Happy New Year!

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One of my top New Year’s resolutions is to start blogging here on my lifestyle blog more regularly again. I used to be better about it when I only had one little guy, but since becoming a mom of two energetic little boys, this blog has definitely been one of the things that has gotten pushed to the back burner. Which is sad since it is something I really enjoy, and my favorite way to document the changes in our family, our home and our garden!

So I am back with a new plan, and determined to stick to it this year. 🙂 Here are some of my other resolutions this year….

1. Take more selfies and more self-portraits with me and my boys! I used to do a ton of self-portraits with our older son and me, and then in the past year I started to have some changes in my appearance that made me self-conscious and I pretty much stopped taking photos of myself. As a professional photographer who emphasizes the beauty of capturing motherhood, it’s actually been highly embarrassing! So what happened exactly?

I’ve been having problems with my sinuses and severe allergies ever since we moved into this house and started our endless list of construction and remodeling projects. A large bump started growing inside my nose around the time my husband opened up our kitchen, and then had to leave it open for several months while he went out of town to deal with other issues. So in the meantime, I was home with attic dust streaming in for several months and my dust allergies were out of control (I was also pregnant at the time which didn’t help). I had seen several ENT’s about the bump and none were able to help me with it.

Then this past year it started getting even worse, to the point where my nose was constantly painful and started completely visibly deforming. Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was looking at a stranger. I have barely been able to sleep for the past year since I was getting so little air through my nose. I finally went to see a more specialized surgeon, who had a better idea of what was going wrong. He told me that my sinuses had collapsed shut, 0% air on one side and less than 30% on the other side. As a result of the collapse, they had pushed down around the cartilage, causing the bumps and deformation. So we scheduled surgery for just after Christmas this year.

I am currently recovering from the surgery and in a lot of pain, but I am so happy that I was able to find a doctor who knew how to handle the situation. I am looking forward to being able to sleep without waking up grasping for air. I am also really excited that my nose should hopefully be looking a lot better, more like normal again. 🙂

My older son LOVES snapchat. He made me install it on my phone (he’s played with it with my sister and his babysitter). He said it makes him so happy when we do snaps together. So, I have been getting started on my resolution already about getting in more photos with my boys. 🙂 With my bandages, bruising and all…here we are! Having fun cuddling with my sweet boys while I recover!

2. I’m going to do more work that makes me happy, and less of the work that stresses me out. 🙂 I’m not going to go into all of the details here, but I will be making some changes for my photography business this year and I am excited about it. 🙂

3. Get on a regular system and schedule with our garden maintenance, and actually schedule it into my work calendar! My garden is such an important aspect of my business, and I often try to cram in gardening tasks whenever I have a bit of free time, and that leads to a very stressed out mom. We are going to be making some serious changes with that routine going forward!

4. Get more of our projects finished on our house! Certain projects have been dragging on forever around here, mostly because we never have any free time to get them completed. With my husband working outside the home Monday through Friday, and I have spent the majority of my weekend time working this past year with photo sessions, it hasn’t led to enough family time and not enough time for us to finish the personal projects we want to complete. I’ve been saying it for years but this time I mean it…I’m going to seriously start cutting down on weekend photo sessions! We also seriously need some fun time as a family all together! 🙂

5. Most importantly…be more mentally and emotionally present for my family. 🙂 I feel like I have been spreading myself too thin for a while and it just leaves me zapped of energy all the time. I have been working on finding ways to delegate certain tasks for my business so I am not so wiped out all of the time, and that has been helping already.

I am excited about the changes I have planned for the new year! 🙂 Thanks for reading and joining me on my journey to a better year!

Happy New Year, Jack Frost!

Yesterday was one of the coldest mornings I’ve ever seen here. Definitely not the coldest weather I’ve ever seen anywhere, but the coldest this close to the ocean. I started working on transitioning our garden for winter (it seems we have almost completely skipped fall, going from a very long summer straight to winter). I moved my tomatoes and peppers to the greenhouse and planted some cool season annuals in the flower beds. I was feeling quite content until I got an emergency alert last night on my phone with a frost warning.

We are in what is normally considered a frost-free zone, so that sent me into a state of panic. I quickly did a Google search to see what types of plants could die from one night of frost exposure. To my horror and dismay, I read that succulents and geraniums are very sensitive to frost. I would estimate that over 50% of our entire property is filled with succulents and geraniums. They are easy to care for, love our usual warm weather, and don’t require much water. They are in my top 5 favorite types of plants, so we have TONS. We literally have spent thousands of dollars on our gardens in the past year, and I would absolutely go nuts if everything died overnight.

