Monday, May 26, 2008

Blood in New Orleans, 1979 (nothing to do with voodoo or vampires)

I wrote this story in 2002 for a local public radio contest and it, Big Shock!, did not win—I don't think the problem was that they didn't want to have to read a story about menstruation on the air, it was more that the radio station likes "Texas color," meaning that the winning story had all kinds of Texas kitsch like, "As he banged the ripped screen door on his way to get a piece of Mama's pecan pie, big ole Texas horseflies buzzed inside." Clearly my story was too sophisticated for that contest.

Stories had to follow a short word count, per contest rules—I mention this in case readers can tell I truncated my usual amount of detail. For example, I couldn't cram in a mention of telling my dad's cousin Vera Mae I was worried about my reproductive system and her saying not to worry, because she had a relative who never started her period at all...and by the way, that cousin was a dwarf. There's nothing like being compared to a dwarf to make a 16 year old feel physically normal.

Last week I went to New Orleans for a company meeting, but that's not really what propelled me to put the story online. Ever since I started this blog I knew I wanted to feature the Blood story - yes, it's embarrassing, but also wonderfully visual.

A few background notes...

I was a junior in high school but graduated in three years, so 1978-1979 was my college decision year. Despite that pressure, I saw this trip as more of a fun vacation than an opportunity to seriously check out a college, even though I was a finalist for a prestigious scholarship. I didn't intend any disrespect for Tulane but had no idea who I was as a person or student.

I had tentatively indicated I was interested in the subject of English, and after meeting the Dean I had an even quicker meeting with a Writing professor in the English department...he had a dirty brown tweedy type couch (since I was having a leaky period, I was developing new appreciation for dark, crummy furniture). That guy made short work of me...he knew he could be blunt since he was a tenured academic, he had a parrot in a cage in his office (I kid you not), and it was New Orleans...he said something like, "It doesn't sound to me like you're interested in coming here...why did you ask to meet with me?" As mortifying as that moment was, I can't remember more about it...such as what I said in response?...because the day was absolutely overshadowed by my menses.

It pains me to relate what I was wearing for my Tulane interviews—jeans and a homemade floral tunic shirt and platform loafers. I can't remember 70s fashion precepts too well but this doesn't sound quite appropriate, in retrospect. Pre-trip, I had discussed my clothes with Priscilla and we had bought me one new dress and was kind of a party dress though (I wore it out to dinner at the end of the trip), and certainly I couldn't have worn anything that light-colored (lavender/pink) and floaty (a very light cotton) on my Heavy Day! And the shoes that went with it were purple leather slides...need I say more?, not your standard walking-around-campus shoe.

Regardless of all that...I had a good time, especially after I had gotten the Tulane stuff out of the way. We stayed at a fabulous hotel (basically our own little house in the French Quarter with a courtyard), Harvey's friend Peter V. joined us, and one day we rented a limo and went outside of town to see some of the restored plantations.

Until recent years when his health has worsened, Harvey traveled extensively, and he would research restaurants, hotels and sights from ads and articles in glossy travel magazines. "On my flight from New York I was reading about a restaurant I'd like to try..." Total glamour, right? I have to say, Internet trip research pales in comparison.

Harvey took hundreds of photos and got inspired to do many portraits of me with the backdrop of New Orleans brick and shutters. It's a whole lotta Sarah, I the French Quarter I bought a shirt silk-screened with my photo image, and it displayed perfectly on my still-flat chest.


I didn’t start having my period until I was 17, which made the menstrual onset especially traumatic for me. My second period, almost as momentous as the first, arrived unfortuitously on the day of a big trip—my bachelor uncle H. was generously taking me to New Orleans to check out a college there. My flow was heavy enough that I went to my stepmother for counsel—but she, who had grown up on a farm and had already raised five daughters with normal bodies/normal cycles (and no anxiety problems), had little to say on the subject of my self-perceived torrential deluge and simply found me a box of slightly larger Kotex.

Other “firsts” on the morning of the trip included cramping, lightheadedness and cravings, all of which I decided to handle with a quick Sonic run for caffeine and sugar. Literally carried away by my hormonal urges, I left my packed bags inside our front door, instructed my stepmother to direct Uncle H. to the Sonic, and walked the three blocks to our town’s Main Street as rapidly as my well-padded crotch would allow. I was standing at the order window when a rushed Uncle H. drove up—he seemed a little less enchanted by me than usual but was somewhat mollified when he saw I had ordered him a Coke float too.

We barely made our plane but since Uncle H. had gotten us first-class tickets, the flight attendants remained fairly gracious. Given my continued deluge-inous flow, I was vastly relieved to see that the seats were upholstered in a dark floral fabric. I made more than one trip to the restroom and on each return to my seat, tried to surreptitiously check whether the colors of the flower petals in the cushion fabric had changed.

My large and antique-filled room at our hotel surpassed my “princess imprisoned in a small Texas town” fantasies, but my heart sank when I saw the canopy bed’s expensive-looking, pristinely white comforter and sheets. (This was years before the wide popularity of novelist Anne Rice, in whose world blood on antique linens would have been justified.) For a moment I almost longed for cheaper, grungier lodging, maybe someplace with a dirty rust-colored bedspread and dingy sheets that could have used a good bleach boil anyway.

