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Rising Again

******* NEW! *******

Red Bubble is holding a 15% of Stocking Stuffers Sale!  Use promo code STOCKING15 to get 15% off all stocking stuffers until 11:59pm PST on Friday, November 21 2014

I have also released my 2015 calendar, featuring 12 of my most popular images from the previous year!  I put out a new calendar every year making each one different and unique, as well as being a great value in getting 12 images to display.  Snap up this collector’s item and add a little magic and beauty to every day of 2015!

My 2015 Calendar!

My 2015 calendar!

The calendar features the beautiful models, actors and actresses Katie Johnson, Dedeker Winston, Dan Donohue, Travis Weinand and Aly Darling.  Images span many of my series’ such as DreamWorld, Enchanted Sleep, Glass Walls, Orphans Of The Mother Road and self portraits!

My Red Bubble store carries calendars, tshirts, hoodies, stickers, blank greeting cards, post cards, phone and tablet cases, laptop skin, throw pillows, tote bags, mugs (travel and regular) and even a few duvet covers, all covered in my images!  Every item they produce is extremely high quality and will last forever.  You can knock out all your holiday shopping in one stop, so come on by!  :)

*******

It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks since my last post!  My sinus surgery is over, including an odd complication I had which caused an artery near the back of my sinuses to burst unexpectedly.  This led to me losing 2-3 pints of blood and having to have an emergency surgery last Tuesday to correct it.  I’m happy to say I seem to be all done bleeding and nothing else strange has happened since then!  I’ll tell you more about my adventure in another post; it’s a rather long story.  I’ve regained most of my strength but I’m still recovering a bit.  So let me tell you about today’s self portrait for now!

This image has been in my mind for a long time, ever since I this post.  I had discovered, in the course of looking through my blog’s stats, that someone had found my blog by searching “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I want to give up.”  My heart still breaks for this person.  I wrote a post at the time replying to them but I’ll probably never know if they saw it or what happened to them.

I’d wanted to create an image for my Enchanted Sleep series based on the idea of being beaten down by chronic illness yet getting up, but it took a while.  My first attempt was unsuccessful and I had to think for quite a while about what wasn’t working and then find time to reshoot it.  Eventually though, I had created the image I wanted to make.

While I had physical, chronic illness in mind when I was creating this, the image is certainly not limited to being interpreted just in that light.  Mental illness, for example, is another example of something you have to rise from again and again.  And it happens that I’m in a bout of depression myself right now.  The reasons are long and complicated so I won’t get into them now, but every day recently, I’ve felt like this just trying to get out of bed… never mind how I might feel physically.

Chronic illness, mental illness… they are not something you can beat in a day.  You’ll have good days and bad days.  You may have entire days, or even weeks or months where you don’t struggle with whatever it is that knocks you down.  But when it comes, you have to get back up.

Every time.

Every time.

Every time.

It can be exhausting, and you might not have anyone in your life who knows that you’re even battling like this.  Those who have a strong support system in place are fortunate; it helps, a lot.  But whether it’s something others know about or not, it’s a demon which must be faced and conquered every time it arises.

I hope that everyone reading this has their own support system to keep them going.  Friends and family, online or off, who can cheer them on.  Who can give them the push or pull they need.  We all need help from each other; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for or receiving help.

Asking for help can seem more daunting than fighting the beast holding you down.  But do it.  No matter who is reading this, you have people in your life who love you, who care about you, who want you to succeed, who will extend the hand you need to get you through this.

Whether it’s an internal struggle no one else will ever see or you have countless loving people help guide you through your troubles, we must rise every time we get knocked down.

Every time.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

If you need help and you don’t feel comfortable approaching anyone you know, you can always talk to The Samaritans.  You can call them, email them or even text them.  They have people around 24/7 to help you through whatever you’re facing and it’s completely confidential.  They are well trained and caring.  Give them a try if you’re in need of someone to talk to!  I can personally vouch for how much they help.

 

Cacti And Sinuses

“She twines her spine up slowly

Toward the boiling sun

And when I touched her skin

My fingers ran with blood”

-True Detective’s Theme Song “Far From Any Road,” by The Handsome Family

Toward The Boiling Sun - detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun – detail- © Sarah Allegra

It occurs to me that Cacti and Sinuses sounds like a weird band name :)

Here we have another True Detective-inspired image for my Pop Culture set of images.  This one was inspired more directly by the song used in the show’s title sequence, Far From Any Road, by The Handsome Family.  The song’s lyrics tell the story of a cactus which blooms once every thousand years.  Anyone who witnesses the rare event is driven mad by it.  Which, considering how much inspiration the show took from Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow, a short story collection about a fictitious play which will drive any viewers or readers  insane, feels perfectly fitting.  It also is a brilliant pairing in mood and style for the show; the images and beautiful double exposures all work in such harmony… it’s the most beautiful pairing of music and television.

I don’t think my imagination is anywhere near being done inspired by True Detective though!  It’s the show that just keeps giving and giving :)

I’d like to clarify that I did not actually force Katie Johnson to sit nude in the middle of a cactus pile.  No models were harmed in the making of this image!  I composited an image I shot of Katie from a high angle with images I shot of my neighbor Donna’s cacti and blended them together in Photoshop.  Thanks to Geoff for steadying the ladder I was on shooting the cacti and helping to make sure I didn’t get stuck by any of their needles!

