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.


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:


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.


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.


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).


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.


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:


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.

Reaching Out


I’ve been trying since the election to become more involved and active in my community; as it turns out, the county in which I live actually went blue this time – something I in no way expected to happen. It made me realize that I’ve never been in touch with what goes on in the area where I live at all, and that perhaps I should change that a bit. Especially since it appears there are more like-minded people in my community than I realized. Duh.


I’ve attended a few meetings of a local progressive outreach group that got started the day after the election, and through that group on Facebook I came across an event that was scheduled for December 2nd in my area. There is quite a large Muslim community in this area, and a nearby neighborhood has been home to a mosque for many years. A woman on Facebook who lives in the area had been hearing concern from her Muslim neighbors about harassment and anti-Muslim sentiment on the increase since the election, and she wanted to do something about it, so she put together a day of celebration wherein members of the community would go there and hand out flowers as a gesture of solidarity with them. It sounded like a nice gesture and something both Doug and I could believe in, so we signed up to attend.


The whole thing was arranged with the Imam of the mosque in advance, so they knew we would be there. Friday is a big day of prayers for the Muslim community, so we got there before the service started and set up. Unfortunately, the weather was cold, windy, and gloomy, so at least the rain held off, but the poor weather hurt attendance and there were only about 10 of us who showed up. The woman who organized the event had still gotten a local Trader Joe’s to donate over 400 roses, though, so even though we were small in number, we had a ton of flowers to hand out.


Doug and I were the first to arrive, and as soon as we unloaded our car one of the police officers who is there every week to direct traffic came over; it was clear he had been expecting us and knew about the little event that had been coordinated, because he thanked us immediately and said he was really happy we were doing it. Up until that moment, Doug and I were nervous – we’d never been in or near a mosque and the idea of just standing out there on their property and shoving roses in people’s faces could have been seen as weird and annoying just as easily as it could have been seen as something great, but the officer not only put us at ease and made us feel welcome, he made it clear that the gesture was both needed and appreciated. Cops get a bad rap, and I admit to being biased against them myself, but the officers I met on this day were a good reminder for me that the majority of them do their jobs because they care about the communities in which they work and live. It was clear as the crowds started to arrive that they knew all of these people and took the time to talk to them and treat them kindly. So, a good reminder for me to be less judgmental.


This officer had a warm greeting for that guy; I could tell by their bear hug that they knew each other well

I volunteered to take pictures, and as usual I was so flustered and rushed when we got to the mosque that I forgot to really check my camera for decent settings and just started shooting, so the results were not that great. The crappy weather didn’t help, either. Once the event  was over, people were clamoring for the photos right away, so I did something I never do and just loaded them all straight out of the camera into my computer and into the Facebook event group so people could see them; nobody cared that they were crap but I did, of course. Anyway, I haven’t had time to process many of them at all so for the most part, the ones you see here are crappy originals. Sorryboutit.


Here’s one I did have to time to process; isn’t this woman gorgeous? And the kid’s expression is adorable!

The Imam came out to greet us right away, and also thanked us for what we were doing. Soon people started to arrive for afternoon prayers – Friday was chosen because it is the most important day of the week as far as attendance – and we had been told there could be as many as 700 people there at that time. Although the Imam and the police officers knew what we were doing, it turned out no one else did, and I figured out right away that I needed to not only hand people a flower but to tell them why I was doing it. “We’re from the community and we just want to let you know that we support you and are glad you are here,” or some variation of that, was what we started saying as people passed by on their way inside. Most people were really pleased and we received a lot of hugs and warm wishes. Some people, both men and women, struck up conversations with us and asked questions, and we even exchanged emails and Facebook identities with each other to stay in touch. So many people expressed their desire to do more outreach with each other, and to learn to understand each other, and overall people were very open with us and spoke freely about their concerns and their hopes for the future. For the most part, I was running around taking pictures, but I still got to join in a lot of hugs and handshakes and conversations, and it was a really enjoyable afternoon overall.


As you can tell from the photos, a few of the participants brought their kids along (who were thrilled because they got to skip school to attend, LOL) and the woman who organized things (her name is Ligi, by the way) got permission for them to draw on their basketball court with sidewalk chalk. And let me tell you – those kids went to town on it. They drew, and drew, and drew, and it was all very sweet.


They even turned one of those basketball court circles into a globe, and then drew stick people circling it holding hands. I missed taking a photo of it, though. 

Ligi had mentioned this next part might happen, but I’d sort of decided I wasn’t going to do it – then at the time I went along with it because everyone else did. They invited us all inside for the prayers, and obviously I’d never been in a mosque before, much less for prayers. Even though everyone was beyond welcoming and nice, and even said it was totally fine for me to take pictures while the prayers were going on, I still felt like I was intruding, but that’s just a me thing and had nothing to do with the people there. In fact, once I got inside I realized that it wasn’t terribly formal – well, except for the fact that the men and women were in separate rooms. We had to take our shoes off, of course, and although most of the women were kneeling on the floor, some of the women guided us to the several rows of chairs that were also set up and told us we could sit if we preferred. They also did not make us cover up our hair, which I was concerned about at first since I didn’t have any way to cover mine, but they truly did not seem bothered by it, and in fact said that they have visitors all the time and not to worry. I still was uncomfortable taking photos, though, and didn’t do so – I’ve always felt weird inside a place of worship where I’m not familiar, so I get really paranoid and quiet.


One of the men in this collage is my husband – can you guess which one? 😉

After the service was over, the Imam asked Ligi to say a few words, and she said some lovely things about unity, and loving one another in spite of differences, and overcoming hate. And then so many people came and hugged us and thanked us, and there were even tears in some people’s eyes (oh no, not mine, of course) and as we left the mosque they came chasing us down with food! And not just a little snack, either – a huge amount of biryani per person; I literally  had enough for both lunch and dinner in my styrofoam platter. And, cookies! And, candles. And more conversations and warmth and sharing. It was, in a word, delightful. And so worth the time.


Ligi had also contacted local news stations, and as it turned out one of our local channels showed up and did a segment about it for the nightly news. I got a nice download of it, so to close this post up I’ll share it here (I’m not in it, because pictures):

Apparently, once this video was posted to the news Facebook page, a lot of really nasty comments were generated about it. That started its own conversation in the original event page, with several people talking about how ugly some people were being about the event; I found myself not even wanting to focus on the ugly comments or give them attention, so I stayed out of that for the most part. I think at this point, having been on the internet and been the target of some pretty nasty comments in my day, that shit just doesn’t register much with me anymore, and in this case I didn’t want to give it any focus at all. But I get why others felt the need to express their unhappiness about them, and that it proves how much there is still is to overcome. It just seems to me that when it comes to any news site, especially, the comments are full of such nastiness and ignorance I don’t even give it my attention anymore. People who get hateful in the comments of news articles are, to me, the lowest of the trolls, so I don’t like to get down there in the muck with them.

Picture Play

November hasn’t been the greatest month – first there was the disastrous election, then I broke a tooth eating dinner (still wearing my temporary crown), and then Carol Brady died. Bring on December, I say.

Enjoy a few more pics of my friend

Honestly after the election, I was so depressed (and still am) that I thought I’d stop taking self-portraits altogether. I couldn’t imagine doing something so frivolous as putting on makeup and wigs and posing for the camera while our president-elect was nominating white supremacists to his cabinet and continuing to behave like a twelve-year-old on Twitter – it feels like there is so much real work to do to prepare for the clusterf*ck that’s coming politically, and there certainly is, that doing anything just for fun felt like cheating or slacking off. But I found myself with an entire day off the Friday after Thanksgiving, so in spite of my fairly glum mood I went ahead and gussied up for photos.


I actually went full drag on the makeup, something I haven’t done since discovering PortraitPro (which can add a full face of makeup in Photoshop), and I had a closet full of new costumes to try out thanks to a quick trip I made to Goodwill right before Halloween. I think the combination of those two things made for a productive session, even though I didn’t feel much in the mood to do it at first, because I managed to shoot over 500 photos. I can’t remember the last time I did that! But I have gotten lax about photoshoots, putting on less makeup than I used to and scrounging around for something to wear since I’ve seriously slacked off on buying picture clothes and costume wigs.


