When I started this post, I thought it was going to be about the hippy check (me) wearing mainstream make-up.  But the post morphed.

It started like this: Sophie and I were watching youtube speedpaints and I clicked on a vid in the sidebar about how Marilyn Monroe wore her make-up…because, duh, Marilyn.  (Did you know she covered her face in vaseline as a first layer? Yuck.).  Which led, clicky clicky, to watching several of Lisa Eldgridge’s make-up tutorials, and I realized, I’ve never really learned how to do make-up.  I’ve been wearing the stuff for twenty-five years, mostly eye-liner (“I can’t go out, my eyes are naked!”) and I have no idea what I’m doing.  I probably suck at it.  Maybe it was time to learn.

But here’s the thing: I’m 43, my skin was semi-decent until 40, and then BOOM it all collapsed, wrinkled, spotty, crepe-y, bags, dark circles, the horror.  Philosophically, I’m fine with this.  My face shows my story, and I’ve quite liked my story.  But then I look in the mirror, and jesus, under my eyes there has been a mudslide.  Over my eyes, the hoods sit on my eyelashes like plump, uninvited guests.  The brownish spots—are they sun damage or perimenopausal acne footprints, you know what, I don’t care.  It’s just…ugh.  It’s all ugh.  Which is not a good feeling to have about one’s own face.

I love the first chapter of Margurite Duras’s amazing novel, The Lover.  In it she says,  “My aging was very sudden.  I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationships between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead….But instead of being dismayed, I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book….And I’ve kept it ever since, the new face I had then.  It has been my face.  It’s scored with deep, dry wrinkles, the skin is cracked.  But my face hasn’t collapsed, as some with fine features have done.  It’s kept the same contours, but its substance has been laid waste.  I have a face laid waste.”

Yes, that’s it exactly.  My face is laid waste by my life.

I was awkward and goofy until my mid-twenties when things started to look up, and after so long feeling like the ugly duckling, it was kind of marvelous to feel pretty for a few years.  I peaked in my mid-thirties, right around the time I had Sophie.  Full disclosure: my bio-photo over there on the right?  It’s ten years old now.  In it I’m thirty-three and preggo and happy on the beach, does it get better than that?  In fairness to me, when I started this blog and posted that picture, it was only five years old, and it still felt present-me enough to use.  Now it feels like ancient history (but watch me not taking it down, not yet).  I’m glad I had even that short time of being a girl that could turn heads.  But I’m aware that that era is gone.  At least, for that sort of head turning.

Like Duras says, so much aging can happen in such a short time.

Well, philosophically, I may be fine with it, but inside I’m still twenty, or at least thirty, and I want to wear winged eye-liner, sparkles, red lipstick, and henna my hair—but then, none of that stuff looks the way it did on my thirty year old self, and I think, maybe I should stop.  Maybe I’m embarrassing myself.

Which really, really pisses me off.  For a number of reasons.

1- I’ve been in a bit of a marathon the last few days, branching out from Lisa Eldridge, whom I find delightful, to all sorts of make-up artists and their looks, and I find I get really annoyed-verging-to-furious with these gorgeous girls with gorgeous skin, efforting mightily to cover imperceptible flaws and complaining about their loveliness.  I want to shout at them to knock it off.  Of course, my best friend, fifteen years older than I am, tells me that at 43, I’m a baby still ,and she wants to yell at me to knock it off already with my complaints about my 43 year old skin.  “You have no idea,” she says.  “Enjoy it while it lasts.”  All right, all right.

2- Along similar lines, however, I get pissed at the vids with tips for “hooded eyes” on gals who don’t have hooded eyes, or on how to apply under eye concealer on “dark circles” that I can’t see, even in HD.  These vids aren’t helping, okay?

3- I feel pissed that ,in some ways, I missed my window…I was shy and awkward when I had great skin.  Now I want winged eye-liner and I it doesn’t work on my eyes because the hoods cover it up.  If only I’d had more confidence back then!  If I hadn’t been obsessing over imperceptible flaws and efforting to cover my gorgeousness back when I had a little more of it!

4- Conversely I get seriously pissed at the “make up for after 40″ type articles that tell women with “mature skin” not to do this or that, (don’t wear red lip stick!  Don’t wear mini-skirts! Boring beiges are for you!) and it just feels like they’re saying, “Know your place.  You aren’t pretty any more so stop trying to act like it.  Tone it down with more “flattering” neutrals and be glad we aren’t locking you in the closet.”

Basically, it’s a mess in my head, this mix of societal expectations of middle aged women, rebellion against same, plus the realities of middle-aged skin, all conflicting with the desire to express how I really feel (thirty on the inside and shameless!).

On the one hand, there are older women I see who are working so hard to look younger until they end up seeming a bit monstrous, a bit scary (I feel very unkind saying that), but I wonder if I’m not doing that, like when I wear the black eye-liner that I love.  Remember that scene in the wonderful Bette Midler’s “Stella” where she thinks she’s being so awesome at the beach resort but everyone is laughing at her, and her daughter is all ashamed?  Shit, that’s my worst nightmare.  Even though it’s terribly judgmental and mean to Bette’s character—I mean, what a bunch of assholes to be putting her down, Stella was totally cool.  A hero with terrible self-esteem.

On the other hand, there are older women I see who are simply killing it wearing exactly what they please, red lipstick and all, and I want to be one of these women when I grow up….

Here, watch this, it will change your whole day, it’s the trailer for the documentary, “Advanced Style”, and it’s only one minute.  Watch!

See what I mean?  (For more from these wonderful folks, see the blog, Advanced Style ).  GAH, these gals are so awesome.  I need some of that moxy, that confidence.  They’re certainly not worried if they will look silly in red lipstick.

“Red lipstick?” my husband says.  “You don’t need red lipstick.”

And bless him because he thinks I look hot in his old sweatshirt, no make-up, and dirty hair.  He even calls my various face-creams “Husband Repellent” because they taste bad when he kisses me.  Daw.

“Maybe this is my mid-life crisis,” I say. “A $5 tube of red lipstick.  If I can’t have winged eye-liner, maybe I should go for red lips.”