Our second day in town, I was scheduled for a scholarship interview with the Dean at my target college (my SAT scores having been higher than my common sense at this age). As I walked out of the Dean’s office after a very shyly uncomfortable meeting, I was horrified to spy a dot of blood on the orange leather armchair I’d been cringing in. As tremendously embarrassing as the stain was, I didn’t think it would have much effect on the outcome of my visit—all my interviews that day turned out to be rather bizarre in content and shortness, since I had no clear idea why I wanted to go to college (other than to get out of our town and away from my family) and certainly no specific idea why I would want to go to this particular Louisiana school.

After the conclusion of a few more time-wasting meetings with department heads and professors, I finally had the privacy to make a much-needed visit to the ladies’ room. I was horror-struck that there were no containers in any of the stalls for sanitary waste, a real dilemma since there were several students at the sinks and I didn’t think I could bear to walk past them clutching a suspicious wad of paper in my hands—I finally just left my little package of joy sitting on the back of the toilet. As I was washing my hands at the sink, two cleaning ladies came in and par-for-the-course of my life that day, within a few seconds one of them started on the stall I had just vacated and went into a loud diatribe about “Would you look at the stuff them girls leave in here?!”

That night, I was still bleeding quite a lot so I had to apply my befuddled teen brain to the project of how not to leak through my dress for the evening—a homemade navy-and-white striped number that I had designed and sewn to match some majorly platform shoes I’d found on sale. The shoes were on a fashion borderline even for the 1970s—they had cork bottoms and multi-colored straps, and I couldn’t walk in them for more than a few hundred yards (we had to take a cab the few blocks to the historic restaurant Uncle H. had chosen).

I had known I needed to build a kind of dam and ended up fashioning a plastic diaper out of Saran Wrap that I found in our hotel room’s kitchenette. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tape (had to depend on the elasticity of my pantyhose for adhesion), and for the latter part of the evening the stoppage apparatus was positioned at a very odd angle between my legs. I considered that night a major testament to my ingenuity, since not only did my dress and the pastel upholstered chair at the restaurant avoid damage, but also none of the dam-building components ever fell off or slid down onto an observable portion of my legs.

Ultimately, I chose a college in New Mexico (where I had a bathroom accident of another sort on my first visit there, since I was too shy to excuse myself during a lengthy seminar, regardless of the 5 glasses of water I had had with my spicy dinner). Despite the fact that I have never since had a menstrual cycle of that early, unearthly magnitude, I’ve never regained trust in my female parts and regard their operations as, at best, baroque.

Mercifully, I don't believe Uncle H. ever had any idea of the disgusting events I had to manage through in New Orleans. (Unless he suspected something when, after a gourmet Cajun lunch, I made him take me to a rundown convenience store so I could buy Cokes and a large package of Chips Ahoy, hoping those would help my cramping and cravings.)

Willy P. continued - velour & baked goods

Charlie W. was one of the several acolytes who worshipped at the shrine of blond Jordans – these young men were platonic family friends, since the Jordans were good Lutheran girls. I believe that Charlie did have parents and a home of his own, but maybe there was some dysfunction there – for whatever reason, he was often at our house for Sunday dinner (not called lunch), the midday meal for German descendants like Ben and Priscilla. I remember one Sunday when Willy, who – unsurprisingly for a dog from a family of 5 girls and a boy – preferred women to men, barked extra-loud and long at Charlie. My brother Dave, who was a senior in high school and had moved to one of my dad’s rent houses so that the Jordan girls could take over his bedroom, happened to walk into the house mid-bark and said, in wry solemnity – combining his usual gravitas with a mildly questioning intonation, “Maybe Willy doesn't like velour."

I can remember the staging of the scene – medium-height Charlie grinning nervously and blinking his eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses, barely having entered the kitchen because Willie, in front of the stove, was so noisy, and then tall, lean Dave appearing in the hall behind Charlie and using his superior intelligence to rapidly assess the situation. Dave was wearing his usual church uniform of dark brown slacks and European-tailored Oxford cloth shirt (he had an unusual build for his age and on a shopping trip with Uncle Harvey to Neiman's, they had learned that his physique was better served by European-cut shirts). Charles was not classically handsome and his teenage complexion had not yet cleared, but he was very clean, at least when we saw him on Sundays – you could smell his Right Guard and other 1970s guy products. I think he had graduated the year before and was working locally and/or going to community college – he had a small clothing budget and only two Sunday shirts, one being the velour model.

When looking through a vintage clothing site for the right velour image I saw a flowered shirt that was instantly familiar – this was my first recollection that Charlie also had a rayon shirt, which he alternated with the velour one. Not only had I forgotten about the floral shirt (probably a good reallocation of brain cells) but I couldn’t, and still can't, remember the color of his velour shirt. I think it was blue-green, but the wine-color shirt I found online looks so familiar…that might have been the color instead.

