"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Light as a Feather

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.
~William Morris

Beautiful and useful: my favorite china pattern
~ Chinese Legend (pastel Blue Willow with red accents) ~
which looks perfect against red silk elephants from Thailand!
Thanks Sandy S-K!

Or this exotic white / gold / silver summer bedding ensemble
from the United Arab Emirates. Thanks Vickie!


For one thing,
there is too much luggage,
and you’re truly lugging it —
you and, it seems, everyone.

What is it, that you need so badly?
Think about this.

from the poem "Logan International"
by Mary Oliver
in her book Thirst

Now, what to do about all those items that are neither beautiful nor useful? Somehow it seems that life has become a perpetual project of sorting the wheat from the chaff, trying to ~ simplify, simplify, simplify ~ by donating or throwing away. Mary Oliver's question ~ "What is it, that you need so badly?" ~ reminds me of the old Egyptian rule that you could only enter the afterworld if Osiris weighed your heart and found it to be lighter than a feather.

This ancient legend received a new twist in the 1983 Sesame Street special, Don't Eat the Pictures (which I mentioned last month on my Quotidian Blog). Cookie Monster and friends spend the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and meet a little Egyptian prince who haunts the Temple of Dendur because he is under a spell that prevents him from joining his parents in the afterlife.

Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and Prince Sahu
Snuffy offers Sahu a ride, and Big Bird sings a hopeful song:
"You're Gonna Be a Star"
Shining in the sky
Bright and proud, way up high.
You're gonna be a star
Somewhere in the blue
There's a spot just for you!

The moon will be there beside you
When everyone's counting sheep
A fluffy white cloud will hide you
Whenever you go to sleep

A shiny little star
Is what you're gonna be--
Just you wait and see!

You're gonna be a star
Shining in the sky
Bright and proud, way up high.
You're gonna be a star
Somewhere in the blue
There's a spot just for you!

At night when the sky is clearing
You'll talk with the other stars
I bet you'll be overhearing
What Jupiter said to Mars!

A shiny little star
Is what you're gonna be--
Just you wait and see!
Standing Before Osiris With a Heavy Heart


My heart was not lighter than feather twelve years ago, when we made the big move from Philadelphia back to Indiana (in Spring 2004). When we first moved out to Philly (from Indiana, in Spring 1993), we didn't have so much to take with us, but we managed to accumulate a lot in our eleven years there, and it couldn't all come back to the Midwest with us. When packing, I tried to put all of our belongings to the "light as a feather" test. If they failed, then they did not get to accompany us to our next life!

In preparation for that move, I bid farewell to stacks of old bedspreads and beach towels (including two big black garbage bags full to our vet, who was collecting nesting material to make snug winter beds for the pets), tons of books (some via amazon used), a couple of poorly made small bookshelves and scratched up end tables, video cassettes, Sam's outgrown clothes (previously worn by Ben), Christmas decorations (yes, I was able to part with one large shopping bag of the cheaper, plastic variety -- none of my treasures, of course), a few puzzles and games and toys that I didn't think Ben and Sam would ever play with again. One way or another, it all made its way out the door -- over to St. Peter's School (some, that I knew the little kids would like, went straight to the Pre - K; some to the basement for the next year's annual rummage sale), or to our local Goodwill equivalent -- a store called the Second Mile Center, or to the curbside -- an extremely efficient market for the transference of goods in Philadelphia.

It's true, I cried real tears over some of the special toys, like the wooden zoo that had simply never appealed to the boys, even though to me it had represented the ideal hands - on childhood experience that I dreamed of creating for them. I guess that's the hard part -- not just boxing up the stuff, but passing on the dreams in hopes that someone else will find a use for them. It wasn't easy at first, but once I got going, I felt good about the idea of not bringing so much excess baggage back to Indiana! It's always tough for a sentimental fool like me to part with my belongings but always nice to lighten the load. When we arrived in Indiana, more things had to go; despite our heavy - duty downsizing, we realized we had still brought too much.

We've now been back in Indiana for as long as were in Philadelphia (a year longer, actually), so it is definitely time for another purge. A few of my friends swear by the latest trend: Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing; but I think between William Morris ("beautiful or useful") and the Tao of Big Bird ("lighter than a feather") I have all the inspiration I need. (I have also been intrigued by Kate Bingaman-Burt's Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? -- a kind of "pain of payment" awareness - raising project, like the practice of meticulously verifying every credit card purchase or, better yet, using cash instead of credit.)

