White Ink, “The” Todd, and My Tattoo

It’s been a few years since I decided to get a tattoo. As a confirmed wuss, my initial qualms were all about the pain-factor, but as time went on and I had more adult experiences with pain, I realized that tatttoo-ing wasn’t so daunting after all. I mean, getting a tattoo (a) has a built-in time limit (it can only last so long) and (b) results in a desired effect – you get something you wanted at the end of the pain! I’ve experienced physical pain in my adult life without either benefit. The pain-factor dealt with (at least mentally), and a simple idea in mind, I set out to find a skilled artist that would be able to give me a white tattoo. This was easier said than done. Most places I looked into seemed to be reluctant to work exclusively with white ink (for lots of reasons, which I encourage you to read up on if you are considering getting one).

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Me, just a few minutes prior to getting my tattoo, having done oodles of research on the details . . .

Why Would I Want a White Tattoo, you might ask?

So glad you’re curious.

First, I’m the epitome of pale. Imagine the palest person you know and then imagine one shade of outrageous pale lighter than that . . . if I didn’t have pigment in my skin or hair, I could probably pass as Albino. I’m the kind of pale where I get a sunburn just so that I can be normal-people-pale. Almost every year without fail, during midsummer, somebody will say: “Wow, you’re so pale!” when I’m actually feeling fairly tan. What does pale-ness have to do with anything? Well, Being this pale, I think that a dark tattoo would be EXTREMELY eye-catching. As a distractible person, I would probably see it out of the corner of my eye and constantly be distracted. Seriously, if I got a black tattoo on my arm (the location of choice) I’d probably wind up compulsively checking it out . . .  I might even develop an awkward twitch.

Second, I think they are pretty, yet subtle. I maintain that I see no point in getting a tattoo where I cannot actually see it with my own two eyes. Point of personal preference, I know, but I want to get a tattoo for myself. Quite frankly, I could care less if other people can see it because it’s something I’m doing for me. Since I consider it somewhat personal, I like that white tattoos play into a more understated style.

There are other little reasons/thoughts I’ve had on the subject, but those are the two main lines of thought.

Finally, a few weeks ago when I was visiting a dear friend in the greater Los Angeles area, the opportunity to get some ink from a skilled professional finally arose. After reading dozens upon dozens of reviews, I wound up booking an evening appointment with Todd Sorensen at his tattoo studio The Velvet Grip Family in West Hollywood.

The lovely Todd Sorensen, who tattooed me one fine Thursday evening in April

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The Hollywood Examiner has a nice article all about Velvet Grip Family and the author, Jeremy Meyer, describes the whole place perfectly. “A simple way to understand the dynamic of this place is imagining the assembly of a Justice League of superhero’s but instead of fighting off villains they are piercing and tatting to your own desire.

My own personal “superhero” of this particular league, as the owner, might be the Nick Fury of the team. Or maybe he’s Iron Man.  Regardless, Todd (who goes by “The Todd” according to many internet resources) was great. Very chill, very nice, very good at artistic input, and I honestly appreciated that he encouraged me to only get a tattoo if I was 100% confident that I wanted one. He clearly knew what he was doing and my simple line of text was a piece of cake for him, but he still took his time and did a nice job. . . even when I got a little woozy from the blood-sugar plummet after a few minutes. For somebody who has been around & tattooing people as much as he has, I’m sure it would have be easy to see somebody like me and chuckle or roll your eyes, but there was none of that at all – he was great!

My appointment was at 10:30 pm, which is tantamount to the middle of the night when you’re a high school teacher. To pass the time before leaving, my dear friend Jen and I engaged in your typical, rebellious pre-tattoo activities.

pre-tattoo activities

When the time came, Jen gallantly drove me into West Hollywood, where I signed waivers and wrote out the phrase “à Dieu soit la gloire” for the bajillionth, and final, time. (“à Dieu soit la gloire” translates to “to God be the glory”, in case you’re wondering!)

waivers and designsThen the short-lived, yet remarkably uncomfortable, inking process began. I was nervous. I had a lolly-pop (from See’s candies, by the way, a SCRUMPTIOUS west coast place). Jen held my hand and we talked about how, two years previously, she was in labour and giving birth to her son; a fact which rendered the whole tattoo thing quite minor by pain-comparison. Todd photo-bombed one of our goofy “Abby’s nervous” pictures, rendering it even goofier, and far awesome-er.