When Craig and I bought our house 10 years ago, the master bedroom was painted a hideous Pepto pink (the original owners were proud of their color scheme, including matching curtains), which Craig startled me by referring to as green. When I quizzed him, does that really look green to you?, he corrected himself, but I think he has some slight color-blindness. I also tested him on a wine-color bathrobe he used to have, but although he described that color correctly, I figured whatever relative gave it to him for Christmas might have already told him the color. I have never caught him in a color mistake since, so either his disability is very mild or he has gotten better at tricking me (trickery being a handy skill in marriage). Actually I was jealous of his viewpoint because our bedroom could only have looked better if I saw it in green. Having trouble distinguishing between red & green is one of the two basic types of color blindness, and it fascinates me that blue-green and wine-color fall into this problem category. I mean…think about the era, I guess early 1980s?, when mauve & blue-green (up to and including seafoam) were used in interior decor to an obnoxious degree. I always wondered how those colors got put together in the first place, but they do seem to share a weird kinship. So, I guess the real color of Charlie's church shirt - whether wine or blue-green - doesn't matter. Either way, my reader gets the 1970s visual.

I mentioned to my brother Dave that I was going to be blogging his comment about the shirt, and he mailed me this:
I have no recollection of that quote, but I do remember forming an immediate dislike of Willy, which was mutual: he growled and snapped at me every time I walked into the kitchen. This never failed to amuse Priscilla. To get back to the quote, it does sound like a good quote for the times. There was a new technology for making inexpensive velour, one of many good reasons to dislike the 70's.

You know…even after 46 years of being Dave’s sister, it still annoys me that he is so easily, naturally, a more concise and witty writer than I am.


The Jordans created an unplanned cheerleader dynasty (I think all 5 of them were elected to the squad every year they were in high school), impressive not just because of their number or the lack of planning – and lack of pettiness, and none of the kind of nasty competition parodied in cheerleader movies – but also because they had all attended parochial school through eighth grade and started out at Tomball High as freshmen with few contacts (other than their older sisters, who taught them cheer routines). They were popular girls but not cliquish, having friends in more walks of school life than just cheerleading (band nerds, etc.), and they were also good students – National Honor Society and the Honor Roll. Yes, they all looked great in bikinis but it was more important to them that they had attained advanced lifeguard certification, a sign of physical fitness and safety achievement - the bikini physiques and the superb lifeguarding tans were incidental.

Anyway…let me stop describing my perfect stepsisters before I digress into bitchiness…on Spirit Fridays the Tomball cheerleaders, in addition to wearing their uniforms to school, made treats for the football team and decorated their lockers with “Go Team” signs, crepe paper and candy. Candy wasn’t enough though – they also took cake and cookies to feed these growing boys. Priscilla was an excellent from-scratch baker but recognized the efficacious value of using cake mix, which would assuredly not be scorned by the palates of high school footballers.

My story concerns a particular Thursday night – to place it in a timeline, it was after Willy’s hot spot problem, with its accompanying self-licking, was fairly advanced. Priscilla, on behalf of her daughters who were otherwise busy with homework or sports practice, had baked a sheet cake and covered it with German chocolate frosting. This type of topping, moist coconut and nuts in a sugary goo, is spread on a still-warm cake (unlike most cake frostings, which should only be spread on a cake that is completely cool – otherwise the frosting will melt and run). The cake’s warmth made it even more aromatic, and it easily got Willy’s attention. He was never far from the kitchen, and it was an easy matter for him to hop up on a kitchen chair…and lick the sugary, nutty frosting off the cake.

Priscilla caught him when he was only about a third of the way through...which meant she had more options for trouble-shooting. Her decision was to take a spatula and spread the remaining frosting over the naked parts of the cake. I had already learned that Priscilla’s appreciation of the Sciences was very basic - a couple of times I had come home with gems from biology or chemistry class, such as, did you know that hot water freezes faster than cold water?, and she would respond in the manner of, "Don't you dare put hot water into my freezer and defrost it." Without even initiating a conversation I knew that Priscilla had no concern for what the microbes on Willy's tongue might do to the football team. I shouldn’t sell her short – I’m sure she did know about infectious bacteria but figured that healthy, physically fit young men would have sufficient immunity to eat the cake with no problems.


While still living at home I started assembling a collection of decorative cookie cutters for more occasions than just Christmas – autumn leaves for fall, bunnies for spring, etc. Sometimes I used my mother’s recipe, which featured colored dough combined with white dough, and other times I painted designs on my cookies with food coloring. The paintbrush cookies were thin, delicate, and labor-intensive. One afternoon my stepbrother Steve was watching me bake and expressed an interest in eating a cookie. I was frowning and fussy, trying to get my paint lines straight and trying not to burn the delicate cookie edges, and I said in a short tone to Steve that he could only eat the broken ones. He ate some crumbled edges from the first pan and the second pan (ears and tails always fell off the rabbits and horses) but by the third pan, when my technique had improved and the cookies were coming out closer to perfect, Steve had resorted to lifting up cookies from the cooling rack and dropping (genteelly hurling them) to the kitchen table so they would be officially broken, per my directive, and he could eat them. Occasionally he varied his routine and let cookies drop to the kitchen floor, where his counterpart Willy P. would scarf them up. The tinkly thump of the breaking cookies and Willy's uncut nails as he danced on the linoleum made a counterpoint to my banging of cookie sheets and cooling racks.

