Mansion Mention

Featured

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

GR32

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

GR33

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

GR34

mansion

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

GR35

GR37

GR39

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

GR36

GR38

GR40

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

GR41

GR42

GR46

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

GR42

GR43

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

GR44

 

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

GR45

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

 

May-Yay

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

job

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

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

french-children-old-technology

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

crowd

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

stupid-teachers_o_322765

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

1837904000-like-a-boss-funny-quotes

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

efficiency-3

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

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

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

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

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

gossip-phone

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

red_pill_blue_pill_jumbo_tote_bag-r2008f7b0035b4f869e4799be3a4fc852_v9w72_8byvr_324

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

business-meeting

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

thrown-under-bus

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

ben9

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

cb7d19249f42692c462d95f3c7db7710

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

dead-end-job-300x225

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

10ffc015b26efbc3da7b84ff332d74f0

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

hqdefault

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

Lost-Job

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

contentment1

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

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

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

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

4e67be59fc94140508d55978c6dd816f

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

original

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

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

MovingOn

Park Pics Part 2

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

GR17

The prospector telling tales outside his shack

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

GR12

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

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

GR19

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

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

GR25

Chandelier at the 1930s Ranch House

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

GR26

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

GR30

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

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

GR8

Remember her? She was not smiling this time. 

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

GR27

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

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

GR28

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

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

GR31

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

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

GR22

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

GR23

See what I mean? Great hands!

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

GR24

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

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

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

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

A Hair-Waving Scheme

DISCLAIMER: Since writing this post, I’ve abandoned most of the process I list below. I’m leaving it there in case anyone wants to try it, but in the end there are things I prefer to do that the Curly Girl method frowns upon (namely, not brushing through the hair after washing and not using any heat) and I wasn’t seeing enough of a change in my hair to stick with it. I do really like the products, though, and am going to continue to play around with how best to use them.

As mentioned in my last post, I went back to the George Ranch Historical Park to finish up the tour I didn’t get through the week before, and I took more pictures. Not that I really needed to; I took enough the first time out to have easily filled a second post without going back for more, but I wanted to fit the rest of the park in before it got too hot outside to be able to stand it. But before I do that, I thought I’d give a little hair update:

curls1

No curling irons used here – just my natural wave pattern

I’ve written a lot in the past about using the DevaCurl line of products, mostly because after I got that perm back in 2014 their stuff really worked to control the frizz and give my curls some definition. I also mentioned at that time that I’d tried the whole Curly Girl method before, back in the early 00’s right after it came out, and that I didn’t have much success with it. However, back then my hair was quite short and I was in the process of growing out a pixie cut, so I don’t think my hair would have looked great no matter what method of cleansing and styling I was using. Since my hair has gotten quite long now (for me, anyway) and I quit blow-drying it straight once I quit teaching, I realized that I do, in fact, have a decent amount of wave to my hair and that perhaps I should give the whole Curly Girl ‘method’ another try. Ironically, I made this decision about a week after finally boxing up all my old DevaCurl products and shipping them to a curly-headed friend, so I had to buy all new stuff (which turned out to be a good thing, because in the years since I last used their line they’ve come out with some better products for my particular curl type so I ended up with more appropriate stuff for my hair anyway).

curls4

Curl close-up – not sure why I look so pissed here

As soon as I started using the special conditioner and cleanser made for wavy hair, I noticed a nice change in my curl pattern; while I will never have hair I could actually call curly, it does have a pretty clear wave to it, and when using the DevaCurl shampoo and conditioner without sulfites and all that other jazz, I felt like the waves had a bit more fullness and bounce (I started out trying the full-on No-Poo products, but those are much better for tighter curls, like I had when I had my perm). I also switched all my other styling products to either DevaCurl or another brand that had no sulfites or alcohol (I find alcohol drying on my hair, and although a lot of people who follow this method worry about silicones, I actually like them and don’t try to exclude them from anything I use). I got my hands on some more of the DevaCurl mousse I always loved, and the same spray gel I used before; my Moroccan Oil that I have loved for years still gets used, and I found a spray wax without alcohol to use as a finisher (although for some reason, the DevaCurl Set It Free finishing spray that was a huge fail when I had my perm suddenly works like a charm on my non-permed hair, so I haven’t even needed to use the spray wax that often). I also still use a dab of the Mirror Curls because it adds definition like nothing else, and I got another ConAir bonnet hairdryer to sit under to dry my hair without blowing in a bunch of frizz (links to all this stuff is at the bottom of the post, if you’re interested).

curls3

But for the first week or so, I was still using my curling wands to add curl to my hair in places where I felt it fell flat – mostly on my right side around my face. However, I always had a bad habit of not stopping with just adding curl where it needed it – once I get started, I end up curling everything which takes a lot longer and doesn’t really need to be done. Not to mention that I bought this super small-barrel wand that can give me the sort of tight springy curls I’ve always wanted, which made curling my whole head extra-tempting. But I was curious if the assertion the Curly Girl book makes was true – that the longer you go without using heat on your hair (bonnet dryer excepted, the method considers bonnet dryers an acceptable way to use gentle heat so I swear it’s not cheating) the more curly your hair will become. I’ve never actually believed this claim; as I mentioned earlier, the first time I tried to use the method I found it added some curl and bounce right away, but it’s not like it improved over the months at all, and in fact it ended up being more trouble than it was worth, but mostly because I was growing out a short cut as well and my hair was just a mess in general. Then when I had the perm, that idea didn’t really apply because my curls were chemically-induced and were therefore outside the purview of the Curly Girl method entirely. I don’t have any real reason for not believing this claim is true, I just kinda doubt it. But, I decided I might as well experiment with this and give it a shot.

curls2

So, I’ve decided to use no heat styling on my hair for one month and see if, in fact, the flat parts of my hair get less so, or if any other hair miracles occur. One thing has happened already; when I really stopped forcing my hair to do anything I noticed that on the right side of my head – the side that tends to fall more straight – the curl pattern is actually curling towards my face rather than away from it (as you can see in the photo above) but on the left side, the side that always looked nicer and more curly, it’s curling away from it. Now, I don’t know anyone who heat styles their hair by curling it towards the face – it’s fairly common practice to curl the hair to move away from it.

Medium-Hairstyle-with-Classic-Curls

Nope.

And, even when air-drying my hair, I would sort of nudge the curls on the right side to move away from mine, which was part of the reason why those curls would look a bit flat – I was forcing them to curl against their natural pattern. I can still use heat to curl the hair away from my face quite easily, but since I’m trying not to use heat for a month, I was just going to have to live with these weird curls on one side of my head that went the ‘wrong’ direction. But, I did come up with a bit of a solution, and moved my part from the left side of my head over to my right side, so that more of those forward-moving curls have now been shifted to the left side of my head where, of course, they are now magically moving away from my face! This has helped my wave pattern look more even, but as you can see I’ve still got one side of my head with curls waving forward instead of back. Oh well.

windows4

I took this shot earlier, when I was still using the curling wand. I think I even used the small one here to get tighter curls. It REALLY works and is so tempting…but I’m determined to give this a month!

