Duck Duck Oops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frog, meet Log. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May-Yay

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

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For two years, I’d been working in a program at a private school for students with learning disabilities as the main classroom teacher. The director of the program worked part-time. I had no background in special education, but when I took the job I was working as a counselor at this same school and hated it, so I was desperate to get out, and the director assured me that she would give me all the training and resources I’d need to work with the students. Since she had a master’s degree in special education and had run a similar program in another state, I trusted her, and accepted the position.

trust-me-i-m-a-liar-men-s-t-shirtI started working in the program in the fall of 2014. I was the only classroom teacher, and the director was only in the building three days a week. When the school year started, I’d had no training and been given no instruction, materials, or guidelines as to how to help our students. The director’s instructions to me, when I asked her how I should proceed with the class (which I asked repeatedly) was, hey, it’s your classroom, you can run it any way you want. The most she did was buy a lot of expensive technology for the kids to use – but neither she nor I knew how to use this stuff. I asked her at the beginning of the year to either find me some training or figure out how to use some of this technology herself and teach me, so the kids could use it in the classroom. She never did (three years later, and I know for a fact none of that software or hardware has been used. I bet it’s all still in the original boxes. It was when I left last year).

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As the year wore on, I grew tired of waiting for the director to, well, direct, and I started making crap up to help the kids in the program. I came up with a pretty good system, but it wasn’t backed up by any research, and I was still woefully under-qualified. Then at the end of that first school year, I learned that she had gone way over the stated enrollment cap for the following school year – even though she talked a good game about having strict requirements for who she let into the program, in reality she pretty much accepted every kid that applied. The program was supposed to start with 10-15 students. It started with 40. By the time we were moving into our second year, we had 60.

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Not only that, but the range of disabilities she was accepting into the school ran a spectrum from kids who clearly didn’t even need our services in the least to kids who had needs we were incapable of meeting. The director would proudly advertise the 3 or 4 kids she actually DID reject as proof that she was being a good gatekeeper, but the truth was the program was a mess, and was also a big-ass lie. The kids were coming into the program, and taking a ‘class’ with me where I basically ran a study hall and tried to run around and work one on one with as many kids as possible, while also monitoring our extended-time testing program. At least in our second year, the director kept her promise to hire me help in the form of two more teachers (if there was one thing she did well, it was hire more staff to ensure she didn’t have to work more than her three days a week). But still, and in spite of my continued complaints and requests for it, there had been NO training, no guidelines or materials, and no guidance. I was still on my own, but now I was also in charge of two other teachers who were also on their own.

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And then the talk started about charging the parents of the students in our program extra fees on top of the tuition they paid to attend the school (for the first two years, the program was free). This freaked me out, and rightfully so. While scrambling around and doing my damnedest to help these kids by hook or by crook was one thing when our services were free, this piecemeal approach, unsupported by any research or best practices, was not going to cut it when we were charging parents three thousand extra dollars a year to utilize our services. In that second year, I was already struggling to help some of the kids who’d been accepted even though they clearly could not handle the college prep curriculum; and in spite of repeated promises on the part of the director to do so, still none of the classroom teachers had been trained on how to work with our kids.

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So. Last year, in January of 2016, I finally quit trying to involve the director in the program’s planning at all. We never got any useful assistance from her anyway, and for the most part, when she tried to help us she just made things worse. Right before the second semester started, I put on my best thinking cap and re-structured everything; it still wasn’t backed by any research or special education training, but it was backed by my 16-or-so months of observation as to what worked and didn’t work for the kids, and what concerns were constantly coming up with the parents. I created forms and checklists for us and for the kids’ teachers. I imposed structure into the classes. I started tracking kids and grades. And I set up a weekly reporting system to keep the parents informed of what was going on in our classes.

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This at least gave us some semblance of order, and prevented any of our kids from slipping through the cracks. But as we lumbered towards the third year of the program in the spring of 2016, I started to see more writing on the wall for the coming year, and it was not good. The director was still being sloppy with accepting students who shouldn’t have been let in. Our numbers were climbing higher than they were ever supposed to climb (our total enrollment was not EVER supposed to be more than 10% of the student population; and yet in our first year we had 40 kids when the total population was 380. The second year, we had 60 when the total population was 420. And were looking at more than 60 for the coming year, including kids with disabilities we weren’t equipped to handle – and the school’s enrollment had yet to crack 500). And in the back of my mind all this time was the nagging realization that all these parents were going to be paying extra for our services, while we were still going to be overburdened and untrained.

