Cat-ching Up

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I only titled this post as I did because I have a few new cat pictures. Here’s one of them:

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I have a few other pictures to share that aren’t of cats, and lots of random things to discuss, so I’ll just throw it all into the mix and see how things come out. Sound good? Let’s get to it.

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First of all, on the home front: we’ve spent the last 2-3 weeks dealing with contractors and literally getting our house in order. Last week, all the damaged drywall in the house was being fixed, and having workers in the house every day from 9 AM to 6 PM put a serious damper on my schedule. I ended up doing a lot of nothing but babysitting nervous cats and dogs while all the banging was going on, and I didn’t do much of anything else but read books and watch Netflix while trying to avoid all the parts of the house that were under construction. That said, all the leaks and water damage is fixed, finally, and everything we had to move and store in other parts of the house has been returned to it’s original location, OR has been tossed out/donated.

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Doug and I did have a conversation, at some point in all of this, about how little TLC we’ve given to this house over the years, much as I mentioned in one of my earlier Harvey posts, and we both agreed that some of the problems we had during the storm were our own fault for not fixing house issues properly as soon as they arise, choosing instead to ignore things until they reach the critical. We also discussed how we should really go ahead and put some real money into the house and settle in a stay awhile, so that when/if we really do decide to move we can actually sell it for a decent price. And we’ve both decided that staying on for at least the discernible future might be the best thing, after all – in fact, since our house is almost paid off, it might be wise to stay a good, long while. So, to that end, we’ve been getting bids for other repairs and cleaning out, well, everything, in an attempt to start treating our home more, shall we say, respectfully.

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Sadly, I will admit to being a bit of a slob, as is my husband, and while the truth is we are not averse to cleaning up after ourselves, or paying a service to come in and do deeper cleaning every other week, neither one of us has ever been meticulous about much of anything else, and as such, we have a lot of work to do just to get things up to snuff (in fact, we just had a vacuum cleaner delivered today because we didn’t even own one). For example, last week I decided just to clean out our kitchen pantry, and that task alone generated FIVE BAGS of trash. Our worst habit is probably taking things that are broken or serve no purpose for us and just kind of stashing them somewhere, then leaving them there for 20 years. As such, the pantry was full of old broken coffee pots, toasters, boxes of unneeded dishes, and other ridiculous items that haven’t been touched in decades as well as canned foods that expired in 2008 and spices on a rack that had completely lost all color and smell. I know, it’s a horrible thing to admit, but there it is. I also actually changed out the light bulb, which hadn’t been done in so long I still keep forgetting to actually turn it on when I go in there.

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It took me about four hours to clean all that out, and y’all, that was just a PANTRY. Literally every closet and cabinet in this house is in a similar state (except for the expired food part – that was strictly a pantry issue). In fact, we actually have an upstairs bathroom that at some point came to be treated like a closet and was full almost to the ceiling with boxes of stuff that needed to either be thrown away or put in the attic. I am proud to say we’ve cleaned that out now, and can actually use our bathroom as, well, a bathroom. Go figure. But it probably goes without saying that I have my work cut out for me as far as getting this house in order; I don’t mind, as I have the time now to do this, and I figure it’s good exercise as well as being necessary work I need to do. But clearly my aversion to behaving like an actual adult runs DEEP, y’all.

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Health-wise, I mentioned in a previous post how much anxiety I’ve been having lately, and I did meet met with my psychiatrist and was taken off Wellbutrin and put on Lexapro instead, which addresses the anxiety as well as the depression that Wellbutrin was prescribed for originally. And I am happy to report that the results have been tremendous. From the first day of taking it, I’ve had exactly zero panic attacks, and zero anxiety. The only issue has been how sleepy it makes me, but recently I switched from taking it in the morning to taking it at night, and that seems to be helping. For now, I’m thrilled with this solution, and having the anxiety lifted helps me realize both how bad it had gotten and how long it’s been building up. I probably should have been put on Lexapro the first time I went to a doctor for my depression, but I wasn’t even able to articulate that part of what I was feeling was anxiety until recently.

