Wolf Fur Costume…With A Silver Lining

Things don’t always turn out the way I want. Take, for example, this year’s Halloween costume, which I ordered from Wholesale Halloween Costumes on-line, and which was supposed to be a 70′s disco girl dress, headband and necklace.  Instead, THIS is what arrived yesterday afternoon in a huge cardboard box ["Amado: What the hell is in that box, anyway? What did you order?"]

"Howlin Good Time" Wolf and "Sexy Red Riding Hood"

“Howlin Good Time” Wolf and “Sexy Red Riding Hood”

The “Howlin Good Time” Wolf came complete with a rubber face mask, dandy striped pants, and a sexy partially-nude woman airbrushed onto the tie.  The “Sexy Red Riding Hood” came with some little scraps of cloth artfully arranged in a padded hanging garment bag.

“Hmmmm….” I said thoughtfully, as neither one of these special suits even marginally resembled the one I’d ordered.  I held up the wolf.  “Aaaaoooooo!” I wailed to the general area.  “AWhoooooooooo’s ready for Halloweeeeeeeeen!”

“Mama, what IS that!” Isabel was half-laughing, half-alarmed.

“Well, this is NOT what I ordered!”  I explained, dangling it in front of my husband, who was busy working at his computer and not really paying attention.

“Mama,” said Isabel eagerly, “It reminds me of something. It reminds me of the Catrin from that game.”  [from the Loteria game.]

“Yes, Sweetie!” I agreed. “It DOES remind me of the Catrin, too. Probably because this wolf is such a dandy-man!”

“Hey, Amado!” I urged. “Do you want to be a Lobo Catrin for Halloween?”

Amado was not interested in this excellent idea. “No,” he said.

“No, Mama!” Isabel was alarmed.  “I don’t want Daddy to be that!”

“I’m just kidding,” I explained.  “Besides, this is not really mine, anyway. I’m going to have to send it back.”  I pulled out the packing slip from inside the box. “This was SUPPOSED to be sent to….Gregory Scott. In Larkspur, Colorado. But they put it inside a box marked Jennifer Valencia. Nice.”

“I guess they go together,” I observed to Amado.  “Poor Gregory Scott. He and his girl probably need these for a weekend party, and they never arrived. And I don’t even want to think about what they had planned for later on, that they now have to postpone.” [Too late, BTW - role-playing image stuck firmly in my mind.]

“I guess I’ll call the company,” I said, and here is how that conversation went:

 Guy On Phone: Hello.

Me: Hello!  The wrong costume was sent to my house in Phoenix.  Your store sent me a Howlin Good Times Wolf and a Sexy Riding Hood, and I was really supposed to get a 70′s girl.

Guy: So you didn’t order the Howlin Good Times Wolf?

Me: No.

Guy: (looking up order number): OK, I see that you ordered a 70′s Girl.

Me: Yes.

Guy: That’s on the way. And who was supposed to get the Howling Good Times?

Me: Some person named Gregory Scott. But he lives in Larkspur, Colorado.

Guy:  Uh, does he live near you? Like, maybe you could drop if off at his house if you are neighbors?

Me: Well, I’m in Phoenix, and he’s in Colorado. And sure, aren’t we all global neighbors? But no, I can’t drop it off. It’s like 800 miles away.

Guy: So you didn’t order the Wolf.

Me: No.

Guy: And you don’t want to keep the wolf.

Me:  NO.

Guy:  But do you know Gregory Scott? Is he, like, a friend?

Me: No! I just got his name from the packing slip.

Guy: Ok. And he’s not, like, someone you know? Because, I’m, like, trying to figure out how this happened.

Me: No. I do NOT KNOW GREGORY SCOTT.  Someone at your store put the wrong order in my box.

Guy: (typing furiously). OK.

(Longish pause.)

Me: You should probably contact Gregory Scott and let him know that you accidentally sent his costumes to the wrong place. He probably needed them this weekend. And I noticed on the box that it was sent express. He’s going to be disappointed.

Guy: Yeah, that’s a good idea!  OK, I’ll put a note here to have someone do that.

Me: Great.

Guy: So, can you, like, send Howlin Good back to us? And Sexy Red? Just, you know, go to the website and print out the special return form, but be sure to print out the ones that apply to that style and brand of costume, and then you just affix it to the box but be sure to also include the order number and the return number, which you will get from another part of the website, and then take it to the post office?

Me: Oh, you bet. I’ll get right on that.

Isabel danced around the costumes in their big cardboard box. “Mama,” she observed helpfully, “You can’t wear that Riding Hood one.”

“That’s true, Sweetie,” I replied, googling “Gregory Scott Larkspur CO” to see if I could find his phone number, because I was pretty sure that Costume Wholesale was going to fuck up any communication with him, and don’t global neighbors help one another out now and then with a friendly informative phone call?

“Because,” Isabel persisted, “It’s too small for you, Mama.”

“Yes,” I said. “That is true.”

“It’s, like WAY too small for you, Mama!” Isabel continued. She warmed to her topic. “It’s made for a lady HALF OF YOUR SIZE, MAMA!”

“You’re probably right, Sweetheart,” I said.

Isabel was eager to demonstrate just how much smaller. She ran up to me and drew a line down the middle of my chest with the side of her hand.  “See, Mama? The costume is for a lady who is like THIS half of you, just the half part, Mama. Much smaller. See? See, Mama? See?” She looked up at me eagerly, eyes bright, happy to be so observant and helpful.

“Yes! Got it! I DO see! Thanks, Honey!” I said, because how can you not be charmed by a small sweet girl with a disarming smile and sparkling eyes, no matter what she says? She does have a point.   And hey, silver lining alert! –  Good reminder to stay away from the Oreos and keep on going to CrossFit!

So things didn’t go as I planned with the costume, but obviously things are going even worse for Mr. Scott and his little lady (size 4-6), because at least I can get some laughs out of the mistake, and all he is getting is rage (probably) and a cheaply made replacement costume from Spirit Superstore. But maybe he’ll laugh about it later.

Laughter is ALWAYS a silver lining, right?

So…awhoooooooo’s ready with THEIR costume?

P.S. – Couldn’t find phone number for Mr. Scott, at least not free number. Since when does the White Pages charge you for a phone number? Was I doing it wrong? Sorry, Mr. S., calling you is not worth the $10 is would cost to also get your criminal record and address history, and frankly, I’m not “that” good a global  citizen.

P.P.S. – So if anyone reading this happens to know Mr. Scott in Larkspur, CO, please tell him what happened to his costume.

And Peace Out.



Photo Shoot at Tempe Town Lake

I recently photographed a  family who drove from Eloy to Tempe Town Lake for their portraits.  We found some great locations around the Tempe Beach Park and the Tempe Arts Center fountains and had fun with it. The kids were sweet and funny and SO patient with all the walking and shooting!  Thanks to M. & her family for making it so fun.  The pictures are beautiful because YOU all are.

Mariel Family 5 web Mariel Family 14 webWe walked toward the big cement bridge and found some great light underneath it – perfect for getting the right skin tones.  And the grungy background of the cement is totally “in” these days (you must have seen all the pictures of families by loading docks, yes?) and I loved it.

The kids have luminous, lovely eyes and sweet faces, and I just really liked them.

Mariel Family 18 web Mariel Family 27 webThe whole family had a ton of patience – most kids are “done” with photos after 30 minutes and refuse to take more, but they were troopers and kept going as long as we kept suggesting new locations for photos.

Mariel Family 83 web Mariel Family 100 webThe weather was crisp in the morning and hot at mid-day, but it was not too hot, and overall it was perfect for the photo shoot.

Mariel Family 108 bw web Mariel Family 59 bw web

The water features and fountains at the Tempe Arts Center was a fun break for the kids and also offered up lots of awesome photo ops for me, so we were all happy!

Mariel Family 63 web2 Mariel Family 65 web2 Mariel Family 73 web2 Mariel Family 74 web2 Mariel Family 77 web2 Mariel Family 85 web2

For me, taking pictures is a joy – and I hope this gorgeous family enjoys them.