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Then I got the kicker, the final straw: one morning, the director slipped into my office to inform me that she had taken a job as a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, and would be working part-time as a stewardess in the coming school year while staying on as the director of our program. She would be in the building twice a week, and the rest of the week she’d be working for the airline. I was getting a new title – “coordinator” – and while she was out I would be in  charge of the management of the program. She told me this had all already been decided and finalized, and not to worry about any of it, because it would all be just fine. And before she scooted out the door she tossed out that by the way, she also had to attend a five-week training for her new airline job, and that training would be starting the next day, so while she was gone I was in charge – but I was not to make any decisions about anything without contacting her. Then she sashayed away.

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What ensued from that point forward was five weeks of crying, shouting, fighting, and threatening to quit – and that was just on my end. On her end, once she realized I was not going to support her or agree to these ridiculous terms, she set out to undermine me every chance she got. Since she was unreachable most of the time while she was at flight attendant school, everyone from parents to the school president starting coming to me when they had issues they wanted resolved. And by the way, this all started in April, when a private school starts having a LOT of issues about enrollment for the coming year. There are enrollment deadlines, for starters, and in the case of our program that meant reviewing paperwork for every student who applied, and determining whether or not they would be accepted, then notifying the admissions department of these decisions. There were interviews that had to be held and decisions to be made about final numbers, and class sizes, and program changes – and I was being pulled out of the classroom, which I was also supposed to be running, to do all of this. Which I did, every day – and then, when the director spared fifteen minutes from her stewardess training to check her emails, she would systematically undo every decision I’d made, as well as getting on the phone to other school employees to complain about what I was doing.

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This culminated in me giving the school an ultimatum: everyone, and I mean everyone, knew who really ran that program. Hell, the director was hardly ever in the building! I was the contact person, I was the one who ran meetings, and responded to emails, and met with parents. So I marched into the president’s office and told him, you can make me the director next year, and I’ll do all of this stuff the current director isn’t doing, and your program will actually be worth the money these parents are going to pay for it. Or you can keep her as the director, and I quit. And by the way, the director doesn’t even have any idea what happens in this program, or how it runs, because she hasn’t spent more than two hours max in that classroom the entire two years. So what’s it going to be?

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And what it was, was that the president told me I would be the director. Then he told me to put together an entire proposal, in writing, for every single change I wanted to make to the program. I went to work, researching where we could go to get really good special education training, and how we could add a summer program to help the kids acclimate to the school climate, and so on. I typed it all up. Documents and flow charts and outlines, you name it. And I turned it all in. I met with department chairs and the admissions department, and together we all made changes. I typed up new documents including those changes, and emailed it to all the department leaders I’d met with.

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Then, several things happened all at once: first of all, in the weeks I’d been convinced I was the new director of the program and had been making all these changes, I basically forgot that the program currently had a different director, and she was about to return from her five-week hiatus. I mean, I literally forgot she existed, because I’d been so busy burning the candle at both ends getting ready for the coming school year. And then, on the very weekend the director was due to return, my 93-year-old grandmother died. And on the very Monday the director was due to be back in the building, I was absent, attending my grandmother’s funeral. And the whole thing went to shit.

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In that one day I was absent, the director showed back up, took one look at what all I’d done, found out I’d been given her job, and hit the roof. And by the way – I forgot to mention that she was married to the school’s principal. Yep. So, she and the principal have a meeting with the president, and by the end of that meeting, I was no longer the new director, and she had her job back. And then, she threw out all my changes, and sent me an email requesting a meeting with me the following day (when I returned from my funeral leave) so I could “learn what my new role in the program was going to be.”

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I got that email on May 17, 2016. I knew the director was coming back that morning, and I knew there were going to be fireworks, so as soon as we got in the car from the graveside service I checked my email. Then, I called the president – the guy who’d been assuring me for five weeks that I had the director job – and had to ask him what was going on, because he wasn’t going to tell me himself, the chickenshit. All he said was, “Well, you’re not going to be the director next year, she is. And she’ll be in the building two days a week, just like we said before. And you’ll have to get with her about everything else.”

