Favorite Things Part 2: Bangs and Blemishes

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No, seriously about the blemishes – about a month ago, my chin decided to re-visit high school and break out. Actually that’s not accurate, because I didn’t have acne in high school (luckily), but I did start occasionally getting cystic acne on my chin starting in my early 30’s. When it began, I was at a loss as to how to deal with it,  but the internet helped me out and I learned how to handle the outbreaks, so much so that they diminished in time and aside from the occasional one or two cysts that would pop up on my chin throughout the year (at the most) the situation resolved itself and we all moved on.

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Until this summer, when first one but then a second cyst appeared on my chin. Okay, no big deal, I’ve been here before – apply my home remedy of Vick’s Vapo-Rub on the spot when at home (best to get it on there as soon as I feel it coming in; timing does seem to make a difference) and my Origins Spot Treatment underneath my makeup throughout the day. If I caught the spot early, it would be red and sore for a few days, then shrink away without ever growing huge and unsightly. But sometimes I didn’t catch it early enough, and man, that spot could turn ugly. For the most part the entire process might last a week or up to 10 days, and I was always careful never to ‘extract’ them myself no matter how tempting it might have been and just slapped makeup over them and gotten on with my life. It’s just a spot after all, and I’m hardly going to complain about the occasional ONE I get given what some people struggle with in this area.

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But this time, one spot showed up, got huge, started to die down, and immediately a second one popped up on the other side of my chin. That one showed up, got huge, started to die down, and then THE FIRST ONE CAME BACK. So, more Vapo-Rub and Spot Treatment, same routine, and when it started to die down – THE SECOND ONE RETURNED. It was at this point I realized I was going to have to do some more research and find a better solution.

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It’s on my face, unfortunately. And it’s not alone.

The first thing I learned was that recurring spots like this are not uncommon. It usually means a pore is clogged that has not cleared, so you treat the cyst at the surface but it never really goes away (cystic acne is deep beneath the skin anyway). So I knew I was going to have to commit to a longer-term treatment for whatever was going on with my chinny-chin-chin.

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The good news is that in my researching I discovered a whopper of a treatment that seems to be working so far. It’s called La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo; this stuff packs a wallop at 5.5% benzoyl peroxide; you can certainly get higher concentrations, but I don’t think you can go much higher without a prescription – I know I’ve never used anything higher than 2.4% in the past. Being me, I didn’t actually read the ingredients when I got a tube of it in, just smeared it all over my chin in the hopes that it would work. Needless to say, I managed to burn my chin-skin a bit – it would have been far worse if  my skin was not already acclimated to BP, and if I didn’t already know that putting moisturizer over it was essential (oftentimes with acne people don’t want to moisturize, thinking it will make the skin oily and therefore more prone to breakouts, but in reality irritation from dryness can make acne worse, so moisturizing in conjunction with using a treatment is important). In the end I experienced some burning the first few days and a light round of peeling, but the damage was minimal. However, I do not recommend anyone else do this! Start very small with this product; if you really dry out or irritate your skin you’ll have to stop using the treatment until that clears up, which just sets you back even further.

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For a moisturizer, I also went with La Roche-Posay, because why not. I’ve also purchased but not yet received their cleanser and toner. Clearly I need a full arsenal right now.

While the RP went to work effectively reducing the two current spots I had, MORE started to emerge. In face, I am finding a new cyst daily. This has never happened to me before, and I’m assuming it’s happening because this stuff is working to clear out my sad, sorry pores. I’ll feel the spots appearing (they hurt) but they so far are not getting to be more than fairly small red bumps and then they shrink away. So while I can read Braille on my chin at this point, when looking at me you don’t see much of anything – I’ll take that over having even just one huge cyst that grows eyes and glares out at people from my face.

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Artist’s rendition of my chin

But the question remains – why did this happen? Hormones are always a possibility, but when I sat down to think through why this might be going on, I realized a few sad things about my current skin care regimen. Mainly that it had disappeared. Once I quit working and summer came, I would go days without wearing any makeup at all, and without choosing to do it consciously, I would forgo washing my face at all on days I didn’t have makeup to remove. So, I was easily going 2-3 days without giving my face a decent scrub. I was also not applying moisturizer, which contributed to the skin irritation. For some reason I’d also gotten lazy and started using moisturizing wash cloths whenever I DID wash my face, instead of good old soap and water, and in my opinion those cloths are fine as a second swipe after a good go with a foaming cleanser, but on their own they don’t do much to take off a full face of makeup. And also – and this SO is awful, I know – I realized I had not washed any of my makeup brushes or sponges since, like, erm…December? January? I know, I know – it’s horrible, but it’s how I roll.

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Artist’s rendition of one of my makeup brushes in the wild

So basically, there were all sorts reasons for my skin to get out of whack, and then add in the stress that was the end of my school year and it’s no wonder I went all Spot City on myself. But, I did also discover a new foundation I love – when reading about treatments I read a lot about Vichy DermaFinish, which I do not think is the same as DermaBlend, by the way. Anyway, lots of women recommended it to cover acne, so I figured if I was going to be stuck with spots for a while I’d try it out. Oddly, it only comes in four shades, but I took my best guess and ended up with a perfect match for my skin. It is high coverage, of course, but I’m an 80’s girl at heart, which means I’ve never much been into the natural look when it comes to foundation anyway. I always wanted my skin to be a fully coated, evenly toned canvas, thankyouverymuch, dewy skin be damned, and I want a powder that renders it matte to boot (Laura Mercier’s Translucent powder is the jam). DermaFinish is the business for full coverage foundation – I can even use it on my neck to conceal sun damage and it actually works. Unlike full coverage DermaBlend, it does not feel heavy, and you do not need to apply much for it to cover your skin. I made a few videos today, too, and when I viewed them later I noticed it looked great on camera and does appear to match my skin tone quite well. And yes, it helps to cover up the spots, along with the DermaFinish concealer I also picked up.

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So, having cystic chin acne isn’t fun, but at least I  am learning from mine. The spots are still working their way through whatever it is they need to work through before they disappear, but so far they’re not becoming very visible, which is great. And after the first few applications my skin adjusted to the LRP so now I can apply it three times a day without feeling it. I’m putting it over the whole chin area now, as a preventative measure, so we’ll see how that turns out.

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Now, hair. I do want to share this amazing curling wand I paid way too much for but really do love – it is called The Bombshell Cone Rod Curling Iron by Sultra – which is quite a name – and I paid $102 for it at Amazon. I have never been able to use a regular curling iron, or hot rollers, or any implement to put curl in my hair – hence my perm a few summers ago (I admit that on occasion I miss those curls, and my hair is so much longer now…yeah, I get tempted). And I’d tried a few wands before, but I couldn’t get the hang of using them to create the beachy waves everyone else seems to sport without effort. My first attempt was with another highly reviewed wand by ConAir that costs about $30 – it was pink and I can’t recall what it was called now – but the problem with it was that my baby-fine hair would just slip off the little wand unless I held it there tightly, which, if you’ve used these wands before, often leads to burning the living hell out of your fingers or hands. I actually have a permanent scar from one of the burns I got trying to keep my hair curled around the ConAir one, and the Bombshell has bumps all over it that work like grooves to hold the hair in place after you wind it around the cone.

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Now go back and re-read that paragraph from this perspective

I wasn’t sure this would really work, but when I got mine and started using it I did, in fact, find keeping the hair wound on the rod was easy, and it didn’t seem to get as hot as the ConAir one did, although in reality I think it reaches the same temperature. The material the wand is made out of just feels cooler, which could be a placebo effect of paying so much more for it, who knows.

As far as figuring out how to use it, I finally realized what I needed to do what keep the damn thing turned off and just PRACTICE wrapping my hair around it the proper way. I am spatially challenged to a ridiculous degree, so figuring out which hand needed to hold the wand and which one needed to do the hair-wrapping was a real nightmare for me, and trying to figure that out while the wand was hot was risky and how I got burned so many times with other models. I also discovered that with the natural body I have in my hair, I can wash it at night and let it air-dry to keep some wave to it, then in the morning just use the wand around the top layer of my hair for added wave; no need to work in layers and curl every single hair on my head or anything. It still takes longer than flat-ironing, but not by much, and the fullness it gives my hair really is helpful.

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The gloves are a lie. No one uses them. And that phrase only works if you’re covering your ARM. 

I also learned that with this wavy style, I have to stop curling it while it still looks crappy, and wait about ten minutes for it to fall into place. I kept trying to perfect the look the first several times I tried, and would get more and more frustrated as I couldn’t get it ‘perfect.’ It really does look like crap while I’m styling it, and even right after, but by the time I go get dressed and add some styling spray wax (which I prefer over hair spray as it’s more moldable and soft) and Moroccan Oil on the ends, it looks nice and natural. I’ve been attempting to create a beach wave in my hair for about two years now, so it’s a miracle I’ve finally figured this out!