I’m also trying to grow out my bangs a little right now to see if I prefer having longer ones when wearing my hair curly; I am torn between doing that or getting some micro-bangs that are even shorter than what I’ve been wearing. In the end I think I do need some sort of bangs framing my face – I have 2b waves, which means the hair is flat up top and the curls hang close to the head, and when combined with my long face I still need something to reduce the appearance of length and bangs are the best way to do that. But I’m thinking if I get these bangs a bit longer they can curl up and be cute; they’re already starting to form little ringlets if I don’t do any straightening, and I think I will like the effect.

b3b511fd9b28934ded025619617801d8

I could see my bangs doing this...

CMscreenshot17

But I dunno, this is pretty damn cute  too…

To sum up, for anyone with waves like mine who wants to know what I’m doing and using, here you go:

  1. Cleanse with DevaCurl Low-Poo and One Condition
  2. Add DevaCurl Frizz-Free Volumizing Foam
  3. Scrunch dry with t-shirt, then spritz in some DevaCurl The Curl Maker Spray Gel 
  4. Air-dry and sleep on it as normal (I don’t pull my hair into a ponytail, but I do sleep on a silk pillowcase)
  5. In the morning, I re-wet my hair until damp, then scrunch in some Garnier Nutrisse Wonder Waves Hairspray (I don’t know why this stuff works so well; it does leave the hair crispy but other products I follow up with soften it. It really adds curl for me and always has, but it’s a hard product to find now.)
  6. Scrunch in the TINIEST dab or two of DevaCurl Mirror Curls (if I put this stuff in my hair right after washing, sleeping on it will add frizz; but using it the next morning reduces this).
  7. Sit under my Conair bonnet dryer for about 20 minutes or so while I drink my coffee (this is so oddly comforting and to be honest, I’d sit under it the night before too if my husband didn’t complain about the ridiculous amount of energy this thing uses)
  8. Once the hair is dry, smooth in a dab of Moroccan Oil and finish with the DevaCurl Set It Free spray

For day two hair, I am still trying to figure out what works. Some mornings when I wake up it looks fine and I should probably leave it alone, but being me I end up messing with it anyway and making it look less than fine. So far, it appears that if I’m going to do anything, I should just wet it down a bit and scrunch in a touch more Mirror Curls – that does the best to add some definition and bounce back when the waves have gone flat, but damn does it also give me frizz! I may try out some of DevaCurl’s dry shampoo that I found too greasy when I had my perm; like the Set It Free it may work better for me now.

So what do you all think about the fringe? Do you like the longer curly ones, or the micro-bang? Let me know in the comments below! More park pics coming soon!

Ranch Dressing

First of all, thanks to everyone who offered feedback on my previous post about dealing with asshole neighbors. I decided to take down the post, though, since our situation with them is ongoing and well, you never know. So for anyone wondering what happened to it, that’s what happened. Moving on.

GR1

My self-portrait-taking manic phase ended as suddenly as it overtook me; one day I set up the camera to take photos and felt bored halfway through, and that was that. I also became interested in taking more shots outdoors after processing the photos from my niece’s prom and enjoying playing around with the light and color in them, but taking self-portraits outside has always been complicated for me, so last week I decided to just focus on taking pictures of things outside other than myself, and made a last-minute decision to visit the George Ranch Historical Park, which is about 10 miles from my house, and bring my camera with me.

GR2Heavily edited; I might as well just admit that the sky in all of these shots is fake. In reality it was grey and cloudy out, and also high noon

I’d never visited, even though I’ve lived out here for 17 years, and in thinking about where to go take photos I landed on this park because I knew there would be volunteers there working the farm in character, and I figured I could get some interesting portraits. Being primarily a studio shooter who doesn’t venture out much with her camera, I also figured taking photos at a park like this would be more comfortable for me than going somewhere photographers aren’t already expected to be wandering around snapping pictures of everything that moved; I still tend to get self-conscious and/or nervous street shooting because I don’t want to offend or upset anyone by taking photos. I did get some good portrait shots, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the park as much as I did, or to photograph as many other things as I did, or for the park to be as HUGE as it was (20,000 acres, to be exact). In fact, I only got halfway through the park before I had to turn around and go home, since my phone had quit working and I knew Doug would be getting worried having not heard from me for several hours, and I had errands to run later in the day.

GR6

The ranch has several historic sites on the grounds, spanning from the 1830’s through the 1930s, and focusing on several different families who were key to developing the area. At the majority of these sites, visitors can walk around freely, talk to the ‘interpreters’ who are really volunteers/actors dressing, working, and living as they would have during the time period – to walk the entire path linking all these sites together covers about a mile.

GR5

I went by myself, but there were three other groups of people who arrived around the same time I did (all three groups were, interestingly, in groups of three), so I basically wandered the park alongside this big group of people. One group was from Italy, another was from France, and the other one was from Illinois – I was the only local out and about that day. I started out walking the trail on my own, but this is Texas and it’s already getting hot outside, as well as being terribly humid on this particular day, so after the first stop I ended up riding the tram around (which is pulled by a tractor) to the other sites, along with the rest of the group. Kind of sad that I wasn’t up for just walking the mile, but I didn’t want to get too sweaty since I had errands to run later. Excuses!

GR4We had about 30 minutes at each site before the tram came back around, and most of the guests would gather around the actors and listen to them tell stories about what life was like during their time period. I didn’t do much of that, choosing to wander around the site instead and take photos without having to navigate around too many people. As such, I ended up taking all sorts of photos I didn’t intend to take. In fact, I took way more photos of ‘stuff’ than I did of the people. No real reason for that, just that there weren’t too many people around (maybe 1-3 at each site) and once I’d taken one photo of them, well, I had to move on to other things. It was funny though, because I could tell they are so used to people taking their photos that they did have a tendency to “pose” rather than just stand around – like this guy:

GR10

He just stood there until I got my shot, and I didn’t have to say a word

This was another reason I was comfortable taking so many pictures here; my subjects were expecting me to take their picture and giving me some nice setups in the process. You can tell they know how to provide people what they’re looking for! When not telling the visitors stories or posing for photos, the volunteers are doing chores around the site and basically working, for the most part, as they would have back in the day. So, someone at the site might be churning butter, or herding cattle, or – whatever the hell it is settlers would have been doing way back when.

GR3

Not sure what’s she doing here, but it involved fire. You’re welcome.

The first stop in the pictures above was a stock farm, which represented a farm that had — livestock, I guess? I dunno, I have a brochure somewhere but I never read it. The next stop was the Ryon Prairie Home, which sure looked like a mansion compared to the stock farm:

GR15

Yep, the sky is fake in this one too

At least, it looked like a mansion until the next stop, where I saw the real mansion. Still, the volunteer dressed up as Polly Ryon, the owner of the home, had a pretty interesting story to tell, at least the part I listened to – when she married her father actually made an arrangement that the family money would stay in her name instead of transferring to her husband, and throughout her life she was influential in capitalizing on the family’s considerable fortunes and preserving their legacy. It was kinda funny – one of the men in the group from Illinois was asking a ton of questions at every stop and creating this really anachronistic atmosphere, which was interesting to watch the actors navigate. He was particularly interested in this aspect of her story: “So, it was an early form of a pre-nup?” and then the woman had to acknowledge what he asked while at the same trying to stay in character. I’m sure they get that a lot, but this guy was so uber-inquisitive it made me wonder if the actors are under pressure to stay in character and might get in trouble if they do break it. I guess they are all volunteers, so the pressure can’t be too great – although, maybe I’m wrong, and they are all paid workers on the ranch. That would actually make more sense, as it sure would take one hell of a dedicated volunteer to dress up in all those layers of pioneer gear and stoke fires in 100-degree heat when she didn’t have to.