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I don’t know how much I mentioned here about my other health issues I’ve been handling lately; I went to a doctor over the summer to deal with my right wrist, which felt fractured but ended up just being inflammation that, surprisingly for how much it was hurting, healed up completely in about six weeks. I was totally expecting to need a surgical solution to that problem, but while I was talking to that doctor, I mentioned how basically my entire right arm gives me trouble constantly, and that the second-most pressing issue I was having (next to the wrist that I thought was broken) was my rotator cuff, which has troubled me for, oh, let’s say at least seven years. Seriously. It’s hurt for so long I just got used to it, and for some reason have always considered it just some weird thing about me that I have this one shoulder that sucks, and never considered it something I should see a doctor about. I am not even sure where I got this idea, but obviously it stuck, because I barely even thought to mention it to the wrist doc.

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When I did though, he made me an appointment to see a shoulder specialist at the same location, who ordered an MRI (an awful, awful experience that I will never go through again without some serious Xanax, but I’m not going to talk it about it any more than this because I do not want to relive that nightmare) and discovered I have not one, but TWO tears in my shoulder. My rotator cuff has a partial tear, and I have a lateral tear on the back side of my shoulder, so between the two of them it’s no wonder my right arm gives me serious grief from time to time. Still, the doctor felt like rushing into surgery wasn’t the best idea, and I totally agree – I’ve heard that rotator cuff surgery is no joke, and I want to avoid that shit if at all possible. So for now, I’ve been given an injection that did reduce the pain for now, although it does still hurt when I try to do certain things, and I am schedule to start some physical therapy this week to try and strengthen the muscles around the tears enough to make the shoulder functional, and see if that is enough for now. I am really regretting not getting to a doctor sooner about this issue, since if I had done so it could have resolved on its own like my wrist did without ever developing into being torn, but I can’t bust myself up too much over something that seriously just never ever occurred to me to be a problem. Still baffles me why I decided that, but nothing can be done about it now.

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Due mostly to my ongoing arm issues, I haven’t been blogging or editing pictures much at all, as too much computer work is a primary pain culprit. Before the injection, just thinking about getting online and commenting on people’s blog posts just felt like more than I could handle, but for now at least I can do it. Who knows how long that will hold up. I’m hoping that the ease with which my wrist healed up is a sign that I can get to a similar place with my shoulder. We’ll see.

Insurance Assurance

 

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Came across this photo when reviewing pics to send to insurance; I admit that in the original photo, the ‘ha’ in ‘happy’ was covered up by something, so I did a quick and crappy editing job to put those letters back in.

Sitting here waiting on an insurance rep to show up and go over the damages from the roof leak to our home. I walked around and took pictures a few days ago – very low-quality so I can email them, of course, but here’s just a few I can share:

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In many places, our carpet was also damaged from these leaks, and a distinct moldy smell has taken over our home. I have a 2 PM appointment to see a doctor because it appears I’ve contracted pink eye in my left eye; this could be due to the mold, but I can’t be sure about that. The areas around our brick chimney are also water-stained, and the brick is still wet on both sides, but since I took such low-res photos for emailing those shots aren’t even clear enough to upload, really.

The worst part of our damage, though, is our shower:

25 Also a crappy photo, but I think you get the idea. Yuk. 

It looks like water is just sitting up there above the ceiling, waiting to crash down on us, and gunk is dripping from the ceiling and running down the walls. I’m embarrassed to admit that although we have three bathrooms in this house, this is the only shower that’s currently working. In general, my husband and I pride ourselves on stubbornly refusing to pay to get things fixed unless absolutely necessary, and with just the two of us in this house we never saw the need to repair our other two showers when they needed it. We never used them, so we basically forgot about them – and one now houses two litter boxes anyway. But now that one is basically unusable, we’re feeling the effects of our laziness and ridiculous house-frugality.

