COVID-365 Day 6

STORY OF A SHUTDOWN!
We bought this about a month ago and my husband put it all together – well, I did have to help him assemble the console but the technology was his responsibility. I do know how to start up the system and play pinball, but that’s about it. However, I am a pretty good pinball player! I don’t even know how many tables this thing has as I haven’t played them all yet, but it’s a hell of a nice way to pass the time and holds a lot of nostalgia for both of us.

Photo No-Go

As I may have mentioned previously, one of my bright ideas I had about getting into coloring pages was to use my own photos as pages to color. However this turned out to be much more challenging than I expected.

So obviously, this doesn’t work. Coloring greyscale images is actually a thing, but it’s not my thing at all. One of the coloring books I bought was in greyscale without me realizing it, and in researching online how I could color the pages I discovered greyscale coloring usually is done with colored pencils, which isn’t a medium I enjoy working with at all. It can be beautiful though:

an example of greyscale coloring

Since I wasn’t interested in that process, I started thinking of ways I could create a more typical coloring page out of my pictures. I did some research online and found a few different techniques, but none of them really created an actual coloring page with clear lines. Every suggested process I tried ended up looking something like this:

My next big idea was to convert the image into this rather messy format, print it out, and then trace it keeping only the lines I want. This seemed to be a decent solution, but for some reason it still wasn’t working for me:

It’s OK, but it still didn’t satisfy me, plus I found the whole process boring. From transforming the photos in Photoshop to figuring out what lines to trace, it just wasn’t any fun and I still didn’t feel happy with the results.

This was my second attempt
And the traced result. I actually did end up coloring this one.

Choosing which lines to keep and which to leave out was tricky; I always felt like I still had too many lines and they got in the way when I was trying to color. And the lines all felt ‘weak’ and rickety and difficult to color within for some reason. Compare my attempts to one of my coloring pages that has a similar image:

Why is this so much better? I can’t explain it, I just know that it is.

I even found some free sites online where you could upload a picture and the software claimed it could convert it into a coloring page, but guess what – all those sites used the exact same processes I had used on my own and disliked. So I pretty much gave up and decided I just wasn’t going to be able to color my own photos. No big deal – I had plenty of other stuff to work with. But a few weeks later I thought perhaps I could find someone on Etsy who had the capacity to covert photos; lo and behold I found the perfect person! It’s an artist with a shop there called MGSCustomArt, and she hit it straight out of the park!

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

See how much more satisfying this is? I swear to God I never could have done this and I’m still amazed at how good this artist is at it herself. I sent her three photos the first time, and it took about two weeks to get them back, which was fine. I just ordered another print from her today and sent it along to her as well.

She charges $10 a page, which I know sounds like a lot when you can buy a whole coloring book for $6, but to me having my own photos looking like real, actual coloring pages with exactly the right lines and clarity while STILL looking like ME is totally worth it! She has a lot of positive reviews at her Etsy site with uploads of other people’s pictures, so you can go there and see samples of other photos she’s transformed. Lots of people have had more personal photos than these turned into coloring pages – pictures with family, friends, or pets – and they all look great!

I just sent this one off to get converted also

So, if this is ever something you’ve been interested in doing, give MGSCustomArt some love because she is the best I’ve found. I have never seen anything even close to what she can do!

Photo-19

I’ve decided to try another 365 photo a day challenge – this is a way for me to approach photography differently as well as give me something else creative to do while still being stuck at home. Coloring is fun and all, but not going anywhere except to pick up groceries once a week has given me a lot of nervous energy to burn.

For this project, I am going to shoot only in monochrome, and everything will be taken in JPEG instead of raw format. The idea is that this will force me to think differently about the photos I take, and move me in a different direction. It should also eliminate the issues that slowed me down the last time I tried a 365 photo a day project – shooting in color and in raw prompted me to do WAY too much editing of the photos. I got obsessed about the colors being just right, and often ended up over-processing the shots until they looked crappy. It also took a ton of time which made the whole thing laborious.

I think changing the process this way will help me see differently in an environment I’ve been stuck in for way too long and have become terribly over-familiar with. Removing the option of obsessing over color and processing makes me ‘see’ my environment differently, and I’m finding all sorts of little things to take pics of in the coming days. How well this will be working by day 300 is anyone’s guess, but I’m willing to give it a go. I also think I can use photography to tell some sort of story of this time we’re all dealing with – IF, like me, you are staying home as much as possible.

This is a short little update I know, but it’s all I have time for right now. I may just upload a pic a day here under a new tag and add a link to the 365 photos on the menu, but I do still have other things I’d like to share about my coloring soon, especially about how I finally managed to turn my photos into good coloring pages (hint: it involved finding someone else to do the transforming). But I don’t have time to write that all up now so I’ll get to it later. Stay safe everyone!

Don’t Be Gel-ly

Hello my fellow homebound, hopefully healthy hopefuls! I am here with some more ramblings about my coloring obsession, and anything else that comes to mind while I’m writing about that, so let’s get to it. 

Coloring Tools – Gel Pens!

I should probably start by talking more about gel pens, since it’s related to the title. I still love coloring with gel pens, and I am learning to do shading and blending with them – although that has been a challenge, and one I am just beginning to master after weeks of experimenting.

The shading isn’t great, but I’m getting there.

After working with some different brands, I’ve decided that my favorite set is actually the inexpensive Fiskars 48-pen set I mentioned in my last post. While the Gelly Roll Pens offer the smoothest coloring experience, the set of them I purchased just has so many pens in it that I find useless and icky, which is a bummer considering the high price point, so it’s actually the Fiskars set that I’ve used the most, and have already had to repurchase because I’ve completely used up many of the colors.

Still working on this one, obviously – but it has all the elements I enjoy, both color-wise and image-wise. 

In general I’ve learned that I prefer the opaque gel pens in either pastel or neon colors, with the glitters close behind. I really loathe metallic gels, and that Gelly Roll set I purchased has a TON of them, which is one of the reasons it’s a big letdown for me. Out of the six different styles of gel pens included in that set, three of them are metallics, so, ugh. I tossed the card included with the set that listed how many of each style there are, and since I’ve broken the set down and scattered them all to the winds, I wasn’t going to hunt them all down and count them, but I can say that the Fiskars set only has about nine pens total that are metallic, and that is WAY less than I got stuck with from the Gelly Rolls. Plus, the Fiskars pack has some specialty pens that are actually cool, instead of the Gelly Roll set that only has a handful of specialty pens and that are, as already mentioned, metallic. 

These are what Fiskars calls “color changing pens” – a description that’s a bit misleading, and that has led to a fair amount of negative reviews about these particular pens in the set. Most people don’t like them because they don’t change color quickly, and if not used properly the different inks will blend together into an unpleasant muddy gray. For some reason, I never had problems using these pens, probably because my style of coloring works well with what they can do. I think a lot of people use gel pens to write, and these would be a real disappointment in that case because you need to cover large swaths of space to get the color-changing effect out of these. For example:

OK now – this was an experiment page that I didn’t color too carefully, and I made some weird choices here because, again, I was just messing around; but you can see how these pens WILL change color over time, just not right away. And once the pen color has changed, it’s not going back to the previous color, which is also an expectation people have that disappoints them, I think. It takes a LOT of coloring to get the colors to change, and when they do the change is gradual, so since buying my first Fiskars set in May I have already completely used up most of these (there are only 5 in the whole set, one each in yellow, orange, green, purple, and blue). In fact, it was primarily these 5 pens that prompted me to re-purchase the entire set; Fiskars doesn’t sell any smaller sets than this one, and I figured since I don’t plan to re-purchase a lot of Gelly Rolls and most of the colors in that set that I like are represented in the Fiskars package, it made sense to re-purchase another one . They don’t flow quite as smoothly as the GRs, but they do have a variety of different nib sizes, which helps. For coloring, the medium and large nibs work better for me as I find fine points too scratchy, but I am learning to work with them since so many colors I like are only available in fine point. 

