Category Archives: adventures

2015 winding down, a 5k, state of the next book

The presents are under the tree tormenting Luc, 10, who struggles with waiting (don’t we all).  In the meantime, I haven’t been around the blog for a while, can’t even say why.  Busy life!  I have started a bunch of posts these last few months, the essay-ish ones, when my brain is chewing on a thing.  But then I don’t finish them, or my life moves on before I do.  Will I get more organized in 2016?  We shall see.  For now, though, gotta get through Christmas.

But, if I was posting regularly, I certainly would tell you about how I ran my first 5K race last weekend.  (The zombie-mud run wasn’t a race, as it was not timed, walking and obstacles, not a run run). A Santa Run! Everyone in Santa hats, reindeer ears, grinchs, elves, bells on toes, people in full costume or just funny Christmas t-shirts.  Best shirt: “Santa, stop judging me!”

I can’t believe I ran an actual race! Even a year ago I NEVER would have thought I could.  But I did.  I ran it in 38 minutes—SLOW—but so what, I did it.  Sophie, 11, ran it in 31, Supercoolhubby right behind her.  We were a little team!  So cute.  The fastest dude did it in 18!  I saw him hoofing it back in when I was still going out.  Amazing.  The whole thing was really fun, lots of cheering, lots of smiling people.

santa runHere I am crossing the finish line.  Photo taken by Luc.  Go me!  I’m carrying my Santa hat because I got too hot.  500 Santas finished that misty morn.  I really, really can’t believe I was one of them.  Bodies can change, even at 44 you can pick up a sport and become an athlete.  Nerdy, bookish me, running a race, it’s shocking, I tell you.

In other news, nerdy, bookish me (I may be a runner, sort of, but I haven’t changed that much) is here to report I am halfway through writing first draft of the next book.  Hoping to get the first draft in the can by the end of January.  I’m at that point in drafting where I’m pretty sure I hate it, it’s stupid, I should definitely quit, in other words, situation totally normal.  Still, I’m showing up each day, getting words.  So that’s all right then.

But the important thing!  I can’t wait to see the kids open their presents in a few days….

and now for something complete different: ZOMBIE MUD RUN FTW!!!

Sometimes you just have to shake things up.  So this weekend the kids, my two sisters, and little ole me, ran a ZOMBIE MUD RUN.  No, seriously.  We did.



What is a zombie mud run, you ask?  You map a 5k through a forest, you sprinkle it with 20 crazy obstacles (many involving a crap-ton of red, North Carolina mud), and then you stock it with zombies who chase you, BRAINS!  BRAINS! and freak you the fuck out.zombiesThe zombies were terrific.

No, really, it’s fun!

Here is most of our team, waiting in the line for our wave to start:

zombie getting ready 300Let me remind everyone that I am a middle aged woman, that my sisters are eight years younger than I am, and that I am, at heart, a total wuss.  What the heck was I thinking, right?  Clearly I had a moment of insanity when I came up this plan.  I blame my sister who is cursed with FOLLOW THROUGH.  I was kidding, okay?  I never meant to actually do it….

But there I was, waiting in line for my turn to be eaten.

Okay, I wasn’t doing this totally cold. I have been running 3x a week since spring (woot!) I can run a 5k without dying. I’m not a complete push-over. (That’s a lie, I totally am.) But still.

Here is the first obstacle:


That’s me in the middle on the right with the black shorts and the red flag hanging over my butt, hauling myself up that slick surface while calling out to my sisters, “Okay, it occurs to me at this late juncture that perhaps this was a bad idea. Upon consideration, I may have made a mistake. I don’t think I can actually do this, without injury I mean, I’m really very weak you see,  I’ll just let you kids go on ahead…..”


Luc, 10, is cresting the climb in the blue shirt in that pic.  Luc would like it to be known that he did all 20 obstacles, did them barefoot (he lost his shoes to deep, sucking, mud at the second obstacle), and that he finished with all THREE of his flags (the zombies try to steal your flags and if you lose all three, you are INFECTED, too bad for you).  He is, officially, a hero.  No question.

[Photograph note: The first few obstacles were up close to the start, before the forest, and so my mom, who was our official cheering section, was able to get some pics of her crazy daughters and her gonzo grandchildren wallowing in the mud.  Thanks, Mom!]

zombie 4Here’s another obstacle, and again, me at the top waffling, “Oooo, I don’t know, it looks kinda scary, maybe I’ll just stay up here on top of this hill, the view is really very nice here….”  Later in the run my monologue became, “GO ON.  SAVE YOURSELVES.”

