Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teeny Tiny Business Trip


Dear Blog-amis, I’m on a thirty-six hour business trip to a small town in the Rocky Mountains of northern Idaho.  Here’s the view from my hotel room (there’s a town over on the right that you can’t see).  I’ll be back on Thursday.  I appreciate you! 


Added later:  if you’d like to read about my adventurous drive home from this tiny business trip, click here

Renee Award

Lovely and talented Catherine at A Thousand Clapping Hands has honored me with the Renee Award.  This award was recently created to honor Renee of Circling my Head.


"It is one of the most meaningful awards in the blogworld because it honors someone who is incredibly inspirational in her intelligent and witty writing. And by doing so this award celebrates women's smart, strong, and inspirational spirit. These women are like Renee; the acorn, a small package becoming a tall and sturdy oak giving more acorns, becoming tall and sturdy oaks, giving acorns…”

I’m honored to receive this award because of Renee’s honest writing.  Renee has Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer, and writes from that point of view.  I’d also like to honor two friends who have recently learned they, too, have cancer.  One is W., about whom I wrote last week.  The other is Kayleigh of Fashionably Later

Dear friends, I’m thinking of you, I love you, I want the very best for you.    

I’d like to pass the Renee Award on to Moannie at The View From This End.  Moannie doesn’t have cancer, that I know of.  I sincerely value words of experience and wisdom from women who are farther downstream in life than I am.  Moannie does that for me, so she’s a tall and sturdy oak tree giving acorns—the spirit of the Renee Award as I understand it. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Memoir, Writing Blocks and the Internet Fairy

This weekend I attempted a second installment of my memoir-y thing about being married to an Air Force pilot (first installment here).

writersblock.jpg writers block is an ugly thing image by TrishaSan

I got a classic case of writer’s block.  I hemmed and hawed and told myself what I’d written was garbage. Since that’s not very fun, I tried something different.  It’s this Internet game where you type your name and the word “needs” into Google—as in “Barbara Needs”—and see what you get. 

So.  According to the Internet Fairy, here’s what Sallymandy Needs to start writing that piece:

A bit more coffee.


To be thin again.

A new dress.

Some peppermint candy.

to spank him and send him  to bed!

Some lovin’. 

heart.jpg heart image by steph_hannah_07

Heck, yeah! I do need those things.  And I’m pretty sure Sallymandy needs


To get her story


To improve her awareness of medial vowel sounds.

MCO_.png image by awilliamst2

To gain the respect of her peers.

work on expressing her attachment needs!

To stand her ground against Violet at all times.

Large coffee pots for the concession stand.

Help dragging the corpse of that tree she had killed out to the curb.

To be thumped.

To crack Bruce upside the head with one of her old batarangs for the way he spoke to her!

To contact the European Commission aviation department.

To expose herself to the feared germs in incremental steps.

To be placed in detox.

writersblockhahaha.jpg writers block image by betweenthebars22

I can probably live with all those suggestions.  But when the I.F. said I need

  • To increase the dose of the morphine
  • To hurry up and die

I turned my computer off for the rest of the weekend and decided to take up basketweaving. Stay tuned for more developments.

Snoopy2.jpg Author image by mark_8675309

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Recession-Style Flowers #2, and a Few Cute Dogs Thrown in for Good Measure.

Hi Everyone.  Happy Thursday. 


Here are some important members of our family.  (L-R):  Hazel, Clover, and Riley.  Hazel actually lives two blocks over from us, and often comes over for play dates—but she and Clover are sisters.  The girls gang up on Riley—he’s low guy in the pack.    

 100_1101 Riley in his role as Vanna White Dog.  Here he shows off two bunches of grocery store flowers.  These lasted well over a week. 

                            100_1203 Our neighborhood florist sells medium-stem roses for a dollar each, every day.  I’ve found a lot of inspiration from other bloggers to find small ways to add beauty and interest to our lives and home, and these dollar roses make a big difference.  I now have flowers in the house mostly all the time.  It seems even more meaningful during this recession.     


Dollar roses in the kitchen.  Aren’t the colors fab?



Easter flowers.  Five bunches from the grocery store. 