As my first set of color-changing Fiskars started to run out, I searched Amazon for alternatives, and it turns out this concept is fairly common. Most brands refer to them as “swirl” or “marble” pens, and most of them get fair to middling reviews. There are tricks to using pens like this that, for some reason, I am able to figure out easily; again, from reading the negative reviews they mostly come from people who use them for writing, and I can see how these wouldn’t work well for that purpose. After reading and researching a ton of different brands, I landed on these Geddes Swirl Pens – primarily because I could get 50 of them for a decent price; I can’t recall any other reason that prompted me to choose these over others, except that most swirl pens come in small sets of 4 or 5 and I figured, as much as I use these things, I should just get a shit-ton of ’em. 

All the shading iou see in the teal here was done using a combination of copic markers and colored pencils, BTW

As you can see, these function differently from the Fiskars, but if you don’t use them properly they will muddy up. I always color using a circular motion with both my gel pens and my alcohol markers, and this seems to work well with swirl pens, but ONLY when I use a really, really light touch – I barely press down on the page at all; these have a medium point so a light touch still deposits a good amount of ink. Also, these pens sputter out different colors in little spotches and spurts, so I pay close attention to that, and do my best not to swirl the little pops of unusual color together too much, so they stand out. You can really see the pen strokes this way, but it’s the only way I’ve found to capture the different inks, and overall I like the effect. I do feel like the “blue” swirl pen is pretty dark and muddy (it’s the portion of the mandala that looks purple and green; even though the occasional pop of blue comes out it tends to get drowned out by the more dominant colors) so I use it more sparingly than the others, but overall the effect is really quite cool. Thank God, because I have a buttload of these to use up!

Now let’s talk about my favorite colors – pastels and neons! 

As I mentioned earlier, I have broken down all my sets into different categories rather than keeping them in their original packaging (one tray for pastels, another for neon, etc.) and have banished all but a few of the metallics to a pencil holder stuck on a shelf in my closet, along with my first cheapo set of alcoholic markers that are already busted and useless and a set of Chameleon color-changing felt-tip markers that are total crap (more on that later). I also have a tray of glitter pens that I love, but the glitter ink didn’t show up in the photo so I figured why bother. I trust that you all know what glitter looks like, so you know, use your imagination. 

For whatever reason, I don’t use the primary and “basic” colors too often, even though I have a ton of them from all the different sets. I really should make it a challenge to try and color at least one mandala or something using nothing but basic colors, but I’m fairly certain I’d get bored and never finish it, just like I did the time I challenged myself to color a mandala in nothing but grays and browns (ugh, why?). I just gravitate towards the pastels and neons, and end up using the primary colors as accents, or as darker shades to use when blending.

Recently, I decided to add some earth tones to my collection, something that I found more challenging than finding swirl pens for sure. There aren’t many options for earth tones, and most of the smaller sets didn’t include the olive green I definitely wanted. I ended up buying a pretty cheap set from a brand that has several interesting sets with a variety of tones – a set of cool tones with a big variety of blue shades, and a warm set with just about every variation of red and yellow you could want. However, these sets also had a LOT of metallics, but since their vintage set was the only one I found with some of the greens and different shades of brown I wanted, I went ahead and made the purchase. The set also came with refills, which I thought was a good deal for 24 pens at $15. 

Tons of browns and greens! And also, sadly, MANY metallics that have already been banished. 

Most of these pens really aren’t good quality. The ink doesn’t flow well, and they’re pretty scratchy due to the fine points. But I have already ordered two more refills for this set for two BIG reasons – namely, two of the pens in the set that are a color I can’t find anywhere else. 

I freaking ADORE these colors! They also don’t deposit ink smoothly, but I am learning to work with them because I can already tell these two pens are going to be a staple in my artwork (can I call the pages I color from coloring books artwork? Well I just did so there you go). That beige is an amazing neutral that is great for “filler” in mandalas where I want to balance out some of the brighter shades, and that other pen is actually cream, not yellow, which is REALLY hard to find anywhere else – meaning, I’ve searched the whole wide web and not found another cream or ivory colored gel pen anywhere! 

You can see the beige in the background of the rectangle with the circles, and that half-triangle at the top of the uncolored, stripey triangle is a blend of the beige with the cream (the cream looks more yellow-y in the photo than it does in reality, but you get the idea). This set came with two of the cream pen, and only one of the beige, so I have already ordered more refills of the entire set so I have several of them in case the company stops making them in the near future – the company not only includes one pack of refills with the initial set, but also sells refills separately, which is a nice touch. I am pretty sure these two colors are going to make it into almost every page I color, so I really want a stockpile of them! The rest of the colors are just OK – some of the options are great, like the aforementioned olive greens and deeper browns, but unfortunately the ink is runny and uneven. They can be worked with, but will probably only be used as accent colors due to the poor quality. 

Lots of the earth tones used in this one, but also other pastels and neons worked in. 

Coloring Books and Pages

After playing around with a lot of different types of coloring pages, both content and style, I am starting to figure out what I like best. I am a huge fan of coloring pages with black backgrounds, and have purchased several coloring books from Amazon with black pages. Here are a few that I’ve tried, in no particular order:

100 Amazing Patterns: This is the first coloring book I bought, and it is still a favorite. Patterns, particularly mandala patterns, are one of my favorite subjects to color, because the focus is really on the colors and not much else. As a photographer, I have always been obsessed with color as its own subject matter, more or less, and color considerations factor greatly into my choices through that medium. Coloring is no exception to this, and to be able to focus on color without having to consider realism or restrictions due to subject matter is probably the most relaxing and rewarding experience I can have. Based on some of my other choices, I realize I really got lucky with this first book – the patterns are intricate without being too busy, and the lines are strong without being overpowering. Also, I’ve come to realize that 100 pages is a lot for the average book, and there are only a handful of pages I don’t like. So this one is highly recommended, and I can only imagine other books by this same artist would be great also. 

F*ck Trump: OK, look. I loathe our current president. But I am not interested in fighting about that, or ranting about it, or judging anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, I would have left this book off the list entirely except that it has some artistic flaws that helped me narrow down my preferences – even though initially I found the images empowering as a means to creatively express some of my disdain for the man, as coloring pages these just didn’t work for me. While I really enjoy coloring text, sayings, and slogans of various kinds, I found the backgrounds on these slogans to be too busy and rather illogical. And the text font is the same on every page, which gets old quickly. In fact, there’s very little variation throughout the book, and quite honestly it has the feel of something that was created using coloring book software rather than an artist’s drawings. Even the lines aren’t quite right – they’re too thin to be useful as a guide for placing color, and there’s no helpful detail at all. Overall the images on each page just feel – insubstantial, I guess. And the choices often make no sense. For example, one of the pages said, quite simply, “Fuck Trump,” and had a background of – mushrooms? Why? Is that supposed to  be a penis joke? I mean, I guess it could have been – but they weren’t appealing, or interesting to color – they had strange horizontal stripes on them and were surrounded by a background of vertical stripes, which, ugh – and then there were random swirly lines floating about, and the occasional stem-less flower thrown down for good measure. Another page had the phrase “Our Country” (using the same font of course) against a background of fish. If there’s a joke there akin to the possible penis reference, I’m missing it. So what I learned from buying this book was that subject matter is important, but if the images aren’t carefully created by someone who knows what they’re doing, well, all the political slogans in the world won’t make it fun for me to color. I ended up only coloring two pages from this one before I got bored. But as I said, it did help me learn what I do and don’t want from the books I buy. 

Southern Sayings and Sass/Creative Haven Chalkboard Art: These were the first two coloring books I bought with black backgrounds, and I enjoyed both of them – for a while. An issue with slogan books in general is that they can get repetitive, and there will be a handful of slogans I really love and then a bunch I either don’t care for, or have already seen and colored in other slogan books. Of these two, I found the Creative Haven one to have more pages I really wanted to color due to the slogans being ones I wanted to work with; the Southern Sayings one has some REALLY busy backgrounds that I can’t imagine wanting to tackle, but it did have ONE page that is still one of my favorite pages ever:

If you are not from the US South, you probably don’t even know what “mums” are, and I am too lazy and it is too late at this point for me to explain it to you. But trust me, Homecoming mums are the most Southern thing ever, and as a high school teacher it always tickled me every year when students who were new to the area tried to acclimate to the whole weird tradition. So I love this page, enough that it ended up framed, which doesn’t happen to most the pages I color. By the way, I totally intended this gal’s blush to be softly blended, but I totally screwed it up and had go overboard to salvage the picture. Which reminds me I need to talk about paper later. Oh lord. There’s no way I’m going to get to talking about paper in this post. Moving on. 

