How I Edit My Photographs

Today’s Blogtember prompt is What is your favorite Instagram/picture editing to use?

 I don’t use any kind of editing tool, so I don’t know how to– Yeah right! If you read my “biggest secret” post, you’d know that I use Pic Monkey to edit out fine lines, fill in my eyebrows, airbrush my skin, you get the idea.

I’ll give you a good example of what I do with Pic Monkey. Let’s use the photo over there to your right, the one that is above the description of the blog. Here is what it looked like before any editing:

first draft


It’s not bad per se, but the lighting wasn’t so good, and you can see crows feet around my eyes when I smile.

Here’s the more polished, edited version:

tiaraChanging the exposure made me look washed out and pale, so I also added some “blush” to the photo.

As you can see, I don’t do anything drastic. No adding in a thigh gap or cutting off half of my chin or anything like that. My photography skills are pretty much non-existent, and so most of what I use Pic Monkey for is cropping, changing the exposure, and things like that. Occasionally though, my light eyebrows disappear in photos, or I look more wrinkled than (I hope!) I do in person.

Pic Monkey is also great for creating graphics like the one from yesterday’s post. It’s perfect for the technologically unsavvy person like me who tried to learn Photoshop but said “Nope” after just a few minutes of trying to figure out what everything meant.

So spill it: what editing tools do you use?


Helene in Between Blogtober


My Pet Peeves

Oddly enough, I’ve been looking forward to this Blogtember post, maybe because I have so many pet peeves. There is something therapeutic about a good venting session about what bothers me, so here goes:

Don't Be This Person

  • When people try to text and walk in crowded places. Almost every day on campus I will have a student walk right in to me, or just barely miss because he/she was looking down at a phone.
  • Perfectly- abled people who take the elevator up one floor. Walk up the stairs, lazy ass! (Too be sure, wearing stilettos or carrying something heavy are an exception to this.)
  • Replacing numbers for letters. I will seriously NOT give an establishment my business if their name or advertisements use cutesy spellings or using numbers for words.
  • Having to repeat myself, especially while teaching, especially if I just explained something.
  • When people post mundane, meaningless things on Facebook, like “going to a doctor appointment!” or “making dinner then going to bed early!”
  • When people try to merge lanes on the freeway but are going significantly slower than people in the desired lane. No, I will not slow down and cause an accident for you to get over. Speed up to the same pace of the lane you want to be in!
  • When people smoke anywhere near me. Sorry not sorry. You need to quit. This is coming from someone who DID quit smoking years ago. It wasn’t that hard.
  • When people “Reply All” when there is no reason to include ALL of those other people in the conversation.
  • When people can’t control their kids or their dogs. If a kid is running around a store obnoxiously or a dog continues to jump on me, I am definitely judging that parent.
  • When people don’t know how to use an apostrophe correctly. IT IS NOT HARD.
Helene in Between Blogtober

My Dream Vacation

I’ve pretty much made it my life’s goal to travel as much of the world as I can manage (okay, afford) to. But if you ask me about my dream vacation (and the Blogtember prompt did, so…)  I would have to confess that my ultimate dream vacation would be one inspired by one of my all time favorite movies, Casablanca.


I’m going to assume you’ve all seen it. As the opening explains: “…But, not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up – Paris to Marseilles… across the Mediterranean to Oran… then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco.”

The vacation would start in Paris, naturally. That way C and I could jokingly but without irony say “At least we’ll always have Paris.” (I’ll wear blue…)

Then we’d follow the progression and head down to Marseilles and cross the Mediterranean. Oran is not actually safe now, but this is a fantasy vacation. (I’ve looked into alternatives that don’t follow the script exactly but will get us there safely, and I would be fine with that.)

Then we’d revel in the beauty that is Morocco, making sure to visit Marrakesh as well, even if it isn’t in the script.




Then we’d hop a plane over to Lisbon, spend a couple of days there (you know, until we’re safe from the Nazis) and then return home.

Tell me that doesn’t sound amazing! Really, I dare you to talk me out of a vacation like that!

P.S., for you UK readers that may actually have a better chance of this vacation than I do (flying from Los Angeles to Europe is so expensive!), try booking through The Holiday Place.  They have some great vacation packages!


Helene in Between Blogtober

Facing My Biggest Fear

So today’s “Blogtember” prompt is to share my biggest fear. As I began to type this post, a heavy sense of deja vu swept over to me. I realized that there is a good reason for this: I’ve posted about it before, the night before I hiked Huayna Picchu. Here’s what I wrote then, and don’t worry, I’ll include an update after:


I am going to confess to you that my kryptonite, the one thing that will without fail shake me to my core and induce panic and sweat, is heights. More specifically, the far of falling.