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I hung up the phone, and I lost it. The thing was – I really, really wanted that job. I really wanted to make that program exceptional. I was going to work all summer, and every single day of the school year, as hard as I possibly could, to make that program worth people’s money. She was going to be there two days a week, continue to be sloppy, and take people’s money for what was essentially a lie. She would do nothing to improve that program or even make it an ethical endeavor. She’d already proven she wasn’t capable of anything more than that. And I’d spent two years proving how much I cared, and how much I could do. But in the end, they didn’t care. And they didn’t choose me. They chose her, the woman who wouldn’t even commit to being there more than two days a week.

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But hey, I get it. She was married to the principal, and that’s how she won. And I knew it was a possibility I’d end up losing. What I really did not expect was for everyone else at the school, including the other teachers in my program, to throw me right under the bus when the shit went down. There wasn’t one person in those five weeks I was running things who didn’t come up to me to tell me how happy they were I was in charge, and what a mess the director had been and how difficult she was to work with. But would you believe, that as soon as she came back and started throwing her weight around, they all went so far as to flat-out DENY they’d ever even had meetings with me, or agreed with my changes, even though I had documented email after email proving the opposite? They turned on me faster than hot-dog wieners on a movie theater grill, and left me to rot (like hot dog wieners on a movie theater grill, also).

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So, May 17, 2016. Doug and I went straight from the funeral to the school, in the middle of the day, grabbed a bunch of boxes from the storeroom, and packed up my shit. Then I put my school keys and my ID tag on my desk, and walked out the back door. And I never went back. I was heartbroken, though, because the thing was – I really loved that job. And I saw the potential that program had to be great, I mean, really really great. And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the students, some of whom I’d worked with for four years straight. But the humiliation of losing was too great, and the utter lack of respect for me as well as the completely shitty way the school had treated me was too much to bear. I was done.

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I literally had less than one week left in my contract by this time, but the school demanded I write a written apology for MY behavior (can you believe that shit?) or else they would fire me for abandoning my contract and fine me as well as deduct from my salary all the days I didn’t work. Yes, after lying to me about giving me a promotion, using me to get all my ideas down on paper, and humiliating me by demoting me the same day I was ATTENDING MY GRANDMOTHER’S FUNERAL, I owed them an apology. I told them to piss off, lost three months of my salary, and in the end had to pay them one hundred and fifty dollars for all the pain and suffering I’d caused them by refusing to be their bitch any longer.

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Sigh.

So, here I am, one year and one day later. This deadline has been on my mind literally since the day it all happened. Back then, oh my god, did I cry. I cried daily for about three weeks. After that, I just cried weekly. I think the last time I really had a good cry over the whole thing was around September of 2016, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the whole thing didn’t still pain me all these months later. I never worked a teaching job I loved as much as that one. I probably never will. Letting it go was beyond hard – it was devastating. When I worked there, myself and the other two teachers (who were my close friends at the time) would all say  how perfect the job was, and how the only problem with it was our director.  It just made all the sense in the world for me to get that job, while her having it made no sense at all. But here I am, and she still has that job, and I still don’t, and that’s the end of that.

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After I quit, I had no idea what I would do or how I would move forward. I’d worked there for four years, with a two-year gap in my employment before that while I attended grad school, and because I’d been fired and left on awful terms (there were a few phone calls between myself and the school after I walked out that may have included some swear words, as well as some less than pleasant written communications) my resume had a big old six-year hole in it – unless I was willing to risk putting the school down as a reference, which I wasn’t. My husband was the one who suggested I just start working for myself as a tutor, which was appealing due to the lack of interviewing and resume fudging I’d have to do, but I had no idea how to go about putting a business together, or getting clients, or, for that matter, how to tutor. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but the one thing I wanted to do – direct that program – had been taken from me.

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I started this whole tutoring business halfheartedly, with a sense of desperation, and the feeling I had no other options. And it took a long, long time for me to feel otherwise. But here I am, one year later, and I really do like what I’m doing. My business is still small, but when I look back at how paralyzed with fear I was about having to go out and get clients, I’m pleased that I’ve managed to find and keep six of them – all of whom want to keep working with me over the summer, and two of whom have siblings I’m also being asked to tutor. It’s not exactly booming, but it’s clicking along, and it’s working out nicely for me now.