Beautiful Dresses: Fun! Some of the images in this book are of women wearing lovely gowns, but most of them are of dresses on hangers or mannequins, which is really unique. Up above, I have another picture showing one of the pages from this book I framed, which doesn’t include a dress, interestingly enough – it’s the photo of the jeans, top, purse, and shoes. Such a cute idea, and it really looks great hanging on the wall (my husband referred to it “paper doll clothes,” which he thought was really cool).

This book also has some bustiers in it, too – two of which I colored using alcohol markers and hung in my bathroom:

Many of the pages in this book, I feel, remind me of cute framed pictures you might get at a home decor store or something; they lend themselves nicely to framing and using for decoration. I like that they are not all images of people wearing the dresses, as I find that to be a unique presentation of the subject matter. I really love almost all of the pages in this book also. 

 Salty Bitches – Vintage Ladies Talking Trash: Oh. My God. Y’all. This book is hilarious. Almost every page is hysterically funny. The problem is, it’s not a typical coloring book. It’s really not much of a coloring book at all. And I really, really wish it was. The images in this book are reprints of classic paintings, and the sayings added to them are an absolute scream – and completely inappropriate. I have sent many photos of these pages to my friends, and every single one is funnier than the last. I really don’t like photographing and uploading un-colored pages as that seems to be unfair to the artist or publisher of the work, so I’m not going to do that here, and I don’t have much to share with you as far as pages I’ve colored because, I’m sorry to say, that coloring these pages SUCKS. They are printed in grayscale, which is a totally different coloring experience, and it’s not one that I enjoy. Really the only way to color on grayscale that works is colored pencil, and I just don’t enjoy using that medium. I’ve tried with several of these pages, but I do not like the results, and I just don’t enjoy doing the work. It’s really too bad, because while there are a TON of so-called ‘naughty,’ curse-word laden coloring books out there, most of them are not particularly original or consistently funny. But THESE are laugh-out-loud hysterical. 

I did force myself to complete one entire page just to prove to myself I could do it. It’s not very good, I didn’t enjoy doing it, and I made weird color choices just because I didn’t much care. And I didn’t even choose one of the funnier pages because I knew I was just messing around, and even then it’s still really, REALLY funny:

It actually came out looking pretty good, weird color choices notwithstanding. I used colored pencil in graduated shades and followed the ‘map’ provided by the grayscale, and then I outlined everything with a black gel pen just because I felt it needed something extra. The background was black and textured and it really bothered me, so I sort of slopped a black background over it using one of my alcohol markers and decided I’d use a blue gel pen for the trim around the edges. I don’t know why. Then a few hours later I got my earth tone gel pens in the mail and decided what the hell, I’ll use them on those floral patterns even though they in NO WAY match neon pink and bright blue. So I guess overall it’s impressive that this doesn’t look a lot worse, all things considering. Maybe someday I will try harder with some of the others, and go for one of the more brutal slogans like the image of two Renaissance women standing next to each other under the slogan JUST STANDING HERE PRETENDING TO TOLERATE THIS B*TCH or the lovely portrait of a youthful, Rubenesque damsel with the slogan EAT A BAG OF D*CKS printed underneath. As far as humorous slogans, this book does it right – the contrast between the beautiful, angelic portraits and the COMPLETELY crass sayings hits just the right note, but the images themselves aren’t really made for coloring. It makes a great gag gift though, or a real conversation starter for the coffee table, which seems to be the way most people end up using this one. 

Day of the Dead: Sugar Skulls: Although there are an absolute TON of sugar skull coloring books out there, I decided on this one due to the unique feature of having two versions of every skull – one on white paper, and another on black. How cool is that? I thought it might look cool to color both versions of one skull, in completely different colorways, and hang them side-by-side, but I haven’t yet had a chance to color any as I just got this book in two days ago. It’s promising though, and the lines on the artwork are strong and feel solid, just how I like them, and they are patterned without being too intricate. So I think this will be a book I like when I get chance to dig into it. 

Mandala Design, Black Background Edition: It made sense that I would eventually get a book of mandalas on black backgrounds, but that’s the not the only reason I bought this one. The designs are also very different from my first mandala book, but in ways I still love. Both black-background mandala pictures I posted above are from this book – the images are smaller and more intricate than the first book, and they take up far less of each page. While in general I dislike super-small details, in this case the designs all really appeal to me – I think the black background helps, along with the fact that it is so different from the previous book I purchased. I also really like the symmetry and geometry of these designs – I have yet to find one single image that I don’t feel excited about coloring. I doubt I will be able to use my alcohol markers on any of these, unlike the first mandala book – black background pages (and in fact, coloring book pages in general) can’t tolerate alcohol markers, first of all, and these designs are too small and detailed for me to use the bigger, brush nibs on my copics or Chameleons. But all of these images are PERFECT for gel pens, as the opacity of my favorites really come alive against all that black, and those fine point tips I generally hate come in handy. Really excited about coloring more of these. 

And just for the hell of it, here are some of the other coloring-book subjects I’ve seen that I have no interest in working with, but you might:

  • Animals in every configuration possible – cursing, farting, gallivanting, drinking coffee, or just being normal animals
  • Cityscapes
  • Country scenes and rural landscapes
  • Pro-Trump books (felt I should throw those in there since I mentioned the anti-Trumps ones already)
  • Fantasy/magical subjects
  • Female empowerment
  • Religious subjects
  • Patterns of all kinds (geometric, art deco, etc.)
  • Forests and nature
  • Flowers and florals
  • Coronavirus – I suspect these to be more like the F*ck Trump book. I can’t say for sure, but these books would have been rushed into production rather than being created by an artist over time, and the quality may be lacking
  • Famous people
  • Psychedelia 
  • Human Anatomy
  • Popular books/movies (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc)
  • Disney
  • Ocean life

OK dammit – I have been writing this post for about three hours, and I haven’t even gotten to talking about papers and accessories I use when coloring. And I haven’t had time to mention that since tapering off of Lexapro I have lost TEN POUNDS without even trying – that’s ten pounds in about three weeks, y’all. But, since getting on that medication, I’ve gained about thirty, so it kind of made sense that some amount of that would drop quickly. We’ll see how the next twenty go. And I have still failed to discuss my experiences learning to read Tarot cards (so fun!) and about a million other things. But I will say this real quick-like before I go: if you want to color for fun but you also don’t want to stress about messing up a really cool page while you do it, then do what I do and tear the pages out of the book and copy them onto a separate sheet of paper. I always do this and it has turned out to be a real lifesaver as I’ve made some serious errors on some images I really, really wanted to turn out well – it wasn’t a problem because I still had the original and could just copy it again and start over. The only exception to that has been black background pages, which I only copy if I am going to use alcohol markers on. The black really doesn’t transfer all that well onto another page, but if I want to use the markers I make it work. 😉 There are also better papers you can use – you have to use thicker, better paper for alcohol markers because the paper in the coloring books will just disintegrate, but even for gel pens there is often better paper you can use. I’ve learned about that too and have tried out many different kinds, but I am all out of steam for this blog post and will have to get into that later. 

Stay safe y’all! And if you’re in the South like me, and your state or city is currently spiking at NYC-in-April levels, please social distance and stay home as much as possible. It’s bad out there right now. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coloravirus

Well hello there! How the hell are ya? Are you well? Are you safe? Are you stir-crazy? Are you wearing a goddamn mask when you leave the house and social distancing like you absolutely should be, you little shitbirds? 😉

Can you tell I’ve gained weight? Well I have. A lot. 

OK, let’s get to it. So first of all, this goddamn virus. WTF, right? It was the week of our Spring Break in March when COVID-19 wormed its way into our American lives, and what a week that was. I had taken a little trip to a small Texas town with my sister, where my aunt owns a home, and on Monday the virus was barely a blip on the radar. By Wednesday when we left, we were glued to the news as a neighborhood in NY called New Rochelle went into lockdown, and hospitals in NYC started to overflow. By Friday of Spring Break, both of our school districts had decided to stay closed for a second week, and the Houston Rodeo had been canceled. I’d say it was a week later that most of the country went into hiding.

Extra weight or no, I am still fierce, so suck it. 