I did manage to keep up, though, as I did 15 of the 20 obstacles (you could walk around if you had to, invoking only slight shaming, it was a fairly supportive crew), that’s right, 15, uh-huh, including fording a lake, walking across a rope, jumping logs, etc.  I even finished with a flag (that is, UNinfected, thank you very much), although I had to perform 20 pushups (chaturangas, actually) for a “medic” in order to get a replacement flag after I sacrificed myself to a zombie so that my children could tear past to safety.  It’s what mothers do.

Here is some of that action:

me running from zombie 1 400 me running from zombie 2 400 me running from zombie 3 400See Sophie scooting past in that third shot?  See me cracking up through the whole thing?  I finally got past this guy by saying (between my screaming-like-a-girl hoots and my panting) “Your wig is sooo hot.”  He cracked up, too, and I was able to dart past him, finally.

Or as my sister said, Not today, Mr. Zombie.  Not today.

That red color on my legs is red mud.  By the end, we were covered in it.

zombie covered in mudPower Walk, With Mud.

My other sister, one of the sweetest people I know, would call back to each batch of zombies that we made it past, “Thank you zombies!  You were great!”  She is adorable.  They would wave and call back, “Sure, you were great, too!  Have fun!” while their spooky zombie wounds oozed gore.  Or sometimes they would growl and drool, if they were really in character, but it meant the same thing. Everyone was having a good time.

Especially Sophie, 11,  an amazonian BAD-ASS.  She was amazing.  For example, take a look at this obstacle:

zombie run obstacleThat’s not her in the photo, those are some other intrepid zombie-avoiders.  Sophie wouldn’t simply climb over like these mere mortals are doing.  Oh no, she WALKED up one of the vertical boards, like it was a balance beam, up over the top, and then down, smooth as silk.  I mean jesus chirst, the middle was 8 feet up! I, on the other hand, hands-and-knee-ed it to the top and then completely froze up for a couple of minutes before I found my ovaries and was able to inch my way back down.  It was interesting how it was doable until it was 8 feet in the air.  Turns out 80% of a zombie mud run is psychological.

I was shaky (but pretty pumped) by my success on that one. In comparison, Sophie was all, “WHAT’S NEXT!?!” She ninja-ed over logs, hauled ass up ropes, balanced on her toes on the rock-climb section, fell fearlessly into the mud (everything was slick as spit with red clay by the time our wave was moving through), wearing a giant grin the entire time.  “This is AWESOME!” was her comment, and, “Next year, I’m going to be a zombie!”

(Next year?!?)

Here she is doing the monkey bars while zombies wait on the other side to eat her:

zombie monkey bars 400She finished with all three flags, too.

Something that surprised me was how primal being chased felt.  Despite knowing I was completely safe, that it was all a game, that the zombie-look was all make-up…once a zombie started coming after me my heart thundered, adrenaline flooded through me inducing tunnel vision, cold sweats, involuntary screaming, the works.  It was all instant and automatic, like when you see a spider and jump back, only times 100.  I haven’t run so fast or so hard in decades.  Apparently we have spinal-cord instincts to avoid zombies, too.

The day after, I couldn’t lift my arms.

But I survived.  And I bet years from now we’ll all remember this Saturday afternoon, unlike most quiet Saturday afternoons that all meld into one another in memory.  There’s nothing wrong with a quiet Saturday afternoon (I adore them, no prefer them, I admit it), but perhaps too much of the same dulls the point of life.  Nothing like some zombies and a 10,000 gallons of mud to wake me the fuck up.

Luc proudly wore his finisher’s medal for two days.

in which the nearly-finished bedroom is gorgeous and we do some final swimming

Long time readers will recall that our “house” is really more of a compound of small buildings, clustered around the yurt.  It’s bizarre, really, a strange way to build a house, but what are you going to do.  We’ve bootstrapped this thing and our mortgage is tiny, so there is that.  Unfortunately, this method of building is also long and drawn out and our primary builder has had to slow down over the years due to such setbacks as gradschool, old-freaking-age, and just being sick to death of building preferring to “sit in my leather club chair and watch tv for godsakes.” (He’s not that old, I jest.)(He is old-er, though. Forties is definitely not early thirties.)