Sometimes when Willy scrambled for food it reminded me of something in the movies...I have further clarified this through 12 years of living with my beagle Marley…it is reminiscent of a tap dance (when Marley does fast footwork for treats I call him Mr. Bojangles), or the kind of activity that occurs in old Westerns when the bad guy shoots at someone’s foot, yelling "Dance!" Maybe I'm a latent sadist, but I find it amusing to see a chubby dog (or a scared cowboy) move so fast.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time-wasting images for today

I should be studying...I swear that I will crack open the SPHR study guide as soon as I click Post for this entry...but blogging seems important too (a procrastination tool...but still, important).

Today since it was so sunny I did a big photography project I had been putting off (not to study might be a sin, but getting this other difficult thing done might ameliorate my badness somewhat). Uncle Harvey took hundreds of photos of our 1978 trip to New Orleans when I interviewed for a scholarship at Tulane University, and I had been wanting to get some of these images online with a story I wrote years ago about the trip.

It got really hot outside as I painstakingly did several shots of each old photo, trying to keep them straight, trying to avoid midday sun glare, and trying to keep the breeze from blowing away the precious photos. There isn't a comfortable position for this nit-picky kind of outdoor photography - either I lay a towel on the sidewalk, sit on my knees and lean over the photo (have to use a weird angle to minimize glare), or I can put the photo on a short outdoor table and do an awkward leaning-stand over it. Either way my back and neck hurts...but it's so important to do, for the sake of art. (I've tried to re-photograph old photos in our cool, comfortable house, but electric light, at least in the hands of a very amateurish photographer like myself, captures much less detail.)

Today's photos wouldn't lie flat in the hot air of our backyard, so I experimented with weighing down the sides with kitchen knives. The metal knives got uncomfortably hot from the sun, and since their edges weren't straight they made it harder for me to frame the photos correctly, but at least they worked well as weights.

On some of the images I captured more knife than others, which doesn't matter since I have the magic tool of Kodak software cropping...but I thought it would be funny to show one of the knife-framed images, as a preview of the actual photo show (which may take me weeks to finish, since I need to revamp the original story and weave in the photos appropriately).

And what would any blog posting be without photos of are two close-out styles I found on Amazon last night...they are now in UPS transit to join the rest of my collection.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

1970s dog story - Willy P. and the pot pie

My cousin Amy and I have become the kind of clichéd cell phone buddies who have stream-of-consciousness chats of a frequency and length that has contributed to us both having to expand our monthly phone plans. During a conversation earlier this week about food, or our dogs, or both…prevalent topics for us…I told her a story from my past that she really liked and suggested I post online. It felt a bit wrong to base this blog’s inaugural dog story on a pet of 30 years ago that didn’t even belong to me, but my own dogs don’t inspire as many stories at their middle/older ages (they are 6 and 12) and are notoriously difficult to photograph – see example below. (Although knowing how dog jinxes work, I’m sure my having said that Billie and Marley aren’t up to much mischief these days will trigger a blog-worthy exploit very soon.)

After my dad's remarriage in the summer of 1976, it was of course expected that my stepmother Priscilla and her school-age daughters would move into our house, but that wasn't the extent of it...within a few weeks my stepbrother Steve Jordan began coming over for regular dinners, watching TV after dinner, dozing on the couch at night, and soon had pretty much moved in. Since Steve was no longer spending much time at his trailer outside of town, he had to bring his dog over too, which was actually the Jordan family dog. (Priscilla and her daughters had been crammed into a trailer in town (Tomball), while the dog had been enjoying country living with Steve. They had all moved from Colorado in the recent past for Mr. Jordan's job, but he died unexpectedly before their new Texas house could be built, leaving the family with temporary living arrangements and some financial disarray.)

Priscilla introduced the dog to us as Willy P. Jordan, and when I asked what the P was for, she grinned slightly and offered only, “It stands for P." I liked how Priscilla pronounced Willy's name, especially when she yelled at him – she has a high voice and from growing up in Nebraska, a slightly clipped, Midwest/Germanic delivery. She would hiss out the two syllables of his name very quickly, similar to when it took too long to think through which of her daughters she wanted to call and she would spit out their names in a list, "Pamela-Beth-Kristin-Cheryl-Debra..."

Until I pulled out old photos to use for the blog, I had planned to write that I liked Willy because I like beagles – I have loved, though sometimes concurrently hated, my beagle Marley for 12 years now. Willy was a mutt with some beagle features and coloring, but it wasn’t just the typical beagle spirit (merry and stubborn) that made me like him. He was stubborn but not so merry – until getting out the photos I had forgotten how sad his eyes were…large, sad hound eyes. Most of my photos showed my sister Rachel doing goofy poses with him – pinning down his ears, covering his eyes, and in one shot pretending to choke him. Willy was very easygoing with Rachel and me and immediately considered us part of his family. In a time of fragile détente between the Scholls and Jordans, Rachel and I found in Willy unconditional acceptance, and the unconditional warmth one finds in dogs.