Our son is normally a night-owl, refusing to go to bed at night, and sleeping in late in the morning. I usually don’t mind since that gives me some alone time in the morning if I want to garden alone, etc. Last night, I guess he was tired out from helping me in the garden all day, so he willingly went to sleep early for the first time ever. It was actually comical…the one night you’re supposed to stay up late, he knocks out early. 🙂 We had planned to go to a New Years Eve party with our neighbors but decided against it since the little guy crashed out so early.

Since we didn’t really have anything else we needed to do with the little guy asleep for the night, I talked my husband into helping me cover all of the plants with blankets and sheets. He thought I was a bit nuts until I told him my thermometer outside was reading at 33 degrees. We covered everything with geraniums, succulents and citrus, which was literally almost our entire front yard, back yard, and both patios. I tend to collect blankets like crazy, so that came in handy. We threw shade fabric over one whole section of our front yard. We moved all of my potted tropical plants and ferns to the greenhouse and turned on a heater in there. Thankfully, everything looked in good shape this morning, except for one coleus plant that I didn’t cover.

Big apologizes to our neighbors who may have woken up and seen our house looking a bit insane this morning! Hopefully we won’t have to do that again. I just read that last night was the coldest night on record at LAX. Anyone else ever go plant lady crazy and cover their entire yard in blankets?!

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The Giant Squash

When I was pregnant with our son two years ago, I attended the Orange County Fair for the first time. I was blown away by all of the giant fruit and vegetables that home gardeners entered into the fair. I was so excited to see so many competitions for gardeners. There are plenty of photography and art competitions everywhere, but gardening competitions seem pretty rare around here. I was determined to enter a giant vegetable in the fair the next year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to enter last year after 11 months of pregnancy and post-partum bed rest. We went to the fair last year and had fun, but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t prepared to enter the competitions yet.

This year, our backyard garden remodel took way longer than we expected. My new vegetable beds did not get installed until the very end, leaving me no time to prepare any vegetables to enter into the fair. I was quite disappointed, until I noticed that some vegetables were sprouting up as volunteers from the homemade compost that I mixed into the flower beds. There was one baby squash plant in particular that I could tell was going to grow quite large, so I let it grow and nurtured the little surprise planting. As luck would have it, that little surprise ended up growing my biggest squash to date. I started getting excited once I realized I may have a good entry for the fair.

The night before I was planning to bring my squash to the fair, I started reading online about winners of largest squash competitions. I read that there is a man on the east coast who regularly grows 1000+ pound squashes. My “little” 10 pound squash suddenly felt inadequate, and I considered not bringing it at all. In the end, I figured I may as well bring it because even if it was not the world’s biggest squash, it was the biggest one that I have grown in the 30+ years since I started gardening, and I figured that was something worth celebrating.

I usually spend my early mornings working in the garden, before our son wakes up. I get up at sunrise and tend to the garden, hang clothes and diapers on the clothesline, etc. It is my peaceful time of the day. The garden in the early morning hours is my favorite.

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E is thankfully a late sleeper. He was not initially very thrilled that I pulled him out of bed, but once he realized it was for pictures, he was quite cooperative. 🙂 Apparently he thought that we were about to cook this squash since I finally cut it off the plant, so he got his “cooking utensils” ready!
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Then he started talking to the squash and petting it. Silly boy.
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I tried to get another angle with my camera….No, Mommy! No standing on chairs!
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So then I was quite surprised to read, not only did my “little” squash win first place as biggest squash, it also won Division Winner for the whole squash category! I was beyond honored and excited. Not bad for my first time entering a gardening competition, right? 🙂
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My squash’s ribbons motivated me to get myself in gear and enter a few more items for the last week of competition for the fair. More on that coming to the blog next week!

Free Train Rides!