“Well,” he concedes.  “At least it’s affordable.”

Overhearing this, Sophie, 10, drew me this picture of when my eyebags become so large, I can use them as prehensile appendages.    bags

Oh, she’s freaking hilarious.

Then yesterdaty I went into the local natural foods co-op and there were a half dozen women of various ages coming and going, some I knew, some I didn’t, these lovely hippy chicks who don’t wear a bit of make-up on their beautiful, wrinkled faces, wearing tank tops and long hair after fifty (how gauche!) with muscles and verve—and they just looked great.

I’ve wanted to be one of them when I grow up, too, but I love my eye-liner.  Is it clear skin and thick hair that makes that no-make-up look work?  I just can’t pull it off.

But wait, what do I mean by “work”?  Closer to an ideal of “beauty”?  That isn’t what those Advanced Style women are going for.  They aren’t aiming at a societal (or biological?) ideal, but at what they love, what’s fun.  And the reality is, if I try aiming at the ideal at this point, I’ve already lost.  I’ve got to find another way to feel fabulous or I’m going to walk around feeling ugly, or think I need plastic surgery, or go to weird lengths to have a face that isn’t my face at all.

From the other end of the time-line, teen-aged fashion mogul Tavi Gevinson said in this interview that she had realized that fashion could be about fun and self-expression and not about being pretty.   I like that.  I think what she means by “pretty” is that beauty ideal.  She goes on to say that she later thought she would like to be pretty (“I entered high school.”) but wondered if that desire was selling-out her feminism.  She doesn’t think so, that people are multi-facted, but I understand her conflict.  How to dis-attach from the judgement that necessarily will reflect badly on oneself at times (more and more as you get older) in order to have self-expression and self-esteem, but also accept one’s desire to be pretty?  Do you have to give up one for the other?

I’ve had two, older, second wave feminist friends (rock on!) who have staunchly rejected such things as make-up and leg shaving…. but, honestly, both of them were gorgeous with invisible peach-fuzz blond leg hairs, super thick black lashes, and perfect skin.  So I couldn’t help but feel their choice wasn’t much of a statement.  And that pissed me off, too, especially when they encouraged me to give up shaving and eye-liner.  We wouldn’t be making the same sacrifice, now would we?  Society does look at you differently the further you are from the ideal, but it would be looking at me more harshly than them.  Or so I thought.  Plus, I wanted to be “pretty,” too.  Ah, the webs we weave.

Not that I think feminist don’t wear make-up in general (that was just my two friends) or that they shouldn’t, or should.  Feminism for me is being able to do what you want, gender irrelevant, including wearing make-up and staying home with my kids.  Ahem.  Choice is kind of the point.

My compromise between my desire to look like one of those glowing-skin, make-up-free, hippy-chicks, and my desire to be “pretty” has been to be a natural products sort of make-up wearer.  Dr. Haushka and homebrew herbal recipes, you know the drill.  I’d wear a little make-up (eye-liner!) and try to accept the face I’ve got.

But lately, I’ve been experimenting.  The world of mainstream make-up is a vast pile-up  of magic potions and astonishing packaging and price tags, but Lisa Eldridge has gotten me to buy my first high-end make-up at none other than Sephora, the place where all good make-up junkies go after they die, and all bad make-up junkie’s go when they get paid.  It was a store I had never set foot in before (too embarrassed and overwhelmed, there must be five thousand products in there) but that trip is probably it’s own blog post.  Why not, right?  The face is just another canvas, make-up is just another paint, and I am just another artist.

Sidebar/ Dr. Haushka is an amazing brand (although pricey in this country) but their marketing and how-to vids annoy the crap out of me because they take the most gorgeous, flawless looking women to put their products on and yeah, these gals look great wearing the stuff, but so what, it wasn’t the products that made it happen.  Great genetics is not the same as concealer that actually works.  These ads and vids make me feel like I have to be a goddess to wear these products in the first place.  And I’m not—at least, not that kind of goddess.  Don’t dangle the impossible in front of me!  I can’t even look at these ads they piss me off so much.  Probably childish, oh well. /end rant.

Bigger picture: aging poorly is really a First World problem isn’t it?  I don’t have to worry about starving or having my city bombed like the woman doctor I met yesterday, visiting the university here from Iraq, who told me not a day went by back at home when a bomb didn’t impact her life, going off where she had just been, or where she was headed, or where her family were, so terrifying.  And here I am, with that extra space in my head left over from not having to worry about bombs, spending a little time wrestling with aging-skin concerns and an afternoon binging on make-up tutorials.  I feel like I should try contributing to world peace, or at least take the kids out to a museum or something. This whole thing feels ridiculously self involved.

On the other hand, every woman I know (an admittedly small sample) feels variations of semi-irrational outrage and vulnerable hopelessness that yes, aging is happening to her, too.  Plus the fact that middle-aged women are portrayed largely as jokes or as helpless or as invisible (that is, not portrayed at all) in the world around us.  We all have to come to some strategy—rebellion, submission, denial, [other]—to deal with it.  We all have to find some way to be comfortable in our own changing faces.  (Or not.)

I love the line from the Advanced Style vid, “I never wanted to look young.  I wanted to look good.”

Maybe I need to celebrate my eyebags and eyelid hoods.  Glue rhinestones to them or something.  Like, hell yeah, my face is laid waste and I’m goddamn beautiful.

I enjoyed this make-up tutorial by forty-five year old, pink haired Cecily Kellogg.  Here’s the teaser image from the post:

makup-tips-over-40

And I’ll leave you with a picture of my forty-three year old lips, wearing the holy grail of red lipsticks, Ruby Woo. I’m still pondering these things.  I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.

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As a home yoga practitioner, keeping my motivation high (or at least medium) is super important because with no shala, I’ve got no one else to show up for, and it is soooo easy to just skip and get on with my day.  So I’ve always felt that the crucial thing is just to get to the mat, and whatever works to achieve that goal on any given day is awesome.  Just show up and I’m a freaking hero.  Whatever I do once I’m there is gravy.

Okay, maybe my standards are a little low.