So, our house didn’t flood, although I know people who lost everything, and Houston will slowly begin the work of rebuilding and digging out of this mess. We’ve given money to the fund Mayor Turner set up for the city, and I am offering a month of free tutoring to everyone affected by the floods. There are a lot of people going around house to house and offering to rip up carpet and bust out sheetrock for families who took on water, but I am not useful at such things and so am waiting for the water surrounding us to finally go down so I can get out of the neighborhood and take donations to shelters. For the moment, we are still locked in, but I’m hoping to be able to leave the area by Tuesday (the doctor I am going to visit is within our levee so I can make it there and back, but I’m going to have to go by a circuitous route).

The insurance rep was supposed to be here between 10 and 10:30, and it’s now 11:20 with no sight nor sound of the guy. Typical. This is probably going to be a big chunk of our lives for the next few months while we deal with insurance and contractors and the fact that everyone else in the city is doing the same thing. If the mold gets too bad, we may have to move out temporarily, but I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. The wait out the storm period has passed, and the wait and see what happens next has begun.

Here’s hoping that horrible Irma stays away from the U.S., but it ain’t looking good. Stay vigilant, East Coast. I hope you are spared.

Tuesday Newsday

An update on our Hurricane Harvey situation:

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First things first: we made it through the night when our part of town got hit the worst. Harvey is so big, and has moved so slowly over Houston, that literally no part of the Houston area has been spared. Having lived here all my life, I have family and friends spread out all over the place, and as it has turned out so far, every one of us has had a “turn” at being in the worst possible location on a given day. The first night of the storm, it was my brother out in Dickinson watching the water creep up to his door and seeing helicopters rescue his neighbors. The second night, it was my friend in Katy, who had the same situation as my brother the night before with an added crisis of two rescuers getting trapped in a tree and having to be rescued themselves. Then yesterday, it was my turn, when around 4 PM our county judge changed the voluntary evacuation notice in our neighborhood to a mandatory one. Up until that moment, I was fairly calm about our situation, although that water creeping up our front walk was making me progressively more nervous throughout the day.

In our case, the mandatory evacuation was called because the levee that surrounds our neighborhood, and that has kept us flood-free for thirty or forty years, had a valve that malfunctioned when a nearby creek overflowed into it. Ironically, our levee system was “improved” after the Tax Day Flood of 2015, which sounded like a good idea until it got tested this weekend and failed. Our street didn’t flood in 2015, before these ‘improvements.’ During Hurricane Harvey, it did – along with most of the neighborhood. Needless to say, this is going to be a huge problem for whomever did that work moving forward, because they clearly screwed up something that was working fine before they got their tools on it. Moving on.

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Once the county saw what was happening, they called for a mandatory evacuation, but the problem was that by that time most of us could not leave. Yes, our neighborhood generally is flood-free, but everything around us floods in storm situations, and we become an island. Because of how safe we’ve always been here, barely anyone responded to the voluntary evacuation, and were suddenly faced with taking pretty epic measures to get out when it switched to mandatory. For Doug and I, it wasn’t really possible for us to leave; we have four pets, and two small compact cars; unless you had an SUV or a big truck you weren’t going to make it out of our neighborhood. And, once you got out, there wasn’t much of anywhere to go. By this time, the shelters in our area had filled up, and there were even people who’d evacuated to shelters in the area only to find the shelter filling up with water, and having to evacuate again. We weighed our options, moved our stuff to the second floor of our house, and decided to take our chances.

