I Think About Stuff and Sometimes I Write It Down

I thought about it and I started this blog.

A Short Halloween Memoir or Can a Six Year Old be Dubious?

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Each Halloween my mom was faced with the task of coming up with costumes for the Trick or Treat aged kids in our family. This was the fifties and Halloween was more of a DIY experience then. The only “store bought” costumes for kids were a printed, nylon disappointment topped by flimsy plastic mask that broke after the second house. We never had those costumes.

The year that I was five, or maybe six, the big kids had been tasked with taking me with them and mom had to get us three kids outfitted and out into the Jack-o-lantern lit night.

As was usual she had mined the stock of hand-me-downs stored in the attic and my older brother and sister were probably a hobo and a gypsy or a hobo clown and fortune teller or a hobo ghost and hobo-gypsy-fortune-teller-ghost (the attic only held a few options by way of flouncy skirts and and plaid pants.) My mother was left with only me to dress and and no idea what to with my small self.

What to do?

I was too small for my dad’s Air Force uniform and the standards were already taken.

What to do, what to do…

Suddenly inspiration seemed to light her face (probably. Maybe it was exhaustion. We’ll never know.)

She cut the feet off a set of too small, mint green, footie pajamas (to prevent my toes from curling up I think) and stepped me into my older brother’s too large, black rubber boots (my brother is 5 years older than me- these were big boots). She pinned a rabbit’s foot to my backside with a large diaper pin and added a black nose and whiskers to my face using the same burnt cork technique that she had used to create five o’clock shadows and smoldering eyes. I was ready. She beamed with satisfaction. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Three kids out the door, costumed and ready to rake in the booty.

You might be wondering what I was supposed to be. I was wondering what I was supposed to be. Everyone who opened their front door to us that night wondered what I was supposed to be.

“What are you, honey?”

“Um…Puss in Boots?”

Stop laughing.

~image credit: Evan Maruszewski
Cream City Media

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SACAJEWEA AND HOW WE ALMOST CRIED IN THE TARGET STORE

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Sacajewea was a Shoshone princess who guided Lewis and Clark…or so the story is told in the first GOOGLE search result.

Part way down the search page she is not a princess but did join the Lewis and Clark Expedition with her French Canadian husband. All of this doesn’t really matter to my story because I’m actually only talking about the U.S. Commemorative gold dollar that was minted in her honor and put into circulation in 2000 but it’s as good a place to start as any and she was pretty cool so there you go.

My dad was a fan of the Sacajewea gold dollar. He always carried a pocket-heavy bundle of them whenever he went out. He gave them away to little kids where ever he went. (Not in an icky “come here little girl” way. He asked the parents first and then would say: “Here you go peanut nose. That’s just for you.”)

My dad was a World War II veteran, B17 navigator and a Nazi POW survivor. He had a Purple Heart and some other medals that he never much talked about (he always said that a Purple Heart only meant that he was stupid enough to get hit) and the Polish Cross (He was proudest of the Polish Cross. It was awarded by the Polish government some 40 years after the war ended to the bomber and fighter crews that had participated in a super secret night mission to drop supplies into Warsaw- he was really proud of that mission and the medal touched his heart) and my dad was a pacifist and a gentle soul who, in doing his duty in an horrendous war, lost part of himself for a very long time. He was (in spite of or because of this broken piece) a loving, funny, silly, slightly crazy father of eight and a grade school teacher and he had a gift with children.

My dad was also plagued by nightmares from the POW camp and the bombing missions for most of his adult life. He found some peace after he was contacted (my dad was in his 60s by this time) by a young German Air Force Officer who was part of a task force that was contacting surviving Allied and Axis air crews whose planes had been brought down during the war. His name was Manfred.

Manfred found parts of my dad’s plane and sent them to him. He found another guy from the crew who had lived. He found the dead pilot’s daughter. Manfred helped my dad find the part that was injured inside himself and Manfred helped bring peace to a deeply buried and battered piece of his soul…and the Sacajewea dollars and the little kids at the Farmer’s Market and the mall (and everywhere else he went), they were a part of that peace. Maybe a symptom of that peace. Whatever they were, they became part and parcel of my dad.

Okay, I hear you. “Why were you crying at the Target Store?”