You must understand, grocery store flowers are not my first choice.  But if it means I can have flowers all the time, I’m going to keep an open mind.  And I’ve been surprised at how well some of them last. 

Do you have favorite ways to enjoy flowers economically? 

 100_1129 Clover says, “Good bye, and 

Take time to smell the roses today.” 

you might also like this post on recession-style flowers.

Note:  I have an update to readers posted below.  Please read if you’re interested. 

Quick Updates

A lot of people wrote enthusiastically about my Wardrobe Refashion Pledge, and a couple may join me in following it in some way.  Thank you, dear readers!     

My pledge officially starts May 1.  My sewing machine has been in the shop for over a month, and in the meantime I’ve only been able to refashion with scissors and hands (okay, and teeth sometimes to chew the end off a thread).   

I’d like to reassure Duchesse at Passage des Perles that I will not be sporting any pants-turned-knickers, or tee shirts made into shredded cocktail dresses.   Fear not, O Tasteful One.   My refashions are really simple actions to make my clothes fit better, flatter a little more, or make use of special fabric. 

Also, for all those of you who wrote back with so much positivity about last week’s anniversary/military wife/memoir thing, thank you for that.  I’m going to write another one soon about the special Invisibility Cloak of an Air Force wife.   

I appreciate you all more than I can say! 

Love, SM

All the More Reason to Stop Op-Shopping for a While

Let me tell you what happened today.  Something to underscore my

pledge to stop shopping even at thrift stores for two months.

My friend W. was having a rather serious medical test done, and she needed a ride home from the hospital.  When the time came for me to get her, she called me on my cell phone.  She said they needed her to stay at the hospital for another hour.  She asked if I would pick up a sandwich for her on the way.  

Yes, of course I would come later, and I’d pick up a sandwich.   

Okay.  At this time I was in the car, and I was close to the sandwich place.  I could have gone straight there, and then to the hospital.   But NO.  This is Sallymandy. See, not only was I close to the place with the delicious sandwiches, I was also close to the

bargain_corner (2)

I reasoned:  Sure, I just made that pledge not to thrift-shop, along with my Wardrobe Refashion pledge.  However, I have some extra time, and… I’ll just go in and look.  Just look. 

So, I go in.  I take a spin around, see nothing I like, and buy nothing.  But when it’s time to leave, I realize I don’t have my keys.  They appear to be locked in my Subaru.  Nor is my spare key, usually velcroed on to a secret place on the bumper, there.  I now have half an hour to get W. a sandwich and get to the hospital on time.   

Standing in the parking lot, powerless to get in my car and pick up W., I’m feeling a wave of shame and guilt.    The day after

I should not have stopped at Bargain Corner.  Knowing that I just posted about my Spending Hiatus has made me feel guilty, and I now wonder what’s wrong with me (forgetting for the moment that I didn’t buy anything).  

What to do?  The closest spare key is with my husband.  He’s working out at the gym about three miles away.  I have my phone in  my hand, but his phone is turned off.  And I do have my wallet, with money.  I’ll have to get to the gym myself and get the spare key.   

taxi lake normanI ask the thrift store lady for a phone book and start calling cabs.  As I talk to the cab people I’m looking at shoes.  The first place says they can get me in an hour.  The second guy says five minutes.  I say fine.  Waiting for him to come, I’m looking at linen blouses. 

The driver is a sympathetic, youngish guy named Joe.  In the car, I call W. at the hospital and tell her I’ll be late.  She’s kind of drugged up and not very happy.  She wants to go home.  Her dog is out in the yard yearning for her.  I feel terrible.   

“You will get the sandwich, though, right?” she asks.   

I will.  I know where the deli section is at the store, and the little case of ready-made sandwiches.  When I get there, I can grab it, pay, and go.

The cab has now arrived at the gym.  I ask Joe to wait for me in the parking lot. I want him to drive me back to my car so I don’t have to rely on my hubby, who has gotten my out of many of these lost-key scrapes, and for whom the cuteness of his wife in these situations has worn off.  Plus, it will be faster just to get the key and leave. 