OK so, everyone knows this story and has their own version of it, so let’s jump ahead to now. My husband has retired – and quite honestly he worked from home anyway – and we are both homebodies, so he wasn’t all that affected by the stay-at-home order. As for me, I completely lucked out in that I was able to transition to online tutoring without losing any of my students. In fact, in spite of my commitment to working less this year, I ended up picking up at least five more over the course of that miserable semester (miserable for the kids – at least some of them – not really for me except that I was super-busy) and didn’t lose any of my income. So, we’ve been ridiculously lucky.

Yep, I’m over it. 

I really thought I would use all my new free time to take more photos, but the truth is, I’m simply bored with it now. I’ve taken every sort of picture I would ever have wanted to take; I’ve worn every wig and costume; snapped every airplane, and leaped every leap I ever wanted to photograph. I’ve levitated and drag-queened myself into oblivion, and there just isn’t anything more for me to do or learn, so after this one initial set taken in April I haven’t done any shoots. While posing for that last one it became clear the thrill was gone, and while I may come back to the whole endeavor once the well that’s run dry refills, I put my cameras aside for the moment and began searching for something new to do creatively, as I always need to be doing something that addresses my artistic side.

I purchased this beautifully colored hoodie while on vacation in Spring Break. My last shopping trip before the virus took hold. Ah, the memories…

I’d been toying with the idea of keeping some adult coloring books around for some time, but had never actually bought any, so I decided this was as good a time as any to take the plunge. Initially it was just going to be a simple little something to do to while away some time, but being me, it of course became an obsession almost immediately, and one that I had to master to the best of my ability. Oh sure, I bought some cheap-ass markers and colored pencils to start (does anyone else still call them map pencils like everyone did when I was a kid? My students have no idea what I am talking about when I use this term) but that satisfied me for about a day before I had all sorts of ideas for what I wanted my colorings to look like, and soon it was off to YouTube to watch a million tutorials and then to Amazon to buy a million different coloring tools. This started in April, and by June I was able to pull off some pretty cool tricks with this new hobby.

 

OK, this isn’t a great photo, because I snapped it with my cellphone, but you get the idea. Pretty quickly, I realized the cheap markers weren’t gonna cut it for me, because I wanted to be able to do all sorts of shading techniques and color blends, so I landed on Copic markers, which are NOT cheap, y’all,  but they are refillable so they will last for what I am telling myself is forever to justify the cost.

Click here if you want to know what I paid. By the way, these are the “cheaper” Copics! 

These are all taken from a coloring book called 100 Amazing Patterns that I got off Amazon, and while they are, yes, amazing, I had to figure out a few things as I got started on this coloring adventure. First of all, when using Copic markers, which are alcohol-based and function more or less like slightly less watery watercolor paints, the paper the images are printed on in the book are NOT gonna work. No way. No how. Aside from the fact that the wet markers will turn the paper into mush almost immediately, the paper in the book is also black on the other side-which is supposed to help with color bleeding when using other mediums, I think-but with the Copics, the black bleeds through and ruins the colors. Fortunately, we own a printer that doubles as a copier, so I was able to buy the right card stock and tear each sheet out of the book and copy it onto that. This has the added benefit of saving the original, colorless image in case I mess up and want to start over (and if you caught that little wait, so she spent money on special paper too?! detail, well, hang onto your shorts ‘cuz we’re just getting started).

Got this coloring book full of DRESSES (!!!) from Amazon also

So, yeah, first of all – there is simply NO END to the variety of coloring-book subject matter out there, including some baffling topics such as farting animals and the people of Wal-Mart. I lean towards mandalas and cool patterns just to enjoy the act of coloring without having to consider anything else like color choice or shading patterns, but I am also partial to fashion and feminine imagery as well as fun slogans and blackboard books (which are coloring book with black pages that have “chalkboard” style lettering and drawing).

Best. Slogan. Ever.

For those of you who caught that the chalkboard coloring pages can’t be copied onto cardstock (the print on them is white before you color it) and that therefore, I must be coloring on them with something OTHER than Copic markers – congratulations! You win the damn-she-spent-more-money-on-different-markers prize, which is the abandoned cheap markers I bought at the start of all this and have never used. You’re welcome.

Yep. Bought a lot of frames too, but I got super-cheap ones. I’ve bought two different kinds that you can find here and here. I like the second type better. 

The two chalkboard coloring books I’ve used so far are here and here. I particularly love the Southern Slogans one, being from the South and all. 

So, when it came time to work with the black coloring pages, I discovered gel pens. Gel pensssss!! They are so freaking fun to use, and way less expensive than the Copics. As with anything, there are varying levels of quality with these pens, and with the gels in particular there are absolute SHIT-TONS to choose from. My recommendations are:

#1: Gelly Roll pens. These are, I think, the gold standard. The gel ink flows so smoothly, it is like coloring with ice cream. Just really, really satisfying, especially with the thicker nibs. I started out buying a full set, but in the end there are several types of Gelly Rolls in here that I do not like At. All. So, I would not recommend spending this much for a set of them.  The particular types of Gelly Rolls I prefer are the Classics, the Moonlight series (neon and other unique colors), and the Stardust glitter pens (LOVE) Unfortunately, this set also has tons of metallics, which I just do not like at all due to the way they deposit the ink – very streaky and sketchy with coloring lines you can clearly see and lots of skips and white spaces. And this collection has THREE DIFFERENT KINDS of metallics, so there are a lot of pens here I probably won’t ever use up. But if you like the metallics, well, there’s plenty for you to love about this collection.

Sorry for the reflections; this one is framed so it was tricky to snap. I used a combination of Copics (anywhere there is color blending) and gel pens on this mandala – you can see how opaque and smooth the gel pens are! Except those shitty metallic ones, which obviously I did not use. Because they suck.

#2 – My secondary recommendation for a more economical gel pen purchase would be this set from Fiskars – 48 pens for $18. Even though the ink isn’t near the smoothness of the Gelly Rolls, I actually like all the pens in this set. Even the metallics aren’t too bad, and it has some cool styles like swirl pens and pastels, which the Gelly Roll line lacks – and I LOVE pastels. Also, the nibs are smaller which I don’t care for, but overall, I like this set and will re-purchase it when my favorite pens run out.

Lots of the Fiskars pens in this mandala, and NO Copics, so you really can get a sense of how vibrant and opaque the gel pens are. 

One other honorable gel pen mention here is the Pentel Milky Pop series. I do not think this set is still in production, so it may be hard to find eventually, but for now you can still find it on Amazon and some other places. This set is tricky; it is known for not having the smoothest ink distribution in the world, and the pens tend to dry out quickly (which can be fixed with a little heat applied to the nib) but they are the most lovely pastel colors I’ve found so far – even though there a lot of other options out there I haven’t tried so I can’t speak to any of those.  A lot of gel pens that claim to be pastel end up looking more neon, so there must be something tricky about the gel pen formulation that makes true pastels hard to come by. A close-up of one of my chalkboard pages shows the colors well:

Again, sorry for the reflections.

The yellow and blue are Milky Pop pastels, and that yellow in particular is perfection. I’ve used other yellow gels that claim to be pastel, but only the Milky Pop so far actually comes out right, and it is really really lovely. However, both the blue and the yellow required me to light a match and hold it up to the nib for a bit to get and keep the ink flowing – but once that was done, they both colored nicely. You can see pen scratches and strokes here, but that is actually a quality of the chalkboard coloring page and not the pens. That bolder blue is a Gelly Roll and you can see how it looks like paint because it’s so opaque – and there are also some splashes of glitter pens in there as well, if you can spot them.

Oh my gosh, I have so much more to say, but this has already taken over an hour and I have shit to do, so it will all have to wait for later. Will she wait another year to post again? Will she update us on her Invisalign adventure? Why is her hair green (yes, it really was green)? Did she use YouTube tutorials to cut two inches off her hair and create a perfectly even blunt bob (yes, she did, and she is very proud of herself)? Has she ever taken her own photos and turned them into coloring pages (of course she has)? Is this all the spending she’s done with her coloring, or has she bought even more crap? How the hell did she gain forty pounds and what is she doing about it? Has her husband become a cooking fanatic since the pandemic has kept him indoors, and is that contributing to her weight gain? Has she tried to take images from her favorite horror movies and turn them into coloring pages (see below)? Has one of her besties started a travel blog that I should check out (yes, she has, and it is here). Does she still look fabulous although she is heavier (yes, of course)? 

