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Oh my goodness… so, so much has happened recently that I feel completely overwhelmed in sitting (or, rather, laying) down to tell you about it!  But I have a new image to share with you and I really wanted to post it and maybe give you guys a little gloss-over update at least, so I’m just going for it.  If I let myself think about it any longer, I’ll just get frozen with intimidation over how much I’d like to cover!

First news: health is poor.  I mean, yes, you all know my health is pretty much always poor, but it’s been even more so lately.  I feel like it’s been slowly sliding downhill over the past… year?  year and a half?  two years?  But the last six-to-nine months have been extra bad.  I think I’ve told some of you at least about the “hot flashes” I’ve been getting.  It’s actually quite a lot more complicated than calling them “hot flashes” implies, but I don’t know a better name to get the general idea across with, so we’re going to call them “hot flashes.”  What it really is, is my body suddenly seems unable to regulate its temperature properly, which sends me into sudden, drenching sweats, often while I’m shivering with cold at the same time.  Very similar to the sort of sweats you get with a fever, but it only lasts a few hours, it comes and goes quite randomly, I have absolutely no other fever symptoms and it seems to ONLY happen in the morning (because that’s when my day is busiest, I have the most appointments scheduled, etc, so it can be the most obnoxious).  This sounds like something that’s just annoying, which it is, but it’s quite a bit worse than that.  It makes me weak and lightheaded, it’s not something I can simply push through by will alone; I might have to cancel appointments or send Geoff to the grocery store on his own.  We both utterly detest grocery shopping, but I’m much too weak to do it on my own anymore, and if I at least go with Geoff, it’s company for a task no one enjoys, so I always feel bad if I have to make him do it by himself.

These were getting so bad and disruptive for a while that I saw my GP about it.  He tested my thyroid and a couple of other things in my blood, examined me, decided it wasn’t anything menopause-related (which, yes, would be QUITE young to start having them, but stranger things have happened), said it sounded hormonal and sent me on my way.  I saw my neurologist, he said it wasn’t anything neurological and I should probably see an endocrinologist; a doctor who specializes in looking at your hormones.  I also happened to see my pain specialist during this time just for my every-three-months-check-in, and mentioned it to him, and he agreed it sounded hormonal, but was outside his expertise.  So I did some research, found an endocrinologist nearby who got good reviews online and made an appointment.

The first bad sign was that the endo’s office doesn’t accept credit cards of any kind, only cash or checks, which they had not mentioned in ANY of the conversations I had with them when I set my appointment up.  Not only is that just absurdly behind the times, but I, like most people this day and age, very, very rarely carry either cash or a checkbook on me.  Before going to this doctor, I couldn’t tell you the last time I wrote a check.  Thankfully, I happened to have shoved my checkbook in the bottom of my purse anyway, but I had a mini panic attack in the waiting room wondering how I was going to pay these people.

Eventually I found it though and went into my appointment, which was mostly going over my medical history with the doctor and explaining what the problem I was seeing him for was.  Obviously, my medical history is much more like something George RR Martin would write about than a quick-read paperback, but the doctor interrupted me quite a lot as I tried to tell him details which were important and extremely pertinent to the hot flashes I was seeing him for.  Obviously, I did not care for that, but it is a very common problem with doctors.  If I wrote off every doctor who interrupted me while I was explaining things, I wouldn’t have any doctors left to see.  Anyway, he ALSO agreed it sounded hormonal and said we’d run a bunch of blood tests to see what was going on.  We’d be repeating everything my GP had already run because, the endo said, his tests were more thorough.  Ok, fine.  Six vials of fasted blood later, they were sent to the lab, Geoff bought me breakfast and I waited a week’s time until I could get my results from the doctor.

In this appointment (paid for with the check book which I’d triple-checked was still in my purse after the stress of the first visit), the doctor went over each page of the bloodwork results with me, explaining what was tested and how every single thing came back normal.  My blood was normal, thus, I was “perfectly healthy!” and did not need to see him any more expect for in another six months to recheck my blood and make sure it was still all normal and I was healthy.