I find my husband on the treadmill.  After I greet him lovingly, explain in a calm and rational tone what’s going on (anyone laughing yet?), I find his keychain and the key. 

Back in the cab with Joe, I fork over a twenty so I’ll be ready to leap out we get back to my Subaru.   

Okay, we’re there.  I’ve leapt out.  Joe’s driving away and I’m dashing up to my car when I kind of offhandedly notice that the key in my hand says Nissan on it.  It’s the wrong key.  I picked out the wrong key from hubby’s key chain.

I turn around in a frenzy yelling Joe! Wait! I have to go back!  He looks out the window, kind of scared, I’m being so shrill.  He gets on his radio and fairly nicely tells the dispatcher, Ahhhhh, she’s got the wrong key.  ‘Nother round trip to the Y. 

So back in I climb.  We’re now at the 3rd Street stop light for the second time.  I tell Joe I’m late picking up a friend who’s just had a biopsy.  We hope it’s not cancer.  He makes a pained face and when the light turns green he slams his foot on the gas and starts clenching the steering wheel. 

Ha ha, I say.  Now don’t you go getting a ticket on my account.  He says, the cops around here are pretty easy on us.  They never give us tickets.  I say, well, in that case, go as fast as you want.     

I don’t have to tell you all the rest of what happened—about getting back to my car twenty minutes later, having forked over another twenty; or how, at the store, W’s sandwich was not ready to go but rather had to be made to order with grilled tempeh and sauerkraut, and when I suggested I just take it cold to save time, the woman said that would be disgusting, so I killed another ten minutes waiting for that; and how I got lost at the hospital for another twenty minutes looking for the “central” waiting area that’s located far, far, from the center.  I don’t have to tell you how W.’s phone by this time had lost its charge so she didn’t get my messages. 

W. forgave me pretty fast, even though I ended up being really late.  She’s hopeful about the outcome of her biopsy.  We had a good conversation on the twenty-mile drive to her house.  

What I do want to tell you is that my obsession with thrift shopping whacked me in the face today.  I knew I was pushing it when I turned down that street instead of going straight on toward the sandwich.  My Spending Hiatus beckons.  Next time I won’t even drive into the parking lot.      

The first painting is Christine Von Diepenbroek, The Day After

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shop Your Closet, Wardrobe Refashion, Spending Hiatus, Post-Consumer Clothing

0316closet.jpg shop your closet image by lint_clouds

photo credit here

By now we’ve all heard about the “shop your closet” trend.  We’ve heard about other things people are doing in the recession that are generally based on making the most of what you already have in your closet, or what you can find second-hand. 

Since I already do a lot of this, I’m going to formalize it.  I’m going to try something new, and more disciplined.  I’m taking the pledge to be a “Wardrobe Refashionista” for the next two months. 

2 month pledge

What does this mean?  From the website:  “Wardrobe Refashion is a community which has had an online presence since early 2006. Based in Melbourne, Australia, owner Nichola Prested started up the site after deciding to quit buying new manufactured clothing in a bid to do her part for the planet, save money and improve her sewing skills.”

what will I have to do? 

Again from the website:  “Participants of the blog pledge to abstain from the purchase of new manufactured clothing for the period of 2, 4, 6 months or LIFE. They pledge to refashion, renovate, and recycle preloved items with their own hands in fabric, yarn or other medium or make their own from scratch.” 


Here I go: 

I, Sallymandy, pledge that I shall abstain from the purchase of "new" manufactured items of clothing, for the period of 2  months. I pledge that i shall refashion, renovate, recycle preloved items for myself with my own hands in fabric, yarn or other medium for the term of my contract.

I pledge that I will share the love and post a photo of my refashioned, renovoted, recycled, crafted or created item of clothing on the Wardrobe Refashion blog, so that others may share the joy that thriftiness brings!

Signed, Sallymandy.


I’m also going on a spending hiatus for two months, during which I will not even buy clothes at second hand stores. 

but why, Santy Claus?  Why are you taking our shopping away?  Why? 

Because I have too many choices in my closet, and not enough discipline!! 

Because I often don’t like what I find exactly as it is anyway. 