Willy had a small head and large snout, very silly ears, rat-like toes and a long pink tongue. He was the kind of dog that always smells bad, even after a bath, and it goes without saying that his breath was bad…but he was full of charm. True to the beagle part of his legacy he was drawn to people, drawn to fun, and was very independent, what Priscilla called “ornery.” Willy knew he was a dog (unlike my current pets, who seem to think they share genetics with Craig and me), but he also knew his place was with people. (None of the Scholl cats had been so interactive – because they were cats, and because we never figured out how to bond with them.)

He got cheap dog food and table scraps, which I'm now convinced triggered his horrible allergy problems (unless, having been born in Colorado, he was allergic to Texas…which I guess is also a possibility). Within a year or two he was scratching incessantly, so much that he developed bald spots. Priscilla took him to the vet for what she euphemistically called his “hot spots,” but veterinary science was light-years away from all the skin products available now (I should know because I have bought most of them, including an expensive experimental Pfizer drug, for my dog Billie). The clueless vet kept giving Priscilla lotions and ointments to put on the bald spots, which only got worse.

Eventually even Priscilla stopped calling them hot spots and used the dreaded word mange, although I don’t think Willy really had mange because even in the 1970s there were probably decent medicines for a disease that had been known about for centuries. The scary pink-skin bald spots began to spread on Willy’s body like global warming areas in a time-lapse film, although in his case (and maybe not in the case of global warming, either), there wasn’t much of a lapse. One day after weeks of scratching and suffering, he disappeared. Priscilla kept saying he must have run away, but nobody tried to look for him – I think deep down we all suspected that he (that Priscilla) had found a final solution.

His end was sad and we didn't have a lot of years together, but I have happy memories of him, especially this one...about a special evening when Willy hit the equivalent of a canine jackpot.

Willy's food and water dish were near our kitchen trash can, which to try to improve traffic flow in this crowded room was located next to the stove. When not on the den couch Willy liked to hang out in the kitchen, where he could lick his food dish, sniff the trash can, and feel the warmth of the oven. If people were sitting at the table (and with such a large family, that was usually the case), he also did a circuit around and under the table, as space allowed. (A dog like Willy is accustomed to getting tripped on by his family.)

An American convenience food that hasn't evolved much is the frozen pot pie. Most of the brands on the market are still labeled, "microwave cooking not recommended," because the pastry needs an oven for proper crisping, and the thick middle of the pie needs long-term heat. It is a long wait to bake a chicken pot pie, but worth it - even the burned tongue experienced when after waiting an hour to bake the thing, you can't wait an hour for it to cool, is worthwhile. (In writing this I am assuming I'm not the only person who likes piecrust & gravy in fattening combination.)

One particular night Steve and I were hanging out in the kitchen, waiting for our pot pies – I think Priscilla and my dad were out at a meeting or concert, so we were going the frozen-dinner route. I was probably reading a library book or doing math homework, and Steve might have been reading the newspaper, a news magazine, or generally BS-ing with me. (It was fun to have a guy friend so much older than me, and I think he liked having a fresh audience for his corny humor and wild stories, which by then (he was 24) had started to wear thin on his mom and sisters.)

Pot pies then and now tend to come in flimsy aluminum pans that barely support their weight. The pot holders near the stove, a crocheted nylon set that had arrived with my stepmother, were not very heat-protective. (The stained Scholl pair, which had more padding and insulation, was banished somewhere.) As I was pulling out the first pot pie, I felt piercing heat on my palms.
Of course my goal was to lift the pot pie to the top of the stove, but somehow in my pain and clumsiness it fell…and up-ended itself right into Willy’s food dish, with its top crust down and its pale bottom facing a very eager diner.

There was only one undamaged pot pie left (which by making a fist-wad of two pot holders I managed to get out safely), and we had been waiting for the fallen pie for an hour, but between Steve and me there was no inclination to scoop it out of Willy’s saliva-coated dish.

And neither of us had the heart to yank this fallen miracle away from Willy. He was so excited, even though we could tell he was scorching his doggy lips and tongue just by getting near it. The impact of its fall had split the pie, which helped some of the heat start to steam out, but it was nowhere near being cool. I thought of pouring water on it to hasten the cooling process, and although my memory is dim on the details I may have gotten some water or ice cubes into the dish…but Willy was shouldering me out of the way, having attached himself to the dish like it was his destiny (which I guess it was).

My stepbrother was a tall, burly cowboy type who thought it was manly to hide his laughter – my best witticisms usually got only a faint smirk out of him – but he hooted at the Willy & pot pie scenario. Priscilla also had a tendency to control her mirth, but when we told her the story she couldn’t stop a laugh before she started tsk-tsking about the waste of food. (Trust me…Willy wasted not a crumb of that pot pie.)