All this and more to come, friends. Until then, stay safe, stay socially distant, and wear your face mask. Cheers!

Invisalign Time

In January of 2019, I decided to pull the trigger on using Invisalign trays to straighten my teeth. I know there’s a ton of interest online about the process, so now that I am on my last tray, I thought I’d share my experience. I am  not including any before and after photos because honestly, the correction I needed was pretty slight and mostly involved the teeth in the back of my mouth on one side that had gotten so crowded I could barely floss. Plus, I kinda feel like sharing photos of the inside of my mouth is gross, so, sorrynotsorry.

The best way I know to share my experience is through categories rather than a long-ass winding reflection on the past six months, so let’s get to it.

Cost 

I paid $5000 for my trays. I can’t recall the specific term Invisalign uses for people who only need the bare minimum of correction, but whatever the term is, minimum treatment is what I qualified for. The $5K covered 14 trays and all dentist visits throughout the process. It also covered replacement trays – I was doing some damage to my trays at first with the way I was removing them, and I had to get two replacement trays because they were tearing at a certain point. There was no charge to me for those replacements. I am ASSUMING that the retainers I get at the end of this process are also a part of the cost, but as I write this I realize that I’m not completely sure about that, so I will ask the dentist about it when I see her on Friday and update this part of the post.

The Process – Dealing with Dentist Appointments

Step One was to get my entire mouth scanned at the dentist’s office. This is exactly what it sounds like – I sat in a chair while the attendance stuck a scanner in my mouth and ran it over all my teeth, front side and back, while looking at the results on a screen to be certain everything (teeth and gums) was being scanned clearly. It didn’t take long, and there is no contact with the teeth while this is being done, so there’s no pain beyond having to stretch out your mouth to fit the scanner in, which is a little bulky.

Step Two was a second appointment once the computer had generated my 14 trays based on the scan. From the initial scan, trays are computer generated by determining the process of straightening my teeth at two week intervals. The program also determines where “attachments” needed be placed on my teeth to properly pull the teeth in the right directions. You can think of the attachments like little white ‘snaps’ on your teeth; the bumps on my teeth coordinated with indentations in the trays, so that they actually do snap on when you put them in.

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This is an image I just stole from the internet – not my teeth! However, it’s a decent representation of how the software works. I believe those red triangles on some of the teeth represent where attachments are placed. Every individual will have a different number of them; I was told I had more than the usual number for some reason (doesn’t really matter or mean anything special, just that the software determined I needed that many on those specific teeth).

Step Three involved getting the attachments put on at the same office visit where I got the initial trays; this was not painful, just sitting there with my mouth open while they used some sort of powdery substance to create the attachments. Once that was done, the dentist showed me how to snap on the trays and we practiced how I should take them off (more on that later). Then, I was given my first two sets of trays and told to come back in a month to check the progress. Just keep in  mind that yes, you will have a bunch of bumps on your teeth, and they are visible. The trays are certainly not as visible or distracting as traditional braces, but they are NOT invisible!

Step Four involved making regular check-in appointments with the dentist. I went in after the first month to see how I was settling in, and after that, wasn’t required to come in as often – just every 2-3 months to check progress. I insisted on getting re-scanned at every appointment to be sure everything was on track; it seemed like sometimes they were just going to look at my mouth and send me home, but I always wanted to get scanned again and see the progress; especially after my second visit where it turned out my teeth were not ‘tracking’ properly and I had to wear a certain tray for an extra week. That made me paranoid about how I would even know if my teeth were moving on schedule or not, because I certainly couldn’t tell on my own. It does happen, so if possible, I would insist on getting a scan each time to be sure things are moving along as they should – if at some point your teeth quit shifting according to the schedule the computer generated to make your trays, you will have to go BACK to the tray where the miscalculation started and re-do wearing every tray that comes after. So, I reiterate – always insist on a scan when you go for a check-in!

Step Five will be to get the attachments removed once I’ve used up all of my trays, and then get scanned for retainers that I will wear constantly for SIX MONTHS. I want to be sure you read this part, because it slipped past me when I started this process, AND Invisalign just recently upped the number of months patients have to wear the trays from three months to six. Yes, I just found out yesterday that I will be dealing with wearing trays for ANOTHER SIX MONTHS instead of another three; and it was a surprise to me that I would be wearing trays for an extra three months already! Bummer.

Step Six will be to wear retainers only at bedtime; I am not yet sure if this involves getting new trays or just transitioning the daily wear ones over to only bedtime. It’s freaking SIX MONTHS AWAY, so I will update this part much later.

OK, so that covers the dentist visits throughout the process, now let’s talk about the fun part:

The Daily Grind (pun intended)

OK, so. Let me kick this off by saying that wearing these trays has turned out not to be that big of a damn deal for me. But at first, it sure is intimidating and annoying. It becomes routine quickly though, so if you are struggling at first, just hang in there. By about tray 4 it will be old hat, and you will start to figure out how to make this process work for you.

The most important thing I can tell you is this: when you are told to wear the trays for 22 out of every 24 hour day, believe them. Your damn teeth will snap back into their old place faster than rubber bands if you leave them off too long. That said, I am 100% certain I did not wear them for 22 hours every single day – there are simply times where that is not possible due to having an actual life and wanting to go out to eat with friends, or have an extra cup of damn coffee. For me, the goal was to wear them as often as possible every single day, and hope that would make up for the times they were off more than usual.

The biggest question for me was, did I really have to take them off every single time I ate or drank anything? I used trial and error to determine my own personal answer for this. At first, I took them out every time I ate or drank anything, and it was very annoying, because you are supposed to floss and brush your teeth before you put the trays back in every single time. I don’t know about you, but flossing and brushing in a public bathroom after a lovely meal isn’t exactly my preferred method of capping off the evening; so having to brush and floss in public bathrooms several times a day (due to the amount of times I would eat out or get coffee while tutoring during the week) was just a majorly awkward chore. So at first, I tried leaving them in when I drank anything cold (I felt like hot drinks might damage the plastic, so leaving them in when drinking coffee was always a no-no) or ate something liquid like soup or ice cream. Which leads me to my first big lesson:

Any eating or drinking (other than water) that you do while the trays are in your mouth is going to stain them. However, because during the school year I have to eat a lot on the go, for the first four months I continued to eat liquids and drink things other than water with them in. And not be too gross about it, but by the end of each two week period, my trays would be pretty yellow. I did my best to keep them clean, but as often as I drank smoothies or got a coffee at a coffee shop while tutoring, I felt this was the better option than taking them off and dealing with the flossing and brushing in public places. My breaking point with that process came after my trip to Disney World, where I just abused the shit out of a set of trays – wearing them while eating, not brushing or flossing before putting them on, I mean, fuck it, I was on vacation – and they were so gross by the time I got home that I swore I’d do better with the next set. But – and this is a big but – yucking up the trays was better in the long run that not wearing them long enough, because although I had one nasty set of trays at the end of my vacation, by teeth were still on track. So, choices.

My after-Disney commitment: back to no wearing of the trays while eating or drinking ANYTHING but water, but reducing the amount of time I spend snacking between meals so that I’m not taking them out too oftenThis is how I am handling the situation now, and I can attest that my trays are almost as clear when I am done with them as they are when I put them in. So, I feel a lot less gross now at the end of a tray period. But what does that mean for eating out, since that is my main area of weakness with these things? I simply eat out less while tutoring now, or, when I go to a coffee shop to tutor (which I do two days a week) I just get a sparkling water and hold off on the coffee until my tutoring is done – then I can get a cup to go, take out my trays, drink my coffee on the drive home, and brush and floss before putting the trays back in after I get there. So see what I mean about adjusting – I eventually figured out a way to deal with my trays and keep them in long enough without being gross or miserable, and so will you.

But let’s say I am going out to eat with a friend, and I am not heading straight home after lunch because we’re going to go shopping or see a movie. In that case, I do something kinda gross, but since I don’t do it often it doesn’t do much in the way of staining or ruining the trays. I take the trays off before we eat, then when we are done, I go the bathroom and just swish swash some water around in my mouth, rinse off the trays, and put them back in. Then when I get home I make sure to clean out the trays extra-good to make up for the time they had possible coffee stains or food bits mashed into them. As long as this is not a super-regular occurrence, this has worked out fine.

