December Eve

This is my 500th post. Granted, you can only see 200-some posts; however, that is only because a few weeks back, I completely redid this blog; I reformatted and redesigned and revamped. I deleted some things, kept others--including a count--of how many posts I had. Public or not, the creation of this post is my blog's 500th. The blog itself always has room to grow and change and accommodate, but I wanted to start by erasing some of the more embarrassing posts--the ones about style and collages and wish lists and inane-ness that, frankly, I didn't really care about.

...and now I am frantically panicking over how to accommodate the preposition in the previous sentence. Because that's who I am; I'm one to use prepositions correctly. And one to start sentences with the word "because." And one to write fragments. Deliberate fragments.

That reminds me of a time long ago, back in fifth grade, when my tall, bearded teacher taught us that the word "No" is an entire sentence. "It can't be!" we fought back, yelling and pointing at the chalkboard. "How is 'no' a sentence? Where's the verb? The subject?" He explained to us, patiently, the implied subject, the sense of action with the invisible words, No, I will not.

Just as those words were unseen, but understood, my imagination puts descriptions and titles and letters and sounds to each image I see. Old. Gone. Not for awhile. Golden. Unnoticed. Unimaginable. Invincible. Magical. Simon and Garfunkel accompany me as I drive up and over the hills, around terraces and onto gravel. Dust spills into the air, follows me and traces me back home. The upbeat twang of Sarah Jarosz attaches itself to the dirt on the bottom of my shoes, and the beat of "Song Up In Her Head" follows me and pounds through my black boots and into my calves, my thighs, my hips, my heart, my head.

The Virgin Mary
All dressed in blue

Sings 'My First Lover'

For an audience of two

And there it is, again--the reminder that today is December Eve. Goodbye November; goodbye gluttonous habits and rainy days and orange glows. Goodbye to farmers in the field, turning leaves and vivid colors. Goodbye to fall ... and hello to a season, to a time of cold crispness and the gift of presence. Not presents.

Third Challenge

Today I plan to do some headshots for an old friend. "Old" as in, "I have known the individual for awhile," and not "I have an ancient, wrinkled pal that wants me to take pictures of him." So, in order to catch up with photos, I'm sharing a sampling of my third photo challenge: the family portrait.

I was honored to photograph LuAnn and her family; she and I are former classmates. She has always supported my "taking of pictures," for which I am, and always will be, grateful. Indeed, she asked me last year to take pictures of her daughter, who was three months old at the time.

Her only instructions? "Make her look good."

"Okay," I said, my voice shaking a little. "As long as you and I both know that I have no idea what I'm doing."

... and I didn't. I still don't. I am simply honored that LuAnn has given me two opportunities to practice portrait photography. I can't thank her enough.

The, "But...but...but...Buuut MOOOoooOOOOm" face.

Round Two

I already shared with you my first attempts at portrait photography. As I previously stated, "I asked anyone from my hometown region if they would be interested in a miniature photo shoot. It was September, a gorgeous month, and I was in need of practice."

My cousin gracefully accepted the challenge, and I had a lot of fun photographing her. My second challenge, however, was a couple. They chose to visit the same places where I photographed my cousin but, as you can see, the end results are entirely different. They are goofy, as you can tell, and have been attached for more than four years. I enjoyed attempting to capture their personalities, their moments--ones of laughter and silliness, but also ones of raw tenderness and adoration.

In fact, as they stood next to each other, gripping each other's waists and staring into each other's eyes, I remember Cassy saying to Derrick, "I just can't look at you that long without hugging or kissing you."

Omaha Holiday Lights Festival

There are a lot of people who spend their Thanksgiving evenings napping, sleeping on top of couches or nests upon the floor. TVs will blare scores, touchdowns, commercials, and the drone of voices in the kitchen and living room will fade late into the day. Families make Christmas lists, map out Black Friday plans. They watch games, contemplate snow and the fast-approaching New Year.

I spend my Thanksgiving evenings in Omaha, or least imagine to. I hadn't been to the Holiday Lights Festival in three years and, knowing that I would be in the area, I convinced my mother to cross the river for the event.

It was a beautiful evening. Breezy, but 60-some degrees. Warm. Airy. Refreshing. Wonderful.