This was an experiment – I don’t think it worked out so well

I’ve noticed my interest in taking movement and levitation shots has waned, but it’s due to necessity and not boredom. Currently I don’t have a backdrop hung on my photo wall, which I definitely need to do the movement shots; they’re a bitch to hang up and I had to take the one that was up there down right after we got Violet because when she was a kitten she decided the folds of the cloth, where the backdrop puddled on the floor, was a great place to relieve herself instead of using the litter box. By the time I figured out what she was doing, there were several lovely stains and wet spots on my gray muslin; it came out in the wash but I’ve been hesitant to hang it back up lest Violet get tempted to use it again. So, every time I take pictures right now I stick to portraits, but I do have a few dresses I’d like to shoot so at some point soon I’m going to try to hang one of my backdrops up again; I’ll just have to keep an eye on Violet to be sure she’s been broken of the habit of using it as a potty spot. Moving on.

Two things I’d like to mention based on the photo above: first, I cannot believe that I took over 500 photos and totally forgot to use the Hairdo  Midnight Berry wig I reviewed last week. I was actually trying to find the right wig to wear with this one dress I got at Goodwill and couldn’t think of one, so I ended up using a Vanessa wig I’ve used in lots of shots already. It wasn’t until two days later that I realized I should have used the Midnight Berry; I just totally forgot that it existed, even when I went digging through my wig cabinet looking for something colorful to try, my eye just passed right over the damn thing. And I know it will take fabulous photos too. Boo. I’ll have to put it on the list for next time.

The other thing I want to say about this photo is that it marks the last time I was able to use my new Topaz Glow software. it was always dodgy to use; I had to download an older version because my OpenGL is old and can’t be updated anymore. But, Sunday morning I decided to go through the Downloads file on my computer and delete a bunch of stuff since my computer was running slow, and something I deleted killed Glow and I can’t use it anymore. Fortunately, although I enjoyed playing around with the program, it wasn’t essential, and I’d already pretty much gotten everything out of it I was going to get. It was always sketchy and would crash a lot while using it (I really push my old laptop to the max with all my photo editing) but now it crashes as soon as I open it up. Oh well. Live and learn. Moving on.


I usually use my 50mm for portraits, but this time I decided to mix it up and shoot with the 85mm, which may have been a mistake. The focus on the 85 is tricky – even trickier when working off a remote – and as a result of that, a lot of my shots came out softer than I would have liked. At first, I was also doing WAY too much over-editing (this was before Topaz Glow had died), and so my first few processed shots aren’t that great; I ended up adding tons of filters, overlays, and textures just to disguise how meh they were (as in the shot above – still not crazy about it).


This shot was pretty out of focus, so in the end I decided to make it even more so. Yeah, I don’t like it much either. But I do like the outfit – the dress is another one from Goodwill, and the beanie is a Kate Spade I got at Nordstrom. Technically the bow goes in the back, but I never wear it that way.


This one is OK, but as someone pointed out on Flickr my mouth came out looking weird. I didn’t actually use PortraitPro on them too much, but I did over-emphasize them with my makeup, lining them pretty far outside my normal lip line to make them look fuller. Mostly though, in this shot I had my tongue up on the roof of my mouth for some reason, and I think that’s what makes this look so strange; there really should be some teeth showing there and, well, they’re missing. Not only that but in the original, the lighting was very dark, and all you could see between my lips was this pitch black void, and it looked even weirder. I used the dodge tool to lighten things up there, and it helped, but it still looks strange. And the ringlight reflection in my eyes is fake – PortraitPro has a feature to add different catchlight to the eyes.


After screwing around too much and feeling dissatisfied with my first few photos, I decided to dial back the editing and maintain more clarity. I think I pulled that off fairly well here, but in case you can’t tell I did do a bit of plastic surgery; shortened the nose and widened the eyes, mostly, as well as add an upturn to my mouth (my mouth has a natural downturn that gets more pronounced as I age; not a big deal IRL but in photos, a downturned mouth makes the subject look angry). Somehow I ended up looking more like Debbie Harry than myself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just isn’t true. As if I care about that. One thing that was tricky about this shoot: my face doesn’t match my neck and shoulders, so I’m having to navigate that a bit. I always use DermaBlend on my neck and shoulders for photos, because it covers up the sun damage and freckles completely; but it doesn’t work on my face at all because it’s too dry. And the foundation I used this time just didn’t match the DermaBlend well, so there’s that. Oh, and I got that hat at Nordstrom too. I don’t normally wear hats, but I love to buy them for some reason, and this one made me think of Westworld (which is a pretty cool show if you haven’t checked it out. Not sure it really makes sense and it has plot holes a mile wide, but it is filmed gorgeously and the acting is top-notch, so it still works).

Oh and that’s my real hair in that shot, by the way. I just used PortraitPro to make it a lot darker.


Now see – this is where I should have worn the Hairdo wig, instead of this one I’ve used a dozen times already in photos. Although – this one moves really well, creates interesting shapes when flung about, and takes great photos. I have a ton from this section of the photo session I’d love to edit, but so far I’ve just done these two (the very first photo from the set is this same wig). My lipstick was not anywhere near this color; it was brown (thanks PortraitPro!) and the choker necklace is black and gold (I love love LOVE chokers, and they seem to be having a resurgence right now; Free People has a ton for sale, and that’s where I got this one). The top is another great dress I got for about $4.50 at Goodwill.


I just now realized that I look insane in this shot. Oh well.

Something else I did in this shoot that I don’t do too much (at least not anymore) is use the softbox attachment I have for my Speedlite external flash. When I first got it I used it all the time, but eventually phased it out when I realized I preferred the softer look I get when I just bounce light off the ceiling. It’s a very different look, and in the past year or so every time I used it I end up dissatisfied with the results; it creates a flat appearance and makes color more difficult to work with. For some reason, I’ve noticed that the softbox flash works best when  bounced off a gray background, and since I used a gray backdrop for some of these shots I went ahead and took a bunch with the  softbox just for something different. It’s tricky, and harder for me to edit these shots because it requires a different process, but I think it works in some of the shots, at least, like this one. Oh, and that wig is one from Freetress that has an interesting feature – it has no ear tabs, and is intended to be worn from any direction you might put it on your head. Meaning, you could put it on and leave the tag in the back, or twist the wig around and wear it with the tag in the front of it. It’s a strange concept that only partially works; this wig definitely looks best when worn with the tag in the back, in spite of the fact that you can change it. And also, the lack of ear tabs means the sideburns are incredibly short and almost non-existent. The biggest problem with this wig, though, is that it is ridiculously small. I do NOT have a big head, and this thing is way too tight for my head. It’s a shame too, because it’s a cute style, the color is great, and the hair fiber is incredibly soft. I would totally wear this out of the house if it were manageable, but it’s so small that it’s just not possible. Oh, and the top here is a another dress from Goodwill; the lace-up part is supposed to be in the back, but for the photos I am wearing it backwards (I do that a lot in photos).


Another one I’m not sure I like; it feels too soft to me, but I liked the way the light was framing the hair. I added the rainbow colors using a star filters program from Topaz, and added a little lens flair from my Retrographer plug-in. I played around with making the background peach as well, but it didn’t work – I liked the idea of everything in the photo being monochromatic, but it was not to be.

That’s all I’ve edited for now, but I am sure more will be on the way. I’ve got a busy week ahead, so I don’t know when I’ll get around to sharing more, but it will happen eventually. Happy Cyber Monday, everyone (yeah, I’ve already been shopping. Damn that Free People and their sales)!

Video Wig Review: Refined by Eva Gabor in GL 2-6

I think this wig would have looked better in a lighter color, but this is the one color that was on sale so there you go.

I’ve noticed with a lot of Gabor’s less expensive, shorter wigs that they come out of the box looking a bit ragged – stray hairs everywhere, and not a lot of shape to the style. With some work they can turn out fine, but right out of the package they’re rather unimpressive. Caps are still comfy though!

Bag Queen

About a year ago I said I’d write a post about handbags. Here it is.