People who regularly consume alcohol may have more of a problem. I know for me coffee is tricky, because of how leisurely I like to consume it, and I would think alcohol might work the same way. The best you can do is make up for the lost time somewhere, and be cognizant of how long you are keeping your trays off.

Now let’s talk about comfort. Your mileage is going to vary here. Personally, I never experienced pain when wearing the trays. My mouth was never sore from the teeth shifting – I would have pain in relation to the new trays rubbing against my gum or cheek the first few days sometimes, which would create canker sores I had to deal with, but after a few days with a new tray that would subside, and for the most part, the actual wearing of the trays has not been a problem for me. I don’t find that I speak funny, or drool excessively – which are both things I’ve heard others complain about. Aside from occasional mouth sores, the process has been pain and drool free for me. But I have known others who had different experiences. Keep in mind that once you’ve paid for the trays, you HAVE PAID FOR THE TRAYS; meaning, you won’t get your money back if you abandon the process due to pain. I am not someone who has sensitive teeth, or issues about going to the dentist and having someone rummaging about in my mouth, so I felt pretty certain I could handle the process. If you commit to it, you really have to commit – so don’t make the decision lightly, because you are stuck with the cost no matter what!

The Unexpected

Other dental work may suffer. As with any process like this, unexpected obstacles have come up as I’ve meandered down this road. The first big one was that, as my teeth began to shift, an old crown I had on one my teeth finally popped off – I literally took out my trays one evening, and there it was, nestled into the groove of my lower tray. Wonderful. If you’ve ever had a crown put on a tooth, you know how freaking expensive it is, as well as spending that 2 hours in the chair having your enamel shaved off and the root exposed and then wearing a temporary crown while waiting for the new one to come in then having to go back and – UGH. I really hate getting crowns on my teeth. Root canal? No problem. But the fucking CROWNS, y’all. I. Hate. Them. Not all crowns make us queens, ladies. Boo!

I’ve actually read that this happens sometimes to other people as well – especially with an old crown like mine that probably needed to be replaced anyway. The teeth shift, and the crown can’t accommodate for it, so off it pops. Unfortunately, I ended up having to go in to the dentist and get that old crown glued back down, because my trays had been scanned and generated with the old one on, and the dentist didn’t want to risk the trays not fitting if she put in a new one. So, now that I am at the end of my trays, I have to go in for a new crown that will be put on before we make my retainers. YUK. And also, yikes – it’s gonna cost me at least $800, and that’s after my dental insurance.

And also, tray damage. I found getting the trays out of my mouth with my fingers to be incredibly difficult. Just using my bare fingers rarely worked, and when it did, it damaged my fingernails, so my first solution was to buy those little finger protectors you can get at a CVS:

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Fanger condoms rule! Yay!

I think the most common use of these things is to insert medications/pills into the rectum, quite honestly – one time when I was checking out with these the woman behind the counter asked me what I was going to use them for, and my first thought was OMG WHAT IF I REALLY WAS USING THESE FOR THAT PURPOSE AND THIS WOMAN ASKED ME THAT LOLOL but since it wasn’t why I was using them, it was no big deal. Still, if you are rummaging around in someone’s med cabinet and come across these things, just don’t ask. You don’t wanna know and they probably don’t wanna tell you.

Anyway, I would put these just on my pointer fingers and they would grip the trays better, making them much easier to remove. There was just one problem – something about the angle at which I was pulling kept cracking the trays. I had two sets of trays with a break in the upper one at the exact same location (these were the two I got replaced without paying extra) which is a problem because a crack affects how well the tray can pull on your teeth, and you can end up off-schedule with your teeth movement. So number one is, if a tray cracks, go to your dentist and get a new one ASAP. Number two, find a way to remove your trays that doesn’t tear at them. I did some research and found a ‘pull tool’ on Amazon that not only fixed the cracking problem, but made taking out my trays easy to do quickly and effectively. I will link to the tool I used below.

Moving the teeth might create other problems. My main complaint right now is that as my teeth have moved, the two on the front bottom have created a gap between them as they moved apart, and it is pretty noticeable. However, to correct this would cost me well over $1000, so unfortunately right now I am stuck with the gap unless somehow I can get this cost down – I HAVE to get the new crown first, which is also gonna cost a buttload, so, choices. Just keep in mind that when moving your teeth around, new problems like this may happen, and you will have to decide what you are doing to do about them, because it won’t be included in the initial cost.

And lastly, poor teeth tracking. Your teeth are ‘tracking’ if at each transition point from one tray to another, the new trays fit perfectly against your teeth. I am gonna be honest here, my dentist has tried repeatedly to show me how to determine if my tray fits properly or not, and I just CANNOT see it – I end up just nodding my head and saying, oh yeah, uh-huh, I see what you are talking about – but in reality, I do not. So that is part of the reason why I insist on being scanned at every dentist visit. It’s pretty cool actually – they scan your teeth, and the software determines what tray you are currently on, and shows which teeth are ‘on track’ (ie, moving at a proper rate) and if any teeth are not where they should be (which is where the problem comes in, because that means you can’t yet move to the next tray, and may need to even revert back to a previous tray until your teeth catch up – this adds time onto how long you will be wearing the trays!).

dental-monitoring

I don’t recall what each color means, but trust me that they do mean something…let’s say for sake of argument that red means no movement, green means proper amount of movement, and purple means not tracking, or not moving properly. Well, on my second check-in, I had some teeth that were not tracking, and I had to extend the length of time I wore that tray. In my case, I’d tried to get creative with eating and drinking with trays on; I thought that when I was eating or drinking coffee I would simply take out my current tray and put on an older tray, and that would be good enough to hold everything in place while I chatted away for hours on end. It was not. Once I knew that little trick wasn’t going to work, I quit doing it, and I haven’t had an issue since. But, having teeth fall behind course for one reason or another is pretty common, so I feel like it should be something you prepare to have happen to you at some point in the process, at least once.

The Tools 

The first thing that made my life way easier was the PullTool. This lovely bit of plastic saved my bacon when it came to taking out my trays – it is super easy to use and doesn’t damage the trays or my fingers. I bought three of them; I keep one in my purse with my tray case, and two in my cabinets at home, so that anywhere I need it I have it – I really encountered so many situations where I wanted to take out my trays without having planned for it ahead of time, so just one tool wasn’t enough for me. It was super helpful to just keep one of them in my purse at all times! You just use the curved hook at the back of the trays, one little tug on each side either pulling down or up, as the case may be, and off they pop! Lovely.

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The PullTool!

 

Hydrogen Peroxide. I am assuming you don’t need a photo of this or a link – I just buy big-ass bottles of it at the grocery store to keep on-hand, because the only time I don’t soak my trays in something while they’re out of my mouth is if I am out and about. If I take my trays off at home, I soak them in a solution of some sort, and it has made a world of difference in the cleanliness of the trays! I use hydrogen peroxide most of the time – I have a little bowl that I fill with half of the peroxide and half water, and soak the trays in them while I eat. When I am ready to put them back in, I can floss, brush my teeth, and then just rinse the trays off before putting them in and I am good to go.

By the way – Nowhere does Invisalign require you to soak your trays in anything every time you take them off, this is just what I feel most comfortable/least gross doing, so keep that in mind. They simply recommend you clean off the trays before putting them back in, with a toothbrush and some water or some mild soap. I just like doing extra.

Bleach. Once a day I soak my trays in a solution of half water and half bleach. I was super worried about getting the measurements right initially, but honestly now I just slop it into the bowl, drop the trays in, and go eat. Is this necessary? No, but I feel better doing it and I do think it contributes to keeping the trays clear for the two weeks I have to wear them.

Hand soap. Definitely when I use the bleach, and sometimes when I use the peroxide, I do an extra cleaning with some hand soap and toothbrush, gently scrubbing the inside of the trays in particular. It also helps to get most of the bleach taste out of them; but honestly, I’ve gotten used to both a slight taste of bleach AND hand soap at this point, so there you go.