E and I have been to these free train rides in Torrance before, but this time we brought along my husband and some friends. The train rides take place at Wilson Park in Torrance, CA, and are free on the first Sunday and third Saturday of every month! It is such an adorable little area, with lots of little rustic decorations. Great fun for little ones and parents too!
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Mom! Can’t you see I’m getting ready to enjoy my train ride?! This is no time for pictures!
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Afterward, we had a family picnic in the park. E recently outgrew his dairy and wheat allergies, so we were quite excited that we would all be able to eat cheese and crackers. 🙂
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Then some fun play time in the park. 🙂
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Big sloppy kisses for Daddy!
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Butterflies & Ladybugs in the Garden

After we went to the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, I decided I need to up the ante in E’s garden to get him even more butterflies coming by. The butterflies already like the current selection of red valerian and red geraniums, but I wanted to attract more with some more options for flowers. When I started creating E’s garden, I removed all of the plants in the area that were poisonous (planted by previous owners). Some of the plants that butterflies enjoy are also poisonous, so I wanted to make sure that I only added non-poisonous additions to his garden.

I also recently went through and had our garden certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation (more info here). Our little changes to E’s garden helped improve our score. Soon the NWF is going to have an additional advanced certification as a butterfly habitat, which I am hoping to get as well. I can’t wait until our garden signs arrive!
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The first thing that I tracked down was a butterfly bush, also known as buddleia. I found this one at Sunflower Farms in Torrance, CA. I also put down some sunflower seeds.
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Next, I found a dune buckwheat, native to the Palos Verdes Penninsula. I purchased this from the South Coast Botanic Garden.
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I also added in some nice yellow yarrow, which can be found many places.
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Butterflies love oregano, so I added in some organic oregano.
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At the butterfly exhibit, I noticed that the water trays were filled with pebbles. I started doing some reading and discovered that butterflies like to have a little rock to perch on while drinking their water. I set up this little terracotta saucer of water with some rocks, and put it on a plant stand in the back of E’s garden.
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I also read that some butterflies like to drink out of slightly muddy sand, so I made another water dish with sand.
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We added some more flowers that butterflies and caterpillars love, all of which have edible flowers for humans. I love the seeds from Botanical Interests because they will actually tell you on the packet if the flowers are edible (always a great safety precaution if you have young children or pets).
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E is always a good helper when planting seeds.
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He had started running after the cats earlier that week and had to get glue stitches on a nasty cut on his forehead. He tripped and fell and cut his forehead open on the floor…he can’t quite keep up with the cats yet.
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After we finished working on his garden, my garden needed some assistance from some additional ladybugs. My neem oil treatment had gotten rid of most of my aphid infestation, but I wanted to bring in some additional ladybugs as a preventative measure. I purchase my ladybugs from Armstrong Garden Center (I mention this since sometimes they can be difficult to find). Ladybugs are best released at dawn or dusk, and E is never awake at dawn, so we released them at dusk that night.
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He had a lot of fun with the ladybugs crawling all over him. 🙂
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Once they started getting all in his hair, he had enough and got a bit upset. Other than that, he had a lot of fun releasing the ladybugs into the garden. 🙂aliciainwonderlandblog

Free Herbal Medicine & Eco-Gardening Classes in So Cal!

If you are in Southern California (especially the South Bay area in particular), I have found a great lineup of free gardening classes coming up this summer!

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The photo above shows one of my most recent projects…a new herb garden which includes a variety of medicinal herbs. More on that coming soon!

First up, is a class that I am really excited about…intro to herbal medicine at Sunflower Farms Nursery in Torrance. It is taking place on Saturday, June 14th (tomorrow!) from 10-11:30 a.m. The class will include a history of herbal medicine, overview of common and less-known herbs and their uses, garden tour, question and answers, and more. Attendees all receive 10% off their purchase the day of the class too! I can tell you from experience that they are very knowledgeable about so much, and herbal medicine in particular. The past couple of weeks have been really rough around here since our son started getting all of his first set of molars in. I went into Sunflower Farms last week, desperate for some recommendations of something that could help him. We happily went home with an amazing herb called a toothache plant which has been doing wonders (I will blog all about it later!). At Sunflower Farms, they also have some amazing sample gardens that are worth the trip alone (drought tolerant garden, formal garden, English cottage garden, desert style garden, etc.)!

Sunflower Farms is located at:
17609 S Western Ave
Torrance, CA 90501

Next up is the Eco Gardening series at the South Coast Botanic Garden, sponsored by the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. You need to register ahead of time, but classes are free with paid admission to the garden (and free for garden members). If you are outside of the Palos Verdes area, you should periodically check back on the Water Replenishment District website since they also offer classes in other areas of Southern California as well, such as Lakewood, Norwalk, etc. You can register for the classes and find more info on their website here.