Nevertheless, Supercoolhusband had a break from grad school a few weeks ago and got some work in on the bedroom.  Yay!  And I’ve got to say, it is looking so good!  It’s very close, now completely closed in, waiting only on the closet, the heater getting finished up, and a tiny bit of trim.  But look at that beautiful picture up there!  The front door is in!

And it’s a seriously amazing door, five feet across, stained glass, pretty damn cool.  He got it for nothing—he can’t remember, guesses $20 bucks—used, of course, and so cheap on account of a couple of cracks we can fix with freaking duct tape if necessary, because dude!  Door!  Someone threw it out rather than fix it!  He’s a master of the salvaged treasure, if you ask me.

He’s also a master of beautiful trim work.  Look what he did around the casement windows (also used, for cheap):
bedroom 2I suggested bead board for that section below the window, he went with a similar effect with cedar wood.  So pretty.

And look at this beautiful piece he did over the door.  Another used leaded glass window (with cute diamonds!) that was given to us when a friend was cleaning out his basement:

bedroom 3Here’s what it’s like when the door is closed:bedroom 4It’s still a construction site, as you can see in this corner where the rocket mass heater isn’t quite done.

bedroom heater areaBut it won’t be long now.  Something on the floor, rugs, sisal mats, something like that.  I’d love wood, but we can’t afford it right now.  Maybe later (which probably means never, haha, once the bed gets moved in, it’s all over).  It’s been a long time coming (first post where I mentioned it in 2012 in post on rocket heaters, but he had already been working on it for a year or two by then).  I’m kind of nervous about moving in.  What if I can’t sleep in it?  I’ve gotten used to the yurt!

Just kidding.

But look, here’s a couple of shots of one of sthe last swim of the season (probably, unless there’s a heat wave) just because they are awesome and because I am total denial that summer is actually over.  Where the heck did August go?? I mean, what the heck?!

luc jumping sophie jumpingThey’re such a couple of goof balls.

sophie says byeBye!


five random things we did this week

1- Visiting a real live Tibetan Sand Mandala

Every couple of years a group of Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Monastery come through the area and throw down some gorgeous sand art in the form of one of their amazing mandalas.  You can go watch them making it, and then when they’re done, they sweep it all up and, with appropriate ritual and care, toss it into the river.  Here is this year’s mandala completed.

sand mandala

It’s the Amitayus Mandala, the Buddha of Boundless Life.  I’m not sure what boundless life is, but it sounds good.  Here is a cool page about the construction process.  Candy colored and intricate!

The monks we met were shy and friendly (and wearing running shoes the color of the their magenta robes, I loved that).  People were meditating all around it, which gave a certain vibe to the proceedings—lots of bowing and nodding and smiling.

I always get the feeling that if one could look at the energetic planes of super-spiritual-something-or-other where these mandalas exist, surely they are 3-d, rising up off the floor and towering over our heads, a huge castle with fancy turrets and gingerbread decorations.  You know what I mean?  Or, alternately, I’m a 3-d person looking at the 2-d universe, fully alive just…flat.  Only I think the mandala must be several ‘ds’ above us and they are looking down into our world like we are the flat ones….

2- Kitten therapy!

Playing with a kitten, or, say, watching a kitten battle a piece of toilet paper, or a piece of string, or its own tail—anything, really—has undeniable positive impact on one’s brain chemistry, cortisol levels, and general well-being.  Call it Kitten Therapy (TM). Basically, if you have a chance to be around happy kittens, you should totally do it.  It will add years to your life.

kitten therapy

Here is our kitten, brought home from my Granddaddy’s old boat barn, once merely feral, now a CRAZY BEAST OF PURRING CLAW AND FUZZ DOMINATION.  He plays non-stop, full-on, attacking anything the moves with great pleasure and gusto.  Falling over is no deterrent.  (Our older cat Momo hates him.)  We’ve been calling him Jupiter, Ju-Ju-Bee, June Bug, and Juice Box.  He doesn’t care.  He only pays any attention when we say, “kitty kitty…”  Or, as I like to do, stomp into the Noah House where he is living and roar, in a low, growly, aggressive voice, “KITTEN!!!”  He always comes out running and purring and ready for Mad Max Fury Road paws-to-the-wall action for that.