Mariel Family 90 web Mariel Family 86 web Mariel Family 76 web Mariel Family 10 web Mariel Family 15 web


Maria & Jordan’s Engagement Photos

I recently took engagement photos for a VERY cool couple – my niece Maria Victoria and her fiancee, Jordan.

maria and jordan 60 bw webThey are both proud members of the United States Navy and just generally really awesome people, and it was a lot of fun to take their pictures at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.

maria and jordan 21 web maria and jordan 1 v3 web maria and jordan 31 bw web maria and jordan 3 web maria and jordan 32 web

They even did a few shots in their uniforms, although it was about 110 degrees that morning!

maria and jordan 71 web maria and jordan 73 web maria and jordan 82 web

To Maria and Jordan: Congratulations! We are all so very proud of you for your accomplishments and excited for your new life together.maria and jordan 36 bw web


And The Győztes Is…. (that’s Hungarian for “winner”, btw)


Some of us recently had a contest to see who could find the very best thing in a thrift store, and by “best,” I mean “worst.”  For a while, everyone seemed to be neck and neck until Erica pulled a neat little trick and produced THIS:

thrift store win erica webAt that point, it was obviously GAME OVER, especially because Erica found it in Hungary on a work trip (although I still don’t really understand how marine biologists “need” to meet in Hungary), and it has all the horror of the creepy discarded American  knick-knack combined with the international mystique of stories about evil trolls in the hills of Europe.

Here are some of the Facebook comments that this thing produced:

“WTF is up with that thing’s ears? OMG.”

“It would seriously kill you while you were sleeping if you ever had in it your house.”

“What’s written on the note?? I have to know. Did you read it? Buy it?”

Unfortunately, Erica neither read the note nor bought it, although we are encouraging her to go back again so we can answer the burning question of “what could that note POSSIBLY say?”  Erica did tell us this:  “All the guys thought I was insane for getting so excited about seeing this in the window. Meanwhile, I was laughing so hard that the scary looking owner of the shop came out and looked like she was going to jump me.”

So as I said, all of the participants in the Thrift Store Contest (me, Maria, Erica, and Kris) were all in agreement that Erica had won.

But after a few days, I started to reconsider. Were we all just caught up in the hype of its Euro-glam outfit?  Maybe we were stunned into submission by its open mouth, which was clearly issuing silent commands? I decided that some market research was needed, some unscientific but still illuminating consumer feedback, and that is why I printed out this:

thrift store winners 1 webI included a few of the other more spectacular finds that had been submitted to the contest pre-CHG (CHG, for future reference, = Creepy Hungarian Doll). And then I took the sheet with me to the MIC gym at my next workout.

I waited patiently until a few gym members had finished talking to Oscar and Caterina about WOD times, appropriate workout gloves, and Paleo eating. Then I asked my own extremely critical question:  “So, guys, which of these things is the more horrible, do you think? I mean, the most awful, creepy, frightful, gross thing? The one you’d LEAST like to have in your home?”

It only took a few seconds for them to chose, and it was #3, CHG. I was happy. “Yes!” I told them.  “That’s the one my sister found in Hungary. Isn’t it just horrible?”

I asked a few more gym members.  At least 10 more people picked CHG.  A few wavered between Gruesome Clown Combo and Insane Leprechaun, but eventually they decided that yes, CHG was truly the most awful.  One person picked #1, and one person picked #3.  Later, a close friend picked #3.

This was helpful, but still not definitive. I mean, the people at the gym know me, and maybe I was doing a “Mr. Ed” kind of thing by nodding my head or making a noise when friends looked at #3. And some of them had already seen CHG on my Facebook page and enjoyed its fame and glory, which might have influenced their vote. So I figured I needed to expand my research to include strangers.

The next day, at the Chandler Whole Foods, I was ready.  As I picked up my Green Giant juice from the juice bar, I casually asked the young man behind the counter, “Can I ask for your help really quick with something?”

I pulled out the paper and unfolded it.  “My sisters and I are having a competition,” I explained, “to see who can find the most awful thing in a thrift shop.  Can you help us determine the true winner? Which of these is the most horrible?”

All three of the workers crowded up to the counter with interest.  “This one, DEFINITELY,” said the young man with the funky hat, pointing at CHG.  “There’s something about its mouth – it’s just wrong.”

“Yes,” agreed an attractive young woman, “I really hate that one. It gives me a very bad vibe.”

“Yup,” agreed the other cool young man (everyone who works at Whole Foods is cool), “that one for sure.”

“That one’s from Hungary!” I explained proudly, as if I had something to do with the fact that my sister is a) A Marine Biologist, b) traveling to exotic places, c) capable of finding winning statues in small shops.

This was good – I was getting more feedback!  And later on, I decided to check the opinion of the checkout lady at Barnes and Noble. After I’d paid for my book, I asked her – because she seemed so friendly and kind – “Can I ask you a quick question?”

I pulled out my now-battered piece of paper and showed it to her, along with my explanation, and waited with a pleasant smile for her answer.

“Oof!” she said with her mild exotic accent.  “These are quite – em – they are really very all horrible, I think.”

She perused the sheet and wrinkled her mouth and brow.

“I am not liking this one at all,” she said, pointing to the clowns, “But the box — this one here in its box — something about the box around it is just really bad.”

She thought some more. “I will have to pick #3,” she said firmly, “because of the box.”

I was excited. Again, CHG was proving victorious!  “It’s from Hungary!” I explained.

“Oh, really?” she said, “I’m Hungarian!”

“Aha,” I said, suddenly feeling the panicked need to explain more.  I smiled in what I sincerely hoped was a “please understand that I am not mocking Hungary in any way by letting you know that the most horrible thing on that paper is from Hungary. Hungary is full of amazing culture, learned people, and historical treasures that delight millions of people world-wide. My father was born in Hungary, and I love and appreciate Hungary. The fact that this doll is from Hungary only proves how totally awesome Hungary is!”

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, but I did say that my father was there to visit his birth-town, and that he and my sister and brother got to see many wonderful places, and that the doll was maybe kind of the crowning glory of the trip for my sister, but only because my family is very “special” in many ways, and that Hungary is amazing.

She smiled back, so I think  she understood.

You might think that was enough research, but I am nothing if not thorough. I wanted at least one or two more opinions to ensure that I was getting a diverse cross-section of opinions from around town.

As I was leaving Target this morning, I noticed a few constructions workers in the new cement  pad next door. They were digging a hole that was shoulder deep, and they were inside the hole. One of them was squirting a muddy water mixture out of the hole using something that looked like a Nerf water gun, except it was made from a PVC pipe.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what THOSE guys would think about CHG?  And what would be the best way to approach them?”

I figured that the guys were a)busy, and b)thirsty and c)possibly hungry, because it was lunchtime. A Wendy’s was just up the street.

“I will buy them cold waters and chicken wraps from Wendy’s,” I decided, “and then will ask them about the thrift store contest.”

It seemed to me a fine plan, and so with Wendy’s in hand, I approached the hole. One of the men looked up at me. The other man, busy digging, did not.

“Hi, excuse me!” I said, feeling VERY awkward.  Instead of helpful and kind-hearted, I suddenly felt very weird and creepy.  Buying lunch for strangers? Who DOES that?  Would they think I was insane? Would they think the food was poisoned? (**See Footnote below)

But there I was, and I had to continue:  “Um, I was just wanting to do something nice for someone today, so I thought I’d, uh, get you guys some cold waters and lunch. From Wendy’s, right there,” (and I pointed, hoping that they’d notice it was a very non-toxic Wendy’s). “So, ah, here you go!”

The men looked at me strangely.  I smiled and handed over the waters and the bags.

“Thank you?” said the first man sort of cautiously. The other man was listening, but still digging.

“You’re welcome!” I said brightly. “And by the way, since I’m here, can I ask you a quick question?”

I unfolded the trusty sheet. “My sisters and friend and I are trying to find the ugliest thing we can at a thrift store. Can you tell me which one YOU think is the ugliest?”

The man looked at the sheet for about 2 seconds, then pointed firmly at CHG. “That one,” he said without hesitation. The other man did not look at the paper. He was still digging.
“Thank you!” I said happily.  “That’s what everyone says. No matter WHO I ask, they all pick that one! It’s from Hungary, by the way. Ok, thanks! And I hope you enjoy the waters. And the lunch. Ok, bye!”

And I walked fast back to my car and was red for about ten minutes. But I was thrilled.  I had been brave! I had been bold! I had asked the opinion of MANY different people, and although it was an unstatistically correct survey, still — the majority of people picked CHG!  And I bet I gave at least one person something funny to tell a friend later. ( “You’ll never believe what this lady asked me today…”)  And isn’t that what life is about sometimes? Helping bring interest, variety and fun to other people’s lives as well as your own?

So, Erica, I must congratulate you once again on finding the winning object and giving me the chance to talk to people I would otherwise not have approached for a conversation.

I still really want to know that its scroll says, but I suppose that will have to remain one of life’s big mysteries.


Footnote Followup: ** Poisoned food, you ask? Perhaps you should read this entry about non-poisoned cookies!