All evening long the news was fixated on our area; specifically, on our very street. Reporters were a mere block or two away from us, filming people in waist-deep water being hoisted into boats to escape the encroaching floodwaters. They were squinting through the heavy rain that had been falling non-stop for 24 hours (our poor dogs were about to bust before they’d go outside and relieve themselves; i finally had to let them poop in the garage) and ominously saying things like, “If you live in this area, this is no time to take chances…you need to GET OUT NOW.” All evening long, we could hear helicopters overhead and airboats in the slowly rising rivers our streets had become. I was a wreck. We’d stocked up on food, we had everything we needed moved to the second floor, and fortunately, as the evening turned into night we discovered that most of our neighbors had also stayed and we were not, in fact, going to be all alone drowning in our own poor choices. We would all go down together, it seemed, and that helped. Still, I admit to breaking down in tears at one point, just from the sheer stress of the situation. I finally understood what my brother had been going through on his long dark night of the storm, and my friend the previous night. I texted with everyone I knew throughout the night for comfort, and kept posting on the neighborhood Facebook group that sprung up that morning when the first voluntary evacuation was ordered, created for people who were choosing to stay.

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We placed a rock at the waterline on our front walk and checked it every hour. For several hours, it rose about 12 inches each time. Then, around 10:30 or so, we went to check it and noticed it had only risen about half that. Then, it seemed to stop. It was about that time the county judge, who’d called for the mandatory evacuation, had a Facebook live press conference and explained that the malfunctioning valve had been temporarily fixed, and that the levee was pumping out water again. As soon as we heard this, my husband and I ran out to the walkway to check our little rock, and sure enough – it had gone down about an inch. We celebrated in the rain like maniacs, and held our breath the rest of the night, forcing ourselves to wait an hour before going out and checking again lest we get too obsessive about it. Each time we checked throughout the night and into Monday morning, it had gone down a bit more.

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All through the day today, it’s been draining, and as of 6 PM there’s no water standing in our stretch of the street. But many areas of the neighborhood are still flooded, and the very unfortunate people who live in the areas the news media was filming yesterday due to the extent of the flooding where they were got water in their house – some as much as three feet. When out walking around this evening to take some more photos, I encountered a couple who were venturing onto their street for the first time since evacuation, and when they told me where they lived I regret that they could see on my face what I knew they would find. I’m sure they already knew to expect the worst, but my heart really broke for them. I grew up much closer to Galveston, in an area that flooded badly in tropical storms and hurricanes, and our house flooded three times that I can recall, so I know what a disaster that is to deal with. We have a little disaster of our own to handle now, because our roof, which we got replaced after Hurricane Ike, leaked like a bitch for some reason and ruined a lot of drywall and carpet. But what we’ve got to repair is nothing compared to the nightmare of having a flooded house, and obviously, in this storm, so many, many people have lost everything, included houses, belongings, and cars – not to mention lives – that I am not complaining. We even somehow miraculously never lost power, which has never happened to me during a hurricane or tropical storm (with Ike, we were without power for four days during August, and it was torturous). Oh, and Doug’s father’s house had a tree fall on it, too, so he’s got to deal with that also (no one was harmed). But still, our troubles are small compared to most people right now.

Interestingly, for the first time ever I find myself feeling attached to this house. I don’t know, I got so nervous about losing it, somehow, and even felt like it protected us really well, in spite of all the leaky ceilings and walls, and I sort of promised myself that if this house protected us and got us through this thing safely, I would stop taking it for granted and appreciate it more, and maybe even start to really take care of it better. I’ve never been one to care much about my surroundings, as long as I have a roof and a bed I really don’t care what things look like or where it is, but the last few years I’ve been wishing either that this house looked nicer, or we could sell it and buy a new one that already looked nice (because the idea of fixing up an old house doesn’t excite me IN THE LEAST). But when Doug and I were talking about all the repairs we were going to have to do, and he said we needed to just get this thing fixed up quickly and move, I felt a little pang of resistance at the idea. I think he sensed it, because he followed that up by saying that we could put some real money into it and fix it up properly and sink all our money into it and stay, and I perked up a little at that thought. I couldn’t tell if he perked up, too, or was just saying that to see what how I felt about it, but now isn’t time to make all those decisions anyway. But maybe. The idea of going through the moving process has never EVER thrilled me in the least, so I could be encouraged to stay here for sure. But in the end, I’m not sure it’s the best idea.