Kittens don’t come along very often and they only last for a month or two.  Must soak up all the kitten-ness I…possibly…can!

3- Kids VS The Dads: Soccer SMACK DOWN

Park day brought out an unusual number of Dads the other day and somehow it turned into an epic battle for soccer supremacy.  Competition was fierce.  Rules were hotly debated, such as the controversial scoring against your own team by accidentally backing through the goal-line while carrying the ball foul.  (Oops.)  Who’s turn was really it to throw the ball back in?  Who’s shoes would be used as goal posts?  Could (the now) barefoot players really hold their own against those wearing combat boots?


Shorties vs the Talls, WHO WOULD WIN?

4- Ice skating on the hottest day of the year (so far).

90 degrees!  I know, I know, it’s only going to get hotter.  August around here often hits 100.  But sheesh, it seemed plenty hot to me.  Time to hit the indoor ice skating rink!

ice skating 1

It was Sophie and Luc’s first time.  Darn good thing kids are made of rubber because they fell down.  A lot.  Still, they kept laughing and popping back up, so I guess it was okay.  Bonus round: open mouthed staring after they cleared the rink for the figure-skating crew.  Oh la la, so fancy with their flippie moves and twirls.

5- Pizza from scratch!

I turned Ghost Fugue over to my intrepid copy editor at the end of last week and, possibly as a result, I had several days of feeling lost and adrift.

“I’ve lost the will to live,” I told the kids.  “I need an easy, short-term goal to keep me going.”

They suggested cooking.  Good idea!  Somehow we narrowed the options down to homemade pizza.

We used this recipe, which was awesome.

But making dough from scratch seemed to warrant a new pizza pan, rather than trying to make due with our warped, dented, encrusted cookie sheets.  I looked for a silicone pastry mat, too, for rolling it out but couldn’t find one.  “What about a pizza stone?  Do we need one of those?”  I said.

“Naw,” said SuperHubby.  “What we need is to build a cob pizza oven.”

Sophie groaned.  “I just want some lunch!  The cookie sheets are fine!”  She’s so practical.

I did buy the pizza pan.  $8 bucks!  What a pretty, round pizza it made!  Here it is before cooking:

pizza 1

Luc only likes cheese pizza, so you can see his little section over there.  The rest is triple cheese, mushrooms, olives, and fresh oregano.  Here it is after it cooked:

pizza 2

O. M. G.  It was good.  REALLY REALLY good.  Maybe the best pizza I’ve ever had.  It totally restore my will to live for, like, hours.

And that’s it, five random things we did this week.  Nothing too fancy, but it suited us just fine.

welcome to another exciting episode of “Real Kitchen!” Not your mother’s cooking show.

You’ve seen them, those classy cooking shows where the studio kitchen is gorgeous, the ingredients are pre-prepped in little bowls, ready for dumping into the pot, and there is not a dirty dish in sight.  They’re nice aren’t they?  But honestly now, who the hell has a cooking experience like that?  Maybe single, rich people or something?  Certainly not people with families who live in tiny houses *cough* and who struggle to find time to eat, much less cook.

Enter “Real Kitchen!” the cooking show for the rest of us!

Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?  For starters, in those other cooking shows, when you need to mix something, a beautiful bowl is right there waiting for you.  In Real Kitchen, you can’t find one.  And when you do, it’s a little too small, but you think you can make it work if you can just stir slowly enough to keep the mound from overflowing.  But hey, so what if you do!  That’s what dogs are for.

How about ingredients?  In Real Kitchen, you know how it goes.  You have to forage through the crisper full of bags of rotten slimed stuff you can no longer identify.  Cleaning out the fridge, at least partially, is always the First Step to cooking in Real Kitchen.  But it isn’t just the fridge, the shelves are way too full, you have to search endlessly for stuff you know you bought, but now can’t locate.  There are piles on the piles.  You knock a few over.  There may be some swearing.  Real Kitchen may or may not be suitable for all ages.

In those other cooking shows, you make what you want, how you want it.  It’s amazing!  In Real Kitchen, not a chance.  You have to negotiate with your family members for every ingredient.  “Please can I put garlic in?”  “No.”  “What if I chop it very tiny?” “NO.”  Also, probably someone already ate a crucial ingredient so you’ll have to improvise, making sometimes bizarre substitutions.  That’s the creativity of Real Kitchen!  No complaining, there’s no point!