Well, you see, we had just finished checking out and my daughter was getting her then 3 year old into his jacket when she turned to me (eyes filled with tears) and said: “Mom, look! That old dude is giving that little girl a Sacajewea!”
…and he was.

Leaning on his wire shopping cart (my dad had a blue one in is last years) explaining to the mom about gold dollars and “could he give one to her daughter?”

He came next to our little guy and did the same.

I could hardly breathe. My eyes stung and my throat was closed. My daughter and I, we muttered and nodded and attempted to speak while trying not to blink d the welling tears down our cheeks. We thanked him and we smiled and we nodded and we ached.

He turned his cart and walked away explaining that he’d need to find a seat before he fell over and how much he loved seeing the kids light up at the beautiful shiny coin and how a dollar bill was “just not the same” and a beautiful Indian Princess was a lot better than a bunch of ugly old men anyway (He shared those sentiments with my dad almost exactly.)

I wanted to tell him about my dad.

I wanted to tell him that he’d filled my heart near to breaking with memories of my dad and with joy and with this present moment and with his own, crickety, sweet self.

I wanted not to cry in the Target Store and then he was gone.

My Measles Memories

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I had measles when I was a kid. Actually, I had Rubeola (measles), mumps and Rubella (German Measles) because I was born before vaccinations. No MMR for us’ns. But this story is about measles.

In a quick aside I do remember being a little disappointed by the mumps. I was pretty miserable but I felt completely cheated because, as miserable as I was, I didn’t get big ol’ swollen cheeks like a cartoon. What was the point of mumps if I couldn’t have my face all wrapped up in bandages knotted on top of my head? (I’m not really sure why I thought this was a treatment for mumps.)

My Rubella and the Rubeola experience kind of blend together in my kid brain in that I’m not certain which one made me really, really (pretty sure I scared my parents) sick.

The weirdest thing about my measles memories is that my mom isn’t there and my dad is. That’s weird because my mom was always there and my dad worked- a lot. My adult self realizes that mom wasn’t there coz she was likely pregnant and couldn’t be there. (Y’know, measles and fetuses.) My dad must’ve taken off work, which (as I’ve said) was pretty weird. I remember that the sun shone so bright it hurt my eyes and made my throbbing head thump and he shouldn’t have been there. Not in the middle of a sunny day.

So there we are, in my memories, my dad and me doing battle with measles. The sun is shining. My father is sponging my hot little body over and over with a wash cloth from a basin that I was convinced was filled with ice water (and again here my adult self speaks up and knows this was tepid water) and I am crying. He pulls a blanket up over my shivering self and the blanket feels like sand paper against my rashy, feverish skin and gives me St. Joseph Children’s Chewable Aspirin and sips of water. (That’s it. That’s what they had. Aspirin and sponge baths.) I don’t know where the other kids are. They aren’t in my memories. Were the older ones at school? Where were the littler ones? Were they with my mom. My memory doesn’t furnish these details.

I do remember the fever dreams though. Terrible, fear ridden, incoherent, fever inspired dreams. I woke screaming and sobbing because a giant black spider was pushing, forcing itself down on my chest and biting my head. I dreamt that bricks were pounding my head. I re-dreamt the spider. I remember believing that German Measles had something to do with Nazis and I was pretty sure I knew why. This was some nasty stuff. Rotten Nazis.

I don’t know how long this lasted. One day or a couple? I have no idea. I know that my dad was was always near when I woke. Ever ready with the ice water torture and spider banishing comfort. I also know exactly when the fever must have broken because when I woke up I was feeling normal but hollow and kind of empty and I was very upset to find myself on the couch, in the living room, covered with a blanket and wearing only my UNDERPANTS!!! What the heck? Where were my PJs and why wasn’t I wearing them? I was even more upset when my father smiled and laughed at me. Sheesh. I was really mad. (Poor man, poor parent, he must have been so very, very relieved to have this angry little bundle of non-feverish daughter blustering at him.)

I survived my battle with measles. Many kids didn’t. I didn’t know any who died personally but I do remember that a classmate’s brother never returned to school. Our little kid grapevine reported that he got measles on his brain wouldn’t be coming back. (Encephalitis? My adult self wonders.)

