with them for several blocks to reach the pond, or hang out in our yard until the babies could fly – which was going to continue to be a problem what with our dogs and their tendency to go swimming in our pool. So by now, I am hot, sweaty, frazzled, and fully aware that I am committed to this situation for the long haul, because no matter what from this point forward I’ve got ducks to deal with, and there’s going to be relocation involved.

duck8

And by the way, IT’S SUNDAY. This means just about every variation of animal control in the city is closed. I manage to catch one guy who has his own critter business on the phone, and he tells me the best thing to do is to put the chicks back in the pool, and let the mama come back for them, then do my best to nudge the chicks out of the pool without spooking the mother – so basically, turn back time to two hours ago when this whole mess started and I attempted to do just that in the first place. Great. Even though the guy on the phone disagrees with me and thinks the mother is still nearby, the mama has already been gone a good hour and a half by that time, and I’d had the ducks out in the yard under a bush with no sign of her return, and no matter how much I hid myself away to encourage her to do so (I could not bring myself to go inside and just leave a box full of baby ducks to their own fate entirely). I’d even taken the lid off totally for awhile, hoping this would encourage mama to return, but I panicked when the chicks started trying to get out and covered it back up with the net. In spite of my reservations, I hang up the phone, return the chicks to the pool, and go inside because I have heat exhaustion and am about to die.

The ducks swam around, and chirped, and once they all went into the skimmer and I had to go fish them out. No mother duck. By this time, I am on my computer Googling “how long can baby ducks swim in water before they drown” and finding out the internet estimates that at a time range of anywhere from two hours to two weeks (?) – so yeah, thanks internet. My needs have become more immediate by now – I just want to know how long these ducks can stay in the water safely, and if I have to fish them back out, and what’s the safe thing to do with them after I fish them back out, and I’m not finding any clear, consistent answers. By this time, my husband is home, and he’s Googling as well, and thank God he finds a number for a Wildlife Refuge Center in the city that is, miraculously, open (we found a lot of other numbers, but they were all closed). By this time, it’s 3:15 PM, and I’d first discovered the ducks around one o’clock; I’d been outside almost all this time, and I am sunburned as well as sweaty and stressed and, with the departure of mother duck for good all but certain by this time, also almost beside myself with guilt at breaking up this little duck family. I’m not at all sure I can reunite them at this point, but goddammit, I am not going abandon these little chicks if I can at all help it. I’ve dedicated three hours of my life to the black and yellow bastards, so the rest of my Sunday is now dedicated Duck Time.

duck10

Again, mama duck, I’m really sorry. I meant well. 

The woman who answers the phone at the wildlife refuge is SO KIND, and knowledgeable, and tells me just what to do. In fact, as soon as I start talking she asks me what the chicks look like (the aforementioned black and yellow) and identifies them right away, telling me that they are getting about 20 calls a day (!) from people in similar situations. She says these are very domesticated ducks that live in urban areas and often wander off too far to hatch their babies and then get stranded, and most of the ducklings die for one reason or another (drowning in pools, eaten by other animals, or hit by cars trying to get back to ponds) and that for some reason there’s just an absolute explosion in their population this summer. She says their refuge is actually the only one in the city that is even still taking them in, and that unless the mama duck comes back, and I can find some way to: 1) collect the chicks, and then 2) get the mama duck to FOLLOW ME while I carry the chicks back to the pond (which is MANY blocks from my house and would have been all but impossible to pull off, especially since mama seemed long gone) then the best thing I can do for them is to get them back in the box and drive them out their center – which is about 25 miles from my house and closing in 45 minutes.

She also said if I couldn’t get the chicks there by 4 PM I could keep them in the box overnight, as long as I kept them warm and didn’t try to feed them anything, and drop them off the next day, but I did not want to keep three cute little chicks in captivity any longer than I had to, since that was just more time I was going to spend worrying about them, so I leapt into my car, raced into town, and dropped the babies off at the shelter by 3:57 PM. Whew! I was so relieved to know the chicks would be cared for; the woman who checked them in said they would be raised there among all the other ducks they have, then relocated somewhere away from traffic and highly populated areas. So, for the chicks, this was probably the best chance at a long duck life they were going to get, even if mama duck had come back for them in my yard. But for mama duck, unfortunately, she lost her babies. 😦  I feel bad about that, but as I’ve already said several times to assuage my guilt – I did my best. I do think in the end, I was going to have to do something even if I’d never chased mama out of the pool that first time, and even if I could have found a way to keep them together. And whatever that would have been, I wouldn’t have been able to do it until Monday, and who knows what would have happened in that time.

duck11

So hopefully I did the right thing, and as tempted as I was to name all three chicks while they were in the box, I didn’t do so, because then I would have really wanted to keep them. I didn’t get any close up pics of them, because once I realized it was a problem, I felt bad snapping photos, but trust me, they were really cute. Here’s hoping their duck lives are long and pleasurable — and here’s hoping I can recover from heat stroke and get into the salon for a manicure tomorrow.

Makeup Work

Before I talk about my latest portrait sessions, enjoy a random shot of Simon:

cat tail

Simon likes to sit on this teeny little cat tower we bought for Violet when she was a kitty. It only has one little ‘bridge’ at the bottom but I Photoshopped in a second one for symmetry. 

I hadn’t been much in the mood for portraits the past few months, but two weeks ago I woke with the urge to put on a full face and play around. Ever since discovering the Portrait Pro plug-in about a year ago, I’ve gotten a bit lazy with my makeup application before a shoot, just because I can add so much of it when processing that it at least feels like it saves me a lot of time (applying a full face of photography makeup can take up to two hours). But in going over many of these shoots, I found myself getting frustrated with the limitations of the software, and how my end results just weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. More specifically, I was feeling like my recent portraits were not as good as they used to be, and I looked everywhere to find the culprit, thinking it was primarily some issue with my lighting that was off.

collage_1

The primary problem I was having with these portraits was skin tone; even with the editing software I kept ending up looking kind of ruddy and ‘off’ or over-processed when trying to correct it, and the tones just weren’t very rich in the end, and it was throwing off the whole photo (in my picky opinion). But I would go back to previous shoots and clearly see how much more vivid and rich the shots looked in the end, and how much more natural the shots ended up even with a ton of processing. I didn’t really know the makeup short cuts I was taking were the culprit when I set out to do apply a full face a few weeks ago, but once those shots were done the results were obvious.

collage_6

All these shots were so much easier to edit, and I had way more flexibility in how much manipulation I could do with the tones and lighting. And a lot of that came down to not needing to edit the makeup as much as I’ve been forcing myself to do lately. A “full face” for me is no joke – I start with an orange color corrector to cut the darker blue tones I have due to sun damage on my face (drag queens use orange to help conceal their five o’clock shadows) then apply a heavy Derma-blend foundation, and three different highlighters over the forehead, nose, and cheekbones (Derma-blend, NARS Illuminator, and a MAC cream highlighter). After blending all of that out with a sponge, I contour with a powder from MAC under my cheekbones, along the sides of my nose, and heavy on my chin to try to make it look a little shorter since I have a long face. I also apply a lot of highlighter under my cheekbones just to make them look more pronounced – I think you can see the effect of that in this shot:

trinity3

This was inspired by a photo the drag queen Trinity Taylor posted on Twitter; she had on a brightly printed top, cinnamon-colored hair, and orange lipstick, and I wanted to give it a go myself. 

Because my makeup takes so long to do if I’m really going to do it properly, I’ve started applying it in shifts when prepping for a photoshoot. If I do it all at once, by the time I’m done I am already so bored that I have to re-energize myself to take the pictures, and I also start getting really sloppy by the end of the application process. So, what I now do is get all the foundation and highlight/contour applied, then take a break. I may do a few things to set up the office/studio, like set up my lights or get the backdrops unfolded and propped against the wall, or take the dogs out for a bathroom break – just something to break up the monotony of staring into a mirror and applying makeup.

collage_7

The eyes take the most work for me; I’ve always known to apply a lot of black eyeliner and shadow, and to darken my eyebrows as much as I dare (even when being lazy and not applying a full face), but one thing I hit on last month was that applying a brightly colored liquid liner to my entire eyelid makes my lids pop in a way they don’t do otherwise; since I’m approaching 50, my lids are starting to droop, and they were never very big anyway, so they tend to disappear in photos. In my first of the two shoots, I’d applied a lime green liquid liner made by Lime Crime, and you can see how it really made my eyelids stand out in a way that, in the photos, actually looks pretty natural (in reality it looked very heavy-handed and costume-y, but who cares).

fullface3

The trick is to apply it to the entire lid, and then extend it a bit higher than that, so that if your eyelids get concealed a little bit by less-than-taut skin, they will still pop on camera (obviously the Trinity Taylor-inspired pic is from a different session, where I went with a different eye makeup look and didn’t use this technique). It’s amazing how much difference such a little detail makes in a photo, but it really does help quite a bit. In fact, my Lime Crime neon liquid liners are really old, and I need to dash over to their website and pick up some more since the ones I have (a neon green, a bright eggshell blue, and two shimmer liners in gold and silver) are almost done.

collage_4

For this shoot, I also used some more of my face stickers I bought around Christmas last year; the nice thing is that you can wear them in the shoots and Photoshop them out quite easily if you decide you don’t want them in the shot later. 