Want A Straw With That Coffee?

coffee web

A friend of mine is currently doing teeth-whitening. I told her that her teeth were white enough already, like this:  “Smile at me,” I demanded, and when she did, I shielded my  eyes with my hands, winced, and screamed, “Oh GOD! The pain! The shining gleaming light from your super-bright teeth is searing my eyeballs! Please, make it stop!”

Isabel was alarmed and started to faux-cry, unsure whether or not to panic: “MAMA!” she wailed. “Are your eyeballs really burning up? Are her teeth really doing that?”

“No, sweetie,” I said, hugging her, “Of course not. Mommy is just joking. You know how I like to joke around.”

“Some of your jokes are NOT FUNNY!” she shouted indignantly. I hugged her harder, but when she looked away, I mimicked blocking my eyes again and writhing in imaginary pain.

My friend laughed, because she does appreciate my humor, but she said  she was still proceeding with her plan to whiten.

As you may have heard, things like coffee and soda are NOT good for helping teeth stay white, and so – in order to maximize her whitening and yet still enjoy her daily java, this friend started drinking her hot coffee with a straw.  This is a perfect opportunity to make lots of jokes.  Try it! “Do you want a straw with that coffee?”  is just a starter.

It sound silly, maybe, to go through such contortions just for whiter teeth, but I get it. I’ve tried the teeth-whitening in the past myself and made my own adjustments.  Here’s MY fun story of the lifestyle modifications *I* had to make during my whitening process.

A few years back, I got a kit from my dentist called "Day White" that supposedly, within 14 days, would make your teeth pearly bright and sunshine-shiny.  I had custom trays made for my upper and lower teeth; they were plastic molds  form-fit to my teeth.  I filled them with whitening gel from special gel syringes located in my "Day White" pack, attached them to my teeth, and left them on for ~40 minutes 2X/day.  Voila! - said the instructions.  The teeth should gradually get whiter and whiter!

It SOUNDED simple and easy.  However, there were issues.  Number one issue:  Spit!  You may not currently realize it, but your mouth is a busy spit factory all day long. In fact, your mouth may right now be making copious quantities of spit. You don't notice it, of course, because you are able to swallow at will, whenever you want, without worrying about troublesome gel trays filled with bleach solution that will leach bleach into your mouth if they get the tiniest bit wet from spit.

The first time I put in the trays, I was excited and happy.  About 45 seconds later, my happiness turned to concern.  Spit seemed to be filling the corners of my mouth like a broken faucet, and I could taste bleach on my tongue as the stuff washed out of the trays.  Panicked, I ran to the bathroom and removed the trays, wondering if I'd inserted them wrong.  I hadn't.  The woman depicted on the cover of the box smiled at me, mouth agleam, revealing no personal spit issues of her own, and I hated her.  I tried again: filled the things with gel (smaller amount than asked for), put them in, and a few seconds later my mouth was again a spit/bleach wonderland.

I called the dentist to ask about advice.  "Does anyone complain about salivating during the 45 minutes they're wearing the trays?" I asked.

"Well, no, they surely don't!" said the aide.  "I've never heard of that problem before.  Maybe you just have excess spit!"

"Well, what do you recommend I do?" I asked her. 

"I guess I don't KNOW!" she said, perkily. "Can you hold?"

Fifteen minutes later, with no advice, I started to devise my own solution.  I got a washrag from the towel cabinet and took it with me.  After I put in the trays, I gently tucked one of the 4 pointy washcloth corners under my tongue and packed washcloth down along the bottom sides of my mouth.  This was going to function as my own spit-blocking device.  Ever few minutes I rotated the washcloth as areas filled up with spit.  It worked!

So every day when I whitened my teeth, I simply took a washcloth and hung it from my mouth.  Sometimes, to alleviate pressure from the weight of a hanging washcloth, I tucked the hanging ends into the collar of my shirt.  Very attractive!

One day,  I was opening the door to let my cat Sashes outside. I happened to be wearing my bleach trays at the time as well as the ubiquitous washcloth.  It was a pink washcloth that probably clashed with my gym sweats, but it tucked nicely into my Hawaii print T-shirt.  At that moment, as I leaned out the door, the washcloth untucked itself and swung gently in the breeze like fresh laundry on the line.  As it was swinging there, the Orkin Pest Control guy walked up the driveway.  "Howdy there," he called out.  "I'm here for your regular insect spray service!"  He noticed the washcloth in my mouth and tried not to act surprised.

I took the washcloth out of my mouth.  "He-ho," I said.  (It's hard to talk with bleach trays in your mouth.)

"Have you noticed any pest problems?" he asked, looking at his clipboard.  "Not reawy, I sink," I answered.  A fly buzzed around and I swatted at it with the washcloth.  The Orkin Guy looked really hard at his clipboard.

"Do you want me to spray inside?" he asked.
"Not sis time, I don't weally need it," I said, and to my horror, spit started to run down the corners of my mouth.  "I have to go," I added, and closed the door quickly.

I guess I COULD have explained about the gel trays, but it seemed too much of an effort, and it would have just exacerbated the drool issue.  I figured that he'd surely seen worse, and anyway, he'd probably  assume that my weirdness was just a neurological symptom of toxic pesticide overload.

The whitening, even with all of my fancy washcloth maneuvers, didn’t seem to do much. My friend’s whitening, likewise, does not seem to have made great changes in her mouth (although, like I mentioned at the beginning of my post, her teeth were pretty white to start with.)   We’re not sure if the whole whitening industry is something cooked up by dentists just to make more money, or if we are just whitening-challenged. In either case, because I still DO want whiter teeth,  I might have to opt for the laser whitening treatments, or — if I’m interested in the budget version – just buy a bottle of Liquid Paper.



PaleOverloaded – “You Can’t Eat The WHOLE Chicken”

I’m grudgingly coming to the realization that just because something is “Paleo”, I don’t necessarily get to eat as much of it as I want. Portion sizes (Newsflash!) still annoyingly matter on the Paleo eating plan.

Paleo Veggie-stuffed Omelette

Paleo Veggie-stuffed Omelette

Bacon is OK, but 27 slices? No.  Stir-fried shrimp and veggies? Sure! But a 5-gallon bucket of it? Not so much.

This bites, and I’m not using the word “bite” just because I’m hungry.  Sometimes you hear a Paleo person blithely say, “You can have as much as you want!” but I promise, they are talking about something like raw, dressing-free kale. They’re not discussing pork-stuffed peppers, or turkey-stuffed portobello mushrooms, or salmon and mango salsa.

Why do I bring up these delicious-sounding foods, you ask? Well, I recently got into Paleo eating and bought a few Paleo cookbooks, two of which have the most drool-worthy recipes imaginable. And I went a little crazy and cooked ALL OF THEM (well: many of them, anyway), depleting the grocery budget and my energy stores, yet — due to my aversion to portion control — not depleting significant amounts of stored fat in my buttish region.

Shrimp Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles

Shrimp Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles – From Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley

I’m joking a bit here — obviously I KNOW that calories in are still calories in, whether they come from meat or veggies or donuts.  You don’t lose weight unless you burn more than you take in — I get it.

When they say “have a handful of almonds as a snack”, they mean – I suppose – the amount that fits into MY hand, not the amount that fits into my handbag. And a palm-sized portion of meat means MY palm -  not, like, the dinner-plate-sized cross-section of a palm tree trunk.

It’s just that some of these foods are so TASTY, you know?

On a more serious note, I really am trying to clean up our diet at my house in a mostly Paleo/Primal way. I’m buying tons of fresh fruits and veggies (organic where possible, mostly for the dirty dozen); grass-fed organic meats and butter, unsalted nuts, and almond butter.  I’m personally avoiding gluten and all grains except for oats, minimizing my dairy, and completely avoiding peanuts and all kinds of sugar.  Already I feel clearer-headed and more energetic, and I’m optimistic that combined with my cross-fit workouts, eventually the healthier eating will help me lose weight too.  Of course we’re not eating strictly Paleo — I’m allowing oats, a bit of dairy here and there, and “cheat” days. But we’re really emphasizing the reduction of grains and sugar, and I know it’s going to be good for all of us.

It’s not necessarily easy to get my daughter to eat Paleo, but cooking delicious things helps. Plain chicken breasts and broccoli? BORING.  But she likes salmon! And the adobo pork! And the zucchini “fries”!  And the lettuce wraps!   Even if it takes a while to wean her off her high-carb diet into more fruits and veggies, it’s worth it.

I’ve also started having her look through the Paleo cookbooks with me and pick out things she wants to try.  Of course she picked the hazelnut-coffee pancakes and the gluten-free brownies, but I gladly made them with her. I want to show her that we can make tasty, gluten-free treats too.

Gluten Free Brownies

Brownies – from Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley


Hazelnut Coffee Pancakes (I used decaf!)

