Cat-ching Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurance Assurance

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Newsday

An update on our Hurricane Harvey situation:

Photo Aug 28, 7 04 55 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Aug 29, 4 26 31 PM

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

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

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

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

Evacuation Proclamation

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

Here’s what people think evacuating looks like:

Young couple driving convertible at sunset

Here’s what evacuation really looks like:

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

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

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

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

Love you all!

Anxiety Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Duck Duck Oops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frog, meet Log. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May-Yay

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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:

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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?

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Next up, the Teva flatform:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Reaching Back and Catching Up

First of all, I got in my new Vuitton from Fashionphile last week – and it is GORGEOUS. photo-dec-06-10-39-04-am

One thing I love about Fashionphile is that because they are selling high-end luxury goods, their descriptions are really REALLY picky – way more picky than I am about a handbag with pen marks or smudges. As I’ve mentioned before, I am hell on a handbag, so the random discoloration or crease doesn’t bother me one bit. But it’s important when selling a handbag that costs an arm and a leg USED, much less new, that the seller list every single little thing that could be considered a flaw. Fashionphile has five categories to describe the condition of the items they sell: brand new, excellent, very good, good, and fair. I’ve never bought anything from them in the ‘brand new’ category, and I’m not sure I’ve ever bought something that was labeled as ‘excellent’ either (since those items are going to be the most expensive, obvs), but I have bought handbags that fall into the other three categories, and the only one where I saw anything amiss was when I bought one that was labeled ‘fair.’ The ‘very good’ and ‘good’ ones I’ve purchased have looked almost perfect to me, and I’ve had NO complaints about them whatsoever. Usually, the interior of a very good or good level handbag will be dirty or marked up, but as I’ve mentioned before I could care less about that. And this one, for example, was categorized as just ‘good’ due to some slight marks and discolorations on the exterior, but I swear it looks good as new to me. Whenever I buy something labeled ‘good’ or ‘fair’ I always worry what I’m going to get, but I have only been disappointed once, and in that case, it wasn’t that Fashionphile had mis-labeled the bag but rather, had labeled it accurately as just fair (whereas usually when they label something ‘good’ I get the bag in and think, good lord, what exactly did they even think was WRONG with this thing?). So all that to say that yeah, this one was a hefty price tag for me, but I am still so happy I bought it. It’s beautiful and I’ve wanted one of these Empriente Artsy bags for years, and never could have afforded it new. If I had any complaint at all, it would be that it’s heavy. It’s already big and will carry a lot of stuff inside, which adds weight, but the hardware is heavy and the handle is thick which makes it more so. Plus, it’s a fairly heavy (but deliciously soft) leather too. So, heavy, but still worth it. Moving on.

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I edited some more photos from the shoot I did a few weeks ago, and while I came across a few more interesting ones, for the most part I’m already bored with them. Kind of a shame, since I took over 500 photos that day, but once I started getting bored it at least inspired me to go WAY back into the past and re-work some of the earliest photos I ever took. I do this from time to time, but I’ve never gone back quite as far into the archives as I did this time – some of these were taken way back in 2011 when I first started shooting, and was still using a VERY old Canon Rebel XTi that someone gave me for free:

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One thing I will say – as an editor, wow. My face has changed a LOT in six years! It’s pretty astounding to go back to some of these (like that top left one, which is definitely from a very old shoot when i was just getting started, because it was when I shaved my head that I started wearing wigs and taking pictures) and notice how much less wrinkled and saggy and sun-damaged I was back then. I’m not criticizing myself here, just noting it from an editor’s perspective. Up until my forties, I just didn’t notice myself aging at all; I felt I looked the same from  year to year. Once I hit forty though, the changes were exponential – every year I looked different, every year I could see how my face was changing. And pulling up photos from when I was 41 really hits that point home for me. It’s fine and it doesn’t worry me, but it is really noticeable when looking at these shots, and it still kind of amazes me to see it happening.