Other than that, I sometimes use the tape technique of placing a piece of Scotch tape on the outside of each eye, from the outside corner of the eye up to the edge of the eyebrow, to get a nice sweep of eyeshadow that is even on each side; this works well when creating a cat-eye shape with dark liners and shadows, which I usually do. And false eyelashes are really amazing eye enhancers, but I just cannot apply them properly or tolerate the lash glue, so I do add all my lashes using Portrait Pro (I apply mascara as usual, but in photos it just doesn’t show up at all). I tried blocking my brows to create a more exaggerated eye one time, but ended up losing a lot of eyebrow hairs in the process (and I already have thin brows) so I don’t do that anymore – if I want a higher brow line, I move my natural brows up in Photoshop instead, as in this picture:

ChiFace1

Sweaters are tricky for photos; they’re hot, which is a challenge under studio lighting, and the fabrics can look dull and heavy. But this one had sparkle and those two great zippers that I thought would add interest. 

After applying my eyes, I’m usually ready for another break, so I eat some lunch or maybe start some laundry and finish setting up my camera and props for the shoot. For some reason, working in shifts like this keeps me from getting impatient and frustrated, and it sets a more relaxed mood for the whole shoot (I can start to feel rushed if I don’t pace myself, and I’ve learned the hard way that bad things happen when the photographer AND the model get rushed. At the best, you just end up with  bad pictures, but at the worst you end up getting sloppy when moving about or handling equipment, and something expensive gets broken).

polkadit1

This top was a fun discovery; in Goodwill I just liked the look of the polka dotted top peeking out from under the black sweater, but when I got home and put it on I was pleasantly surprised by the sleeves! They’re actually quite puffy and it creates an interesting shape; I had to get really creative with my posing to show them off, which happens sometimes when interesting sleeves are involved. Honestly, if this top wasn’t already worn out I’d add to my wardrobe – the sweater is dingy and pilled, though. 

For final makeup touches, I apply one of Laura Mercier’s sparkly powders in all the highlighted areas (you really can’t get enough highlighter, it’s true), apply some blush in both cream and powder form, do my best to contour my nose and jaw line, and apply my lips as best as possible – I’m not good with drawing on bigger lips, and I usually use a liquid long-wearing lipstick for photo sessions, so I just use the wand to apply a line right outside my lip line, then fill that in. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but even when it works I usually end up having to fix some sloppy lipstick work later. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to fix. Then – and this is really important – I apply Derma-blend to my neck, chest, and arms; I have a lot of sun damage that, if it shows up in photos, is very hard to work with. There’s a million different tones to it, and dark spots, and all that skin ends up not matching my face or even some other part of the neck or chest. The Derma-blend is so high coverage, though, that it evens things out nicely, and makes those sun damaged areas much easier to work with later.

collage_5

The wig is actually a magenta color; had to use Photoshop to turn it red. I did a better job with that in the second shot; it’s actually tricky to do without also turning the background a different color around all the little flyaway hairs. 

The second shoot – the one these two photos right above came from – was a bit tricky because I got half of my makeup on, then remembered I needed to pick up some medications from the vet before they closed (it was a Saturday, so the vet’s office closed at noon). I only had my foundation on at that point, so even though it irritated me to do it, I put everything on pause to zoom up there and get Penny’s meds. Then, since I was out already, I figured I’d stop by our local Goodwill to see if they had any tops I could snag; I woke up inspired to play in makeup and take pictures, but I was running a little low on new things to wear in them, which is another thing that always ends up frustrating. Sometimes I’ll think, oh I can just throw on any old thing for these photos, since it’s only my head and shoulders showing anyway, but that rarely works out.

fullface4

Overalls are great, though. As are pom-pom headbands. 

The truth is, interesting tops are super-helpful for portrait shots, and way more important than you might think. A t-shirt doesn’t have a nice drape to it, and that material isn’t particularly attractive in a photo, so a sloppy top really can bring down an otherwise nice shot. When I hit up Goodwill, I’m always looking for tops with interest – high necks, textured materials, interesting details, flowy fabrics, vibrant prints, anything I know will add pizzazz – and on this trip I scored some real winners. The Hotrod Angel photo has to be the best acquisition, though; if you notice in those two shots above, one side is the front of the top, and the other one I have on backwards where there was another awesome logo (wearing tops backwards is a trick I employ often, if the back has more interest than the front). I didn’t even realize the back of that top had anything on it until I got home; as soon as I saw the front of it I knew I had to have it. It was a junior’s size small, though, and I barely got it on, and I even thought I might have to cut myself out of it, but it stretched just enough for me to save it.

So much more to process from these two shoots, but that’s all I have for now. So what have I learned? Patience, and planning, and proper preparation make for better photos. Seems I should have known that already, but shortcuts are always so tempting…more to come!

 

Jean Queen (and other things)

So first off is a little update on my job and some random photos I’ve worked on since I last posted. If you just want to jump to the favorite things part of this post, scroll down until you get there. 😉 Here we go!

holes1

This was an attempt to take a photo in front of a green screen and then mask it out later to replace it with a more interesting background (in this case, a background of the stained-glass windows at the Ruah chapel). I’m not impressed with how it turned out. 

June has been an unexpectedly busy month for me – I tend to still operate on “teacher time,” meaning my year ends in May, and starts in August, with June and July as off months where not much happens. But as a tutor, June and July are months where, if I am working with any students, they require a lot more planning and preparation on my part than they do during the school year, when I can just follow the lesson plans of their classroom teachers and help them with their work.

newhurr6

This was an attempt to take a pic of myself in ponytails. I’m not impressed with how this one turned out, either. But I am impressed with that necklace – it’s Hermes, and is actually a silk scarf accordion-folded and rolled into necklace form.

All of the kids I was working with by the end of May have stayed on for the summer, which is good of course (with the exception of one student I felt needed more help than I could give; I found her a specialist to work with instead), but the increased workload took me by surprise. I knew I would keep tutoring in the summer, but subconsciously I was looking forward to a summer break anyway; 14 years in public education have trained me to anticipate the summer months as ones of rest and recharging. I’ve also picked up two new clients recently, so that’s added to the workload. It’s still a completely manageable workload, mind you, so not having the summer as a work-break is more of an interesting surprise than an actual problem.

oldwig3

Re-worked photo from an old shoot

July is shaping up to be more calm. One of my longest clients (the second one I picked up back in September of last year) is taking the whole month off to travel with his family, and another one will be gone for at least half the month due to travel as well. So, that will free things up a bit – in fact, it will give me just about the right amount of time to get a bit of a breather without getting bored or feeling panicked that I’m losing business. One of those students I intend to cut loose at the end of summer anyway; he’s much younger than the usual age I tutor, and I’ve decided to focus solely on students at the secondary or college level. I’ve also decided to fine-tune my services to focus on advanced-level students such as Honors or AP and college preparatory work. It sounds like snobbery, I know, but in working with the various kids I have in the past year, I have really found this is where my strengths are. For example, the two kids with reading deficits I worked with in the spring still failed their state exams (which is why I found them a specialist) but the Honors-level middle-schooler I tutor improved his state reading scores by 50 points. And the juniors and seniors I worked with on literary analysis and essay writing last year all saw their grades go up at least ten points after working with me, while my elementary kids saw little improvement at all. So the evidence is pretty conclusive at this point.

oldwig4

I definitely overdid the editing on this one. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

But enough about my job, let’s talk about pants. But before we do, let me just add that I fully intended to include photos of me wearing the different pants I’m going to talk about, but there’s really only one or two areas of the house that are good for me to take full-length shots unless I’m going to set up for an entire shoot, and there are people working on various aspects of our house right now and I both cannot get to the easy places to shoot quickly OR move my office around to set up for a full shoot. So, stock photos are going to have to suffice this time. Sorry.

And by pants, I mean jeans. I love jeans. One of the things I love about jeans is that they go with everything, so you only need a few pair to be set for your wardrobe, if you’re someone who can get away with wearing jeans every day, which I now can do. However, that doesn’t stop me from buying WAY MORE of them than I need; even though I could get away with only two good pair of jeans and be set, I have instead become obsessed with finding the most awesome jeans possible and then, acquiring more.

SFOct1

A pair Stitch Fix sent me about a year ago that I did not keep; these were by Kut From the Kloth, which I do mention a few paragraphs below. Now that I’m looking at these, I wish I’d kept them!

My requirements for labeling a pair of jeans ‘good’ can be pretty particular. I do not like heavy or stiff denim; the lighter, stretchier, and softer the better, as far as I’m concerned. And for the most part, I am not a huge fan of dark washes, even though I know they are more flattering for my body type (pear shape, meaning light colors widen me up top and dark colors make me appear slimmer down below). And I love my denim ripped, torn, frayed, and full of holes – I can’t help it, I’ve always been drawn to beat-up jeans.

SFLeap3

Jumping for jeans! Although these are not beat-up in any way. I don’t even remember which ones these were; this photo is a few years old.

