Cultivating Beauty Within a Family

A few of my photographs are featured in an art show that’s currently on display at my church. The show is open to the public. If you are in Duluth this summer, pop in and take a look! (Unitarian Universalist Church of Duluth, 835 W. College St.) The show will be up until Fall.

This post is a presentation I gave along with other artists for a service today that was centered on the show and the theme of “cultivating beauty.”

The image that started it all (my first image that was critiqued in my photography class). Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, Lake Superior.

During Christmas when I was a freshman in college, my parents gave me an Instamatic camera. I suspect my mother was the driving force behind this gift, as she had begun dabbling in photography. She was a member of the Duluth Camera Club and was starting to take classes with the likes of Les Blacklock and later, his son Craig.

I had fun with the camera and even used it for a visual communication class I took for my journalism studies. Then, when I graduated college, I graduated cameras. My parents gave me an Olympus 35 mm film camera. My mother showed me how to use it, thinking it would be a great way to document my next adventure, which was grad school through the Audubon Society’s Expedition Institute – a traveling school bus classroom that focused on the outdoors and environmental education.

How that camera survived a 20,000-mile journey across America without a camera bag, I’ll never know. But I used it to capture the beauty of the rugged landscapes we traveled through all those years ago.

Once I got into the workaday world as a science writer, the camera came in handy for stories I needed to cover. Eventually, it malfunctioned and, having to buy a camera by myself this time, I downgraded back to the point-and-shoot type.

After I had children, I noticed that my youngest son was interested in photography. He was only 6 or 7 when we went to Yellowstone. We bought him one of those disposable Kodak cameras so that he could take his own pictures on the trip. He enthusiastically clicked away at geysers and majestic elk. Then, when he went to college, I continued my mother’s tradition and helped him buy a Nikon digital camera, since he was interested in taking a photography class. He loved this beginner-level camera and soon bought his own, more advanced Nikon. He’s since started a side business in portrait photography.

I was interested in getting a more serious camera around that time, so I bought out his part of the original Nikon and it became my own. He showed me how to use it, but my phone camera was so much easier, that Nikon mostly stayed in its bag.

Then came the day when my boss at work suggested I take a photography class instead of the typical writing classes I take every year. She liked the images I was able to capture with my phone and wondered what I could do with more formal training.

I was taken aback by her suggestion. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. Taking photos was always just a side dish in my life – something I did while doing something else – never the main course.

The idea stewed during the pandemic until last summer when I felt it might be safer for such an endeavor. I found a week-long sunset photography class through the Madeline Island School for the Arts in Lake Superior. My job deals with communicating water research, so I figured I’d get some photos that would come in handy.

I already knew how to frame a photo, but an F-stop? ISO? What are those?

The class was a crash-course in camera settings. Each day, we offered up one image for critique by the instructor and our classmates. I’d never had an image critiqued before. With trepidation, I submitted my first – it was a greenish photo with pine branches against rocks and water. The instructor said, “This photographer knows what they’re doing. Who took this photo?”

I thought, “I know what I’m doing?” I identified myself and listened to his suggestions for a few improvements, glowing inside all the while. None of the other students had been moved to take a photo of that particular scene, and the instructor discussed how everyone sees beauty differently. He said, “You can take a dozen photographers out to a park and they’ll all come back with different images.”

Maybe there really was something to this photography hobby? Maybe I could be both a writer and a photographer?

I returned home with a big confidence boost, new knowledge of my camera and of the photo editing software. I loved having another way outside of words to capture the grandeur of nature that I see around me. Of course, the camera is much more limited than our eyes, but the photo editing software gets things a bit closer to what our eyes actually see.

I have my mother to thank for getting me started in photography and I am glad that my son continued this family art. I’m excited to participate in the UU Art Show – it’s my first one!

Russ and I recently returned from a trip to California that was centered around photography. My photographer son was along, and we had the chance to meet a distant cousin for the first time. As we discussed our lives with our cousin over breakfast, we discovered that she’s a portrait photographer, too, focusing on babies. On a hunch, I asked her what brand of camera she uses.

My son and I exchanged meaningful looks when she uttered, “It’s a Nikon.”

Waking Up My Face: A Skincare Diary


A few hours post-procedure. Lots of redness!