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So this post really wasn’t about bangs at all, but I wanted to alliterate with the blemishes. But it was a bit about hair. I promise handbags will be up next! Also coming up: RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars! I am still pissed that they shortened the otherwise amazing Season 8 to compensate for filming an All Stars 2, but any time Alyssa Edwards is back on television I’m there with bells on. And glitter. I bet you were wondering why she kept appearing in this post, didn’t you?

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Favorite Things

Catherine over at Atypical 60 wrote a purse post recently that got me thinking about my own favorite handbags, and my favorites in general. Back when I ran a poetry blog I used to write about perfumes a lot, because I was deep in the throes of a perfume addiction back then – something I simply had to put a stop to, because collecting perfumes is a lot like collecting wines; one you get into collecting rare and unusual scents the price skyrockets, and unlike many other things I’ve obsessively purchased over the years, perfume simply cannot be consumed at rate that’s anywhere near the rate at which it can be purchased, and $300+ a bottle for something that’s going to sit on a shelf for years without ever making so much as a dent in the quantity just isn’t practical. There’s a LOT of selling and trading that has to be done to keep trying out new things, and unlike something like, say, wigs or purses, I just wasn’t getting enough use out of all the expensive stuff I was buying to justify staying on the wagon with it.

That said, I do still love perfume and keep a lot of it on hand. I just have to stay away from the expensive stuff and the blogs that review new and unusual scents (of which there are many, and one of the things to love about perfume is how musical and poetic the reviews of them are) and stand by the ones I currently love without venturing out into the beyond about it. Anyhoodle, here are some of my favorite perfumes, purses, and other stuff – here goes!

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First up are two perfumes from the L’Artisan line – Safran Troublant and Piment Brulant. They were a part of the Les Epices de la Passion (spices of passion) limited edition coffret that came out in 2002. The third one in this set, Poivre Poulant, I still have lying around somewhere, I’m sure, but it didn’t make an impression on me; the Safran and Piment I’ve kept on-hand ever since. These were all three ‘foody’ scents, hence the title of the coffret, and I am a sucker for foody perfumes of either the sweet or spicy variety; you get both out of this set for sure.

The Safran and Piment are both discontinued and have been for some time, but keeping them in stock is still easy enough to do (for now), and when I find one it’s certainly cheaper than it used to be. With a little internet sleuthing,  I can snag a bottle of Piment Brulant for around $40 compared to well over $100 back in the day. It’s a truly odd scent that I suspect most people would hate, but it doesn’t get complaints like some have that I’ve worn in the past (Tom Ford Black Orchid, I’m sniffing at you). The main note is, you guessed it, pimento, and the spiciness of this one is sharp and distinct. Yet the pimento/red pepper is not overwhelming, and it is balanced by notes of vanilla and chocolate. It is a truly unique scent, and I wear this one more out of the two.

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The Safran can be had for around $75, which is still cheaper than its full value, but of the two it is the more wearable scent so it can still get a higher price. It’s described as a ‘spicy Oriental’ fragrance which if I recall was all the rage back in the 00s, it is light and sweet, and a little woody, but as an EDT it has zero staying power.  I suppose the Piment Brulant, although it’s also an EDT, lasts longer because of the dominance of those red pepper notes; while I can still smell that one on my skin hours later, the Safran Troublant is all but gone by that time. Still, it’s very easy to spray on for a hot summer day without feeling overpowered, and the saffron note is so clean and sweet that it’s easy to dose on throughout the day without overpowering anyone. It’s very pretty, and smells unlike anything else I’ve ever tried.

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One of the downsides of loving unusual perfumes is how difficult it is for me to pronounce them. Not to mention how freaking LONG some of the names are. Nothing is more awkward than having someone ask me what scent I’m wearing and having to respond with a paragraph in a bad French accent, but that’s what happens when I’m wearing this one. It’s truly lovely, though; cherry and almond are the dominating notes (in my opinion) and it wears beautifully throughout the day. It’s a sweet one, but I am fine with that, and the price is also getting up there where I rarely choose to go ($180) but every time I am out of it I find myself craving the scent again. It’s like flaming marzipan in a bottle, but the full name REALLY IS “Luctor et Emergo” by niche company “People of the Labyrinths,” so you’re going to have to spit out a mouthful every time someone asks you what it is that makes you smell so wonderful.

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I always tried, REALLY tried, not to get into scents that were overly expensive and/or hard to find – but damned if Frederic Malle (nephew of the late French director Louis Malle) didn’t make it hard on me. Malle’s line of perfumes is top notch – such unique scents that are distinctive but wearable, and that last forever on the skin. I almost NEVER go through an entire bottle of perfume, but Le Parfum de Therese (yes, there it is again, another one I have to stumble over myself to pronounce to people) has that distinction. I wore this exclusively for a year before I began to cheat on it, and it’s still  a hands-down fave for me. It has a strong scent of jasmine and also something fruity going on, but there is this underlying earthiness to it that gets stronger over time, and quite honestly, there’s something in this scent that reminds me of my mother and my childhood. My mom loved gardening and being outside, and there was always this “dirt” quality to her scent when she came inside after being out in the garden during the day – that sounds awful, but if you love the smell of a garden you can understand its unique pleasantness – and this perfume captures that beautifully. It is difficult to find – Barney’s sometimes carries it, but often does not, and although a lot of Malle’s perfumes can be bought from either Barney’s online or Neiman Marcus, this one cannot be had to so easily. It’s always available if you order it direct from the Malle store in France, but obviously you’re going to wait a good long while to get it. It’s also a whopper at $290 a bottle; I’m currently out of this one except for a little sampler I got off eBay, and it’s calling me to purchase it again as a full bottle, but I’m trying to resist. Still , there is something about this scent that fascinates me; that earthy note should be off-putting, but instead it is addicting, and even though it’s always there beneath the surface, this is not a perfume that gets a negative response – and yeah, I’ve worn those before (remind to tell you sometime about the perfume I just HAD to try because it was created to smell like a woman’s, um, garden).

Plus, it has a lovely story. The perfumer created it for his wife (Therese, obvs), and it was kept secret until after she died; she was the only one who smelled like this while she alive. Isn’t that romantic? LOVE.

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Oooooooh, Lipstick Rose is so much easier to find, pay for, and pronounce, and it is more straightforward than the Therese. This was designed to smell like the lipstick the perfumer’s mother used to wear, and indeed, it smells like exactly that – not that I knew Schwieger’s mother, mind you, but this isn’t your latest MAC lipstick scent. It’s your grandmother’s old-school waxy red, rosy and sweet, with a strong whiff of talcum blended in. It hints a lot at baby powder, but it is so smooth and well-done and downright nostalgic that people will stop me in the street to ask what in the world I’m wearing. It’s also VERY strong with long-lasting power; I made the mistake of spritzing some on during a break when I was a classroom teacher and my students all freaked out when they came into the room later – it was too much for their not-yet dulled sense of smell! (I often tormented my students with odd scents until finally accepting that they just couldn’t handle the stranger stuff – their sniffers really are still too sensitive.) It is rare to find a scent that smells EXACTLY like what it is supposed to evoke; it is what I imagine Marilyn Monroe’s signature red lips must have smelled like after she applied. It’s a little more reasonable at $185, and it’s worth every dollar.

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Ha! Now this one is a challenge; technically it is a cologne for men, but it’s usually described as unisex, and who cares anyway – this scent is amazing, if for no other reason than it works when it really shouldn’t. It’s supposed to be the smell of the city, and like the shape of the bottle suggests, one of the most dominant notes here is rubber, which is why it resembles a tire. I know how awful that sounds, but again, the scent pulls it off quite nicely. While you will agree at first sniff that, yep, that’s a rubber tire all right, the smell stays with you in a rather pleasing manner. Like Thierry Mugler’s Alien (which I also like), my first whiff of this was unpleasant, but after walking around awhile I noticed I was sniffing my wrist repeatedly, and also like Alien this is a scent that will stay with you forever – two days later, I was still smelling this on the sleeve of the sweater I wore the day I tried it. It has a rough opening, but the drydown is really pleasing and long-lasting; if you can handle how unusual it is you will love this one. Plus, it’s inexpensive (you can snag it online for under $30), no one else will smell like you, and it’s easy to find. Many unusual scents I’ve tried are so evocative that although you like to smell them you don’t want to smell like them, but this is one that I think pulls off both. If the rubber smell overwhelms you, though, try out that Mugler Alien, as it is in the  same scent range but distilled by some other notes that water down the rubber a little. Alien, however, has even longer lasting power than Black – if you don’t believe me, go to any department store counter where Mugler is sold (which is pretty much everywhere) and give it a spritz. I swear two days later you’ll still be smelling the stuff on your clothes.