I do have some standards, though; while I have no problem wearing a pair of lighter wash denim with a few strategically-placed rips and tears to a tutoring session (I didn’t get into this self-employment gig to follow a dress code) I do draw the line at something completely faded, worn and torn. But the fact that I can wear faded, worn and torn jeans more often than I could when I worked in a school (where jeans were often allowed but had to be hole-free) has encouraged me to buy some seriously busted ones lately, like these:

harem

Free People Harem Jeans

These jeans are just insane, and I honestly don’t wear them out of the house much because of that, but they are ridiculously comfortable, and in spite of the fact that they make me look like an oompah-loompah I love them. I love them so much that when I bought them in a size 28 and discovered they were WAY too big, I decided to keep those to wear around the house and got a second pair in a 27 for those times I felt adventurous enough to wear them out. I love having a pair of jeans to wear at home that feel every bit as comfortable as my sweatpants, and these suckers are so soft and light that I can do everything in them that I can do in sweats – workout, do chores, work in the yard – I can even do yoga in them without feeling constricted. Wearing them out of the house, however, is a real challenge; I found I needed a few very simple, snug tee shirts I could tuck in to make these work; anything flowy up top that I leave untucked makes me look like the Michelin Tire Man. They’re still weird with the tucked-in tee – there’s no way around the fact that the harem cut means my crotch not only hangs down to the floor but also tends to poke out strangely when I stand still – and while I wouldn’t say these jeans get compliments, they do get looks. And those holes come quite close to being too revealing, but whatever. I make it work. And sometimes in life you just gotta wear the harem jeans, even when you know other people will think you’re a disaster when you do.

levis

Levi’s 501 CT Jeans

Now, these jeans were a surprise for sure – I bought them for two reasons: 1) So many reviews online claimed they ran big and fit weird, and jeans that fit this description almost always look good on me; and 2) they were on sale for $60 down from the original $98. These are actual, honest-to- God Levi’s, which I haven’t worn since the nineties, and I never found the brand to fit me all that well back then. These were also 100% cotton, which for me is never ideal. I like stretch in my denim for the most part. Since these were full-on cotton of a fairly heavy weight, I went with my larger size – 28 – especially since this was called a ‘boyfriend’ cut, which is a cut that not once has ever worked on me. Well, these worked surprisingly well; on me, the waist is still a bit too big, but not enough that I have bothered to get them tailored, and other than that, they are just the right amount of loose without being shapeless. They are also ridiculously comfy, and they’ve quickly become my one of my go-to pairs, as I feel they are nice enough to wear to tutoring sessions where I might encounter parents.

kloth

Kut From the Kloth Destroyed and Patched Boyfriend Jean

Kut From the Kloth is a brand I’ve tried on a lot but never purchased before; this past winter I tried on a great pair of skinny cords from them that I liked but never bought (mostly because it never felt cold enough to need more corduroy) so I’ve kept the brand in mind. I was wandering the Galleria one morning when I stumbled across these and tried them on; I tried them in a size 4 since that was the size of the cords I tried on earlier, and they really looked frumpy and odd. I was relieved I didn’t like them, because they were $99 and I really did not need another pair of light wash holey jeans, but when the saleswoman suggested I try the 2 they looked smashing (I’m telling you, the right fit does make all the difference). I held off, though, because I still wasn’t convinced I needed them, but over the coming weeks they kept coming to mind, so I figured I probably did. They’re stretchy, and although the patches underneath the holes mean they’re on the heavy side, they are still comfortable, and they’re actually quite flattering on. I’m also surprised at the length on these; usually ankle-length is horrible on me but maybe because of the added cuff at the bottom, these seem to work. I do also love the frayed hem here; in fact, frayed hems are my new thing – which has gotten me into trouble a few times, unfortunately, with another new jean obsession – FLARES!

flare

No, not these kinds of flares – although I love them, too

Free People has consistently sold flares, boot cuts, and bell bottoms throughout the entire skinny jean craze that still rules the runways and shopping malls, and many of their styles are well done. The truth is, as a pear shape, a bootcut or wide-leg jean will always be more flattering on me than a straight or skinny style, but the downside is (aside from possibly being off-trend) my short legs always require me to tailor a wide-leg jean because they’re always way too long. With skinny jeans this doesn’t matter, especially when so many are now cut to ankle length anyway, but an ankle-length flare is not a good look on anyone, and it seems such jeans are always made ridiculously long even on women with legs of a more proportional length. I mention this because, in buying a few pair of flares this spring, I mistakenly thought the whole frayed-hem trend meant I could just grab some scissors and snip these jeans wherever I saw fit to trim the length, and I’ve now realized why that’s not a good idea. Even the frayed hems you buy from a store have an actual hem, it’s just frayed beneath it, and when one just whacks off the denim without adding a hem, the jeans fold or roll up at the bottom instead of lying flat. Perhaps part of that has to do with the fact that the denim has stretch and is fairly light; I seem to remember being able to whack off the hems of my Levi’s back in the day without ever having to worry about adding a hem, but that was before denim had lycra or spandex or any stretch in them and was generally rather heavy. So now I have two pair of flares with jacked-up hems that I’m not sure I can repair; I cut them exactly where I wanted them, length-wise, so trying to hem them now might make them too short. Boo. On the plus side, for both pair of flares I purchased, I ended up with them in two sizes (I often buy a 27 and a 28 when I buy online because I’m never sure which one will fit) and when I jacked up the hem on one pair, I was able to salvage the other (and even with the jacked-up hems, I can get away with wearing them).

flare1

Free People Penny Pull-On Flare

Anyway, in spite of that little snafu, I am loving both pair of flares I bought recently. The denim is super-stretchy and the cuts are really fun and flattering. I thought the first pair above had a pretty radical flare to it before I saw these ‘super flares’ online later; I decided because these were so crazy I’d go for a darker wash, and I actually really like them in this color.

flare2

Free People Denim Super Flare

My first super-flare pair was a size 27 and is a touch too tight, but I found them on eBay for cheap so I’m not too bothered by it. The second pair is a size 28 and fit me better,  but I haven’t trimmed or hemmed them yet and the length is ridiculous. I want to take them to my tailor to get them hemmed but I feel a bit embarassed about it; I know she’s going to think I am crazy for wearing a pair of jeans with a flare like this and I do think they kind of make me look insane – but in a good way, right?

simonyawn

Simon agrees, I do look insane.

That’s about all on the jeans front, so what other faves are floating my boat this summer? Well, first of all, to go with my new cut and color I decided I wanted a funkier pair of glasses. Enter Zenni online, as usual, with a really affordable pair of fun cat-eyes:

newglass1

These are a much more dramatic shape than I’ve ever done before; I honestly think they’re a little wide up top for me and may make me look slightly cross-eyed, but other than that I do love them (I seem to have an I-really-love-this-but-it-makes-me-look-insane thing going on today, don’t I). I also decided to try the 1.74 index lenses instead of the usual 1.67 Zenni always recommends; the 1.74 index is a bit thinner and lighter than the others, but not so much that I think anyone other than me would notice. I do think they’re a little lighter, though, and I feel like my vision is good in them. The only down side, other than the cost being more per lens, is that this lens is more reflective and I definitely see more light reflections in them when I look in the mirror. Not a big deal, and probably not noticeable to anyone else, but it is something I’ve noticed. As I’ve mentioned before when it comes to Zenni, a pair of glasses at a Lenscrafters would, for me, cost around $700, but at Zenni these only cost me $160. Sure, it’s a bit of a crapshoot to buy frames online, but I’ve found that once you find a frame you really like and get the measurements for those down, you can easily find similar measurements in other styles, which for me has done the trick. And I’ve never had trouble with the prescription being bad whenever I’ve ordered from them (which I’ve done A LOT; I’m always switching between several pairs and also have prescription sunglasses).

newhurr5g

And by the way, since we’re speaking of favorite things here, I still LOVE my Voloom

Now, take a look at my lipstick in the photo above (see, there’s more than one reason why I added that pic), because that’s my next new obsession: Kylie Jenner’s metallic lipstick in a color called King K; it’s the color I’m wearing in the Zenni shot above, also. I saw a waitress in a restaurant wearing this shade a few months ago and it looked so great on her I chased her down to ask what it was; I had no idea Kylie Jenner had a cosmetic line, so it was news to me. The lipstick is one of those paint-on kinds that come in a liquid form that dries onto your lips and is long-wearing; I generally dislike the feel of such lipsticks as they are very dry, and adding any gloss to it to moisturize them, of course, makes them rub off. Although I am not a fan of how such lipsticks feel, I’m not opposed to wearing them; Lime Crime has come out with an extensive line of them over the years and I’ve liked some of them just fine, and back in the day Cover Girl made a shade that I loved and wore for years (that one had an included clear gloss that you could put over it, which was very helpful). So, I’m not all that jazzed about the formulation, but the COLOR, y’all. The color is everything. This is my perfect color, and I have become so obsessed with this shade that I am afraid it’s some sort of limited edition which will run out soon, and I’ve already bought four extra tubes of it and am considering more. I have not worn anything else since trying it.