Changing the subject; at this point, I’ve had eight colds since the end of July, one of one which lasted for 3 weeks, two ear infections with the colds and strep throat another time, so I am having sinus surgery tomorrow.  Apparently my sinuses aren’t draining like they’re supposed to, the germs are never really leaving and they keep taking over my body again and again.  Despite my generally poor health with the fibro and ME, my sinuses haven’t really ever been an issue up till now, so I’m hopeful that the surgery will clear things out and this will stop being an issue.  On average, I’ve only had about two to three weeks between colds for the last three and a half months and I can’t tell you how VERY TIRED I am of having colds.  Lots of acute illnesses of top of chronic illness feels terribly unfair.

The last couple months have been rough health-wise, but I’m very eager to let the doctor clean me out and hopefully set me down headed the right direction!  I’ve been told to expect to feel extra crappy for a while after the surgery, and I was able to get a few simpler images edited before today in case I’m feeling really terrible for a while, so there shouldn’t be any big break in images being posted.  I will also have my wonderful husband Geoff to help me through my recovery; he has had this exact surgery before, which I’m sure will be very handy to help me figure out how to best deal with whatever negative effects I feel from it.  He’ll be with me the whole day of my surgery and the next, and after that I should be ok to be on my own.  But I’ve got my wonderful neighbors right next door in case anything comes up!

I’m chomping at the bit to get the surgery over with so I can start actually feeling better, but of course I’m also a little nervous about it.  So wish me luck; your good thoughts and energy will be very welcome!  I’ll try and update the blog when I’m feeling up to it.

Anyone else here on Instagram?  I just joined recently; let me know if you’re on there!  Also, if you missed it, please see my last post about the near extinction of wild lions, as portrayed through Travis Weinand in DreamWorld; a cause very important to me!

One of the things I love about working with Katie is how her heavy dance background translates so beautifully into her modeling.  She is just always so graceful and effortlessly aware of every part of her body, able to emote even through her fingers and toes.  With that said, please enjoy Katie’s beautiful work in this latest image of her!

Toward The Boiling Sun © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun - detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun – detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun - detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun – detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun - detail- © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun – detail- © Sarah Allegra

Thanks, Katie!  You’re always beautiful!  And thanks to everyone in advance for your well wishes!

The Last Lions

I may have mentioned before that I often have the TV on while I’m editing.  It has to be the right kind of show; something I can mostly listen to and just glance at periodically, it has to be interesting without being too engaging.  I end up watching a lot of documentaries, nature, science and history shows.  I also catch a lot of shows about the paranormal; I love stretching my imagination entertaining the ideas they present whether or not I think they might actually be true.  Often these shows have a benefit beyond simply enhancing my editing time; I learn new things, I expose myself to new ideas.  And sometimes I learn about problems in the world and I want to do something to try and help fix whatever is wrong.

Details from today's images

Details from today’s images

I’ve known for some time about the terrible future the wild lions in Africa are facing.  Poaching and habitat loss have killed off about 80% of their population in the last 20 years.  Sadly, the traits humans find most beautiful about lions are also the things that make them genetically stronger, which means not only are people driving lions to the edge of extinction, but the lions which are left are weaker and less able to survive.

There are approximately 20,000 wild lions left in the world now.  This is a drop in the bucket from 450,000 about 30 years ago.  If nothing changes, lions could become extinct within the next decade.

Can you imagine a world without lions?  The fragile ecosystem which would be thrown into chaos by their loss?  A world where children would grow up never seeing the majestic animals?  Where lions would seem as unreal to them as dinosaurs?  Telling your child that yes, these animals all once roamed the land, but now they are gone forever.

And it is because of humans that lions are teetering on the edge of this chasm.

If people are the cause of their destruction, we have a moral obligation to try and save them.  As my close, personal friend Rustin Cohle would say, we have a debt to pay.

As is my usual first course of action, I decided to address the problem with photography.  As I began building the concept in my head, I realized it would fit in well with DreamWorld.  While most of the land is beautiful and verdant, there are less lush areas and also touches of actual evil.

It was at this time that I came across Travis Weinand.  Travis is a multi-talented transplant from Philadelphia; he models, of course, acts, sings and plays bass in his really great heavy metal band Burden (seriously, I genuinely like their music!  Give it a listen!) illustrates and paints beautiful images, he’s been a tattoo artist and has been competing in the last several seasons of American Ninja Warrior.  Travis has promised to show me how to make my voice sound evil like I’m singing in a metal band and I’m going to show him how to levitate… in a photo at least :)  ANW isn’t something I’d seen much of; I quickly discovered it’s really physically demanding; here’s a short video from Travis to impress your socks off:

Travis’s physical strength, size (he’s 6′ 5″, so anybody seeing us walking together must have gotten a chuckle since I am all of 4′ 11″) and blond hair made him feel like a perfect lion-man.  I decided to make a mane headdress, something more symbolic of a mane rather than something that was trying to perfectly replicate what a lion’s mane looked like.  I had some really lovely blue and brown metallic yarn that I’d gotten on sale and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with, which seemed like a good place to start.  Since Travis has brilliantly blue eyes, I decided to work some blue into the mane; this was a metaphoric mane, I decided I could bend the color rules a little.