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In retrospect, I should’ve gotten a real picture with Todd, even if only for posterity, but both Jen and I forgot.

Barely an hour later, Jen and I headed back home to bed, and I was the proud owner of the quite-irritated forearm bearing my very first tattoo.

Fresh Tattoo v. 2 Week Old Tattoo

It took about a week before it looked fully normal/not-red, but it didn’t really hurt after the actual-tattooing-process was finished, despite the initial angry-red hue you can see in the “before” half of the photo above.

The very next morning after my tattoo adventure, I got on an airplane and flew back to Massachusetts, where I was greeted by the only people back home who I had told about my concrete CA tattoo plans. My sisters’ mini-van door slid open to pick me up from the Logan Terminal for Virgin America, and I was immediately greeted by the excited exclamation from my four-year-old niece, “We – We’re THE SAME!!!” Confused, I turned . . .  and discovered that my sisters had, in solidarity, “tattooed” themselves and all of the kids with a variety of French phrases on their left arms!

THE SAME AS ME!!!They were so proud of their “tattoos”, and as soon as I stopped laughing, we commiserated over the shared experience of having words on our arms, which I assure you is quite novel.

All-in-all, quite the daring adventure for this hum-drum teacher-girl!

 

 

How I Wound Up Training for The Broad Street Run

I am not a runner. Not naturally, not even a little bit. I used to make myself run sometimes back in high school . . . I think I even ran a few miles once or twice. I hated it. Let’s just say I’ve always been one of those people that was never very likely to live long in the event of a Zombie apocalypse. I’ve also been militantly ANTI-signing-up-for-road-races . . . partially because EVERYBODY seems to do it once they graduate from college. It’s like some misguided masochistic rite of passage. College graduation seems to perpetually be followed by road races and the eventual adoption/purchasing of a dog. And I wanted none of it. I’ve always found other fulfilling pursuits.

HOWEVER, after a LONG period of being sick (like 18 months, give or take a few), I decided that I needed a little extra motivation to get in shape, and I had seen a couple of FUN looking 5k races (you know, the color run, runs involving costumes, silly runs you can do with friends. . . you get the idea), so on New Years I told my sister that I wanted to run a 5k sometime during this new year. 5k = 3.12 miles, and I supposed I should probably be able to run 3.12 miles. I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, but it seemed like a good plan in general, SO I told her she was in charge of making sure  I signed up/ran a 5k with her at some point during 2014. She agreed to make sure I followed through.

Fast-forward a few months

to a moment when I am suddenly added to a text-message strand with an abundance of unread messages. . .

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Can we talk about this? I get added to this devious message strand by my super-scheming-yet-seemingly-oblivious siblings, the punks! I saw it, laughed really hard because I figured that I’d be in “the know” and ahead of their game . . . I would never give in to running a race longer than a 5k! Laughing at the lack of guile in my wonderful family, I posted the above picture on my facebook page, letting them know I was aware of their machinations. It was then that I learned the terrifying truth.

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That’s right. My sister, who I love and trust, signed me up for a ten mile road race. Not only that, but our team name is STAR WARS, in tribute the the fact that the Broad Street Run will be taking place on May the Fourth (as in: “May the fourth be with you”). Reality began to set in as the messages continued. . .

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I finally weighed in on the conversation, my own dubious opinions evident (at least, I thought so).

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Fast-forward a few more weeks . . .

My initial feelings of fear and dread have now passed (mostly), and I have since decided to throw myself into the planning/preparation with dedication. I am currently in Week 4 of the following training plan, and have only missed one two-mile run so far (everybody gets sick sometimes, right?).

training program

With a few weeks of perspective under my belt, I have to admit something. I am kind of proud of myself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, running in New England in the Winter is not exactly making it to my top 10 favorite activities in life. In fact, running in general will probably never make the favorite activities list, no matter what season we’re talking about . . . but it is kind of fulfilling and empowering to see myself get better at this miserable process as I go. I can (begrudgingly) admit that I am glad I am doing this (despite the fact that it makes me HUGELY nervous that I still have yet to run even half of what I will need to run come May)!

SO, with that small bit of perspective firmly in mind, I’ll keep training. Any tips from more veteran runners are hugely welcome, and once May 4th has come and gone, I’ll let you all know how the race goes down!