Obviously, I am not healthy.  Even if you discount my mountain of other ME-related issues, the fact that I was presenting with extremely hormonal-sounding problems should indicate that something is amiss.  This doctor had absolutely no interest in finding out what this life-interrupting issue was though.  The impression he gave me was that he thought I was an overly worried, mildly hypochondriac girl getting her pigtails in a twist over nothing and that showing me that my bloodwork said there was nothing wrong would make the problem go away, because it was  probably something I’d dredged up on my own through pure will.  But the most offensive part of all… he did not check one single motherfucking hormone.  Not ONE.  On a case where three other doctors all had said the issue sounded hormonal, I told him I was concerned it was hormonal, he didn’t bother to check anything.

I’ve since been told by other people who have to see endos regularly that you usually have to specifically ask them to check your hormones, if that’s something you want.  WHY???  You don’t have to do this with ANY OTHER medical specialty.  I don’t have to tell my neurologist to check my brain, I haven’t had to tell my gynecologist to examine my lady parts.  How is this something that is not only allowed, but is COMMON in this one niche???

At the time he was going over the bloodwork with me in the room, I was trying to control being wildly disappointed over having yet another problem come back testing as “normal” and being shunted off again, again being treated as if I was making this all up, again being patronizingly patted and being told to not worry my pretty little head about it.  Look, I’m sorry that my disease isn’t something they teach a lot about in medical school, I really am.  I’m sorry that most doctors feel threatened when confronted with something they can’t simply write a prescription for and it’s solved.  I’m sorry that it makes them feel insecure, as if they don’t know what they’re doing because I don’t have an easy fix.  I am far, far sorrier about that than any doctor who’s treated me like a hot potato could ever be.  But I do not go around to doctors’ offices for fun to mock them for their lack of knowledge.  I go in with an open mind every time, despite years of consistent disappointment, hoping that, just maybe, this will be the time when I get an answer.  Not even THE answer, just a part of it.  But to not test any hormones for a presenting issue that, to every lay-person and doctor I’ve spoken to, sounds extremely hormonal is inexcusable.  I spent a lot of money in copays, I spent six vials of blood my body could have used, I spent a lot of time gearing up for appointments and recovering from them, I spent incredibly precious energy getting to my appointments, getting tests done, and sobbing after my last appointment as my hopes were again dashed and I realized it had all been wasted.  The absolute least the doctor could have done was run the tests I wanted done but didn’t know that I had to ask for specifically by name, because that’s how endocrinologists are.

Each time I have one of these horrible experiences with medical professionals, it makes it so, so much harder to even fathom trying again.  Why should I if most of them are going to just call me crazy and kick me out of their offices as quickly as possible?  And of course I know that I have to keep trying because giving up isn’t an option, but for fuck’s sake, can’t they at least try and meet me in the middle somewhere?

After that edifying experience, I couldn’t even bear the thought of looking for another endo and starting the process over again, even knowing now that you have to ask for your hormones to be tested.  The wound was just too raw.  What I did have was an appointment set up with Celestine Grace, my very favorite medium, who’s helped me a lot in the time we’ve been working together.  I asked her what would help my body and she told me to take rose hip supplements, which I knew are very high in vitamin C.  They’re cheap and easily available from Amazon, so I got a bottle and started taking them.  And you know what?  Within a couple weeks, my hot flashes had gone down considerably.  They still popped up now and then, but the difference was huge.  I ran out of them and it took a few days before I could get my replacement bottle in, and while I was off them, my hot flashes spiked again.  I’m back on them now and they’re going back down, but it might take a couple weeks, like it did the first time.

I am so, so grateful to Celestine for that bit of advice and for helping to turn around a very bad situation (and also all the other help and advice she’s given me over the year or so we’ve known each other) but it’s so incredibly ironic to me that four conventional doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t help me, but my medium did.  It goes to show the strength of her talent while underscoring how little conventional Western medicine has to offer me.  Thank you, Celestine, I can’t tell you how much those rose hips have helped me!