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

It happened that, of course, I got sick again while I was getting ready for the shoot – I think I’ve told you guys this but apparently my body has decided that it’s going to have a cold every 2-3 weeks until I have sinus surgery to stop its evil plan.  My surgery is November 4th (wish me luck!) and I am so eager to have it done with.  I’m really looking forward to a time when I can go more than a few weeks without getting sick on top of already being chronically sick.

That has, of course, been very draining, but knitting is one of those activities that you can do (if you’re making up your own pattern anyway) without engaging very much of your brain.  It’s also quite soothing, the repetitive motions over and over again, and once I got through the really feverish first couple days of the cold it was a relief to have something I could work on and feel a little bit productive about.  So a lot of braiding and arm-knitting happened while I was well enough to be bored but not well enough to do much of anything else.  Above, you see the braided loops I made with varying amounts of a brighter blue yarn worked into the rest.

The under-mane

The under-mane, loops attached

Lion’s manes are typically darker close to the skin with the hair lightening as it gets longer.  I made the “under-mane” from the original blue and brown yard that had started the whole idea, arm-knitting a general idea of the shape I wanted.  I hand-tacked some of the braided pieces around the bottom to hang down decoratively.

The... main... mane

The… main… mane

The, uh, main mane was also arm-knitted, into a similar shape, but fuller and more expanded toward the bottom.  I love this brand of yarn.  I want to arm-knit everything right now.  It has such a beautifully organic look when it’s finished, even if you’re making it up as you go!

Ruffs

Ruffs

Lion manes are often majestically full right over the center of their chests, so I quickly knit up a couple filler-pieces to give extra fullness to Travis’ mane.  You’ll notice that one is a little bigger than the other.  The official reason is because it’s natural for there to be a slight asymmetry to any kind of animal markings or fur.  The real reason is because I’d run out of yarn and didn’t have money to go buy another skein.  Plus, I didn’t think it would really show in the final images, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The beginning of a mock-up

The beginning of a mock-up

I’m including this photo because for one, Aly gave me the unicorn-on-a-stick toy so I wanted her to see it is being used and loved, and also because it just really looks ridiculous :)  I needed to build up a shape that was going to let me see how the mane would actually be hanging and my regular foam head wouldn’t nearly do the job.  Not only because it’s far too short and becomes unstable if I pile it high on a lot of other objects (I know this from experience) but I needed the mane to spread out so I could really see it.  So this is the unicorn-on-a-stick sandwiched between the end of my bed and the blue dresser at the end of my bed, wrapped up with a very fluffy pink bathrobe which is so long that I use it as a blanket.  In the next photo you’ll see another bathrobe draped over the unicorn’s head to give it more a human-head shape.  There’s a method to all the madness.

And if anyone is wondering, the cardboard box is there for the cats (mostly Maynard) to lay in and the big pile in the background is my Costume/Fabric/Backdrop Pile.  I’m working on a better way to store it all.  There are only so many hours in a day.

First draping

First draping

I’d been planning to braid the mane into Travis’ actual hair, which is cut in a very cool undercut style which makes me think of Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire.  I seem to be leaving a hole in the middle of the mane; that’s on purpose to allow for Travis’ hair.  You can see the under-mane some and I’d started adding extra braided bits which just hung down.

Finsihed!

Finished!

And here it is all done!  Braided loops, hanging braids, front ruffs; it’s all there.  It’s probably hard to picture how it will eventually look, but don’t worry, you’ll see very soon :)

I had come across some boulders in one of my walks (my doctor’s suggestion of a safe exercise for me right now, which makes me sad when I think about all the yoga, Pilates and ballet I used to do.  I like to do the walks in nature since that makes it much more interesting and enjoyable).

The plants around it, which had been brilliantly green in spring were now brown and dying, so it felt like the perfect setting for my Last Lion, as I am calling this new DreamWorld character.

I imagine that the Last Lion had a vast kingdom once where his people thrived.  During the Yellow King’s grab for power, his people and land suffered greatly when they stood up against the Yellow King.  They are fighters.  And though the Yellow King is now banished, he did real harm to the land and its people before he left.

They are fighters.  They have been greatly wounded and they could vanish forever and be a mere memory in DreamWorld as the lions could be in our world… but I think they’ll prevail.  They have not been beaten yet.

And if you would like to help our world’s lions, look into the Big Cat Initiative.  They have a really solid plan of how to get the lions back on their feet while still keeping the farmers and cattle in the region safe, promoting harmony between them.  Another very quick, simple yet effective way is to add your name to any or all of the petitions below, all working toward protecting lions from extinction:

http://www.change.org/p/save-african-lions-from-extinction-by-listing-them-as-an-endangered-species

http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/node/92726/

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-lions-from-extinction/

Harmony between man and nature.  It’s such a common theme in DreamWorld, and one we need more of in this world.