March 20th

Today, I willingly let someone drag needles all over my entire face, and I paid good money for it, too ($300 with tip). The procedure is called micro-needling. It’s an optional skin care treatment designed to reduce signs of aging and improve scarring.

Perhaps you remember the painful fun I had a few years ago with the Lamprobe. Masochist that I am, I have had an additional Lamprobe treatment since then, plus a facial or two. But now, the hint of droopy jowls, enlarged pores, and lines around my lips and eyes caused me to look for a different type of therapy.

The woman who gave me my last facial recommended micro-needling. It involves the use of a micropen, which is a device that looks rather like a large magic marker. It has a dozen tiny needles on its tip, which, according to the brochure I got from my skin care clinic, creates “controlled micro-injuries to the skin in order to aid in the production of collagen and elastin.”

How is it done? “In a single motion, the pen will be gently pressed against the skin while simultaneously gliding in one direction until the entire treatment area has been covered.”

In other words, someone drags needles all over your face and you pay them for it.

After my previous painful beauty experiences, I was not looking forward to the procedure. BUT, unlike with the Lamprobe, a topical anesthetic was applied to my face beforehand. The technician waited 20 minutes for it to work (during which I got to listen to New Age Space Music) and then she broke out the pen.

While she worked, she explained that the tiny injuries “wake up” your skin and make it start producing the materials that keep it firm and youthful. Did it hurt? No. I did feel some pricks, but nothing too bad. Mostly, I felt the vibration of the pen as it glided across my skin. It felt like an electric razor. It even tickled, especially near my ears and nose.

From check-in to check-out the session took an hour. My face was still numb when I left the office. Your face will most likely turn bright red afterward, so it’s a good idea to hole up at home for the rest of the day, unless you are totally unselfconscious.

Even after the anesthetic wore off, my face felt tingly and “awake” but it didn’t really hurt. It did turn red, though – reminiscent of raw hamburger with a sunburn. A few pricks of blood were scattered across my nose and forehead.

Eventually, my face got hot and dry. The technician had sent me home with an after-care kit, which included a cleanser, a cucumber spritz, a balm, a growth factor serum (what does it grow, I wonder?), and a hyaluronic acid serum. I used the balm and spritz as the technician recommended, and that calmed down my skin.

So that’s where I am at this point. I will write more later to let you know how long the redness lasted and what I think of the results. But I can tell you it didn’t hurt as much as I was expecting.


March 21, the day after

When I awoke, my face was about half as red as it was yesterday. It has graduated from sunburnt raw hamburger to just looking like someone attacked me with sandpaper.

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping – no pain or irritation. My skin still looks too inflamed for makeup, so I’m going to wait on that until tomorrow. At least I can put on eye makeup and lipstick.


March 22, Day Two

The redness has decreased again by half. I almost look normal – just a little tan. It seemed safe to put on makeup, so I did that today. Some tiny pieces of skin are flaking off, but that subsided after I applied the various skin care products in my after-care kit.

I can’t tell a whole lot of improvement in my skin yet, but my jawline might be a bit tighter. I suppose it will be easier to tell once the skin calms down.

I keep thinking of something the technician said — that skin care should be like going to the dentist. Once or twice a year, we go and get a deep cleaning, and the rest of the time we do our own maintenance. She recommended one or two procedures like micro-needling per year in addition to “home maintenance.” She almost made me feel like I wasn’t being vain, just practicing good self-care. But part of me thinks I’m still being vain. 🙂

As the day wore on, more flaking started around my lips and on my nose.


March 23, Day Three

Lots more flaking going on today, mainly around my lips and nose. The skin on my cheeks surrounding my mouth looks firmer. I don’t think it’s just my wishful imagination. I’m beginning to think this procedure might be worth it.

The redness is gone.

I like the fact that this procedure is somewhat “natural.” It stimulates your skin’s own mechanisms to improve itself. You don’t have to be put to sleep like you would with a face lift, or have weird chemicals injected into your skin (like botox). And no, I am not getting paid to write this!


March 24, Day Four

My nose shed the rest of its skin this morning. There’s still some flaking on the rest of my face.

The post-procedure instructions say that you’re supposed to let the flakes fall off naturally and not pick at them. I am doing pretty well at this. Well, maybe I am picking at them just a little. Okay, maybe I am standing in front of the mirror for minutes on end, trying to get rid of all the flakes.