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This one is easy to find; I snatched it up at Ulta when the saleswoman helping me was wearing it and I was mesmerized by the scent. My bottle was right around $100, so not super-reasonable, but not bad, price-wise. I later realized what it was that drew me to such a clean, mainstream scent (in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I love scents with something odd or earthy lurking beneath the surface) – this is the exact smell of my grandmother’s vanity where she used to get ready every morning. I swear I think it matches the smell of Irish Spring soap, which is what she always used; that or something else she used to clean either her face or the countertops. It’s a smell that is long gone for me, anyway, and every time I sniff this I am taken right back to her bathroom counter with her light-up mirror and Pond’s cold cream. It is incredibly crisp and clean, and there are probably a ton of other crisp and clean scents out there to match this one (I think Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana is one that is well-done, or if you want to spend a fortune on one, try Bond No. 9’s The Scent of Peace, which is amazing, but it’s the Price of Wealthy) but something about the specific construction of this one is my grandmother’s vanity table, all the way. So it’s a total home run for me, plus as I said it can be found easily.

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This is another fresh and clean one, with a little more weight to it than the Chloe. Plus, it’s got a fun story, in my opinion – Oribe is a hair product line that, while pricey as hell, is still pretty fabulous. Yes, a can of their mousse costs almost $40, but it is rich and luxurious and will last me at least five months, which is crazy. Their Rough Luxury hair wax is another winner for me; less than half an inch on my fingers and run through my hair in the morning gives my baby fine locks the weight I need and the hold is fantastic. The story with their perfume is that so many people were raving about the great scent of their hair products that they decided, what the hell, and made it into a perfume, titled it Cote de’Azur, and now it sells like gangbusters. How awesome is that? It’s really nothing unusual, and is another fresh, fruity, and clean scent that you can find dozens of in any department store, but it does have a nice zing added it to by way of tuberose, which, if you’ve ever smelled tuberose you know can go overboard easily (Fracas, I’m looking your way – thanks for the massive headache) but is well-utilized here. By the way, they also make a little hair refresher spray that is great for sweaty or non-hairwashing days.

carven

Carven is another late entry into the fruity/floral/clean category; it’s nothing fancy but it is very well-done and affordable – I think I got mine for a bit under $100 around Christmastime. It is a white floral that is quite clean without that detergenty-smell component that can often happen with such a scent (as much as I adore Bond No. 9s Scent of Peace, as soon as someone sniffed me and noted how much it smelled like a laundry dryer sheet the love was tainted). It also has a touch of the earthiness I love so much that makes it a bit warm in the drydown stages, and it is quite long-lasting. Plus, I just love the milky glass bottle.

And now, to wrap this bitch up:

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This perfume closes the post (yeah I know, I never did get around to purses) for several reasons. First of all, Black Orchid was the first perfume from fashion designer Tom Ford to hit the market back in 2006, and if you love perfume at all you probably know what happened after. Ford’s fragrance line is now quite a big deal, and quite expensive. Black Orchid was pricey but not overly so back in the day, and while as far as connoisseurs of perfume go this one isn’t even all that revolutionary, it is one of the most unusual scents in my little arsenal. It’s also the perfume I purchased that sent me into my first obsession with fragrance, along with Viktor & Rolph’s Flowerbomb (another one I love but that I’ve declined to write about to save time; plus who still doesn’t know about Flowerbomb by now? But it’s fabulous and worthy of all the attention it has received). Black Orchid is one of the most difficult scents for me to wear, not that it does anything odd on my skin, but if anything I own is going to offend people, it’s going to be this one. This is the one I tried to wear in the classroom that finally sent the students into revolt. The overpowering baby powder smell of Lipstick Rose did distract them quite a bit (side note: I purchased the Lipstick Rose lotion to go with my perfume back in the day, and it was actually the lotion that bowled them over. I am not kidding when I say those Malle scents are potent stuff), but it was nothing compared to the offense Black Orchid unleashed upon their olfactory systems. A kid in the back of the class one day finally broke down and exclaimed, “Mrs. Cox, I am sorry, but what IS that smell? What are  you trying to do to us! I just can’t take it anymore!” Needless to say I never wore it to school again. I also stopped refreshing my scent in the classroom – started sneaking into the faculty restroom to do it, which now that I think of it, probably pissed other people off, too. Oops.

I felt the same way when I tested Black Orchid out in Nordstrom; my initial response to this was just, ugh. It was so weird, and SO very strong, and I couldn’t get away from it soon enough. But an hour or so later I was back buying a bottle, because the drydown of this stuff is divine. You  have to endure the initial blast, for sure, but it transforms into something sweeter and more warm, with that initial black truffle (there’s the earthy again) that never goes away, and doesn’t even fade very much. I think the sweetness intensifies over time, rather than the dark musky scent fading, so what you end up with is a unique balance of the two. Overall, I’d say this is a very mature scent, in the best use of that word; so many perfumes are geared towards 20-somethings with more sensitive noses and a leaning towards innocence in their fragrances; but Black Orchid is all woman. It is haughty and a little standoffish, and utterly confident. Wear it with pride, ladies.

So, I did not in any way get to writing about handbags, but I’ll do that later. I haven’t written about perfume in forever, so this was fun. Thanks to Catherine for inspiring me with all of her favorites she posts on her blog! And if you’ve not checked her out yet, please do. She writes every blog post with such passion and detail and a great big dollop of fun. She’s lovely.

 

Convents and Kittens

It’s been a minute since I posted anything, but I’ve been busy, y’all.

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Not busy doing much posing, though. This is from last month’s shoot.

First, I am still working on my website and getting my business together, and yeah I know, I really need to get a move on with it. Every day I get a little bit closer to opening up shop, and every day I feel a little bit less resistant to the idea. There are so many unknowns, and I’m just old enough to feel a touch more threatened than excited by them, but in the end I can at least say I gave it a try. So, there’s that. Plus, I have been fighting the temptation to continue to think about work on ‘school time,’ since that is one of the benefits of venturing out on my own instead of going back into a traditional classroom, so the rebellious part of me purposely wants to keep vacation going for a few more weeks, even though teachers here have already returned to work and the students will be going back soon. Not the smartest business move, probably, but it is helping me to break free of that old structure that ended up not working out for me and to appreciate the benefits of doing things the way I am now. Either that or I am a procrastinator working too hard to justify it to myself. Moving on.

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At least I sound good on (virtual) paper

Also, since I came back from my second trip to the Villa de Matel’s retreat center (the actual center is called Ruah, but I generally just refer to it by the convent name) I’ve been wanting to edit a lot more photos of the place so I could share them here, and that’s been slow going, but I think I have enough to give a decent representation of it now, even though I still don’t have as many photos edited as I would like. This entails processing photos that are less artsy and more representative than what I usually work with, so my motivation has been a little low, but I’ve done my best to still have some fun with even fairly straightforward shots that mainly exist to simply show what a room or balcony looks like. I am going to write a different blog post to share those photos, though, as I’d like to focus solely on the convent when I show them.

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Plotting her world takeover

Third – and I addressed this briefly in my last, almost picture-free blog post – about three weeks ago we got a kitten, and well, she’s a kitten, y’all. Which means at various times throughout the day she is a nightmare. And one of my favorite times to write blog posts and edit photos is in the evening, sometimes moving into nighttime, and this happens to be one of Violet’s most INSANE parts of her day. She will sleep all day and then, around 9 PM, she wakes up and goes berserk – so I guess we can take that term nightmare literally.

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Violet is hard to photograph – she moves as soon as she sees a camera, and she is so jet-black that with her eyes closed, she’s just a blob in photos

As soon as I get going editing photos she’s all over the place, including my desk where I work, knocking over water bottles and stepping on the computer keys and trying to eat every single cord she can find – you know, the usual. Not to mention terrorizing our other animals (who take it in stride, and Simon for the most part has adopted her as his own) and managing to crawl into the strangest of places and get stuck there. Oh, and she also had coccidia when she came to us, and in spite of my best efforts to keep Simon from getting it too, it happened.

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In sickness and in health, apparently

I am not kidding about my efforts either; I would clean out a litterbox as soon as it was ‘used,’ I had each cat’s litterbox in a separate room, completely cleaned out and replaced the litter and wiped the boxes down with Clorox every 2 days, you name it – only to walk into the den and find Simon happily LICKING VIOLET’S REAR END. Great. I was told the best way to stop the spread of it was to keep the two cats separate, but for ten days? Simon was practically scratching his way through the door of the room where I tried to isolate Violet, so that just wasn’t going to happen.

Also – about two weeks ago I filmed at least five wig review videos, mostly of fun little inexpensive shorties. When I went to edit the first one, I realized that the slightly darker shade of foundation I’d bought to compensate for the sun my face has gotten from spending time in the pool did not blend well at all with the DermaBlend foundation I use to cover the sun damage on my neck (which I didn’t think to replace with a darker shade), and when I turn to show the profile of the wig there is a HUGE LINE around my jawline that looks ridiculous. Argh! And I look like this is at least FIVE VIDEOS! And of course, since they’re all shorties it is painfully obvious. Eventually I will suck it up and post them anyway, because I really don’t want to re-do them, but it still pains me to see it now, so I’m still putting it off.