King k

King K by Kylie Jenner

I’ve always been a sucker for a metallic, bronze-y brown, even though my skin tone and hair color seem to dictate I should look better in pinks and reds. In fact, I see olive-skinned dark-haired women wearing red lipstick all the time and I think they all look amazing, but I simply hate it on me. And trust me, y’all, I have tried. For at least 15 years, MAC made a color called Coconutty that was all I needed, and when they finally discontinued it I was heartbroken. Then I found a color called Almondine by Estee Lauder that’s really close to it – I still love that one (and unlike the King K, it’s very moisturizing) but since finding the Kylie Jenner lipstick I haven’t worn the Lauder once. The King K just has a touch more copper sparkle to it that has me in love with it right now, and I”m willing to put up with the dryness to wear it. I loved it so much, I thought I’d try out a few more of Kylie’s lipstick shades, but I had the same problem with them I have with Lime Crime’s long wearing colors – all the earth and neutral tones turn a shade on my lips I’d describe as “greige” (some combination of gray and beige), and all the red shades turn the tackiest coral red ever. Plus, these longwearing, dry formulations are usually matte, and matte never looks great on thin, dry lips like mine; as a metallic, the King K takes care of that with the added sparkle.

OK, to close this post off, here’s a random shot of my pets – not a great photo, but I liked the triangle they created:

pets1

By the way, Simon’s tail really is short and stumpy like that; he came to us that way. The shelter said he’d had an injury as a kitten and it was easier to shorten it than try to fix the problem. On the flip side, Violet’s tail is crazy long; you can see it peeking out from under the cat castle. Maybe it’s actually a normal length but being used to Simon’s wee little stump it just seems long? I’m not sure.

Hair Fray

Another hair post! Just what you were waiting for, I’m sure.

optimist1

Not my real hair.

After completely abandoning my latest attempt at using the Curly Girl Method, I was a little stuck on what to do next with my ‘do. I’d been growing out my bangs for a few months, but was undecided about whether to cut them in again or keep growing them out. In looking for ideas on Pinterest, I kept finding photos of this one particular woman whose hair I loved:

sophie

Her name is Sophia Amoruso; she was the owner of a company called Nasty Gal that I think is no longer in business. Whatever, more power to her – and to her hair!

When I showed my stylist some of the pics I’d found, just to show her the bangs, she asked me if I wanted to also color my hair as dark as the photos. In looking at all these pics of women with long hair and baby bangs, I’d gotten used to looking at the style on dark hair because for some reason there seemed to be more brunettes than blondes in this style, so on a whim I said sure, why not.

8db239485360219f283ca4f420a47913

I wouldn’t mind having her lips and decidedly younger skin also, but you can’t have everything.

I’ve always found going from light hair to dark more jarring than doing the reverse; the difference always feels more drastic and takes a bit of getting used to; but this time I could tell right away that I liked it. The style really does work well with dark hair, and even though it’s been several years since I’ve worn my hair in my natural color, so far I am loving it!

newhurr1

Right after I got it colored and styled

I’ve been playing around with how best to style my hair as usual – Pinterest really isn’t good for one’s hair-esteem at all. Everyone has these perfectly formed waves that I could never attain; I get that the pics on Pinterest are professionally styled and all that, but it doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying. The thing about my hair is that it has just enough wave to kind of go beachy, but not without some extra curling involved, and when I try to curl my hair I always over-do it and end up looking over-styled. If I let my hair totally air-dry it will have wave but it looks a bit unbrushed and it gets frizzy; I can blow it dry straight but then I need to take a flat iron to it to smooth it out, and since my hair is fine that makes it super straight, like nineties-style straight, and it gets kind of scraggly on the ends. In the photo above, my stylist had blown it dry, so it looked a little better than when I do it, but still pretty straight and flat as is its way.

newhurr2

I felt like I didn’t look like myself in this photo, which is why I liked it. It totally looks like my grandmother, in a good way. 

What I really wanted was the sort of slightly mussy, I-woke-up-like this wave that Sophia’s hair had – but as I said, whenever I try to do it myself with my curling wand I end up looking TOO styled and air-drying alone doesn’t get me there either. But, trial and error led me to a process that works, and now I am going to share it. Exciting, right?

newhurr4

For starters, I usually do blow my hair dry because it gets it smooth and looks less frizzy after styling. As you can see in the shot below, that leaves me with hair that’s fine, but pretty flat.

newhurr5

Sorry I’m so yellow in this photo. Great bangs though, right?!

So, how to take this and add in just enough wave to make it look soft and natural? After plenty of experimenting, I eventually tried pulling my hair up into a ponytail on top of my head, and just curling it from there in several big sections, like so:

hurr_collage

 Pulling it up and giving it a curl with my wand

Then, when I take the ponytail out, I’m left with a perfect amount of wave. I usually have a few places I need to hit with the wand for consistency all the way around, but this whole thing takes maybe five minutes, tops, and gives me just enough wave to make me happy.

newhurr5d

But I’m not quite finished – here comes the product placement! A friend of mine sent me a link to a styling tool called Voloom – it’s basically a fancy hair crimper that you use to add volume to your hair. It’s expensive, and I thought it was probably too good to be true, but I watched some YouTube videos where it really seemed to work and be easy to use, so I figured what the hell, and tried it out.

newhurr5f

For all my wig-wearers out there, this thing basically adds perma-tease to bio hair! I think any hair crimper would work, but there are some benefits to this one: it isn’t hot against your head, the heat is adjustable, and it heats up super-fast. It comes in two sizes, and I mistakenly bought the petite size when I should have gotten the regular one. No worries, this one’s working fine, at least for now. All you do is lift up your top layer of hair, then crimp the underlayer of your hair right at the base. I just clamp down on it three times for each section of hair; starting right against my scalp and clamping down for just a few seconds and then moving it down a little and clamping again. I do this three times, and when I’m done the hair definitely has more lift. It can’t take super-flat hair like mine and turn it into Jennifer Aniston’s, but it does add some noticeable body and fullness. And it only takes maybe 2-3 minutes for me to do.

newhurr5g

Some people have said that the crimped sections of hair show through the top layer, but maybe this is more of an issue with lighter hair or something, because it doesn’t show through at all for me. You also have to be careful not to crimp any of the hair around your face or it will look weird; this also isn’t something I’ve had issues with. It basically worked for me from the first time I used it, which is rare for me-it took me months to figure out how to use a curling wand, for example. But this thing really is a breeze to use.

newhurr5e

The final result 

The volume the Voloom adds will last until I wash it again; I can also brush it and it maintains its lift. It’s a great little product – and again, I do think if you don’t want to spend $170 on it, it would most likely work with any hair crimper as long as you use it properly. Let’s get a full before and after, just because I like them – from blown-dry straight, to curled in a ponytail, to the final result after being ponytail-curled and Voloom’ed:

hurr_collage_2

Overall, I am loving the bangs, and the color, and the style. This is more length than I’ve ever had as an adult, since I’ve generally worn it pixie-short, and as I mentioned the darker color seems to make my hair look thicker. I’ve found I do need to wear more makeup, which may be the style as much as the color. Oh and one more thing – I’m thinking of actually cutting in some short bangs on one side, like this:

74900452306ab780141e262e1fbae21a

…But I think it might be too close to mullet territory to be a good idea. What do you think?

June Landing

I mentioned in my last post that I was headed out for my yearly visit to the Villa de Matel Ruah Center in Houston. I’ve written a lot about the place, so I won’t go on about it this time except to share how this most recent visit went. And to share some pictures:

chapel1

I brought along my Canon SL1 and my Sony camcorder for the hell of it – I didn’t use either one much, because I’ve taken so many photos of the place over the years I hardly needed more. However, I did spend time taking a lot of photos of the interior of the chapel, rather than just the usual quick pics I’ve done in the past. I asked my advisor if it was actually OK to go in and take a ton of pics, and she said it was – she also told me where I could find the light switches to turn all the lights on in there, since they are normally left off unless there’s an event happening. I was still too timid to turn them on myself, but I when I went in there to take photos someone was cleaning it, and they turned the lights on for me when they saw I was taking pictures, which was nice. I’d already taken a ton of photos before they turned the lights on, which also turned out to be great because taking photos of the chapel in low light turned out some nice results too – just very different ones from the photos taken with the lights on.

chapel6

A low light shot

I went to Ruah this time with a specific purpose, which was to re-focus on my tutoring job and decide whether or not to continue pursuing it or if I should just get a full-time teaching or counseling job in the public school system again. This whole past year, I was basically tutoring because it wasn’t a lot of work and it provided me a lot of time off, which was what I wanted. But lately that’s been feeling unsatisfactory. First of all, whether I like it or not I am getting more clients, and the more kids I get the more work I need to do to stay on top of all their different needs. This is something I wasn’t doing a good job of before going to Ruah, and I knew if I was going to keep tutoring I needed to really commit to it and start taking it seriously. What I decided in my time there was that yes, I do want to keep working for myself as a tutor, and that it was time for me to start putting in the work hours required to do the job properly. Once I realized that I was really on board with this whole thing, and really did want tutoring to be my ‘real job,’ I was able to come back home and attack it with the energy it needs, which has been nice.

chapel3

One of my low-light creations

I also wanted to dedicate myself once again to eating properly and being more healthy. As a result, I signed up for both yoga classes and a workout/bootcamp class. I need the yoga to stay flexible, and am not interested in anything super-challenging, but the boot camp I really need to get myself back into shape. I am taking the classes with a woman who’s been my trainer off and on for well over 10 years now, so it was nice to see her again and catch up. And as an added bonus, the yoga teacher at the class I attended last week was a former teacher at one of the public schools where I used to work, so I got to catch with her as well.