Hazelnut Coffee Pancakes (I used decaf!) – from Primal Cravings by Megan & Brandon Keatley

And she was excited to see the pictures of the moo-shoo wraps in the cookbook Primal Cravings  and then have them materialize in our very own kitchen.  I think that getting her involved in the selection and cooking makes her more liable to try the new foods AND to believe she’ll like them!

moo shoo 2 web

Moo Shoo Cabbage Cups – From Primal Cravings by Megan and Brandon Keatley

moo shoo cabbage roll webI’ve also a firm believer in preparing ahead.  If all I have is frozen meat and raw veggies, there is no way I can whip up a quick dinner when we’re all starving.  I’ve started pre-slicing veggies and fruits for easy snacking access, and preparing meals that will last for 2 dinners, or at least dinner and the next day’s lunch. That way there is always something healthy to eat so we’re less tempted to order out or eat something junky that’s still in the cupboard.  And I’ve started doing weekly meal planning so I ensure that everything I need for various recipes is on hand in my kitchen.

Adobo Pork

I’m also trying to talk to my daughter about food, explaining why I think certain veggies and fruits are so good for her, and why certain other things (like chips and cookies) are not. I’m not making these things off-limits by any means, but by having more healthy snacks around I hope to change all of our eating for the better.

Chicken and Apple Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

Chicken and Apple Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

So the plan for now is — even if I back off the full throttle cooking machine — to continue making healthy, delicious mostly-Paleo dinners and breakfasts for my family.  We won’t be 100% perfect, but we’ll hit for that magical 80% and hopefully improve our health!


Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Lean Turkey/Veggie Mixture

Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Lean Turkey/Veggie Mixture (and some Provolone Cheese – don’t hate me!)

If you’re interested, some of these recipes come from these two Paleo cookbooks that I bought on Amazon (brownies, stuffed peppers, pad thai, adobo pork, moo shoo wraps).  Now they’re not compensating me in any way for touting their books, although if someone called me up and was all,  “Hey! I see you wrote about our cookbook in a positive way! Do you want lots of money?” I’d be “Sure!”  ( It hasn’t happened YET, but I can still dream. Yes?)

Paleo Cookbooks that I LOVE:

Primal Cravings: Your favorite foods made Paleo by Brandon and Megan Keatley

Paleo Comfort Foods: Homestyle Cooking for a Gluten-Free Kitchen by Julie and Charles Mayfield

If you get these cookbooks, I think you’ll enjoy the recipes as much as I do. They’re easy to prepare and SO delicious. You won’t miss the gluten or dairy (although sometimes I put a bit of cheese on top of things – I don’t mind a bit of dairy here and there.)

And one more tip: If you’re planning to photograph your Paleo meals, don’t call your family to the table and THEN say, “Oh wait just a minute! I forgot I  have to take a picture of this!” and then spend 15 minutes arranging and shooting, while they sit there, shooting you more and more unhappy looks and banging on the table with their spoons, and eventually gnawing on their napkins in hunger. It does not make for a pleasant meal time.

But wherever you get your recipes, from books or from your own imagination, and whether or not you photograph your food,  I  hope you too are enjoying healthy, delicious meals! Be well.

CrossFit Photography

My latest photography project has intersected with “real life” in an interesting way: I’m taking pictures for the Made In Crossfit  (MIC) gym in Tempe, and I’m also working out there.

priscilla 23 cr bw webOscar Garcia (below), the owner and lead trainer, is enthusiastic and positive, and tries to help motivate each gym member.

MIC pic 4 bw cr webI brought my studio lights and backdrop equipment to MIC to take portrait shots, and also visited  various classes to take candids of the athletes. It’s been an amazing experience to meet the gym members and get to know them better as I take their pictures. I’m also working out at the gym 3X/week.  My exercise goals are to get stronger and lose weight. My photographic goal is to get the very best crossfit website pictures possible, and with athletes like these, my job is easy!

Ortega 27 web

Ortega 39 bw web

caterina 10 web


MIC pic 33 bw webMIC tires 9 bw webluz 4 bw web

Oscar has three other certified CrossFit trainers who also teach classes and coach the athletes during workouts.

First up is Caterina:

caterina 13 webAnd then there is Dominic:

Dominic 23 bw2 webAnd George:

George 24 bw2 webEach trainer has a unique perspective and set of skills to share with the gym members, and each trainer is encouraging and friendly.  They ensure that each gym member receives personal coaching and feedback on technique. They also  verify that everyone is is using the right form, and will walk around during classes correcting stances, demonstrating the right way to do each movement, and offering encouragement.

Members are encouraged to push themselves in a healthy way — beginners use modifications so they do not injure themselves or tire too soon  trying to perform advanced moves, and the competition is mostly with yourself (although there is friendly banter among the gym members about WOD times.)

The atmosphere in the gym is one of friendliness and support.  Members hug each other hello, chat about their families, and join together on purchases of speed ropes or WOD repair lotion to save money on shipping.  It’s not a meat-market, and it’s not competitive in a negative way — everyone is very welcoming and encouraging to old and new members alike.

Now you may be wondering: Jennifer, do you look like these people yet? And the answer is, well, NO.  And it doesn’t matter.  Nobody judges you here on how you look — just on how hard you work, and whether you give 100%.  I’ve heard several personal success stories from the fittest gym members about how they’ve lost 50+ lbs and gotten into the best shape of their life, and it’s VERY encouraging.  People like you even if you’re overweight, even if you don’t have defined triceps, and even if you can’t complete a WOD. It’s all about supporting each other and working hard.  And I love it!

In the 3 weeks I’ve been working out here, I’ve:

  • Learned what WOD means (Workout of the Day)
  • Learned how to do cleans, snatches, and wall balls
  • Lifted more weight than I thought I could
  • Done 100 situps in a row
  • Completed some tough workouts and felt exhilarated and proud afterwards (although also very sore and shaky!)

I hope that it will be ME, in a year or so, sharing MY success story to a newcomer, and I’m willing to put in the work to make it happen.  And while I do, I have these friendly, amazing athletes around me to offer support and encouragement.

If you’re debating whether you should CrossFit, I say: Try it!

Below are a few more  examples of some Made In Crossfit athletes during their portrait sessions and regular workouts. I hope these pictures inspire you to continue giving 100% at your next workout!


priscilla 24  bw3 web luz 6 web Lucy 3 webAimee 10 bw web Angela 8 web Brenda 26 bw web Dolores 13 cr web Elizabeth 8 web Eric and Lorena 2 bw2 web Martha 17 web Martha 18 web  Brenda 21 bw webElizabeth 4 webMartha and Dominic 6 web Vicky 1 web Vicky 12 bw webMIC 12 BW web baseline 3 web MIC pic 76 bw web

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your next workout!

Dog Analysis For Beginners

pablo with borders 2 web

People are curious about their dogs.  Sure, dogs exhibit some pretty serious curiosity themselves, especially when they become magnetically attracted to someone’s crotch or emotionally invested in a pile of dessicated poop in the park; when they enthusiastically knock over the trash can to get to a tampon or a rotten chicken bone; when they treat the kitty litter as their own personal buffet.  We people outdo them, though, because OUR curiosity goes beyond simple instinct.

Here’s an example. My sister was curious about the genetic mix of the dog she adopted from the shelter.  And who wouldn’t be?  Is there maybe 2% of Sheltie in her paws?  Does her nose look 4% Lab?  It was keeping Maria up at night, probably, and so she decided to get a genetic test to find out exactly WHAT her dog was made up of.  Here’s what she found out, and keep in mind that you can do this for your dog, too, and amaze all of your Facebook friends with the results.  I’m planning to do this for my dachshund, because I suspiciously suspect that he’s not 100% PURE dachshund, no matter what the teenager at the run-down pet shop told me!  It’s not like it matters, but — I’m curious. And the technology exists!

So, here is Foxy:foxy

And here is what Maria reported on Facebook a while back:

“The results for Foxy are in!

According to the Wisdom Panel 2.0 DNA test, she is a true mutt. She is a Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Cocker Spaniel (lol!) mix with lots of of other mixed breeds that could not be detected with accuracy. One of her parents was Cocker Spaniel and Labrador Retriever mixed with other breeds. The other was a Rottweiler mix. We totally guessed the Rotweiler part, mostly because of her coloring.

This was really fun! If you have a mutt, I recommend it. Not sure about the accuracy of it all, but the entertainment value is up there.”

Maybe you think that is too much to learn about your dog. You’d be wrong, though, because there is a LOT more you can glean from careful, scientific observation of your dog’s behavior.  For example, what is your dog’s favorite food?  Maybe you THINK it would be steak, or chicken, or pizza. But how can you be SURE?  This was keeping me and Amado up at night, so we — with Isabel’s help — devised the following very unscientifically accurate experiment to determine it more precisely.