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NICE.

I did get a Jon Renau Diane last week and a Georgia by Noriko in Champagne-R, but filming is on hold for the moment as I focus on my new business and our new kitten (I can’t imagine trying to film or pose for photos right now with Violet, and by extension all the other pets, going nuts). I’ll get around to it soon enough.

Oh and one more thing: I am American, so I feel the need to say this – Donald Trump is a narcissistic, ignorant, overblown human Cheeto who has no business being in this presidential election, and the people who handed the candidacy to him have put our entire nation at risk by doing so.

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It is beyond my comprehension that the human Heat Miser is about to receive classified security briefings; the very thought of it actually fills me with both fear and rage. Trump is a rabid liar, intellectual black hole, and white male privileged shit-stirrer, with no consciousness or caring about how his words and actions influence the world around him – and the fact that the Republicans gave him a platform to treat the entire country like the biggest catbox he’s ever crapped in on a daily basis represents, to me, a complete and utter disdain and disregard for the dignity and safety of our nation. Trump is the most dangerous sort of buffoon ever, and he actually makes me long for the days of George W. Bush – something I did not think was possible. He’s already lowered political discourse to the level of commenters on YouTube, and opened all of society up to nurturing the worst, most base elements of it’s psyche – damage I don’t think can be undone for a long, long time. When I see young people rallying behind this human traffic cone in a toupee, I weep inside for the future. Be you liberal, conservative, or anywhere else on the spectrum, you should expect the individuals you elect to the highest offices in the land to understand foreign affairs, domestic policy, human decency, and – although George W certainly pushed this one to its limits, and let’s not even get into Palin – for God’s sake, be able to complete a fucking sentence.

I think I’m just going to start putting this at the bottom of every post from now until election day. Because I’m serious y’all, Trump is a really dark, really low point in our nation’s history. Come on America, we can do better than this. Can’t we?

 

 

Kit(ten) and Kaboodle

I have a random mish-mashy update post for you, so here goes.

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I know what you’re thinking – but in spite of the fact that I am the most Photoshop-happy photographer ever, I actually did very little to this photo. Not that I didn’t try; but none of the bells and whistles really added anything to the original, so I just sharpened and contrasted a bit and called it a day. But the color here was all in the sky, not added later.

I made another trip to the Villa de Matel retreat center last week; I wrote about going in June and have shared occasional pictures from that trip, but I only made reservations for one night last time and it wasn’t nearly enough for me to process my thoughts, let things go, and move back into my own little happy place where I usually reside. I knew when I left last month that I really needed more time, so I always planned to go back in July, and this time I made my stay three nights instead of one. It was PERFECT.

Interestingly, I felt like I got the closure I needed after being back for about thirty minutes! It was as if I’d just rushed off last time without stopping to leave all my baggage on the altar (they have a beautiful chapel) and ended up still carrying it with me. So as soon as I got checked in this time, I headed straight to the chapel. sat my butt down in a pew, and got to work. I ran through all my negative thoughts, and my hurt feelings, and the wounds to my self-esteem, and just said you know what God? I’m really really tired of carrying this around. I’ve been struggling since May and I don’t want to do that anymore. So I’m putting this all right here and walking away from it for good, sound cool? And God (or whatever) was all, cool man, go for it. So I did. Of course, then I had three more days to read and write and really kick all that stuff to the curb, but after that chapel visit it was as if everything had finally been dislodged and it was all pretty easy to knock away.

I’d started not to bring my camera, because I took a lot of photos last time I was there, plus several years ago I took a ton too, and the place hasn’t changed so I didn’t honestly think there would be anything to photograph.But my husband suggested I just bring the camera along anyway, and I am glad I did, although I only spent a few hours total shooting anything, and I’ve only had time to process that top shot. I took different lenses, which gave me the opportunity to look at things differently, so I’ve got a lot of macro shots to edit and share, and for the first two nights I was there I was actually the only person staying in the retreat area so I got to have fun bustling about at 11 PM taking photos of everything with the flash on, but other things have gotten in the way of me editing them, so let’s move on to that now, shall we? Be back with more Villa photos later. And by the way – being the only person staying overnight in a huge building that looks a bit like a castle is pretty much the most awesome thing ever. Don’t worry – I was far from truly alone because it is a convent and one entire wing is the Sister’s residences, and they have full security and all that stuff on staff. But two floors of one wing belong to the retreat center, and it was really cool to be able to just wander around in whatever disheveled state I felt like it without being bothered, until my last night a bunch of other people showed up and ruined the fantasy.

So I was doing that all last week, and came back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated enough to finally take on something I’ve been considering for a few months now:

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That’s right – we got a new kitten! Her name is Violet, and I do not have any good photos of her because, unlike Simon, Violet is NOT into posing for the camera. I’ve tried to take photos with my phone, and she’s just a blur, so I sure haven’t  bothered bringing out the big guns to get her picture. She is a bit of a terror right now, but when she sleeps nothing can wake her, which is what she was  basically doing here, so there’s that.

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I got her for what is apparently one of the worst reasons ever to get a second cat, according to the internet: because I felt Simon needed a companion. For the past several months, he’s been getting pretty insistent with his play, which has always been what I’ll call ‘aggressive’ – he is not mean, but he does pounce, nip, and on occasion, scratch, and he always has. There’s no malice in it, he’s just always been one of those cats you have to know when to get out before he goes full-cat-Rambo on you and nips too hard or scratches too much. And lately, he’s been pouncing at my feet constantly; even, on occasion, pouncing at them even HARDER when reprimanded, which was starting to bother me a little. Then about a month ago he started randomly licking things for no good reason – lids of jars, my soda bottles, the neck of lamps – and while I’ve read that this could be a sign of some sort of nutrient or vitamin deficiency (which I am keeping an eye on) it is also a possible sign of boredom leading to obsessive behavior, and as playful as Simon wants to be, i could see him getting bored easily, since no one else around here is all that down for playing. So, enter Violet.

Then there was a selfish reason for getting her, too. Simon has never been a huge cuddler, which is new for me. I’ve always had very cuddly cats, but when Simon is done with you, he’s done, and if he doesn’t want to be cuddled, forget it. He’ll swat you away. And as he’s gotten older, the less cuddly he’s  become. Oh, he still crawls into my lap most nights while I’m sitting up in bed reading or playing Hearthstone on my iPad, but that’s about it, and again, it’s only if and when he decides to do it that it happens. So I was hoping a new kitty might alleviate Simon’s boredom as well as give me something to cuddle with impunity.

One of our local shelters, Citizens for Animal Protection, has a lovely shelter and they were holding a ‘clear the shelters’ event this past Saturday where all pets adoptions were free (this is the shelter where we adopted Simon). When I first heard about it, I thought oh hell no, I am NOT going to deal with that madness because it will be packed – but then I woke up Saturday morning and thought, yep, today’s the day. It wasn’t that I wanted a free cat that badly, it was just the day I finally  felt ready to take the plunge. So down to CAP I went. I knew I needed a pretty bold kitten, since she’d be coming home to two dogs and one seriously playful full-grown cat, and not only did Violet seem, personality-wise, to fit that bill, but her original name was Mercy, which of course, is part of my internet/blog name, so I figured she must be the one. Plus her health record was clear, she’d already been spayed, and one of the directors of the shelter told me he’d fostered her at his house and found her to be a really great cat. So I snatched her up, and off we went!

And here’s where I broke more internet rules. Everything I read said to give the new cat its own space and leave it separated from the other pets for, like, two days, but there was a problem – there isn’t one square inch of this house that another animal hasn’t already claimed or, if it wasn’t claimed by one of them, that was a safe place to keep a kitten. I originally chose my office to be the new-cat space, but within five hours our dog Penny was hiding in a back corner of my husband’s closet, completely traumatized that she’d been replaced from her spot next to my desk. Honestly i didn’t even realized she was that attached to being in there, but apparently she was, so Doug and I decided to move the process along and start introducing Violet to the other pets right away.

We put her in a wire crate that was pretty big and allowed the dogs in first. Now, my husband comes from farmers (although not his immediate family; it’s an occupation that ended with his grandfather) and so he has that throw-em-in-a-room-together-and-let-them-work-it-out mentality, whereas I am such the opposite of that it isn’t even funny. While he felt letting the dogs sniff her while she hissed at them inside the cage was just part of the process, I was literally chewing my nails off with worry that we were damaging her for life. Then he let Simon in, and I practically went through the ceiling from the tension. There was growling and hissing and swatting and crying – and that’s just what I was going through! Before I was anywhere  near ready to deal with it emotionally, Doug had opened up the gate to the crate and let Violet out, and of course in the end it was all fine. By the end of the night they were all wary, but basically OK with each other, and when on occasion the two cats would get too aggressive with their wrestling I could easily get Violet tucked away somewhere to give Simon a break, but he seemed to be fine even though he had to swat her down from time to time.