chapel2

I really hit the ground running the week I returned; summer tutoring is a lot different from the work I do during the school year, because my students are all off for the summer (with one exception, a student who is voluntarily taking English III during the summer to free up his schedule in the fall) and therefore do not have class work for me to help them with when I tutor them. So, I am having to create lessons for everybody, and when you tutor seven different kids in seven different grades attending seven different schools, it’s kind of like being a classroom teacher and having seven different classes to prep for. Except I am only planning for one hour a week. But still, as I take on more of a workload, the more planning I need to do, and I admit I’m still getting used to doing what almost feels like a full-time job again.

chapel4

My little fifth-grade student, however, failed her state exam again, and after working with me since February and failing the test twice, I told the mom I felt it was time for her to work with a different tutor, since clearly I was not helping her. I found her a reading specialist, and now that girl is working with her to get her caught up. The lesson I needed to learn there was to be much more cognizant of how my students are faring during our sessions, and speak up if I feel I’m not much help rather than sucking it up and trying to keep improving things. I don’t like to admit defeat, and it feels terrible to have to say to someone, sorry, but I don’t think I can help your child, but to not say it is worse in the end. I didn’t intentionally hang onto her too long, I just didn’t know any better than to keep trying, but still, I should have bowed out sooner than I did. Lesson learned.
chapel5

For a lot of time while I was at Ruah, I felt restless and unfocused, so in the end it’s surprising I got as much out of the visit as I did. There were plenty of distractions – the constant political news on Twitter, the knowledge of how much work I had to do after I left, and concern over another student who didn’t end the school year on a good note, just to name a few. And on top of that, my room this time was one of those  really creaky old rooms that makes a lot of noise, which kept my up my first night there; every time I was about to fall asleep a window would pop or a board would creak and I’d be awake again; after the first night I was used to it, but a creaky room in a 150-year-old building can be pretty freaky at 3 AM when one isn’t prepared for that. And I wasn’t, because usually I sleep like a baby when I’m there.  But by the time I left, I really did feel like I’d gotten past whatever barrier was holding me back from committing to my  new job, so Ruah worked it’s magic on me once again.

I did try to take some video of the center while I was there, and one thing is for sure: I am not a videographer. Still, I tried  to capture a bit of the sights and sounds of the center, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if I accomplished that or not.

So anyway, I’m back home now, and busier than ever, which I think is a good thing, even though it’s freaking me out a bit for life to be a little hectic when it hasn’t been for so long. But I was stressed enough when I was worrying all the time that I’d never be  busy again, so I’ll take it.

Meditation Station

I’m on my way back to Ruah tomorrow at the Villa de Matel, and am very much looking forward to another week of solitude and reflection. My visits there are hit or miss, as some of my previous blog posts can attest, but usually when I go during the work week and at the start of summer the retreat center is pretty empty, and I can have the place more or less to myself. I’ll share a few new portraits here as I ramble – haven’t had any new ones to upload in a while.

tutu2

I’m sure that a lot of my time at Ruah this year will be spent reflecting on where I was last year at this time, when I went for my summer visit a mere few weeks after I quit my job. At the time I was so sad, and broken, and frightened about the future that it dominated all the reading, writing, and reflecting when I was there (both times – last year I went in both June and July). I plan to take the old notebooks I was writing in then to look them over and see how far I’ve come, as well as make some plans for the coming year (as a teacher, I still measure my ‘years’ in relation to the school year, so June 1st is more of a “new year” to me than January 1st is). I know I am ready to grow my business a bit more, as well as try to utilize all my free time better in various ways I’ll get into in a moment.

tutu3

But first, my business. Along with English tutoring, I decided last summer to offer my services as an Academic Coach to middle and high school students. I figured I could use my school counseling background to help kids with low motivation or organizational skills much in the manner I did when I worked as a mentor at the private school. At first, I started offering this service on my own, but I found it wasn’t going so well, so I decided to take a course to get some structure I could follow. I signed up for an Academic Coaching training class, and since I did it in haste as I was already coaching a kiddo and feeling lost, I didn’t pay too much attention to the details (bad, I know) and was shocked to find out, during the first session, that the course was six months long. Yikes. I figured it would be six weeks at the most, but nope. Six solid months of a two-hour class, online, once a week. During these sessions, we’d discuss the week’s concept for about an hour, then spend the next hour  ‘practice coaching’ each other. I admit to finding most of this boring and tedious, and at most times not very useful – but then again, I never really gave it my full attention. For the most part, I would keep the camera on my webcam turned off so I could edit photos or scan Twitter for the first hour when the discussion was going on, then wing my way through the practice coaching the best I could.

I’ve never found practice coaching other students all that useful (in grad school, we had to practice our counseling techniques on each other also) because you’re working with someone who is obviously going to totally cooperate with you every step of the way, and make things easy. This does not translate to real life very well, and sure enough, I’ve already had problems outside of class that never came up much in the training. Then, when I try to ask someone who was either in my class as a student or who is affiliated with the program as an instructor, they all act totally surprised that I’m having issues, which leads me to believe that they either a) are not actually coaching and therefore can’t help me, or b) they are totally having the same problems and just don’t want to admit it. In the case of the other students, I think most of them actually haven’t gone on to coach at all, or are working with adults or college students who have a lot more investment in following through. In the case of the instructors, I’m becoming more and more convinced that they don’t actually coach much at all, and make their money by training other coaches instead. Whatever. In short, I’m not sure how well this whole coaching aspect of my business is even going to work; it’s not going as well as I want it to right now, and I am kinda feeling like the course I took was a ripoff that I should have investigated more closely before even pursuing. Oh well, what’s done is done, and I always have the English tutoring to fall back on, which is going quite well.

tutu4

One of my other goals for the year is something I make a goal every year and have yet to actually do – I really, really need to be a healthier person. As it is, I get back pains and body aches and stiff joints regularly, sometimes to the point of needing medication or bed rest, and it’s really for no apparent reason at all, other than being stiff and out of shape and therefore pulling muscles by sneezing or walking up some stairs. I’ve always had bad knees – runs in the family – and my right one is getting worse, so much so that I have a hard time getting up off the floor when I need to and it sometimes just gives out on me out of nowhere. I have sciatica that acts up, and the ever-present right arm/wrist/shoulder pain from too much time at the computer, and on and on – you get the idea. Oh, and my diet is utter crap. So, with all the free time I now have, I really have no excuse not to take a yoga class to improve my flexibility, and perhaps some of sort strength training class to get myself back into decent shape. And I must learn how to cook some decent, healthy meals, and stop with all the processed junk I currently consume. So I am going to spend some time at Ruah reflecting on all of this also, and coming up with a plan for how to do it. As I watch my parents grow old – especially my mom, who is not healthy and (like me) never has been – it reminds me how quickly so many years of not exercising and eating right can sneak up on you and steal you of your health, and with so many people in this life who suffer from real, serious health issues, it would be a real shame for me to squander my relatively illness-free existence in my later years by refusing to get it together. The rubber has hit the road, so to speak, and it’s time for me to move forward.

tutu5

So that’s where my thoughts will be this week, then it’s back to it when I get home next Saturday to fill out my summer tutoring schedule and start planning for June and July. This will be the first summer since the year 2000 that I’ve actually continued to work, but I’m not too bothered by that, because as long as I can stay up late and sleep in I still feel like I’m on vacation, so I’ve basically been on vacation all year. But I do love my trips to Ruah, where I really and truly feel like I don’t have to do ANYTHING at all. It’s what the place is made for. I do plan to bring along a camera, although at this point there’s nothing new for me to photograph there, and I’m going to try to remember to bring my video camera too; I’ve always wanted to film a little walking tour of the grounds, but have never been able to pull it off for various reasons. We’ll see if it works this time.

Have a great week!

Mansion Mention

As I stated in a previous post, I had yet to post any photos of the 1890’s Davis Victorian Mansion from my trip to the George Ranch Historical Park – so, here they are!

GR32

Still not sure this would qualify as a “mansion” by today’s standards, but for time period and the location, this certainly was one fancy structure. Many of the buildings on this ranch were originally located several miles away in Richmond, TX where I live, but were moved as the town started to develop and grow in the 1970’s. I can’t recall for certain if this was one of the ones that got moved, but I’m pretty sure it was. It took three days to move the buildings, because they had to wait until late at night when they could shut down the traffic on the farm roads to get it moving.

GR33

Th city of Richmond has a historical area where our city hall is, so buildings like this are a pretty familiar site out here. But this one has been restored to it’s original floor plans and decor, which makes it unique. Some of the houses in Richmond like this are residential, but many of them have been converted into businesses like law offices or tea rooms and museums.

GR34

mansion

As some of the international tourists who were on the first tour I followed pointed out, the US doesn’t have the sort of ancient history you’re going to see elsewhere around the globe – and Texas has even less history preserved than most states. Texas doesn’t seem to have much tolerance for old buildings, for some reason, and tends to tear them down in order to replace them with a ton of concrete and glass. Perhaps that’s why we get so excited over any building that’s over 80 years old around these parts.

GR35

GR37

GR39

The interior of the mansion was tricky to photograph, since I couldn’t get full shots of the fairly small rooms, but I did my best. There were a lot of lovely floral arrangements and place settings around, as you can see – even if all the flowers were fake. Easier to maintain I guess when all you have to do is dust them off!