The whole thing got me thinking that I may just need a whole different approach to my health, so I began to look into different specialists and alternative treatments.  I mean, that’s something I’m continually on the lookout for, but I was searching with a new urgency this time.  Giving vitamin C intravenously has been a growing trend… since my body had responded well to the rose hips, maybe it would like a more concentrated dose even more!  I have found a naturopath who is nearby, returned my phone call herself to discuss if we would be a good fit for each other and offers IV vitamin C along with a ton of other therapies I’ve been interested in but haven’t been pushed far enough to try yet, since most are expensive and not covered by insurance.  I have an appointment with that doctor next Monday morning, which will just be a consultation between one to two hours where we just go over my history, what changes I’d like to see and what treatments might be good for me.  They also test hormones.  🙂  As hard as it is for me to allow myself to be hopeful that maybe this time it will work, I can feel hope trying to quietly creep in.  I’ll let you guys know how that appointment goes.

As my body has gotten more and more painful and uncomfortable to inhabit, I’ve been turning to my own form of spirituality for strength and comfort.  It works for me.  It helps significantly, so much so that Geoff has noticed its effect.  It’s a bit too much to get into it all now, but it’s based in meditation and finding my own path up the mountain toward god/source.  A lot of it might sound like new age woo-woo, but I stick with what works, and this does.  My variety of spirit guides have been a big part of keeping me from utterly falling apart as things have gotten more and more difficult all around… just thinking about them makes me feel more peaceful.

I frequently mourn the health I once had, the life I once had, everything ME has taken away from me.  I mourn for those who I wish I could have gotten to know in this life and not just in the next.  I still mourn the loss of our previous home with our incredible neighbors, even though this place is finally feeling more like home and we have great new neighbors here.  Mourning is a universal human experience; I’m sure every one of you can think of things you mourn.

My new city has a lovely, tiny, serene, old little cemetery within what would be walking distance for most people from my home.  I wanted to shoot there when I had the excellent Teri Wyble over (quite a while ago now, I’m terribly behind on editing).  I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to shoot there, or what I was trying to say at the time.  This sometimes happens.  I’ve learned by now to just go with it, that its reason will become clear to me later.  That was the case with this image.  I asked Teri to imagine this was the grave of someone she loved and missed horribly; someone whose loss she still mourned.  I don’t know if she was tapping into a loss in her own life or if she’s just very good at imagining, but she portrayed exactly what I wanted:

Loss.  An inability to move on from the blow of death.

But I didn’t want it to be completely bleak.  The birds swooping in to comfort her speaks to me of the healing that comes after we let ourselves grieve.  Yes, you have to pass through the darkness first, but there is eventually light.  Sometimes it comes to you on feathered wings when you least expect it.

Whether the viewer has recently experienced this themselves or not, it’s such a common part of just being human, I wanted to create this.  Not to wallow in the mud of despair, but to remind myself that the heaviness will someday lift.  The pain will ease.  The grief will lessen.  Maybe even, a treatment will eventually work.

Thank you so very much, Teri, for your beautiful, emotive modeling!  You are a wonderful human being and model.  🙂

Enjoy, my friends!  If this speaks to you, I’d love to hear what it brings up if you’d like to share that in the comments!

Mourning Dove

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Another set of DreamWorld photos are done; yay!  🙂

Paul trio

I had the chance to shoot Paul Telfer, who looks startlingly like you would imagine Superman would look in real life.  When I was casting the role of the Sentinel, Paul immediately came to mind.  He just looks like someone who would be more than capable of keeping you safe, in this world or DreamWorld!

You might recognize Paul from his recurring role on NCIS,  and recent appearances on Body of Proof and Vampire Diaries.  In fact, you can catch him on Vampire Diaries on their season finale on hte 16th!  Make sure to set your DVR.  🙂  He is also just the nicest person; charming, interesting and he really brought his acting skills into play for the photos.  He was a joy to shoot!