In those other cooking shows, you magically know the recipe by heart.  In Real Kitchen, you are reading the recipe off your ipad, causing you to try to keep the screen lit, and scroll, with your elbow, because your hands are a mess.  Bet you didn’t know cooking doubles as a yoga pose!

I also bet you never saw the smoke alarm go off in one of those other cooking shows.  And how about how the dog feels it’s necessary to bark continuously at the smoke alarm until it shuts up, thereby tripling the noise and your corresponding sense of urgency to turn the damn thing off?  Oh, it was just something in the bottom of the toaster oven again.  What was I doing?  Did I already put the salt in?  Or not?

Let’s face it: in Real Kitchen, there is always a sense of danger.  For example, chopping onions—a simple thing already done for you by house elves in those other cooking shows—chopping onions in Real Kitchen becomes a source of pain and possible disfigurement.  Have you ever seen one of those other chefs sobbing over their cutting board?  Trying to chop with their eyes closed without losing a finger?  No.  Not to mention when your eyes water enough that your mascara runs, making you look like the Winter Soldier.  No make up artists waiting off-stage in Real Kitchen!  The burning pain of chopping onions is hugely underrepresented by most cooking shows, in my opinion.

In Real Kitchen, locating a pan that will work well enough for your purposes can involve spelunking and the threat of an avalanche.  And once you find it, it has to be cleaned, an awkward job since the sink in Real Kitchen is usually already full of dirty dishes.  Plus when you ask your ten year old assistant if it needs to be washed first, she is liable to say, “If I have to clean it, then it’s perfectly clean.”  Thanks, helpful assistant!  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Have you ever noticed how in Real Kitchen, things seem to get thrown at the chef, seemingly at random?  I do not know why.  You also have to deal with Strange Illogical Fears, like touching the aluminum foil box (“it will cut me!”), or refusals to eat out of certain bowls or with certain untensils (“I don’t like the noise it makes against the edge,” or “silver spoons taste funny.”)  It’s maddening, really.  That feeling is all part of the Real Kitchen experience!

The compost is too full, the trash needs to bagged and dumped to make room for the new trash you are making, the complaints are huge (“I told you not to put garlic in!”) and the fridge is already stuffed, so where to put the leftovers?

Yes, cooking in Real Kitchen isn’t just a sport, it’s an Extreme Sport!  It’s not just Real, it’s Dangerous!  To mind and body, believe me.  So, let’s have no more of those wimpy-ass, goody-goody, lets make it look all pretty, cooking shows.  Let’s get down to the battle that is REAL COOKING.

–brought to you by Dinner!  With special guest star, Thanksgiving!  Otherwise known as, “Thank god that’s over.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, Frank Zappa sings of when Real Kitchen has crossed over the line into Dangerous Kitchen.  You just don’t want to go there.

adorable japanese picture books are adorable — ehon navi ftw!

I started studying Japanese almost two years ago (January).  That is shocking.  I am simultaneously impressed that I stayed with it this long, dismayed at how much time I have put into this essentially useless-to-me hobby, and shocked that I’m not further along by now because wow, Japanese is really hard.

But yeah, I’m still at it.  I love it, this interesting puzzle-solving hobby that has zero stress because it has zero connection to anything else in my life.  I think its like people who do the daily cross-word puzzle in the morning, or play a few round of solitaire to help them get to sleep.  Wani Kani, iKnow, Genki, Imabi, Tae Kim, Textfugu, and Japanese the Manga Way are my Japanese drugs of choice.  (Not all at once!  WaniKani is daily, the rest is in a complex rotation system that not even I fully comprehend.)

Plus this new one:  Ehon Navi.  First, if you click that link, you’re going to get a page full of Japanese except for one little English phrase, “Picture books for happiness!” which I love.  Yes!  A good picture book definitely is a happiness-inducer, isn’t it?  Second, Ehon is Japanese for children’s picture book and Navi I think is connected to navigation.  Basically the site has over a thousand Japanese pictures books scanned in that you can read for free—one time each (no going back!).  You have to register but it isn’t hard, and the reader-app they have is quite usable.  It’s basically having a Japanese children’s library on your laptop.  How cool is that?  And wow, Japanese artists KNOW THEIR CUTE.