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But what about the school, you ask? Well, as it turns out, there were at least some parents whose kids I worked with there who valued me (even if none of my co-workers did), and I am still working with some of their children as a private tutor. I do my best to  be professional and keep my feelings about the school, the director, and the program to myself, but I hear things (and not just from this source; I still know one person who is connected with the school although she, too, has quit). I can report that the principal, the one to whom the director is married, was fired in October. So thanks to the school for throwing me under the bus to placate the wife of a dude you were about to give the boot, but whatever. The bigger news, in my opinion, and the thing that really chaps my ass, is this: the program is still being run exactly as I structured it in my last semester at the school. Now let me be clear here – it is NOT being run as I planned to run it as director of the program. It is being run as I ran it when I was the classroom teacher, and figured out a way to make the program work just well enough to get by. Even though the president made sure to get electronic copies of all my plans – everything I put together in those five weeks I was being told I was going to run the program – that damn director and the people still working in the classroom have all been too fucking lazy to implement one single, solitary change. Not. One. I created a freaking road map for the program’s improvement; I literally could not have made it any easier for them, but they either didn’t care enough to try, or (and this is more what I suspect) the director refused to make any changes out of spite and/or a resistance to admitting that my direction was the proper way to go. Ironically, even in ignoring all my proposals she’s still running a program that I created, but true to form for her she’s chosen the easier one to perpetuate. Even if she didn’t want to utilize any of my plans for the program, she could have put out a little bit of effort and done something to improve things, because as I’ve already mentioned, things were a mess by the end of last year. But nope. She’s done exactly nothing, except maintain status quo.

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So, why am I spewing on about all of this now? Because it’s been a year, or rather, a year and one day, and this year anniversary has been on my mind the entire freaking TIME. How would I feel about it, especially with it coming two days after the anniversary of my grandmother’s death? Where would I be on that day a year away, one year from one of the most heartbreaking days of my life? How will I commemorate one of the most soul-wrenching disappointments I’ve ever experienced as a working woman? Even as the date drew nearer, I wasn’t sure. May 11th. May 12th. Getting closer. May 14th, the date of my grandmother’s death. May 16th, tomorrow, it’s coming tomorrow.

And then, the day came – and I totally forgot.

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May 17th, 2017 was a Wednesday, which, as it turns out, is a busy tutoring day. And you know what – I’m just now realizing this – I spent one of my tutoring hours consoling the parent of a student from my old school; consoling her because the program isn’t meeting his needs, and she can’t get anyone to help her. Surprise, surprise. But I, on my own as a private tutor, was able to help her a little, by at least advising her how to handle the problems she was having at the school (one of the many things I was good at there was dealing with all the teachers, who often were rude to our students and regularly refused to help them. Somehow I had a way of softening them and getting them to bend. The current director sucks at this, and always did). So, on the anniversary of the day I quit, I was, in a way, still doing that job, and still dealing with that school! But I was so busy, and so focused on doing my new job, that I didn’t even notice the big day had arrived. I helped the mother, then immediately moved on to tutor another student, who attends a different school in the area. Then I drove home from the library, and read whatever the hell the latest news about our national dumpster fire Donald Trump had hit while I was tutoring, then I probably edited a photo or two and went to bed. And at some point today I realized what day it was, and what day I’d missed completely.

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That school literally broke my heart. It forced me to quit a job I loved because I was being taken advantage of so badly I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve never had to do that before, and I had no idea how painful something like that can be. I felt it in Sally Yates’s voice when Andersen Cooper asked her how it felt to be fired from her job as Attorney General (and no, I am not comparing myself to her in any way). I felt it in James Comey’s letter where he said goodbye to the men and women of the FBI. I have felt it in every TV show I’ve watched, or book I’ve read, where someone who loved their job got fired, or had to quit when they didn’t want to because they weren’t being treated right. Hell, I cried for Michael Scott when he quit Dunder-Mifflin in The Office (which I binge-watched for the first time last summer) and that shit was hilarious. But somewhere along the way, between this May and the last, I quit feeling it every single day, and I quit crying about it, and I found other things to do to occupy my time, and right before this big anniversary arrived – this big moment I’d planned to commemorate in some way – I just forgot.

And maybe that’s the best way  I could have commemorated it after all.

MovingOn

A Few Faves

This morning, I decided to go check out the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Now that I can set my own schedule, I’ve decided to give myself one free day during the week when I don’t work, and to spend that day doing at least one fun and interesting thing around town. Okay, so I’ve given myself two days where I don’t tutor. Well, three, actually. OK, so I’m tutoring Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays only. Moving on.