And yet I find myself in situations like where I will be today, climbing Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain that towers over the ruins of Machu Picchu. I don’t know what to expect, but reviews I’ve read online (and stories from acquaintances) have my palms sweaty already.

via Wikipedia

One review I read cheerfully described it as being similar to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. I’ve tried that hike. I still have nightmares about it. I never made it to the peak of that trail because close to the top, while holding onto chains and looking at the 1000+ foot drop next to me, I panicked. I was shaking and sweating and terrified, almost completely frozen with fear. I  knew that the fear was only going to escalate, and realized that if I kept trying to push through the fear and froze with panic, I’d put us in a very dangerous situation, so I had to turn and go back. I still feel really bad about that, and I wish I hadn’t been such a wuss.

Angel’s Landing. It looks like I am smiling, but that is my nervous “I’m going to die!” smile.

I also still get sweaty palms when I tell people my story of zip lining, when I had to slow myself down by grabbing the line with a leather mitt. I grabbed too hard out of fear and got stuck on the line, and had to pull myself along, 150 feet in the air, to the next platform. I could hear the birds of the rain forest chirping below me. Dangling precariously higher than birds’ nests is not where I like to be.

I even get sweaty palms just looking at images where people could fall. You know the famous photograph of construction workers eating lunch on the scaffolding of a sky scraper? I can’t look at it. C finally understood the extent of my fear when we were watching Die Hard one Christmas Eve, and during the scenes with the elevator shaft, I touched his arm and he felt how damp, nay, soaked with sweat my palms were while watching a scene where I know what will happen.

What can I say, I can’t control it! I’d call an irrational fear but let’s be honest; it’s pretty rational.

So we shall see how this adventure goes. I am determined to complete the hike with relatively few tears of terror.


So, obviously I did not fall to my death. I was terrified, my palms were shaky and I was on the verge of tears for much of the hike. Going down is always the hardest, and while that ancient staircase in the clouds was awe-inspiring, I spent much of the time scooting down on my butt. I’m that much stronger because of it now, and while heights still freak me out, I know that I can at least breathe through the fear.

By the way, that day on the mountain I had my phone in the pocket of my cargo pants, and cracked my screen on the staircase. It’s the only time I have ever cracked a screen (because I have never owned an iPhone, suckers!), and I think it’s a pretty legit reason for having a small crack on my S5–better than dropping it on the bathroom tile at least!


My Happy List

Whoopsie daisies, I forgot to have a post ready to go for this morning, and then I slept in quite late, so I am a bit late to the game on this one. But that sounds like a good place to start on what makes me happy:

  • Sleeping in on Sunday.
  • My adorable dog Khaleesi.

    dog, oktoberfest

    Khaleesi is all ready for Oktoberfest.

  • Cuddles with my handsome, loving partner in crime, C.2013-10-05 23.35.56
  • My rascally kitties, Lula and Rex.
  • Manis and pedis (as in, I really need to hurry up with this post since I am supposed to be sitting in a chair right now.)
  • Strong coffee.
  • Wandering aimlessly through Target, picking up “needs.”
  • Subscription boxes.
  • Blog comments
  • Window shopping for beautiful fine jewelry that  will someday be on my body. 
  • Watching my students discover that they can write.
  • Wine. Duh.
  • Huntington Beach sunsets.
  • Boarding a plane.
  • Coming home to a clean house.
  • Carbs covered in cheese.
  • Exceeding my own expectations by surviving a killer workout.
  • Sunday night dinners with my family.


Helene in Between Blogtober

A Dirty Little Secret

Let me tell you a little secret. I know that I often write confession posts, but this time I’m really going to divulge a dirty little secret…

Are you ready?


I edit photos of myself for my blog. Not like I just adjust the exposure and crop backgrounds– I use the Picmonkey tools that come with a paid account. I smooth out fine lines around my eyes, or smooth out my skin when it’s red and splotchy. I’ve even used the “weight loss tool,” the one that stretches out images a little.  And for the record, the “weight loss tool” doesn’t really do very much. I don’t know much about how to use photo shop so I don’t go actually slimming my waist or legs or anything.

But yes, I guess that technically means I ‘shop some images.

So there you have it. It’s okay, go ahead and judge.

Trust Me, I’m An Expert

I am very reluctant to call myself an expert at anything, really. I definitely do not feel like an expert at what I do for a living, and I definitely do not feel like I could claim any expertise as a blogger, cook, fighter, traveler, or any other title I could assume from one of my hobbies.

I mean really, when is a person considered an expert? I’m not sure I’d really like a person who called him or herself an expert at something without a hint of irony. I mean, even if you’re the best in the world at something, there’s still room for improvement, right?


So with that hint of irony I will declare myself an expert at pretending like I know what I am doing.

Fake it ‘till you make it; that’s my mantra. No really, it is. Because I rarely truly know what I am doing, or know if I am doing it correctly. But I am really good at pretending like I DO know what I am doing, and even making people believe me.

Ever stand in front of a classroom of bored college students and have to talk for an hour as if you know anything? It’s terrifying. I don’t know what I am talking about. I don’t know why they listen to me. But they do.