Please enjoy the Last Lion images below and consider signing a couple petitions and joining the Big Cat Initiative!

Lost Pride

Lost Pride © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

 

You can look forward to seeing more of Travis soon!  I’m very excited about using his incredible physicality strategically in images; he can do things for real which I’d normally have to rely on Photoshop for.  Should be fun!  Thanks, Travis!  And thanks to all my readers :)

DreamWorld: Lady Death

Lady Death is another DreamWorld character I’ve had in my head for a long time before I had the chance to photograph her.  Sometimes that can be frustrating to postpone your idea for so long, but in this case, I’d imagined the image for so long and in such detail that it made for an extremely easy shoot!  I knew exactly where everything should go, how to light it, the pose I wanted; it was all in my head and I just had to get it shot.

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Let me tell you a little bit about the inspiration of her character.  Lady Death is, as her name suggests, the incarnation of death within DreamWorld, but I didn’t want her to be the common, dark, grim-reaper version of death we see portrayed frequently.  The concept of how she would appear came from a mix of Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle and a dash of my own attitudes and ideas about death.

I’m going to quote from Robin McKinley’s Deerskin and not give you the context which this passage is happening in, for one because if you get me started talking about Deerskin, it will take up more than this entire post, and also because it’s not incredibly important for my point and I want you to be intrigued to read it for yourself.  I will simply say that this all happens in the first quarter of the book, so it is not the end it sounds like.

“Lissar went on breathing as she looked, because she did not know how to stop; but as time passed she felt the cold upon her [naked] body, feeling it like a soft inquisitive touch, like the feet of tiny animals.  She did not recognize pain as present experience, for such distinction was too subtle for her now; rather it was that was what there was left of her, as screaming had been her existence some time before.  The creeping cold was a change, or further refinement, upon her existence.  But the cold was not content to pat at her skin and then grasp her feet, her hands, her belly and thighs and face.  It wormed its way inside her; but [she could not resit it].  Nor, she found, did she now want to, for the cold brought oblivion, the cessation of pain.

And then she saw its face, and it was not an animal at all, but Death, and then she welcomed it.  Almost she made her split lips work to give it greeting; but her voice had fled away some time before.

I am dying, she thought, in the guttering of consciousness, I am dying, she thought, in the encroaching stillness.  I am dying, and I am glad, for Ash is already dead, and it will all be over soon.”

I will quickly say that while there are some very, very dark moments in Deerskin, it has been one of my two favorite books for well over a decade.  Where there is darkness, the light shines more brightly, as in the case with this book.

Inspiration part 2 came, as I stated, from a short story Peter S. Beagle wrote called Come Lady Death.  In it, the grand Lady Neville, famous for her grand, opulent balls, has grown bored with her own parties.  In looking for a way to up the excitement factor, she decides to invite Death to her next party.  An invitation is sent out… and a positive reply comes quickly.  The guests nervously await Death, wondering what he’ll look like and are surprised when “a lovely young girl in a white dress stepped gracefully into the ballroom doorway and stood there smiling.

She could not have been more than nineteen.  Her hair was yellow, and she wore it long.  It fell thickly upon her bare shoulders that gleamed warmly through it, two limestone islands rising out of a dark golden sea…  She smiled, and Lady Neville tried to smile back, but her mouth seemed stiff.  ‘Welcome,’ she said.  ‘Welcome, my lady Death.’

A sigh rustled among the lords and ladies as the girl took the old woman’s hand and curtsied to her, sinking and rising in one motion, like a wave.  ‘You are Lady Neville,’ she said.  ‘Thank you so much for inviting me.’  Her accent was as faint and almost familiar as her perfume.”

While the two stories don’t seem to have a lot in common on the surface, and especially not in the small fragments you’ve seen here, there were a couple main points I took away from them both.  Death was a being or person who was a) not frightening in appearance b) not male,  as expected, and c) more warm and welcoming than anything else.  This fits in nicely with my own views on death and the afterlife.  Everyone has their own thoughts and views on the subject, which is fine, but I don’t view either as a scary thing, nor the end.  Of course, we grieve when death separates us from those we love, but I know that I will be reunited with them some day.  I suspect that the first batch of “people” I’ll see when I pass the threshold to heaven will be a menagerie of furry, feathered, barking, purring, squeaking, singing creatures I have loved ;)

Drawing from all these sources, Lady Death emerged in my head.  She should be warm, inviting, welcoming, maternal.  She should not be frightening, but soothing.  She should be connected with nature, because death is a natural part of life.  Her clothing would be dark, but there would be no black allowed anywhere in her costume.  And most importantly, when you look into her eyes, you need to know that all is well, all was well, and all would forever be well.  I knew I needed to bring my dear friend and mostly-retired model Aly Darling into this image to embody all these qualities.

What should Lady Death’s clothing look like?  The story Come, Lady Death is set in a slightly unspecific time; several hundred years ago at least.  People throw balls, wear gorgeous gowns, ride in carriages… it brings to mind the 17th-18th century for me, though I have not confirmed this with Peter Beagle to see if that was his intention.  I didn’t want to make her clothing especially period-specific, but it definitely needed to have an old-fashioned feel to it.  How silly would it look if Lady Death was wearing the latest looks from this season’s runways?  I settled on a semi-Victorian feel, which felt both old-fashioned and classic at the same time.

