Kit(ten) and Kaboodle

Featured

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

sunset1

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:

Photo Jul 24, 5 58 50 PM

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.

Photo Jul 24, 9 24 28 AM

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.

13254378_10153410238235194_6812613295916136555_n

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.

bob_collage
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:

Photo Jun 17, 10 09 56 AM

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:

bangs
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:

bangs1
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.

bangs2
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).

GFGP

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.

Photo Jun 17, 12 21 26 PM

Photo Jun 17, 12 21 10 PM
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.

Photo Jun 17, 10 09 56 AM

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.

Photo Jun 17, 10 09 23 AM
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.

Photo Jun 17, 10 11 03 AM

Photo Jun 17, 10 13 33 AM

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):

 

brookwood_collage

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!).

Photo Jun 17, 11 15 45 AM
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.

Photo Jun 17, 11 43 45 AM
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.

Photo Jun 17, 10 15 56 AM
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.

chapel1
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.

Photo May 31, 11 08 55 AM
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.

Photo May 31, 12 00 54 PM
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.

Photo May 31, 11 15 22 AM
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.

chapelfoyer
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!

Photo May 31, 11 39 13 AM

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!

Photo May 31, 11 05 47 AM
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.

organ1
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.

roof2
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.

roofquote
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.

pureallure1

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.

wille1

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.

12308024_10153056298640194_6175702752766639068_o

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.

 oops1

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.

flower1

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.

katherine1a

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.

popcorn2

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.

wonthat

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.

thanks4
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.

thanks6
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.

thanks1
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.

thanks_collage

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.

exps3258_CW1115373D38
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).

SF_Intl_Wine_Comp_2009_Lots-of-Bottles
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.

Too Cool for Pool

Well, folks, we’re almost there:

Finished1

Pardon the canopy swing sitting awkwardly next to the house, and the pool floats piled on a chair. We’re still getting things tidied up a bit, and we have some more work to do on our new covered patio (staining, mostly) but for the most part, things are done. It’s gotten a touch too cool to swim regularly, but I do fire up the spa every evening and sit in it for at about an hour.

pool1

All in all, we started this project right around August 1st, and finally got the grass replaced (which is what finally made things feel ‘done’) the first week of November. It took WAY longer than I thought it would to get from start to finish, but I must say it has been worth it.

Photo Aug 18, 7 29 13 PM

A lot of people have seen photos and commented on the relative lack of landscaping we now have in the backyard; we took out all the beds that run along the back fence and just left a single small one in the far right corner, so we could keep out bottlebrush tree that the hummingbirds love so much. I guess it does look a little bare back there now, but we needed to create enough space for our dogs to roam around in and do their business, lest they end up having too small space that was too close to the pool for them to relieve themselves. See, when I put it that way, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all to keep things sparse in the backyard.

Finished3

Besides, I rather like the lack of foliage back there; our yard was a decent size before the pool, but not huge, and it definitely felt a little cramped once the pool was put in and before those overgrown beds were taken out. We had one sago palm that we really liked back there that we did save and move to the flowerbed we kept that’s up against the house, but aside from that and the bottlebrush tree in the corner we yanked the rest of it out. There are plants added to that corner bed that will eventually fill out and eliminate some of the sparse feeling, but overall I like the changes.

Finished2

This new pergola was built for us last week; it still needs to be stained and will be much darker, and we’re having a gutter company come out to move that drainpipe over to the end of the garage. We’ve also ordered some lovely new furniture that should be in by the end of the week, and believe it or not my husband wants to get an outdoor flat-screen television to hang on the garage wall – but I kinda doubt that will happen. I believe those things are ridiculously expensive.

407a1e5c0865d468f3602095523f40c7

So, to sum up:

finished_collage

We are finally, basically done! Who’s coming over?

 

 

Video Wig Review: Colette by Jon Renau in Colors 4-33 and 130-131

I wonder if anyone’s at all interested in older wigs with all the new fall styles that have come out recently…if not, oh well, since I’ve not bought anything since school started.