That is because I have become an expert at making it look like I know what I am doing. Today I am leading a staff meeting also, and for some reason, all of the tutors who I supervise listen to me, and even come to me for advice.

I keep waiting for someone to blow my cover, but remember, I’m an expert.

Helene in Between Blogtober


Fall Fashion Favorites

Since we never really get an Autumn here in Southern California, Fall Fashion to me mostly means jeans and flip flops, with the occasional riding boot thrown in when the weather dips below 80 degrees.

I’ve been fantasizing about cooler temperatures and the gorgeous fashion I’d wear if it were actually cool enough to wear a jacket. On days when I need a little escape at my desk, I peruse my favorite online stores to build an imaginary wardrobe for my imaginary flat in Notting Hill.

Like this gorgeous jacket from Joules USA.

joules pea coat fall fashion

Actually, I’m kind of obsessed with Joules right now. Their line has a balance of nautical and floral that just scream “RACHEL!” to me. Here’s my lust list for a real fall wardrobe:

joules collage 1

cable knit sweater// Padded jacket //Leather shoulder bag// floral wrap skirt

joules collage 2

Navy engineered striped top// floral scarf // Wellies // Pajamas 

Gorgeous, right?

I’m also salivating over this beautiful watch. Wouldn’t it go perfectly with everything above?

michael kors watch watches 2 u

Ahh, fashion. You provide too good of a distraction when I have a desk full of work to do. Which of these are you loving (or hating)? Let’s distract ourselves from work today. Give me your recommendations!


Helene in Between Blogtober

Words to Live By

My favorite quote, hands down, is this one:

change it

This concept really drives the way I think about my life. I truly believe that this kind of perspective can lead you to a happier life.

Here’s why: your life is only as happy as you make it. No one else is going to make you happy. And unfortunately, things don’t always go the way we want them to. The difference between people who live fulfilled, content lives and those who don’t is their perspective during those times.

Sometimes it is easy to change something that is making us unhappy. Too often though, we expect the world or karma or luck or whatever to do the changing for us. And guess what, it doesn’t work that way. I think that understanding this can make life that much easier. You control your destiny. Everything that happens to you happens because a series of decisions, and it’s you who decides how your life is going to be. Feeling sorry for yourself does nothing to change the situation, and you cannot be a victim of your own life.

Sometimes though, we are victims. Shit happens, like really bad shit. If your house gets destroyed in a tornado, that really sucks, and there isn’t much you can do about reversing that action. But how you think about it dictates how life will be after you are a victim. Even when your entire home is destroyed, you still have the ability to rebuild, to make new connections, to grow from the pain. Every set back in life is an opportunity to grow, even if it really sucks at the time.

One of my pet peeves is when people use the phrase, “FML.” Like posting on Facebook, “My car has a flat tire. FML.” Really?! Fuck your life because you have a flat tire?! That is exactly the kind of thinking that will make you miserable. Yes it sucks to get a flat tire. But you also learn how to change a tire, or which local place has good deals on tires, or you end up having a good conversation with the coworker you ask to drive you home. That mild inconvenience can open up so many opportunities if you think of it with a healthy perspective.

Don’t ever curse your life. Just change it. And if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.


Helene in Between Blogtober

“Gawdamit, Rachel!”

Today’s prompt about my funniest childhood memory is one that I struggled for a long time with.

You see, some funny memories are of the “you had to be there” variety, like the time my old, cranky cat watched E.T. with me and my mom, and the cat became obsessed with the movie, meowing excitedly at the tv as E.T. and Elliot peddled into the moonlight. See what I mean? You had to be there.

Then you have to understand that my funny childhood memories are not of the National Lampoon variety, where hilarity ensues over holidays and European vacations. They were more of the “Little Miss Sunshine” variety, the kind that are full of awkward and embarrassing moments that make you laugh uncomfortably and convince you that these people will be more likable, more human because of it. Those are posts for another day, maybe even a therapist’s chair.

So instead I am going to share a story of a time that I was too young to remember, but has been recounted enough that I feel as though I do.


my parents used instagram back in the 80s.

my parents used instagram back in the 80s.

You see, my father had a bit of a temper (to put it mildly) and he swore like a sailor. Naturally, my first sentences were a little…salty too.

I went through this phase where each night as I ate dinner in my high chair, I would drop something. I either knocked over my sippy cup of milk, spilled peas everywhere, whatever mess a two year old could get in to. “God Damnit, Rachel!” My dad would sigh each time as he would grab a towel to clean up my mess.

One day, for whatever reason my dad wasn’t home. My mom had settled me in to my high chair and was in the kitchen a few feet away. Her back was turned to me so that she didn’t even see me spill my milk; all she heard was a tiny voice exclaim, “Gawdamit, Rachel!”

You better believe that I still mutter “Godammit, Rachel!” whenever I do something stupid.


Helene in Between Blogtober
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