I found Ehon Navi via Liana’s Extensive Reading blog.  Extensive Reading is the language learning strategy of, basically, reading a ton in your target language, at or below your fluency level, just gobs and gobs of stuff, casting aside anything you don’t enjoy (and don’t use a dictionary!).  It’s how I learned English so well, so it makes sense to me.  Plus, it’s super fun.  Ehon Navi gives someone who wants to try some Extensive Reading in Japanese, but has a low reading level (raises hand), a chance to level up through access to so many easy books.  Bonuses: gorgeous, funny art and charming stories.  It’s a win-win-win-win, really, with some win on top.

Liana has a walkthrough on how to register, and some clues about how to use the site if you can’t read Japanese well enough to navigate it.  Thanks so much for putting that together, Liana!  I have been enjoying this so much.  It’s been a shot in the arm of my Japanese, studies, really.  I can get lost in the slog sometimes and forget why I’m doing it.  Oh yeah, I like reading Japanese!

Plus, I used to read so many children’s books when the kids were little, and loved it, but I haven’t read picture books in years.  It’s surprisingly delightful to get back to it, even (especially?) in Japanese.  Simple stories, cute pictures, funny jokes.  Highly recommended.  If you’re studying Japanese and can’t read manga yet, maybe get over the fear of all that Japanese by jumping in to picture books.

the beautiful outerbanks of north carolina, if i get to have a homeland, this is it

The Outer Banks are a super thin strip of sandy islands that run along the North Carolina shore.  On the East side of each island is the beach and on the west is the Sound, a saltwater marshy space where the inter-coastal waterway runs.  Here’s a map:

outer banks map

In some places those skinny islands are so skinny, you can walk from surf, across a few dunes and a highway, then through a bit of live oak forest, and be standing in the salty sound, all in a few minutes.  Many are thicker but no more than a mile across.  The island tips, though, are the coolest spots, places where the sound and surf come together in a mingling swirl of sandbars, marsh grass and beach.

Here is the view from the porch of the cottage I was at last week:


It’s hard to see it in the photo, but the farthest (highest) strip of water in this picture is the breaking waves of the beach itself.  Those distant specks are the 4wd trucks of fishermen pulled right up to the breakers on the tippy-tip of the island.  The green is marsh grass is where the sound is swirling around to meet the surf.  Between the two are sandbars, some with trees, like on the left top, and marsh, all great for birds, fishing, and canoeing.

A huge number of my favorite childhood memories have this very view in them.  The Lassiter’s have been going to this bit of beach for thirty-plus years, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all piled in, sleeping on sofas, getting up early to walk to the beach or check the net.

In summer, you can swim from the surf to the sound.  Or float in the channel down to the nearest sandbar and explore.  If the tide turns you’ll have too strong a current to swim against, so you’ll have to be picked up.  My Granddaddy used to come get us in his fishing boat, the same fishing boat we had on this trip, still going strong after fifty years, although Granddaddy has been gone a decade now.  Lots of layers of personal history in this particular spot of the world for me.

And tons of adventures to be had.  Canoeing is a favorite.  Here is little Luc between his Great Aunt and Great Uncle…

luc in the canoe

There’s a bazillion treasures to find…

feather on beach

Love the light in this next one!

shell in the water

Everyone’s got to learn to drive the boat…

sophie steering the boat

And the aquarium is not too far of a drive…



Plus there is swimming, yes, even in October!…



Although, truth, Luc nearly levitated to get back out of that water.  “Too cold!!!!”  Sophie and her aunties swam for a good half-hour though.  Lassiter women are bad-ass like that.  (Not me.  I’m with Luc.  I had to, uh, take the pictures.)

The sky and the colors are always changing.  So beautiful!



That last one with the crazy Sauron-Is-Coming sky is at the beach proper.  It looks like a desert, but that strip of dark on the horizon is the ocean.  Part of that is a trick of the camera angle, but also, there’s just a ton of sand down at the point, where the ocean keeps depositing the sand picked up from the more northern parts of the island.  The Outer Banks are always in motion.

Here’s another beach-y shot, sand castle construction with another of the Great Aunts (while I took the best nap of my LIFE, I am totally serious):


The colors!

Of course, a very important part of the recipe for a great beach week:


Margaritas!  Hell yeah.

One of my favorite things, though, is the sunsets….







They’re different every day.