I took this photo when I was considering selling these as a lot on eBay. They’re all outlet store Coach bags, so i wasn’t sure I could get enough for them to sell individually. I’ve never listed them though. I also have never carried the small gold one OR the messenger bag. Make me an offer! 🙂

I go through phases with handbags. I’ll get on a kick and buy a bunch of them, then gradually get rid of the ones I end up not using. Just about the time when I start to get free space in my closet again, something will happen to get me going. I recently fell off the handbag wagon when I web-surfed on over to Fashionphile for some reason and came across an Empriente Artsy for under $1,000 (although not by  much), which is pretty much unheard of, and I had to put it on layaway. Now I’m  back to browsing through their new arrivals every morning and drooling over tons of things (don’t get me started on the Hermes wallet I REALLY REALLY want even though it’s ridiculously priced. Did I mention Fashionphile has layaway?).

This is not the actual bag I have on layaway, but it’s the right color and style. I’ve wanted a bag in Empriente leather FOREVER, but it costs – this one retails new for upwards of $2500.  

Anyway all that purse-browsing got me thinking that it was probably time to clean my handbags again, so while I was doing that today (as well as continuing my West Wing marathon, to remind myself that at least in a fictional world there will always be a dignified, sane individual in the White House) I took photos of them to share my favorites. And here they are – all spruced up for the cameras and squeaky clean! Up first is my absolute fave – my Louis Vuitton Neverfull MM:

My first Vuitton, with a little charm I got at Dillard’s for $15. I’m never above a good deal, and it’s cute. I have one with a pink “C” too, which I put on whatever second bag I’m carrying. Yeah, I’m usually carrying two.

I think a lot of purse aficionados consider the Neverfull to be a rather pedestrian bag. But many purse aficionados also think Vuitton’s signature print is too common, and as it turns out I don’t hang out with any of those people. I love the signature print and always have; I think it’s beautiful, and even though the Neverfull is a really basic shopper shape that isn’t particularly unique, it’s a heck of a workhorse bag and I use the hell out of it. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the straps being too skinny to carry the weight of the purse without cutting into your shoulders, but I really don’t have that issue. I think most people who complain about that have the GM – which is the largest size – rather than the MM I have, which is the mid-size bag. I considered the GM when buying this one, but it was a big jump in price, and it honestly is so HUGE it almost looks like a diaper bag or travel bag to me. This one, even thought it’s technically mid-sized, is still pretty large.

The three Neverfull sizes – Vuitton uses the same terms to describe the sizes of all their bags. I am generally into getting the biggest bag possible, but I am so glad I got the medium sized Neverfull. It’s plenty big, and that GM is just humongous! 

The Vuitton canvas is incredibly durable, and the vachetta leather has held up nicely. One thing about me is that I do NOT baby my bags; if I am paying a lot for a handbag then I expect it to take the abuse I dish out, and to do so with a smile. And this one does, for sure. It still looks lovely, but then again, I think Vuitton’s signature canvas ages beautifully and never goes out of style – the leather is untreated and designed to darken as it ages as well, although a lot of people don’t like it dark and work hard to keep it light as it is when they first buy it (I don’t – no surprise – but I do clean and condition it once a year). I carry it in the rain, I toss it on the floor and fling into my car, and generally treat it like a handbag and not a newborn. I think for a lot of people, if you paid a lot for a bag you should treat it as something delicate, but I am exactly the opposite: if a handbag costs over $1,000 it should be damn near invincible and I shouldn’t have to worry about it in the least (well, except for maybe worrying about it getting stolen). And I don’t have to worry about this one.

Allow me to introduce you to the Purse-to-Go: a removable insert for your handbag with lots of pockets. The Neverfull doesn’t have any pockets inside (except for one on the side) so this provides a way to keep it organized, and I can just yank the whole thing out and stick into another bag when I want to make a switch. Got mine on eBay, and they come in lots of different sizes! You’re welcome. 

I have not bought any of my luxury bags new, by the way. I found the Neverfull on eBay for $850, and when it arrived I was thrilled to find it looked like new. Another reason I love the Neverfull is it’s the first one I ever bought; I got it for Christmas two years ago, and I hadn’t been so excited about a Christmas gift in ages. I’d always, always wanted a Vuitton, and I labored over which one to get.When I needed a new wedding ring, i swear it took me twenty minutes to pick one out, because I could care less about jewelry (I had to get a ring made out of a different material because over the years I developed an allergy to the nickel in the white gold of my original ring) but I spent days and days deciding which handbag to buy. And I also paid more for the Vuitton than I did for my replacement ring (my first replacement only cost $150, and after several years wearing that one I moved up to one that cost $650. Still less than the Neverfull!).

Here’s another thing you never knew you needed but you totally do: a purse shaper! I have one of these plexiglass plates in the bottom of my Neverfull, because it doesn’t have a very solid base on its own, and this keeps the shape from getting droopy. One downside: it will make your bag a bit more heavy. There are also Purse-to-Go organizers that include a more solid base, so that’s another alternative. 


Don’t these celebs have stylists to tell them about purse shapers?!  I bet they don’t have a purse organizer inside of them either, and all of their cosmetics and pens and prescription drugs are just rattling around loose inside like a bunch of savages. Oh, and Paris got the GM Neverfull, I see. Or rather, had it given to her by Vuitton so she would carry it in public and influence the rest of us to go buy one. Whatever. It’s still a great bag. 

By the way, if it’s tacky to talk about how much this stuff costs, I don’t care. Moving on.

My Fendi shopper – sorry for the crappy photos. I’d been slathering leather cleaner and brass polish on purses all day after wiping down coated canvas with organic facial wipes, so I wasn’t really in the mood to set up for pictures. Like how I threw those purse-cleaning tips in there tho?

This is another workhorse of a bag that I use the hell out of – it’s a Fendi shopper I also got at Fashionphile for about $400.  It was in brand new condition when I got it, and it’s actually one I went back and forth about buying until it arrived on my doorstep. With Fashionphile, you have 90 days to pay off a layaway, and you can cancel it at any time for a 10% fee. So the whole time I was paying it off I was also constantly considering cancelling it, but in the end I am really glad I bit the bullet and made the purchase. It’s a real shopping tote, so it doesn’t get carried as a handbag ever, but MAN is it useful for whatever crap I also need to carry around (and yeah, I do carry so much crap with me that I am often dragging both this bag AND the Neverfull along, which is a LOT of handbag for one woman). When I was still working, it was the bag that carted my lunch and makeup up to the school (I got to school early, around 7 AM, and did my makeup once I got there), and now that I’m tutoring, it carries my laptop, my iPad, and a few notebooks. When I go to Ruah, it carries my contraband snacks that I sneak into my room; it’s also carted wigs and hats around for photoshoots and is just overall awesome. And it looks really cool, too, with the pop of red on the sides (it looks a little pink-ish here, but it’s more red in person). And Fendi doesn’t do much in their signature print anymore, but I have always liked it, so I’m glad to own something in it.

My puffy purse, not to be confused with Seinfeld’s puffy shirt. Although the two would look good together. You can never be too puffy, I always say. Or sparkly. You can never be too puffy, or too sparkly. Moving on.

Speaking of Fendi, another bag I love is my Fendi Moncler Spy. I think I’ve talked about this one before, but while I eventually sold off all my other Spy bags, I will never get rid of this one. The Moncler Spy was a limited edition bag Fendi created in the winter of  2006 at the height of the Spy bag craze; only 500 of them were  made and at the time of their release, they cost around $2100. The bags were a partnership with the upscale skiwear company Moncler, which is why it is literally made out of whatever it is puffy jackets are made out of. Most people thought they were hideously ugly, but many celebs snatched them up, and when I saw one at Fashionphile for $550 I couldn’t resist.

A random person in a puffy Moncler jacket that probably cost around 10 grand, and Holly Robinson with A RED MONCLER SPY THAT TOTALLY SHOULD BELONG TO ME GIVE IT TO ME I WANT IT. 

I really, really wish I could get my hands on one of the other colors these were made in – there was a red and a green one at the time – but I’ve never seen another used one on sale for under $1000, and that’s just more than I am willing to spend on any handbag (the closest I’ve ever come is the Artsy I currently have on layaway, and it was/is $985). This bag was the first Spy I ever bought, and got me started on that kick, but just like my first Vuitton I have a total soft spot for this one. Plus, when you carry it, it doubles as a comfy pillow – not kidding, I’ve actually slept on it before (once on a plane and once when I was in the emergency room due to an allergic reaction. I’m fine now, thank you). It’s just so unusual looking and fun and I love it. One downside to it is, though, that because it’s so fluffy and the interior is so soft and dark, it’s really difficult to find things once they go down into the black hole that is the purse’s interior. Kind of annoying, but when it’s a limited edition purse I got at a steal, I’m not gonna complain too much.