We hobbled along the cobbled streets, stepping into the year-round Christmas store. Mom checked prices of figurines and Peanuts ornaments while I dreamily admired an olive-tree nativity. We danced around thousands of ornaments, sashayed beneath ivy-covered arches and glittering, mirrored garland that stretched floor-to-ceiling.

Outside, in the Old Market, a trumpeter tapped out "Joy to the World." His notes were accompanied by the jingle of bells from the nearby horse carriages that invite tourists and locals alike for over-priced, relaxing rides through the old streets.

Carolers, lights, carriage rides ... the sights and sounds of Christmas festivities were on each corner, from 11th and Howard to 10th and Farnum.

"I'm so glad you came with me," I gushed to my mom. "I haven't done this in awhile. I hope you like it!"

We staked out a spot in the Gene Leahy Mall, one with a grassy patch and a tree stump. We joked about things and spoke of the day's activities before being interrupted by a couple with two dogs who were remarkably interested in mom. The dogs, a twelve-year-old yellow lab and an eight-week-old puppy, respectively, licked her hands and guarded her side. "I think I inherited a dog," she said to me, as the older lab nested beside her and refused to follow her owners down the hillside.

Shortly after 6:00, the last rays of sunshine disappeared behind the downtown buildings. The sky deepened from red to purple to blue to black, and we sat, impatient but comfortable, for the lights to flicker on.

10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... The countdown began, and echoes of the numbers bounced between buildings and trees, people and pets and benches. Half of the crowd was still on "two" when the lights were turned on with a spectacular explosion of "oohs" and "aahs."

Twinkling and glittery, the 1,000,000+ lights sparkled through the branches. Their reflections danced upon the water, shimmering with luminescence. They shone brightly, and when you tilted your head up, they teased and lit up the sky, an inner-city galaxy.

I turned to mom, assisted her in climbing back up the hill. "Was it worth it?" I asked through the parade of people rushing past. Take time and enjoy them, I thought. Don't be in such a hurry to leave something so peaceful.

"Definitely," mom answered. "Thank you for suggesting it."

Lucky Magazine: Best Friends & Fashion

I'm honestly hesitant to post this, and I'll probably regret sharing this piece of embarrassing literature I wrote for Lucky Magazine. I put it together at the same time I was trying to impress people--agents, editors, bloggers. I wanted to feed them the words that they wanted to hear, feed them the shallow thoughts that the Lucky editors believe their readers want.

Though I was devastated at the time, I later came to appreciate the fact that my entry was not accepted; at the last possible minute, my words and pictures became embedded with errors and codes that I was unable to fix. I frantically emailed the magazine, tweeting them my problem with utmost panic.

Obviously, the issue was not resolved.

I later learned that other contestants had issues, and many (dozens, in fact) are upset with
Lucky Magazine. Though I am happy to hear that I was not the only reader who had difficulty, it is disappointing that a renowned magazine has dropped readership as a result of poor planning and a lack of communication. In a way, I am happy to not be associated with the magazine.

... but that entry still shows how shallow I can be, too. Though I am embarrassed by it, I am by no means embarrassed by mother. The feelings I do manage to express are quite true (though the relation of the stories are somewhat hyperbolic). In fact, my mother is the reason why I am sharing this entry. Every time I see the collage I made, or the photo of her playing guitar, my heart travels across two states, across time.

It is true; I wish I had known her then.

I was born at a time when bold patterns and gender-neutral names like Morgan and Taylor were sprouting. My best friend, on the other hand, was raised in conservative-yet-classic dress styles that mimicked First Lady Jackie Kennedy. More than twice my age, my best friend has experimented with hairstyles and bell bottoms, cat eye glasses and seersucker. By the time the ‘90s rolled around, she had exchanged flowery, flouncy dresses for denim and oversized polka dots. I, however, was still curly-haired and dimpled, dressed in Lion King T-shirts and citrus-colored shorts (think Jenni Kayne).