Tomorrow I take her to the vet in the morning to make sure she checks out OK. I’m exhausted right now because although the director at CAP told me Violet was fine sleeping by herself in a closed room, I of course couldn’t stand it and took a sleeping bag into my office and slept with her, which was fine from the perspective that she didn’t actually mess with me too much (unlike Simon, who spent the entire night attacking my face and feet when I did the same for him) but sleeping on a hard floor in a sleeping bag was not good for me overall, and I’m stiff and sleepy today. We left the house this morning and Violet stayed alone in the office for several hours without incident (although I did have to cat-proof it by removing every item in there that had a cord), so here’s hoping I can manage to unattach myself from her enough to sleep in my own bed tonight.

A busy week ahead, and though I have filmed a lot of reviews to share, there were some problems with the results and I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’m going to upload these vids or have to film them all over. We’ll talk more about that later, I’m sure.

Fringe Benefits

I realize this is not a big deal, but I got a haircut.

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Actually no, that’s my hair before I cut it. But you know I have to build up to it a little, right?

The thing is, I’ve been saying for years as I’ve been wearing wigs and growing out my hair that I do not look good in bangs, and for the most part I refuse to review wigs that have distinct bangs cut into them. I’ve never felt bangs looked good on me, and I’ve honestly never much liked the way they look at all. I’ve never really understood why people would choose to wear their hair that way, either.

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This is pretty much my ideal hairstyle.

As I’ve mentioned before, though, my hair is baby-fine, and although all of the photos above are supposedly good cuts for fine hair (I mean, would Pinterest lie?) try as I might I couldn’t get my hair to look like that. Perhaps it’s because all those hair models are 22 years old; more likely they all are wearing hair extensions, or at the least they’ve just been professionally styled (my own hair MIGHT look like this right after leaving the stylist, too). But for the most part, although I had the length for something like this, what I usually ended up with was completely lacking in style. It was the photo I snapped with old Mattress Mack last week that cinched it for me:

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I swear when I left the house (all of 10 minutes before this photo was taken) I had a nice sweep to the front that curved under just so, and fell perfectly over my right eye like every good bob or lob should. But here, it’s just a limp, shoulder-length pile of meh. What’s a truly fine-haired gal to do when she’s 47 years old and lives in the real world? I figured I had two choices: shorten it into a chin-length bob, which I’ve worn before and which does work with my face and hair; or, keep my hard-earned length and cut in some bangs. In the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with the length, and I still want to go longer, so I called up my stylist and made an appointment (no way in hell I’m trimming my own hair; I’ve learned that lesson the hard way).

As I already mentioned, I knew from all my wig-wearing that bangs looked terrible on me, so I was torn about doing this. But I did some reading about not only hairstyles that are good for fine hair, but also for long faces. My face shape is oval, which is always nice, but it’s also always been oblong, and as I get older it gets, well, longer. I’m sure it doesn’t actually get longer, but without fillers it starts to appear that way. And one of the most common recommendations for people with long hair and long faces is – you guessed it – bangs, because they shorten the face, basically. So I took that first photo I posted above (it’s just a quick crappy cell phone pic, and no, I am not wearing any makeup) and found a copy of a celebrity whose hair reminds me a lot of my own and who always has a pretty heavy bang: Rashida Jones. I basically pasted her bangs over that photo, and voila:

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Had to make it black and white because Rashida’s bangs didn’t match my hair color

I still wasn’t sure about it, so I tested the hairstyle out by making this my Facebook profile photo, and enough people liked it that I figured it was worth a go. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to freaking love it. I figured it would add a little bit of style to what was rapidly becoming a completely nondescript, style-less hair do, but I really did not expect the transformation that the addition of the bangs made to my hair:

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And yes, my face is Photoshopped – notice the slightly shorter chin? That’s only partially due to the optical illusion of the bangs.

Yes, that is really all my own hair. I kind of still can’t believe it. For at least five years my hair has been in one stage or another of still-growing-out, and here it really looks like an actual style. I love it.

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Took this for my tutoring blog I’m currently working on; thought I’d share it here because you can see what my hair looks like without the hair being blown about Beyonce-style. And is anyone else seeing how much this looks like RW’s Star Quality, or is it just me?

But what strikes me most right now is how, when I go back and look at wigs I’ve reviewed that have heavy bangs, I still don’t like how they look on me. And I still think some of the best long wigs I’ve ever worn (on me anyway) are styles without them. Which brings me to my point, more or less: if you’re wearing wigs, you probably need to re-think what looks good on you. Because the style of your bio hair may not look as good on you in wig form. The bangs on the wigs I’ve tried have been too heavy, and too long (and I’m not willing to trim them myself), and I think when combined with the thicker density of wigs in general those styles overpower me. But if I were to continue to insist that the styles that look best on me in wig form are therefore the styles I should wear as far as my bio-hair goes, I’d still have a shapeless hair-curtain. So the reverse must also apply: the styles that looked amazing on your bio hair just might not be the styles you wear best in wig form. So, try to be open to completely new and different styles and cuts when trying out your wigs. Perhaps the goal of finding a wig that looks exactly like your biohair isn’t always the best to have? Who knows.

I’d say, at least be open to the possibility of finding something completely different in wig form that really works on you. You never know.

Mattress Mack and Giving Back

I just have to share the story of this day, even though it’s not over yet.

I got up this morning feeling restless, so I decided to throw on some makeup and get out of the house. I didn’t have any specific plans for what to do with myself, but I had a few ideas in my head rattling around. One was to visit the local library for some quiet reading time; another was to head over to the local mall and wander around, then grab some lunch; and a third was to go check out the new Gallery Furniture showroom that opened up near us a year or two ago.

If you’re not from Houston you’ve probably never heard of Gallery Furniture or its owner, Mack McIngvale (aka “Mattress Mack”). But if you’re from this area, you know who he is; he’s a huge presence in this city and has been for a long time – he’s been around as long as I can remember, at least. He started out with a small furniture retail business and over the years grew it into a money-making machine. He’s also quite philanthropic and is known for putting a lot of his money back into the communities he serves (which is pretty much all of the Houston area at this point). I think he still makes the cheesy commercials he became famous for; he is mostly associated with them and with his famous catch phrase “Saves…You…MONEY!” (shouted while jumping up and down with a wad of cash in his hand – see video example below).

He’s also known for continuing to only sell products that are American-made, and continuing to be very hands-on and present in all of his stores. He’s put God knows how much money back into the city’s medical community, educational institutions, and the like. Plus, his commercials are a part of my childhood, as they are for everyone who was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s (and perhaps further on than that, for all I know).

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This new Gallery Furniture showroom he opened in my area was a big deal when it was finally finished; it’s huge and has quite the fancy restaurant attached to it, and it’s a big attraction to the area. The showroom itself boasts an indoor atrium with lily ponds and monkeys (for some reason), a 30,000 gallon aquarium, and a huge Texas flag “mattress” playground for kids to jump on. So, I thought I might wander inside and see if there were any interesting photos I wanted to take.

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Some seriously over-sized furniture; check out the yellow cab kid stroller for scale

I decided not to lug my camera in first, though, and to take some time to wander around and see if there was anything worth snapping. And what do I see first thing after walking through the entrance but Mr. Mattress Mack himself – he and two employees were actually using one of those huge kitchen table chairs in the photo above as a desk (the chairs are approximately chest-high). I recognized him right away, and although it’s well known that he visits his showrooms frequently, I was still surprised to see him there, and right as I walked inside to boot. At first I ignored him, because he was busy at the time, and walked right past their group into the showroom to wander around. A salesman was giving me the lay of the land when I decided I would, in fact, go back to my car to grab my camera, and that I would try to snap a photo of Mr. Mack if I encountered him on my journey. Sure enough, as I started back towards the entrance, Mattress Mack was heading right for me, so without even thinking I asked him if he was who I thought (knew) he was, and asked for a photo. And here it is.

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He asked me if I was heading into the Brookwood Community Store located within the showroom, and I mentioned that I was (I wasn’t, but hey, you know how it is) and that I was familiar with the organization. Let me detour and explain what Brookwood is: it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to providing living assistance to individuals with severe learning disabilities. They actually have many people who live in their residential facilities, but they also provide day programs for people with Down’s Syndrome and other functional disabilities. One of the organization’s biggest focuses has always been on providing people with vocational skills so they can maintain a productive existence and be able to contribute to their communities, and in that regard they have many work programs as well as businesses in which the members work and make the wares that are sold.

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The Brookwood Community store inside the Gallery Furniture showroom

They have a cafe where community members can cook as well as serve the food, a nursery where they can work in the gardens or sell the plants, and other opportunities like this to provide a sense of accomplishment to the members and help them live productive lives. It’s a great organization, and Gallery Furniture has a store inside the showroom for the community to sell certamics and other products the residents make. They also have classrooms and a workshop in this facility, where Brookwood members work every day. I learned all of this when Mattress Mack walked me over to the area and started showing me around.