Louis Vuitton Manosque PM in Damier Ebene. I hate having to say the name of almost every Vuitton bag in existence out loud, because I cannot pronounce any of them properly. Except the Neverfull – that one isn’t too hard. 

This little cutie is also Vuitton; it’s the Damier Ebene Manosque PM (if you look at the graphic above, you’ll see that PM is their smallest size – I’m not a small-bag gal, but this one was affordable so I bought it anyway). I love the Damier print, but it’s more expensive than the signature canvas (signature canvas is generally the cheapest when buying pre-owned) and I looked for a long time before coming across something I felt comfortable spending for it. This is an odd bag, shape-wise; notice how small it is along the bottom, which makes it rather impractical if you’re carrying a lot of stuff in your bag. One or two items can rest on the bottom of it, but anything else ends up kind of balancing on top of those things, and it gets awkward quickly. When you need to fish something out of it, you pretty much have to start taking things out completely to find what you’re looking for, so yeah, not practical. And that little pocket in the front is cute, but it’s hard to get the strap unhooked so I never use it. I’ve actually come close to selling this one several times (I paid $650 for it and could probably get all of that back easily), even going so far as to photograph it for listing, but in the end when I saw how awesome it looked in the photos I couldn’t do
A Neverfull in the Damier Azure print 

I’m glad now that I never sold it; it’s a unique look and a style Vuitton no longer makes, and even though it’s too small for me to carry daily, it is great for when I go shopping or socializing, because I can throw most things into the Fendi or the Neverfull and lock that one in the trunk after tossing the essentials into this one and taking it inside. It’s a lot easier to carry this one around the Galleria than it is the Neverfull, and it gets a ton of compliments. Even for a big-purse girl, a few smaller ones are always nice to have. Now I just need to get my hands on something in the Damier Azure and I’ll be set. It’s also more pricey, so I haven’t found anything I’m willing to spring for yet. But I will eventually, I’ve no doubt.

My one bucket bag – a shape I never particularly liked, but once I bought this I ended up liking it quite a bit. It’s cute, and it’s something different from my usual.

Lest you think I am total purse snob, I love all handbags, and am never opposed to purses made by non-luxury designers. I have always liked Dooney and Bourke bags, even though they don’t seem to be as popular as they used to be. Sometime last year I got curious about what old D&B was up to, and when cruising around their website I came across the signature print in this mint green and lavender color combination that really appealed to me. The first bag I bought was a satchel style, and true to form for me, when I got that one in and fell in love with it I just had to go out and buy another one in the same colorway. It’s a habit of mine. That’s when I got the bucket bag pictured above.

My first mint and lavender bag – the D&B satchel. I don’t like the signature print of every designer – Coach’s signature print doesn’t appeal to me, for example, and Michael Kors signature is just ugly – but I always liked Dooney and Bourke’s for some reason. It’s simple and they use a pleasant font, and it’s not overwhelming.

Then, at some point during one of my purse-purging phases I decided I didn’t carry either one of these enough to justify keeping both of them – the colors are cute, but I didn’t really need two mint green and lavender handbags, did I? Even then, I had a hard time deciding which one to let go. In the end, I kept the bucket bag because it was a shape I didn’t have in any other brands, and the satchel was really similar in shape to some of my others. But this was another one that was hard to sell because I’d look at the photos and think about how cute it was and hold off on getting rid of it.

My Vuitton Alma – probably my best “steal”

For example, take my Alma. It’s a satchel shape like the Dooney, but this is one I carry way more than I ever did the D&B. This is another favorite, for several reasons: it’s a beautiful shape, first of all, and I’m a sucker for a good satchel-style bag. I have really  narrow shoulders, and the truth is that shoulder bags can be pretty annoying for me as they often won’t stay up; they slip off my shoulder easily unless, like the Neverfull, they have a really long strap drop length (the Spy, for example, even though it’s got enough strap drop length technically to be carried on the shoulder, continually slides off  of mine). So I’ve always had a fondness for bags with short handles – I actually know people for whom a shoulder strap is a must, but I’ve never been one of those. So, this one is a favorite shape for me, number one, and it’s a pretty popular Vuitton style – although this is definitely a vintage model that’s been through several upgrades since mine was made.

Some more modern versions of the Alma – don’t get me started on that red one. It is TO DIE FOR, but good Lord is it pricey. 

But another reason I love my Alma is because it was such a steal: I snagged this one on eBay for just $280. Now, I’ve seen a lot of used Almas for sale in my day, and many that were WAY more beat up than this one was when I got it – and I have never EVER seen one for under $400, and a $400 one is pretty rare. It’s a popular shape that can resell for a lot of scratch, even in the signature print, but this one popped up on eBay shortly after I bought the Neverfull there and was obsessed with looking for other deals. At the time I was concerned about the water staining it had on the bottom, but in the end it was such a great deal I couldn’t pass it up.I am so glad I got it, because as I said, I’ve never seen another one that cheap anywhere – and the truth is I would have water-stained the shit out of the bottom myself eventually (remember, I’m abusive to my bags) so it never has bothered me in the least, and once I cleaned it up it looked great. It’s a much nicer size than the Damier Manosque, and it’s such a classic shape that it will always be lovely, even if it is an older model.

My magic unicorn bag – the Tory Burch Ella tote in cobalt leather. This thing is HUGE. 

This is another bag I’ve considered selling several times but in the end, I can’t ever do it. This is also another one that is REALLY rare, and at the time I bought it I didn’t know just how rare it was. See, Tory Burch used to make these little “Ella” shopper totes that looked just like this one, but were about half the size and made of coated canvas instead of leather. TB still makes an Ella tote, but there’s one big difference between the ones she makes now and the ones I used to love – SIDE POCKETS. At some point, the label quit putting side pockets in the totes, and I was heartbroken when this occured (they also stopped using coated canvas and now make them in nylon instead). Up to that point, the Tory Burch tote was my JAM. I would buy one, use the hell out of it, sell it at a little bit of a loss but no biggie, then turn around and buy another one in a new print (they were always in fun prints). I used them for so long that I had a very real SYSTEM for carrying them around – cell phone in one side pocket, keys in the other – and when they quit making the side pockets I was just beside myself over it. I am the worst about having to dig around in my handbag for my cell phone and/or my keys, and the sidepocket system just completely solved my problem. I would actually just keep my keys and my cellphone in the pockets even when I got home, so I 100% completely knew at all times where those things were – something that has not been the case since, I swear to you. Plus, the totes were the perfect size and shape and the coated canvas was durable, and they weren’t very expensive (if I remember correctly they were right around $200).

The Ella tote now – note how it is DISGUSTINGLY POCKET-FREE 

TB did, for a time, continue to make one style with side pockets – a pretty boring solid black one in nylon. Even though it bored me (not a huge fan of black handbags, hence my desire to find an affordable Moncler Spy in red or green) I bought it and carried it for a good long while (still have it, in fact, because TB eventually even quit making that one with side pockets so I don’t want to let it go even though I haven’t carried it in years) but every now and again I would get nostalgic for one of the old-school Ellas and go hunting for them online. It was rather like going hunting for a unicorn – I believed the damn bags had existed at one point, but I simply could not find evidence of their existence ANYWHERE. No photos, no used ones for sale on eBay, nothing. I started to believe it had all been a dream and the side pocket Ella had never truly been. However, it was during one of those searches for the elusive Ella Unicorn Bag that I stumbled across this cobalt blue leather one at the Bloomingdale’s store online. I can’t remember what I searched for that located it – it just appeared on my screen like I called forth my Patronus or something. I’d searched online for Ella totes with side pockets for months to no avail, and then out of nowhere – BAM. There she was!

I could only find one tiny, sad picture of a black nylon Ella with side pockets like mine. SERIOIUSLY, WHAT DOES TORY BURCH HAVE AGAINST SIDE POCKETS? WHAT DID THEY TO DO HER AND WHY DID SHE ABANDON THEM? 