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The point is, I still kinda consider Tuesday my ‘me’ day, for some reason, but so far I’ve just spent ‘me’ days shopping, so I decided to do something more cultural and less expensive this week and go to our world-class art museum that I only visit about once every five years even though it’s only about 30 minutes away. Except today. Today it was more like an hour away, and even when I finally got there, the parking lot wasn’t just full – it was CLOSED due to the lack of spaces. WTF? On a Tuesday at 10:30 AM? And this was after driving in a solid, slow stream of traffic all the way in to town from the suburbs where I live – VERY unusual for late morning driving, at least from what I have learned after driving in to the Galleria every other Tuesday since February. For the life of me, I still have no idea why traffic was so heavy (no accidents or road closures reported or visible at any point along the way) or why the museum was so full (except that I do think Tuesdays are free admission, at least they were the last time I visited five years ago).

The upshot of this is, I made a U-turn once I saw the museum crowds and, since I didn’t have any backup plans, I ended up at the Galleria again. But hey, I at least tried to do something different. Better luck next time, I guess.

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This got me to thinking about sharing some favorite things here – mostly because on this latest shopping trip I actually bought duplicates of the stuff I bought the last time I was there, because the things I bought last time were so awesome. So when I got home, I took some quick snaps of a few things, and here they are!

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When I first started tutoring, I would still ‘dress up’ to go work with students – I put ‘dress up’ in quotes because my version of dressing up is pretty casual by most people’s standards. Basically, dressing up means not wearing jeans. But – and this really cannot be overstated – I LOVE JEANS. When I was in grad school (which was the last extended period of time when I wasn’t working  in a school) I wore nothing but jeans and t-shirts for two and a half years, and I dreaded having to buy a whole new wardrobe when going back to work as a counselor. I’ve always dreamed of the time in the future when I could wear nothing but jeans and tee shirts every day, and as time has gone by, as a tutor I’ve come to realize that for the most part, I don’t see much of the parents whose kids I tutor, and even when I do, they don’t much care what I’m wearing as long as I’m helping their kids. So yeah – I’ve finally gotten to where I can wear whatever jeans and top I feel like wearing every single day, and I gotta tell ya, it’s grand. It’s everything I always dreamed it would be.

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So first up is this Free People City Slicker Tunic. It’s soft and light but not transparent, and it’s really big and long but it has these long slits on the side that keep it from looking too big and boxy. The first one I bought has a graphic print on it that kind of makes it look a little like a pajama top, but it’s still cute, and I was wearing it so much that I eventually bought it in solid gray. Then the olive green. And today, I got the white – and yes, I was wearing the gray one when I bought the white one. I usually pair these tees with a skinny jean, and believe it or not, even though it’s just a simple tee it always gets a lot of compliments. And it’s already ridiculously hot here, even though it’s just April, so the fact that these are really soft and light means I can wear them all through summer.

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Yikes, you think I’d know by now to never retract my head like that in a photo because it makes my chin disappear, but I still do it at times

Now, a few things about jeans – first off, several months ago I discovered the NYDJ brand at Nordstrom, and yeah, they are kinda mom-jean-ish (OK, so they’re VERY mom-jean-ish) but dang, they are comfortable as hell. And, they really fit my curves well – my hips are much larger than my waist, and most jeans will gap way out at the waist if they fit over my butt, and I have to get them altered. I can always rely on Loft curvy fit denim to fit me properly (and I have some of those on in another photo below) but lately their jeans have been pretty boring. Actually, I find NYDJ jeans to be boring too, but they’re even more comfy and better-fitting than Loft, so that’s something. They stretch like crazy without losing shape, which is key – and I love how lightweight they are (I hate heavy-weighted denim). In fact, it’s recommended to size down when wearing these, and I have found that to be a good recommendation. In a non-curvy fit jean I am a 4, but I can wear any fit of the NYDJs in a 2 and I am good to go – no need to worry about that dreaded waist gap in the back.

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She may be a mom, but she’s a comfy mom. And flexible!

But remember how I said they were also kinda boring? Because I don’t just love jeans – I love faded, holey, ripped-to-shreds jeans. Unfortunately, the more faded, holey, and ripped-to-shreds a pair of jeans is nowadays, the more it costs, and they generally aren’t very big sellers for a company like NYDJ or Loft. So – back to the photos of me in my City Slicker Tunic up there – what I did was order a pair of NYDJ jeans from eBay (crazy good deals on their jeans can be found there – over $100 at a store or $30 on eBay? I’ll take eBay, thanks) then I cut them to the ankle, snipped a hole in the knee, and rubbed a big ol’ nail file over them everywhere I snipped ’em to get the fraying going, since frayed hems and holes are a big thing right now that I, of course, love. And voila! Non-mom jeans that are super-comfy to boot.