Now, as a parent and a grandparent, I feel for the frightened, helpless parents of that oh-so-sick little girl. What would they have given for a vaccine?

I do know that as the vaccines became available we got every one we were eligible for. I remember that when the Polio Vaccine was discovered it was such a miracle. Such a life saver. We got vaccinated at school. Long lines of kids snaking through the gym for sugar cubes with serum and, later, vaccinations. Kids who were going to be safe from Polio and telethons and iron lungs.

Our parents, what would they have risked to keep us as safe from disease as we can keep children today? What would they say to parents who listen celebrities over science and don’t protect their children? I think I can guess.

The Anti-Vaxx Movement…it makes me crazy.

Winter Exacts a Hefty Fee for Her Beauty- a Veteran’s View

In the midst of another long, long winter enduring record sub-zero temperatures I am reminded of this reflection upon a Wisconsin winter.

I Think About Stuff and Sometimes I Write It Down

(We just shoveled and plowed and salted our way out from under an epic blizzard and, although I wrote this last year, it came back to mind as I watched the drifts pile up hip-height and the plow struggle mightily to get “unstuck” from our driveway.)

Where I live winter is the greediest of seasons grabbing hold in November she often doesn’t let go her grasp till March is completely played out and an April snow fall is not unusual.

So- here I stand – in nearly two feet of drifting snow. (NEW snow- on top of the several inches of ice covered, rock solid, brittle and broken snow that  remain after a partial thaw and a couple of weeks of single digit temperatures with sub-zero wind chills <BUT, I digress>)
…Where was I?

Oh, nearly two feet of new snow (right! – focus)  in my 50-somethingth winter in the…

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The Traveling Red Dress, a Postcard from the Edge, a Journey Back, a Survivor and Doll – the Horse

IMG_0610     This is Ellen. She is a two time cancer survivor.

She is with her friend Doll. Doll is a horse.

Doll and the other horses who live at the stable Ellen visits have been a large part of Ellen’s survival and her recovery.

Ellen and Doll and the Traveling Red Dress spent an afternoon together. These are some of the pictures they took.

When Ellen saw her pictures she told her friend and photographer: “I look like Ellen again.”

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This is Ellen…she looks just like herself.

RED DRESS NOTE:  If you would like your own red dress moment i will do my best to send the dress your way. It travels with an itinerary and it depends upon each recipient to forward it on (Parcel Post is the cheapest at about $15 – 20.00) to the next. If you have requested the dress before please contact me again with your particulars. I want to insure that no one is missed and the dress will be passing through my hands on it’s next trip at which time I will update the list.

As ever I would love to see pictures of your day and and hope you will send them to me and allow me to feature them here. I never divulge more than any wearer is willing to share. I just truly love the pictures.

Barbara Minishi and the Red Dress

Barbara Minishi is a young woman. A photographer. A Kenyan. She started her own Red Dress Project. It is a wonderful story.

Here is a video about this young woman and her project:

Barabara Minishi: The Red Dress

When, in the video, Barbara breaks down crying when the designer of the her red dress made it so the dress will fit every woman I got all happy coz my red dress does as well.

It’s kind of magical that, half way around the world, there is a young woman who, like Jenny Lawson, decided that every woman should get to have a stand out moment in a bright red dress.

My Traveling Red Dress- A Love Story in Pictures

The Traveling Red Dress and it’s grande dame, Jenny Lawson, are…is(?) no, it’s are…or is it is?….crap on cracker! are/is all about love and courage and joy and abandon and moments. Especially (for me, my joy-loving ownself) the moments. The moments that come back to me from the women (and a few men) who have worn my Red Dress light up my inbox and tickle my fancy in the extreme (eyes up, minds out of the gutter please.)

The dress I made, the dress I sent traveling, the fanciful extravaganza of tulle and satin and brocade just sent back a whole new batch of photos before it passed on to other people and new moments.

These pictures are the story of the traveling Red Dress in Oakland, California. It is a story of love. A story about family and renewal and loss and rediscovery and silliness and laughter and fun. A story about daughters and pioneers. Young love and new beginnings and marriage and hope. Love lost and regained. Sisters. And a brother.

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This is a day of moments and of memories and of joy. A day in the life of four women and The Traveling Red Dress and love. I couldn’t be more delighted or more touched or more proud to have sent my dress to be a part of this day.