Because it’s a great creative outlet that doesn’t cost much money.

Because I like having clothes that are different from everyone else’s. 

So instead of adding to my piles, I’ll be sorting, purging, retrofitting, tailoring, or otherwise altering what I already have,  using the elements of design I understand, and what I know about body shape and fit, and color, and things like Rit dye and seam rippers. 

I’ll use this, my twenty-eight year old Viking Husqvarna Classica 100: 

Husqvarna Viking Classica 100 for 1980's...those were good years! by FeatherTree Needles.

and these: 

and these: 


It’s going to be fun!  I can’t wait!  I’ll keep you posted!  And in the meantime,

would anyone like to join the community of refashionistas, too? 



Sunday, April 19, 2009

Art, Age, and a Fear Index

Last week my friend S. and I took our kids to an exhibit of student art at our local university.  The shows were by senior students about to finish  undergraduate degrees in Fine Arts. 

My daughter and S.’s son have been friends since they were three years old.  Glad to get out on a school day afternoon, they were initially skeptical about an art gallery.   


As we walked around, I saw pieces that were interesting and some that seemed to show real talent.  But the collection that took me in was the one the kids are looking at here.   

It’s by a young woman named Lindsey Weber.  Her theme:  a universal fear system—primarily as seen in her age group. 

Before you stop reading, go on a little further.  I think you might be captivated as I was.  

Here’s an excerpt from the artist’s statement: 

Shared memories of campy horror movies and teenage insecurities pool into the unconscious of twenty-somethings, creating a virtually universal fear system.  Drawing imagery from horror movies, beauty product advertising and personal nightmares, my work attempts to label and categorize the fears and insecurities of Generations X and Y.

and this: 

…. I hope to explore my theories of a universal fear system by comparing and indexing the fears of all generations of people. 

Ms Weber created her exhibit around elementary school themes, like old library cards and letters of the alphabet.  Here are some of the images. 



In addition to these, the artist created a way for viewers to participate in her fear survey. 

She made a Phobos, or Fear, Index, out of a falling-apart sign-out book from an old library.  She set this up on an old classroom desk in the corner and invited visitors to: 

….contribute to my study and write your fears in the fear index.  

I liked this.  I have to admit my first response was that there might not be many takers, though. 

My daughter, H., wanted to do it.  Here she is recording her fears.  She told me later that’s she’s indeed afraid of clowns like those in the first painting (and which look to me like the one in “Poltergeist”).  And she’s afraid of global warming.   


Finally I sat down to look at the book.  I didn’t write down my own fear until later.  But the entries there drew me in right away.  I took out my camera and made a lot of photos.   I make no assumptions about any of them.   Some might have been tongue in cheek, while others clearly were not. 




100_1233 100_1236

100_1237 100_1226




These pages brought back all the insecurities and personal angst of my own twenty-something years, which were the most awful of my life.  Nearly every fear listed was one of personal power, personal strength, intimacy—all the things that certainly occupied my heart and mind in that decade. 

There was one item I didn’t see written down—because, of course, why would a twenty-something write it?  I wrote it myself:  

Old Age. 

In the week since we visited this show, I’ve realized that it’s not so much Old Age I fear, as What I’ve Been Told About Old Age.  Much like Ms. Weber, I’m thinking about imagery I’ve absorbed since my earliest days—and the fears that imagery has created.  Some of the sources are the same as the artist’s:  movies (and media in general), beauty product advertising, and personal nightmares. 

By naming and illustrating fears, we make them conscious; knock them down to size.  Once conscious, we are free to choose new images.  It turns out that a lot of the fears I had when I was twenty-five didn’t come true.  Others did, but were not frightening in the end.  Today I want to name my fears of the future and ask which ones are valid. 

The relevance of this Phobos Index encompassed Ms Weber, my daughter, me.  It made me think, feel, and connect. 

Isn’t that what art is for?          

100_1253 (3) Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Montana. 

All photos taken with permission of artist, Lindsey Weber.  No photographs may be reproduced without permission of the artist.  Text copyright The Blue Kimono.  If you’re interested in contacting Ms Weber or learning more about her work, please click here.