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Got these bright blue Birkenstocks on eBay too – $100 at Free People vs. $50 on eBay, and they were brand new! 

Speaking of frayed hems and ripped knees, this black pair of favorite jeans I got at Free People, along with the collegiate tee. These were the first jeans to start me on my ripped-hem obsession; most of FP jeans don’t have stretch and don’t fit me very well; they do NOT have a curvy cut and are not made for moms, so I usually have to size way up and then the waist gap isn’t worth the bother (yeah, I can get that altered, but why bother when NYDJ or Loft will fit me better from the start?). Surprisingly, though, these had stretch in them, and my normal size (4) actually FIT and were comfortable. I loved these so much that I ended up buying two more pair online a few weeks later – and wouldn’t you know that both of those, in the same size, were sausage-level tight? Turns out only this color is super-stretchy; go figure. I can actually wear the other two pair, but they’re pretty snug and not all that comfy, so in the end, I checked out eBay again and found a THIRD pair there for a reasonable price in a size 6 and bought those. Then I got the idea to mimic the look of these with my cheap NYDJ eBay bargain pair, so yes – in the past two months I’ve acquired at least FIVE PAIR of frayed hem holey jeans. I know, it’s ridiculous. But at least I can actually wear three of them!

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The t-shirt is another Free People one – the Dream Player tee. I’m not sure why I’m into these faux-collegiate tees lately; it makes very little sense, seeing as I’m far from being collegiate or sporty. I think it’s the softness and the worn, vintage quality of them, as well as all these awesome colors. I mean, yellow and blue on one tee? Yes, please. My only complaint about this one is that the neck is really wide and falls down a lot; I’ve gotten to where if I have to wear a camisole under something I just forgo the bra. I’m just an a-cup anyway, so it’s not like anyone can tell, and having bra straps showing from underneath a camisole strap is a HUGE pet peeve of mine, so now I just wear the cami and leave it at that. I actually got into the habit of doing this back when I had shingles and couldn’t wear a bra due to the pain; I found these AMAZINGLY SOFT camisoles at Downeast Basics that you can get for a song; they are very soft, and long so they don’t ride up, and they’re only $9.99 full price but can often be bought on sale for less. Once I realized I could go braless under a camisole and no one would care, I’ve been doing it regularly. So yeah, not only am I now wearing ripped up jeans and collegiate tees while I’m tutoring students, I’m also not wearing a bra. Ah, the joys of being your own boss…classy!

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I waited for this tee to go on sale since it was pricey; because I waited, it’s more of a winter tee so it will be too warm to wear it here soon. For now, I can still get away with it, and I’ve worn the hell out of it because it’s SOOO SOFT. And yeah, that is an extra-small – their tees tend to run large while their pants run small. Go figure. I got those jeans from Loft recently, by the way, and they are actually not boring! Frayed hem and a big fat cuff – nice.

Now, let’s talk quickly about shoes:

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I am not a huge ballet flat person; they look cute, but it always amazes me how a shoe can be styled after a BALLET SHOE – which has to be the softest, most comfortable shoe in the damn world – and be SO. STIFF. and UNCOMFORTABLE. Ballet flats have let me down one too many times, and for the most part I refuse to even give them the time of day anymore. Not only are they usually stiff and painful, but why are they also so LOUD? What’s with the stiff, flat, noisy soles on those things? I mean, hello – they are a BALLET FLAT, not a TAP SHOE FLAT, amIright?! Anyway, while waiting for a friend to return a pair of shoes at Nordstrom recently, I wandered over to a corner where these Steve Madden flats were sort of shoved onto a shelf with some random Topshop shoes – you know how there’s always a few random shoes stuck on shelves way in the back by the register like afterthoughts, and you just know no one ever even sees them, and when you pick them up you have to blow dust off them and everything? Well, I saw these, and when I picked the shoe up it felt just like a ballet flat – super soft, sole and all – so I had to give them a try. Of course they fit like a dream and felt like one as well, and the black studded straps really give them a unique, punky look. Not only that, but – THEY’S CHEAP, Y’ALL! The ones I got at Nordy’s were around $60, and after wearing them a few times I decided I had to have another pair, which I found online for $45. I love the pink the best, but I also figured having a black pair wouldn’t hurt, and I may grab the gray pair too Zappos has too. I mean, ballet flats really never go out of style, and this is the only kind I’ve ever really liked, so why not?

