Saturday, May 20, 2017

How to Lie About Yourself in a Photo

It's rainy and soggy, and by Texas weather trends, the likelihood of thunderstorms is high until after Memorial Day. So no country visits this weekend. Instead, I have this urge to write about a pet peeve of mine. Pictures that lie.

I work in marketing. Most of the companies I manage, on our websites, are clothing companies from all over the world. Many allow their customers to "share" photos of themselves wearing the clothing they purchased at said company. It's free advertising. And I'm o.k. with that. What I'm not o.k. with is the cliche of stock poses people use to look "modelesque." For all of its many poisonous symptoms, this week's social media bug is the way people lie about themselves in photos.

Here's the rub. Most of us are perfectly perfect the way we are, but we live in a global society that says we have to be skinny with luxurious, long locks, if we're female, and ripped and prison rugged if we're male. Even though I know this is pure social pressure b.s., I find myself being way too hard on my 52-year old body. So maybe a little rant will serve as a personal pep talk for me.

Three Cliche Poses that Reveal Insecurity

As I wade through hundreds of websites and images a week, I have come up with the three most common social media poses designed to make a girl look hot without facing the insecure truth.

Head Slightly Turned

Adriana Lima looks pretty here, and she is demonstrating one of the most common poses of everyday women's face selfies. They don't look directly at the camera. They slightly turn the head. It's also good to slightly tuck the chin. Is this slimming? Or is this some little lie meant to subconsciously hide insecurities about who she really is?  I never trust a face shot like this. In my mind, somebody's lying about something. Probably to themselves more than me.

One Arm Raised Above the Head

Oh, Leryn Franco. You have a great body because you are an Olympian! Why do you feel compelled to raise that arm and make yourself look more lean than you already are? Women all over the social media world imitate this pose to look ummm.... carefree? relaxed? skinny?  I hate this pose. I imagine that the regular, perfectly fine anonymous women who do this pose must hear "The Girl from Ipanema" in their minds, suggesting a sexy Rio de Jeneiro  lifestyle. Folks, Brazil is a broken place. Brazil doesn't lie about it. They know they have some ugly, but they also know it doesn't take away their timeless beauty. Let's all think of ourselves as Brazil. We don't need to stretch an elbow to the sky to be beautiful.

The Staggering Strut

When I do this, I fall down. Another variation is that knock-kneed, casual stroll with the arm raised above the head while dragging a designer purse in the other hand look. You have no idea how often I see everyday women doing this pose. I kind of get mad at Ashley Stewart for posing their models this way. The above woman is an Ashley Stewart model. Why are they ashamed of their plus-size style? That's one gorgeous lady, without making her trip over her own feet. 

Rant Over - Try This Instead

I'm done. This little rant's been building in me for years, but it's swimsuit season. Tammy and I are taking a beach vacation in a few months, and I thought that writing about my own body image issues might help me along, and maybe it will help some of you, too. So with that, I want to leave you with a nice, honest image of a model. Full frontal, straight on pose. And she's still a stunner...

Kitty Underhill Angel, London - Photo by Darren Johnson

(I know these are models. It's not my prerogative to post private, personal photos. I posted photos from the public domain, of people who get paid to pose.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two Girls and the American Breakdown

I don't know if we're just getting old and tired, or if the world really is getting more and more chaotic and demanding. If I think about history, I am certain there are times in the evolution of Western Civilization that folks had it pretty darn bad.

But damn.

Adolescents and social fantasy make parenting tactics anachronistic

That is true. Any parent over the age of 40 who is parenting an adolescent knows that is true. What is an anachronism? 

Anachronism - My mother's well played fear and guilt tactics that made me behave due to an irrational fear of public shame and sudden death by an out-of-control fly swatter.

That shit worked.

Not so much today.

Tammy and I did not have the ethereal support of social media, smart phones, and well-connected friends. We were certain to have long periods of social isolation when we walked through the front door, after school. We never really got a private chat in because Dad was going to pick up the phone in the kitchen and listen just long enough to embarrass before yelling, "Get off the phone!"