On the other hand, the majority of the time if I can knock out a couple of surys, I’m probably going to be doing a whole Primary—or at least a half—because it just feels so good once I get going.  So “just get to the mat” is a bit of a psych-trick on myself.  Ashtanga practice, with it’s (mostly) fixed series, can be like falling down a hill after those first few surys, one asana leading right into the next, so if I can show up with a promise of “just a few minutes” then there’s a good chance I’ll stay for more.  Plus, David Williams says the acceptable minimum dose is 3 sury As, 3 sury Bs, and the final 3 lotuses and you’re good.  No guilt.  So it’s okay to quit after ten minutes.  I just rarely do.

Afterwards, I always wonder why, when it feels so good, do I struggle so much to get started?

I’ve written a little about motivation before: In 2010 I was using Asana Envy to get myself on the mat.  In 2012 I was going back and forth between Lazy Ashtanga and Heroic Ashtanga and found they are differently motivating. I wrote a surprisingly popular 2012 post on How to start a home practice and stay with it when I was three years into my home practice.  And in 2013, I did my most shameful post on the topic, getting on the mat for all the worst possible reasons.  A few days later, I tried to redeem myself with a better reason.  I don’t know if the redemption took hold….

Today I’m going to tell you one more motivator.

Punishment.

Sidebar/ We are not punishers around here.  We never did ‘time-outs’ with the kids or removal of privileges or, I don’t know, beatings.  It’s not my style and I think it sucks as a motivator for several reasons, a main one being that, while you might be able to get the behavior you want, you can never affect the reasons why the behavior is done.  And more likely you just end up creating a culture of lying and hiding the evidence.

beatings will continue

But I’ve had trouble with my motivation to practice this year.  This is my fifth year of Ashtanga home practice, I am forty-three, and I have had three injuries in the last twelve months (top of my right foot (1), high hamstring (2), right knee (3) see below for a few links if you’re curious about my saga [cue violins]).  I don’t know what is correlation and what is causation, but I suspect a vicious circle.  And possibly I’ve been cursed under a blood moon by a demonic faction.  Either one.

Anyway, bemoaning my lack of get-to-it-ness the other morning, Sophie suggested that she could punish me if I didn’t practice.  Would that help?

Uh, what?

“Like, spank me or something?” I said from under the covers.

“I was thinking I could make you watch something awful.  Like, My Little Pony.  Or Caillou. ”

Oh god, the girl was bringing out the big guns.  Those shows make me start bleeding from my ears.

i'd rather throw myself off the balcony

I’d rather throw myself off the balcony

“Seriously?  You think that would work?”  It sounded so…extrinsically motivational.  Aren”t I supposed to do things, especially yoga, for their intrinsic value?

“I don’t know.  It’d be fun to be the Yoga Police though.”

A carrot and stick approach?  Which reminded me of Tim Ferris talking about StickK.com where you put your money where your mouth is and sign contracts that say such things as, “if I don’t [fulfill x goal by y date] I will pay a $1000 to the Republican Party.” Or something else you really hate.  And you don’t get your money back if you don’t meet your goal.  Boom.  Maybe a carrot/stick approach can work if you choose your own goals?  Unlike parents who punish/reward trying to shape the behavior of the kid to match the parents goal.  Doing yoga is definitely my own goal.  Could this work?

“Okay,” I said, flinging off the blankets.  “Let’s try it.”

“I’m really going do it if you don’t practice,” she warned.  “I’m not kidding around.”

“I’m counting on it.  I’m going to go put on my yoga clothes right now.”

“Cool.”

So, Sophie has been gleefully threatening me with Netflix, bringing the ipad queued up with an episode at ten o’clock at night if I happened to oh-so-accidentally skip that morning….and I hustle out the mat to at least do some sury’s and avoid inflicting probably permanent suffering on myself.  Those Pony songs get stuck in your head like they are made of radioactive glue.

Her threats have been surprisingly effective.

And then this happened: I actually considered lying to her.  The shame of it.  I knew I could get away with it because she’d slept late.  I could have plausibly done yoga before she got up.  It could happen.  And I really didn’t want to throw down on the mat but seriously, I was not going to watch freaking My Little Pony, no way.

See what I mean?  If you’re doing something to get a reward or avoid a punishment, you start being willing to do whatever to get the actual goal (the reward or the punishment-avoidance) rather than the pretend goal (the yoga, in this case).  But it was too late now.  It was like that guy in the Stephen King story who contracts with the mob to help him stop smoking.  If he cheats, they cut off one of his wife’s fingers.  And they won’t let you out of the contract.  Yikes.

Okay, after about a minute I came to my senses.  What kind of person would I be if I lied to my daughter about practicing yoga in order to avoid watching crappy kids tv?  For heaven’s sake, that would just be pathetic.

I didn’t do the yoga.

She only made me watch about ten minutes.  Merciful goddess above.

It was enough.

Sheesh, this whole set up is  too hard core!  What have I done?!  Now I have no wiggle room.  If I wanted to join the army and have a drill sergeant I would.  (Not that they would take me.  And not that I would ever, ever do that.  Besides, they don’t do yoga in the army.  Wait, I feel like I’ve drifted off topic….)  Anyway, it’s been a week.  I’m aiming at five practices a week and I did four.  We’ll see how next week goes.

Maybe she’ll grow tired of it.

There have been times in the last five years where I have been super stoked to practice, have had no problem getting on the mat, have organized my life around it.  Right now…not so much.  I’m tired.  I don’t know why.  But I figure I ride this period out by whatever means necessary (even My Little Pony!  Such is my dedication!) and there will be another wave of enthusiasm after a while.  I’m not giving up, that’s for damn sure.

___________________________

Injuries.  Bleg.

1- The foot cleared up with a couple months break from all padmasana which stretched it too much.  I’ve been back in full lotus for a while now, and the top of my foot seems to be staying A-Ok.  So I think that one is done.  Maybe my hips opened enough in the interim so that there is less torque now on the foot.

2- The hamstring took about a year to be right again.  A YEAR.  This was the third time I’ve injured it, and the worst.  (First time in 2009 with some info about trigger point therapy, second time in 2010 with follow ups, third time in 2013 and how I got into cycling as a way to deal.)  I can now do all of primary now with just an occasional twinge, but I still baby it.  A forth time seems inevitable at this point.