You  might also like this post called “What Not to Give Up in a Recession:  Art!”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sixteen years later…

anniversary card

Today I’ve been married for sixteen years. Here’s the card my husband greeted me with this morning. Isn’t it cute? He’s pretty funny, that one.

I’ve been thinking about writing a short memoir-y piece about these sixteen years.  You might not guess, but most of them I’ve been what’s called a “military wife.” And I had a fiction writing instructor tell me I should write about it—that this was “my material.”

Is he right? Is this my material? 

I didn’t intend to marry into that kind of life.  In the 1980s, long before we met, my husband was signing on to protect democracy, and I was writing term papers slamming American policy in Latin America. It was my job (at twenty) to prove how bad our government was, how war-mongering, how imperialistically arrogant.  I’d grown up in that kind of family, you see, the daughter of left-leaning teachers and do-gooders.    

My husband’s story was different. The first thing I learned about him—way after college was over—was that he shared my love of literature.  After that, I noticed  he was cute, and had really nice legs. Soon after that I learned that his father had been a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam. I was intrigued.  In that sort of icky way that makes you want to look at pictures of a natural disaster. I think it was the fiction writer, the historian, in me.  If nothing else, his life was different than mine, and I always loved a challenge. 


He was different, and it wasn’t just his history.  On our second or maybe third date he told me more of his story. His mother had had affairs when his father was in prison—with very high-ranking government men who made decisions that affected his father.  When his father came home, broken, his mother divorced him. My husband had seen his father taken away from home in a straitjacket. And other things a young boy shouldn’t see.

He’d been six years old when his father’s airplane was shot down.  He was twelve when his father returned. The youngest of three children, he was the only boy, and expected to be the “man” of the family at age six. When the father came home, his children barely recognized the changed, frightening person he’d become. 

Many years later, shortly before I met him, my husband’s mother died of brain cancer. Long divorced from my father-in-law, she never remarried. She loved the arts, fine food, nice hotels, liberal politics. I feel an affinity to her even though I never met her. I think, uncomfortably, that we are also similar in temperament. I think my husband married his mother.

But this was all to come. When he told me about her death, over pizza one night, he said, “I’d wake up sometimes at night and my pillow would be damp. I told myself that was probably normal. Probably part of loss.”  I sat rooted on the vinyl seat wondering how he could so understood the human psyche when I’d spent enough to finance a small country on self-help books and therapy to learn what he’d just said. He was unlike anyone I’d ever met.









His military career nagged at me, but in those days, nearly thirty and biological clock ticking, I looked for what I wanted to see.  I found the crucial things: deep integrity; values; kindness.

Being a pilot seemed, at least, adventurous. He’d traveled the corners of the world (and he had the t-shirts to prove it). It mattered that he wasn’t the kind of pilot who bombs or shoots, but rather carried cargo—humanitarian as well as military. 

I constructed an imaginary limbo-wire under which I slid him because he was this kind of military guy, and not that kind of military guy.  It was a very naive test to use, and I came to regret it.  I had no idea what marriage to any service member would be like.  

Still, much later, after years of tears and anguish over issues of war and peace, and living rather miserably on an Air Force base, and having a baby there, and after two years’ separation for a war—after all that, I came to believe that if my country has to have an armed force, I would like people like my husband to run it.

If I’d known then what we were going to go through in sixteen years, I might well have faltered.  But I’m sincerely glad I didn’t.  If I wanted adventure, I got it.  If I wanted to grow and mature, I got that opportunity too.   Did I say I wanted a challenge?  I got it.   And I got love.  We suffered a lot.  But I think, maybe, that’s what love requires.   

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Something Fast for Thursday

I've had a large work deadline this week. It's a grant proposal and final report to the Liz Claiborne Foundation, which supports the group I work for. In general they love our work, but once they criticized one of the reports I wrote, so I always want to be extra careful when writing to these folks.

AND SO, today I'm not writing much but simply posting two favorite photos from the Internet. These always make me smile. Even if I'm grumpy and don't want anyone to know I'm smiling, I do it on the inside.
Happy Remainder of Thursday, dear readers.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thought for the Day April 15

2008-08-08 #0685 - at Placid Lake

Sunrise at Placid Lake, Montana   copyright D.L. Smith, Jr.