GR36

GR38

GR40

All the rooms were roped off as well, so I could only get a few decent angles to shoot from in each room. And since I was so focused on taking pictures, I didn’t pay much attention to what the guide was saying about the house, but it was mostly the usual stuff about how people were expected to behave and how a mansion like this functioned at the time.

GR41

GR42

GR46

While the Polly Ryon home had no air conditioning and had all the windows open to keep the place cool (which didn’t work very well), this place fortunately had been updated with AC. Otherwise it would have been sweltering – and the Ryon home made me terribly nervous to wander around in due to all the  wasps that had gotten inside and were flying around everywhere. Sadly, I am terrified of insects – unfortunate, since Texas is known for having some real doozies when it comes to critters.

GR42

GR43

There was also a family cemetery outside; the first time I visited it was closed off, and we couldn’t get in to look at the stones. But on my second visit, there were some employees in there cleaning things up, so I got to wander in and snap some pictures. I haven’t processed any of them yet, and I may not ever do so since in the end they were kind of boring, but I did a decent shot of the entire plot that would have been perfect if there hadn’t been that one woman in the shot who was not in costume. Oh well. From this distance, you probably can’t tell that the other guy was in costume anyway.

GR44

 

And lastly, here’s a lovely shot of a very old tree; I just liked how it was framed by the front porch pillars. You’re welcome.

GR45

I know this wasn’t a very informative post, but I’ve said so much about my visits to this park already that I’m out of ideas. Hopefully the pretty pictures will be enough!

 

May-Yay

May 17, 2016 was the most heartbreaking and disappointing day of my entire professional working life.

job

For two years, I’d been working in a program at a private school for students with learning disabilities as the main classroom teacher. The director of the program worked part-time. I had no background in special education, but when I took the job I was working as a counselor at this same school and hated it, so I was desperate to get out, and the director assured me that she would give me all the training and resources I’d need to work with the students. Since she had a master’s degree in special education and had run a similar program in another state, I trusted her, and accepted the position.

trust-me-i-m-a-liar-men-s-t-shirtI started working in the program in the fall of 2014. I was the only classroom teacher, and the director was only in the building three days a week. When the school year started, I’d had no training and been given no instruction, materials, or guidelines as to how to help our students. The director’s instructions to me, when I asked her how I should proceed with the class (which I asked repeatedly) was, hey, it’s your classroom, you can run it any way you want. The most she did was buy a lot of expensive technology for the kids to use – but neither she nor I knew how to use this stuff. I asked her at the beginning of the year to either find me some training or figure out how to use some of this technology herself and teach me, so the kids could use it in the classroom. She never did (three years later, and I know for a fact none of that software or hardware has been used. I bet it’s all still in the original boxes. It was when I left last year).

french-children-old-technology

As the year wore on, I grew tired of waiting for the director to, well, direct, and I started making crap up to help the kids in the program. I came up with a pretty good system, but it wasn’t backed up by any research, and I was still woefully under-qualified. Then at the end of that first school year, I learned that she had gone way over the stated enrollment cap for the following school year – even though she talked a good game about having strict requirements for who she let into the program, in reality she pretty much accepted every kid that applied. The program was supposed to start with 10-15 students. It started with 40. By the time we were moving into our second year, we had 60.

crowd

Not only that, but the range of disabilities she was accepting into the school ran a spectrum from kids who clearly didn’t even need our services in the least to kids who had needs we were incapable of meeting. The director would proudly advertise the 3 or 4 kids she actually DID reject as proof that she was being a good gatekeeper, but the truth was the program was a mess, and was also a big-ass lie. The kids were coming into the program, and taking a ‘class’ with me where I basically ran a study hall and tried to run around and work one on one with as many kids as possible, while also monitoring our extended-time testing program. At least in our second year, the director kept her promise to hire me help in the form of two more teachers (if there was one thing she did well, it was hire more staff to ensure she didn’t have to work more than her three days a week). But still, and in spite of my continued complaints and requests for it, there had been NO training, no guidelines or materials, and no guidance. I was still on my own, but now I was also in charge of two other teachers who were also on their own.

stupid-teachers_o_322765

And then the talk started about charging the parents of the students in our program extra fees on top of the tuition they paid to attend the school (for the first two years, the program was free). This freaked me out, and rightfully so. While scrambling around and doing my damnedest to help these kids by hook or by crook was one thing when our services were free, this piecemeal approach, unsupported by any research or best practices, was not going to cut it when we were charging parents three thousand extra dollars a year to utilize our services. In that second year, I was already struggling to help some of the kids who’d been accepted even though they clearly could not handle the college prep curriculum; and in spite of repeated promises on the part of the director to do so, still none of the classroom teachers had been trained on how to work with our kids.

1837904000-like-a-boss-funny-quotes

So. Last year, in January of 2016, I finally quit trying to involve the director in the program’s planning at all. We never got any useful assistance from her anyway, and for the most part, when she tried to help us she just made things worse. Right before the second semester started, I put on my best thinking cap and re-structured everything; it still wasn’t backed by any research or special education training, but it was backed by my 16-or-so months of observation as to what worked and didn’t work for the kids, and what concerns were constantly coming up with the parents. I created forms and checklists for us and for the kids’ teachers. I imposed structure into the classes. I started tracking kids and grades. And I set up a weekly reporting system to keep the parents informed of what was going on in our classes.

efficiency-3

This at least gave us some semblance of order, and prevented any of our kids from slipping through the cracks. But as we lumbered towards the third year of the program in the spring of 2016, I started to see more writing on the wall for the coming year, and it was not good. The director was still being sloppy with accepting students who shouldn’t have been let in. Our numbers were climbing higher than they were ever supposed to climb (our total enrollment was not EVER supposed to be more than 10% of the student population; and yet in our first year we had 40 kids when the total population was 380. The second year, we had 60 when the total population was 420. And were looking at more than 60 for the coming year, including kids with disabilities we weren’t equipped to handle – and the school’s enrollment had yet to crack 500). And in the back of my mind all this time was the nagging realization that all these parents were going to be paying extra for our services, while we were still going to be overburdened and untrained.

trouble-ahead-warning-sign-things-we-like-to-do-RKVC

Then I got the kicker, the final straw: one morning, the director slipped into my office to inform me that she had taken a job as a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, and would be working part-time as a stewardess in the coming school year while staying on as the director of our program. She would be in the building twice a week, and the rest of the week she’d be working for the airline. I was getting a new title – “coordinator” – and while she was out I would be in  charge of the management of the program. She told me this had all already been decided and finalized, and not to worry about any of it, because it would all be just fine. And before she scooted out the door she tossed out that by the way, she also had to attend a five-week training for her new airline job, and that training would be starting the next day, so while she was gone I was in charge – but I was not to make any decisions about anything without contacting her. Then she sashayed away.

art-flight-attendant-angry-megaphone-620x349

What ensued from that point forward was five weeks of crying, shouting, fighting, and threatening to quit – and that was just on my end. On her end, once she realized I was not going to support her or agree to these ridiculous terms, she set out to undermine me every chance she got. Since she was unreachable most of the time while she was at flight attendant school, everyone from parents to the school president starting coming to me when they had issues they wanted resolved. And by the way, this all started in April, when a private school starts having a LOT of issues about enrollment for the coming year. There are enrollment deadlines, for starters, and in the case of our program that meant reviewing paperwork for every student who applied, and determining whether or not they would be accepted, then notifying the admissions department of these decisions. There were interviews that had to be held and decisions to be made about final numbers, and class sizes, and program changes – and I was being pulled out of the classroom, which I was also supposed to be running, to do all of this. Which I did, every day – and then, when the director spared fifteen minutes from her stewardess training to check her emails, she would systematically undo every decision I’d made, as well as getting on the phone to other school employees to complain about what I was doing.

gossip-phone

This culminated in me giving the school an ultimatum: everyone, and I mean everyone, knew who really ran that program. Hell, the director was hardly ever in the building! I was the contact person, I was the one who ran meetings, and responded to emails, and met with parents. So I marched into the president’s office and told him, you can make me the director next year, and I’ll do all of this stuff the current director isn’t doing, and your program will actually be worth the money these parents are going to pay for it. Or you can keep her as the director, and I quit. And by the way, the director doesn’t even have any idea what happens in this program, or how it runs, because she hasn’t spent more than two hours max in that classroom the entire two years. So what’s it going to be?

red_pill_blue_pill_jumbo_tote_bag-r2008f7b0035b4f869e4799be3a4fc852_v9w72_8byvr_324

And what it was, was that the president told me I would be the director. Then he told me to put together an entire proposal, in writing, for every single change I wanted to make to the program. I went to work, researching where we could go to get really good special education training, and how we could add a summer program to help the kids acclimate to the school climate, and so on. I typed it all up. Documents and flow charts and outlines, you name it. And I turned it all in. I met with department chairs and the admissions department, and together we all made changes. I typed up new documents including those changes, and emailed it to all the department leaders I’d met with.