GR8

Well, if pre-nups existed, then I guess you could call it that, but since they don’t…

There were some great shots to take in the Ryon house; I’d been unsure of which lens to take on this trip and ended up choosing my 50mm, which all things considered I think was a good choice.

GR11

The 50mm has a shallow depth of field, which makes for prettier portraits and is why I chose it, but it’s also good in low light and works for most photography I might want to take in a walkabout situation. I don’t get as crisp or clear shots of architecture or landscapes, and I definitely could have used my wide-angle lens in the small interiors of these buildings, but overall I think it was the right choice. I say all this because I am going back to the ranch tomorrow to finish out the tour, and after considering different lenses I could use this time, I ended up deciding to stick with the 50mm. Of all my lenses, it’s the most versatile, even though in a lot of these shots I didn’t get the clarity I could have gotten with either my 40mm or my 17-40.

GR9I also chose to take my inexpensive Canon SL1 instead of my 7D because of how much lighter it is. I bought the SL1 several years ago for just this reason, when walking around with a camera for hours the 7D gets really heavy, and the SL1 is the smallest DSLR on the market right now. If I use my 40mm, it’s even lighter and smaller, but since I knew I wanted the DoF of the 50mm I sacrified a little of the lightness to get better shots. Still, it’s a great little camera for just this purpose, and it worked fine. It’s noisy, as is the lens, so in the one stop of the tour where we all had to follow a guide and couldn’t just wander around I did notice it was probably annoying to hear my camera going off so much. But other than that, it’s nice to get some real use out of this little camera since I haven’t used it too much since I got it. As I do more outdoor and walkabout photography, it’s likely to finally get some real use.

GR14

GR13

That pink shot is my favorite so far; obviously because of the color, although it was much more mauve in the original. Also, I didn’t actually get a good centered shot of this (one of my weaknesses when taking non-studio shots is I often forget about things like getting a subject centered in front of background stuff like a fireplace) so what I had to do is take the left side of the fireplace, copy it, and paste it over the right side to make the shot better-framed. This is why if you look at the right side, you can actually see a curtain draping into the fireplace that appears to be growing out of the wall. In the original shot, that curtain was falling over into the fireplace from a nearby window, but I covered that up when I pasted the other edge of the fireplace over it. I couldn’t figure out how to realistically correct this, so I said to hell with it and left it. There was also a small mirror hanging over the fireplace that was also off-center, so the easiest thing to do there was to cover it up with more wallpaper.

GR16

Once we left the Ryon house, we stopped off at the sharecropper’s shack shown above. The guy narrating at this site told us a family of TEN lived in this shack at one time. He had some photos of the family inside to prove it, too. I’m sure I took pictures of those pictures, but we’re about to the end of what I’ve processed from my trip so far, so it may show up in another post. I did get a few good shots of the friendly sharecropper though, because he was really embodying the spirit of the time period:

GR21

And so did his shack:

GR20

GR18

I’ll have more shots from this stop in the next post, and then it’s on to about half of the ‘real’ mansion – I ended up bailing on the tour halfway through that house. But since I am going back tomorrow, you really don’t need to worry about that, because by the time I get those shots processed I’ll have a whole new batch to add to them to fill out the rest of this set. For now, I’ll close with one of my favorite shots from the day – it’s out-of-order here; I took it when leaving the stock farm and heading over to the Ryon house (which you can see in the distance):

GR7

Another fake sky! 

Tutoring My Own Horn

stroller1c

I’ve got a lot of photos to share, as usual, and some thoughts on my tutoring endeavor, so I’m going to combine the two even though they don’t go together. But first, on the photography front – I have held several more sessions this month based in part on trips to the new Goodwill store that opened up recently in my area; this is a great place to get clothing for photoshoots as they get tons of great stuff.

tutu1

Including little kid tutus!

I also tried out using the live view technique I learned last month wherein I can attach my camera to my laptop and set up a shot – and take it – while looking at it on my computer screen. However, I actually found that this technique is often more trouble than it is worth, and while it’s useful, I think it’s only really needed for me when I’m shooting self portraits in more difficult situations (such as trying to pose lying down, for example) and for what I usually do, I’m better off just sticking to my old methods. I did discover that setting up a light stand with a bulb in the spot where I intend to pose helps me focus the camera AND helps me stay situated where I need to be to get in the frame of the shot: I often use a light bulb on a stand behind me when I shoot for some nice backlighting anyway, but I don’t always, and I never thought about how much it helps me focus to have it there. Now that I have thought about it, I just put the stand there even if I don’t intend to light it up, and voila – better focus in my photos.

tutu2

Tutus – they’re not just for covering your butt with tulle anymore

I also am playing around with more aggressive editing techniques on my self portraits just because. I tend to not like editing that imposes itself too much on the shot (unless the shot has flaws I’m trying to conceal) because I put so much effort into having the right makeup and costume and hair that I feel it rips all that effort off to then go and add so many overlays and filters to the photo that you can’t see those details. But often times, those effects can look very cool if done properly, and I certainly see other people’s edited photos and think how awesome it looks, so I’ve been trying to let go of some of my attachment to pseudo-realism.

orange2a

The shirt was a steal from Goodwill; both the shirt and the wig are actually orange

Also on the photography front: I agreed to take photos of my niece for her prom (which is not the sort of thing I usually agree to, but hey, every once in a while you gotta do the family a favor), and surprisingly, I found I really enjoyed editing the photos of her (and her date) that we took in the park near their house. Normally I am far from a “location” shooter; for self portraits the reasons are obvious (I like privacy when I’m doing my self portraits and would feel silly taking posed pics of myself anywhere in public) and some that are less obvious (I am just not accustomed to doing it and often mess up things like lighting, AND I have always leaned towards neutral backgrounds that don’t pull focus from my subject). But in this case, they wanted outdoor photos, so I acquiesced.

prom6

He’s carrying her because her heels were sinking in the wet grass; I didn’t tell them to pose this way, but I love it. Thanks, wet grass!

And lo and behold, I found I really enjoyed editing these outdoor shots! They had me take some indoors too, and I made my usual mistakes there (I made some rookie moves like not positioning them properly in front of the fireplace and stuff like that), but I found that editing the outside stuff was quite fun, because I could work with light in interesting ways I can’t do with studio work – mostly sunlight and shadows.

prom1

Composite shot here – in the original her skirt wasn’t flowing in the breeze like this; it was flowing in another photo so I stole the skirt from that pic and attached it to her dress in this shot. If you look down near her ankle, you can actually see a weird bit that almost looks like a pocket; I didn’t notice this until after I was totally done with the editing, but that’s an error from blending the two skirts together. 