BUT. Whereas the Ellas of old only cost around $200, this leather one was considerably more expensive at around $450. I hemmed and hawed for a few days before making the purchase, but finally bit the bullet and called it a Christmas present since it was early December. And I kid you not, as soon as I hit the “complete your order” button, the purse listing disappeared. Disappeared! As in, I went back to look at it again and got the “page can not be found” message. What the hell? I sweated it out until I got the order confirmation via email, then sweated some more until I got a shipping number. Was it even real? Was I really getting a cobalt blue leather Ella tote with side pockets, or was the promise of side pockets going to be cruelly snatched away from me at the last minute, when a customer service representative called to tell me they’d  made a mistake and sold me a handbag that did not, in fact, exist, that they in fact didn’t even know how that mysterious listing appeared on their site in the first place? A few days later, though, my prayers were answered – the side pockets lived! And they belonged to me!

If this had side pockets, I might try it

One thing I didn’t expect though, was that this Ella was freaking MASSIVE. Gargantuan. I could have fit two of my old Ellas in it easily, along with a small puppy. In fact, it was so much bigger than I expected that I briefly considered sending it back, until I hopped back online and remembered that not anywhere at all on the internet did a listing or photo exist for this purse AT ALL and that I therefore needed to keep it forever and cherish it always. I swear to you, to this day I’ve not seen one single thing about this purse anywhere on the internet after the day I bought it – I’ve never seen another photo of a purse like this, never seen anyone carrying  a purse like this, and at this point, if you own a purse like this or have seen pictures of a purse like this on the internet please don’t tell me. It’s my own special unicorn purse now, and I don’t want anyone to spoil the fantasy for me.

Video Wig Review: Reese PM by Noriko in Blueberry Burst

Poor Reese. I have never done this wig justice.

The fun video editor I’ve been using in the past year, Filmora, came out with an upgrade that just killed it on my crusty old laptop. It became too cumbersome and time-consuming to use, so I’ve reverted back to the free version of MovieMaker I have installed. So, no fancy editing tricks in this one, but at least it didn’t take me upwards of two hours just to edit and upload. Moving on.

Also, I titled the video “Blueberry Blast” instead of Burst. I got confused between this color and the Kahlua one, which is the “blast” part of the new Noriko colors equation. Sorry. I filmed this latest spate of videos in a rush when I had a few spare hours, so I didn’t do the best job ever – I caused lots of confusion by claiming in the Angelica PM video that I bought it for $100, and then I gave this one the wrong title. That’s what happens when I get in a rush, I guess!

Reese is still too big and poufy on me, but it’s a very cute style. And the color is great too, but VERY dark – which wasn’t a surprise, but still. Just thought I’d mention it.


It Is Not Okay

So, what’s up America?


Or should I say, what’s wrong? Because there’s a lot more to say in answer to that question. Two things in particular are getting up in my grill on this damn day, and here they are.

#1. STOP telling me this is going to be okay. It is NOT – I repeat, NOT – going to be okay. It is going to be the opposite of okay. It is going to be a shit show.

Many of my well-meaning liberal friends are writing very up-with-people Facebook posts about how we need to chin up and face the music because The Sun is Gonna Come Out Tomorrow. That we have to accept the results of the election and put aside our differences for the good of our nation.


President Donald Trump (yeah, that’s right, I said it, and I’ll say it again and again every time some look-on-the-bright-side-of-lifer tries to sell me this ‘it’s all gonna be fine’ load of crap, beacuse guess what? Every time I say it they choke, WHICH SHOULD TELL THEM SOMETHING) won by exploiting our differences. And he will rule by doing more of the same. Because when he riles up his base, he gets what he wants – the only thing he has ever wanted in his entire, white male priviledged, douchebaggy life – which is adoration. Everything he does in the White House will be done for one reason and one reason only; to get as many people as possible to lick his fat orange ass. And he is going to surround himself with people are far too willing to do that as long as their own personal agendas get met.

There is NOTHING okay about President Donald Trump, the stupidest, least qualified, most prominent and repeated FAILURE both at business and just being a decent human being who has ever held the office of the presidency. Not. One. Thing. is going to be okay about this. We’re fucked, and the sooner we accept that and stop trying to play nice with the other team (a team that hates us and doesn’t care, literally, if we live or die) the better off we’ll be. We’ve been too nice already, too optimistic, and that’s what got us into this shithole. Every single time someone said to me in the last year, ‘oh no, Donald cannot possibly win,’ I thought, yes, yes he can. And he probably will. And I was right. And yet people are STILL trying to talk to me in the same pie-in-the-sky, at-heart-all-human-beings-are-good manner that got the rug pulled out from under us the first go round. Enough dreaming, people. It is not going to be okay, and we are in a shitload of trouble here, and the next four years (at least) are going to suck. We’re most likely going to go broke, every other nation (except Russia) is going to hate us more than they already do, our healthcare system is going to be decimated, and civil rights are going to be set back at least 50 years. So yeah, NOT OKAY. Got that? Moving on.

#2. I am going to need all the talking heads and political pundits to STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT TRUMP DID ‘RIGHT’ IMMEDIATELY.

Trump did NOTHING ‘right.’ He did EVERYTHING wrong. And he won because America enjoyed watching him do everything wrong, and the majority of Americans support him in his wrongness. There is no lesson to learn from President Donald Trump that I want to absorb. I have no wisdom to gain from him, his supporters, or this election. All that I ‘learned’ – which really isn’t something I learned as much as it is something I already  knew and just had reinforced for me – is that any vile, disgusting human being with a white dick and a fat wallet shoved into his pants can basically get WHATEVER HE WANTS in this country, despite having no qualifications, knowledge, expertise, class, skill, recommendations, preparation, plan, ability to complete a sentence, composure – you name it. This dirtbag did not win by being more ‘right’ about the electorate than the Democrats. He won through his willingness to be the most wrongedy-wrongy-wrong-wrong human shitstain on the campaign trail of any sub-human slug who’s ever run for office before.

And more thing I gotta add: I see you Trump voters out there saying it’s all gonna be OK because Trump won’t actually do any of the shit he has said he will do, or that he will be held in check and won’t be able to accomplish his CLEARLY STATED goals. You are all on notice and when these chickens come home to roost I am coming back to you all, with receipts. ‘Print screen’ is not gonna be your friend.

I am going away for now, until I can better contain myself. But if you’re going to come at me with some more of this ‘we all have to work together for the good of the nation’ bullshit, just know that I WILL be back. And I AM. NOT. HAVING. IT. on this day. NOT ON THIS DAY.


ETA: I appreciate everyone who commented, but I’ve switched comments off for now. Yes, this post is vitriolic, but the frustrations and sentiment here is real, and were I to delete the post at this point it would just concede the point that as a woman I’m  not allowed to feel my feelings if they make people uncomfortable. People disagreed with me in the comments, which was fine, and I disagreed right back – but it was starting to become  the sort of insult-fest that is good for no one. To the people that disagreed with me, I still respect your opinions and appreciate your input. To the people that got way personal and nasty – up your game. If you wanna act ugly at least be coherent and attempt to keep your remarks relevant to the discussion.

Rinse and Retreat

Not a very logical title, but I tried.

As I mentioned in my last post, I headed back to Ruah for another silent retreat at the Villa de Matel. I wanted another long stay, but every span of time I had open to go was unavailable at the convent, so I settled on a quick weekend trip instead. For the most part, my trips to the Villa occur during the summer as well as during the work week; I may have attended a time or two back in the 90s on a weekend, but that’s certainly too far back for me to remember, so suffice it to say that I’ve not been there on a weekend in quite a long time, and possibly ever. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and definitely different from what I am accustomed to.

I always love the sight of the Villa coming into view after turning into the drive – not a great video representation of it, but I forgot my Sony and had to use my phone.

Friday wasn’t too bad, although there was one group of about 10 people attending that was holed up in the Bethany room for most of the day. That meant I didn’t have access to that space, which was OK since it’s not a room I usually spend a lot of time in. Apparently, the center was also preparing for some big shenanigans happening during the coming week, so there was quite a bit of activity and lots of people bustling about all day, which was odd for me, but not particularly disruptive. More people at the center had its upsides, too – when there’s only a handful of guests staying at Ruah, meals are served in the nun’s dining room, buffet-style, and guests have to grab a plate in there, get their food, and walk over to the retreatant’s dining room to eat. Under these circumstances, the food will certainly fill you up and provide you with nutrients, but that’s about all I can say about it. Unless you just love cottage cheese and prunes, then you’ll really be in business.