Poor Willy rubbing a hot spot on his back under a kitchen chair – this was an early stage of his skin problems. In retrospect, I interpret the look in his eyes not as relief, but as something sadder…perhaps a dim doggy realization that there would be no end to his itching.

My sister Rachel bathing her canine buddy – note the flea shampoo. There were no fancy flea birth controls or even flea genocides in the 1970s – just Hartz shampoo or a Hartz flea collar.

King Willy on his sofa throne – obviously he spent more time on the pillow than the towel. The pillow was a hand-crafted gift from a family friend, surely not intended for dog use. Willy sure enjoyed it though...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Colored Collections

My love for and need of color has taken me from childhood construction paper ornaments (they never looked good the second Christmas but I just made new ones), construction-paper designs I tacked on my gray-wallpaper walls before my bedroom was painted yellow (I always did squares, rectangles and triangles - nothing circular or even curved...wonder what that means psychologically?), geometric color sketches that I tried sewing with fabric and ultimately realized would be better in needlepoint (more straight curves because they were too hard to do in needlepoint, and because even drawing them made me feel uncomfortable - I can't make them symmetrical, which makes me feel out of control). Also my teapot collection - colorful solids, designs, and only enough neutral colors to be pretty when mixed in with the rest, and more recently my collection of Target t-shirts (short-sleeve for summer and long-sleeve for winter)...and not least, my Converse Chuck Taylors of many colors, per other postings on this blog.

Here are the few needlepoint pillows I have not given away over the years - only when Billie reached her dog-year adulthood could I display any of them, since she used to eat an average of one sofa pillow per month. (Once I came home and found a maroon sofa pillow had been dragged out through the dog door into the backyard - I guess she shares my love of color and wanted to complement the green grass.)

I had a few needlepoint canvases framed, for the glory of Sarah. This one is less complicated than it looks - all squares and triangles. My only inspiration for the color scheme was using up old yarn left from other needlepoint projects.

I have not bothered to "program" my crystal power bracelets in the recommended mystical way - burning sage and having a sort of crystal dedication ceremony - but even if they are not "activated" I love them for their color, their comforting weight, and the positive connotations of their ascribed meanings - clarity, courage, etc.

And a special note on earrings (of which I have too many to photograph, although I tend to get lazy and wear the same stainless-steel hoops most of the week instead of pawing through my earring tray for something more decorative):

Wearing earrings, like wearing certain colors of fabric, was something I had to transition back into.... I had my ears pierced in high school and actually liked the look of the thick stainless-steel studs that they put in after the piercing more than I liked retail earrings. Then within a couple of years I came to the warped conclusion that earrings were not flattering next to my face, that I would be more attractive without them. When I stopped wearing earrings, the holes in my ears started to grow closed, and when I got mentally healthier after moving to Dallas and wanted to try earrings again, I could no longer insert them. I remember my cousin Amy yelling encouragement through her parents' bathroom door as I poked at a barely-visible earlobe hole with a pearl earring, squeaking in pain every time I made contact with skin. Abandoning the self-surgery, I went to a Dallas salon to have my ears re-pierced. The Dallas practitioner didn't like the positioning of the original holes and gave me new ones. On my left ear the original hole was off-center, and to get the new hole consistent with my right ear the two left ear holes ended up very close together, making it more difficult for me to insert earrings, even 25 years later...sigh.

I have some beautiful earrings, including a diamond pair, but don't always wear the more colorful ones, although I'm working on myself about that - it is one of my new color-ific agendas, going forward. On our recent Chicago trip I bought four colorful pairs at an artisan store, and I recently ordered several colored-crystal pairs online. I wore my amethyst set today, but can't promise I won't go back to the stainless steel hoops tomorrow (they are super-comfortable).

The Closeted Life of Chucks

My Chuck Taylors demanded their own posting instead of being included in "Color Assortments" above. In the dark of my closet they are gradually - and not so secretly - taking over the shoe rack from boring leather work shoes.

Yellow & Green at 14 (and since)

Yellow and green are way down my list of color preferences - as an example, in my recently acquired trove of Converse Chuck Taylors, yellow and green have the least representation. One Chuck print has touches of yellow, and I have a pair of apple green Chucks, but they are kind of a chartreuse, which I consider almost a basic color, like black or navy - not really a green that has to be matched. That may be one of my difficulties with green - that it's hard to match, and looks ugly when you combine shades that aren't close. Blues, even reds, look better in shade combinations. (Olive, to me, is hardly a kind of green - I consider it more in the gray family, which means I like it.)

Here is an early green & yellow story that may have caused some of my problems with the colors... After my dad's remarriage, he repainted two of the bedrooms in our house for the expanded family. My brothers' old room was painted lavender, to be shared by 3, sometimes 4 stepsisters, depending on who was home from college, and also their older brother Steve, if he got tired of sleeping on the couch. (I think Steve only took naps or watched TV in that room - can't quite believe he squeezed onto the king-size bed with his sisters at night.) My sister Rachel moved into my parents' old room with me - my dad had converted the garage into a new master suite - and my dad let me choose what color scheme would obliterate the gray & rose floral wallpaper that had been in that room since he built the house in the 1950s.