Since I wanted to stay far away from the typical associations with the standard Death figure, black was not allowed anywhere in her costume.  I chose a beautiful purple dress with bell sleeves (purchased on Ebay for a few dollars) and went to work creating a cape for her out of some gorgeous teal satin I found.

I based the construction of the cape off of an actual Victorian cape I own (also purchased through Ebay, but as a wrap at my wedding, not for a costume).

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.  Note the multiple layers of ruffles around the collar.

I reverse engineered a pattern from the cape and cut the pieces out of the teal satin.  I gave my cape several ruffled layers of fabric around the collar also, which were then copiously covered in flowers, each one hand-glued in place.  I spent months slowly gathering the appropriately colored flowers in the amount I needed.  Many of these were repurposed from previous DreamWorld costumes, like Perennial Parasol, Efflorescence and In The Lilac Wood, but this will be their final spot.  I love the costume too much to take it apart!  But I have to say, Icertainly got my money’s worth from the flowers!

Lady Death cape from start to finish

Lady Death cape from start to finish, complete with flower-festooned collars

 

Next came construction of Lady Death’s bonnet.  I didn’t want her to have the standard hooded cloak, but I liked the idea of having her face framed in the way a cloak hood would.  Given the Victorian-ish look I was going for, I built a bonnet somewhere in between a Regency bonnet and a Victorian one.  When it’s your world, you get to pick and choose clothing details you like and use them however you want!

The base of the bonnet was some sheets of cardstock glued together into the general shape I wanted.  I tried it on a few times and refined the shape.  Next, I used spray adhesive to glue the teal satin to one side of the bonnet.  This ended up leaving unexpected streaks of glue when dried (see the photo in the lower left corner below) so I quickly decided that side was the inside of the bonnet.  I used a regular glue gun to edge the satin to the other side of the cardstock and the hem on the underside.  I happened to have a small amount of very sparkly purple mesh which I added to the inside of the bonnet.  This had the dual benefit of covering the glue streaks and adding some dimension and light within the darkness of the bonnet’s underside.

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

Next came the fun and slightly tedious task of decking out the bonnet!  Multiple layers of ribbons, trims and flowers were added to it.  And because someone already asked this, yes, I did glue those teeny tiny individual little flowers to the top and underside of the brim one by one.  I was not excited to do that, but it was well worth it.  You can see Maynard wanting to help in the last couple photos.  A beautiful, wide, dark blue satin ribbon finished the bonnet off and looked beautiful tied under Aly’s chin!

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

I seem to have not taken any images of the staff construction, sorry about that.  I must have been rushed.  I’ll tell you about it though, it was pretty easy.  With the abundance of sticks of all sizes within my yard, I found a good staff-sized one.  I spray painted it a dark brown and kissed it gently with some metallic bronze spray paint.  I already had a string of small, battery-operated LEDs which I’d stuck through the middle of some small flowers.  The LEDs and flowers were taped rather roughly to the staff with masking tape, which I knew I could edit out later.  I knew it would add work in post, but it seemed the best solution at the time.

The bird skeleton is an actual bird skeleton and was incredibly delicate to work with.  I tried to be reverent and ask the bird’s spirit for permission to use it before I did, and so far the house doesn’t seem to be haunted by any bird ghosts, so I’m hoping that means the bird was ok with my use of it.  It was attached using a mixture of masking tape and fine wire.  I made a small wreath for it with the same tiny purple flowers I’d edged the bonnet with to take away a little of the creepy factor of a bird skeleton while also tying it in more directly with the overall costume.

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

Since Aly and I both have health problems and don’t live especially near each other, it took a while for us to find a time when we could actually shoot this image.  Eventually though, the stars aligned and everything went perfectly!  I absolutely loved the images straight out of camera and knew they wouldn’t need much editing.  However, I forgot to take detail shots of the costume while it was on Aly… so Calantha came to the rescue!  She actually enjoys it when I dress her up since she knows it means copious praise and treats.

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

You can see how little she cares about the cape, she didn’t even move after I draped in on her.  She didn’t like the bonnet when it flopped over her face and couldn’t see, but as long as I kept it adjusted, she was really pretty cool about it.

Such a pretty girl!  She looks right at home in it.

Such a pretty girl! She looks right at home in it.

Calantha models the bonnet

Calantha models the bonnet, showing off the details you can’t see so well in the finished image

After all that, let’s check out the final image!  Scroll down for detail shots :)

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

That closeup of Lady Death’s face makes the whole image for me.  The gentleness, the kindness, the love shining out of her face shows exactly who the character is.  Thank you very much to Aly for portraying her so perfectly, and to Calantha for modeling the costume after the shoot :)

Thanks to you for reading!  What do you guys think about the afterlife?  Would you find it comforting to find Lady Death escorting you to the rest of eternity?

It’s worked, y’all!  I’ve been able to rest for several days in a row.  That’s pretty great for me.  Even if nothing external is pushing me to work, I have a strong internal drive to do so, which makes actually resting tedious and difficult for me.  But I’ve been doing it!