“In every out-thrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is the story of the earth.”

Rachel Carson

Monday, April 13, 2009

Benjamin Spence, or Finding Family at the Musee d’Orsay

My grandmother came from a family that homesteaded in northern Montana in the very early 1900s.  Their name was Spence. 

I grew up hearing wonderful stories about the Spences of old.  For instance, my great-grandfather Harry Spence was born in Scotland, at the Duke of Argyll’s hunting lodge. 

That’s a pretty good story.  But where was this lodge?  At Inverarry Castle?  That part of the story remains unknown. 

Harry’s father, John, was a stained-glass artist who worked for the Duke.  John later moved his family to Montreal, from whence Harry, my great grandfather, eventually came to Montana. 

Here’s a picture of John that I found from a museum in Montreal, and which I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. 


In addition to being a stained glass artist himself, John came from an artistic family.  He was the son of the sculptor William Spence of Liverpool—one of the founders of the Liverpool Academy

But John’s brother Benjamin is the subject of my post today.  I also grew up hearing the rudiments of his story—which, thanks to modern technology, we descendants are filling in today. 

Benjamin Spence was a sculptor who achieved some real recognition in his day.  He worked with some of the most accomplished living sculptors, and secured commissions from Buckingham Palace. 

Born in Liverpool in 1822, he traveled to Rome at the age of twenty-four, where he became a protege of John Gibson.  Gibson had been a colleague of William Spence, Benjamin’s father, and at the peak of his career was considered the greatest living sculptor.

Below is a picture of the Palm House at Sefton Park in Liverpool.  The building houses versions of two Spence works which he left to the city upon his death. 

DSC_0444.jpg Palm House image by Craig_J_photos

One of those sculptures was the “Highland Mary,” below.  In 2005 vandals apparently seriously damaged this sculpture, but here it is in a recent photograph.  I’m in process of contacting the Liverpool Historical Society to learn more about how it was restored.   

Highland Mary by BSpence

Highland Mary, Benjamin Spence, ca. 1852

Benjamin Spence used literary sources for many of his subjects.  The “Highland Mary” comes from a Robert Burns poem of the same name, about a young woman whom Burns loved and who died young (photo and information by Jacqueline Banerjee). 

In 1854 Prince Albert commissioned another “Highland Mary” for Queen Victoria’s birthday.  Many years later, the Queen commissioned another Spence work, “The Lady of the Lake,” as a companion for the “Highland Mary.”  Both works are, to my knowledge, still at Balmoral.  Though we don’t have photos of them, here’s a photo of a steel-cut engraving that was made in 1863 after the Queen’s “Lady of the Lake.”   

The Lady of the Lake, artist: Spence; engraver:  Stodart, 1863

Another well-known Spence work was “The Angel’s Whisper.”  This piece too was inspired by poetry—in this case a poem by Samuel Lover using as its subject an Irish belief that when a child smiles in its sleep, it’s because an angel is whispering to it. 

The Musee d’Orsay—the post-1800 branch of the Louvre--accessioned this piece in 1993, unbeknownst to the family.  Last summer my cousins stumbled on it in Paris, after having hunted down many Spence works in Liverpool.  There is also a version of “The Angel’s Whisper” at Sefton Park in Liverpool, above, but the Orsay statue is in much better condition. 




The Angel’s Whisper, Benjamin Spence, 1857

In closing, here’s what the Musee’s artist notes say about Benjamin Spence:  

“The sculptor…was an admirer of Neoclassicism. He lived in Rome and worked with the greatest English sculptor of the time, John Gibson. From Gibson he borrowed the treatment of the bodies and precisely defined volumes smoothly enveloped by the light. But he tempered the rigid aspects of his master's work with a taste for sentimentality and readily took subjects not from Greek mythology but from Shakespeare, romantic English literature…or the Bible.”

There are several other Benjamin Spence works in existence in the U.K., and I hope to visit them someday—as well as fill in the blanks about the rest of my artsy family members.  How exciting, and inspiring!