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So Mattress Mack and I enter the workroom, and since neither of the staff members had ever met him, we all ended up kind of introducing ourselves to each other without any formality to it. This led them to believe that I knew him somehow; that either I was an important person he was showing around, or I was an unimportant person charged with showing HIM around; I had to explain to them later that I didn’t know him at all and had just run into him when I walked into the building. I made mention of my background working with students with learning disabilities as a teacher (although I’ve never worked with students who had severe issues) and asked if they needed volunteers. I’ve learned over the years never to ask someone at a charitable organization if they need volunteers unless you are ready to start RIGHT AWAY, because they always need volunteers and are pretty darn skilled at coralling people to work. Sure enough, no sooner did I ask than I was seated at a table, making mosaic crosses with a girl named Josie that would be sold in the store later.

That all came after the kids finished bombarding Mattress Mack for photos, though, which I dutifully took for them (they all knew who he was, had clearly never met him before, and were VERY excited to see him):

 

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I got to the showroom right at 10:00 AM, and ended up staying until around 1:30. For all of that time, I was in the workroom with the kids. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never worked with students who have these levels of disability, so for the first hour or so I was observing more than anything. The girl I worked with, Josie, had a tendency to overload the wooden cross she was working with, trying to put a mosaic tile into every available space. At first I just let her do her thing, but when one of the workers came over I watched how she corrected and instructed Josie to be sure not to overload the cross and to pay attention to symmetry so that the end result could be sold in the store. After that, I was more comfortable doing the same thing, and started to guide her more and ask her to stop on occasion and evaluate what she was doing. It was rough going, because she’d seem to hear what I was saying and agree, then she’d go ahead and plonk whatever she wanted onto the cross. At times, she had it perfectly symmetrical, then would take a tile or two off and jumble it all up again; and when it came time to glue the pieces down things really got interesting. I noticed right away that she was dumping a ton of glue onto each piece, and she ignored my instructions to use less. After a few tiles got slopped onto the cross with glue oozing every direction, Cherie, the assistant, came over, and once again she was very direct and stern with Josie about not using too much glue and being careful with what she was doing. She asked Josie to explain to me what her issues were with glue, and together they informed me that she loves the feel of the glue so much that she always overdoes it – that was certainly good information for me as up to that point I was getting nowhere trying to get her to calm down with it! Cherie even went so far as to point out to us that some of the tiles didn’t match the overall look color-wise, and that they needed to be changed (by the way, I am NOT crafty at all, so I had no idea what I was doing and this was as much of a learning experience for me as a teaching one!).

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Oh dear. An early attempt. Yeah I’m really not good at this sort of thing.

Once again I was able to see how much more direct I could be with her, and even though I could tell she didn’t like me quite as much once I started giving her more direction, we got the cross into a somewhat manageable pattern, and right away she started doing a much better job with the glue. Teaching these sorts of life and social skills to students who need it has always been a problem for me; I feel guilty and don’t want to hurt kids’ feelings, but the truth is, if you’re teaching them, you need to include those life skills they need to function independently of you – in that regard, it’s better to be liked a little less and be able to teach the kids more. I just worry about pushing a kid too far or being too stern and upsetting them. But hey, even getting upset and learning to deal with those feelings is a good lesson, so there’s no need to be overly cautious; it’s just my nature to be too nice with kids.

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I swear this improved once we got it all glued down.

In case you can’t tell by how much I have to say about this experience, this sort of thing is right up my alley. I cannot emphasize enough how much I needed something like this to come my way at this point and time; to get out of my own head and spend a few hours being useful and helpful in a very direct and tangible way. Even though it’s officially summer and I’m always ‘off work’ this time of year, knowing I have nothing to go back to in the fall in a helping capacity makes me feel a bit lost and purposeless. It opened my mind a bit more to all the possibillities that are not only available to me but right under my nose, as well as opening up a possibility for the future I hadn’t considered, which is working with kids who have even greater disabilities than I’ve ever taught. And I’ve been wanting somewhere to volunteer a few hours a week, too, and here’s somewhere I can do that right up the road. Overall, what I was left with at the end of all this was a sense of amazement at how much more abundance and opportunity there is in the world than I realize, and how magical the universe can be in guiding us to where we need to go.

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Josie and Mattress Mack with a Texas flag she made

Before I left I talked volunteering on a regular basis and filling out applications and possible job opportunities; I’m certain I’ll do more volunteer work there soon but whether or not anything turns into a paying job is just a remote possibility at this point. But I’m not sure either one of those things matter right now. For now, what’s important for me is to go with the flow, follow my instincts, journey down some new roads and see where they lead; sure, today it just led me to a furniture showroom, which felt weird at first, but look at the day I ended up having as a result! And there’s a whisper of a promise in all of this somewhere, I can feel it – something that’s nudging me and hinting of more. What I need to keep doing right now is listen.

The Agony of Retreat

I did go on a brief retreat this week, and while there was no agony involved, once I thought up the title it amused me so much I had to use it anyway. Moving on.

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The chapel at the Villa de Matel – never was able to get a decent photo of it before

There’s an old convent in Houston called Villa de Matel that has a retreat center on the property; it is in one of the older parts of the city and the grounds are quite lovely. There’s about 70 acres of land overall, with beautiful walking trails surrounded by magnolia trees and high branches dripping with Spanish moss. Unfortunately, on this trip Houston was experiencing another round of Biblical-level flooding and rains, so I was unable to take photos of the trails as they were basically swamps. In fact, I was only scheduled to spend one night at the convent’s retreat center – which is called Ruah (Hebrew for ‘spirit’) – but all the roads leading to my neighborhood were rendered impassible by flooding overnight, so I stayed on another day and waited for the water to go down. Actually, I could have stayed longer as I felt I was getting a lot out of being there, but I hadn’t packed for an extended trip and hadn’t taken care of some odds and ends at the house that needed to be dealt with before the end of the week, so I reluctantly drove back after the second night.

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The chapel exterior

The first day’s weather was OK for awhile until the storms blew in, so I did manage to get some shots of the convent’s buildings and grounds that were concrete-adjacent, which I could walk  on without sinking into the muck that all the grass and walking trails had become from the previous round of thunderstorms, so that was nice. But I’m not much of an architectural or outdoors photographer, and I actually like a lot of the photos I snapped with my phone better than the ones I took using my 7D. The one directly above was taken with my iPhone, but the shot of the chapel was taken using the Canon.

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The oratory in the Ruah center wing of the main building – this was where I spent most of my time this trip. I find each time I go I am drawn to certain areas, and it’s always different. I sat on the floor in here for hours writing and scribbing in a journal. There was only one time someone else even came into the room while I was there.

I’ve also taken photos at the convent before, and although it’s changed a bit since the last time I was there, it hadn’t changed all that much, and I got bored rather quickly since I was just re-taking photos I’d already snapped previously. Although the last time I took photos there I did not have either a decent phone OR camera, so I did want to get some better-quality shots even if they were duplicates of earlier ones. It just wasn’t all that thrilling to do.

Photo May 31, 11 15 38 AM
View from the second-floor covered balcony, across from the back entrance to the chapel. This was a wonderful place to sit and watch/listen to the rain – the chapel roof is metal and gave the rain a musical quality.

To stay at the Ruah center, you are assigned a spiritual advisor with whom you are required to meet at least once. When I first started coming here back in the 90’s, that wasn’t a requirement, but for whatever reason they changed the rules eventually. The other times I visited (this was my fourth visit overall), I met with the advisor since I was obligated to do so, but I did not get much out of it. This time, however, I had a lot on my mind in relation to my recent job upset, so I got a lot of use out of that spiritual advising time. My first day, my advisor met with me for two hours. When she found out I was staying an extra day to avoid driving in the floodwaters, she met with me again for another hour. Then on day three even though I was leaving, she met with me again for another thirty minutes. Each time we met, she recommended Bible verses, prayers, reflections, and questions to ask myself during my silent time (the retreat center is silent, and guests are asked not to speak at all while they are there). Even though I’m not all that religious, I’m not offended or put off by religion and I do believe in God, so I was OK with her guidance and took it all to heart, and it was all very helpful.

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The covered balcony referenced in the caption for the previous shot

The way I  discovered Ruah in the first place was when in my twenties and very broke I mentioned to a friend how frustrating it was to never be able to get away for a little vacation, and she mentioned it to me as a place I could go without having to spend much at all. At the end of your stay, you simply put however much you are called to pay into an envelope and leave it in a mailbox by the front door, and that’s it. When I was in my 20’s, that was sometimes as little as $35, but there was no pressure or obligation to spend more. I got a small room to stay in, three meals a day, and an entire two floors of the convent to spend my time doing whatever I wished as well as the freedom to walk all the beautiful grounds. They still operate under the same system, so even though I pay more than $50 now because I can, it is still a wonderful way to get away. There’s no stress or hurry or worry and everything is geared towards reflection, meditation, and peace. I’m not sure why I stayed away for five years (perhaps the insanity of the job I’ve had for the last four), but I intend to get back there sooner this time around. And the fact that I actually got to meet with an advisor every single day for no extra fee – as I said, it is in fact a requirement – was pretty amazing. The whole place is a secret gem hidden in the heart of the city, and whenever I mention it to people they are unfamiliar with it – such a shame since it’s such a wonderful place to stay.