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Anyway, now we just have to survive the Brazos River going over its banks, which is supposed to happen sometime tonight or tomorrow, but as long as our levee holds, which it should now, we will be OK. We just may not be able to get anywhere for several days, but this house has taken care of us so far, as has the neighborhood, so I think we’ll be good.

Edited to add: Catherine asked about donations, and while displaced people will need clothing and food, etc. those things have to come locally for now due to the flooding all over the area. However, should you want to donate financially, our mayor has set up a fund here: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Evacuation Proclamation

So, we live in Houston. And no, we did not evacuate.

Here’s what people think evacuating looks like:

Young couple driving convertible at sunset

Here’s what evacuation really looks like:

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Deciding whether to stay or go in a natural disaster like this involves risk analysis: is my risk greater if I leave, or if I stay? But there are risks either way, and neither option is a good one – at all. The risks involved in evacuating are quite actually quite high; it’s not like you pack a light bag, make a road-trip mixtape, pick up a few cases of brewskis and hit the open road for a luxury resort in another town. And I say this because I lived here during the whole hurricane Rita fiasco, and I heard so many of my students saying they had decided to evacuate and were just going to “drive up to Austin for a nice vacation” instead of waiting out the storm…well, the photo above is the result of millions of people having that attitude at the time.

Because of that disaster, people in Houston learned their lesson, and did not evacuate unless the risk involved in staying was greater than the risk of evacuating. This is how it SHOULD be done. Yes, many of those people are now in trouble and need help. But this is what I wish the rest of the damn country would understand: we all KNEW we might end up needing help later if we stayed. But we HAD to allow the people who were in immediate danger to get out first.

People who stayed are not examples of individuals who stupidly refused to evacuate before a storm. They are examples of people who weighed the risks and rightly chose to wait things out in order to allow those in greater need to get out FIRST. And now those brave people need help, and they deserve to get it.

I haven’t even mentioned people who cannot evacuate because they have no money, no transportation, or not even the physical health and stamina needed to endure such a journey. Because honestly, I shouldn’t have to. If every single armchair warrior out there judging Houstonians online for not evacuating wants to pack up a bag and drive over here to my house to show me how to better wait out this storm, then they’re more than welcome to do so. Otherwise they can pretty much shut the entire fuck up.

Love you all!

Anxiety Society

That title sucks, but hey, it does rhyme. Moving on.

I’ve taken some new shots with the intention to continue working with the curves tool when editing my photos, so I was sure to use some backgrounds, costumes, lighting, and poses that I thought would work for that purpose. So far, so good, and I’m having fun playing around with these new techniques.

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I also bought these two feather collars from Free People a while back when they went on sale (honestly, is there no end to the over-priced cool stuff that store carries?) and was finally able to use them.

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I also broke out a flashbender I can attach to my external flash and used that in some shots, like the one above. When I first got it I used it a lot, but over time I found I didn’t care for the harsh light I got when using it and that it was much more difficult to edit those photos and achieve the look I wanted. But I wanted to see how the photos would turn out if I used it and then edited them with the curves tool, so I strapped the flashbender onto the camera and gave it a go. I’m glad I did because I did get some nice pictures as a result. Although, right out of the camera they looked awful.

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The flashbender directs the light from the flash into a narrow beam, so it gives the photos a spotlight effect, which makes for some really interesting shots, although I barely know how to use it so they need a lot of work when processing to make them look right. So anyway, yeah, on the photography front things are pretty cool, but in other ways, things are a bit tricky right now.