I had been very impressed by a friend's bedroom that was redone from fairy-princess pinks into green & white when she got to junior high age, and I wanted those for my colors. Traci had green & white checked wallpaper and pot plants, which looked so lovely, although I had killed every plant I ever planted or watered in and around our house (maybe the fill dirt in our shallow flower beds was not fertile?, let's go with that theory - not much that my parents planted there grew either) so I wasn't so sure about the leafy ivy for my version of the room. I didn't have a lot of contact with this friend anymore since we were in different social circles, but I envied many things about her looks and taste (or her mother's taste - I suspect her trim, blond, elegant mother called the decorating shots in that house).

During the two years our family was motherless, I often spent weekends at my father's cousin Vera Mae's house, where I usually slept in her daughter Glenda's room. Glenda was then in high school, oh-so-grownup to my eyes (I used to beg for my own subscription to 17 Magazine, since I pored through every issue of Glenda's) and like Traci, had had her bedroom redone with a new theme - yellow walls and green bedspreads. Her two twin beds had been angled into a corner of the room, with a square table between them, an amazingly sophisticated look for Rose Hill, Texas in the early 1970s (as context, the family had a septic tank and their neighbors had cows). On one of my special nights spent in that room, I watched Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in "Splendor In the Grass" on Glenda's tiny black & white bedroom TV. (Glenda was out with friends, so I could pretend her room belonged to me.) With all the vaguely veiled conversations about sexual frustration, this was the most adult movie I had ever seen, and Glenda's sophisticated room enhanced my viewing pleasure. The bed arrangement couldn't be recreated in my house - and I wouldn't have wanted my head angled that close to my bratty little sister - but the overall look of the room guided my design choices.

My dad sent me to a wallpaper store on Main Street (all the Tomball businesses were on Main Street in those years) and my 14 year old self went through several pattern books, page by page. Nothing looked quite like the wallpaper in my friend Traci's room, and green & white designs when viewed up close on a small page looked too large, too bright, and overall unfriendly. After what must have been hours spent at the store, I went home empty handed.

My father was very aware of the major difficulty I had developed with making decisions, big or small (big: whether to be confirmed in our church or wait another year for confirmation... big: wallpaper colors... small: what shirt to wear with what shorts... small: what kind of sandwich or dessert I wanted in a restaurant). I remember being so relieved, in seeing the movie "Terms of Endearment" (about a young man's depression after the death of his brother, exacerbated by various family dysfunctions) when Tim Hutton's character was unable to choose food from a restaurant menu. Until the movie I had assumed I was the only person with that weird symptom.

I was doing other weird things around that time including obsessive hand washing and having extreme concerns about whether my clothes could be worn a second time without needing to be washed. I would pile up a week or more's clothes on a chair at the end of my bed, wishing I had a mother or similarly reliable authority figure to help me decide if they were dirty. (I never got dirty or sweaty - I spent most of my time in our air-conditioned house reading books - so the decision of whether anything truly needed to be washed was clearly in an OCD category.) Some of these mental tics began while my mother was still alive, but not surprisingly they got worse after her death. Probably the most disruptive behavior was ritual prayers - I wrote them myself, listing all kinds of things I thought I needed to apologize for, needed help with, or that God or his Son otherwise needed to know about, and thought I had to repeat them almost every hour of the day, even if I was supposed to be taking a timed test at school or eating dinner or practicing piano at home.

(It's hard to keep my blogging linear when there is so much Sarah backstory for every point I want to make. Anyway...) When I returned with no wallpaper after hours spent at the wallpaper store, my dad knew it was unlikely things would be any different the next day, or the next. He didn't say much more about it, but the following week I came home after school to a room with new wallpaper already in it - he had asked my stepmother to pick it out. (She was a very decisive lady back then, but ironically and sadly, in recent years she has had her own difficulties ordering from menus, due to mild memory loss.) The paper was several shades of green in a variegated stripe, with a yellowish-white background. Until the arrival of the stepfamily, our entire house had been tiled with gray & black linoleum squares, but along with the painting remodel came shag carpet - a purplish-blue for the stepsisters' room, and a dark-green blend for my sister's and my room. The green carpet was very dark, more so than any grass found in nature, and a stark contrast to the yellow (sunny yellow toned with a mix of white) my dad used to paint the built-in cabinetry. There were a lot of built-in drawers and doors, since this was originally the master bedroom, built for the arrival of the woman - my mother - who ended his bachelor years. Previously white (not chipped or scratched - well cared for, for 20 years) they all ended up yellow, as did two small blond-wood bookcases and the frame of my cork display board. (Our dark oak chest of drawers was left brown - an interesting contrast to everything else.)

My father and my stepmother made their best effort and their best artistic decisions. As I remember it, my thoughts at the time were rather simply that the final result was OK, and that I deserved no better, since I hadn't been able to make my own decision. I also had enough color sense to realize that it could have turned out much worse - 1970s yellow and green ranged to shades much worse than those chosen for my bedroom - lots of avocado and egg yolk was perpetuated during that time.