business-meeting

Then, several things happened all at once: first of all, in the weeks I’d been convinced I was the new director of the program and had been making all these changes, I basically forgot that the program currently had a different director, and she was about to return from her five-week hiatus. I mean, I literally forgot she existed, because I’d been so busy burning the candle at both ends getting ready for the coming school year. And then, on the very weekend the director was due to return, my 93-year-old grandmother died. And on the very Monday the director was due to be back in the building, I was absent, attending my grandmother’s funeral. And the whole thing went to shit.

thrown-under-bus

In that one day I was absent, the director showed back up, took one look at what all I’d done, found out I’d been given her job, and hit the roof. And by the way – I forgot to mention that she was married to the school’s principal. Yep. So, she and the principal have a meeting with the president, and by the end of that meeting, I was no longer the new director, and she had her job back. And then, she threw out all my changes, and sent me an email requesting a meeting with me the following day (when I returned from my funeral leave) so I could “learn what my new role in the program was going to be.”

ben9

I got that email on May 17, 2016. I knew the director was coming back that morning, and I knew there were going to be fireworks, so as soon as we got in the car from the graveside service I checked my email. Then, I called the president – the guy who’d been assuring me for five weeks that I had the director job – and had to ask him what was going on, because he wasn’t going to tell me himself, the chickenshit. All he said was, “Well, you’re not going to be the director next year, she is. And she’ll be in the building two days a week, just like we said before. And you’ll have to get with her about everything else.”

cb7d19249f42692c462d95f3c7db7710

I hung up the phone, and I lost it. The thing was – I really, really wanted that job. I really wanted to make that program exceptional. I was going to work all summer, and every single day of the school year, as hard as I possibly could, to make that program worth people’s money. She was going to be there two days a week, continue to be sloppy, and take people’s money for what was essentially a lie. She would do nothing to improve that program or even make it an ethical endeavor. She’d already proven she wasn’t capable of anything more than that. And I’d spent two years proving how much I cared, and how much I could do. But in the end, they didn’t care. And they didn’t choose me. They chose her, the woman who wouldn’t even commit to being there more than two days a week.

dead-end-job-300x225

But hey, I get it. She was married to the principal, and that’s how she won. And I knew it was a possibility I’d end up losing. What I really did not expect was for everyone else at the school, including the other teachers in my program, to throw me right under the bus when the shit went down. There wasn’t one person in those five weeks I was running things who didn’t come up to me to tell me how happy they were I was in charge, and what a mess the director had been and how difficult she was to work with. But would you believe, that as soon as she came back and started throwing her weight around, they all went so far as to flat-out DENY they’d ever even had meetings with me, or agreed with my changes, even though I had documented email after email proving the opposite? They turned on me faster than hot-dog wieners on a movie theater grill, and left me to rot (like hot dog wieners on a movie theater grill, also).

10ffc015b26efbc3da7b84ff332d74f0

So, May 17, 2016. Doug and I went straight from the funeral to the school, in the middle of the day, grabbed a bunch of boxes from the storeroom, and packed up my shit. Then I put my school keys and my ID tag on my desk, and walked out the back door. And I never went back. I was heartbroken, though, because the thing was – I really loved that job. And I saw the potential that program had to be great, I mean, really really great. And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the students, some of whom I’d worked with for four years straight. But the humiliation of losing was too great, and the utter lack of respect for me as well as the completely shitty way the school had treated me was too much to bear. I was done.

10-signs-its-time-to-quit-your-job-810x540

I literally had less than one week left in my contract by this time, but the school demanded I write a written apology for MY behavior (can you believe that shit?) or else they would fire me for abandoning my contract and fine me as well as deduct from my salary all the days I didn’t work. Yes, after lying to me about giving me a promotion, using me to get all my ideas down on paper, and humiliating me by demoting me the same day I was ATTENDING MY GRANDMOTHER’S FUNERAL, I owed them an apology. I told them to piss off, lost three months of my salary, and in the end had to pay them one hundred and fifty dollars for all the pain and suffering I’d caused them by refusing to be their bitch any longer.

keep-calm-and-pay-your-fine-1

Sigh.

So, here I am, one year and one day later. This deadline has been on my mind literally since the day it all happened. Back then, oh my god, did I cry. I cried daily for about three weeks. After that, I just cried weekly. I think the last time I really had a good cry over the whole thing was around September of 2016, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the whole thing didn’t still pain me all these months later. I never worked a teaching job I loved as much as that one. I probably never will. Letting it go was beyond hard – it was devastating. When I worked there, myself and the other two teachers (who were my close friends at the time) would all say  how perfect the job was, and how the only problem with it was our director.  It just made all the sense in the world for me to get that job, while her having it made no sense at all. But here I am, and she still has that job, and I still don’t, and that’s the end of that.

hqdefault

After I quit, I had no idea what I would do or how I would move forward. I’d worked there for four years, with a two-year gap in my employment before that while I attended grad school, and because I’d been fired and left on awful terms (there were a few phone calls between myself and the school after I walked out that may have included some swear words, as well as some less than pleasant written communications) my resume had a big old six-year hole in it – unless I was willing to risk putting the school down as a reference, which I wasn’t. My husband was the one who suggested I just start working for myself as a tutor, which was appealing due to the lack of interviewing and resume fudging I’d have to do, but I had no idea how to go about putting a business together, or getting clients, or, for that matter, how to tutor. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but the one thing I wanted to do – direct that program – had been taken from me.

Lost-Job

I started this whole tutoring business halfheartedly, with a sense of desperation, and the feeling I had no other options. And it took a long, long time for me to feel otherwise. But here I am, one year later, and I really do like what I’m doing. My business is still small, but when I look back at how paralyzed with fear I was about having to go out and get clients, I’m pleased that I’ve managed to find and keep six of them – all of whom want to keep working with me over the summer, and two of whom have siblings I’m also being asked to tutor. It’s not exactly booming, but it’s clicking along, and it’s working out nicely for me now.

contentment1

But what about the school, you ask? Well, as it turns out, there were at least some parents whose kids I worked with there who valued me (even if none of my co-workers did), and I am still working with some of their children as a private tutor. I do my best to  be professional and keep my feelings about the school, the director, and the program to myself, but I hear things (and not just from this source; I still know one person who is connected with the school although she, too, has quit). I can report that the principal, the one to whom the director is married, was fired in October. So thanks to the school for throwing me under the bus to placate the wife of a dude you were about to give the boot, but whatever. The bigger news, in my opinion, and the thing that really chaps my ass, is this: the program is still being run exactly as I structured it in my last semester at the school. Now let me be clear here – it is NOT being run as I planned to run it as director of the program. It is being run as I ran it when I was the classroom teacher, and figured out a way to make the program work just well enough to get by. Even though the president made sure to get electronic copies of all my plans – everything I put together in those five weeks I was being told I was going to run the program – that damn director and the people still working in the classroom have all been too fucking lazy to implement one single, solitary change. Not. One. I created a freaking road map for the program’s improvement; I literally could not have made it any easier for them, but they either didn’t care enough to try, or (and this is more what I suspect) the director refused to make any changes out of spite and/or a resistance to admitting that my direction was the proper way to go. Ironically, even in ignoring all my proposals she’s still running a program that I created, but true to form for her she’s chosen the easier one to perpetuate. Even if she didn’t want to utilize any of my plans for the program, she could have put out a little bit of effort and done something to improve things, because as I’ve already mentioned, things were a mess by the end of last year. But nope. She’s done exactly nothing, except maintain status quo.

i-know-its-awkward-but-if-i-dont-take-credit-for-your-work-how-else-am-i-going-to-look-good-7f659

So, why am I spewing on about all of this now? Because it’s been a year, or rather, a year and one day, and this year anniversary has been on my mind the entire freaking TIME. How would I feel about it, especially with it coming two days after the anniversary of my grandmother’s death? Where would I be on that day a year away, one year from one of the most heartbreaking days of my life? How will I commemorate one of the most soul-wrenching disappointments I’ve ever experienced as a working woman? Even as the date drew nearer, I wasn’t sure. May 11th. May 12th. Getting closer. May 14th, the date of my grandmother’s death. May 16th, tomorrow, it’s coming tomorrow.

And then, the day came – and I totally forgot.

4e67be59fc94140508d55978c6dd816f

May 17th, 2017 was a Wednesday, which, as it turns out, is a busy tutoring day. And you know what – I’m just now realizing this – I spent one of my tutoring hours consoling the parent of a student from my old school; consoling her because the program isn’t meeting his needs, and she can’t get anyone to help her. Surprise, surprise. But I, on my own as a private tutor, was able to help her a little, by at least advising her how to handle the problems she was having at the school (one of the many things I was good at there was dealing with all the teachers, who often were rude to our students and regularly refused to help them. Somehow I had a way of softening them and getting them to bend. The current director sucks at this, and always did). So, on the anniversary of the day I quit, I was, in a way, still doing that job, and still dealing with that school! But I was so busy, and so focused on doing my new job, that I didn’t even notice the big day had arrived. I helped the mother, then immediately moved on to tutor another student, who attends a different school in the area. Then I drove home from the library, and read whatever the hell the latest news about our national dumpster fire Donald Trump had hit while I was tutoring, then I probably edited a photo or two and went to bed. And at some point today I realized what day it was, and what day I’d missed completely.

original

That school literally broke my heart. It forced me to quit a job I loved because I was being taken advantage of so badly I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve never had to do that before, and I had no idea how painful something like that can be. I felt it in Sally Yates’s voice when Andersen Cooper asked her how it felt to be fired from her job as Attorney General (and no, I am not comparing myself to her in any way). I felt it in James Comey’s letter where he said goodbye to the men and women of the FBI. I have felt it in every TV show I’ve watched, or book I’ve read, where someone who loved their job got fired, or had to quit when they didn’t want to because they weren’t being treated right. Hell, I cried for Michael Scott when he quit Dunder-Mifflin in The Office (which I binge-watched for the first time last summer) and that shit was hilarious. But somewhere along the way, between this May and the last, I quit feeling it every single day, and I quit crying about it, and I found other things to do to occupy my time, and right before this big anniversary arrived – this big moment I’d planned to commemorate in some way – I just forgot.