Deutschlands größter Klostermarkt
Nothing nearly this exciting, NOPE

But, if there are groups attending or just more than a handful of guests staying at the center, the kitchen will prepare separate meals for them and serve them right in the retreatants’ dining area. Usually in this case, the food is more substantial – rice and broccoli casserole instead of cottage cheese, grilled chicken instead of cold cuts, that sort of thing – and you don’t have to disturb the nuns in their dining area and pick at their leftovers (when getting food in the nuns’ dining room, it is expected that guests will wait 10-15 minutes after serving time to allow them time to get served and seated). So in that regard, Friday’s dinner was quite nice, and because the group was in meetings until late into the evening, the entire retreat center was kept “open” until about 10:00 PM, which is unusual. When there are just a few retreatants staying, the women who run the center pretty much shut things down when they leave around 6 PM. Nothing is locked up, but all the lights are turned off and the doors are shut to the common areas. You can still wander around the second floor and spend time in any of the rooms as late as you want; there’s nothing stopping you from going into, say, the Offertory at 2 AM, but it’s a big, old building to wander around in, and the hallways are quite dim, so it still feels a bit creepy and a little unwelcoming even though you know you’re doing nothing wrong. Because of that, I normally turn in early when I’m there – shortly after sundown – but this time, everything was open and lit up quite late, which was pretty nice (keeping things lit isn’t generally a popular thing at Ruah; pretty much every light switch has a sign over it reminding you to shut it off if you’re the last one leaving ANY room).

Not quite this bad, but close

Saturday morning, however, was another situation entirely. I woke up at 7, and wandered down to the guests’ dining room for the 8-7 breakfast hour around 8:15 (you have one hour for all meals, by the way, and if you miss that hour, you’re screwed until the next mealtime). As previously mentioned, waiting about 15 minutes to go down and get served is kind of the norm there, so even though I knew there were others dining I figured I’d just let the group get their food and get settled, since they probably had more meetings to get to and they all knew each other, before I went down. Well. I opened the door to the dining area, and holy cow – it was PACKED with people. And, almost all of the breakfast was gone! There was still food, but what was left I couldn’t eat because of the wheat – toast, doughnuts, croissants – and fortunately there was a scrap of scrambled eggs and one piece of crusty bacon left that I could snag, otherwise I would have gotten nothing. Then, I had to worm my way into a spot at a table full of people I didn’t know, because there were so few seats left, which was awkward. Thank goodness the dining area is also considered a silent space, so no one was talking, or I really would have felt like a twerp.

Yep, I’m in there somewhere

As soon as I was done with breakfast, I started worrying about lunch (probably because I was still hungry). I figured I was going to have to be one of ‘those people’ who gets in line for food at a buffet line ten minutes before it opens if I wanted to be sure to get something to eat. If I didn’t have to avoid wheat, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but my options in that regard have always been limited at Ruah – the bottom line is, you are staying at the center and essentially eating for free (they work on a donation basis, so if you only had five dollars to donate at the end of your stay, that is all you have to pay), so you take what you can get and make the most of it. I wouldn’t dream of complaining about the quality or quantity of what is basically free food being given to me out of the goodness of other people’s hearts (well, not to them at least, clearly I am OK with doing it here) so I generally just deal with it the best I can. I also usually sneak all sorts of snacks into my room just in case, even though that is against the rules, but because my stay was so short this time I didn’t think I’d need to bring too much, so by Saturday morning I’d already snacked up most of what I’d brought.

I was low on my usual provisions

So, I made my decision to keep an eye on the time and join the lunch-rush, even though I think it’s a tacky thing to do, and tried to get on with my day. But – everywhere I went, there were PEOPLE. And not just one or two people, but GROUPS of people, who knew each other, and who were whispering to each other and chatting even though they weren’t supposed to. I actually don’t care too much about people whispering or chatting, even though the rules are to stay silent – it’s the awkwardness of walking into a space and taking a seat to journal, meditate, or pray, and finding yourself crashing a whisper party instead. You can go ahead and enter, and try to do your thing all the while knowing that you’re intruding on other people’s conversation, or you can leave and try to find somewhere else to go, which is what I kept trying to do. It kinda sucked.

The chapel when I visit Ruah during the work week

The chapel when I visit Ruah on a weekend (artist’s rendition)

So, I ended up spending most of my day outside. I’d had this vision of going to Ruah in November, and having it be nice and chilly with the convent decorated for the Christmas holidays. But not this year – it was a balmy 82 degrees outside on Friday, and just a touch cooler on Saturday, and it turns out they do that thing rational people do where they refuse to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving is over (whatever). Even though the weather was not the winter wonderland I’d hoped it would be, it was certainly comfortable enough to take full advantage of the outside spaces of Ruah – something I do not generally do because I almost always visit in the summer months, when the Texas heat is ridiculous. Sure, I was out wandering around in November in a tank top, but at least I wasn’t sweating like a heifer and dying of heat exhaustion. So, that was nice enough. Sadly, I only spent a few minutes in what has always been my favorite space – my beloved oratory, where I spent hours at a time back in July. Every time I tried to go in there, there were at least four other people there (and it’s a pretty small space) and  one of them had even stolen MY floor space and floor pillows! The nerve.

The oratory when I visit Ruah during the week

The oratory when I visit Ruah on the weekend

I thought I’d grabbed my Sony video camera on my way out the door from home on Friday, but when I opened the camera bag Saturday morning I realized I’d accidentally grabbed my Canon SL1 DSLR. My plan was to do video walkabouts with the vidcam instead of taking more photos, because at this point I have literally thousands of shots of the place and really do not need more. But, I managed to screw that up by snatching the wrong camera. My SL1 will shoot video, but the LCD screen is hard as hell to see out-of-doors, and I’d neglected to bring the spare battery and the one in the camera was at death’s door anyway. So, no good  video this time. But that didn’t stop me from using my phone – I just used it improperly and forgot to hold the phone in landscape mode when I was shooting, as I always do. Still, I did not let that deter me from making a few videos; I just used Filmora’s split screen feature to put several videos at once into a skinny format that would work with my screw up. You’re welcome.

I also added weird music because why not

I actually ended up walking A LOT Saturday. More than I did anything else. When I first started visiting Ruah in the 90s, they didn’t have any of these trails cutting through the 70 acres on which the convent is set. The grounds were still lovely, and there were plenty of places to wander out under the trees and perhaps sit in one of the many tree swings they have on the property (something else I didn’t get to do this time, because someone’s ass was in EVERY SINGLE SWING I tried to find), but all of the places where there are walking trails now were just thickets and brush back then. I didn’t even realize it all belonged to them, until I went back in my early 40s and they’d started to carve them out. It appears they are finally done with all of the path-clearing they intend to do, and are now working on planting various fruit trees and sprucing up the fairly new labyrinth area. In spite of my testiness at having MY space invaded by OUTSIDERS (as if I own the whole place), it was nice to spend so much time getting familiar with all the new outdoor spaces I usually ignore.

Oh, and I ALSO added filters to make the videos look old and shiny and shit like that. I couldn’t help myself.

But then it was time for LUNCH, and in spite of feeling like it was tacky, I decided to stake out a space by the dining area early to ensure I got a decent spot in line and had a crack at the wheat-less food I’d able to eat before it got gobbled up by everyone else. The guests’ dining area leads to a huge back porch, so I grabbed a rocking chair back there and waited for the time to arrive. Sure enough, about five minutes before noon a big gaggle from one of the groups came tromping up towards the back entrance, so I casually lifted myself from my seat and  blended into line. No sooner had we all gotten inside and filed in at the front of the buffet line when one of the cafeteria workers threw open the door from the kitchen and yelled at us, “You are TOO EARLY! Lunch does NOT start until NOON!” And then she slammed back out. See? I knew we were being rude, but I felt I had no choice. But when the cooks at a convent yell at you, you know you suck. Yikes.