It’s helped that I’ve been very slowly and meticulously been working on and off on a HUGE, HUGE image.  I mean, it’s seriously 6-7 times as large as a regular photo I’d edit.  It’s SO big, in fact, that although I shot the (many) images which make up this composite, I had to wait until I upgraded my laptop earlier this year before I could really work on it.  It would crash not just Photoshop, but my entire computer after about 15 minutes worth of work before… usually as I was trying to save it.  So it’s a big ol’ project that’s going to take a long time, but it’s been strangely soothing to just dib and dab at it as the mood struck over the last few days.  Doesn’t matter how much I get done or not because I’m on vacation!  :)

The farm was so BEAUTIFUL.  It felt absolutely idyllic.  I can't remember the breed of these dogs, so they might have been Maremmas.  Regardless, these are livestock guarding dogs.  They spend pretty much their whole lives with the flock they protect so that even the flightiest of animals are so used to them being there they can actually be useful.  These dogs were quite polite but I've seen other LGDs who will give you the stink eye as soon as they notice you and "suggest" that you move along.

This is one of the photos I took.  The farm was so BEAUTIFUL. It felt absolutely idyllic. I can’t remember the breed of these dogs, so they might have been Maremmas. Regardless, these are livestock guarding dogs. They spend pretty much their whole lives with the flock they protect so that even the flightiest of animals are so used to them being there they can actually be useful. These dogs were quite polite but I’ve seen other LGDs who will give you the stink eye as soon as they notice you and “suggest” that you move along.

Well.  The main part of this post is SERIOUSLY overdue.  Last June, I finally found (after months of searching) a farm with sheep on it, and a farmer who would allow me to come photograph his lambs.  Enter Terry of Task Farms, near Palmdale!  He was an exceptionally kind man and agreed to let me come hang out with his animals and take pictures of them. He had one lamb left from the lambing season, a black and white little girl named Too Cute (and she was).  We hurried to schedule the shoot before she grew any more!

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  I am trying to make soothing kissy noises, but Too Cute wasn't buying it.

Photo by Meredith Lynn. I am trying to make soothing kissy noises, but Too Cute wasn’t buying it.

Since it was going to be a bit of a drive and it had been so hard for me to find, I figured it might have been difficult for other people, so I emailed my friend Brooke Shaden and asked if she needed photos of sheep.  She happily joined the party, along with Katie Johnson to model for us both and Meredith Lynn, who bravely volunteered to meet us in Palmdale, take behind-the-scenes photos for us before driving back to Los Angeles and work a full day’s work at her job.  Have I mentioned that we were planning to be at the farm by dawn?  Everyone who came was a real trooper for getting up so early and not complaining, but my goodness, I didn’t envy poor Meredith that day!

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  Laying in the dirt for a photo!  That’s not really too uncommon though.

It was decided that Katie would drive Brooke and myself since Brooke and I both have fibro and/or ME and Katie has… whatever the opposite of that is.  She’s pretty much always full of energy.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  This is my favorite hoodie ever because not only does it have a cool pattern and pretty colors, but I wore it on my first date with Geoff.

The BTS shots she got were so wonderful though and I’ve been eagerly waiting for me to finally get through editing all the images I shot at the farm so I could post her photos here!  I ended up shooting a bit more than I’d planned on shooting, which made the turn-around of all the images being done take much longer, especially as other things kept popping up which required more immediate attention.  But my images are finally all done!  Most of them you’ve seen already, but the most recent one will be new to you.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Terry emailed me a few days before we were going to be at the farm with a photo of a 30-minute-old baby goat and suggested we might want to include him in our shots.  YES.  YES WE DO, TERRY!  It was such an adorable, sweet, floppy little thing, we all had to take turns holding him.  He was still a little sleepy and he made the most precious little mewling noises that just melted your heart.  I had to remind myself very hard that I did NOT need to take him home and raise him like my own.  (But how CUTE would it be if he slept in the bed with Geoff and me??  Geoff would probably not think it was cute, but I would!!)

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

The initial spark of inspiration that led to the whole search for a lamb was a DreamWorld image I wanted to take with my grandmother in it.  At the farm, Katie posed with Too Cute in a similar costume and pose that I would later photograph my grandmother in (I was not going to make her drive to Palmdale before dawn) and it was a pretty easy job to merge the two images together in Photoshop later.

 

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

That was the main image I’d needed to get out of the day, so after that, we played around on the farm with the animals for a while.  Especially the baby goat.  I may need to drive back out to Terry’s farm again soon just to hold another baby goat.  It is impossible to put into words how wonderful it felt to hold the baby goat and hear the little grunty noises he made.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  Making Brooke and Katie look destitute.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

I owe a great big THANK YOU to Meredith for coming along and getting such great BTS photos for us!  Despite how long it’s taken me to post them, I am so glad I have them!  What a beautiful way to remember a fun, adventurous morning  :)  I’ll share a few of the BTS shots I grabbed between photos and then you can see the entire set of edited Task Farm Photos!

A friendly pony.

A friendly pony.