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Beautiful women on a

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                     beautiful day

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who love each other

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much.

I told you it was a love story.

They all are, really.

Well, Im at the bottom, if not the end and I am tired of fighting with Word Press and pictures and text position so I’ll just add these last thoughts.

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    If you’re new here you should know that my dress will fit you. It’s magic.Really. GO HERE for lots of pictures (including boys in the dress and a     dog in tuxedo- you know you want to see that.)     If you’re wondering what I made this dress and why it will fit you well this helps explain that stuff.

   Why did Jenny Lawson and her Traveling Red Dress Project speak to me? Maybe this is why.

  Would you like the Red Dress to come to you? 

The Night the Monster Came Out of the Bathroom (and my mother didn’t kill my father)

20130122-214339.jpg Occasionally, on Saturday, back in the time of black and white TV and the local 10:00PM horror flick hosted (in our case) by Dr. Cadaverino, the eldest of us kids could be found cuddled up on the couch with mom and dad watching terror play out on the flickering screen.

These were special nights. With the babies and toddlers safely asleep the big kids would get to stay up late and watch scary movies.

Dr. Cadaverino was, of course, hokey and awful and the movies weren’t always the Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff classics but we loved it. It was creepy and wonderful.

The living room lamps were off and the tiny hall was illuminated only by the light over the kitchen sink. Not a courageous crew at best we were primed for terror and jumped at every musical cue and peeked out cautiously from behind our hands as the bad guy or the monster crept through the shadows.

On one of those Saturday nights (I think we were watching the original Dracula with Bella Lugosi. If you’ve seen this movie you may recall that Dracula’s faithful minion (Renfew) had been committed to an asylum. Whilst in said asylum the attendant used to lead Mr. Renfrew from place to place instructing him along the dark hallways with “Come along old fly eater.”

My dad was taken with the phrase and used to turn to to my mom in public places and cast over his shoulder, in something of a Cockney accent, “Come along old floi eatah!” While mom did not exactly LOVE this it did generally make her laugh in spite of herself. BUT- I digress.)

ANYWAY:

Dad left during a commercial break and went into the bathroom just down the hall.

He must of taken a long-ish time because the commercial break ended and we were once again engrossed and tense.

Staggering menacingly our loving father stepped into the hall, back-lit from the single over-sink fixture in the kitchen. He had talcumed his face to a pale white mask and wadded wet cotton balls under his lips. He had turned his eyelids inside-out (yes, really- it was a stupid human trick he had demonstrated to us many times in the past) and rolled his eyes as far back into his head as he could get them. He was moaning and looking down his nose and looming and staggering towards us. For a brief, heart stopping moment we were terrified and then, of course, he was dad again.

But man oh man, in that moment, we were scared out of our wits.

I think my mother may have crab walked her way up the back of the couch abandoning us kids to our fate on the couch proper (there were lots of us and she could make more.)

I’m pretty sure that this was one of the many times my mother did not kill my father. He skated awfully close that night but he lived to light a cherry bomb in the kitchen and perform a burlesque show with a half plucked duck named Sydney.

He made her laugh.

OH HOLY NIGHT and RACHEL BERRY and MY BROTHER RICHARD (for his daughter Kate, who is dear)

DickFence (2)I was watching Rachel Berry singing OH HOLY NIGHT on Glee the other day (it was wonderful) and it made me think of my brother Richard. OH HOLY NIGHT always makes me think about my brother Richard. He loved that carol. I mean he LOVED that carol. He loved the pacing and the crescendo and the quality of the music. It was his favorite.

He sang it aloud and with gusto. At bus stops with great puffs of frosty air punctuating his words. In malls. Walking the dog. And at my tiny kitchen table making Christmas cookies.

It was a Christmas cookie night that Rachel Berry’s beautiful singing brought to mind. Her voice is lovely and the quality of her voice singing that carol made me a bit teary all on its own and then, there, (in my mind’s eye) was Richard. Richard, head thrown back, covered in green food coloring, belting out OH HOLY NIGHT at the top of his lungs. And laughing. Laughing his big, loud laugh.