If you get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it, but be super ecologically responsible.  So many parts of this place are delicate and endangered.  Makes me weep.

LOVE.  If there is an inner Maya Landscape, this is it.


a hippy chick’s further adventures in MAKE-UP

This post is kind of a ‘part 2’ of my previous rant about aging and makeup, a flip side post, if you will, to all my complaining.  Or possibly a status report.

But wait, isn’t this a writing, yoga, unschooling blog?  Wtf?  Well, yes, it is those things.  But first and formost it is an ADVENTURE BLOG!  And this week’s adventure is makeup.

Because yes, I have continued to step away from the natural, organic, face care  you can get at Whole Foods (often greasy with dullish colors, I’m sorry Dr. Haushka, it’s true) and have bravely sallied forth into the wide world of mainstream skin care.  And WOW.  How things have changed since I last was buying drugstore makeup.

For example, when did primers become a Thing?  Now you prime your lids, your face, your under-eyes…

And what’s this business with contouring?  I thought only drag queens did that?  Which is totally not a put down on drag queens who I have long felt were the masters of makeup, if anyone is.  Indeed, when I was a short-order cook, I used to work with this gal, Stephanie, born a man, six feet tall, blond hair down her back, she would work the line in full-face glam, I’m talking false lashes, lip-liner, glitter, the works.  She looked way better than I ever did in makeup.  She could contour like she was freaking DaVinci. And now everyone is contouring!  The times they have a-changed.

Plus there are so many new terrific textures.  Mouses, lightweight liquids, creamy, non-drying, silky, non-caking, vanishing into your skin concoctions, so much nicer than the stuff they had twenty years ago when I gave all this up.  Mostly gave up.  I’ve been a sunscreen, eyeliner, lip balm gal for years.  Min-i-mal.  As if there was some moral high ground in having only three products on my face.  Where did that idea even come from?  I can’t remember.

And the colors out there now!  They are to die for!  It’s kind of like when I first started knitting and would step into the yarn store and start twitching and frothing at all the yummy yarn.  Lay out the yarn and let me roll around naked on it! I’ve always had a thing for color.

Anyway, Sophie, 10, agreed to be my companion (or possibly a security teddy-bear for me to clutch, she’s so much braver than I am) on my maiden voyage to Sephora where we oooed and ahhhed at all the colors, packaging, and price-tags, oh la la.  Madeline was the makeup artist who helped us.  She had gorgeous, graphic winged eyeliner, and super red lips, plus a utility belt of makeup brushes, sponges, que-tips, and squirt bottles, like Batman only better.  I bought a light-reflective concealer (boring, but apparently this light-reflective business is the new normal for under-the-eyes) and a red lipstick like Madeline’s (dare I?).  Sophie picked out a little tub of gold dust, which she has worn alternately on her pretty little eyelids, and on her cheekbones, so lovely.

Confession, the concealer is a big fail, as far as I can tell, because no matter what I do (moisturize first, apply with brush, apply with fingers, use less, use more, etc) it looks like a crinkly, creasey, light-reflective mess that is certainly no better than the dark circles I started with.  I think this may be an age thing.  The lipstick is better, but I’m, uh, still hammering out the details.  Such as how to keep a matte lipstick from drying out and adhering in clumps after an hour or two?  This is a mystery.  Which I will crack.

From the drugstore (and for a hellofvalot cheaper) I have picked up several little pots of shimmery cream eye-shadows (Mabelline Color Tattoo Cream Gel) and a blending brush (a dupe for the Mac 217) (see me use fancy jargon! watch me go!) and have been having better luck with them as they seem to be a bit more fool-proof.  Which is good because despite twenty-five years of wearing makeup I feel like a complete NOVICE.

Plus, I had thought that hooded eyes and eyeshadow didn’t mix because what’s the point?  If you have hooded eyes you can’t see any of the eyeshadow anyway, it’s all covered up with skin.  But this not completely true: my eyelids are visible when I blink.

Thus the discovery of peekaboo eyeshadow!  For hooded lids only!  You do a normal, neutral eye, matte browns or taupes, or whatever, except on the lid.  Where the lid is hidden by the hood, you smack some outrageous color, purple! lime green! solid gold! or maybe some crazy sparkle like the pixie-vamp you are.  When you’re done, eyes open you look plain jane. But when you blink, BAM!  Party on my eyelid!