This has me jonesing to find a model and get out and take more location shots, something I’ll need to do soon if I’m going to do it at all as it’s getting hotter here by the day and soon will be too hot and muggy for productive photos out-of-doors.

prom5

Just another nice candid catch 

So that catches us up on photography. As I share the rest of my stuff, let me tell you what’s going on with tutoring. It’s been up and down – mostly up, but transitioning from full-time teaching to part-time tutoring (and I’ve got more business now, but not enough yet to call myself full-time, which is fine by me, honestly) has been an adjustment on so many more levels than I expected. For starters, re-scheduling can be a real bitch. Most of my students are involved in extracurricular activities, and as the spring rains start here in Texas, a LOT of canceled or re-scheduled games are cutting into my tutoring schedule. It’s not such a problem when people just cancel, but what most people want to do is RE-SCHEDULE, which is a pretty big pain in the ass. I get why it happens, and I get wanting to still get tutoring fit into the kids’ week, but on my end it kind of sucks. I actually like having a set schedule from week to week, and can get really thrown off by even one student requesting a last-minute change, much less 2 or 3 of them. I’m really committed to giving myself two guaranteed days off a week, with a third one on reserve as a backup, and more than once I’ve had to choose between sticking to that commitment and telling a student I just can’t meet with them that week, or scheduling kids on days I have set aside not to tutor to keep the money flowing and keep the kid caught up, but losing days off in the process. Boo.

prom2

At first I was just telling everyone no if they could only meet with me on days I committed to taking off, but this has started to bump against another aspect of tutoring I hadn’t given much thought to until now: wanting to keep the money coming in. When I tell a kid I can’t re-schedule, I’m losing that week’s pay for that kid. That isn’t such a big deal when my schedule is full, but lately I’ve been awakened to the reality of tutoring’s revolving door; while I may have been able to get enough clients to keep me busy and pay me a nice amount of money, keeping them is a different story. Not that I’m losing kids left and right because I suck, but some kids only need intermittent help – one college student only calls me for a session when he has an essay due, another one only wanted academic coaching which wraps up after ten sessions, and still another one really just needed temporary help to get through one particularly difficult portion of his English class. So, I recently went from 8 clients back down to 6, with another one starting to taper off also, so then I’m down to 5. So, yeah. That whole I-really-hate-networking-and-I-hope-to-never-have-to-do-it-again-once-I-build-up-a-client-base dream didn’t totally come true. At least, not yet, and I’m looking at needing to put out some more advertising and peddling my wares a bit moving into the summer months (although I do also have three kids whose parents have already told me they want to work me in summer also).

prom8

Which leads me to another big adjustment I am having to make: planning. This one is a bit trickier to sort out, but one thing I’ve hit upon lately is how big the whole concept of time is to my life. Not having the time to wake up peacefully in the morning or go to sleep when I wanted to when I was a teacher was always a huge reason why I felt dissatisfied doing it. Schools here start so damn early (7 or 7:30 AM) and since I didn’t live close to the schools where I taught, I always had to get to bed by 10 PM so I could wake up at 5 AM (and if you look at the time in which this posted you can see how much I love staying up late and, consequently, sleeping in). So tutoring providing me the time to structure my life the way I want has been truly miraculous and makes me really happy. But this time issue has manifested itself when working with students in less miraculous ways.

tinsel1

I got word today that a student I’ve been tutoring since February did not pass her state exam; this is bad news because it is what I was hired to help her with. Not only that, but she failed by a wide margin; she wasn’t even close to passing, and in fact did worse this year than she did last year when she took the exam and also failed. After working through my guilt and panic about how I failed to help her, I realized many things (including the fact that while I clearly didn’tget her to where she needed to be before this test, it was not all my fault and I can find ways to remedy the parts of the situation which are my responsibility). I also had a conference with the parents of another student I tutor recently, and when they requested to meet with me I had this moment of realizing that I, in fact, wasn’t really sure what to tell them about the kid’s progress, because I hadn’t really been monitoring it all that much. I was basically showing up every week, doing some tutoring, and leaving, without putting nearly the proper amount of forethought and planning into the process. As such, I at first didn’t feel like I could tell the parents where the kid was progressing and where he was still behind. This was not at all a good sign.

orange3

Wig and shirt in original color

Now, I ended up going back to my notes that I’d made on the kid when I first started tutoring with him, then I pulled out my calendar as well as the work we’d done and I’d kept in a folder (thank God) and, from all that information, managed to pull together and good summary of where we were, where we were headed, what weaknesses he still had, and how we might get there. Fortunately, the parents agreed with me, and there were no complaints (in fact, they ended up asking me to tutor their younger child next year, too). The meeting worked out fine, but it was the first wake-up call for me that as a tutor I need to be sure I am not just teaching, but also evaluating and assessing my students and making plans of action for progress – something that is naturally worked into the curricuum of a teacher, and is fact often dictated by administraton, but as a tutor there’s no authority around breathing down my neck to make sure I’m doing what I should be doing to address the needs of my students. And especially since my first few clients were kids who mainly just needed me to help them with homework, it makes sense it would take me a while to reach this realization, becuase my first few clients didn’t require me to plan and evaluate (and still don’t).

peachandblue

In thinking through what happened with the girl who failed, I realized our sessions shared a similarity with my sessions with the other kiddo: I have a tendency to plan for my lessons in relation to time more than content. This is a holdover habit from teaching: when I taught 5 classes of 30 each a day, I became obsessed with time, because I believed the key to a well-behaved classroom was keeping everyone busy (this is actually true, at least in part). Therefore, my lesson plans had to teach concepts to kids, sure, but they also had to occupy an entire 55-minute segment of time, and they had to do that every single day or I was not comfortable. So every plan I made involved a time breakdown – how many minutes would the warm-up take? What about the reading? And the quiz? Then what does that all add up to? And if the things I planned did not equal 55 minutes, well then, I planned ways to pad the lesson and in some cases just kill time with busywork. I was a good teacher with some of the best-behaved classes you’ve ever seen (subs always loved to work in my classroom because the kids were so well-trained and I kept them occupied every second with activity) but it is not at all the way I should be approaching tutoring. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Consciously or not, I have kept my time-management attitude that makes KEEPING THEM BUSY a priority  over everything else, and well, it’s not a good look for any of us.

fascinator2

I’ve been planning my tutoring lessons from this stance of: OK, what can I do that will fill an hour? And then, my second thought has been, OK, what do they need to learn and how will I teach it? And that hasn’t been the right approach. Much like with the boy whose parents asked for a conference, when I look back over my work with the girl who failed her exam I can see where at times, I worked on lessons with her that weren’t all that good at addressing her needs but were good at filling the time slot I was getting paid for. I never did this consciously, it’s just so ingrained in me to panic at even the thought of ‘not having enough to do’ that I was making this a priority without noticing it. And in the case of the girl who failed, I should have spent more time concerning myself with what she was going to learn from an activity than concerning myself with whether or not the activity would fill the time slot. It’s not that I wasn’t considering the content at all, it’s just that my perspective was warped towards filing time so the content wasn’t getting the focus it needed.

goldandred1

I am certainly not proud of this, and I’ve spoken already with the mother and am going to do better moving forward. This is all still trial-and-error, live-and-learn stuff for me right now, and I am comforted by the thought that I didn’t do this intentionally and that my heart is and has always been in the right place. But I definitely need to do better. We have a meeting set up with her teacher right now, because I want to see what observations the girl’s teacher has and if they match up with mine.

tall1

As I said, there are other reasons the girl failed that are not on my shoulders, but at least in part I need to learn from this and do better moving forward. It’s amazing to me how many unspoken assumptions I have made about this whole tutoring thing without questioning whether or not they are accurate at all; I want to go easy on myself because I am new at this and still learning, but the idea that I didn’t do more to help this girl pass her state exam is an awful feeling nonetheless (again, it isn’t all my fault and there are a lot of other circumstances in play, but I don’t want to come off like I’m making a bunch of excuses so I’m not mentioning them).

fascinator1

And in general, I need to watch my obsession with time and check to make sure I am not making decisions from that perspective – in all aspects of my life and career, and not just the ways I’ve mentioned here, because there are a lot of other ways in which this obsession sets me back. It’s something I do in other areas, also, and those other areas also need work, but that’s probably a post for another time. Especially since I’m finally out of photos to share.