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The chapel foyer – an oddly framed shot but the space was quite small and the light was non-existent, so I had to make the best of it

Some of the things I was able to reflect on while there involved my perception of what it means to have, or leave, a job. I have a very deeply-rooted middle-class belief that you take whatever job comes along and never turn  one down, and no matter what, you never quit – at least not until you have something else lined up. Well, I really screwed the pooch on all that this time, and it’s been really stressing me out to have nothing lined up to do next. And I’ve never believed that a job was a “real” job unless it involved an organization and a hierarchy and an accounting department that cuts you a check twice a month, yet leaving all that behind and striking out on  my own is exactly what I’m considering doing now – and it terrifies me, fills me with anxiety and dread, and makes me feel terribly guilty. So yeah, I had plenty to fill my journal with this trip!

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We also touched on how addicted to drama I am, and how I disregarded so many warning signs when taking that stupid job in the first place, and how I can be a better judge of such things in the future. Listening to the warning signs when they are being given to me, instead of ignoring them to fulfill that familial belief that you never, ever, say no to a  job, like, EVER; and recognizing when I am getting ensnared into other people’s drama and getting myself hooked on it are going to be two big tasks for me moving forward. Not going back into any sort of structured or organized educational environment will certainly help with this, but leaving it behind has been difficult, as I went from knowing everything that was going on behind the scenes at my workplace to being completely shut out within 24 hours, and I’ve literally been having drama/conflict withdrawals as a result – mostly because I’ve been worried what people are saying about me, as if that matters anymore. Sad, but true!

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Entrance to the main Villa de Matel building. Most of the second and third floors are dedicated to the Ruah center. The windows on the third floor are all dorm rooms.

I was encouraged to take myself back to my childhood (of course, aren’t we always advised to do that) and try to reconnect with what I wanted to “do” when I was little, before all the expectations of others kicked in, and that was a tough one for me. I had to sit on it for quite awhile, but then it hit me in one big rush of remembering: when I was in fifth grade, I decided I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t something that I talked about much, and the way I  was raised, girls weren’t encouraged to do much aside from get married and have babies, so it was a small little desire tucked away in a corner of my mind, but it never totally left me, and through my quiet high school existence, it was one of the few ways I actually distinguished myself – occasionally we would be asked to write something creative for an English or History class and I would impress the teacher with my talent, once they figured out just who the hell I was since I was so quiet I doubt they even recognized my name at the top of the paper. Even in college (where I was not any more visible to my professors) my English profs would single me out and encourage me to change my major (which I eventually did, to English Lit. with a minor in Creative Writing).

Photo May 31, 11 17 04 AM
So right about now is when the pictures start to get weird. But you know with me I’m always gonna do a least a little bit of over-processing. This was actually the stairwell from the pipe organ loft in the chapel; right around the corner is a stained-glass window and the walls are painted light blue to enhance the effect. In reality it’s more pretty than creepy, but I went with creepy when editing.

As some of you know, I dabbled in poetry for about 15 years but always found it very difficult to write, even if in the end I wrote some great stuff, and I abandoned it when I discovered photography, which is a HELL of a lot more fun for me to do. I made some attempts at writing fiction and even took some classes, but I am not a plotter and although I wrote some lovely vignettes, nothing in my stories ever actually happened. And writing fiction wasn’t any more enjoyable to me than writing poetry, so I eventually switched to teaching English and everything that led from there you probably already know.

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The pipe organ in the chapel; it was a very small balcony area so I couldn’t get a decent angle to take a good shot. Really not a good photo, so I processed the hell out of it to try and make up for that. 

I have some idea of what this might mean to me and where it might take me, but I don’t want to reveal that info right now. Mostly because I might change my mind tomorrow, but also because if I share my ideas it will make me feel pressured to make progress on them, and I’m not in the mood for that yet. For now, I’m just clearing out the muddle in my  mind and making space for a new future. But radically re-thinking what work is to me is definitely rattling around; it just needs more space to move and I still have a lot of cobwebs to clear.

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This was the roof of the heritage building; obviously I edited the hell out of this. The sky in reality was cloudy by the time, but not that interesting sort of cloudy that makes a photo look textured and cool – mostly the sky looked solid white and really boring. But I liked the placement of the sun and how it appeared to be glowing over a roof  which I thought had a UFO-like quality. 

I worked on a lot of the disappointment, betrayal, and heartache I experienced over the past month, too, and I did have a lot of guilt I needed to let go of. I haven’t reached full closure on either of these issues yet, but I got a good start on them. A few things I realized were that all my worry and bother over the fact that my final act might have ruined the good reputation I built up there over four years was a waste of time, because in the end, while a good rep is nice to have and all, it certainly isn’t worth my sanity, sense of peace, and self-respect. If walking away gave me back all that, it’s still a better trade than staying at a place that was determined to devalue me, disrespect me, and take advantage of me until I was either burnt out or used up entirely; a place that was too busy using its employees to serve itself to ever give me the level of respect I deserved.

Photo Jun 01, 10 03 26 AM
A bit of a detour here – my great-grandmother lived across the street from the convent, so I drove by and snapped a photo of her old house. This was taken from my car, while those two ladies looked at me like I was crazy. Funny story – I posted this on Facebook and both my mother and aunt, who both practically grew up in this house, insisted it was not the right house. I had to go to Google earth and show them that photo before they would believe me! 

And I’ve felt guilt, also, for leaving my students behind without saying goodbye, but while reflecting on that I heard an answer in my heart quite clearly: sometimes you just have to put yourself first. PERIOD. Teachers, in particular, as well as individuals working in any service-oriented industry, fall prey to this philosophy quite often; this idea that we simply cannot walk away from our OBLIGATIONS because people DEPEND on us and the world will just end, and we will be horrible people who are fully responsible for it, if we do. But everyone has times in their lives when they must stop sacrificing all their happiness for others and simply save themselves. And this was one of those times for me. And if my actions made some of my former students angry or upset, then so be it. It sucks, but I HAD to do it to save myself.

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This quote popped up on a little placard in the corner of one of the Ruah center rooms my second day there; I swear it wasn’t there on my first day, so I convinced myself it was put up specifially for me. It wasn’t, of course, but the quote still spoke to me, so I put it in the sky of my UFO-roof photo. I rather like it!

Now, the fact that my action upset some of my former bosses? I have zero regrets about that. Because the fact of the matter was, they’d all come together to create a situation that benefitted themselves, but put me in a real bind, and they had no problems with it whatsoever, and they ignored me when I tried to tell them that what they were doing wasn’t right or fair. So knowing how upset they were when I left indicated to me that I’d finally taken this huge problem they’d dumped in my lap and managed to dump it back on them, where it belonged. They were the ones taking advantage of their titles to pursue other interests on a weekly basis during school time without having to relinquish their status or power, so let them be the ones to figure out how they were going to pull it off. The only way for me to put that problem back on them was if I left immediately – otherwise, they were going to spend that last school week breathing down my neck, forcing me to set everything up for them nice and neat so once I was gone they wouldn’t have to figure anything out for themselves. And that, at least, they did not force me to do. But only because I didn’t stick around long enough for them to try.

Walking It Off

For those of you who don’t read my private blog (which is most of you, because it’s, well, private) I’m going to catch you up on recent events quickly, while sharing some more photos I’ve worked on in recent weeks.

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I may have mentioned this in a recent wig video post, but two significant things happened this month that I am still processing, to use that term in the non-photography sense. My grandmother’s funeral was May 17th, and that same day I quit my job.

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My grandmother was 93 years old, and until the past few months she’d still been able to function on her own. She was just getting to the point that my father had to visit her every day and check in with her when, on May 10th, she had a massive stroke and heart attack that left her bedridden, paralyzed on one side, and non-communicative. She could still open her eyes, and wave goodbye, and squeeze your hand if you asked her to, but for the most part her life was over in that moment. She hung on for five days, and died that Saturday. In the grand scheme of things, she was never reliant on anyone else and did not suffer long in the hospital, but still. When a loved one dies, it’s never easy.

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There was a lot of chaos and drama at work as usual going on at the same time, and the long and short of it was that I’d been made promises about my job that ultimately were broken. And I found out about those broken promises the day of my grandmother’s funeral. So after the services, my husband and I drove up to the school, packed up my things, and I walked out.