Today is fast, suggestive, driven by 6 seconds of fame, and things no kid needs to experience before the age of gainfully employed. Currently, our kid thinks she's a roommate rather than a captive ward of the house, and she's really, really lucky our fly swatter only swats flies.

We're not really cool parents. We're exhausted parents who work too hard to spend much time enjoying the things we've earned in life. Our kid tries to reach us via a Pandora station for 80's Country, but friends, Tammy and I are hopelessly lost in the grind.

Digital Marketing Job + Bilingual Healthcare Job = A Sartre Quote

Jean-Paul Sartre

I'm thinking about Jean-Paul Sartre because an NPR commentator, during my morning commute, was talking about his girlfriend, Simone de Beauvoir, who was an existential feminist of sorts. Frankly, I'm not even sure Simone could handle mine and Tammy's workload. With that, I quote the great philosopher himself.

"Everything has been figured out, except how to live."

There are two girls who have committed to the long game to get one kid through school, while remaining debt free, plus building our assets, so we can retire and live simply and comfortably. These two girls get up every morning, before sunrise, and battle Austin traffic to go to jobs that feel like mental sprints. These two girls come home and look at each other with this strange empty exhaustion that longs for a moment to slow down and "just be."  

Tammy says that. "Just be." But I swear, I have no idea how to do that. I cannot figure out how to live anymore. So what is it?  What changed?  Have we slowly amped up the expectations of American life to the point that we can barely keep up with it?  We're both really good at our jobs, but to what cost? My brain moves too fast. It always has. And I am extremely systematic and compartmentalized. Until just recently, systematic compartmentalization was working. Last week, I had to fight back the urge to lay on the horn while racing down the breakdown lane while cussing at traffic while trying to get home in under an hour.

That's crazy.

My mind was shot from managing a large corporation's multiple website commerce needs. My patience was long gone for being pleasant about it. Austin traffic did me in.

Tammy is shot from 10 hours a day of patients who have never had their teeth cleaned, so their teeth are falling out, and they don't speak English, and they bring screaming kids to the appointment because they're too poor for child care. She battles the same insane traffic, and it makes her late more often than not.

I'll stop whining now and say this...

We think we have to live this way. We think we've got it figured out. Except the part about living. So with that thought hanging out there, let me end with one more Sartre quote:

"Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Water - A Problem Worth Solving

We've had so much rain this spring and winter, and I'm afraid it's about to dry up on us. I feel unaccomplished because I didn't get rainwater catchment set up while there was water to catch.

The pond is full for the time being.

It's home to frogs, snakes, turtle and minnows. If there are any bigger fish in it, I haven't been able to see them. I've sat on the bank and watched a few times, but so far, I haven't seen the kind of splashes and surface swirls that indicate neighboring fish washed down the stream during one of the big, spring storms. 

I love sitting on pond banks and thinking about life. In the case of this off the grid cabin experiment, I think about water as life. There are definitely ways to distill pond water for cabin use by creating a solar still, but I'd get more bang for my time and money by getting some gutters on the roof, and then directing the rain into barrels.  

Once again, even the simplest set up is pricey. When in the world did a 50 gallon barrel get a $200 price tag?? Of course, my solution is a trash barrel with a hole in the top and a retrofitted faucet. It's ugly, and therefore, not Pinterest worthy. Then there are hidden costs and challenges. The cabin roof hangs over the walls in a way that it's not so easy to attach a gutter. It's going to take some engineering to make gutters stay attached without ripping off the roof during a full on Texas toad floater. 

We also need to direct discretionary income towards our house in Austin. It is in desperate need of some upgrades. We don't like to carry debt, so our cash only philosophy has to be shared between properties.  We'll just have to keep toting water out to the country. Tammy found a great little hand pump that sits on top of a 5 gallon jug of water. It's super easy to use and reduced the need to carry a bunch of smaller bottles and jugs out there. It also helps illustrate how wasteful we tend to be with water. 