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Next up, the Teva flatform:

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Much like ballet flats, I love the look of flatform sandals and have tried many variations of them over the years; all of them have been awful. They tend to be clunky, heavy, and hard to walk in, but these Tevas are super-light and quite comfy. I first saw them at – where else – Free People, but ended up getting mine from Zappos for faster shipping. When it comes to sandals, my Birkenstocks are still my go-to shoes, but these are nice for something different. They come in this style, which is only $60 and has the standard cloth-ribbon velcro straps of a regular Teva, or, for $40 more you can get the ‘crafted’ version which is leather. I opted for the cheaper ones at first, figuring I could get the leather ones if I decided I liked them, but I actually prefer these cloth ones as the straps are comfy with a lot of give, and I suspect the leather ones would be more stiff and heavy. The only down side to these is the plastic buckles can kind of rub into the skin after a while, and the velcro on the straps can get itchy, but so far I haven’t had too many issues with either one of these things. I just probably won’t wear them anywhere I’m going to do any major walking.

And now – Pom Poms!

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You can’t really see it, but that’s another Free People tee I’m wearing

Much as I love comfy jeans and tees, I also love comfy necklaces made out of interesting materials that are light and fun – one of my favorite necklaces is in the very first pics on this page; it’s several strands of braided cloth, and even though it’s big it’s super-light to wear and loads of fun. I stumbled across the Bauble Bar turquoise pom-pom necklace at Nordstrom (again) on one of my recent Galleria outings, and instantly it became a favorite. So of course, I had to go online and see if there were any more. I just got the black necklace in the mail, and picked up the bracelet when I was out today. I’m seeing quite a few pom-pom details on jewelry and hair accessories and purses (as Catherine mentions in this blog post) lately, so perhaps I’m just too easily influenced by advertising. Who knows – but in my latest perusal of the Free People website (which I visit for updates at least once a week) I spied this little number and just HAD to snag one, for photos if nothing else.

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OK, almost done now, I swear. Last item:

Recently I discovered I had enough hair to pull into a bun, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done with it ever since. A few weeks ago when I was shopping at – you guessed it – NORDSTROM, I picked up a few of these little hair bands called invisibobbles, just because with my baby-fine hair I’m always on the lookout for hair accessories that can actually get a grip on it and hold it in place. And man, I really love these little thingies.

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I didn’t really get why the company called them “traceless” at first, but apparently that means these don’t leave a big ‘dent’ in your hair when you wear them all day and take your ponytail out at night. That’s never been a big problem for me anyway, since my hair is so fine, so I can’t really speak to whether or not they actually do that (or don’t do it, I guess). But I do find that they have a hell of a good grip and will keep my hair held in a bun all day long without fail, and their claim to not give you a headache seems to hold up, too – although again, wearing my hair up all day is new to me in general, so I don’t know if other hair bands would have given me a headache more than this one does. But I can definitely say I don’t have a headache with these, and I love them. The “invisi” part of the name is confusing to me, though, since it implies it’s supposed to be invisible in the hair, I think (?), but I mean, you can see them. So there’s that. And they also come in a really cute little box that has all sorts of cute artwork and stuff all over them, so there’s that too.

In closing, I also bought a really cute pair of denim (of course!) flares today, at (of course) Free People, but I had to take them in to get them hemmed since they’re too long so I don’t have a photo of them. Instead, I stole a screen shot of them from the FP website, so I’ll close this post out by showing you a photo of a teenager’s butt. You’re welcome.

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Oh and also – I did finally decide to buy that Jon Renau Sarah wig that was so crazy expensive but also looked soooo pretty, and it turns out it’s already on backorder until June 30th. So that’s a no-go for me. Oh well. You’ll have to find your review of Sarah elsewhere!

Reaching Back and Catching Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Play

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

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Enjoy a few more pics of my friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bag Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Vuitton Alma – probably my best “steal”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If this had side pockets, I might try it

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

Video Wig Review: Reese PM by Noriko in Blueberry Burst

Poor Reese. I have never done this wig justice.

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

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

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