Divergent & Detergent ~ Unexpected Parallel Universes

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Lots of people have now read Veronica Roth‘s rapidly circulating trio of novels: The Divergent Series.  They are a gripping trilogy that follow in the footsteps of The Hunger Games Trilogy (by Suzanne Collins) as worldwide bestsellers in the realm of Young Adult Fiction. Like Collins’ trilogy, I’ve heard a lot of people poo-poo-ing book 3 of this series, but I recommend them regardless of what you may hear/read. The full trilogy snagged my attention, built well-developed characters, and  mesmerized me from start to finish. There’s also a Divergent movie coming out, which looks pretty awesome. So, if you haven’t read them, close this window and go do so, you’re not going to get any of the jokes I’m about to make anyways!

My enjoyment of these books now established, I have decided that they definitely call for a GENIUS parody, which clearly, I plan on writing myself (not). I’m calling it:

 The Detergent Trilogy 

In a dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic society that bears the seemingly permanent stains of human failings, young adults are sorted into factions that determine their futures. Obviously, these factions will have really cool names like: Tide, Bounty, Cheer, Hypoallergenic, and Store Brand.

Living in an oppressive society, rife with societal limitations as a result of the high-efficiency cycles they are born into, our young protagonists find themselves tossed into a machine where they have no choice but to react. Thrown into a spin-cycle which lathers them into full-scale rebellion, our heroes must work outside the parameters of the system settings to uncover the hidden stains on the seemingly-pristine government. Will they succeed, or will their efforts all just be a wash? 

The Detergent Trilogy

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The Detergent Series 

[probably not actually coming to bookstores near you, 2014]

Frozen: The Must-See Movie of 2014

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I am an ENORMOUS fan of Disney’s newly released film, Frozen. I have officially seen it four times in theaters, and have it pre-ordered on DVD. Some of this might have to do with a certain little 3 year old niece of mine and her deep love of the film. . . but only a small part. This is one of the best animated movies I have ever seen. It goes right up there with The Emperor’s New Groove, which I’m fairly certain is my favorite animated film of all time. Frozen is 100% on-par with the greats. The music is incredible, the characters are endearing and surprising, the animation is beautiful, the humor unbeatable.

My adorable 3 year old (almost 4!) niece has been with me three of the four times I’ve had the pleasure of viewing the film in question. Unsurprisingly, she loves to dress up in a princess dress and pretend to be Elsa. Her favorite song?

I hope you watched that, because it will help you fully and truly appreciate what comes next. Without further ado, here is the REAL must-see video of 2014:

My niece is the most amazing of all the nieces. 

The New York Sun[Shine!]

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Some of you may have read or seen the somewhat-recently popularized newsstory of young Virginia O’Hanlon. There’s a movie and book that came out not too long ago documenting the story in an endearingly artistic way. As I’ve mentioned before, the 2009 movie Yes, Virginia is the story of a young girl questioning the existence of Santa Claus. As a pragmatic young lady, Virginia wrote a letter to the New York Sun and the ensuing response has been a legacy for Christmas ever since. Check it out! This is a copy of what has, apparently, become the most re-printed newspaper article of all time.

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What I really like about the story of young 8-year-old Virginia is the idea that, by simply setting a few lines of type for an editorial, Francis P. (Pharcellus!) Church, the journalist who wrote the response, shared a brightness and positivity that I wish there was more of in the media today.

I stumbled upon a blogpost recently from a site called The Dignified Devil and I loved the way the author, Gregory Smith, describes Francis Church’s response to Virginia. “His example stands against the cynicism of every era, a caution against the magnetic pull of strict logic and constant serious-mindedness . . .”

If you hadn’t heard this story, I hope you find it as sweet and heartening as I did. Although I never believed in Santa as a kid (or as an adult, for that matter!), there is something beautiful in an established Army journalist and serious newspaper editor taking time and ink to perpetuate the magic and beauty that is so often lost as childhood becomes adulthood. Remember that “The most real things in the world that neither children nor men can see . . . Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

That is a truth I celebrate wholeheartedly this season.

Christmastime in France

This was written in 2007, when I was living in the South of France.

Sometimes the air is so cold, it shocks. Like a scary movie, it crept up. And now, in beautiful Aix-en-Provence, where the earth is brick red and the sky is always blue, the Mistral has arrived. That northerly whimsical wind that picks odd sequences of days on which it will blow. It’s basically the bingo of weather systems. Sometimes it’s almost balmy and warm and then BOOM! The evening comes and the wind picks up and before you know it you’re watching your breath contribute to the texture of the icy air that cocoons you. Welcome to winter in Provence.

Walking through the streets yesterday, it struck me that Christmastime had finally arrived. All the roads were full to brimming with a myriad of people. Some were taking their toddlers to see the live animals that make up the nativity. Others were out to get big sugary clouds of “Santa’s beard” (aka. Cotton candy – apparently a Christmas-thing here). Still more were carrying dozens of bags, looking well-laden with all sorts of colorfully wrapped packages and bags. Screw Santa, the French can do it better. One woman pushed through the crowd with a huge flowery lamp under her arm and another man hefted an enormous box onto one shoulder to carry it better. You know it’€™s actually a serious holiday when stores have decided to stay open on the Monday before Christmas. I wasn’t even sure that was legal, but apparently the French pull out all the stops when it comes to Christmas. Literally I guess a smidgen of pure unadulterated commercialism is present in every culture around the holidays.

Despite the jostling that occasionally smacks of commercialism: I still love the hustle and bustle of Christmas!

Flashback: Holidays in France

This was written years ago, when I was living in Aix-En-Provence, in 2007. I thought I would share because it was around this time of year that all of the festive Christmassy things began to be rolled out!

It is November 26 and still feels practically like summer here in Aix-en-Provence. A bit blustery I guess, but in the mid-to-high sixties. Sometimes the Mistral blows in a shivery day, but all in all, its quite good weather. Despite the lack of winter, December is pretty much upon us here in France . . . which means it’s (drum-roll please!) Christmas time!!!!

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All up and down the Cours Mirabeau there are little cabins that are brimming with art, toys, soaps, flowers, jewelry, sweets, and clothing. One woman specializes in chocolates that look just like sausages and eggs. Another man does absolutely exquisite glass-blowing. One cabin is just stuffed full of porcelain chickens in all colors and sizes…randomly enough. There is even a fortune teller booth!

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Each little cabin has the same wooden frame and it looks sort of like the Cours Mirabeau has been taken over by Gingerbread Houses! But the artists and vendors have decorated them individually, so they tend to be personalized and are often quite . . . unique. AKA: ridiculously tacky. Let’s just say the lack of real snow inspires a whoooole lot of that lovely white plastic stuff. But there are several pretty ones all the same!

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Everything sort of has the air of a Carnival at the Christmas Market! Crowds of Christmas-ee people mill about through the cabins and go to see the somewhat-terrifying life-sized crèche at the top of the Street. By the way: Did you know that in French Crèche’s, they don’t put Jesus in until the 25th of December at midnight? But that doesn’t stop them from getting everybody else in place. And this is no ordinary crèche, oh no. It moves. That’s right. It’s electric nativity. You’ve got the works all plugged in, too. A sheep, a donkey, somebody that looked like a Catholic priest but I can only assume was a shepherd, Mary, Joseph and an ENORMOUS Ox.

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I actually think it was a Bull, to tell you the truth. But this bull must be on double time for his electric moovement (get it?), or there was a short in his fuse or something, because he just stands there and his head goes back and forth really fast. Well. Mad cow disease did start in Europe. Maybe they’re just being realistic. Which would explain why Joseph’s electronic movement makes him look like he’s swilling an imaginary bottle of liquor.

nativity?

(I don’t think I’m very impressed with this particular crèche. Don’t let this fool you though…there are AMAZING-ly beautiful hand-made crèches here in France and in Aix especially!!)

A little farther down, once you pass the cotton candy stand and the little “sleigh ride” (?), there’€™s a sort of a little petting-zoo set up around it. This particular petting zoo consists of some statue-like donkeys and two very shell shocked little reindeer. Poor little suckers. They’€™d probably prefer the North Pole.

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Music is performed live on a tiny little stage and broadcasted via speakers all up and down the Cours Mirabeau, which can sometimes be an unfortunate convenience. Yesterday there was some second-rate, Russian-sounding, Christmas-music-slash-opera. The woman had a voice like vinegar. Needless to say, that was not such a nice thing, but they did play “€œWalkin’€™ in a Winter Wonderland” at one point! It inspired me to cut out my snowflakes to put up on the windows for Winter!

snowflakes

It occurred to me today that I have been in France for 70 days. That’€™s pretty intense. I love it here still. But I am homesick. (27 days till I go home, by the way!)

Thanksgiving was . . . different. I never really thought about Thanksgiving not existing in other countries. That would be like Christmas not existing. (Which I guess I am learning is sort of the case in some countries.) I started the day with three hours of class and I wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, even if it meant nothing to them, since I am one of two Americans in the class! Sophie and I were planning to go to the gym afterwards, but that just seemed a little too anti-Thanksgiving for me. I mean, I was already going to class and foregoing Turkey . . . but damned if I was adding the gym to that. So we found a British store (random, I know, but Sophie is from Scotland, so it was especially fun for her!) and ended up having Tea and Digestive Biscuits for Thanksgiving Lunch. It was . . . unique. But Sophie pretty much saved my life. I should write a story: How Sophie Saved Thanksgiving. Hmmm. It’s a thought. We even walked around Market a bit and we found a PUMPKIN! I made pumpkin pie on Friday, and it turned out very yummy despite the fact that I didn’t measure ANYTHING, which was good. It looks like I’m going to have to make more, since we still have a whole lot of raw pumpkin chilling in the kitchen.

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The hardest part of Thanksgiving in France was sitting down to dinner right after talking to my family. And they were sitting down to dinner at exactly the same time. And I was very, very, very sad. I am definitely going to appreciate Christmas a million times more.

(Okay, this note is getting ridiculously long, but I haven’€™t written in a bit, so I will just write a few last things that are fun €œAbby-in-France things:)

My Thursday Teacher, Monsieur Chapus, took us all out for some wine last week after class. And I got some wicked pleasure out of knowing what Gordon College, my seriously dry campus, is paying for these aspects of my education here in France.

I am singing in an English Christmas Choir, and our concert is this coming Sunday and apparently the concert is usually attended by 1500 people! It is held in a Cathedral which is not far from my house! Hopefully that will go well!

My host-parents’€™ grand-children were here and I got to hold baby Zacharie and play Legos and Shtroumpfs (figurines of the Smurphs) with their three year old daughter Adèle. It made me miss my Hannah and my Lilly even more than usual, but it was still lovely!

zacharie

Well, that about sums up the recent news…if you happen to be in New York between Dec. 24th and January 4th, you should stop by because I’€™ll be HOME for Christmas!!!! In the mean time, I’ll be here in Aix, enjoying the Christmas lights!!!

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Good Christian Men Rejoice with heart and soul and voice…mad cow… and ass before him lay…

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THAT neighbour

Everybody has that neighbor.

You know the one I mean. He’s short, portly, loud, and has a tendency to take out the garbage wearing nothing but his boxers. Everybody’s got one, but mine is named Mikey, and some days, I just don’t know what to do with him. Think I’m exaggerating? Let me just paint this picture for you so you can really get a sense of what living across the street is like. . . First off, Mikey bears a striking resemblance to Danny Devito. I think he should probably enter Lookalike Contests.

danny devito is a twin, I swear...

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He plays the drums . . . well, a drum kit, a fact which is he is very proud of. Plus, he has been known to holler interesting conversations across the street. In fact, Mikey has this incredible tendency to yell confessions of his affection for me across the street, as he sits on his stoop in the heart-stopping sleeveless t-shirt he so enjoys sporting. (And I mean heart-stopping in the I’m-having-an-episode kind of way. ) “Gee, I wish you were my girlfriend.”,“I’ve got a crush on you, Abby.”, “Thanks for bringing the sunshine out today, sweetheart.”, “I’d have paid attention in school if you were my teacher.”, “You girls are angels.”, and “Don’t you look nice!” have all been hollered at me in conversational response to the blatantly provocative things I am wont to say, like:  “Good morning.” They echo through the neighborhood as I try to make non-committal and inoffensive responses while simultaneously unlocking my front door/car door as quickly as possible. I used to try to keep my head down and not say good morning, in hopes of avoiding these little exchanges, but I think it’s just as bad when he yells, “Are you mad at me?” across the street, you know? 

Mikey-isms over the years:

1.) He has been in possession of a gigantic loudly-squawking parrot. (No joke.)

2.) Hitting on my roommate AND her mom at the same time.

3.) Giving me 3 CDs of his drumming to listen to.

4.) Flashing his nether-regions at one of my roommates. (. . . unintentionally? maybe? hopefully?!)

5.) Offering to shovel snow/carry groceries after said activity was already completed.

6.) Asking nearly all of my roommates and myself out to dinner on different occasions.

7.) Falling asleep on his front porch with his mouth open.

Now, ultimately, I think this man is probably harmless, but lets just say, he brings a little raucous neighborhood color into my life on a regular basis, and I’m not always quite sure how to respond.