3- the right knee came from the cycling.  It made it so I couldn’t compress the knee when weight-bearing, as in a squat like Pashasana or getting stuff out of the bottom shelf in the fridge.  I’m still on the mend from that, maybe 70% better.

A note to say that none of these injuries happened on the mat.  But I think yoga can be destabilizing to the body, especially right after practice.  I’m super careful during my practice, but then I dart after Luc to give him his hoodie, or ride too long on my bike in a hard gear, or do some whacky move during sex, ahem, and bam, something breaks.

Practicing while injured is a drag.  It really, really messes with motivation because you don’t get that sparkly high as a reward when you’re practicing at half steam, plus you lose progress.  I just have to be super careful, I guess.  My parts are less durable than they once were.

/end sob story

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Did you know that you can rent the full version of Photoshop now for $20 a month?  Photoshop used to be, what, like a thousand bucks or something impossible, so basically, a forget it proposition, but now…shoot, when I heard about this, that first $20 practically flew out of my wallet.  Sophie (10) is a budding digital artist and Photoshop is where it’s at, so, yeah.  That was a no-brainer.

But after a month or two of fiddling, she’d only unpacked a little of what the amazing speedpainters on Youtube can do and Photoshop was languishing.  We chatted about it and decided we’d spend a month learning how to really utilize Photoshop’s paint capabilities, or else, cancel our subscription.  Because $20/month is cheap, but not if you aren’t using it.

So…where do financially-challenged homeschoolers go when they want to learn something?  YOUTUBE!  The Education Of The Future(tm).  (It isn’t really trademarked, I made that up.)  Seriously, you can learn anything on Youtube.

Quick clarification of terms:  Photoshop is largely known for photo-manipulation, so much so that “to photoshop” has become a verb we all know and use.  But Photoshop is also a powerful paint program, allowing an artist to build up an image from scratch.  That’s what we were focusing on.

Where to start?  Here is the first episode of Lazedified’s absolute beginners guide to Photoshop.  This was the first thing we landed on.  He does a series, actually, and it’s a little confusing because he started updating from CS5 to CS6 (that’s Adobe Creative Suite, of which Photoshop is one part) but hasn’t gotten far…so we watched the CS6 (the link I gave you) versions as far as they went and then switched to the CS5 series.  After that, he does a digital painting series, about five eps that cover basic shading, color blending, brush selection.  We found these to be a great starting place.  They are kind of homemade in feel but we enjoyed his humor, his accent, his make-it-easy style, and definitely got a lot of the basics from the series.  Thanks Lazed!

Here is a preview for his digital painting series that has some WAAAAAY over the top music, haha, especially considering one of the big selling points for us was the friendly, funny, down-to-earth vibe of the vids.  But it will lead you to a playlist of his other vids, and give you a glimpse at what he covers.

An aside: I’m saying “we” here a lot, because it was Sophie and me, sitting in front of the computer, selecting and watching vids, and then trying what we’d learned out in Photoshop.  She was the one who wanted to learn digital painting, but I was (1) interested enough to be engaged and (2) tech-support for when she got stuck, so I needed to know as much as she did.  Besides, learning together is way more fun than hacking away at it on your own.

Back to our trek through the wilds of Youtube.  Next we wanted to know about blending modes, because what they heck, they are the most obtusely named functions ever and very mysterious.  What does “Multiply” do?  We wanted to find out.  We found this series of videos by Chris Legaspi on rendering (adding shading, coloring, and textures) using layers and modes, which was super helpful for that, but also for just setting up a process in going from line art, to shaded art, to colored art.

Here is the first ep.  He’s colors in this swamp-thing critter.  Lots of detail and explanation over the course of several eps, plus creating a palette layer, and using other paintings to select a limited palette.

One more source we used that goes from raw beginner through the basic skills is Matt Kohr at his site, Ctrl+Paint.  A good series of vids!  Some are more art related, some are more software related.  We haven’t watched them all, maybe half, and after the first set (some nice tricks on using the eraser tool as a brush for painting by carving out your shape in those), we’ve skipped around, looking for vids on topics Sophie is interested in (for example, she’s been watching the color theory section, which, yes, is relevant to all painting, not just digital painting).

Finally, Concept Cookie taught us how to turn a scanned pencil sketch into a digital painting that is, turn a pencil sketch into a photoshop image that is translucent and separate from the background, meaning the lines themselves are their own layer, not “attached” to the white of the paper.  Which I wouldn’t have realized is so useful until we watched the above videos.  But it is. Sophie loves to sketch on paper, but says the coloring process is much more fun on Photoshop, so, perfect.  Now we can scan in her sketches and make them digital-paint-ready.

For me, one of the most amazing things about painting on Photoshop is the bottomless tubes of virtual supplies.  Have you been in an art supply story lately?  One tube of paint is my entire budget.  You can’t do a lot with one tube of paint.  Something you do need to buy for digital painting, however (besides a computer), is a drawing tablet.  We got a Wacom Intuos tablet, which has been awesome.  Tablet + photoshop = endless painting supplies, Yay!  No stress about “wasting” supplies or running out, which is SO FANTASTIC (speaking as a former hoarder of art supplies because $$$, and what good is paint that stays in the tube?).  Plus a tablet can be set up to be pressure sensitive, just like a pencil is—press harder and you get darker lines.  Very cool.

On the traditional media side, last night Sophie somehow got some weird setting going on the brush tool and couldn’t figure it out, and while we struggled for a few minutes to learn how to reset the tool (right click on the icon of the tool in the upper left corner for the reset menu) she said, “this is one reason I love paper.  You can’t break it.”  So there is that.  There are pros and cons to both.

Anyhoo, at this point in our video watching, she was already able to really get in there and do some work. It didn’t take long to get the info.  Next comes the practice to really make the tools her own.

Cool result: watching speedpaints, we can now usually see how the artists are creating their images—where it used to be this mystery, how are they doing that?!? Plus, when there is something we don’t get, we can pause, forward a second at a time to see the menus drop down, and parse it out, using the basic knowledge we already have.