And maybe that’s the best way  I could have commemorated it after all.

MovingOn

Park Pics Part 2

As mentioned previously, I went back to finish up my trip through the George Ranch Historical Park two weeks ago. This is in no way the extent of the photos I took during both visits, but it’s what I have processed for now.

GR17

The prospector telling tales outside his shack

The first time I went, I piggybacked onto a decent-sized group of tourists through as much of the tour as I had to time to attend; on my second trip, there were two elementary schools holding field trips, but no big groups of visitors for me to follow around. This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it did make parts of the tour a bit awkward.

GR12

In theory I like this photo of a gardener sweeping up around these benched statue-people, but the composition itself annoys me. But you can see, in the upper left side of the shot, the edge of a really nice tree house that looks over this part of the property. 

At every stop of the tour, there are employees on site, dressed in the attire of the times, ready and waiting to tell stories and answer questions. When I wandered from site to site with a fairly large group of people, there was always a crowd willing to sit and listen to all of this, which left me free to wander around and snap photos without being bothered. The question and answer sessions also slowed the whole tour down, so I had plenty of time to snap all the pictures I wanted.

GR19

Kitchen scene from the 1930s Ranch House, one of two large houses on the property you can only walk through on a guided tour. 

It was a different scene when I went back the second time and was the only person showing up on the employees’ doorstep. Especially in the two big houses, the guides were really rushed, and even seemed a bit put out at having to stop whatever else it was they were doing to walk this one person through the rooms and rattle off their well-memorized spiel. When there’s only one of you, and you’re clearly not interested in asking questions, the tour moves along at a fast, awkward clip, I don’t mind telling you.

GR25

Chandelier at the 1930s Ranch House

Also awkward to me, for some reason: probably due to the lack of distractions, I was able to notice this time around that there weren’t really that many employees monitoring and working the sites; therefore, someone you encountered at one location might also pop up somewhere else an hour later, to walk and talk you through some other park site. I’m not sure why this felt weird to me; perhaps because I wasn’t in the mood to be chatty so running into the same person you’d been fairly disinterested in talking to an hour before somewhere else, and having to pretend to want to talk to them again, made the whole experience a little awkward.

GR26

For example, the cowgirl in the blue shirt here was rounding up cattle for the elementary schools to watch at 10 AM, and at noon she was my tour guide through the 1930s mansion. For some reason, this dampened some of the magic for me. It didn’t help that I was sitting on the porch of the mansion, patiently waiting for the next tour to start at 12:30, but she rather hurriedly busted open the door at 12:15 and asked if I want to view the house. I felt a bit like a nosy neighbor showing up uninvited on her doorstep and looking for gossip.

GR30

I’m not sure what this little house is for; it has window units on the side so the park uses it for something, but it wasn’t a part of the tour. Maintenance shed, probably. I peeked in the windows as best I could, but I couldn’t see much.

Then again, it could be they were short of tour guides on this day due to the elementary school kids that were galloping their way around the park. I saw one of the women who’d been sitting in a chair telling stories inside the Ryon Prairie Home on my last visit leading a huge group of fifth-graders up the walk to the Davis Victorian Complex; she was wearing the same long skirt and bonnet she’d had on the previous Tuesday, and it was pretty warm and humid outside – she looked hot, and grumpy, and I can’t much say I blame her for that!

GR8

Remember her? She was not smiling this time. 

There were also alligators everywhere.  There are several creeks that run through the park, some of them quite wide and full, and gators were all in the water and even sunning themselves on the shore. I started out walking the tour this time instead of riding the tram, but I admit I got pretty nervous crossing the first creek bridge and seeing a huge, fat gator hanging out right at the edge of where the creek met the bridge. Alligators do not hunt humans and don’t see us as food; they hunt creatures that walk on all fours, so unless you bring yourself down to their level by crouching down, or for some reason decide to start crawling in their presence, you’re generally safe (your kids or your pets might be a different story, though, and of course this is all assuming that you are going to walk past them when you see them and not actually approach the hungry bastards). However, generally safe doesn’t mean entirely safe, so after my first close encounter I decided I would be riding the tram across the creeks from that point forward. As such, I got no photos of the gators: I tried, but I was too intimidated (i.e., terrified) to really stop and get a good shot, and they came out blurry.

GR27

Windows inside the prospector’s shack; the sky and airplane in the distance are totally fake. In reality, they were just dirty windows looking out over some brush. 

I also tried to take some video of the park while riding the tram, but the roads are gravel and the tram is pulled by a tractor, so it was all way too shaky to be of any use. My videographer skills, once again, were lacking.

GR28

Post and pans in the prospector’s shack. Another fake sky.

As it turned out, I hadn’t missed as much of the park the first time as I’d thought anyway. There was the other big house to tour, and in the end it wasn’t all that thrilling. It was amusing to hear the guide try to make the details sound like something awesome though; the house was built in the 1930s, so it wasn’t all that unique from loads of other old houses in the area, except for the fact that it’s a lot bigger than most. So, the tour guide kept having to point out things like all the Texas-themed ceramic doodads and geegaws  the owner of the house loved to collect – wee little cowboy boots and longhorns and shit you could go into any antique or resale store in Texas and buy by the boatload for five bucks each (although I’m sure the ones in the house were more expensive). Again, the guide on this part of the tour was rushed, and probably tired from roping cattle all morning in front of squealing sixth graders, and who knows, maybe she was either messing with me or making things up because she actually never gave the tour and didn’t know any of the interesting stories. But whatever – hey, look at that ceramic goat! Isn’t that cool?

GR31

A scene from the stables; I don’t actually have any photos of ceramic goats.

There was one stop I really enjoyed though; the blacksmith’s shop. There was one kid working inside when I wandered over, and he was not only knowledgeable about what he was doing, I could tell he really enjoyed doing it and loved talking about it, so I didn’t at all feel like I was intruding upon his time. Not only that, but I didn’t feel much need to ask questions or struggle to make conversation; he just kept happily talking away about the history of the blacksmith shop and how they used to make things vs. how they make them now (they try to do everything as authentically as possible, but some of that authenticity would be either dangerous or cruel in the Texas heat, so adjustments have been made).

GR22

This guy’s hands caught my attention right away; they were perfectly grimy and he had really long fingers that he kept using to point at this and touch that; I took a ton of shots of his hands while he yammered on, but the one above was my favorite.

GR23

See what I mean? Great hands!

Here he was explaining something to me about this anvil that I no longer remember. The chalk line is important for some reason. That’s all I’ve got for you, sorry. It was something to do with the weight of it; there were three anvils on the site and he was explaining to me what was unique about each one. I’d be a terrible tour guide, wouldn’t I? Where are the ceramic goats again?

GR24

This is metal and it is hot. Now give me ten bucks for the tour!

Although these two posts have at least touched on each part of the park I visited – except, I just realized, for the 1830s Victorian Mansion, which is probably the biggest stop on the whole tour, oops – I still have a ton more to process when I have the time. But I think I’ve covered everything now (sans mansion), even if only briefly.

To be honest, my favorite parts of the tour were riding around in the tram just watching the park roll by, and sitting on the big wrap-around porch of the Victorian mansion, waiting for the tour to start and feeling the breeze while looking out over these huge, hundred-year-old oak trees and listening to the cows and cicadas. I didn’t grow up on a mansion, but growing up in Texas I’ve still spent a fair amount of time riding around in tractors (even though they weren’t doing tractor-stuff at the time) or sitting on old front porches listening to the sounds of cows and bugs and begging for a breeze; I don’t think anyone else on the tour with me (the day I had company) was able to just sit there and feel nostalgic like I was, but also, when it comes to what constitutes a nice day for me it always has more to do with sitting and listening and being still than it does touring things and talking to people. It left me with a feeling of wanting to go back just to sit on the porch and stare for a while, but in the end this isn’t that sort of place; you can’t sit on a porch there too long without someone coming along and either shuffling you inside or sending you on your way. And although I did have a nice long chat about alligators with the tram driver when I hopped on and told him I just wanted to ride with him while he made his rounds, I felt I would have worn out my welcome had I asked to be a passenger a second time.

So, this was a cool enough place to visit once, and I got a lot of nice photos to work with while I was there, but it’s not somewhere I’ll be going back to anytime soon. Speaking of going back, it is time for my yearly summer visit to the Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel, which I am very much looking forward to; perhaps it is that impending visit that is making me long for a place I can just stop and sit and be still and listen; I do always start to crave that this time of year.