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The big problem I’m having right now is anxiety. I’ve actually starting having anxiety attacks, and they’re really fucking annoying. It starts with some random body ache or pain, which sends me into a panic thinking I’m going to get sick, which leads to this awful lightheadedness that starts in my gut and radiates upwards into my head as if I’m going to pass out; I sometimes also feel hot and nauseous, and like I can’t catch my breath even though I’m breathing fine. I had my first attack like this over a year ago; I thought I was having a heart attack until I realized I wasn’t, and that by calming down with self-talk and walking around to get myself moving, I could make it stop – even though I felt jumpy for some time afterwards. After that first bout, I didn’t have another one for almost a year, but in the past 3 months or so I’ve been getting them regularly. Several attacks have come at night, and twice they’ve been bad enough to keep me up for hours (two other times I just talked myself through it and feel asleep in spite of it). I haven’t had an attack in public since the first one a year ago – until today.

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I’ve been feeling pretty confident about these attacks because I’ve been controlling them well, but today it started as I was driving around town running errands, and the anxiety just stayed with me all damn day, no matter what I did. Of course I know part of the problem was that I kept trying to “do” things to calm myself when it just wasn’t in the cards for me because not only was I having an anxiety attack, but I was also trying to run a bunch of annoying errands that I was determined to do anxiety be damned, and everything kept cycling. It was totally frustrating, and more than a little disconcerting, because in my mind I’m thinking, how long is this going to go on? Is this going to happen while I’m tutoring a student? Am I going to just feel this way forever now? What if I become one of those people who’s scared to leave the house because I’m afraid of having an attack in public? Is this going to totally ruin my life?

I don’t have answers to those questions yet. I don’t know why this is happening all of a sudden, although I’d say I’ve had low-grade anxiety my entire adult life, so perhaps I should be surprised it’s taken this long to manifest this way physically. What I do know: I talked to my gynecologist about the possibility of this being related to perimenopause, and she was pretty non-committal about whether it was or not either way. She feels that because I’m still on birth control, I shouldn’t be having any menopause-related symptoms, and that what i described to her was garden-variety panic attacks and nothing more. I went and got a physical and that doctor felt what I was describing was panic attacks as well; all my bloodwork came back normal, so I know it’s not related to my thyroid, or diabetes (a possibility since it runs in my family), or anemia or any other blood-related thing that might be causing it. After today’s fun anxiety-fest I made an appointment with the psychiatrist who prescribes my Wellbutrin to discuss this with him and see what he thinks. I know Wellbutrin can cause anxiety or exacerbate it in people who are prone to it, so perhaps that’s part of the problem too.

I also know that I grow increasingly anxious by the day about the man who currently sits (or squats, as the case may be) in the Oval Office. I feel like the anxiety level of the entire country is in overdrive right now, and the events over the weekend in Charlottesville have me good and freaked. I also know I lost a friend a few weeks ago, and that having people so close to me in age and life experience die does freak me out any time it happens. I also know that over the past year or two I’ve had other things happen that have felt so unfair as to be almost unbelievable; the sort of things I never thought would happen to me and that disappointed and distressed me to my core. I know I had shingles in January, and there’s really only one reason someone gets shingles (stress). I know my entire life schedule is still topsy-turvy and I’ve not yet gotten myself into a decent routine, and I spend way too much time still sitting around doing a bunch of nothing other than play too many video games and read/watch WAY too much CNN. I know my sleep habits are pretty awful, and let’s not even get started on my diet because that’s a total disaster. I know I still haven’t gotten myself back into a decent workout routine, which is partly due to injuring both my rotator cuff AND my wrist on the same arm – two things which also make me anxious as I fear growing older and getting fragile and sustaining injuries I can’t recover from (fears I’ve never had before – my clumsy ass has injured myself tons over the years, but NOW I fear every injury will permanently damage me for some reason).

So yeah, I guess when I write it all out I can see why I’m having panic attacks. But for anyone who’s been down this road, you know that it’s not always enough to know why they happen. Once they start to happen they seem to take on a life of their own, apart from all logic and wisdom, so getting this under control will be a challenge, but one I am willing to accept, because I refuse to just hide out in the house all day and stop living my life over something like this. Some things I’m doing to try to help: 1. Actually get involved politically instead of sitting on the sidelines. 2. Eat better and exercise more. 3. Schedule my life each day instead of just wandering from hour to hour and day-to-day without any real plans for how I should be living and what I should be doing. and 3. See if there is something medically I need to do differently, like change my medication or get off of it (which I tried once, without success).