For example, one of Sophie’s favorite speedpainters (because she does some of the kind of work that Sophie likes to do herself right now, manga-style characters) 10chnessa does all kinds of fun stuff with her lines, changing the line-color, the thickness, etc.   So we watched some of her speedpaints and reverse engineered her “change the line color” tricks.  (Select the layer the line art is on, then go to Image –> Adjustments –> Hue/Saturation and play with the sliders till you’re happy.)  Or another trick: do one eye, then copy and flip for the other eye, use the transform tool for perspective.  Also, compressing layers, etc.  Lots of tricks to learn now that it isn’t all an opaque skillset we do not have.

10chnessa has also done a tutorial that is sort of hilariously vague.  But it still gave us some pointers for how to copy her style…and copying the work of better artists is a time-honored tradition in learning to find your own style.  Here’s that tutorial:

Xia Taptara is another digital artist we’ve watched several tutorials from.  He’s a little slow sometimes, but there are some great tips to be gleaned.  A more American comic book style of art (big boobs), vs. 10chinessa’s Japanese style (big eyes).

Here’s one of his we watched when Sophie wanted to learn more about using Photoshop layers in a landscape.

I am not even scratching the surface of what is available as far as digital painting tutorials, there are 1000s of videos out there on this.  But these are the vids we watched to get up and running, starting from zero.  There is still plenty to learn, but Sophie’s got enough now to learn on the fly—getting over that initial learning curve to where you can actually do some stuff is hard.  Adding tricks to what you already know is easier.

Finally, if you’re curious about speed paints, check out CreativeStation, a fantastic source for consistently high-quality speedpaints—but now that there are a ton of others, mostly artists posting their own work, but having several artists in one place is interesting.

Here’s a cool one from them, Lara Croft painted by Jenai Kemel. It’s a great example of going from a blank canvas to an extremely detailed and lovely illustration using digital paints.

Speedpaints are what got us into all this. Thanks to all the artists who are putting their work, as well as their process, out there!

And I want to put one of Sophie’s characters here, she’s working on a cat-girl right now, but she hasn’t decided on one yet, so maybe I’ll add it later.  Check back!

Just ran across this on the webs. TOO FUNNY.

 

Do you ever have one of those days where you just can’t stop thinking about sex?  You assault your spouse or [romantic euphemism here] until they tell you to back away from the box of condoms and just go freaking make dinner already?  You cook sausages and bananas and don’t think it’s weird?  You rub one out and it just doesn’t help?  If anything it makes it worse?  You need to focus, but you keep thinking how much that sounds like “fuck us” and you think, yes, I need to fuck all y’all, get in my pants, and then you realize you’ve missed your exit.  Again.  What the heck.  Is it hormonal?  Stars aligning?   Look, sex-brain, I’ve got, like, things to do.  Leave me alone already.

Of course it’s probably just that I am mere pages from finishing this draft of the current novel.  Yeah, it’s DISTRACTION.  Let’s be honest.

But this novel, it’s like peeing molasses.  I started back in 2013 and I’m just on the second (third?) draft (shoot me now), but hey, I am writing the FINAL CHAPTER, so that’s something.  It freaking is, so shut up. Yes, I know, after this draft, it’s beta readers, then another draft, then my editor, then another draft, then more beta readers, then final tweaks (because hopefully by then I’m getting mostly thumbs up from my betas), and THEN its done.  So yeah, that’s a fuck-load more work, really, isn’t it.  But still, I’m closing in on the second draft and that feels like a completion!  Yeah!  GIMME SOME FUCKING CAKE.  Or a couple dozen orgasms would be good, too….

Listen up, Lassiter!  The goal is to get this book out by the end of the year!  Quit this fooling around and get to work!

Oh yeah, the drill sergeant approach, that will totally work.  Because I nail all my self-imposed deadlines, like the thirty or so that I’ve already blown past on this novel alone.  And now I’m thinking about nailing drill sergeants.

Anyway, I’ve been not so much with the blogging because there is this momentum at the end of a novel that takes me over and I abandon my family, my yoga practice, my sleep, and my BLOG because I just can’t stop sneaking away to try to get a few more words in and I can’t think about anything else.  Except sex.

Which I think is just a smoke screen, don’t you?  This muse chick is just messing with me.  Maybe it’s a metaphor for the creative process heating up or something.  Maybe I need to end the novel with a big orgy scene.  All the great novels end with a big orgy scene, don’t they?

Jesus, what have I been reading.

Am I like this at the end of all my novels?

You know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Back to work.

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Q: What does five years of Ashtanga Primary, home practice only, do to one middle-aged woman’s spine?

I’ve done some previous State of the Backbend posts (2011, 2012, 2013) so some of these photos have shown up on the blog before.  But I haven’t done one in a while. Today’s post is the year five installment.

A bit of backstory to catch-up any newcomers:  I started Ashtanga in the summer of 2009 when I was 38.  I started because I got a sore throat and found that I couldn’t gargle because I couldn’t tip my head back far enough.   This totally freaked me out.  I couldn’t look at the ceiling?  Seriously?!  Thus the yoga.  The fact that I ended up doing Ashtanga was a bit of random hit—Primary was a routine when my biggest question when I got onto my new mat was “what do I do?”  Ashtanga offered an answer.

In 2009 I had zero backwards mobility in my spine.  For example, I couldn’t do an Up Dog—I had to do this kind of baby cobra instead.  Just lying flat on my back on the floor felt like a backbend.  Maybe this was the result of years of nursing, all curled forward, holding my babies.  My spine felt like cement.

But listen, this isn’t a miracle story, okay?  I have not made kapotasana my bitch.  Temper your expectations.  Never the less, in my gentle, no-adjustments, no-shala, no teacher, kind of way, progress has been made.

Let’s take a look.  This first shot is after one year of practice.  I could look up at the ceiling!  Yay!

hangback July 2010July 2010

Six months later….

hangback Jan 2011Jan 2011

Three months after that…

backbendspring2011

April 2011

Four more months… A watched pot doesn’t boil very fast, does it?

hangback Aug 2012Aug 2012

But still, from the start, that’s some steady progress, yes?