Stop it, stop it, Marie! The problem is that a friend and I are in a social situation for the next few days – we’re around a bunch of people who we are meeting for the first time, and I don’t want to have a big chunk of skin hanging off my nose while I try to hold a conversation.

I gave my friend permission to tell me if/when I have a flake that needs addressing. So far, though, I don’t think anyone has noticed but me.


March 25, Day Five

Just a little flaking. Things are looking good! I am doing better at restraining myself from picking at them.


March 26, Day Six

Still some more flaking. My skin looks smoother. I am happy with the results, and I would recommend the procedure to anyone in their “elder years” who wants to do some upkeep on their face. You can also do the procedure elsewhere on your body to get rid of scarring or stretch marks. People also do it on their décolleté to firm up the skin.

How I Fought for my Mole

Cindy-Crawford Style Noted

Cindy Crawford and her mole. Image from Style Noted website.

I have a skin condition (rosacea) that, if left untreated, will turn my face into a vein-strewn red mess. Years ago, I had an elective skin treatment to eliminate the broken veins that had snaked their way onto my cheeks and nose. It was a light laser treatment, which they said would “feel like a rubber band is being snapped on your face.” Let me tell you, it was a heck of a lot more painful than that! But the treatment worked well. Since some veins and other assorted age-related globules were beginning to appear on my face, I decided it was time to subject myself to more elective self-torture.

I went to a local plastic surgery clinic that has a skin care specialist. She took one look at me and gave me a facial to remove about seven years of dead skin. We discussed options for removing my globs and decided on the lamprobe, a device that uses high-intensity something or ruthers to zap the veins and bumps into oblivion. This option was cheaper than the laser treatment I had before, so I was all for trying it.

We discussed what she would remove on my face next week, once my skin recovered from the shock of the facial. Things were fine until we talked about the big juicy mole I have on my right cheek. Well, it used to be a mole until a couple of years ago when its color began mysteriously disappearing. Now it’s just a big bump.

I swear I could hear the saliva collecting in the skin care specialist’s mouth as we discussed zapping my mole. She wanted it to add to her collection of dead skin tissue that I’m sure she keeps on a shrine in a hidden room inside her home.

I panicked. Unlike the other unwanted spots on my face, my mole had been with me for as long as I can remember. It had become part of my identity. Sure, it wasn’t as sexy as Cindy Crawford’s mole, but I was uncomfortable at the thought of parting with it.

The specialist said I should think about it during the coming week, and let her know when I came back for the procedure. So I did. The more I thought, the more I knew my mole had to stay. But that old crone’s bump alongside my nose? That could go. All those bumps on my forehead? Those could go, too. Good riddance.

The day of the procedure the specialist showed me a small device (like a pen) that had a pencil-lead thin metal probe on the end of it. This is what she would stick into my skin, firing the high-intensity whatevers to zap my face.

Would it hurt? She wouldn’t answer that directly, instead saying how some patents “got tired” after the worst blemishes were zapped and sometimes decided to leave the rest for another time. That did not bode well.

She washed my face and we discussed again what would go. The mole? “It stays,” I said. I gave her the whole Cindy Crawford argument.

She countered with “But Cindy Crawford’s mole has color to it. Yours doesn’t. It’s just a bump!”

After further negatory comments on my part, she begged, “Are you sure you don’t just want it made smaller? I can do that.”

“We’ll see once we get to that point,” I said.

She began on my forehead and worked her way down my face. It @#$%^&*! hurt. Not as much as the laser, but enough that my back arched several times while the probe did its nasty work. Specialist Lady said I was doing wonderfully.

Somewhere in our conversation punctuated by small moments of intense stinging – like a wasp was having its way with my face — I asked her if anyone had ever tried to hit her because of the pain. She said a woman raised her arm once, but put it back down after the specialist called the woman’s attention to it.

When Specialist Lady arrived at my mole terrain, I knew by that point how much more it would hurt than the other things she’d removed. I turned a hard heart to her pleas and said no again. But I did let her take off a mole on my lower neck as a consolation prize.

However, it’s been a few days now, and my neck mole has turned into a colorless blob. I’m a bit worried it will stay that way and am regretting giving Specialist Lady even this bit of turf. Well, I guess if it stays a colorless blob, it will match the one on my cheek! Who knows? Maybe I’ll even become attached to it.

* * *

P.S. My  neck mole did eventually disappear, so the treatment worked!