When we can see that water line dropping, it makes us aware of every drop we use. We've learned that we waste so much water; even when we bathe. This one five gallon jug has lasted for multiple weekends. Along with our two gallon hand pumped shower solution, I'd say we're doing just fine.

I've also figured out the composting toilet technique, so once we get the gutters, the barrels, and a better grasp of solar energy, I think we'll be pretty comfortable in our sustainable little cabin.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Fence Beast Forces Tammy's Hand

I gotta tell you. I was not a big fan of stretching goat fencing around the cabin. It's flimsy and just a first rate pain in the rear. But we did it. It looks pretty good, and it allows Tanner the freedom to roam and "chase cows" without really chasing cows.

Within a couple of weeks of completion, the one longhorn that grazes our property managed to get her horn stuck in the fence and pull the welding loose. It's not that visible, but it was inevitable. One of the reasons we want to stay on top of mowing is to discourage cows from pushing over the fence to get a meal.

Even that one little horn mishap was enough for Tammy to start seeing things my way. We need to put up sturdy cattle panel like we did along the road. It will be pricey, but it is much harder for a cow to tear up.

The next weekend, after the longhorn damage, we arrived after dark, with Tanner in tow. He was in one of his weird, nervous moods. Tanner doesn't believe he's a dog. He thinks he's a sleek and handsome prince trapped in a big hairy body. For example... as I write this, he's taken the liberty to make himself comfortable on the bed, on my pillow.

As we were unloading the truck in the dark, Tanner decided to make a dash for it, and jump back in the truck with Tammy. He ran right into the fence. Tammy said it looked like he stretched it two feet before it bounced him back into the yard. So a 90 pound dog hits that wimpy goat panel at full speed.

That section looks like this.

Actually, it was pretty much laid over. This is the "repaired" section.

How ugly.


It just means we'll get the fancy heavy duty cattle panel fence a little sooner than we planned.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Spring Cleaning

We're so grateful for the rain we've had this spring. However, it's created a challenge at the cabin. Rain means healthy grass and weeds.

Even pretty weeds.

I regret that I sold my lawn tractor, gas weed eater, and even my little garden tractor, but when I moved back to Austin in 2011, I thought I would stay put in a condo. I'm really glad I didn't. I was overjoyed to find Tammy. She loves the country as much as I do! We have this great piece of property, but we have to maintain the part of that we've cleared. These days, we mow with our push mower. It's not so bad because truly, there's not that much to mow. Cows take care of most of it.

We only have to maintain our little yard and a few feet surrounding it.

Weed eating around those logs is not fun. One day, I'll pull a sneaky stunt and have someone come move those things out of the way. They need to be stacked neatly until we use them. The driveway has gotten grassy because we're just not out there enough to drive down the green.

So that requires a little push mowing, too. We don't see any point in getting the proper shredding equipment until we have the next acre cleared, and we can put a secure barn on it. So for now, we're those stupid city people who try to maintain land with a suburban tool set - although Tammy did break down and buy a stupidly expensive Stihl weed eater. 

It's a good brand. The thing should last forever. 

I need to get some brush blades for it, so that I can cut through the wild roses and other low brush that wants to fight its way back along the pond and fence line. Wild roses are pretty, but they are thorny evil winches who exist only to punish property owners.

Like their domestic counterparts, they have viscous thorns. Unlike their counterparts, nobody gives a crap about them until it's too late, and they've completely swallowed a fence, small trees, and maybe an entire pant leg. I want them gone. 

We'll just have to do hand battle until we get the next acre cleared. It's a dense, unkempt patch of nature, let me tell you. Our neighbor - who is Dutch and blunt - introduced herself by exclaiming in an incredulous tone, "You bought that place?! Well, I hope you didn't pay much for it."

She's happy with our first acre of effort, so maybe this next patch will soothe her sensible soul a little more.