However, six months jump again…and it stalls.  The next one is less bend, but I was trying to get more upper-back bend and less lower-back cranking.  More arch, less fold-at-the-lumbar.  If you look at the 2012 pic, my upper back is still rounded forward quite a bit.  In the 2013 pic, I was trying for more upper back curve.

hangback Feb 2013Feb 2013

And then, for a long time, nothing seemed to change.  I didn’t take any pictures because shifts of millimeters just don’t show up in a photo, and it was depressing.

But, finally, yesterday, a year and half since that last photo, here I am:

hangback July 2014 July 2014

 Hey!  Some progress!  Not only can I see the ceiling, I can see the wall behind me now, haha.  So that’s something.

Okay, now Urdhva Dhanurasana.

When I first started trying UD, I couldn’t do it at all.  So I would stretch out over an exercise ball.  This was the first day I could put my hands on the floor, eight months into practice.

backbend April 2010April 2010

Those first attempts were really terrible….and uncomfortable!  My arms are bent at near right angles!  And so are my knees.  It’s a mess.

backbend May 2010

May 2010

But slowly my arms straightened out a bit.  Three months later:

backbend Aug 2011August 2011

Six months later….

backbend feb 2012Feb 2012

My hands are still way in front of my face, but it’s looking more like a UD now.  This next one is after nearly three years of practice.

backbend June 2012June 2012

I could hold them a bit longer at this point.  Meaning, from five desperate seconds (ha!) to maybe 10, slightly less panicked, seconds.

backbend feb 2013Feb 2013

And then…very little change.  For a long time.  Those early days when change happens so fast—it’s so motivating!  Long periods of mostly-the-same, man, those are harder.  (And hey, what’s with that baggy shirt?  Ugh.)

But here I am yesterday:

backbend July 2014July 2014

Not bad! Seeing this picture, I realized, hey, there has been some movement.  My hands are nearly under my head now, not out in front of my face the way they were last year.  My legs are quite a bit straighter.  And the arch is more evenly distributed, with my butt closer to half way between my feet and hands, instead of crunched over on the foot side.  So that’s good.

On the other hand, I haven’t gotten nearly as far as I fantasized I would after five freaking years.  Maybe it’s being 43 now, maybe its because I’m on my own, no teacher.  I wanted to be omnipotent by now!

But hey, barring that, I’m relieved that I wasn’t just treading water the last eighteen months.

Slow—very slow, perhaps—but I’m a far cry from where I started.   Millimeter by millimeter, the body opens up.  The tortoise wins the race.

And hey, if I make no further progress, but stay right here for the next twenty years…that would be a fine backbend for a 63 year old.

(But I might get a little more bend out of my spine, yet.)

Finally, it wouldn’t be a backbend post without a shot of my gorgeous and bendy photographer, Sophie, 10, who popped into this backbend cold, just for fun.

sophie backbend 2014

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Luc, 8, has never cut his hair.  As in never.  The fringe ends of his hair are the baby fuzz he was born with.

luc hair 1

His hair has grown down to his cute little butt now and is this gorgeous golden yellow.  It’s amazing.  I covet it, I do.  It’s my shameful secret.

luc hair 4

Here’s a totally bizarre fact: he never washes it.  Seriously!  Maybe once a year or if he spills food into it.  Before you call social services, please look at these pictures—he does not have dirty, greasy looking hair.  I have no idea why.  (And he does bathe the rest of himself daily, in case you were wondering.  I’m just saying.)

He hated, hated, to have me wash his hair as a baby, so I would only do it when it looked dirty.  But then it almost never looked dirty so I’d just remember suddenly that it had been a long time, and I would guiltily subject him to a washing….but the interval between washings stretched and stretched until I realized it had been months and still his hair didn’t look dirty, so….why were we washing it again?  I swear, it’s like the Bermuda Triangle or how the Egyptians built the pyramids.  His hair always looks like a million bucks with no effort on his part at all.

He does swim almost every day in the summer, so it gets rinsed in pond water four months out of the year….

luc hair 5

See?  Mermaid hair!  IT’S SO UNFAIR.

He usually wears it in a braid.  That is, I usually braid it for him.  I’m the hair wench.  Don’t tell anybody, but I kind of love doing this, playing with the pretty hair.  I fear the day when he’s all, “Mom, I can braid my own hair, sheesh.”  It’s coming all too soon.

luc hair 7

If you watch Adventure Time (you should! It’s cool!) you might remember the very first time young hero Finn removed his white bear hat.  It was season 2, ep 10, so had been a long time that we’d only seen Finn in the hat…long enough to forget that it was indeed a hat, and therefore removable.  And then suddenly he whips it off and:

When we saw that we all, literally, jumped up shouting, “It’s Luc!  It’s Luc’s hair!!”

Finn is a bad-ass adventurer, a boy of great bravery, mad sword skills, and long, flowing, yellow hair.  There is also Thor, with his abs, his hammer, and his long, flowing yellow hair.  You don’t get more manly than Thor.  (See here for our first realization that LUC IS THOR.)

thor with hairNot as long and magical as Luc’s, but still pretty.  I’d braid it for him.

It might be due partly to Finn and Thor, but Luc has zero worries about having “girly” hair.  It never crosses his mind.  Has has BAD-ASS HEROIC HAIR and he knows it.

Despite this, the probability that someone will assume Luc is a girl when we are out is nearly 100%.  I’ve even had people question me when I correct them, as if I  might not know for sure, or possibly they think I think they are referring to some other kid.  Nope, he really is a guy!  A guy’s guy!  He has a weapons locker the size of a house, about a hundred toy dinosaurs, he wears boxers, and he will happily discuss who will win in a fight with any pairing you can imagine for hours.

And hey, I’m not saying that boys have to do these things or that girls can’t or won’t…I’m just saying that in all other culturally common gender markers, my little dude is, well, a dude.

A polite, “Actually, he’s a boy,” from me, or, “Actually, I’m a boy,” from him, and most people catch on quick and feel embarrassed they’ve gotten it wrong (no need, it’s a common mistake).  But some people really can’t grok it.  “This kid right here, this is a boy?” Incredulous looks. “Yes.  This is Luc, my son.  He is a boy.”