Geese who were somewhat alarmed by our presence.  I understood how they would have been able to be responsible for alerting the guards of early Rome that enemies were afoot and gave them just enough time to defend themselves.

Geese who were somewhat alarmed by our presence. I understood how they would have been able to be responsible for alerting the guards of early Rome that enemies were afoot and gave them just enough time to defend themselves.

There were cool things like this ALL OVER the place!  It was really a photographer's dream.

There were cool things like this ALL OVER the place! It was really a photographer’s dream.

Terry even provided an authentic shepherd's crook for the photo Katie is getting ready for!

Terry even provided an authentic shepherd’s crook for the photo Katie is getting ready for!

Lastly, one more photo by Meredith Lynn!  She very thoughtfully got a group shot of all of us together, including farmer Terry, the baby goat and his border collie!

Lastly, one more photo by Meredith Lynn! She very thoughtfully got a group shot of all of us together, including farmer Terry, the baby goat and his border collie!

Before we left, Terry let us watch a demonstration of how his border collie can herd the sheep, which is always an amazing sight to behold.  Single-word commands, whistles and other simple noises convey a whole range of communications to a well-trained dog (which Terry’s is).  Even though it took me a while to recover physically from the adventure, I hope I can go back some day and see more of this!  And hold more babies, of course :)

Promise

Promise

Of Milk and Honey

Of Milk and Honey

The Only Daughter

The Only Daughter

The Sheperdess

The Shepherdess

 

And finally, the very last image which I took forever to get to and which held up this post the most… a new addition to my Dustbowl series, featuring Katie Johnson, Brooke Shaden and the baby goat!

Last Possesions

Last Possessions

Thanks for reading!  If you are in the LA area and have any need for sheep, livestock which won’t end up on anyone’s plate, a farm, a very kind farmer, or a place to train your dog in the art of sheep herding, I can’t recommend Task Farms enough!  Thanks again to Terry, Katie, Brooke and Meredith for all helping to make the day possible and very fun!!

Well.  You may remember from my last post that I was talking about taking a bit of a vacation because I’ve been almost constantly sick for over two months – sick on top of any fibro or ME stuff,  I mean.  Ironically, the day I woke up and posted that, I quickly realized I was coming down with yet another cold which turned into strep throat this time.  It’s only been about 9 months since the last time I had strep throat.  Since my health has been so incredibly sub-par recently, I realized pretty quickly it was turning into strep and got myself to urgent care (again) for antibiotics (again).  Last time I had strep, I let it go for a while before I realized what it was, so I was pretty much dying every time I breathed or swallowed.  While I was certainly uncomfortable this time, it wasn’t nearly as horrific as the last episode, so I’m thankful for that.

I am just finishing up my last antibiotics today, so while I’ve been resting to get over the strep throat, I did not take the “vacation” I was planning on taking.  At this point I think I’ll try and start it now… it’s not 100% ideal since I have two appointments this week (which for me is about as many “things” as I can put into a week) but I feel like I really need to just focus on this resting up and recuperating as soon as  I can to prevent more illnesses.  I’ll probably extend it a little longer than I’d originally planned on also, but again, I think it’s very, very called for.

I saw my new ear/nose/throat doctor last Friday since I’d about exhausted my regular doctor’s knowledge of what could be going on with my crazy, absurd body this time.  The new doctor had bloodwork done to test for allergies and (assuming I can stay relatively healthy) he’s going to do a CT scan of my head in the next couple weeks to see what’s up with my sinuses, among other things.  The idea is to have the scan done while I’m at my “baseline” and not sick with anything new, so that adds another level of needing to stay quiet, rest and be healthy.

And did I mention pain spikes in the last post?  OH MY GOD, pain spikes.  And migraines.  Serious, grabbing-your-brain-in-a-vice, I-am-not-fucking-around migraines.  It was all enough that my pain specialist added a new, stronger pain medication to my collection of pills.  Do I win a prize if I collect enough pills?  Is it like Pokemon?

Today I feel well enough to write this, so I’m trying to knock it out before my energy wears off.  I’m still planning on being a little less active online than has been typical for me in the past (and of course I was VERY inactive while I was in the grip of strep) so please continue to bear with me as I work on improving my health.  I will not be intentionally ignoring or neglecting anyone.  I would much, much rather be happy and chipper and be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but that’s not the way things are right now.  Please don’t take any unresponsiveness on my part personally; I just may not be on the computer that day, or a migraine might not allow me to open my eyes, etc.  Regardless, it won’t be you, it’ll be me.

I did have one photo that was all ready to go, and one which doesn’t require a ton of promotion as others sometimes do.  So I’ll slip this one quietly online then go about my resting and vacationing and watching endless cat videos on YouTube through the TV.  (How amazing is it that you can watch YouTube on your TV now??  I love that!)

This image is a new DreamWorld photo, featuring the ever-wonderful Katie Johnson. It gives us a glimpse of a human girl who has been given a sleeping draught of some kind which sent her into a deep, silent slumber… who gave it to her and for what purpose are a mystery.  The billowing blue smoke tells me that something important is about to happen; perhaps a new creature will make itself manifest!  We may find out more in a later image.