We had ordered pizza last week and Pablo was whining and begging frantically, as he always does when pizza comes, and suddenly one of us asked, “So, is pizza his favorite food? Or does he like steak better?”

Isabel said, “I think pizza is his favorite!”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He really loves steak, and chicken, too.  And sausage. And salami.”

“But he must have ONE total favorite,” Isabel insisted.  “I wish we could ask him.”

“Maybe…we can!” I suggested.  “Let’s do a Food Line-Up to see.”

“What’s a food line-up, Mama?”  Isabel was intrigued.

“Well, let’s see! How about we put all of these things down on the floor and see what he goes to first.  Pizza, salami, chicken wing meat, stuff like that.”

Amado said, “Yes, but we’ll have to let him see them all first, so he doesn’t just go to the first thing he sees. That way he’ll KNOW what’s there, and he can choose his favorite first.”

I agreed. “Yes, they’ll all have to be equidistant from him, and about the same size, so he doesn’t go to the biggest one just because it’s larger.”

We thought.  “Well, to be statistically significant, we’d have to repeat the experiment many times, ” I said.  “And we’d have to control for food location by varying which food was in which spot.  And we’d have to do it at different times of day.  Amado, how many times would we have to do it for 5 foods?”

Amado thought.  “Let’s just do it once,” he said.  (Our curiosity knows SOME bounds, even if it means sacrificing statistical accuracy.)

“It will be like the Olympics!” I said eagerly.  “One time, one winner. No statistics.”

Amado put Pablo on his leash while Isabel and I arranged small piles of food onto squares  of white paper. Our selections were:  BBQ chicken wing meat, pizza, salami, unsalted almonds, and his dog biscuits.

pablo experiment 2 To keep it interesting (as if it wasn’t thrilling already), we decided to rank the foods in the order we thought he’d choose.  Here’s how it looked:

pablo meat lineup2It was getting intense, because we each thought he’d choose a different food first!  After Isabel carefully lined up the foods on the floor, Amado lead Pablo over on his leash and let him sniff at the offerings.

pablo experiment 1pablo experiment 3Pablo strained mightily against his leash, whining in anticipation, his tail wagging so fast it was just a blur of energy. And finally the big moment came. The leash was released, and Pablo ran!  And the winner is:

The Pizza!

Yes, Pablo snatched the pizza and took it away to eat it in private. He wolfed it down in a few seconds, and we were eager to see what he’d choose next, but then he surprised us all.  Instead of actually choosing, he just ran to the closest one after the pizza, ate it, and worked his way down the line one by one.

pablo experiment 6

We were intrigued and disappointed, but you see, we’d also LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT OUR DOG, something we had not heretofore understood:  After he satisfied his cravings with the completely irresistible pizza, he reverted to a “as much as possible in shortest time” mentality and just gobbled things down as quickly as possible with minimal movement. Fascinating!  Yes! What a great experiment!

Maybe you think that is too much good human food to sacrifice to a dog’s belly just to learn about his eating behavior. Once again you’d be wrong, because sometimes you need to donate an ENTIRE PIZZA to the cause. And here’s an example of how it works:

My parents had a dog named Baby (full name was Ice Ice Baby Stutson Bread, compliments of my sister Erica), and Baby loved pizza.  Like, she really REALLY loved it – so much, that one time, after my parents walked a friend to the door after a lovely shared meal of pizza, they came back 45 seconds later to find the dining table completely devoid of left-overs, and Baby guiltily licking her mouth in the corner in a very satisfied way. This dog had somehow gotten onto the dining table, eaten the equivalent of a large pizza, and had then gotten back down — all in complete silence, and all in under a minute.

This was a perplexing mystery!  How did she do it!?  Did she get onto a chair and from there put her paws onto the table, or did she just sort of launch her body up and grab the pizza cardboard?  Did she eat the sausage side first, or the pepperoni?  Did she look around before grabbing it, or did she just eat?

These were serious questions that we needed answered, and so – to satisfy our curiosity – Mom and I set up an experiment in the kitchen with her Camcorder and an entire Tombstone Pizza, fresh from the oven.  We were giddy with excitement. We were laughing and dancing around and I couldn’t stop giggling.

“Let’s put the whole pizza here,” Mom suggested.  “Then we’ll start the recorder and leave the room. We’ll give her plenty of private time to eat the pizza, and then we’ll watch to see what she did.”

“Baby!” we called. She was suspicious, sort of. She came in and gave us a LOOK. “Hi, Girl!” I said happily, and petted her.  “Ok, we’ll see you later!”

We snuck out of the kitchen, leaving Baby in there with the ENTIRE pizza, and easy access. We even closed the door to give her MORE privacy and time. We waited, hardly able to control our curiosity.

“I want to peek!” I whispered to Mom.

“No, don’t!” she said. “Give her time. Let her feel comfortable in there.”

We waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, unable to wait another minute, we peeked in. Baby was sitting calmly on the floor. The pizza was untouched. Baby gave us a look.

We were dumbfounded. What was going on? Why did she not eat the pizza? We were so confused. We left the room to give her more time.

After another few minutes, we rechecked. Baby was now scratching lazily, and the pizza was still pristine. She trotted past us to the living room without a second glance.

“Did she….KNOW we were recording her? And she didn’t want that?” I asked incredulously.

This dog — who once stole an ENTIRE TURKEY from this same kitchen table and took it into the backyard when Papa turned his back for one second to get the salt — this same dog had ignored our pizza experiment!  She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t full. She just….apparently….didn’t want to play our game.

And so we never got to learn how Baby stole pizza. That was her secret, and her secret it stayed.  And from this experiment we learned something new about the dog — she was very clever, and she was not oblivious to silly human antics. She had her pride. And possibly, she was a pizza snob (after all, it was Tombstone.)

Anyway, as you can clearly see, any experiment with your dog is guaranteed to deliver unexpected and eye-opening results. And it’s a fun way to have quality Family Time too!   I highly recommend that you indulge your own curiosity and analyze something about your own dog, starting today.

P.S. – Because of a certain old aphorism, I can’t guarantee that such curiosity-satisfying experimentation is safe for felines, so proceed on that path at your own risk.





Don’t Rain On My Meat Parade

shopping list web

“Mama,” said Isabel eagerly, “Tell another one. Make up a story where Ramona – real Ramona – is pretending to be Joey King, who is pretending to be Ramona for the movie, and how real Ramona gets to do the scenes instead of Joey King.”

“Sure,” I said, weary from telling many, many versions of made-up Ramona and Beezus stories to Isabel, most of them about Ramona trying to sneak onto the movie set and play herself instead of letting child actress Joey King do it.  “On our way to Whole Foods!”

I had a list, and I leaned my elbows onto the back of a chair and stretched my calves while I tried to memorize it.

“Mama, what are you DOING?” asked Isabel.

“I’m trying to remember everything on this list,” I explained.

“But why, Mama?” Isabel thought this was silly. “Why don’t you just bring the list with, and read it to see what you need?”

“Just to see if I can.  To improve my memory.  OK, Listen.  I’m going to make up a story about all of these things to see if I can lock them into my mind. I”m going to imagine this happening like a little movie. Here we go.”

I thoughtfully paused, then said, “OK!  Imagine some  hot dogs with legs. They are walking, all straight and tall, with thin little arms and legs. They are wearing gym shoes. OK? And they’re pulling…..sleds…made of bacon. Yes, bacon sleds! And riding on the sleds are turkeys who are going ‘GOBBLE BOGGLE’ and juggling purple cauliflowers and broccolis.”

“Mama, that’s silly,” interjected Isabel.

“Yes, I know,” I agreed happily. “That will make me remember it better.”

“Ok. So NOW, the hotdogs arrive at the swimming pool. Only it’s made of tortillas, and it’s filled with raw eggs instead of water. The hot dogs don’t want to get a sunburn, so they oil up with coconut oil and Go-Go Squeeze.  They’re really lathering in into their skin, getting all oily. Got that?

“Now, some friends come. I’m calling them the ‘Four Tall-ees” because they’re tall. Celery, cucumbers, zucchinis, and carrots. There’s 4 of them, so they’re dancing in, in a square shape. Like this.” I demonstrated a cha-cha like move.

“And NOW, they are going to go bowling, and each of them has a round thing.  They are using tomatoes, apples, beets, and avocados.  And they’re wearing strawberry hats on their heads!  And then they hop around in little hoppers made of bell peppers.