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I’ve been struggling with all these things ever since. It wasn’t just that I didn’t get a promotion I’d been promised, it was that in the weeks leading up to the non-promotion, I started acting like I had the job already, and making a lot of decisions and writing up a lot of documents about how I wanted my department to run. To do all that work, and then not get the credit or any  benefit from it, was devestating. And insulting. And even though there was only a week left in the school year at that point, and I knew that walking away was a dicey decision, I did it because the only thing left for me to do at that point if I’d stayed was hand over the rest of my knowledge and information to the people in charge who’d already screwed me over, then slink away at the end of the school year to never return. At least this way, i got to take my hard work and knowledge with me, and I didn’t let them steal any more from me than they already had.

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I’ve been so baffled over how this happened, and how it is that I could work so hard somewhere for four years and never get any acknowledgement or reward for it. Selfish thoughts, I know, but they were my thoughts  all the same. In the past year, I felt I’d really been pretty vocal about my ideas – and they were damn good ones – and all the ways I knew the school could be so much better, and I kept waiting to be rewarded for that. But then today I stumbled across this post in an advice column that helped me to understand where I went wrong. The entire response is excellent and well worth a read, but it was these two paragraphs in particular hit the nail on the head for  me (salty language warning for the faint of heart):

You had a lot of ideas how the company might do things better. You were passionate about those ideas. You took the inefficiencies and inconsistencies around you personally. And while it’s easy to believe that these things make you an ideal candidate for a management role, you’re wrong. In fact, in 9 out of 10 workplaces, these things make you the least likely person to be promoted.

Generally speaking, managers are not people who fixate on how the company might do things better. Managers simply run things. They perpetuate the status quo, and they are hired to do just that. Sure, there might be a superstar CEO or business owner who rains down hellfire and damnation (or muffin baskets, or bonuses), and then all the managers inform the plebes of the new policies and initiatives that are going to streamline everything, usually in asinine, out-of-touch ways that fuck everything else. But managers are not the source of these initiatives. The manager’s real talent lies in his/her ability to pass along bullshit initiatives WITHOUT letting on — in longwinded emails and longwinded meetings — that those initiatives are fucking bullshit. The budding manager is promoted not based on long hours, vision, and passion, but on an ability to encounter hilariously ill-considered directives with a quiet shrug of resignation.

Now I know there’s a lot of patting myself on the back in those two paragaphs, which I don’t mean to do so obnoxiously; but it does explain how I could have spent all year pushing hard for change and shoving my bright ideas down everyone else’s throats and not ending up at the end of the year with a gold star. In fact, I got thrown under the bus instead! But while I think I did have a pretty clear read of what was wrong with that place,. what I did a piss-poor job at was reading the room. I simply never understood that all my fussing and shouting for change wasn’t getting me any closer to being a leader there; it was just pushing me closer to the door. And in the end, I had to just walk through the exit and call it a day.

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It’s not that I shouldn’t have had the ideas I had, or even try to convince others that they were good ones; I just should have understood better how that role fits into a culture like that one and not expected to be rewarded for it. Either way, I think at the end of the year I would have been saying adios to the whole environment, because it was clear that status quo was still the order of the day around there and always would be; but I wouldn’t have been so shocked at the outcome and my expectations for how I would be treated as a result of all my planning and pushing would have been far lower. In the end, it was the right thing to do, and I don’t regret it, and I’ve decided to strike out on my own and work as an academic coach and tutor so some of those big ideas I had about how best to help kids I can do in  the manner I think is best, without having to play to the middle and hide my damn light under a bushel to get away with it and all that.

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It’s still been a hard lesson to accept, and venturing out on my own without a steady paycheck is daunting to say the least, but my husband is fully on my side and has in fact been telling me to walk away from that crazy damn place for years, so I know it will be OK. But emotionally I’ve been through a lot, and I still have moments where I break down and ugly cry over it all – the loss of the job and the disappointment of their  broken promises, yes, but also the loss over my grandmother, which I scarcely got a breath to process before everything hit the fan at work.

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I’m already being contacted by the parents of students at the school who’ve heard about my departure, asking me to coach and tutor their kids, so that’s nice. Here’s hoping things can all work out in the end; time only spins forward after all. But first, a few weeks at least to catch my breath, since summer is here.

Cranksgiving

 

It’s back to work on Monday, but only for two weeks and then mid-term exams kick in. For the most part, my vacation was lovely; the weather was perfection until Saturday afternoon, when the sky turned wet and gray and things have been gloomy ever since. A fairly apt wrap-up to the end of a vacation, but a bummer nonetheless.

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My sis and her new grandbaby, Gabriella

I was asked to bring my camera to my sister’s house on Thursday, where we celebrate Thanksgiving each year (the day after Thanksgiving Doug and I go visit his father). I did so, but did not take many photos; my father wanted to get some of those look-at-all-the-generations-together photos that family always wants to take, so I did my part in orchestrating those but didn’t put much effort into processing any of them except the few that, in my opinion, had some artistic value. Not that I don’t care about the family pictures or anything – it’s just that I know by now that those sorts of photographs do not need a lot of fancy editing or lighting or anything like that. They’re for posterity only, so I just convert them to JPEG straight out of the camera, post them on Facebook, and email copies to whomever wants them and call it a day. Easier and faster, plus there’s no reason to go through all of that work when no one is even going to notice it’s been done. The ones I’m sharing here, though, are the ones I felt were nice enough to process and doctor up a bit.

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My only grandparent still alive; she’s 92 now. 

Thanksgiving is always a chaotic affair at my sister’s house; she’s an amazing cook and loves to spend days preparing for the event, but her house is quite small and our family, as you can see in the photo below, is quite large (that wasn’t even everyone who was at the house that day in the picture) – we took it before some people showed up). This year in particular several relatives came in from out of town, which is unusual, so there were even more folks crammed into the house than usual. On top of that, my family likes to drink. A lot. In fact, there were twenty-nine people total at my sister’s house, and there were TWENTY-SEVEN bottles of wine on-hand for the festivities. Not to mention the beer and mixers. You take that much booze, that many people, and that small of a space and put it all together and you end up with barely-contained chaos. And that chaos – is INCREDIBLY LOUD.

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Can you tell? This isn’t even nearly everyone who was there that day.

When you’re one of the only people not drinking amidst all of that madness, it gets old quickly. I ended up sitting on that leather sofa watching football with the die-hard fans just to get away from it. Not to mention my typical screw-up the title of this post refers to – here’s how it went down: I knew we needed to be at my sister’s house around 1:00, so at noon my husband and I crated up the pups and took off. When we got to her house, we weren’t too surprised to find we were the first ones there, as my family is terrible about following directions relating to start and end times of celebratory events. In fact, the usual response to the question “What time should we get there?” is whenever. But I really didn’t want to be one of the late ones, so I made sure we were prompt, and, as I am afflicted with the same can’t-get-there-on-time-itis that the rest of my family has, I was quite proud of myself for pulling this off.

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Except that after we’d been there about 30 minutes I started to notice things, like how my sister wasn’t dressed for company yet, and there were foil-covered pans laid out all over the kitchen counters, but none of them had made it into the oven. I finally pulled her aside and asked what time we were supposed to arrive, and she said she’d told everyone 3 PM, not 1 as I’d imagined. For the life of me, I do not know where I got the one o’clock arrival time, as after she told me this I actually went and looked at the Facebook event she created at the beginning of November and, sure enough, it clearly said 3 PM. So okay, we showed up two hours early – it’s further evidence of how bad my family is about time that neither my sister nor her husband were phased by us showing up when we did in the least. They just kept on trucking and set out a cheese ball for us to snack on without another word about it.

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Happy Thanksgiving

But that whole “bad about showing up at the right time” thing ended up getting us in the end, even if no one was ticked off about us showing up so early, because when my sister requested people show up at three everyone else knew that to mean “show up sometime after three,” which is exactly what everyone else did. At five-thirty, new faces were still appearing, and the turkey had not even been carved. Since Doug and I are quite conscientious fur-parents (we have no kids, so our pets are our babies), we started to worry around four when they’d already been in their kennels for four hours – we really don’t like to crate them for more than that, and five hours is pretty much our limit for it, even if the dogs could survive for longer. By 5:30 we were resigned to the fact that we’d be doing no eating this Thanksgiving, and we ended up leaving at 5:45 without eating anything other than a cheese ball to show for it. It sucked, but it had to be done – my sister lives about 45 minutes away, and we knew if we sat down to eat at 6 PM it would just be way too late by the time we got home (sitting down to eat  is laughable, though – my family Thanksgivings are more of a grab-a-paper-plate-and-find-a-space-to-gobble-it-down affair than a formal sit-down one with the good china. People even eat standing up).

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Oh well – This was really the main course anyway.

So yeah – no food on Thanksgiving day. We came home, fed the dogs and took them out, then ate frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. The end. But on the plus side, I did take pictures on Tuesday, with full-face makeup and everything. I’ll share some of those photos later.