I'm not saying I have never lived with or worn green or yellow since then, but my few purchases of those colors stand out in my memory (because they were few): a 1980s Esprit shirt I bought on sale from Foley's, to go with the blue-yellow-rose print skirt in the same collection. (I wore it with a pearl & rose-bead necklace - not bad!) Earlier, in Tomball, I had a dress with bias-cut stripes on the bodice and skirt, dark green & off-white - I got compliments when I wore it to church but it wasn't one of my favorites - it was kind of scratchy (polyester) and had a cold-feeling zipper in the back. (I also wasn't thrilled with the way its colors looked with my only dress shoes, which were brown - the effect was kind of like the dark-brown chest of drawers in our green & yellow bedroom.)

If/when I wore any kind of green after that, it was usually blue-green, although there was one favorite pair of pants in the early 1990s...kind of a moss green, olive-green & black tapestry print - wide legs and a gathered waist - that I wore with a wide black belt and very chunky jewelry (a petite female version of MC Hammer, maybe?).

I feel I have come very far to now have three yellow shirts in my closet, several items of jewelry featuring yellow stones, and a pair of green (chartreuse, but we'll stretch the point for this story) Converse tennis shoes.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Custom Chucks (combining love of color, love of online shopping...and not least, family memories)

Design Images: Converse (Chuck Taylor) All Star Slip-Ons

Over the weekend I finally figured out how to navigate through the custom design portion of the website, and today I figured out how to capture the shoe design images and paste them on this blog. Oh yeah!, the opportunity to improve my technical abilities was another good reason to buy custom tennis shoes, in addition to bolstering my family nostalgia and exercising my artistic creativity.

I had been wanting a pair of orange Chucks but hadn't found any I liked in the last two months of Chucks shopping. Taking the opportunity to design my own, I thought if I used a lot of the lighter shade (called Aspen Yellow - isn't that lovely?) they would turn out not too overwhelming.

And, since my brother Tim wore gold/orange Converse shoes and the memory of him catalyzed my love of Chucks, I personalized the shoes with my maiden name on the back. My mother used to label Tim and David's white t-shirts for gym and camp by Magic Marker-ing SCHOLL on the front or back in neat capital letters (she had excellent schoolteacher handwriting and printing, polished by 10 years in the classroom). The all-caps label on my slip-ons is a tribute to that.

Using my usual spendthrift logic, I decided I might as well order a second pair so I could "save" on shipping charges (two pairs shipped for the price of one). The gray slip-ons I already have are one of my favorite pairs so I continued the gray theme, with some red touches, in my second custom design. The template is one of Converse's Product Red designs (see the red eyelets), with some of the profits going to fight AIDS in Africa.

Now all I have to do is wait patiently (hahahaha) for my new shoes to be manufactured (these design photos are not of actual shoes) and to be shipped - may take a month or more since they are custom (I'm so special).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chicago weekend, 4/25

Below is a link to Sarah's digital photos - Craig loaded his camera with black & white film, which is a great canvas for his artistry but which takes a long time to get developed if you live in Garland, Texas (a roll of his Australia photos was hung up in the lab for, literally, a month).

Most of you know that Craig has been working south of Chicago, in Lisle Illinois, for about 3 out of every 4 weeks. He started his job in January, which was not the most attractive introduction to life in Illinois. Due to weather and his work responsibilities, until last weekend he did not have time to take the train into Chicago and explore the city.

Craig had been to Chicago only once before, when he was 5 years old, and Sarah's last trip was in her 20s (yep...long time ago). Chicago of 2008 did not disappoint! We made it to 2 museums and 2 jazz clubs, had a lovely Italian dinner with former Dallas/Fort Worth friends who now live in the area, and took a boat tour that was very scenic until a storm blew us off the lake. Although sometimes overcast, the weekend weather was fine for walking, cool but not cold.

We liked our hotel - Hotel Monaco is part of the Kimpton chain, to which we're growing addicted. Usually refurbished historic buildings, the Kimptons tend to be in downtown locations that give you walking access to most places you would want to go. And, Kimptons offer free wine tastings from 5-6 every day, meaning a real savings for our beverage budget.

We loved the diversity and friendliness of Chicago, and it's one of the few US cities that has a truly living downtown - with jobs and activities for more than just the yuppie class. We didn't get to try out as many restaurants as we planned - and horror of horrors, we ran out of time to have deep-dish pizza or a Chicago hot dog - but Craig did have a late lunch combo sandwich of Italian sausage and Italian beef. Not surprisingly, that led to an afternoon nap, but we woke up in time for our sunset boat tour.

The reflective sculpture shown in these photos is Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor. Coincidentally, on Sarah's 2003 trip to London she saw Kapoor's installation in the Tate Modern museum - that sculpture looked like a giant gramophone made of human flesh, and she didn't appreciate it much (and can't be bothered to do enough web research to explain it here properly), but both Sarah and Craig thought that Chicago's Cloud Gate achieves its artistic goals. In fact, Sarah likes it enough to include a web link for more info: