Not-Crazy-Renee and the Neighborhood Package Thief.

Not-Crazy-Renee (my neighbor, who I introduced to you Monday) has had an intense holiday season.

For one, she’s post-partum.

No one should have to be post-partum over the holidays – I should know, as Noah was born on December 19.

(Happy birthday, son. You might get a sweet and touching birthday blog post…at some point.)

I remember distinctly the agony I endured when I came home from the hospital on December 23, suffering greatly from the side effects of having been on pain medication and Zofran for four days. GREATLY. I remember crying those nonsensical post-partum tears and attempting to sit up in a dignified manner so as to have our family over for dinner the very next day.

Holiday Post-Partumness is not for wusses.

Good thing women aren’t wusses.

So. Back to Not-Crazy-Renee. She’s not quite as freshly post-partum as I was that fateful year of 2010, but this is no contest. She’s still very post-partum, and with two additional small children at home to boot. Good thing she’s no wuss.

But. A few weeks ago on a Wednesday, Renee had a package that showed it was delivered early in the morning, and a couple of hours later when she went to retrieve it, it wasn’t there.

This was bad news. No good at all. Our neighborhood had recently suffered from its first set of robberies in remembered history, and people were on edge – Not-Crazy-Renee was no exception.

She waited three days before freaking out, hoping she would find it or it would turn up somehow, but it did not.

For some reason, the next Sunday morning was her snapping point.

She texted me while I was on the way to church and informed me that we most definitely had a Neighborhood Package Thief and that I better keep an eye on my deliveries. Of course I had a large package coming that very day (who does Amazon pay off at the USPS to have Sunday delivery? It’s a mystery), and I knew I wouldn’t be home for hours.

I texted my across-the-street neighbor to spread the news of the package thief and ask her to keep an eye out for my incoming box.

Then I tried to talk reason into Not-Crazy-Renee. Because, to be honest, although I was taking the cautious road with my own stuff, I didn’t really believe there was a thief.

“Surely it was just delivered to the wrong address and the neighbor that got it hasn’t brought it to you yet. This happens all the time in our neighborhood!”

But no. She was convinced. It was definitely a criminal element at work to destroy her Christmas Cheer.

My other neighbor texted me back likewise, saying she had just gotten a package belonging to someone else and had taken a couple days getting it to them.

I tried again to offer assurances.

“See? It just happened this week!! The post office is busy. They’re not paying attention. I’m sure your package is out there. It will come around.”

This did not perk her up one bit.

In fact, her texts to me throughout the day became more filled with rage and dismay that some no-good varmint would just flat-out SWIPE her kid’s bike helmet and her infant child’s much-needed batch of pacifiers.

She hoped they were highly disappointed with their haul.

She began investigating installing video surveillance system, and most likely thoroughly considered the possibility of installing booby traps that Indiana Jones himself couldn’t outwit.

A few days later, I had my Eye Duct Cauterization scheduled, and Renee had kindly agreed to keep my kids (or let them entertain her kids – whatev.)

When I arrived to dump my kids upon her, I noticed a sign taped to the basement door. Then, on the front door, a matching sign.

Renees-Package-Sign.jpg

I giggled.

Something about the commanding tone of the sign coupled with the cheery holiday border said “I’m a delightful individual!! And I will RIP YOUR FREAKING HEAD OFF if you take my kid’s Christmas crap.”

It had the aroma of slightly hysterical neurosis.

And I adored it.

That is, until Ali read it. And gasped. And asked for all the details about this neighborhood package thief. This new knowledge, along with her already collected understanding of the neighborhood robberies, made for a very jumpy almost-nine-year-old, and also a contagious one.

For the next week and a half, every time Ali or Noah heard the UPS man, they ran out onto the porch, grabbed the package, looked over their shoulder while their tiny hearts beat out of their tiny chests, ran back inside, remembered to lock the door for the first times in their lives, and yelled to me, “I beat the package thief! I got your box before he did!!”

Noah took it a bit further and wouldn’t go in the yard alone even for five seconds while I was walking toward the door to join him, all while he would state flatly, “I’ll just stay inside. There’s a package thief out there somewhere.”

After enduring ten days of my children’s constant adrenaline-charged evasion of The Bad Guy, I teased Not-Crazy-Renee about it.

Renee-Package-Thief.jpg

I was really just meaning to shame her for sport and pleasure, not shame her into taking her signs down.

But take her signs down she did.

However, my shaming proved me the best friend she’d ever had.

Because the VERY NEXT MORNING, which happened to be Day 15 of The Package Thief Saga, Not-Crazy-Renee heard a knock on her door.

She opened it to find a young Mom and her kids, standing on her doorstep, with an Amazon box in hand, looking rather bashful.

She lived one block up, you see – the same house number but a different street, and she, like the rest of us, had been getting voluminous stacks of Amazon boxes delivered to her doorstep, and she hadn’t been exactly inspected each one before she threw it in her “To-Wrap” pile, so when she got around to wrapping her presents and opened the box, she was quite confused as she didn’t remember ordering a bike helmet and pacifiers.

She checked the label and realized it wasn’t her package.

“I have no idea how many days I’ve had it – probably several,” she apologized.

Fifteen days, but who’s counting.

Before the recalcitrant neighbor left, she and Renee had realized they had kids the same age and absolutely must schedule a playdate soon. Extrovert-Not-Crazy-Renee was thrilled at the prospect of a new friend.

It was lovely. Just lovely. A serendipitous meeting indeed.

But just think. If that poor young, harried mother had walked up to the door, already weighed down with the guilt of the package she’d held so long, and had seen this slightly-psychotic sign on the door,

Renees-Package-Sign.jpg

Do you think they’d have a playdate scheduled?

No, no they would not.

Just call me The Neighborhood Fixer.

Epilogue: My children, along with all of us, are thrilled and relieved with the news that The Package Thief never actually existed. But old habits are hard to break – they’re still sprinting outside to grab any and all boxes before a Criminal Element beats them to it.

The FaceTune Challenge.

So. Remember my post about using Facetune, and then feeling guilty for making my skin so smooth?

FaceTune 1

FaceTune 2

I eventually did feel guilty enough to replace all of my profile pictures with the unedited images – they looked more like me, anyway. And the skin-so-smooth-I-haven’t-actually-had-that-since-I-was-seven was starting to annoy me.

But one night as I was lying in bed, recovering from a day of motherhood, I had a moment of curiosity: how far could I edit a photo? How far could anyone edit a photo? What are people truly capable of before publishing their Instagram selfies?

The above photos were taken by a professional photographer, in the right lighting, after I’d applied my makeup as perfectly as I could and brushed my hair just so. My hair was even enjoying a fresh cut and color from the day before.

It’s one thing to edit a photo that was already as good as I could look.

But could I edit a photo that was as bad as I could look?

I felt like the limits of iPhone editing needed to be tested – and it might as well be me.

So I took the worst photo I could, using the following “features” to make it especially bad:

– I used my iPhone’s front facing camera – those are always the worst, especially when shooting faces.

– The lighting was dim and atrocious.

– I was laying down, spreading my jowls out like the picnic table benches of my face.

– No makeup, obviously – and a real nice scab. Everyone needs a facial scab to look like the mugshot version of themselves.

– I was super tired, and it showed.

– I didn’t smile. Because this was supposed to be a challenge, after all.

So here’s my bad photo:

FaceTune Before

 

I transferred it to FaceTune and began working – I wanted to attempt use every feature they offered.

Here are the 15 Steps I used to “fix” myself:

FaceTune1. I used “Smooth” to get rid of all of my pores, sun spots, wrinkles, and freckles.

2. I used “Smoother” to eradicate my forehead creases.

3. I used “Whiten” to make my eyes less tired.

4. I used “Details” to make my eyes pop.

5. I used “Reshape” to make my jawbone more contoured (You can’t completely fix a laying-down jawline. But you can try.)

6. I used “Refine” to enlarge my lips, but not Angelina-sized.

7. I used “Patch” on my scab, my forehead Chicken Pox scar, and any and all other blemishes left over after Smooth and Smoother.

8. “Tones” was the most challenging feature to use – it was hard to get it just right without  looking like spray paint. But I used it to:

a. Change my eye color,

b. Change my lip color,

c. Put some color on my cheeks,

d. And take away a couple of under-eye shadows.

9. I used “Details” on my Eyebrows to darken them.

10. I used “Patch” on my left eyebrow, making it proportional in length with the other eyebrow – it has always been short on the inside.

11. I used “Patch” on my right eyebrow to get rid of flyaways.

12. I used “Defocus” on my shirt to make it less obvious that I was wearing my husband’s decade-old and quite pilling night shirt.

13. I used a Filter on the whole picture – Orchid.

14. I used a Lens to add depth – Holga.

15. I added a Texture because why not – Lumina.

And here was the final product:

Facetune AfterJust woke up! #Selfie #NoFilter #WokeUpLikeThis

Chris said I looked like I’d been animated – perhaps a Pixar character. I also look like I just got a root canal – but there’s not much you can do with lying-down cheeks.

However. The lesson here is clear. If I can do this in ten minutes with nothing but my finger, my phone, and a $3.99 app,

FaceTune Before and After

Don’t believe any face you see on the internet. Ever again.

On My Whirlwind Relationship with a Spammer.

As a blogger, I get hundreds of emails a day. Of those, approximately one is a real person emailing me to genuinely correspond.

If I’m lucky.

I adore emails from real people.

In the stack of emails, there are definite patterns that can be found.