A Few Faves

This morning, I decided to go check out the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Now that I can set my own schedule, I’ve decided to give myself one free day during the week when I don’t work, and to spend that day doing at least one fun and interesting thing around town. Okay, so I’ve given myself two days where I don’t tutor. Well, three, actually. OK, so I’m tutoring Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays only. Moving on.

mueck

The point is, I still kinda consider Tuesday my ‘me’ day, for some reason, but so far I’ve just spent ‘me’ days shopping, so I decided to do something more cultural and less expensive this week and go to our world-class art museum that I only visit about once every five years even though it’s only about 30 minutes away. Except today. Today it was more like an hour away, and even when I finally got there, the parking lot wasn’t just full – it was CLOSED due to the lack of spaces. WTF? On a Tuesday at 10:30 AM? And this was after driving in a solid, slow stream of traffic all the way in to town from the suburbs where I live – VERY unusual for late morning driving, at least from what I have learned after driving in to the Galleria every other Tuesday since February. For the life of me, I still have no idea why traffic was so heavy (no accidents or road closures reported or visible at any point along the way) or why the museum was so full (except that I do think Tuesdays are free admission, at least they were the last time I visited five years ago).

The upshot of this is, I made a U-turn once I saw the museum crowds and, since I didn’t have any backup plans, I ended up at the Galleria again. But hey, I at least tried to do something different. Better luck next time, I guess.

mfah-3

This got me to thinking about sharing some favorite things here – mostly because on this latest shopping trip I actually bought duplicates of the stuff I bought the last time I was there, because the things I bought last time were so awesome. So when I got home, I took some quick snaps of a few things, and here they are!

faves1

When I first started tutoring, I would still ‘dress up’ to go work with students – I put ‘dress up’ in quotes because my version of dressing up is pretty casual by most people’s standards. Basically, dressing up means not wearing jeans. But – and this really cannot be overstated – I LOVE JEANS. When I was in grad school (which was the last extended period of time when I wasn’t working  in a school) I wore nothing but jeans and t-shirts for two and a half years, and I dreaded having to buy a whole new wardrobe when going back to work as a counselor. I’ve always dreamed of the time in the future when I could wear nothing but jeans and tee shirts every day, and as time has gone by, as a tutor I’ve come to realize that for the most part, I don’t see much of the parents whose kids I tutor, and even when I do, they don’t much care what I’m wearing as long as I’m helping their kids. So yeah – I’ve finally gotten to where I can wear whatever jeans and top I feel like wearing every single day, and I gotta tell ya, it’s grand. It’s everything I always dreamed it would be.

city slicker

So first up is this Free People City Slicker Tunic. It’s soft and light but not transparent, and it’s really big and long but it has these long slits on the side that keep it from looking too big and boxy. The first one I bought has a graphic print on it that kind of makes it look a little like a pajama top, but it’s still cute, and I was wearing it so much that I eventually bought it in solid gray. Then the olive green. And today, I got the white – and yes, I was wearing the gray one when I bought the white one. I usually pair these tees with a skinny jean, and believe it or not, even though it’s just a simple tee it always gets a lot of compliments. And it’s already ridiculously hot here, even though it’s just April, so the fact that these are really soft and light means I can wear them all through summer.

faves2

Yikes, you think I’d know by now to never retract my head like that in a photo because it makes my chin disappear, but I still do it at times

Now, a few things about jeans – first off, several months ago I discovered the NYDJ brand at Nordstrom, and yeah, they are kinda mom-jean-ish (OK, so they’re VERY mom-jean-ish) but dang, they are comfortable as hell. And, they really fit my curves well – my hips are much larger than my waist, and most jeans will gap way out at the waist if they fit over my butt, and I have to get them altered. I can always rely on Loft curvy fit denim to fit me properly (and I have some of those on in another photo below) but lately their jeans have been pretty boring. Actually, I find NYDJ jeans to be boring too, but they’re even more comfy and better-fitting than Loft, so that’s something. They stretch like crazy without losing shape, which is key – and I love how lightweight they are (I hate heavy-weighted denim). In fact, it’s recommended to size down when wearing these, and I have found that to be a good recommendation. In a non-curvy fit jean I am a 4, but I can wear any fit of the NYDJs in a 2 and I am good to go – no need to worry about that dreaded waist gap in the back.

nydj

She may be a mom, but she’s a comfy mom. And flexible!

But remember how I said they were also kinda boring? Because I don’t just love jeans – I love faded, holey, ripped-to-shreds jeans. Unfortunately, the more faded, holey, and ripped-to-shreds a pair of jeans is nowadays, the more it costs, and they generally aren’t very big sellers for a company like NYDJ or Loft. So – back to the photos of me in my City Slicker Tunic up there – what I did was order a pair of NYDJ jeans from eBay (crazy good deals on their jeans can be found there – over $100 at a store or $30 on eBay? I’ll take eBay, thanks) then I cut them to the ankle, snipped a hole in the knee, and rubbed a big ol’ nail file over them everywhere I snipped ’em to get the fraying going, since frayed hems and holes are a big thing right now that I, of course, love. And voila! Non-mom jeans that are super-comfy to boot.

faves3

Got these bright blue Birkenstocks on eBay too – $100 at Free People vs. $50 on eBay, and they were brand new! 