“And some little limes and lemons come in on tiny yellow legs, singing.  They are wearing shawls made of lettuce so they can fly. Super-LEMON! Whoo hoo! And then they jump on trampolines made of bread, and put on underpants made of pepperoni.

“Oh, and I can’t forget the hummus. On the way, the hot dogs pull the bacon sleds through a HUGE puddle of hummus, but it look like poop. Mud poop. BRRRRTTTTT.” (I made a fart sound.)

“Mama! That’s GROSS!” exclaimed Isabel, giggling, because who doesn’t giggle at poops and farts?

“I know!” I said, grinning back with pleasure. “It’s easier to remember when it’s gross. But just think, I can just say this little story to myself in the store, and that way I will remember EVERY thing on that list.”

Isabel was very quiet for a moment, then she spoke carefully.  “Mama, I don’t think you should say that story out loud in the store at all, ok?  I really don’t want you to.”

“All right,” I was  agreeable.  “I’ll just whisper it to you.”

“No, Mama. I don’t want you to say it ALL.”

“Why?” I asked innocently. “Do you think it might be…embarrassing?” ( She’s only 6 and she’s already asking me to change? Yikes.)

“No, not really,” she said. “But I just…don’t want you to say it at all, ever, ever again. Ok?”

In the car, I was forced to tell yet ANOTHER story about Ramona. Although I love the Ramona books, it gets tiring to be sort of on-call to make up Ramona stories at the drop of a hat every time your daughter wants one. VERY tiring.  Sometimes I said I couldn’t tell the story because I was focusing on driving.  Other times I said that I didn’t have story yet; my brain was still growing one slowly, like an apple maturing on a tree, or a chrysalis turning into a butterfly. Isabel asked many times  if the apple was ready yet. I said no, not yet, but soon.

When we got to the store, I was eager to test my memory story.  I headed right for produce. “The 4 Tallees,” I told Isabel, “bowling!” and we picked out all the right fruits and veggies. We remembered lemons and limes.

At the meat counter, I spoke out loud to Isabel.  “Hot dogs pulling bacon sleds with turkey on top. And don’t forget the pepperoni underpants. “It’s a Meat Parade!” I said in a song-ish way.  I was happy with my memory thus far.

Isabel giggled. A lady next to me, a tall elegant lady with white curls and a pearl necklace, made a sort of frown and muttered something to herself. It sounded like, “Oh My Lord. Seriously?”

Apparently she was not the type to appreciate a Meat Parade, or edible garlic-scented undergarments.  But the man behind the counter approved. “Now that sounds like a sweet setup,” he commented.

“Damn straight!” commented another customer, who was very hip and cool. I could tell he was hip and cool because:

  1.  He was wearing the shoes that have a compartment for each toe
  2. He had earrings in his ears that were as big as  silver dollars
  3. He and his partner were wearing matching bracelets

“Oh, thanks!” I blushed.  I was so excited to receive such lovely feedback.  “It’s a new memory technique,” I explained.  “New to me, anyway.  You make up a story about all the things you need to remember, and that way you don’t need to write it down.”

Partner murmured to toe-shoes, “I’d like to see YOU in some pepperoni underpants, Honey,” and then something quieter that I couldn’t quite hear (even though I tried), and then they both giggled  before wandering over to Cheese.

Isabel whispered to me, “Did he say a bad word, Mama? You know, DAMN?”

“Oh, no,” I said quickly. “He probably meant, like, a beaver dam. He was thinking about beavers, and how they could probably build an awesome, totally straight dam made of meat. Like a dam to block water, you know?”

To illustrate, I made some noises that seemed beaverish: ‘Raaaahhh!  Arrrgarrgarrgarr. Eeeekkkkjurkurkurkur.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreep.” And to seem further beaverish, I waved my arms behind me like a tail splashing the water, and hopped up and down.  I put a lot of effort into the beaver routine.

The pearl lady  grimaced and pointedly moved a few steps further from me. Clearly she was as unimpressed with my Beaver Impression as she was with my Meat Parade. Maybe she thought I was rabid.

Her loss, I thought darkly, and in my food movie, made the hotdogs push her into the egg pool and then take her pearl necklace and act out a scene from Fifty Shades of Gray where the boy hotdog takes the pearls over to the girl hotdog and – and no, never mind, because although the memory book said that the more explicit or gross a memory is, the stickier it is, I REALLY didn’t want to see her pearls doing that, and OH NO. Too late!  The pearls were locked into my memory in a most memorable way, and they were not even on my list of things to buy! Shit!

Isabel was tugging at my hand. “Mama, did we get hot dogs yet?”

Pearl necklace. Hot dogs. “Not yet, Sweetie,” I said, and we walked over to get them.

Later on, we tried some salami samples at the meat counter. They were really gross, and Isabel whined for water (honesty, I felt like barfing too), and then I was trying to run through the story in my head, but it was hard with a small girl complaining and tugging.

“Just let me grab the poop hummus!” I called to Isabel, and I grabbed my favorite flavor, buffalo, from the rack.

And of course, Pearl Lady was RIGHT THERE hearing me call it poop hummus.  I had to work hard to keep from laughing. The look on her snooty face was priceless, so I innocently repeated it loudly as I walked past her:  “Poop hummus! Poop hummus!” It felt great to say it loudly like that. “Poop hummus!” I repeated, and then said it again.

“Poop Hummus!”    I practically screamed at her. This time she moved away very quickly indeed.  I made another noise, just for fun, a noise that might be uttered by a rabid beaver. “RRRRRRRik -ik -ik ik ik ik ik ik!”

Why was she even AT Whole Foods? I wondered to myself.  She seemed like she needed a butler to shop for her, or something. Oh My Lord.

As we paid for the food, I checked the list to see how I’d done.  Yes, everything! I’d gotten…oh, no. I forgot the coconut oil. How could I have forgotten THAT? I’d really visualized the hot dogs greasing up when I first created the story. And I did remember the apple sauce, their other suntain lotion.

I decided:

  1. Too much beaver dam and pearl necklace; not enough running through the actual story while shopping
  2. Having Isabel gagging and crying about nasty salami didn’t help
  3. Of course, a person with a super strong memory could easily summon up “coconut oil” even if they had TEN screaming kids and TEN mean Pearl Necklace Ladies distracting them
  4. So obviously I need more practice
  5. But still, a pretty good first attempt!
  6.  I’m proud of the bacon sled! Seriously, a bacon sled! Cool, right?

Unfortunately, even though I forgot the coconut oil, I still can remember Claudia Schiffer in the cottage cheese. (Confused? Read my earlier story on memory here.) Maybe next time I’ll have to imagine Ms. S. rubbing the coconut oil all over herself, or better yet,  I’ll imagine Mr. Christian Gray rubbing coconut oil on himself.

And if I encounter Mean Pearl Lady again, I won’t shout “Poop Hummus!” at her. Instead,  I’ll just  be forthright and tell her, “Hey! Don’t you rain on my Meat Parade!”



Big News…

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching on-line photo editing classes with Tiffany Tillman’s Scrapaneers this fall!  It’s a brand-new site featuring experienced artists who love to teach scrapbooking, editing, and design.  You can read my bio and the bios of all the talented ladies who are teaching there.

jen headshot for scrapaneers4

Our Grand Opening event begins August 5, 2013 when classes will open for registration. But sign up today for our All Access Pass and you’ll receive video sneak peeks of upcoming workshops, updates on our behind-the scenes activities, and pre-registration discounts.

The Purple Pig Of Pleasure And Other Delights

My sister Maria likes to take pictures of special finds in the second hand store and text them to me with little messages. One day she sent me this little gem, practically guaranteeing me a night full of bad dreams:

leprechaun from maria

I try to respond with special thrifty pictures of my own, like this special doll:

special doll

I could have texted something like, “I’m watching you!”  or, “Can I wear a pair of YOUR undies?” but some things are so firmly implied that there is no need for redundance.

When I was a child, most of my clothes were purchased from  thrift stores.  And I still remember the joy of being told as a kid  that I could pick out any books I wanted! — pretty much as many books as I wanted! – when I went with mom to the various thrift stores in Chicago. For a family on a budget, those are magical words.

The thrift stores have provided me with serious  joy as an adult, too.  One summer when I was working as an engineering intern, I bought a large stuffed purple pig and a blow-up reindeer at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, and the pig became The Mascot of that summer.  Lisa, Erica and I took turns hiding it and doing funny things with it (often at work it would show up in somebody’s cube), and at the pinnacle of the pig’s popularity, Lisa erected a faux spit and bonfire on the front lawn of our rental and hung the pig over it, upside down, as if it were roasting.

I wish I had a picture to share, but I can’t find it – so please imagine us holding a stuffed pig as large as a real pig, except it’s purple, and we are  laughing like hyenas. Also, we might be drunk.