Other times we just shrug and let him be a girl in their mind long enough to check out at the register or whatever….

Luc is un-phased by this.  He really seems confident in his own masculinity.  He’s like, whatever.  I know I’m a boy.  Why should I care what they think?  He’s so cool.

The second thing people say is, “How long are you going to let him go like that?” or maybe “I could never let my son do that” or even, “I cried when I cut my son’s hair.”  To which I always reply, “It’s his hair.  His choice.”  Seriously!  It’s his body!  He can do what he wants to with his own hair. I’m shocked at how many people feel the need to control their kid’s bodies to this degree.  Hair is not a big deal.  It’s his hair.  He gets to pick.

I mean, if, say, my husband, made me cut my hair into the shape he felt was appropriate, I can tell you right now, I would NOT be thinking, “wow, we have such a great relationship.”  So why would I do that my kid, who I want to have a great relationship with?

The third most common thing people ask is, “doesn’t it get in his way?”

No.

luc hair 6

Unless you live in a place where conformity is a life or death sort of issue, hair is just this protein that grows out of your scalp.  Sometimes it is amazing and gorgeous like Luc’s—he won the hair lottery, for sure—and sometimes it’s little frizzy wisps like mine (SOB).  Maybe he’ll shave his head, or dread it, or mohawk it, or color it, or get a super conservative Normal-Guy cut.  Or all of these at different times.  It’s his hair.  He’ll have his reasons.  That’s fine with me.  I have had my reasons for doing all of these things with my thin, curly, scalp protein, at various times in my life, too.

Luc’s dad, SuperCoolHusband, had butt-length black hair when I met him.  It was hot.  Like, Native American day-um kind of hot.  He cut it when he got a real job after college.  I cried.  I still have it, the hair, in a box in my filing cabinet.

One day Luc will cut his.  I’ll probably cry then, too.  I wonder if he’ll let me keep it?  (Or he might have a partner-to-be by then who gets dibs?)

Moral of the story:  The rules lie!  Boys can have long pretty hair and be bad-asses.  Parents can support kids in having the appearance they want.  Heck you don’t even have to wash your hair, and I thought that last one was a truism.  But nope.

thor and loki

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Linky linky post!  Here, have a look at some of the tabs sitting open on my browser.  There’s some super cool shit out there, and that’s ain’t no lie.

For example, my twitter feed today served up self described sex scientist, Emily Nagoski PhD doing an all day Q&A answering all the questions about sex you can think of.  She is awesome, the  “sex nerd” who delivers Actual Science instead of the usual garbage on the myth<—>bullshit continuum that you tend to get when looking for real info about sex.  Go check it out! I’m curious what questions are going to come through…

I am waaaaaaay too bitter and cynical to enjoy things like this next video and yeah, the first 30 seconds were making that wounded, sardonic part of me cringe.  But I kept watching it because a friend sent it to me and INSISTED and WOW, wait till you get to the dancing!  I really loved this thing by the end!  I might have even—wait, I’ve got something in my eye.  Shut up.

On the yoga front, here is the phenomenal and beautiful Laruga, an ashtangi whose blog I’ve read for years, doing a rock star yoga video, wow.  Her practice is so smooth, so pretty, and she is SO STRONG.

On the other side of the effort scale, Have you heard about the potato salad kickstarter?  Nearly $50,000 bucks and counting?  I kind of love it, it’s like a palliative for all the kickstarters I’ve looked at—good ones, too, this isn’t exactly a complaint—that talk about how amazing, world changing, life altering, and numinous their project is (or will be, if you fund it).  Sometimes we can’t do the amazing.  Sometimes we can just make potato salad.  Apparently a lot of other people enjoy the whimsical as well, because the thing has gone ballistic, shocking the heck out of its creator.

Oh, I also ran across this wonderful, kick-in-the-pants essay, The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You, which I think has made the rounds, but it was new to me, so I’m posting it. Sometimes a slap across the face with a raw fish is what you need to wake you up.  Or is that just me?

cosmos

That essay, in a round about way, got us watching  Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which is FREAKING AWESOME.  It’s the updated, ramped up, 2014 version of the old Carl Sagan Cosmos, and it is blow your mind stuff.  Highly recommended. Makes me wish we had a bigger tv.

And now, I’m heading off to walk Henry.  Have a good weekend!  I’ll leave you with this, because we all need inspiration sometimes to be our better selves:

holyshitthatwasawesome

 

I’m totally getting a copy of this when I do an amazon.jp order (I also have my eye on the gorgeous Mushishi aizoban artbooks, watercolor paintings of one of my most favorite manga/anime characters of all time, it caaaalls to me in my sleeeeeeep….but the shipping, man, it’s a bitch).

Hilarious! And such a needed bit of knowledge in language learning.

I think this book would be useful either way, Japanese to English or the other way around. Swearing is so important to understand!  It’s everywhere, and it isn’t taught. And swearing is awesome. Actually, I adore swearing, it’s my most favorite vice, right up there with chocolate and quickies. I’m interested and amazed when people get super offended (like, really, seriously upset) by swearing, that is, making this set of sounds versus that set of sounds (which we do, of course, by squirting air through our meat)(from “Meat,” possibly my most favorite SF short story ever). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love the power of words.

creativecursingBonus round!  For a fun and informative (it’s educational!) look at the etymology of English swear words, I highly recommend Expletive Deleted by Ruth Wajnryb.  And for maximum swearing hilarity you simply must check out Creative Cursing by Sarah Royal and Jillian Panarese. You will wet yourself.

And for an essay I wrote on swearing, that I totally forgot that I wrote (which is scary), but just found by accident looking for something else on my own blog (aging sucks), go here.  I just (re)read it and thoroughly enjoyed it, so maybe you will too.  Good to know I can entertain myself, at least.

 

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I have been blessed with matcha bounty.  Seriously, it’s coming out of the woodwork, I’ve got to drink tea faster.  And since Sophie and I had so much fun with our first Matcha Smackdown, clearly it is time for a second.  Let the drinking (of tea) begin!  WOOT.