Speaking of frayed hems and ripped knees, this black pair of favorite jeans I got at Free People, along with the collegiate tee. These were the first jeans to start me on my ripped-hem obsession; most of FP jeans don’t have stretch and don’t fit me very well; they do NOT have a curvy cut and are not made for moms, so I usually have to size way up and then the waist gap isn’t worth the bother (yeah, I can get that altered, but why bother when NYDJ or Loft will fit me better from the start?). Surprisingly, though, these had stretch in them, and my normal size (4) actually FIT and were comfortable. I loved these so much that I ended up buying two more pair online a few weeks later – and wouldn’t you know that both of those, in the same size, were sausage-level tight? Turns out only this color is super-stretchy; go figure. I can actually wear the other two pair, but they’re pretty snug and not all that comfy, so in the end, I checked out eBay again and found a THIRD pair there for a reasonable price in a size 6 and bought those. Then I got the idea to mimic the look of these with my cheap NYDJ eBay bargain pair, so yes – in the past two months I’ve acquired at least FIVE PAIR of frayed hem holey jeans. I know, it’s ridiculous. But at least I can actually wear three of them!

faves4

The t-shirt is another Free People one – the Dream Player tee. I’m not sure why I’m into these faux-collegiate tees lately; it makes very little sense, seeing as I’m far from being collegiate or sporty. I think it’s the softness and the worn, vintage quality of them, as well as all these awesome colors. I mean, yellow and blue on one tee? Yes, please. My only complaint about this one is that the neck is really wide and falls down a lot; I’ve gotten to where if I have to wear a camisole under something I just forgo the bra. I’m just an a-cup anyway, so it’s not like anyone can tell, and having bra straps showing from underneath a camisole strap is a HUGE pet peeve of mine, so now I just wear the cami and leave it at that. I actually got into the habit of doing this back when I had shingles and couldn’t wear a bra due to the pain; I found these AMAZINGLY SOFT camisoles at Downeast Basics that you can get for a song; they are very soft, and long so they don’t ride up, and they’re only $9.99 full price but can often be bought on sale for less. Once I realized I could go braless under a camisole and no one would care, I’ve been doing it regularly. So yeah, not only am I now wearing ripped up jeans and collegiate tees while I’m tutoring students, I’m also not wearing a bra. Ah, the joys of being your own boss…classy!

fp_collage2

I waited for this tee to go on sale since it was pricey; because I waited, it’s more of a winter tee so it will be too warm to wear it here soon. For now, I can still get away with it, and I’ve worn the hell out of it because it’s SOOO SOFT. And yeah, that is an extra-small – their tees tend to run large while their pants run small. Go figure. I got those jeans from Loft recently, by the way, and they are actually not boring! Frayed hem and a big fat cuff – nice.

Now, let’s talk quickly about shoes:

faves10

I am not a huge ballet flat person; they look cute, but it always amazes me how a shoe can be styled after a BALLET SHOE – which has to be the softest, most comfortable shoe in the damn world – and be SO. STIFF. and UNCOMFORTABLE. Ballet flats have let me down one too many times, and for the most part I refuse to even give them the time of day anymore. Not only are they usually stiff and painful, but why are they also so LOUD? What’s with the stiff, flat, noisy soles on those things? I mean, hello – they are a BALLET FLAT, not a TAP SHOE FLAT, amIright?! Anyway, while waiting for a friend to return a pair of shoes at Nordstrom recently, I wandered over to a corner where these Steve Madden flats were sort of shoved onto a shelf with some random Topshop shoes – you know how there’s always a few random shoes stuck on shelves way in the back by the register like afterthoughts, and you just know no one ever even sees them, and when you pick them up you have to blow dust off them and everything? Well, I saw these, and when I picked the shoe up it felt just like a ballet flat – super soft, sole and all – so I had to give them a try. Of course they fit like a dream and felt like one as well, and the black studded straps really give them a unique, punky look. Not only that, but – THEY’S CHEAP, Y’ALL! The ones I got at Nordy’s were around $60, and after wearing them a few times I decided I had to have another pair, which I found online for $45. I love the pink the best, but I also figured having a black pair wouldn’t hurt, and I may grab the gray pair too Zappos has too. I mean, ballet flats really never go out of style, and this is the only kind I’ve ever really liked, so why not?

twirls

Next up, the Teva flatform:

faves9

Much like ballet flats, I love the look of flatform sandals and have tried many variations of them over the years; all of them have been awful. They tend to be clunky, heavy, and hard to walk in, but these Tevas are super-light and quite comfy. I first saw them at – where else – Free People, but ended up getting mine from Zappos for faster shipping. When it comes to sandals, my Birkenstocks are still my go-to shoes, but these are nice for something different. They come in this style, which is only $60 and has the standard cloth-ribbon velcro straps of a regular Teva, or, for $40 more you can get the ‘crafted’ version which is leather. I opted for the cheaper ones at first, figuring I could get the leather ones if I decided I liked them, but I actually prefer these cloth ones as the straps are comfy with a lot of give, and I suspect the leather ones would be more stiff and heavy. The only down side to these is the plastic buckles can kind of rub into the skin after a while, and the velcro on the straps can get itchy, but so far I haven’t had too many issues with either one of these things. I just probably won’t wear them anywhere I’m going to do any major walking.

And now – Pom Poms!

faves7

You can’t really see it, but that’s another Free People tee I’m wearing

Much as I love comfy jeans and tees, I also love comfy necklaces made out of interesting materials that are light and fun – one of my favorite necklaces is in the very first pics on this page; it’s several strands of braided cloth, and even though it’s big it’s super-light to wear and loads of fun. I stumbled across the Bauble Bar turquoise pom-pom necklace at Nordstrom (again) on one of my recent Galleria outings, and instantly it became a favorite. So of course, I had to go online and see if there were any more. I just got the black necklace in the mail, and picked up the bracelet when I was out today. I’m seeing quite a few pom-pom details on jewelry and hair accessories and purses (as Catherine mentions in this blog post) lately, so perhaps I’m just too easily influenced by advertising. Who knows – but in my latest perusal of the Free People website (which I visit for updates at least once a week) I spied this little number and just HAD to snag one, for photos if nothing else.

pom

OK, almost done now, I swear. Last item:

Recently I discovered I had enough hair to pull into a bun, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done with it ever since. A few weeks ago when I was shopping at – you guessed it – NORDSTROM, I picked up a few of these little hair bands called invisibobbles, just because with my baby-fine hair I’m always on the lookout for hair accessories that can actually get a grip on it and hold it in place. And man, I really love these little thingies.

bobble

I didn’t really get why the company called them “traceless” at first, but apparently that means these don’t leave a big ‘dent’ in your hair when you wear them all day and take your ponytail out at night. That’s never been a big problem for me anyway, since my hair is so fine, so I can’t really speak to whether or not they actually do that (or don’t do it, I guess). But I do find that they have a hell of a good grip and will keep my hair held in a bun all day long without fail, and their claim to not give you a headache seems to hold up, too – although again, wearing my hair up all day is new to me in general, so I don’t know if other hair bands would have given me a headache more than this one does. But I can definitely say I don’t have a headache with these, and I love them. The “invisi” part of the name is confusing to me, though, since it implies it’s supposed to be invisible in the hair, I think (?), but I mean, you can see them. So there’s that. And they also come in a really cute little box that has all sorts of cute artwork and stuff all over them, so there’s that too.

In closing, I also bought a really cute pair of denim (of course!) flares today, at (of course) Free People, but I had to take them in to get them hemmed since they’re too long so I don’t have a photo of them. Instead, I stole a screen shot of them from the FP website, so I’ll close this post out by showing you a photo of a teenager’s butt. You’re welcome.

flares

Oh and also – I did finally decide to buy that Jon Renau Sarah wig that was so crazy expensive but also looked soooo pretty, and it turns out it’s already on backorder until June 30th. So that’s a no-go for me. Oh well. You’ll have to find your review of Sarah elsewhere!

Forward, March

MAN did I process a ton of photos last month! So many that I doubt I have enough to say about them to fill the post if I upload them all here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.