DreamWorld was going to need a protector; someone who would watch over you as you sleep and keep the nightmares at bay.  As I started thinking about how to visually portray this, I again associated one’s ego with eggs (although I actually conceived and shot this before Lauren’s photo).  It seemed very fitting; the intrinsic fragility of eggs, combined with their promise of life, growth and change… a perfect metaphor for the human soul.

For them to work in the photo, they were going to need to be much, much larger than an average egg, so I turned to the internet.  It proved really quite difficult to find suitable eggs; everything was either far too small or far too large (and also cost far too much).  Eventually though, I came across some plastic eggs at a party supply site.  They were all the wrong colors, and the package came with many more than I needed, but they would work, so I purchased them.

Once they arrived, I set about painting them.  I started with a few base coats of a pearly blue acrylic paint… I love this paint, it’s actually the same paint that I used to cover the dresser at the foot of my bed.  It’s just gorgeous.  Being covered in the paint immediately made the eggs look less like toys and much more magical.  I added in several more layers of different colors and textures, finishing them by spritzing them with water and then spraying on a light haze of silver spray paint.  The paint wouldn’t adhere where the water was, so it gave the eggs a slightly speckled appearance, which made them look like authentic eggs.

egg 2

Painting eggs

Painting eggs.

More painting eggs

Paul came over and the weather gods must have been favoring me, since it was a gorgeously overcast afternoon.  Cloudy, overcast days are my very favorite, both personally and for shooting in.  I scooped up a mess of pine needles, generously provided by the little pine grove in front of my house.  Creating a nest out of them brought back fond childhood memories of building just such nests at parks which I’d sit in, pretending to be a bird.  Happy memories!

The painted eggs got loaded into the nest, along with some moss I’d found just to give an extra little dimension of realism.  Paul posed with them and was such a pro!  Shooting all three photos probably took twenty or thirty minutes, and then we were done!

I can never shoot anything without an animal appeared unexpectedly in it, as my neighbor’s dog Mei Mei demonstrates.

Mei Mei bomb

Mei Mei bomb

I felt like I’d done a good job with the photos when I had a nightmare a few days after I’d finished them, and imagining the Sentinel guarding me in my sleep helped calm and comfort me.  Please enjoy the finished photos and detail shots from each image, and feel free to imagine the Sentinel is guarding your sleep too 🙂

Sleeper's Sentinel

Sleeper’s Sentinel

sarahallegra.com

sarahallegra.com

His Flock Of Little Birds

His Flock Of Little Birds

His Flock Of Little Birds nest

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

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When I started planning my DreamWorld series, one of the first characters that came to me was a dryad; a nature spirit representing our connection with nature.  I saw her as a strong, benevolent queen, keeping watch over the woodland creatures and protecting them.   The first concept I came up with that made my heart pitter-patter with excitement was the idea of building a huge crown for her from sticks and branches.   I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this, but I had a vision.  And I have learned over the years that having a vision will pave the way to making it a reality, regardless of if I know how that will come about.

A sample of the three completed photos

A sample of the three completed photos

I tried to get a lot of photos to document the lengthy creation process, so this will be a longer post.  Bear with me!  Or just skim over it and scroll down to the finished photos 🙂

After I sketched out my designs, I decided to just dive into the project and tackle each step as it came.  So the first part was simple; I needed sticks and branches.  There are lots of trees in my yard, so there was no shortage of sticks to choose from!   The challenge was to try and find ones that already held the kind of shapes and curves I was looking for.

I started by bundling the branches together into small clumps, and eventually joining the smaller clumps into larger ones.

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It was quite simple and  low-tech, it just took wire, wire cutters, pliers, time and patience.

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I gently guided the branches into the directions I wanted them to go, and wired them into place.

Calantha bomb

Calantha bomb

Once the shape was right, I spray painted it with various layers of black, bronze and silver paints, giving it a subtle, organic variation of colors.

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At this point I started working on the dress and, in particular, the lace leaves.   Oh, I was excited about the lace leaves!  I’d found a really beautiful yard of lace with an iridescent shimmer to it.  I cut out hundreds of leaves from it in several different sizes.  And I decided that any mild flaws would only enhance the natural and organic look I wanted 😉  After the leaves were all cut out, I painted veins on them with pearly fabric paint; you can see a small sample of the veined leaves trying on my bathroom floor below.  I had to paint them in the bathroom so they could dry without the cats trying to help.