Today, after a brief, teenage obsession with Hot Topic, I indulge in bright colors and pencil skirts. As for my best friend? She passed her vintage relics to me, and now stresses comfort and simplicity. She argues that makeup “gives her a headache;” I struggle to leave the house without ChapStick and blush. As for foot apparel, my best friend seeks solid arch support and wide flats as a result of her physical impairment. I, however, love me some heels (such as MIA’s “Ella”); I stand tall, walk proud, sometimes even strut. We have different styles, sure, but we’ve always supported each other’s individual beauty.

We kind of have to—we’re related.

Mom was in her early thirties and was busy embracing a life of frugality when I was born. Handmade, solid-colored shirts hung in her closet and I—the baby who had to grow into both her ears and feet—was dressed in many of the same items she had once worn.

By the time I was in school, my favorite colors were purples, pinks and pastels—an affection that is apparently inheritable. As I grew up, I grew into a trend I wouldn’t recognize until I compared photos years later—I copied my mother.

From hairstyles to hobbies, my high school years mimicked those of my mother, a 1974 graduate and enthusiast of performing arts and flowing patterns. In the few pictures that do exist from her late teens and early twenties, my mother is always found in simple-yet-elegant patterns like those at Ruche, a vintage-inspired store popular with bloggers. A string of pearls, a delicate lilac, a high-waisted peasant gown; just like the Cover Girl products she and I both enjoy, mom’s clothes were easy, breezy, beautiful.

There’s one photo of her that I absolutely love. Mom is 16, her hair straight from ironing (remember, these were the days before the GHD Classic Styler). She’s donning the epitome of ‘70s outerwear and playing the guitar. Sure, she has on over-sized eyewear (my first pair made me look like an owl, too), but she is carefree and artistic, easygoing and bejeweled with rings handcrafted in Arizona. I look at her, look at who she was, and say, “That’s mom.” She dressed in a way that reflected who she was.

Forty years later and beset with multiple sclerosis, mom has a one-word theory: comfort. The base rules of her style are flat soles, flexible bottoms and non-restrictive tops. Stores like Lane Bryant offer stylish, affordable tops for plus-size gals and some items, such as Fresh Ayer’s Linda Top, even mimic mom’s former style. Old Navy is her store of choice when it comes to trousers, and, as it is my favorite place to scour for trendy, inexpensive finds, it is common for us to pull the same styles in different sizes off the racks.

Favorite Store: Gordmans
Favorite Decade: 1970s
Recent Purchase: Turquoise Earrings from Tinker Girls
Can’t Live Without: Her decorative, zebra pattern walking cane.
Go-To-Beauty Product: Johnson’s Baby Oil Lavender
“The baby oil is a wonderful relaxant that keeps my skin soft and silky.”

Favorite Store: Modcloth
Favorite Decade: 1950s
Recent Purchase: Floral Crochet-Back Top from Charlotte Russe
Can’t Live Without: The necklace I made out of my mom’s charm bracelet.
Go-To-Beauty Product: Revlon Matte Lipstick in “Really Red
“I love heirloom jewelry; it’s highly personal and easy to upcycle.”

Like Joanne Nam and Jo Miller, my mom is also a style icon … it just took me two decades, three pairs of over-sized glasses and an atrocious pair of leopard-print pants to figure it out. Let’s face the facts: as a child, my mother was bombarded by America’s Royal Family and, as an adult, by the culture of natural beauty. I should have known to trust her when she gifted me her own Missoni-style shirt. “You can be a trend, or you can be yourself,” she told me. Solid advice from a woman who, decades before diagnosis, marriage and motherhood, had ushered in the easygoing, no-fuss fashion I aspire to. “Red pants, eye makeup and decades aside,” I said, pointing at photos of us, “I just want someone to look at a picture of me and say, ‘That was her. That was Dawn.’”

Abandoned Indiana

The following photos were taken along U.S. Highway 40, the "National Road." Depending on which direction you are heading, the road is eastward or westward, paralleling Interstate 70 through Indianapolis, Cumberland, Philadelphia/Spring Lake and Greenfield.

In addition to a few roadside oddities, there are abandoned barns, farms, hotels and apartments. Hundreds, even thousands of cars, pass by each of these forgotten buildings every day. I doubt anyone bothers to actually look at many of these places; to them, they are a familiar eyesore, the exact opposite of what worthwhile scenery is and should be.

To me, they are perfect.

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