Chewies. OK, this was another one of those things that no one told me about until I needed them, and it felt like it should have been mentioned to me sooner. When I went to the dentist and discovered my teeth were not tracking, she gave me some ‘chewies’ and told me I needed to chew on them for about 10 minutes after putting in a new set of trays, at least for a day or two until it was definite that the trays were settling onto my teeth properly. The fact that it was casually dropped on me that I in fact needed to be gnawing on little mini pool noodles for days on end seemed like something I should have been alerted to earlier, but you know, live and learn, I guess. The dentist gave me a few, but I found that they lost their sponginess quickly, so I now buy them at Amazon when I feel like I need them. For no real reason, I pretty much hate doing this. I don’t know why; but of every unexpected thing I’ve encountered while wearing these trays THIS is the one that irritates me to no end – there’s just something so I can’t believe I have to gnaw on this stupid thing for twenty damn minutes every day if they had told me I’d have to do this I never would have gone through this stupid process about it. I guess everyone has that ONE THING they hate about Invisalign, and this is mine.

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Chewies – don’t let the cute name fool you, these things are of the devil

Tray Minder App.  If you find you are forgetful about remembering to put your trays back in after you take them out, or you have a hard time keeping track of when it’s time to switch to a new aligner, this app can really help. I am pretty good with remembering to put my trays back in, but I constantly lose track of when I should switch trays, so this thing has been a godsend to me as it reminds me when I need to do that. You can also click on the app when you take your trays out, and it will remind you in an hour (or whatever time you set) to put them back in – you can also take ‘teeth selfies’ to monitor your process. It’s a handy little app, and it’s free, so it’s worth having on hand.

OK, so. I think that’s all I have to share at this point; I typed this up quickly and suspect there are a TON of typos in it that I’ll have to correct later. But if anyone wants my overall summation of whether or not this process is worth it, I’d say: meh, it’s fine. There are things I am happy about, and things I’m not so pleased with, so for now I am leaning towards being pleased, but just slightly. I am happy that my teeth are no longer crowded and that this one tooth that was really jutting out at an odd angle no longer does so. So yeah, I am pleased with the effectiveness of the process. What I am NOT pleased about is having to spend another two to three grand of my money for problems the Invisalign caused – the crown replacement, and the gap between my two bottom teeth. That just sucks. And I just found out yesterday that I have to wear retainer trays constantly for another six months, which doesn’t thrill me either. So, I do wonder if, knowing these things, I would have gone through with it. I probably would just because it hasn’t been that bad, and probably did need to be done due to the crowding issues I had; but ending up with a gap between two of my teeth that I don’t like is a real bummer. Especially since I will have to spend so much money to fix it when it’s really a purely ‘cosmetic’ procedure – I mean, I don’t have to do it, but after spending a year wearing trays and already spending $5,000 on the process, why would I settle for having that gap? Grr. That is really annoying me right now, and influencing my opinion.

I will say this, though – I have had a lot of people tell me they want their kids to have Invisalign instead of regular braces, and I do not recommend this. I don’t see kids being able to keep up with the maintenance of taking them out, brushing and flossing after each meal, and remembering to put them right back in after eating. I also see a LOT of lost, expensive trays in your child’s future. These things have their advantages, but they are a big responsibility, so keep that in mind when it comes to the kiddos.

Skin Care Finds

Over the past year, I went through a listacles phase, especially Buzzfeed, for their quick and easy lists tailored to any number of interests, like skin care or cool home gadgets – usually with links to super-cheap items you ‘can’t live without’ that you can find online. I was particularly interested in the skin care lists, since over the years sun damage and Father Time have been showing up more and more, and as much as I’ve never given a whit of attention to all the miracle claims skin care products tend to make, Buzzfeed’s lists usually included products that were cheap enough for me to be willing to try. And lo and behold, some of them really, really helped.

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The DermaRoller!

OK, hands-down, this has been the best product I’ve tried all year. I got the idea from my plastic surgeon, from whom I get Botox every 3-6 months. I asked her what treatments were available for sun damage and hyperpigmentation of the skin, and she recommended something called microneedling, which is expensive and requires recovery time. I researched this online and it did seem to produce excellent results, but the cost and the downtime from the procedure both put me off, and in the process of doing that research I also came across DermaRolling, which is much milder form of microneedling you can do at home. I found a kit on Amazon with the plastic handle and three extra rollers for $30, so I figured I’d give it a go, not expecting much, but willing to try it out for the price. And holy cow – the results were noticeable after using it just one time. I’ve been doing it a few times a week for several months now, and it has significantly reduced the hyperpigmentation and evened out my skin tone, as well as giving my skin a healthier glow in general.

There are a ton of videos on YouTube about how the process works and why, so I’ll just summarize it quickly: before starting, you should apply a serum to your skin; it really doesn’t matter what serum you use, so I will link to a few I like below. The roller has tiny needles on it, as you can see in the picture above – and no, they don’t hurt – and you simply roll the roller over your skin in an up-and-down and then a back-and-forth motion, working in sections. I roll my forehead first, up and down and then back and forth, until the skin turns slightly red, then I move onto my nose, both cheeks, and end with the upper lip and chin. Then, because I have a lot of sun damage on my neck and decollete, I also do the same process in those areas. It’s important not to overdo it – when the skin turns pink, move to another area. After you are done rolling, you apply another round of serum, and then whatever night products you put on your face, and you’re done (oh yeah, don’t do this process in the morning; it’s definitely a night-time treatment).

According to dermatologists I’ve watched on YouTube or read online, the main reason DermaRolling works is because it allows the skin to truly and deeply absorb the products you put on  your face before and after you use it. That seems to be the main benefit. It has not only worked wonders for me, but everyone else I’ve recommended Dermarolling to has also been impressed – even my sister, who has acne scars from her teenage years. She even told me shortly after she starting doing it that she is no longer ashamed to go out without makeup on because her skin looks so much better. It did not completely erase my sun damage – no product will do that, I don’t think – but it has improved it so much I don’t notice it anymore. And as I said, I’ve also noticed that when I take pictures, I don’t need the heavy foundation I needed before; I can use my regular tinted moisturizer and it works just as well.

Here are some of the serums I’ve used with the DermaRoller and quite like:

Valjean Labs Facial Serum, Combo Pack of Hydrate, Glow, and Firm 

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face

Elizavecca Hell Pore Control Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum

In addition to the DermaRoller, there are two masks I’ve tried recently and really love. But honestly, if you only try one thing I recommend here, go for the roller. It is by far the most effective.

Peter Thomas Roth Pumpkin Enzyme Mask

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Before I discovered Botox, I used to go get facials once a month, and my technician often used a pumpkin enzyme mask that I really loved, and Buzzfeed reminded me that such a mask exists. This is pricey in my opinion – about $60 – but it can be used sparingly and still be effective. The way I use it is in the morning, before I apply any other products, and I don’t use it every day, just a few times a week because it’s quite strong. The smell is amazing, though! I wet my face, scoop out a dollop of the mask, spread it over my skin, and then – this is an important step – I re-wet my fingers and work the mask in a little with wet hands. I have found that if you don’t re-wet the mask after applying it, it is too harsh and can burn. I don’t know why. I guess it dilutes the product a little. Then, I only leave this mask on for 3-5 minutes, which is the recommended time limit – this is why it’s easy to use in the morning to freshen up the skin. I do NOT recommend leaving this on any longer than five minutes, though, because as I said, this shit is strong. Once time is up, I just wipe it off with a damp rag, follow up with a splash or two of water, and move on to rest of my morning routine.

Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay 

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This stuff has a huge cult following, and rightly so – it is a serious, old-school beauty mask, and it makes your skin feel amazing. It’s only $10 for a big old tub of the stuff, and I see it at my local grocery store as well as on Amazon. It’s a bit messy though – it is in powdered form, and you can mix it in a little bowl with equal parts water and apple cider vinegar (which is what works for me) or, if the vinegar is too strong for your skin, you can try it just adding the water. I use the water with vinegar concoction, and it creates a paste that I smear all over your face and then wait for the magic to happen. I call this an old-school mask because it’s the kind that dries on your face, unlike the pumpkin mask which stays moist, and you look like a zombie and will scare your dogs while you leave it on. How long you leave it on depends on your comfort level; my skin is not overly sensitive, so I leave it on until it’s completely dry OR my skin starts to feel too tight (you will feel a tingling/tightening sensation that personally I find pleasant, but it may bother others) and then I scrub it off with a rag followed by a splash or two of water. Now, your skin may be quite red when you take this off (one reason why I recommend not leaving it on too long the first time you try it) but not to worry – it fades quickly and your skin will not be red when you wake up, at the latest. But because of the redness, this is another product you only want to use at night. If you check out some of the before and after photos on Amazon, you’ll see some pretty amazing results. I am never sure how much to trust such things, but I still do notice great exfoliation from this and I love how my skin feels afterwards. I also think it has contributed to the lightening of my hyperpigmentation, so there you go.