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Lace leaves and happy owl shower curtain!

After they were painted, I created a small landscape of bubble wrap and plastic bottles to give a wide variety of angles for them to take shape from, and covered them thoroughly with spray adhesive.  As they dried, they took on gentle curves and curls much more like actual leaves.

Most of the leaves were for the dress, but I wanted to bring a few of them onto the crown as well.

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Hot glue is a crafty girl’s best friend.

Lastly, I added pinecones and a small plant holder which I thought had a very regal look, all of which had been painted to match the rest of the crown.

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sarahallegra.com

The $2 plant holder, pinecones and lace leaves

This whole time I still wasn’t sure how I would attach the crown to my model.  The crown was really pretty huge, fragile and awkwardly shaped, but it was quite light.  After some deliberation, I decided to try mounting it to some extra thick foam board with zip ties, using a piece long enough piece to run from the base of the crown to where the model’s hips would be.  I covered the back of the foam board with adhesive-backed Velcro, and cut matching Velcro lengths, planning to use them as straps around the model’s shoulders and waist.

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There was the crown; next was the dryad’s dress!  I wanted it to be long and flowing, with a very natural feel to it.  I planned on having the bottom of the dress be cut into strips, using fabrics with different textures and colors to help emulate the look and feel of a tree.

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The back of the dress, lace pinned onto and under it.

I used plain, unbleached muslin to make the dress, both for it’s inexpensive cost, and because I suspected it would dye easily.  After the form of the dress was created, I tied a rope between two trees to make a clothesline, bought a HUGE amount of instant ice tea and a spray bottle…

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I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed it… letting each layer dry, so the color could build up and have a natural gradation.  It worked, but oh my heavens, did it SMELL.  I drink tea, and I’ve never found its smell offensive, but apparently I’d never experienced it in such a large and intense quantity.  I had to email the model and warn her that her dress would be beautiful, but stinky.  It had to lay out on a chair on the porch the first night; I couldn’t even deal with it being in the bathroom.

Once it was dyed, I needed to tie up the metaphoric loose ends of the dress; put grommets in the back, sew the ribbons around the waist, etc.  Byron and Maynard both did their best to help with this.

sarahallegra.com

sarahallegra.com

They do their best despite their lack of thumbs

After that, it was finally time for the part I was most excited about: attaching the lace leaves!  All along I had been planning on creating a collar and cuffs out of the leaves, and I was quite excited to have finally reached that point after all the work I’d done leading up to it.

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Hot glue again works wonders

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I had suspected that I would need to paint in some shadows to define the various layers of the leaves; with white on white, I thought it would look like a white blob from far away.  After some thought, I decided to “paint” the shadows on using eye shadow.  I wanted the shadows to be very light; I love the pearly iridescence of the leaves and I didn’t want to cover that up.  I thought eye shadow would offer me a wide range or affordable colors (and I ended up just using an eye shadow variety kit I’d had forever) and allow me to gradually build up subtle changes of color.  After working on the dress all day, and the shoot looming in the near future, I spent one whole evening painting eye shadow in between the leaves of the collar and cuffs (with an awful headache, I might add).  I loved the result; it was beautiful and just like I had wanted.  To help preserve everything, since shadow can smear so easily, and also fortify the shapes of the collar and cuffs, I gave them all a light mist of spray adhesive to bring it all together.

That was the wrong thing to do.

Somehow, the spray adhesive turned my carefully constructed, beautifully built-up shading into a nasty, muddy blob.  It looked awful.  I wanted to cry.  At this point, I was only a day away from the shoot, and I had no idea what I was going to do.  I absolutely couldn’t use the dress the way it looked.  And it was now very late on a day I’d spent every hour of working on the dress, I was tired, cranky and tearful.  Just to feel like I was doing something potentially useful, I painted on a couple different colored swatches of acrylic paint I had on hand for another project, and decided to let the whole thing dry overnight.  I’d figure it out in the morning.