You’ll get your prunes when I’m damn good and ready to give them to you

Everyone else just sort of faded back a few steps, but were clearly not going to stop hovering around the buffet table, so I finally thought, screw this, I’m leaving, and stomped off.  I didn’t want to stand around with a bunch of people I didn’t know, who were all being a little rude to be honest, and wait to attack the buffet as if we were all contestants on Survivor and then be forced to squeeze myself into a seat next to them while they all tried to wave apologetically to their one friend who’d gotten edged out of her seat at their table by me, the evil interloper. Duking it out for food hadn’t exactly been on my agenda for the weekend, and neither had sharing all my quiet, private spaces with loads of other people, so I decided I was packing up and going home.


Except, once I got back to my room I realized I was being pissy and spoiled, and decided I’d just wait for the rush to die down like I always did and see if anything was left that I could eat. If there wasn’t anything decent left, I’d just hop in my car and go grab something for lunch on my own. I couldn’t bring it back to the Villa to eat, because that was not allowed, but I could head out to the walking trails and have myself a nice little picnic, and toss whatever food I didn’t finish into the brush for the raccoons and the birds. Problem solved. I went back down around 12:30 and there was one scrawny, dry piece of baked chicken left, along with some white rice and some lima beans, so even though it wasn’t exactly tasty I wolfed it down anyway, then drove up to CVS for a bunch of comfort junk food to make up for  it. I figured whatever happened at dinner could be dealt with if I knew I had chocolate waiting for me back in my room, and I was right.


As it turned out, both groups cleared out soon after lunch was over anyway, but I still found myself hanging out mostly outdoors.

One more weird outdoors video – y’all better watch this mess ’cause I worked hard on it, believe it or not!

There were a few guests like myself still in attendance, and to put it nicely, they didn’t seem very aware of the convent’s rules. Supper was at 6 o’clock (well, 6:15 if we were being polite, which I was) and since the groups were all cleared out, those of us left were back to getting our food out of the nuns’ dining area – so cottage cheese, prunes, and cold cuts all around! However, I couldn’t help but notice that several guests went back many times into the nuns’ area for refills of food, which isn’t exactly the polite way to handle a free buffet with limited offerings.

I’ll have some more of that, and some more of that that that

The evening was quite lovely, with a pretty sunset and a nice breeze, but as soon as the sun dipped down behind the horizon line the tree roaches came out, and if you’ve never seen a Texas tree roach then you’ve never seen a roach AT ALL. Seriously, they are the size of a toddler’s sneaker, and they are awful. Since it’s still in the 80s here, temperature-wise, they have yet to meet their maker and disappear for the winter, so my sunset-gazing was cut short by the approach of a roach so big you could have saddled him and  ridden him around for a while, if you were so inclined, while I was sitting in a nice comfy chair on the second-floor balcony. Boo. The Ruah center was already dark and heading towards creepy by then, so I decided to go ahead and turn in – and that’s when I saw more evidence of the “I don’t think they understand the rules here” going on with the other guests.


This photo was taken in the little serving area on the third floor, where the dorm rooms are. Now, obviously, this is NOT a Hilton hotel, and there’s no room service. In fact, there are pretty clear rules about what to do with dirty dishes (basically, wash them yourself, as the NUMEROUS signs posted around every sink and refrigerator instruct guests to do). It’s so clear, and is generally so not a problem, that I was completely thrown when I saw these dirty-ass coffee cups in the sink of the little kitchenette – when I first saw this, I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture, and at that time there was also an open carton of milk sitting there, even though there’s a refrigerator below the counter. What the hell, people? I realize it may not sound like that big of a deal, and look, I always sneak food into my room when I’m not supposed to, which is against the rules too, so okay – but hell, I at least hide all my evidence, and I always clean up after myself. This was just – kinda ridiculous, especially considering where we all were. The convent offers all of these amenities to its guests, and literally asks NOTHING in return, so the least people can do is clean up after themselves.

If that’s true anywhere, it’s gotta be here

Then I visited the shared bathroom, where more astounding sights greeted my eyes. Now, each wing of the dorm area has several bathrooms on it, most of them serving about 4-5 rooms at a time. They have a main door, and within the bathroom space are 2-3 individual stalls, and 2-3 tiny little showers (all of which have their own doors with locks). Problem #1 was that someone who was utilizing the same bathroom as I was would shut and lock the MAIN DOOR to the bathroom every single time she went in there (the center does keep the women and men in separate areas) so that, even though there was more than one toilet inside with separate doors, no one else could use the damn thing. When whoever she was went in there to shower, she again locked up the whole damn bathroom, then took an hour to get herself clean. Once she finally left, I made my way inside only to find that she’d taken the whole bathroom over:


OK seriously – who does this? I know she washed her tush with that loofah, do I have to encounter it hanging over a doorknob when I go to pee? And her comb? AND her TOOTHBRUSH? I mean, the dirty mug at this point was no surprise, since I’d already encountered others in the kitchenette, but – wow. Nice job just throwing your towel on the floor there, too. Don’t forget to tip housekeeping! Except – oh wait, there isn’t a  housekeeping service here. Come on, people.

But enough about loofas and toothbrushes. Let’s get back to more pictures of the Villa, shall we?

So, okay. Clearly there are people staying here this weekend who don’t know the rules. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it could also mean that the center itself doesn’t do a good enough job enforcing or explaining the rules to the guests. However, I think they may start doing a better job, because Sunday morning when I went down for breakfast (15 minutes late, as is expected), no sooner had I sat down than the head cook of the Villa came storming out of the kitchen into the guests’ area, where the director of Ruah was eating at another table; although he did a good job of keeping his voice low (because trust me, I was totally trying to hear what he was saying), his body language gave away that he was quite upset, indeed. I definitely heard something along the lines of, “this sort of thing should not still be happening,” and I also heard one of the guests apologizing to a nun in the other dining area – something about coffee – so my guess is that once again not enough food had been prepared for everyone, and the guests were getting fed ahead of the nuns, which in case you hadn’t figured it out by now is a definite no-no.


So am I just going to bitch about all this and be done? Well yeah, kinda. Except – I realized after I left that although I don’t feel I’d been a part of any of the problems this weekend, I certainly wasn’t part of the solution. Why didn’t I, for example, clean up the dirty kitchenette Saturday night when I saw it, instead of just taking pictures? And why didn’t I just go utilize any one of the other numerous bathroom facilities on the third floor instead of cluck-clucking about the ingrate who locked herself in the one nearest my room and refused to come out? And for that matter, once I realized the Villa was running short of food, couldn’t I have foregone eating any of my meals there and gone out for food instead? I mean, for all I know, there were people eating meals at the Villa who really couldn’t afford to pay much for them, so what would have been so wrong with me helping them all out and eating elsewhere? The answer is because I didn’t think to in the moment – I was too busy being nonplussed and amused by all the snafus, and taking pictures while writing this blog post in my head for entertainment. I certainly don’t want these sorts of problems to become such an ongoing thing that the convent decides to shut Ruah down, so to prevent that I need to be sure I do my part next time, even if that means doing other people’s parts when they remain unaware of the need to do them.

Perhaps I need to read up

And next time, I definitely will not go on a weekend, and I will ask in advance if there are going to be a lot of groups around!

Sharp Tutor

Like Sharp Shooter, get it? Moving on. A few random updates, with a few random photos thrown in for good measure.


First of all, WTF with WordPress all of a sudden wanting to SCHEDULE all my blog posts instead of just PUBLISHING them? It’s annoying as hell, and it’s something that keeps happening randomly and I always have to go dig through the help forums to figure out how to correct the damn problem. I tried to un-schedule it just now, and ended up publishing it instead when the post only had two sentences written. So if you got an email update that I’d published something earlier, well, I hadn’t. I was just trying to un-schedule it. Thanks, WordPress.