My sister Erica bags some real winners at her thrift stores, too. She once found — in the children’s book section — a board book with a hole in it. The hole was  for your penis, and the book was something about penises and what they could do.  Nice!  I think that might be even more special than the leprechaun or the most enchantingly evil doll.

But the pièce de résistance of a lifetime of thrifting is my husband’s award-winning Ugly Sweater. We found the sweater in the first 3 minutes after entering Chicago’s Unique Thrift Store. Amado wore it to the Ugly Sweater Run and WON A PRIZE for ugliest sweater! He shared the prize with a handful of others, but the fact that he was up there was enough to make the rest of us scream in pleasure and then head right to the beer tent to use our beer tickets (this Ugly Sweater Run was sponsored by Samuel Adams.)  Maria’s and her family’s sweaters were also from Unique; mine and AJ’s were from a Goodwill in Phoenix, AZ.  Only a thrift store could provide such true ugliness and joy, because that run was a particularly fun activity to do with family. Thanks, thrift stores!

ugly sweater1 web ugly sweater2 web ugly sweater3

Seriously, though, thrift stores have given me so much more than clothes!  Providing laughter is such a generous act, and by making things like stuffed pigs, Ugly Sweaters and leering leprechauns available, thrift stores have increased my overall mirth percentage significantly.  That’s  the reason I like to donate my old stuff to Goodwill or other second hand stores — maybe my clothes will come in handy for someone else, and maybe my cast-off trinkets and/or sweaters can give somebody else a good guffaw.

Brilliant Idea Alert:  —> And now I have a brilliant idea. Maria and Erica — want to have a competition?  Let’s see who can find the BEST  thing at a thrift store.  We can pick a time frame (the next 3 weeks?) and send in pictures of our top two things to enter.  Other people are welcome to enter, too!  Totally impartial people, like Muz, Papa and AJ can be our judges if they want. What do you say? Are you and your city up for it? Game on!

P.S. – Isabel and I went to the Goodwill today, where I found a shirt for me and two books for her. I also found the following splendid treasures for Maria.

thrift 1



P.P.S. – I found old pictures of the purple pig! Here it is, featured with young me and young Amado.

purple pig web

Mangoes and That Homeless Guy: Our Maui Vacation

hawaii 2013 59

“This one is supposed to be the worst luau EVER,” my mom reported, reading reviews as she tried to choose a luau for our family night out on Maui.  “Not just the worst luau in Maui, but the worst in all of the Hawaiian Islands. That is, according to that guy in the guide book.”

“How can we pass THAT up?” asked my brother, pouring alcohol deftly into glasses and adding sprigs of mint. He passed Mom a mai tai.

mai tais in maui web

“Yes,” I added. “We pretty much have to go to that one, now that we know. Just to see what the worst one of all time is like!”

It took Mom a lot of time to decide, but finally — after much laughter and joking — she booked reservations for the Royal Lahaina Luau, which really had been called the worst of the worst in the Maui Revealed book.

I had a soft spot for The Royal Lahaina, even though I hadn’t been there in over 13 years; Amado and I had gotten married there in 2000 and had enjoyed our first time in Hawaii together there. And seriously, how could the luau be that bad?

Well, of course it wasn’t that bad!  I was  disappointed; when something is set up to be the “worst of all time,” you really expect the pits — something so revolting and horrible that it becomes, in a campy way, amazing. The show was regular-old-boring-good:  The dancers were fun and skilled, they made us laugh at times, and they did the fire dance at the end (my favorite!)  The food was fine; we even enjoyed  the much-maligned macaroni salad.  And when it started to pour, they quickly and efficiently passed out plastic ponchos to everyone!


Enjoying the worst of the worst possible luaus in Hawaii!

Enjoying the worst of the worst possible luaus in Hawaii!

The drinks were bottom shelf, sure, but so are the drink at EVERY luau. Here, at least, we got unlimited yummy mixed beverages and mai tais and daiquiris. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite luau EVER, but they all have their ups and downs. And now we have cute little rain ponchos and souvenir Tiki glasses in case we want to relive the experience in the backyard with a hose and a Bud Light. (Thanks, guidebook guy, for being so wrong about the luau!)

Other highlights of the vacation included:

  1. Unlimited fresh mangoes from the tree in our rental house yard
  2. Watching the sun set over the ocean every evening from our lanai
  3. Playing in the waves in front of the rental house
  4. Snorkeling and seeing LOTS of humuhumu fish!
  5. Watching that homeless guy walk sloooowly across our lawn on his way to (who knows?) and back again, several times a day, and having discussions about whether we would have booked this exact house if we’d know ahead of time that an apparently homeless guy is crashing every night on the lawn 2 houses to the left, and how — even though he doesn’t SEEM to be casing the place in order to steal our stuff — now we can’t fully relax and leave the lanai open at night, and whether Maui is a good place to be homeless?
  6. On the one hand, the weather is always nice, “and you can pee in the ocean and wash your butt in the ocean!” Isabel helpfully added.
  7. But on the other hand, the price of living is VERY expensive.
  8. “But did you see that old skinny homeless guy washing up at the beach shower?” my mom asked.  “He was even washing inside his shorts, I mean, really getting in there.”  So – free showers!
  9. But if you get tired of Maui, you can’t just hitch a ride to Akron or something.
  10. And do we think people are MORE generous or LESS generous to the homeless while they are on an expensive vacation?
  11. And it’s important not to forget the drunk, homeless guy from LAST trip who cornered AJ in the parking lot of a convenience store and slurred, “I love yoooururr shirrrrt, maaannn,” and started standing closer and closer to him in an attempt (we think) to be invited into our car, as he started to rant in a somewhat manic and threatening way about a very good science fiction book and movie that he loved and which should really be more popular than they are.
  12. What do you think he is doing now? Is he still approaching people in that same parking lot?
  13. And for the record, many of us have given money and food to homeless people through the years, in New York, Chicago and Phoenix, just so nobody thinks we think of them as mere fodder for our mirth.
  14. Do you think they eat a lot of fresh mangoes that grow here in Hawaii?

mango page 2 web

As you can see, there is always a lot to talk about while we’re together in Hawaii.  The mangoes were really SO delicious, and the beach SO beautiful, that I couldn’t help but think that Maui must be a gorgeous place to be homeless.

mom with mangoes web

The girls loved the beaches best, I think, along with the shave ice. We drove around to see the area and stopped at a black sand beach (black-ish, anyway), and splashed.

We drove to the Garden of Eden on the way to Hana and stopped to see the scenic overlooks and tropical plants, and got excited about the bamboo and rainbow eucalyptus.  The prettiness of Hawaii is always soul-soothing to me, and I always dream of moving there. Below are some more shots from the vacation…I wish we could go back already!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Here are more shots from Hawaii…the aquarium, hanging out around the rental house, and various sights we enjoyed.

Family, I will send you a link to see all the pictures and will send copies to you, too!







25% off eBooks, Actions & Flair

And now it’s time for a shameless plea to have you visit my store at Pixels and Co, where all of my products are 25% off until Friday.  Come and buy the actions that I use on my very own photographs! You can also find photo quotes, flair embellishments made using my own photograph, and eBooks about photography.

Jennifer VALENCIA  sale adTwo of my most popular actions are the ones that convert photographs to black and white. They are the High Key Black and White Action, and the Black and White Beautiful Action.  I experimented for many hours to find just the right technique to get a crisp, clean black-and-white for my own photos for clients. I’m sharing the exact techniques in my actions.

As always, I appreciate your support and interest. Thanks!

No, These Cookies Are Not Poisoned!

Every once in a while, I think I say too much. Here’s an example:

It was nearing the last day of kindergarten, and I wanted to bring a snack for my daughter’s class. I ended up buying a box of multi-colored-sprinkle butter cookies from Chompie’s as I was having my Cream Cheese Adventure (refer to this post for more information).

I drove to the school to drop off the cookies, thinking it would be fun to see my kiddo for a few minutes too. The office admin told me I could walk down to the room, so I did — and it was empty. The kids were clearly having one of their “specials” (Art? Music?). I felt sort of like an interloper, and I walked up to the teacher’s desk gingerly.  “I’m just leaving cookies here!” I called to the empty room, just in case there was someone watching.

Then I thought I’d better explain to the office staff.  “Can you tell Mrs. G. that I left a box of cookies on her desk?”  I asked the office staff. “It’s just a snack for the kids.  So she’s not surprised, you know, to find them there, when they get back from their specials.  In case she doesn’t know who it’s from.”

“Sure,” said the staffer, “I’ll tell her.”