WIF1

This is a wig I bought from wigisfashion.com. Not bad for the price but the shipping took forever.

The first discovery I made in March involves using my laptop as a live view screen when shooting photos. I had some distant knowledge of the fact that I could connect my laptop to my camera and view the photos on my monitor after they had been taken, but for some reason I never investigated this far enough to learn that I could actually use my latop as a live view LCD screen and see what a photo was going to look like before taking it. Discovering this was a pretty big deal, since getting my focus and framing right has always been a major problem when shooting self-portraits.

liveview2

This is mostly my own hair, but I do have a little clip around the bun that has spiky hair attached. it’s a really easy way to add a little more oomph to an updo. It’s by HairDo and is pretty easy to find – Ulta has them here

After one particular shoot where so many good shots were ruined by either being out of focus or out of the frame, I became obsessed with getting a new camera that had an articulating screen, like my little Sony vidcam has, so that I could see the shots I was about to take when using my remote. In all my researching (which was frustrating, because higher-quality DSLRs don’t use them) I finally stumbled across some instructional videos showing how to use a laptop as an LCD screen and see what you’re going to shoot in a live-view mode. In short, this was a huge leap forward for me as a photographer, because it meant I could finally take shots of myself without purely guessing whether or not I was framed and focused properly.

liveview1

Figuring out where to aim the camera and then managing to lie down in the proper spot is a real bitch when using a remote. Normally by the time I get it right, I am no longer smiling like I am here.

The shot above is a great example of this, as taking a picture of myself lying down, when working blind from a remote trigger, had been impossible before, but with the use of the laptop screen to get into the frame properly, I was not only able to pull it off, but to get myself focused beautifully. And this was using my 85mm lens, by the way, which is already a tough one to focus properly for self-portraits.

liveview7

It’s not a perfect method, and I don’t think it’s useful in all situations. If what I want to do is fling a wig around and take photos that capture the movement of the hair, taking the time to get the shot framed properly on the live-view screen isn’t worth the trouble since I don’t have a set idea of what I’m going for anyway and tend to pull the focus back far enough to get all of me in the frame no matter what; full-length and jumping shots probably also don’t need the extra bother to get framed right either. But definitely any portrait where I want to pose in a manner other than standing and looking straight at the camera are much easier to pull off this way.

liveview6

Just another test shot using the laptop – one issue is that what I see on the laptop isn’t flipped, so when I move left it appears on the screen like I am moving right, which is a MAJOR bitch to manage. 

I can not only see the shot I’m about to take before I take it, but I can also color-balance the shot right there on my monitor, which is pretty awesome. And I can set the focus where I want it, although this is tricky when shooting self-portraits and I still miss the mark at times.

liveview5

Fake ponytail from HairDo that I hated – it’s hard to apply and so heavy it falls right off. So I wrapped it on my head like a dead animal and took some photos, then threw it away. It’s useless. 

I will say using this method is a completely different way to shoot than I am accustomed to, which is why I’ve realized it’s not necessary in every situation.  First of all, there’s the issue of my eyesight again – yes, I can see exactly where I am going to be in the shot, set the focus, and adjust the white balance. But at some point, I have to take off my glasses and hit the trigger, and many times that still messes me up. Moving even the slightest bit from when I set up the shot via live view can screw up the shot by shifting me out of focus or off the mark I was going for; this happens more than you would imagine just by taking off my glasses and setting them down (which is why in all these awesomely-focused shots I am wearing my glasses) .

liveview4

Fake bun, also from HairDo. This one is OK as it’s a banana clip, which is what I prefer for ease of use – but matching the color of hairpieces to the color of my hair is always a problem, which is why I don’t normally use them.

And, I am very used to my shoots being free-wheeling affairs, where I move about a lot and take a ton of shots in the hope that at least a few of them will end up being usable; this laptop live view process is completely different in that each shot is carefully constructed and posed before I click the shutter. So it feels much more planned and methodical than what I’m used to doing. And the truth is, sometimes I don’t have much of a plan for what I’m going to shoot, which can make working this way frustrating. So, this is a good technique for me to keep in mind for self-portraits, but not necessarily something I need to use every time. I will say that while it slows down the actual shooting part of the process, and makes me think and plan more about what I’m doing than I’m sometimes comfortable with, it makes the processing part quicker because another benefit to hooking the laptop up to the camera while I shoot is that the program immediately downloads the shots to my hard drive as soon as I take them.

orangegray

Random old shot I processed at some point this month. I don’t really care for it.

This means I can stop during the middle of the shoot and pull a photo into my RAW processing software to mess around with it and be sure the shoot is headed in the right direction – is the makeup right, is the lighting working, is the color balance correct, etc. Again, while this is great on one hand, it slows me down on the other, and makes a shoot more about precision than spontaneity. Working this way is slow on a shot-by-shot basis, and I end up taking a LOT less shots as a result, because every step of the way is slowed down and analyzed rather than being evaluated after the fact. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s not always what a shoot requires, so it’s made me think more ahead of time about what I’m trying to do and how best to do it – which mostly serves to remind me how little technical knowledge I really have about what I’m doing at all. My lack of real skill isn’t so evident when I’m just screwing around and worrying about the end results later. Oh well.

split1

On the processing end, I got the idea one night to play around with taking two photos of myself and merging them into one shot, as you can see here. This is a bit tricky, since I need to find two shots of myself where my head is positioned almost exactly the same, and in order to really work the mouth needs to be similar, too (in fact, in this one I just used the full mouth from one of the shots, since in the two separate portraits they didn’t match up). In the end, I wasn’t super-thrilled with this first effort, since the two sides I put together don’t really make much sense in one photo – I don’t think the two looks play off each other in any meaningful or interesting way, but hey, it was nice practice. Getting two shots where my face was positioned close enough to match each other was harder than I thought it would be, so in the end I just went with what I could find. Moving on.

spin1a

What this experiment really led to was me taking one portrait shot, then cropping it in half and mirroring that side by flipping and pasting it onto the original. In this way, I could create some really cool symmetry and interesting shapes, particularly out of flowy wig shots.

fliptest1

Harder to do when the eyes are looking to the side like this than in the one above where I am looking dead ahead

As with the live view screen on my laptop issue, I’m not sure why  I never thought of this before, but for whatever reason I never had, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do. Especially when I have SO MANY wig-flow shots where there’s some cool shape created on one side of the wig that was originally ruined by something boring happening on the other side.

mirrortest

I’ve already edited this photo as an original but I loved how the hair moved on that right side so much edited it again as a mirrored shot. Also, from a different picture I added those waves around the hairline because in the original the hairline was really wiggy.