U.S. Air Force, 93-0604, Boeing C-17A Globemaster III

The Wings Over Houston airshow was this past weekend, and as usual my father and I were front row for the whole show. It’s a lovely little bonding experience we get to have every year, and I really enjoy it. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not yet cold – and there were a lot of unique planes I hadn’t seen before. I haven’t yet heard any estimates about the crowd size, but it was massive. There were people everywhere; we stood in line for an hour to get onto a shuttle bus after the Blue Angels finished their demonstration, then it took another hour for the bus to push through the traffic back to the parking lot. Then, since I live on the opposite side of town from Ellington Field, it took me another hour to drive home (my dad lives much closer). I’d left my house at 6:30 AM that morning, and didn’t get back home until almost 8 PM, so it was, to put it mildly, a long-ass day. But it was worth it, as it always is. Even if you’re not as into airplanes as we are, it’s really amazing to see what some of these planes can do. The aerobatic planes are always a thrill, and the powerful jets on display are awe-inspiring to see. I think only the diehards like my father and I get there as soon as the gates open and stay until the whole thing is over (and honestly, with the way the crowds have grown over the years, I think I’m going to have to start insisting we leave early to beat some of the throngs to the shuttles) but even to just show up for the main events and hang out a few hours, it’s a fun thing to experience at least once in your life.


For something different, I took my wide-angle lens this year and just shot photos of the planes when they were on display before the air show began. I figured two years’ worth of photos of the (mostly) same planes in the air doing (mostly) the same things they do every year was enough, and that it would provide me some different material if I got shots of the planes on the ground instead. With my 17mm I was able to easily get full shots of the planes in the frame, and it’s a lens that shoots lovely color, too. At first I thought these photos would be pretty boring, but then I remembered I could use my Landscape Pro plugin to jazz them up, and it was off to the races.


There wasn’t one cloud in the sky this time around, and even though that’s great for the show in general, it doesn’t make for very interesting photos, so I’m really thankful that I can use the plugin to add such details. I also used to it to spruce up some of the people photos I took, like this one of my dad talking to a pilot:


These are the only shots I’ve had time to edit so far, but I’m sure there will be more later, because I’m really having fun playing around with them in Photoshop. And because you all know how much I love a good before-and-after, here’s some collages of all these photos as they came out of the camera vs. after my treatment with Landscape Pro. I also discovered that the new Topaz Glow software I purchased comes in quite handy with these as well; by reducing the opacity of some of its dramatic effects I can add a painterly quality to the photos. I think you’ll see how much I actually did to them in the B&A’s below:


In the top shot, I didn’t do a whole lot of alteration beyond adding clouds (I think you can really see how much better a plane shot looks when there are clouds in the sky there) and added a slight glow effect to get it more drama. Landscape Pro also added nice detail to the concrete; I believe I used an effect that creates the look of wet pavement, but again I reduced the opacity of it so that instead of looking wet it just showed a lot more detail. Then of course, there’s the bottom shot – the original wasn’t very interesting to me, but I liked how the nose of the smaller plane was pointing right at the nose of the larger one, and I got the idea to try and edit the people you can see in the original out of the shot so that it might kinda look like they were in the air (which would actually mean they were about to crash, so I guess that’s actually kinda morbid). It was just an experiment to use a night sky here, but I liked the effect enough to keep working with it. I’m not sure it’s totally successful on its own, but I do like showing the B&A of it as an example of what the software can do. It’s pretty fun stuff.


I struggled to decide how to edit the photo of my dad (he’s the one in the big brown hat), but when I found the right sky, the rest of it came easy – it needed some retro tones to work, and then I used a pretty heavy glow filter to give it an oil-painting quality. I still reduced the opacity of it, but I kept the effect pretty heavy here, as it seemed to work better that way. The bottom photo is a good example of how to use all these effects in a more subtle way – although you can see a dramatic difference in the concrete, where I used the ‘wet’ filter again for added detail.

Sprocket is glad there’s no “wet dog” filter

But about the title of this post: I wanted to talk briefly about the whole tutoring business-thing, because it’s finally starting to take shape for me. I am taking a certification course for Academic Coaching, and along with the course comes a lot of great materials I can use when I’m ready to get started. I’ve completely re-structured my pricing model and parts of my professional website to reflect the things I’ve learned in my class, and am really enjoying going through the class and learning how to apply these tools to students’ needs. I even had an interview with one potential client, but it didn’t go so well – no big deal, I just hadn’t ever had a consultation before and was still quite unfamiliar with the program I’m learning about, so I didn’t do as good of a job as I think I’ll do next time, and the student didn’t sign up in the end. I’ve also been attending some online conferences about online tutoring, and am really excited by this idea – my goal is to be doing 100% coaching, with all of it being online, within a year. Working from home and using something like Skype or Zoom to coach students would be the perfect solution for me, and I’m excited that it is actually starting to feel feasible for me.


But for now, I am still offering English tutoring services as well, since that is actually something I’m in a position to do right away. I’ve had one consultation so far for that, and I have to say, it didn’t go well either. But this one was not my fault; I don’t want to say too much about it at the risk of being unprofessional, but let’s just say the student was less than ideal for me to work with. Even though the kid’s mother was sitting right next to him while we met to discuss his situation, that did NOT stop this boy from being completely rude and disrespectful – rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders instead of actually using words to answer my questions, and pretending like he had no idea what I was talking about  when I asked him what his struggles were in English class, just to be difficult. About halfway through our consultation, I just stopped and said to him, look. It appears to me you really do not want to do this (for most of the conversation he literally had his head down on the kitchen table) and if you aren’t into it, it isn’t going to work. Then I told him to think about what he wanted to do over the weekend, and let me know by Sunday if he wanted to work with me. At the time, I only did this because he was making it so obvious that he could have cared less about getting a tutor, and the fact that his mother wasn’t even trying to get him to be polite was also a concern; clearly this kid is allowed to act that way all the time, so what made Mom think I was going to be able to get more work out of him than she could is beyond me. It was later that I realized I may have come across as bitchy, but ultimately I decided I was OK with that. If the kid HAD agreed to work with me, he would have done so with the understanding that he would have to take me seriously and treat me with respect, and I think it would have been fine. But since I didn’t hear from him after our first meeting, I figure I dodged a bullet, and have come up with some new ideas and approaches to try and cut to the chase with the next potential client sooner rather than waste too much of anyone’s time. I didn’t leave the full-time working world to get myself back into a situation where I don’t have choices about who I work with, after all, and part of the reason for having a consultation with a student before starting to work with them is so I can be sure I want to work with them, just as much as to see if they want to work with me.

Do I really want to stare at this every week for an hour? No, I do not.

One other thing I thought I’d mention: I finally starting tracking my daily calorie intake and exercising every day, as well as kicking the Coca Cola habit (which I’ve done several times in my life already – I’ll go for years drinking nothing but water, then fall off the wagon and get back on the soda train). When I’m teaching, my weight tends to dip really low due to all the constant activity and the complete lack of time to eat all day; when I quite working last May, i was down to about 112 pounds, which is actually a little light for me. The last time I quit working was when I was in graduate school back in 2010, and I was about 112 back then, too. It took two years, but by the time I went back to work in 2012 I’d gotten up to 130 and gone from a pant size 0 to a size 6 – and that’s a bit too much for me. I’m a skinny bitch by nature, and once I start to get past 120 I start to get uncomfortable; a few weeks ago I started to notice my fairly new size 4 pants I’d had to buy to replace all the zeroes that no longer fit were starting to get a little snug, and when I stepped on the scale I was up to 122 with no signs of stopping. So, I finally downloaded an app (My Fitness Pal) and started counting calories. The app recommends I consume about 1260 calories a day, which felt RIDICULOUS at first, but I’ve now found ways to do it most days without being uncomfortable or unhappy at all (although there are days where it goes out the window, like today when I had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, but I am fine allowing that every once in a while as long as overall I’m eating better). To be honest, I don’t see any difference when I step on the scale yet, but when you’re only trying to lost about 5 pounds it’s slow going, and honestly I would be OK if I never lost any weight and just stopped gaining. I have clothes that fit and I definitely feel much better, so that’s the main thing. Oh, and I also discovered that swimming burns way more calories than walking or riding a stationary bike, so I am taking advantage of the fact that it’s still summer weather here right now and swimming for 30 minutes every day to burn some calories off (which I put back on when I eat my 4 gluten-free Oreos every night, but whatever).

I’m only supposed to consume 1260 calories a day. Cheesecake Factory Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes have 1750. I ordered them anyway.

Oh and next week I plan to do this color to my hair, because why not? It’s something else I could never do because of my job, but now my job is my own so why not do something a little different:


It’s actually fairly subtle, so I think it will work. I also like this, but my hair is really too dark for it:

I just like the color here, not the cut. Those bangs are not for me.

Happy Wednesday everyone!