As far as getting more involved politically, in this little town near my neighborhood yesterday a woman put together a spontaneous vigil for the people of Charlottesville, and I decided to pull my head out of my ass and go. The plan was to walk about a mile up a major road holding candles, and then walk back. It sounded a little odd, but the heart was in the right place and it was nearby, so I went and joined them. It really was a small little group of women (and one man), so honestly I felt a little silly doing it, but everyone was lovely and it was something to show which side I am on, at least, and I met some nice people in the process. Hell, one woman showed up on crutches just because she wanted to stand up for love and peace and harmony, and the man was older and had to turn around halfway because it was so damn hot and humid, so all in all it was at least nice to see some sort of light in the midst of the weekend’s darkness.

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Getting ready to walk in Fulshear. That one woman carried the mirror because she said something about Trump needing to look at himself in the mirror, or something. I didn’t really understand that part – but I was super-impressed that she carried that damn things for three miles. It was heavy! 

So I don’t know, y’all. I don’t want to be dealing with panic attacks all the time, and knowing it’s not something physical like blood pressure or low thyroid actually doesn’t help as much as I thought it would, because at least if the problem is physical that means there’s a physical process for correcting the problem, whereas when it’s mental/emotional it feels impossible to fix. Then again, the last time I remember feeling this frustrated in relation to my body was when my gluten intolerance reached the breaking point over ten years ago and I kept ending up in the emergency room, and no one could explain to me what was going on, and I eventually figured out how to deal with that problem. And in my twenties I went through a terrible phase of having awful migraines, the kind with aura and partial blindness, and I remember feeling pretty despondant at first that the situation was going to permanently ruin my life, and that didn’t happen then, either. So, I am hopeful that this too is something that’s awful right now but DOES have a solution that will work for me, and I just have to find it. But, as I already mentioned, I’m also less optimistic about shit like this than I used to be, too, so while I’m hopeful, I’m not as hopeful as I would have been ten years ago, or even five years ago, because now i realize that some problems just don’t have solutions at all, and eventually all of us get that one diagnosis that signals the start of the end of things for real, and really shitty bad luck does happen to other people all the time so why couldn’t it happen to me too. So there you go. Hopeful, kinda? But also, in a way, not entirely. Boo.

 

Ahead of the Curve

For a long time now, I’ve been admiring photographers like Miss Froggi on Flickr who create such lovely, soft, vintage-looking light in their photos, and I’ve been trying to re-create that look with my own photos with spotty results at best.

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I didn’t want to steal any of her photos, so I am posting a screenshot of her page instead. But do check it out for more loveliness!

I finally ended up searching for tutorials on how to create the soft light and vintage look of photos like this, and started learning about and working with the curves tool in Photoshop. This seems to be the key to achieving the tonality and richness that I’ve been trying to create using various photo filters; the filters work to an extent, but you don’t have to total control over the final result with presets and plugins.

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The curves tool

I certainly was familiar with this tool, but had never tried to use it because it looks intimidating. It’s generally known to be a trickier tool to use, but once I watched a few tutorials I felt I knew enough about to be able to work with it instinctively until I got the results I wanted.

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Portrait before and after using the curves tool

One thing I noticed while browsing tutorials is that most of the photos people were working with were taken outside for some reason; I’ve found it easier to use curves on outdoor shots than my studio ones, and I”m not sure if that’s because the tutorials I watched were using outside light sources or if it’s really true that people use the tool more under those conditions. I don’t think it’s that curves works better that way as it is that it works differently, so I still have lots of playing around to do to figure out how to make it work – which is fine, because noodling around and learning new things about photo editing is my favorite thing to do anyway. I did, however, try to find out shots taken outdoors to play with; since I rarely do that most of them are not great shots but were fine to use for learning purposes.