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These were all done shortly after I got my Canon 7D and was so excited to be able to do movement and motion shots, as well as getting my wide-angle lens and being able to take full-body shots in my tiny little office. I can’t help but notice how much less enthused I am about the whole process now; back then I just hadn’t done any of this stuff and every shot was so new to me – seeing how I could capture movement of fabric or hair or the body was such a revelation every single time, whereas now, it doesn’t feel all that revelatory. For the most part, I don’t even have much enthusiasm for doing it anymore, whereas back then every wig or prop or piece of interesting fabric I could get my hands on was a new adventure. I’m not complaining really; it’s part of the creative process to burn out or run out of steam and find a way to push past it to create new things, but part of my problem is not wanting to shoot myself so much anymore and not having much luck getting other people to pose for me. Everyone I know is so busy, and when they are willing to do a shoot they have specific desires for what sort of photos they want, and I end up doing a bunch of plain old portraits instead of any fun stuff. However – I have taken thousands upon thousands of photos over the years already, so I can always dip back into the archives and work with older stuff while I wait for some new angle to strike me.

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This is from my latest shoot, however; it’s one of my favorites so far. Everything really worked here – the light was right and the focus was clear. A lot of the photos from my last shoot came out really soft, or the lighting wasn’t doing what I wanted; but for some reason the pics of me in this wig and dress (which is another one I put on backwards to get the effect of the ribbon) all worked together really well. I was playing around with light a lot during this set, and that made for a lot of less-than-perfect shots when I didn’t get things right; but this was one where it worked (probably because I did nothing fancy here and stuck with my usual setup).

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Other than that – I’ve been on a real Free People and Oh My Gauze kick lately. OMG came out with some new styles and colors for the first time in A YEAR, and I was so thrilled I snatched up a bunch of new things as soon as I saw them on their website. I’ve gotten better with them about knowing what to avoid, though; a lot of their tops are just too big for me and unflattering (especially their longer tunics, it’s just too much fabric for my small frame), and they have some standard cuts that I’ve tried before and not liked. So, in my latest shopping spree I was able to pick and choose a little better what to get without so many fails (although I had a few). And Free People keeps having sales and I keep getting hooked into buying more items; I’ve discovered I love their t-shirts more than anything, and since quitting work I’ve been much more of a t-shirts and jeans gal than I was last year, so I’ve acquired quite a few cool ones from them lately. That picture above is the t-shirt that got me going – it was the first thing I’d bought from FP in a while and I loved it so much I keep going back and finding more I want to try (a really bad shopping habit of mine – find one thing I love, then immediately want more of it). I hemmed and hawed about getting it, because it was NINETY-EIGHT DOLLARS for a damn tee – but I adored the color combination and the mix of patterns. The logo is stupid (All’s Fair in Love and Combat Boots – WTF) but it does also have these little embroidered flowers all over the front, and it’s really thick and sturdy and comfy and basically perfect. Hm. I may do a quick photo session to show off some new clothes, since I haven’t done that in awhile; maybe that will jump-start some photo-mojo for me.

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I snagged these crappy screenshots real quick from the Oh My Gauze website; all of these are new styles I’ve tried in the new colors. I particularly love the light lavender (which they call ‘flamingo’) and the soft gray; those two colors look beautiful together. The skirt is really cute in real life, although that color I don’t care for (I got it in black), and the pants in the lower right-hand corner are truly beautiful on (got them in both the flamingo and the grey). That top is one of the few I decided to try, because as I said, most of their tops don’t work on me; the photo isn’t very flattering, but in reality it’s another winner. That color is called ‘blonde,’ and in reality it’s got more yellow to it than you can tell in the pictures. By the way, I often dislike how the OMG website puts their outfits together and how they accessorize; it just isn’t at all the way I would wear this stuff. They often pair their tops with a really basic straight leg pant that’s pretty blah and it just does nothing for the outfit overall (like they did here with both the yellow top and the flamingo tunic), and sometimes the shoes or accessories they use don’t look right for the styles at all, IMHO – like those brown sandals with that skirt. That skirt needs a fun and funky shoe, and why the dark brown? And the random, generic belt? No, just no.

Now, this hot mawma on the other hand – she knows what she’s doing. If you’re going to wear this lagenlook stuff, you have to WEAR IT:

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And no, I don’t know this woman, but I wish I did as I fully intend to turn into her as I age. She models a lot of stuff for a store called Watersister that sells on eBay, and she is EVERYTHING. Keep doing what you do, red-hot mawma! And send me the name of your hairstylist.