And now here’s the part where I should have stopped talking, said, “Thanks!”, and walked away.

I hesitated.  “Because, you know,” I went on mirthfully, “I don’t want her to come back and be all, OH MY GOD!  Where did these come from? I don’t want her to think they’re poisoned or anything. Because, they’re not. Ha Ha! I would never bring poisoned cookies to school. Ha Ha Ha!”

Now the staffer had her head cocked to the side and was regarding me very carefully, like one might look at a potentially rabid squirrel at the birdfeeder.

She did not say anything.

I kept going. “Not that she’d THINK that, of course. But it’s something I’d worry about, that the cookies might be poisoned, if they just showed up without notice.”

The aide was still very silent.

I continued.  “My sister is like that, too! Once, when she had her baby, someone left a bag of chicken by her door, like a welcome/help gift. But she didn’t want to eat it, because she wondered if maybe it was poisoned. So her husband had to taste it first. It wasn’t poisoned, though. Ha Ha! It turned out to be from a friend who just hadn’t left a note.”

I could HEAR this stuff coming out of my mouth, but I was helpless to stop the flow of words. I was trying to interpret the expression on the staffer’s face, and I wasn’t sure if it was:

  • 1.  This Lady Is Clearly Psycho, And So Is Her Sister (sorry, Maria!)
  • 2.  I’m Not Listening, And I Hope She Goes Away Soon So I Can Get Back To Work
  • 3.  This Lady Had Poisoned These Cookies. As Soon As She Walks Away, I Will Throw Them Out Immediately And Call The Police.

But I was pretty sure it was not

  • 4.  This Lady Is SO Funny! I Love Her Quirky Humor! Ha! Ha!

I wrapped it up.  “I should probably stop talking now!” I said.  “So, just tell her the non-poisoned cookies are from I’s mom. Thanks!”

She did not smile or laugh. She was still just looking at me. “Bye!” I said brightly, and hurried out the door.

Mission accomplished!  Cookies of goodwill left for kids! Complete alienation of critical office staff completed!

Sheesh.  I mean, wouldn’t YOU worry about a bunch of food that just showed up? Am I alone here? It’s funny, right?

I think I know how I can make it up to the staff, though, and get back into normal-person status.  I’ll bring donuts…and I’ll be careful to explain NOTHING AT ALL about their origin or lack of poison.  Maybe just a little note-card…with a big red bar drawn through a Skull-And-Crossbones. And a Smiley Face.

Cottage Cheese, Toupees, and Cardiology

As I was walking through the parking lot towards the entrance of the Banner Heart Hospital, I saw a piece of black hair lying on the ground by the driver’s side door of a parked car. The car, a modest sedan, had handicapped plates. The hair was shiny and black and luscious.

“Is that a…toupee?” I asked myself with eager curiosity, as I approached the scalpage.  (Curiosity, because I’m just always on the quest for knowledge and new experiences. Eagerly, because — come on, how often do you see a wig in a parking lot? And also, because I wanted to distract myself from my upcoming cardiology appointment, and ALSO, because isn’t LAUGHTER THE BEST MEDICINE OF ALL? And if so, maybe by having a good old chuckle right here in the parking lot I might cure all of my symptoms so that the doctor would proclaim, “Get out of here, you scamp! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all!”)

Anyway, so there I was in the beating sun, looking down at a tousled but otherwise intact patch of vibrant black hair, and thinking:

  • 1. Should I…pick it up?
  • 2.  NO, right? Because, what would I do with it?
  • 3.  I mean, I COULD put it into the ‘eyeglass basket’ in the cardiology office on the 3rd floor (Yes, they do have an “eyeglass basket”; yes, it’s always filled with at least 4 pairs.)
  • 4.  But perhaps the owner of the hairpiece is not at that office. There are many different offices in the building…the hairless wonder could be anywhere.
  • 5.  Besides, what if it had, like, lice or something? Cooties?
  • 6. Better to just leave it here, by this car, because probably the owner will see it on the way back out.
  • 7. But also, I should text several people about this immediately.
  • 8. And probably also tell the tech today at my appointment, because, hey! A toupee in the parking lot!

So after chuckling to myself and admiring, for one last time,  the luster of the sun shimmering from the ebony tresses, I took a deep breath and continued on into the building, and to floor three, where I had an appointment to pick up my eCardio heartbeat monitor.

I noted that the eyeglass basket was full, and that there were no people in the waiting room who appeared to be lacking a hairpiece. That’s not to say that they didn’t lack hair — it’s just that those who lacked it seemed to be OK with it.

“The Blessing!” I muttered to myself, summoning up another chuckle as I reminisced with myself about the awesome uncle in “Christmas Vacation” and about his toupee. Awesome!  “The Blessing!” I said under my breath again, wishing that I could insta-send a mental Skype to my sisters and family to laugh about this with me.

Because I could not do the mental thing, and because nobody sitting near me piped up with, “Oh, I LOVE that movie too!”, I  passed time while waiting nervously by alternating between two thoughts:

  • 1. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. I guess that’s OK, right? I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems, and they’re still kicking! It’s OK. I’m OK.
  • 2. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. That’s TERRIBLE. I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems. If I’m having problems NOW, good God, what, how will I —

And now it was time to distract myself by reading a book on my tablet by Joshua Foer called Moonwalking With Einstein. This book proved to be even better than the toupee in the parking lot. Have you read it? If not, you should!  Foer writes in a fun style about memory, memory competitions, how to improve your memory, and how even “ordinary” people who don’t think of themselves as savants can learn to memorize incredible amounts of knowledge.

He said there are techniques you can use to memorize lists of words or numbers, and he started with a very catchy example.  Let’s say you want to memorize his friend’s long ‘to do’ list of 15 items that includes purchasing pickled garlic, cottage cheese, 6 bottles of wine, elk sausages, etc. He says to start by thinking of a place that is very familiar to you, such as your childhood home . Take the first item on your ‘to do’ list and put it by the entry walkway. Imagine yourself placing that jar of pickled garlic there, maybe a HUGE bottle, and tasting the delicious and/or revolting taste as you do. Really visualize it there in your mind.  Next, proceed up to the front door. As you get there, imagine that right there is a kiddie pool filled with cottage cheese, and Claudia Schiffer is in there swimming in it. A few items later,  imagine the 6 bottles of wine sitting on the couch, arguing about which one of them tastes better. (Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.  New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.)

And so on. The thing is, it WORKED.  I read along with his friend’s eccentric to-do list, mentally placing them  in my childhood home, and it stuck. I can recall the list right now. I am visualizing the jar of garlic, the pool of cottage cheese, the wine bottles…all of it!

I started to get excited. Next step? Maybe *I* can be the one who memorizes pi to the ten thousandth digit!  Or, maybe not, because honestly? –That sound super boring. (Although kudos to those who can do it!)

But I figured that if I could now memorize long weird lists of things just after reading about a technique for 10 minutes, imagine how much I could improve my memory ability if I actually studied more about this and practiced, as Foer did. He ended up winning the U.S.  Memory Championship in 2006 after learning & practicing various memory techniques.

So I walked into my appointment thinking of Claudia Schiffer and the garlic (those images are REALLY sticky! — mental note; need to learn how to un-remember something), and proceeded to tell the tech about the toupee in the parking lot at a suitable point in the conversation. She did not seem to think this was as funny as I did, or as interesting. Also, she did not seem to know exactly how to work the device she was currently giving me to take home for 30 days.  I found myself thinking that perhaps SHE could use a few lessons on memory. (“I can’t remember how many events it records before you can send it. I think maybe, like, two? Or like, maybe three? Just send after each event though, OK?”)

It’s an eCardio monitor that looks like a little pager. If I feel irregular heartbeats or palpitations, I just hold it to my chest and it records for 60 seconds. Then I call the number listed on the pager, hold the receiver over the pager, push the “SEND” button, and it transmits.  I was simultaneously relieved that I didn’t have to WEAR the monitor for 30 days and also surprised that there was not better technology. I mean, seriously — how about a device that records and can upload to a website on the computer? Wouldn’t that be simpler?

My cardiologist told me not to worry about having a heart attack from my sometimes-palpitations after I told him I was worried about this. He wants me to record any irregular heartbeats so we can figure out what is going on, but he did not seem to think it was going to be life-threatening, which is comforting.

So now I will be carrying around my little eCardio in my purse for the next 30 days, and also possibly reading more about memory techniques and improving my memory.  I will also be trying to remove the images of Claudia in the cottage cheese, and the huge bottle of garlic, and the grumpy wine bottles from my childhood home, because — as you can imagine — there are MUCH better things I can use to fill up that home. Like a luscious, gleaming black toupee.