I attended the first class this past week and am very excited about all of the upcoming classes! The first class covered garden design and planning, and gave me some new ideas for our various projects. I even got sent home with a great workbook, some info fliers, and they were so kind as to provide snacks during the class which was great since this tired mama didn’t bring enough to keep my little man occupied. 🙂 The SCBG also has lots of other great classes as well, so be sure to check out their website too!

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Last but not least, the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden also offers a series of free gardening classes! Most of these are already past, but there is one remaining that I am looking forward to, sustainable edibles. A lot of edibles require high water usage, so I am excited to hear what recommendations they have at this class. Be sure to check the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden website in the future for their upcoming schedules of classes.

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Botanic Garden

In my effort to spend more fun, quality time with my son, I decided to take E to one of his favorite places last week, even though I had tons of work to catch up on. We have a family membership to South Coast Botanic Garden, and it is a place E and I both really enjoy going. We go whenever I have free time, but I decided I need to start making the time to take him more regularly, even if photos that need editing are piling up. 🙂 This was the first time I actually let him out of his stroller in the children’s garden, so he was pretty excited. 🙂

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My New Potting Table!

I have wanted a potting table or potting bench for a long time. Recently, I saw a few (expensive) reclaimed potting tables when we were out shopping for our backyard makeover project, and I knew we could make one on our own for much less. I am addicted to scouring the free section on Craigslist whenever I have free time, looking for items that will be good for a project. A while back, I found a few free twin headboards and I’ve been saving them, planning that we would make a couple of benches out of them or perhaps something else.

I started thinking that the headboards would make a good table and shelf surface for a potting table, particularly the stronger pair. Also, this set of headboards had an open cut out area along the side that would be the perfect overflow area for excess soil that piles up on the work surface. I knew that I wanted to use a vintage door as the back of the potting table, and started trying to find some for free on Craigslist (I didn’t want to use the ones that I have since we made those into a folding screen/photo backdrop). Craigslist people are perpetually flaky, and I never heard back from any of the people I contacted. I decided to look at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to find a vintage door instead of waiting months to find one on Craigslist. My husband and I each have our own hidden stashes of “junk” that we save for future projects. I raided my supplies and his, and decided that we would use two of my headboards, an old wooden closet rod for table legs (but I would need two more legs), some pretty trim I had been saving just for decorative accents, some of his scrap fence board for a shelf, and some of his general scrap wood to lift the whole thing up off the ground. Then we went off to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore closest to us (the Gardena, CA location) to find a door, some table legs, and something to use on top for shade.

I love the concept of shopping at ReStore…save things that would have otherwise gone into a landfill while helping a worthwhile charity at the same time. When I was at the ReStore, I started brainstorming about what we could use as a shade overhang above the door. Initially I was thinking scraps of shingles from a roof, but then I started thinking that old shutters would be even better. I love old shutters and think they look really cute, plus they could be adjusted to let in more light on a dark, dreary day. I found two sets of shutters that were a good deal at $6.99 each. I also found a decorative wooden rod that would work well for the table legs ($2).

I am a thrifting queen, and I can honestly tell you that most of the things at the Gardena ReStore location are very overpriced. I have read so many people in other states writing about the amazing deals they have found at their local ReStore, and that may be the case elsewhere, but there are not many great deals to be found at the Gardena store. Between how much I scour Craigslist, thrift stores, flea markets, vintage stores, and antique malls (mostly for photoshoot props but also for our own projects), I can pretty much tell you the going value on most things that you find often. I will tell you that the average price for an old vintage door with a bit of character is usually around $20-25. Almost all of the doors at this location were in the $40+ range, even very plain ones with no character and in bad condition. I feel that if things were just a little bit overpriced it would be okay since the proceeds go to charity but who is going to spend $40 on a broken down 1980s fax machine? Anyway, I spent a lot of time digging through all of the doors looking for one that I liked and hoping to find one that was not overpriced. I found one where the top half of the door looked like shutters, and it had the extra bonus of being priced at $19.99! Finally one that was reasonably priced!

I told my husband that I finally found a door that I loved and that I was ready to check out. He wheeled the door up to the cashier, and pointed out to them that there were actually two price tags on the door. The price tags were those really thin sticker tags that are perforated, making it impossible to get them off in one piece. Each price tag had a date on it, and the tag with the lower price had a more recent date, indicating to anyone with common sense that they door had been marked down. Instead of honoring the lowest marked price as a normal person would do, the sales associates called over the manager to ask him if they should charge us the higher price at $39.99 (why?!).