It also makes my face just a little bit freaky, which I am always down for. Going back and looking at old photos where I can apply this technique has been a real eye-opener; a LOT of lost shots that I never processed because that one interesting detail wasn’t enough to save the whole thing can now be seen in a new light.

hood1

For example, the shot above, before it was mirrored, was pretty boring. It was a test shot for some fabric I thought about using (the fabric is actually a shawl from Anthropologie); I just draped it over my head and hit the shutter, and on one side it was hanging down awkwardly and my face was really plain. But once I mirrored and flipped it, holy cow – it looked REALLY cool. So, for the past week, I’ve been seeking out old photos to flip and mirror – but then I got distracted by another discovery!

candacemarch5

A few years ago, I did a big shoot with my friend Candace where I rented out a studio and took a ton of shots. I processed quite a few at the time, but then I lost track of the folder on my hard drive and at some point assumed I’d deleted it or lost it somehow and that all those additional photos were dead to me forever. I keep all my originals on external hard drives, and although I’d combed through them looking for this set I’d never found it – I have thousands upon thousands of old photos, though, so the fact that this one eluded me when I was looking for it specifically isn’t much of surprise.

candacemarch1

I was thrilled to find it though; not only is my friend is ridiculously photogenic, obviously, but she is also game for anything and comes up with really creative ideas for posing so that all I have to do is shoot. She also doesn’t mind at all if I edit her photos to near-unrecognizable proportions (although she does tell me that those pics freak out her kids a bit, LOL).

candacemarch3

Candace has what I think of as an ‘anime’ face – big, round, wide-set eyes, a round face shape, and narrow, really full lips. After working with my own face for so long, it’s really interesting to work with someone else’s, especially someone who shares exactly ZERO similarities with my own face. I actually had to stop myself from over-editing her eyes and mouth because those are two areas that I work the most on my own face –  my eyes are small and close-set, and my lips are really thin, but I am amazed at how rather perfect this woman’s lips are naturally. I did no enhancement to them in these photos AT ALL; neither did they require any lipstick as they are naturally a rosy red.

candacemarch4

Other things I tend to notice when working on portraits: Candace has a really interesting nose. It’s long and narrow, but the tip of it is an almost perfect upside-down triangle, again, almost the opposite of my rather short and pudgy one. In fact, in looking at and working with the different parts of her face, I’m miffed as to how anyone could accuse of being sisters, or mother (me) and daughter (her) as sometimes happens. There just seriously isn’t one facial characteristic we have in common!

candacemarch2

Although I felt the need to do a lot less ‘work’ on her natural state than I do myself, I of course couldn’t help myself from doing some retouching and mucking around. And since I was finally working with a different face, I made a few before and after collages for the hell of it:

can_collage2

Candace’s skin is significantly younger than mine – she is 33 and I am 47 – so skin retouching was MUCH easier, and where my complexion tends to be sallow, her skin tone is very peachy in tone. In a lot of shots, she had one eye that tended to squint more than the other – something I’ve noticed in my own photos, too – so I had to work a bit to even that out, and I lifted her eyebrows in a few shots like I do to a lot of my own; it makes the subject look younger and also makes the eyes look more expressive. It can give the photo a odd or phony quality, though, so on someone less open to my manipulations I wouldn’t have done it, but I knew she wouldn’t mind.

can_collage1

We shot these photos in March of 2014, and it was already quite warm outside, but I’d brought along that funky faux-fur vest anyway, and after the shoot was done Candace threw it on and we took some quick pics in the alley behind the photo studio. It was the middle of the day, so the light was horrid in  the original, but I managed to play around with it until I got a goth-y, winter-y look I liked. In the portrait, I really wanted to make her look like a china doll, so I widened her face to make it more round and lifted the brows again. I wanted to transform her into a total blonde, but when I went too light it looked fake, so I settled for a lighter brown and then added tons of light and texture to give the photo an antique quality.

So, that’s it for the photos I’ve been working on lately, and I have a lot more face-flipping and Candace-editing that I want to do. Also, in spite of my damn self I am REALLY DYING to try this new Jon Renau Sarah wig that retails for a ridiculous price; I didn’t notice originally that it was a fully hand-tied cap, so that explains the crazy $450 price tag a little bit (but not much). Name Brand Wigs has a 30% off sale going on right now, and I am super-tempted to buy one even though at 30% off it’s still a stupid amount of money for a synthetic wig. In fact, I haven’t been tempted to try either a Renau or a Raquel Welch in a long time due to their price increases, but man, that Sarah is really calling to me. I’m about 99% convinced at this point that I need to try her, so a new wig video may be on it’s way in the next week or two. I think I can justify it if I buy it in a really photogenic color and tell myself I can use all that long wavy length in photos (which is true). Stay tuned!

Video Wig Review: Brittaney by Envy in Amaretto and Cream

First of all, I didn’t spell the name right in the video – but honestly, of all the spellings I’ve ever seen of this name, “Brittaney” is not one of them. So kinda not my fault. Moving on.

This was the second video I shot using a different camera, settings, etc. and for whatever reason, it came out a lot better than Madison did. I am nothing when it comes to video if not inconsistent. Double negatives and all!

Anyway, this is a pretty wig but not much like the promo photos. The more I look at it the more it reminds me of Carrie by Noriko, but with the added monofilament top.

Video Wig Review: Madison by Envy in Amaretto and Cream

Filming video will vex me forever.

I am constantly trying to improve the quality of my videos, even though no one cares but me. The best I ever got at it was using my Canon 7D and specialized settings I meticulously researched online; but at the time getting the proper focus was a nightmare because I have no way of seeing what I’m filming with that camera (no articulating screen like my crappy little Sony has) and it didn’t have auto-focus while filming. I think my SL1 has autofocus, but I literally just thought of that right now and will have to look it up and see. It’s always like that with me when it comes to filming – I am torn between wanting to do it properly and just getting the damn video made, already, and in the end I usually land somewhere in the middle of those two.

Part of me thinks if I would just stop trying so hard, turn the damn camera on, and hit record everything would be fine, because that’s what everyone else seems to do and I swear their videos look better than mine – but then there’s always something that bothers me when I go to edit and I get frustrated. Color balance, for example. This is something I think most wig reviewers don’t think much about, but it is something I’m always determined to get right, and since I don’t know what I’m doing I think I make things worse rather than better. I always end up looking too warm no matter what I do, even with the auto white balance I think other people use. It will bother me forever. Grr.

And a lot of people ask me why I use these backdrops when I film instead of just shooting with the room around me. There are a lot of answers to that question, but the main one is that there aren’t many spaces at all in my house that are good for filming, for various reasons, and the one space that’s most convenient is the same space where I’ve been hanging backdrops for photo shoots for years, and the honest truth is that the wall is a damn MESS. So many backdrops hung up there and different racks and rods and stands have banged up against it, that it’s really horrible looking – just loaded with holes of all sizes and scraped paint and metal smudges everywhere. I just can’t bear for it to show so I cover it up; it has some sort of backdrop draped over it all the time now, even when I’m not shooting!

Which leads me to the ridiculous backdrop I am using here – I bought yet another type of backdrop stand that I wanted to test out, but before I invested in an expensive muslin I decided to try a cheapie out to be sure I liked the stand and wanted to keep it; this one was the cheapest and could ship quickly, so I bought it even though it’s dorky. I like the new stand, so I’m going to invest in some better backdrops for it eventually.

OK, enough about all of that. Here’s my video of Madison by Envy, filmed using some new software that allows me to use a live view mode on my laptop with my 7D while I film, instead of my old Sony camcorder. I’m still too orange, and overall I’m not sure the quality came out any better this way than it does with the Sony, but what’s done is done. And it has a dorky backdrop. Oh well. The wig is fine, by the way but I doubt I will keep it – so let me know if you’re interested in the comments. 🙂