We shot this… gosh, at least several months ago, though it may have been longer than that.  A while is safe to say.  I’m wearing a sweater and scarf in the behind-the-scenes photo so it was definitely NOT recently as California has been doing its best impression of the scorching depths of hell the last few months.  This is actually in my front yard (I love it when I can shoot without driving anywhere!).  There are some marvelously old trees here, and this one had a delightfully curly branch which Katie gracefully draped herself over.  It took a little maneuvering on her part to get into position without sliding right off due to the slippery fabric of the dress she’s wearing, but Katie is a pro and didn’t let that stop her.  I lit a few blue smoke bombs in my “smoke bomb bucket” and tried to scurry around, spreading the smoke generously through the frame to composite together later.  It took a number of smoke bombs and careful placement, but I was able to get pretty much all the background covered up and filled any holes in Photoshop.

Sleeping Draught - spreading blue smoke

Sleeping Draught – spreading blue smoke.  Also, ignore the way Katie’s dress is pooching strangely; I can promise you it has to do with the unusual cut of the dress and does not reflect Katie’s body :)

So please enjoy this latest DreamWorld photo and the detail shots below!  Thanks to Katie for always being up for all my crazy ideas and for being able to look so serene and beautiful while pretend-sleeping on an uncomfortable tree branch!  Now if I could get my hands on this sleeping draught, I think my resting would be a lot more healing and easier to handle!  Lastly, please don’t feel like you can’t talk to me or interact with me while I’m “vacationing;” I’m sure to get lonely, I just might not get back to you as quickly as I’d like depending on how the day is going.  Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement!

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Time Off

Before I forget, I want to thank everyone who so lovingly came together for my friend Erick!  I am extremely happy to say that he is doing much, much better and has been released from the hospital.  He isn’t through this rough patch yet, but it seems the worst is behind him and his spirit has been lifted for the fights ahead.  Thank you all dearly for your thoughts, wishes and prayers.  I know it all made a difference.

I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be taking a “vacation” for the next week or so.  I’m not going anywhere; in fact, the whole point is for me to stay at home and really, really rest.  August was one of the worst health months I’ve had in a long time, including two urgent care visits (very early in the morning) two appointments with my GP,  a 5am call to the 24 hour nurse hotline (which led to one of the GP visits but I was worried I needed to to the emergency room) two colds, one ear infection, one thing which I thought was another ear infection and turned out to be allergy-related, countless migraines and almost as many nights of insomnia as nights where I slept.  It was just a really hard month.

I had a few photography things I needed to take care of, but as of now, I’m taking a little time off.  I’m thinking a week or so, but obviously I can tinker it to fit how I’m feeling.  I may not be on social media as much for the next few days and I may or may not post a photo next week.  I actually have one ready to go but the posting requires more energy than you’d think, especially if it needs to be promoted in any way.  So that’s all to say, I’m going to hunker down and try and stay in bed in my PJs as much as possible for the next week.  I may be a little quieter online, but it won’t be forever.  :)

And that leads me neatly into two other things I’ve been trying to find time to say between all the craziness.  One is a guest article I wrote for MESupport.Co.UK.  Louise, who runs the site, was very generous with letting me pick the topic I wanted to write about and also being extremely forgiving about how long it took me to actually get the article to her!  It was fun to write it once I actually could, and I got to use a story my dad likes to tell about me when I was very little, so give her a read :)

I was discussing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with @RidgeBackRogue, who also has ME, a few weeks ago and wondered out loud what we could do for ME that would be similar.  One of the problems with the Ice Bucket Challenge is that people with severe ME would never be able to do it; they can barely tolerate light, let alone ice-cold water.  It would be uncomfortable and a little harmful even for me, and I’m just moderate. We wanted it to be something that anyone of nearly any health level could do.

She immediately came up with a great idea: The ME Movie and Chocolate Challenge!  Guess how it works.  Within 1 week of being challenged, you must watch any movie of your liking while eating something with chocolate!  We’re pretty forgiving here, so if you don’t care for chocolate, you could substitute whatever you like best.  Then you donate the average price of a movie ticket to an ME charity – I like the Microbe Discovery Project for the US and RidgeBackRogue suggests Invest In ME for UK residents!

And while those with the most, most severe form of ME still wouldn’t be able to participate, the poor souls, this is accessible to people of a wider range of the health spectrum.

So that’s it!  I’ll be doing my ME Movie and Chocolate Challenge over the next week… what should I watch?  If I had to pick right now, I’d probably go with Cloud Atlas, The Green Mile or In Bruges… or just a bunch of episodes of Breaking Bad, True Detective or Rectify; enough to make up a movie’s-length of time.  I don’t see how I can go wrong with any of those choices!

Would anyone like to volunteer to be next?  Extra karma points to you if you do :)

In Between Awake And Asleep - this is what I plan on doing for the next week; magically hovering over the bed.  Or maybe I'll deign to actually lay in bed.  With PJs that are actually comfortable.  And sleep.  That all sounds better.

In Between Awake And Asleep – this is what I plan on doing for the next week; magically hovering over the bed. Or maybe I’ll deign to actually lay in bed. With PJs that are actually comfortable. And sleep. That all sounds better.

 

 

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