Now, a moisturizer that is super-affordable and that I feel has also REALLY helped with my sun damage:

Pond’s Correcting Clarant B3 Dark Spot Skin Cream

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Amazon lists this moisturizer at $14, but I’m pretty sure I pay a lot less than that at my local grocery store. I use this every morning and night on my face and neck. While I can’t say that this product alone has helped do reduce my sun damage, because I tried all these products at about the same time, I am willing to give it credit for helping; especially since it’s a very affordable moisturizer that is easy to find, includes sunscreen, and doesn’t bother my skin.

Other than these staples, I’ve tried a TON of other eye creams (not found one yet that does anything to reduce dark circles, although I found a few that I liked), serums, masks, and moisturizers that have had varying degrees of success. But most of these are things I either keep around and use because I just like them in general, or discarded and did not re-purchase because they didn’t thrill me and I saw no real benefit. However, can I just address one product I did try that has a huge following and that baffles me completely?

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Jade face rollers are huge THING that the internet swears by, but for the life of me I just do not see any difference when I use one of these things on my skin. It does feel good at first, because the jade is cold when you roll it across your face, at least until you’ve done it enough for it to warm up, but other than that – nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No bueno. I know people who swear by these things, so clearly they work for some people, but for the life of me I don’t even know how (In fact, I kept trying to convince a friend of mine to try DermaRolling, and she kept refusing because she thought I meant JADE rolling, and she too had tried it without noticing any effect to her skin at all. We got it straightened out quickly enough, though). 😉

So, there you go. My little recent skin care wonders/recommendations. You’re welcome. Happy Sunday.

Hell-oooo

It’s been almost a year since I posted, yikes! As you may have noticed, I also took the site down during that time. No particular reason, I was just feeling like having less of an online presence for a while, so there you go.

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It took me quite a long time, but I have finally gotten used to my new work routine. After decades of working the regular old 9-5 for someone else, coming up with a way to work for myself and still feel like a normal human was a long time coming for me. But I think I’ve got it figured out now.

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What I do is wake up between 6-7 AM, make my tutoring notes from the day before, plan my tutoring for the day, and then do anything else that needs to be done before eating an early lunch around 10:30. After that, I slip back into bed and either just chill for a while watching TV or playing video games, or take a nice nap until 1 or 2. Then, I get up, get myself put together, and head out to tutor around 3 or 4. In the evenings I get home between 7-9 PM, depending on the day, so I do a quick workout and stretching routine, and sometimes I cook a meal. Then it’s in bed between 9-10 PM to read a little or watch some more TV, and fall asleep between 11-12. It’s pretty wonderful.

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I haven’t taken any photos all year, really; there’s been little excursions here and there but not much in the way of my usual selfies – although this past Sunday, I did actually get the urge to do a shoot and took a bunch of portraits for the first time in forever. I even donated all my costumes at one point, because my closets were too full, and I felt pretty bored with the process overall. However, at the same that was going on (or wasn’t going on, as the case may be) my depression was also creeping back into my life, so I’m not sure if the photo hiatus and costume-purge may have been a part of that. But I started to notice around April of this year that my thoughts were increasingly negative, and my energy and enthusiasm were low, and in May I finally gave in and asked my psychiatrist to put me back on my medication. I’ve been on Lexapro for anxiety for several years (which has caused a good amount of weight gain, but more on that later) but I stopped the Wellbutrin around the time I started it. I was hesitant at first to get back on it, but in the end I felt I had no choice. The last time I was on Wellbutrin, I lost a ton of weight, but that hasn’t happened this time, either because of the Lexapro or the fact that I am turning 50 this month and my body is changing, but either way, I’d rather be sane and heavy over thin and depressed/anxious any day, so there it is.

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I will say, in the past year I’ve also been experimenting with a lot of new skin care, and have discovered some products and processes that have greatly improved my skin. So much so, that I don’t even have to use the heavy foundation I used to wear in my photos to even out my skin tone – yeah, it’s that good. And not having to wear as much makeup has also got me thinking about how much Photoshop I used on my face before, and I’ve decided I don’t want to do that anymore. Yes, I still add makeup and even out my skin, and remove blemishes and what have you. But no more slimming my nose (except with contouring and highlighting) or shortening my long face or widening my close-set eyes. It feels more honest, which, at age 50, I think is a good place to be.

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The weirdest thing about turning 50 has got to be the changes in my body shape. I’ve never, ever had issues with my abs and have always had a flat stomach, and somehow I thought I’d escape the disappearing waist of middle age because of that. I have not. And it’s a bitch to lose it. I finally plateaued weight-wise around 150, and haven’t gained any more than that in about a year, but I’ve never in my life weighed above 130 until this past year and a half, so there you go. One nice thing about losing my waistline though – I always had to get my pants altered to fit me in the waist because it was so much smaller than my butt and thighs, and I don’t have to do that anymore! I’d always hoped that would happen because my  butt and thighs slimmed down to align better with my waist, but hey, working the other way isn’t all bad. And, since I rapidly outgrew all my pants and skirts, I got to buy a whole new wardrobe to fit my new shape, and you know I’m always up for some clothes shopping.

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This is a macro of some lotion I found at Urban Outfitters. As lotion, it is awful. But it took a great picture!

After a very long, slow illness, my father-in-law passed away in April. It was a hard road for my husband to travel, because he was the only one around to care for him, and for about ten years a big chunk of our lives revolved around that. And yet, it was still a shock to lose him, and we were both pretty down for a while even though we knew it was for the best, and he died peacefully in his sleep, but things are starting to even out now and my husband is at least free of the added stress of caring for him, although we have to sell his house and figure out other estate issues. We’ve known for some time that an inheritance was on the way, and while we both plan to cut back on our work hours now that we have more retirement savings to add to what we already had, we both intend to keep working. The only money we’re spending right now is what we need to spend to sell the house, and the rest is going right into investments and savings, so we can enjoy middle age without too much money worry. I’ve seen so many people get an inheritance and immediately start spending (wasting) it, and we both know that Doug’s dad wanted us to use this money to retire and take life easy, not blow it on a second house or granite kitchen counter tops, so that’s what we’re going to do.

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Also, my father-in-law had this big-ass brand-new Mercury Grand Marquis he bought for cash in 2006 and then fell ill, so he barely ever drove it. He’d been bitching for years about how all the car did was sit in the garage when it was so big and fancy, but no one ever wanted to take it from him. When we were working in the house shortly after he died, Doug suggested I just give it a spin around the block to see what I thought – although it was a 2006, it only had 16,000 miles on it, and the Honda I was driving had 120,00; plus, I’d been saying for a while that I really wanted my next car to be bigger and more comfortable instead of the usual compact economy cars I’ve always bought. Needless to say, I ended up loving it, so we sold the old Honda and I now drive my father-in-law’s car as my own. I actually named it ‘Outlaw,” after him – trust me, if you knew him, you’d know how accurate a description that is.

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Meet Outlaw!

What else is there to say? One of the best things that happened this year is that a friend of mine convinced me to travel with her to Orlando and go to Universal Studios, Disney World, and Hollywood Studios – something I never EVER would have done on my own – and OMG it was an absolute BLAST. I took a ton of photos, although they were all with my phone, so I’ll have to do a separate post about that adventure. It was honestly the most damn fun I’ve had in years, even though holy hell it was expensive. How do people manage stuff like that with children? I’ve got no idea.

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This was us on the last day. We were exhausted, but happy.

Well, I’m going to cut this short now, because it’s after 11 AM and time for my daily nap. I may be back soon, or I may never return – you just never know with me. 🙂