Collette is a very cute wig even if it isn’t new; it has a strange, zip-zag part which I guess was a “thing” back when this style came out, but you can’t really tell since the hair fiber is a little thick and the zig-zagginess really doesn’t show. But the part is a monofilament one and looks realistic, and overall I think this style is quite convincing as one’s real hair. Colette has been discontinued but it can still be found online; most of the places I found it had it on clearance for about $150. I had her in two colors, obviously, so I’m showing both of them together here.

Hair-itage

Ugh, terrible title, sorry. I’ve written so many posts with hair-pun titles, it’s either start to repeat them or just go for awful. I think you can see which route I chose.

newhair_1_collage

And now you can also see that I finally got my hair cut and colored into some sort of STYLE. With the exception of the roughly 4-6 months I enjoyed having a perm, I’ve not had hair I actually liked for almost 5 years now. My initial goal was to keep growing until it was at least mid-way down my back; but as it grew I began to realize that my baby-fine hair was never going to look on me like one of my Angelicas or Brandis, and that going beyond shoulder-length was not the best use of what I’ve got. Then, once I decided to bob it off, I also decided I didn’t need to keep worrying about damaging my hair with a dye job, because it’s short enough that any damaged ends can just get trimmed off without too much trouble. Getting this effect took two tries, though; because the first time the dye didn’t take and the stylist left too much length (not her fault, I originally chose a style that was a bit too long). I went back two days after the initial cut and color and we tried again – and I have been thrilled with the results so far.

newhair4a

Finally I eliminated that awful shoulder-length hair-flip I had going on, and my hair actually looks like a real style. Chopping off a few inches really gave my hair the little bit of bounce it needs (and the dye helps as it makes my hair a little more coarse) and the color, I think, is going to satisfy all my wig-friends who are constantly reminding me that even though my bio hair really is that dark, when I choose wigs that closely match it the effect isn’t the best. In other words, your natural hair color may be dark brown, but natural just doesn’t look that good on you. It was really miss Robin by Noriko that sealed the deal for me – I loved those highlights in the Chocolate Swirl so much that it was the day I got that wig when I decided to color my hair again for certain. Moving on.

heart11a

I have a few more edited photos to share, but not many – it seems that in the last full week of my summer vacation, I finally decided to get out of the house and venture out into the world, so I’ve spent this week meeting up with friends all over town and even doing a little shopping. This seriously has not happened all summer – for the most part, I’ve stayed up super-late (4 AM at most) and slept in late (getting up around 9:30) then sat around in my pajamas all day catching up on documentaries and editing photos or videos. Seriously. I’ve never done so much nothing for so long in my life, but I guess I really needed that sort of rest, because it hasn’t bothered me at all. Obviously I also filmed a TON of videos and took lots of pictures, but still – both of those things can be done in at least half of my pajamas (I may be wearing a lovely top in my wig vids, but below the waist it’s strictly sweatpants, trust me. And bare feet. With a rock plopped down on the floor between said feet, so I don’t start shifting while I’m talking and turning around to show the wig, which would move me out of focus because my camera has no autofocus. Ah, the glamour of the wig reviewer).

heart12ab

I did film reviews for my new Angelica, Seville, May, and Code Mono, so those will be uploaded soon. And I still have a Stevie by Amore that I got in the mail Monday and have not even taken out of the box – which proves I’ve been busy because usually, I will rip into those boxes as soon as they arrive. I think being happy with my real hair now is part of the reason, too, since I’m less consistently inclined to cover it up right now.

119 E
How short my hair was when I started

My birthday came and went without much fanfare, as usual, except as I pointed out to Lana I’ve been basically buying wigs with abandon all month and claiming “birthday present” with each purchase, as well as putting yet another Fendi Spy bag on layaway. And in case I forgot to mention it, another Stitch Fix came and went without so much as an iPhone photo, because I decided not to keep anything and I didn’t think I’d have enough time to take decent photos before my three-day window to ship them back passed. It was a nice enough fix with only one thing I didn’t like (a mini-dress), but with all the wig-shopping I’ve done this month I decided to just let the whole thing go. I do kind of regret the olive-green lace biker jacket I sent back though; it was really cute.

heart12abc
Modified version of an above photo – not sure why I like this weird edit, but I do

I’ll be honest, I don’t have too much more to add here and am just throwing in words as filler between photos. Thank you for reading.

heart8
This was not a leap – just Photoshop levitation trickery