The acrylic paint worked.  And I ended up liking the end result of the paint even more than I’d liked the initial eye shadow ones.  It still took a lot of time to do the next day, but I was able to work on it without feeling panicked or totally stressed out, because I knew it was going to look beautiful.  And of course, acrylic paint dries quite quickly, which helped!

The back of the painted lace collar

The back of the painted lace collar

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One of the cuffs

So much work, but so worth it!

So much work, but so worth it!

There!  The costume was done!  All I had to do now was shoot the photos.

I had been envisioning one of my go-to models for this, Dedeker Winston.  I love working with Dedeker; we’ve been creating images together for several years now, and she always delivers above and beyond what I ask of her.  It also turned that she especially likes dryads, so she was very enthusiastic from the beginning!  Since this was going to be a more challenging shoot, I asked my sister-in-law Kim, who is herself a very talented artist, if she would come along and assist.  Kim was also excited about the shoot, so the three of us got up a bit early on a Saturday morning and went out to one of my favorite woods.  Kim was also kind enough to take some behind the scenes photos for me, which I will share with you here 🙂

Getting Dedeker into the costume required a bit of work and was definitely not something I would have been able to do without Kim being there.  Dedeker had to step into the dress, I strapped her into the crown while Kim stabilized it and kept the branches from gouging Dedeker’s eyes out.  After that I got the back laced up around the foam board.  I had Dedeker stand on a stool to give her extra height and presence, adding to her ethereal feel.

Helping Dedeker onto the stool; it was not very easy for her to navigate with all that she was wearing.

Helping Dedeker onto the stool; it was not very easy for her to navigate with all that she was wearing.

I had been considering adding an additional underskirt of some really beautiful, shimmery green fabric I’d had in my fabric stash.  Once I saw Dedeker with the crown in the actual location, I thought it would add a lot, so I quickly safety-pinned it under the dress.

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There is a Frisbee golf course at this wood, and one of the “holes” is quite near the location where we were shooting.  Every now and then a golfer wandered into the background.  No one seemed to think what we were doing was particularly odd.

Frisbee golfers golfing

Frisbee golfers golfing

I made some bird stand-ins out of soft foam sheets and a little wire.  I thought it would be useful to have something casting a realistic shadow when it came to adding in the birds in post.

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I clambered around on the trees, trying to find the perfect location to shoot from.  I went tumbling off this log at one point, but managed to twist in the air and not land on my camera.

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More shooting

More shooting

I had my photos!  The weather had been perfect, and I was really excited about the shots I got.  Next it was time to edit them, and add in the birds and squirrels.  Editing ended up being more difficult and complicated than I had expected (which often happens) but I got through them all eventually.

I had been taking photos of the birds at my feeder and yard with this shoot in mind, so I had built up a bit of a library already.  Stalking the birds for so long has given me a much greater appreciation for wildlife photographer; it can take a long time, LOTS of patience and a fair bit of luck to get the shots you want.

I’m really pleased with the final images, and even more pleased that I managed to create these with a very limited budget.  The sticks and branches were free, I already had the wire and some of the fabric.  The only money I spent money on was some fabric, paint, instant ice tea and the crown decoration.  All together I’d guess I spent about $40 or $50 on this, most of which went to the different colors of spray paint.  Huge budgets are not mandatory to create great things!

Below are the the final edited photos, along with some detail shots from each one; the small size these have to be on the internet just can’t display everything I’d like you to be able to see.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen detai  l

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

Annunciation

Annunciation

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

By the way, does anyone know what kind of bird this is?  It’s one of my favorites who frequents the feeder; I’d like to know what to call her!

Thank you so much to Dedeker and Kim for their help in making these images happen, and to Geoff for all his support!  I couldn’t have done it without you guys.   I’m so pleased to be able to have these photos completed.  They really sum up what I want DreamWorld to be about; beautiful, ethereal, mysterious characters with a lot of production value.  Thanks to all who read all the way down to here!  🙂

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