That particular Christmas cookie night, my darling baby girl was 2 and we were living in a tiny, 70s style, garden apartment (basement to the uninitiated) with a cramped galley kitchen and a tiny (two chairs and a highchair) table set about three feet from the kitchen door in the wildly exaggerated “dining area.” Richard and I had made extensive plans and were making a variety of cookies:

A buttery rolled something, candy cane sugar cookies with red and white dough, M&M cookies (coz he loved M&M cookies and declared them Christmassy) and green Wreath Cookies.

Richard had seen a recipe involving corn flakes, marshmallow fluff, Karo syrup and green food coloring (with Red Hots for berries) and these were to be the crowning glory on the cookie platter. They might sound disgusting to eat but they were gonna be bee-u-ti-ful indeed.

We managed the first three cookie batches all right with a minimum of mess and only the usual level of finding each other hilarious (we were pretty darned funny- probably) and some enthusiastic carol singing.

…then we started on those blighted (and hilarious) wreaths.

Heat the fluff. Add the syrup. Bring to a boil. Add the food coloring…

I suspect the food coloring part was where we went wrong. Upon adding the indicated number of drops of color we were not enthusiastic about the anemic, minty color that bubbled sickly in the sauce pan. Wreaths are GREEN. Who ever saw a pastelly-mint green wreath? NO ONE, that’s who. More food coloring! Not green enough? MORE FOOD COLORING. ALL THE FOOD COLORING. An entire bottle of food coloring and VOILA! Deep, electric-pine green, sticky, bubbling glop.

All that remained was to let the swampy mixture cool a bit, stir in the corn flakes and produce lovely, deep green mini-masterpieces.

Um, no.

We coated our hands, as directed, in butter and dug into the green, gloppy, corn flakey mess. The buttery shield was no match for the intense green of our custom colored glop. We were green past our wrists, our faces had green splotches, the baby was green, our clothes were green and the wreaths- the wreaths were a disaster. An hilarious disaster.

They oozed and slumped and refused to remain wreath shaped. The color bled through the parchment paper and the wreaths spread themselves into ever widening circles of soggy, green cornflakes dotted with melting Red Hots.These were the funniest cookies anyone had ever seen. Ever. It was a huge, gigantic, enormous, ridiculous mess and through it all Richard sang and laughed.

Big, green hands flung out to ceiling, head thrown back: “OH HOLY NIGHT THE STARS ARE BRIGHTLY SHINING…”

The wreaths never set up and bore not even the slightest resemblance to the beautiful wreath cookies in the picture. They were also horrible. Disgusting. They turned teeth, tongue, gums and lips a deep, deep green. (Um, yes, of course we tasted them. Duh…they were cookies. Sort of. Not at all.)

The M&M Cookies were delicious and very Christmassy. Richard loved them.

And then the Traveling Red Dress Went to a Party and there were Dogs and Boys

I have been trying to write this post for a while now. It hasn’t been working. I tried all manner of introduction and description until I realized that the pictures are the story -not the words.

Annie had a party. A Red Dress Party. Katie and Liz took pictures. Chloe the Pit Bull wore her very own red dress and Booker the lab wore a tux.

So here are lots and lots and lots of pictures of that rather magical day and some other days too. (If you’ve been here before you’ll know I’m a fairly long-winded sort. I’ll have more to say at the bottom.)

Oh! Before we start…my red dress WILL fit you (and it will fit your friends). Look here:

These moments, these smiles, this is why I sew. This is why I made this ridiculously fantastical red dress. This is why I want you to wear it. I want all of y’all to have a moment like these.

(The Red Dress is going to another party and then to California and on to Vancouver. It will travel as long as it holds up and people are willing to forward it or send it home. Do you know someone(s) who could use a red dress or a party or a moment? Contact me at the email link given in the My Red Dress Instructions above.)

Thank you to my Boo, and Lys, and Lindsay, and Liza, and Jenny, and Cynda, and Valerie, and Lisa, and Kelly, and Maggie, and Jami, and Jill, and Karen, and Annemarie, and Lois, and Sarah, and Grace, and Katie and all of my girls. You have filled my life with an abundance of Red Dress moments.

Special thanks to Evan and John who threw themselves in the Red Dress Party and the Red Dress itself. You guys made it extra special and gave courage and encouragement where it was needed.

We had ourselves a party.

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