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Terrible shots, but they were good for editing practice.

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I’m actually not finished with this one, but I wanted to show it anyway.

But since most of my shots are taken in my studio, I was working with indoor lighting and backdrops for most of my practice. I started out with shots from recent sets:

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But soon I was dipping into the archives, looking for shots to work with that I thought could benefit from some “curving.” Looking at old photos through this lens (no pun intended) prompted me to work up shots from sets I’ve ignored for a long time, so that’s been fun.

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Overall I found darker portraits with dark backgrounds more fun to work with; seeing the tonal shifts in the darks and shadows of the photo is the most interesting aspect of using the curves tool to me, for some reason. Perhaps because it’s easier to see the changes in the dark spaces of the photo – who knows. But I also used the tool to edit some shots from sets I never got anything good out of before, like these:

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I still don’t really like this one, but it’s a better attempt than I’ve gotten in the past from this set. Something about it just doesn’t work – I think maybe it’s because the color of the wig doesn’t look good on me. 

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But the best shot I’ve edited so far is from an old set I did back when I was still obsessed with full-length costume and movement shots (something I haven’t been into for quite a while); this was taken when Simon was just a kitten, and at one point while I was taking some shots sitting down he wandered onto the set and sat down on the skirt of the dress, and got into a few of the pictures while sitting there. I picked him up for one photo, and even attempted to put him on my wig (which really didn’t work because as soon as I took my hands off he started to leap down, so the shot that had him up there also had me making an awful face and holding my hands up right near where he was standing). When browsing through old photos I came across this set again, and got to thinking I could probably take all the shots with Simon in them and composite them into one shot – it was really easy to do, so I’m not sure why I never thought of it before.

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I did use the curves tool on this one too, but obviously that’s not the reason this is a new fave for me. Again, not sure why I didn’t think to do this when I originally took the shots, but that’s what’s good about going back through old sets from time to time (I save everything; every single shot I’ve ever taken is on a hard drive somewhere). Once there’s some time and distance from a set, you can go back and find pictures with value that you missed last time you looked.

Now before I close this out, I’d like to add one more picture. It’s not one I took, and it’s not a picture of me. It’s also not a ‘good’ photo in that it’s a scan of a picture that was taken in the 90s at a Halloween party – but it DOES have a costume! It’s a picture of an old friend named Jody Smith; he was best friends with another one of my friends from college, Erin, and we hung out a lot back in the day. With a name as common as Jody Smith, though, once we lost touch it was damn near impossible to find him again, until Erin found him through a mutual friend on Facebook about a year and a half ago (for a lovely write-up about Erin’s experience connecting with Jody again after so many years, go here). It was nice to hear from  him again, and see that he was doing well, but I admit after an initial catch-up conversation or two we didn’t keep in touch all that much. But we were still Facebook friends, so we could keep up with each other through that platform.

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Unfortunately, a little over a month ago Jody was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, and it was too advanced, and Jody was too weak, when it was discovered for the doctors to do anything about it. He was given 3-5 months to live, but ended up in hospice care just a few weeks later. On August 1st, Jody passed away. Fortunately, I got to talk to him via Skype before he died; I shared what memories I had of him that came to mind in the moment (although I realized later I forgot a few good ones I wish I’d mentioned, like the time we went to see Forest Gump together then wandered around the neighborhood after it ended lamenting how little we’d done with our lives) as well as a dream I’d had about him the night before, wherein he, Erin, and I were in an airplane, headed nowhere in particular, just hanging out in the clouds and chit-chatting like in the old days (well, without the clouds part).  So, as I said to him on his Facebook page the day he died, I want to say another farewell to dear Jody – we will see you again in the clouds one of these days. Rest in peace, friend.

T-Shirt Alert

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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:

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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.