Supercoolhusband says, “Do you have your peekaboo rainbow sprinkles on today?”  And I say, “Why yes, I do,” and I bat my eyes at him, so coquettish.  I’m coquettish!  Who would have thought.

Another discovery: the Brave New World of exfoliants, which are like chemical resurfacing agents, only they really work.  Seriously, I am impressed.  Last I checked, exfoliants were scrubs with grit in them that you used to scrape off the top layer of your face.  Yuck.  But no longer.  Now they are leave-on treatments of AHA and BHA (Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, which all sounds very acid-y, doesn’t it? isn’t acid bad? turns out, no) designed to take off those dead skin cells and scrub out your pores while you go about your business.  I’ve been trying samples of both (not at the same time!) from Paula’s Choice and I kid you not: my skin has not been so smooth, light, or pimple-free in twenty years.  This stuff is amazing!  I mean,  the bags or the deep grooves are here to stay, I accept that, but seriously, brown spots, fine lines, just dull sagginess, it’s all GONE.

[cue hallelujah chorus]

One more discovery: DIY cleaning balms.  Sophie hates the feeling washing with soap leaves (you know that sort of tacky, oil-less feeling? I associate it with “clean” but she just says it’s sticky).  So, after learning about fancy “cleansing balms” where you massage and clean your face with assortments of oils and then sit under a hot, wet towel for a few minutes (divine), we decided to make our own.

We didn’t even have to do a supply run.  I was reading ingredients on some of the fancy ones, organic shea butter, organic castor oil, organic jojoba oil, organic sweet almond oil, various essential oils like rose, orange, or lavender, virgin coconut oil…and I thought, shoot, I’ve got all this stuff.  Let’s do this thing!

So we poured boiling water into some empty mint tins to clean them out and then melted together various combinations of the above mentioned ingredients and poured them into the tins.  We love playing mad scientist in the kitchen (only usually it involves more chocolate).  We ended up with one tin that smelled like orange sherbert (sweet orange and vanilla, fabulous as a lip balm), one that had rose and sandlewood (gorgeous, luxurious), and one with tea-tree oil (anti-bacterial, possibly anti-pimple and could be a deodorant?)  The shea butter hardens up at room temp and you get this tin of luxe goop you can apply just about anywhere you want a bit of moisture and good smell.

And to wash your face with it, scoop out a bit, rub it all over your face, give yourself a nice massage, then lean back in the tub and drape a hot, wet cloth over your face and let it steam.  When it cools down, use the cloth to wipe off the oils and boom, you’ve got soft, clean skin.  It’s fantastic.  (And okay, this is pretty hippy-ish.  What can I say, I’m not abandoning my roots.)

I’m even learning how to do a badass smokey eye, get back.  I love this tutorial by SkyDivaMegan, Rage Against the Machine, Black Smokey Eye in BROAD DAY.  Stick it to the man with your black smokey eye, who says you can’t wear your makeup however you want, whenever you want?  I love her, flouter of makeup rules: “What the hell.  Who are you to tell me when I can wear what eye makeup?  It’s eight o’clock on Saturday morning right now.  I’m about to walk to dog, outside, in broad daylight, wearing the black smokey eye!”  Haha!  She the one who brought the whole peekaboo eyeshadow trick to my attention.  Game changer!

Here’s one more smokey eye, a brown one, very quick and simple, from A-list makeup artist Lisa Eldridge, whom I blame for all of this.  It’s all your fault, Lisa!

(Mystery #2: how to get the stuff you put on the lower lid to not drift down over the day, making you look bruised and haggard?  Is this primer thing again?  Am I over-moisturizing or something?  And whoa: people wear lower-lid shadow now!  That used to be a no-no (“it’s aging!”) but now it’s a go-to look.)

All right, that’s my makeup revelations, from the all-natural-girl who is finally, at forty-three, learning something about the girly arts of makeup.  It’s surprisingly fun (actually, why am I surprised?)  And, I have to say, being a beginner with Sophie who is just starting to be interested in such things, is superfun, too.  I remember being her age and watching my Dad’s girlfriend sit at her vanity and apply red lipstick with a little brush and being so intrigued by the feminine mystery of it all.  Now I’m her!

Sort of.  Okay, not really, my Dad would never in a million years date a hippy chick.  Which I am.  Only now with cream eyeshadow.

learn digital painting using photoshop with youtube

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!