When the manager came over, he immediately started trying to make up stories about how the lower price must have been incorrect, and explain how he could not honor the lower price. When my husband very calmly tried to point out that both price stickers were dated and the lower price had a newer date, the manager then started trying to claim that someone must have switched the tags (really…with the tag in amazingly perfect condition? I find that quite hard to believe. I know people do it since I used to work retail, but I also know how close to impossible it is to do well with this kind of price tag). Then the manager did the most obnoxious thing…he started taking off the price tag with the lower price. He joked that maybe he would be nice to us and split the difference and give us a price somewhere in the middle.

That is when I lost it. I know my husband was embarassed that I got really, really angry. He was looking at me like please, this is a charity store. I don’t care…I spent a lot of my time looking through all of the doors in there, looking through all of the prices. No way was I about to be ripped off at this point. In general, I pride myself on being very warm and friendly to people that I meet. However, if you really make me angry, my Sicilian/Mexican/German temper comes out and it is not something you will soon forget. The way that they acted like they were going to set their own price for us based on what they felt like charging us was what made me so incredibly angry. It felt very discriminatory.

I informed the manager that I was not an idiot, and he could not pull a bait & switch stunt on us. California state law requires that a marked price be honored, even if the price marked on the tag is there in error. I worked in retail for many years, and took many retail marketing and management classes in college.

When I started mentioning the state law, the manager got angry and told me, “don’t start quoting the law to me. I don’t care about any of that because the law does not apply in here.”

Oh really? Interesting…so because they are a non-profit, they are allowed to pull stunts and rip people off using bait & switch techniques? Does the price depend on your race, ethnicity, or car you drove up with? They can make up prices to be whatever they want based on the individual customer? I really don’t think that is the case…they are a store that sells to the public, which is still a retail location by definition, regardless if they are a non-profit, a resale store, or any other classification.

In the end, they begrudgingly honored the marked price, but it was not until after I had to do a lot of yelling. I applaud them for running a charity store, but it is time that people start being held accountable for their actions. I have never been so horribly treated at any store in my life. I am sure that there are many other great ReStore locations, but the Gardena, CA store needs a serious overhaul with their employees. I hate calling out a charity in such a negative manner, but since no one pays any attention to customer complaint letters these days, I just hope that this post will bring some attention to the matter so other customers are not treated in a similarly awful nature.

If I had the time to wait, I could have in theory found all of the items for this project for free via Craigslist, but since I have a ton of plants to put in my new flower pots for our backyard, this project was fairly time sensitive. If anyone else wants to make one, I highly encourage you to scour the free sections of your local Craigslist, and save up all of your own perfect supplies!

My husband was very skeptical of my design at first. He followed my instructions but had a hard time picturing the end result until it was finished. He kept trying to think of a place where we could put the potting table where it would be out of the way (and therefore not an eyesore). Now that it is finished, we both love it, and it is going to be featured prominently in our new backyard design. It is so cozy and quaint…just makes me want to go out there and plant lots of new things! 🙂

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Below: my husband made me some hooks for my tools out of an old wire hanger.
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Below: a succulent arrangement I made in a vintage watering can, the vintage Joy sign that was my grandparents, and one of the mini chandeliers that hung at our wedding reception.
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Below: a windchime that I found at a dollar store a while back and a side view of my husband’s handiwork. 🙂aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Below: supplies in cute vintage buckets, pebbles and homemade compost.
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Below: more supplies in buckets, potting soil in a large bucket with a lid (found at Home Depot), and my lesser used gardening supplies such as soil testers, etc.
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Below: another vintage bucket reserved for holding clippings, etc.
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Below: excess dirt is easily cleaned up with the open slot in the headboard-turned-table.
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Below: my scrap trim finally put to good use.
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Below: the biggest splurge for the project, my shelf brackets from Anthropologie (aren’t they just so pretty?!).
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Below: the remaining evidence of the price discrepancy.
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Working with Myself as My Client

I mentioned previously that I wanted to spend some time working on some fine art self portraits, and I’m so happy that I’ve been making the time to do it. I’ve done a few things on my list so far, and wanted to share. 🙂 There is more up at http://apluscphotography.com/fine-art. You can read about each image on my photography blog: http://apluscphotography.com/blog.

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