Here are today’s contenders:

matcha taste test

Such pretty little tins.  Here’s the list from left to right:

From O-cha, Kiku Mukashi ($20 + shipping for 30 grams).  From Maiko teas, Matsu no Midori ($20 + shipping for 40 grams).  From Itoen teas, Koto no Tsuki, ($20 + locally bought so no shipping for 20 grams).  And from ZenMatcha, their “Premium” tea ($19 + shipping for 20 grams).

Actually there was one more that we added half-way through (so it missed the initial photoshoot), the O-cha Kiri no Mori ($14 + shipping for 30 grams).

matcha taste test 4

The Kiku Mukashi was my first purchase (as I reviewed first here) with just enough left in the tin to participate in today’s face off, the other O-cha my second purchase.  The Maiko I got to be my “next tea” when that was gone.  But then I stumbled upon a local tea shop where they had the Itoen tea, three days past it’s freshness date so they sold it to me for half off, $10, couldn’t say no to that!  And then Eric Newman over at ZenMatcha sent me a tin of his best matcha for review, very cool Eric!  Thank you!

Time to make tea.

matcha taste test 6

In the name of Science, I made each bowl of tea with 1/2 teaspoon of sifted matcha (using a measuring spoon instead of the little bamboo hook thingy that came with my whisk) and heated the water to 170 degrees.

matcha taste test 3

Aren’t Sophie’s wheelthrown bowls lovely?  She’s 10, by the way.  She rocks.

Anyway, Sophie and I took turns keeping our eyes closed and tasting the teas while the other one took notes.  As with our first test, she and I seemed to have the same preferences/experiences.  Except that in our first test, the two teas seemed noticeably different from each other, whereas with this group of teas, there was much more similarity.  Towards the end, we also roped SuperCoolHusband into the test. He is a total matcha virgin, so this was his first hit.

Blind, we described the Itoen as very sweet, mild, mellow, “I can drink this all day.”  No bitterness at all.  Round.  Smooth.  Lots of what I think is what they’re talking about when they talk about the umami, this interesting yum-factor that makes me smack my lips and make a spontaneous “mmm!”  A hint of sugar snap peas.

We described the Maiko as sweet, slightly grassy.  It reminded Sophie a little bit of that green, hay-like scent that henna has.  Maybe what I’m going for is a bit of seaweed flavor, not unpleasant, just a little stronger.  No bitterness, mild, with that hint of greenness in the center of the flavor.  Lots of umami.

The O-cha Kiku was very similar to the Itoen only perhaps more mild.  Mellow, sweet, a fresh green flavor.  Lovely umami.  Less grassy than the Maiko, a touch yummier, maybe.  Hubby said this one was richer than the others.

The ZenMatcha, had a stronger flavor.  Some bitterness, a bit harsh.  Definitely good, but next to some of these others, not as sweet, not as…luscious, whatever that thing is that matcha can have, that complex yumminess inside the flavor.  It was easy to tell this one apart from the others whereas with the other three, I really wasn’t sure which one she had given me.

The O-cha Kiri no Mori was the mildest, easy to drink, even for the virgin.  A bit less complex.  Very nice.  A simpler flavor but not overly so.

Overall Itoen stood out slightly as the sweetest and…roundest.  What IS that flavor in the center of the flavor, that round, interesting, magic flavor in great green tea?  If I had to rank them by that flavor/experience/thing/umami then I would say the Itoen had the most, then the Kiku, then the Maiko, then the ZenMatcha, then the Kiri.

matcha taste test 2

So much delicious tea!  After we did several rounds with straight tea, we added a bit of stevia and some cream and finished the bowls off.  We were quite buzzed after we had downed it all.

Final verdict, the Itoen was Sophie’s favorite straight.  The ZenMatcha was quite nice with a few drops of stevia and a splash of cream—it’s stronger flavor wasn’t washed out by the additions, but it was a bit bitter for me on its own.  The Maiko, delicious on its own, stood up a bit better with the cream and stevia also, that smoky, grassy flavor cutting through the additions.  For me, the Itoen was amazing with cream and stevia, like the richest, mellowest, most complex green tea ice cream flavor.  But it was hard to tell the difference between the Itoen or the Kiku, and either could be my daily bowl of heaven.  I would probably choose the Maiko if I wanted more of the matcha flavor, a grassier flavor kick, and the Itoen if I wanted a smoother, sweeter brew.  The Kiku is somewhere in between.

How about by price?

The Itoen and the ZenMatcha are the most expensive at $1.00 / gram (not including any shipping since I didn’t pay any shipping for these, you should do your own math with your own shipping to get your per-bowl cost).  A gram is about how much is used in one bowl of tea (1 gram or about 1/2 a teaspoon), so a dollar a bowl.

The O-cha Kiku is in the middle, price-wise at $.83 /gram.  (price includes my shipping of $4)

The Maiko is quite affordable at $.63 a gram  (price includes $4 shipping).  Remember that the Maiko came in a 40g tin where the Itoen and ZenMatcha are in 20g tins, O-cha in a 30g tin.  I’d say the Maido is probably the best bang for the buck. [Edited: it looks like the price of the Maiko has gone up since I bought mine, from $20 + shipping to $23 + shipping.]

The least expensive is the O-cha Kiri, at $.48 a gram (price includes $4 shipping).  Although it wasn’t as rich and complex a flavor, the Kiri really held its own against tea that was twice as expensive.  You could tell the diff, but it was no slouch.

I feel like I’m splitting hairs a bit.  At least with the Itoen, Maiko, and Kiku, they were all luscious, delicious tea, sweet with no sweetener added, slight differences in flavor, sweetness, and mellowness, and grassiness, but on the whole, very close.  The ZenMatcha stood out from the bunch as a bit bitter, a bit harsher, still nice, but for me needing a little stevia and cream to tone the flavor down a bit.  The Kiri stood out as the most mild.

And that’s it!  I’ve got a lot of tea to drink with all these tins open.  It doesn’t stay fresh for long.  Oh, darn, better go have some right now.  After all of this is gone, I’d like to try some matcha from Ippodo, another shop that comes highly rated.

Traditionally a potent and beautiful sweet is served with matcha.  We didn’t have any of these gorgeous little treats, but we did have…

matcha pocky

Yum!

 
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