PR Firms sending me press releases, hoping that I’ll write a glowing blog post about their newest product in exchange for hi-res images of said product!!

Because there’s nothing more exciting than the promise of hi-res images. I MEAN. I live my life to be able to zoom in on your product as tightly as I could possibly want, taking in every detail with wonder and excitement.

As do, I’m sure, my blog readers.

…Or PR firms offering me even more exciting perks in exchange for writing about their product.

“YOU will be honored to get an exclusive sneak peek at the ‘Our Stupid Movie 2’ MOVIE POSTER!!!”

Seriously?! A .jpeg of a movie poster?? And all I have to do is spend a couple of hours and all of my credibility hawking the inane sequel to your straight-to-DVD movie??

I. CAN’T. WAIT.

I get thrilling offers to share 25 cent off coupons with you guys, invitations to give away smocked clothing (marketers: why not try searching key phrases before attempting to sell – you might find you are hawking smock to the World’s Foremost smock mocker), and even press releases written entirely in Danish.

(Those are the closest to my heart because I can pretend they’re offering me a Lego Factory Tour and want to give me one of everything they make, when in reality it’s just about some new freakish punk rock band called Fhrztengäggich with a feral cat for a lead singer.)

After I sift through all of the PR Firm emails (which would take approximately three days per day to accomplish if it weren’t for the cute little trash can icon on my toolbar), I still have the strange and mysterious guest post requests to deal with.

I get emails at least weekly and sometimes daily from almost assuredly fake people with these not-at-all believable stories about why they want to guest post on my blog. They never tell me what the subject matter would be, and there’s always the tiny stipulation that they’re going to place an undisclosed link (or ten) somewhere within their blog post that points to their “client’s” site.

And if I don’t answer them promptly with a giant flashing NO, they email me back – to check in.

Sometimes they offer to pay me in exchange for this guest posting opportunity, and other times they simply explain that the benefit for me is the post in and of itself. Here’s a direct quote from one of my favorite spins on this strategy:

“I was wondering if you would let me write a post for you?  I am looking to get my work placed on high-end sites such as yours and would be happy to write a unique article just for you.  I can come up with a title – or if you have something that you would like me to cover I can work from a brief.  What’s in it for you, you are probably thinking?  I place a sponsor in the post, which could take the form of a linked word to a reputable client relevant to the article.  Your free article would be 500 words or more in length and completely unique to you.”

500 words that are all my own?? How could I ever resist such a priceless gift.

(I especially appreciated that his next sentence after what’s in it for me was actually what’s in it for him. But hey. Technicalities.)

However. Even my collection of Guest Post emails deliver me a special jewel every now and then, as was the case recently. Read carefully and slowly, out loud perhaps, savoring the beauty of this document.

Andy Steve 8

On my first read-through of this email I knew it was something fantastic.

On my second read, I caught the fact that he changed identity from Steve to Andy back to Steve again, and I giggled with glee, then shared it with you on Facebook.

After riding the beautiful wave of your responses all day long,

Facebook Comments

I finally responded back.

Steve Andy 2

The next morning, I had a response. I shook with excitement.

Steve Andy 3

“…sorry to use as Andy as because I generally use Andy which is my alias when writing blogs.”

But besides that gorgeous sentence and the fabulous use of unnecessary parentheses, the real present was that tiny little picture I got next to his name.

It just didn’t look like the mental image I had of the AndySteve I know and adore.

So I clicked through to his Google+ profile and then clicked on the picture.

BINGO.

Steve Andy Gmail Profile Picture

Oh AndySteve…don’t you know that when you steal a picture of an actor to claim as your own, you should at least change the file name?

Steve Andy Gmail Profile Picture b

Naturally, I continued my investigation by looking Ben Wright up on imdb.

Turns out, AndySteve is also a stunt guy! Who knew?? He is SO DANG TALENTED.

Ben Wright

So I responded to his email, hoping to sound interested enough in his project that he would answer me again, but also referencing his acting career.

Steven Andy 4 copy

And then I waited. Because of course AndySteve only emails me in the middle of the night, as it is obvious that he’s not exactly from around here.

But alas. I apparently went too far with my caustic attitude. AndySteve cut off our relationship, leaving me saddened and alone, and once again with an inbox full of nothing that made my heart pitter patter.

I miss AndySteve. Desperately. I have many regrets about the way I handled our relationship. I was clearly not ready for a commitment and sabotaged what we had together.

I keep going back to my draft that asks him to come back to my inbox, to open up and tell me who he really is. Not to leave me without a word. We meant more to each than that.

But I never can hit that send button.

And every morning, when I open my email and read my latest request to hijack my blog, I am reminded of the hole in my heart.

Katelyn

Every morning, their grammar is too perfect, their consistency of name too exact. They don’t overuse the word “as” or have eternal run-on sentences.

There will never be another AndySteve.

And I let him go.