I like what my friend Len wrote a couple of summers ago about growing lighter and lighter as he gave away his earthly goods:
I enjoyed clearing out my closets of all the clothes I haven't worn since I moved to this house three years ago: sports jackets, pants, ties, regular jackets, shoes obtained online that never fit well, the ugly, the old-fashioned, the back-up administrating garb, the inexplicable purchases. I dropped these off at the donation center and then went back to give them the bicycle. In this mood, I began clearing expired foods (making an emergency batch of tofu-tidbits just six hours away from expiring--my name is Danger!). I plan not to go beyond my house and backyard tomorrow: there is so much more to cull, clean, and clear out, now that I am in this groove.

Tabula rasa: I had to replace my old, dying cellphone; the young technician supposedly copying the contacts and calendar and other information from my old phone suddenly panicked when he saw I did not have a "cloud app." He had to make a call to someone and kept trying. After five attempts, he handed it to me in triumph and said it was perfect; he said I should have told him I had deleted my contacts! In keeping with my general cleaning and emptying, I took the blank phone as an opportunity: gone were all of the people and places I had for short-term purposes, from different places I had lived, from my administrative work. Gone were the retired, the moved, the unpleasant, and the dead. It was as if a great cleansing religious ceremony had been undertaken and my contacts now were made pure. I start from this beginning and add as needed. . . .

Plus Some Witty Facebook Responses:

Denice Laws Davies: "I felt that way after giving away my teenage record collection."

Diane Prokop: You are a brave man.

Leonard Orr: "Bravery does not enter into it. There was not much that could be done. I think the best analogy is Leopold Bloom's rising above the adversities of his life through "equanimity," before he goes to sleep at the end of Ulysses."

Diane Prokop: "I am a stranger to equanimity these days."

Andrea Livingston: "I like the idea of deleting all "unpleasant" contacts from my cellphone's memory and sending them to a "cloud" somewhere, similar to what happened in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Kitti: "My favorite: 'inexplicable purchases'! I also like this list; there's just something about it that I keep returning to: 'Gone were the retired, the moved, the unpleasant, and the dead.' "

Leonard: "Separated out, it does sound idyllic (or an echo of the end of Dubliners)."

Kitti Carriker: Or the preface of Edwin Mullhouse
(see Comment below)
Here's an even better way to decrease our accumulations
and the task of ridding ourselves of them --
don't buy them in the first place!

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bonnie & Barbie

My Cousin Dodie's Bonnie Doll
A few months ago, my sweet cousin Dodie posted the above photo of her doll with a note to me: "Kitti, this is the outfit you made for my Bonnie doll when you were about 12, I think. The summer that I spent 2 weeks at your house, I think I was 10."

All I could say was, "Wow -- I did that? Precision detailing! I'm impressed with my former handiwork! And you've kept it all these years -- that is too sweet!"

Dodie elaborated, "I was impressed back then and even more impressed now. This doll is a special doll for many reasons and the outfit that you made is one of them. Aunt Judy gave me the doll; she is an 18" doll named Bonnie. I have two mentors / guardian angels in my life whose names were Bonnie. So I have always kept her in my sewing area. I guess it is one of those things a person keeps around as a reminder that they are well loved and their life is full of blessings."
Thanks Dodie!

In fact, here we are in Summer 1970
when Dodie came to stay for two weeks:
in back, my younger sister Di and me;
in front Dodie, holding our black cat Samantha
and my little brother Aaron, holding our white cat Phhht

A few years ago (2008), I was paging through one of Ben and Sam's high school English anthologies and discovered this gem from Sandra Cisneros, the perfect retrospective for anyone who ever loved a Barbie but was always a little bit behind the trend! The detailed outfits and ensembles took me right back to the Sears Christmas Catalogs of the 1960s.

For Licha

by Sandra Cisneros

Yours is the one with mean eyes and a ponytail. Striped swimsuit, stilettos, sunglasses, and gold hoop earrings. Mine is the one with bubble hair. Red swimsuit, stilettos, pearl earrings, and a wire stand. But that’s all we can afford, besides one extra outfit apiece. Yours, “Red Flair,” sophisticated A-line coatdress with a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat, white gloves, handbag, and heels included. Mine, “Solo in the Spotlight,” evening elegance in black glitter strapless gown with a puffy skirt at the bottom like a mermaid tail, formal-length gloves, pink chiffon scarf, and mike included. From so much dressing and undressing, the black glitter wears off where her titties stick out. This and a dress invented from an old sock when we cut holes here and here and here, the cuff rolled over for the glamorous, fancy-free, off-the-shoulder look.

Every time the same story. Your Barbie is roommates with my Barbie, and my Barbie’s boyfriend comes over and your Barbie steals him, okay? Kiss kiss kiss. Then the two Barbies fight. You dumbbell! He’s mine. Oh no he’s not, you stinky! Only Ken’s invisible, right? Because we don’t have money for a stupid-looking boy doll when we’d both rather ask for a new Barbie outfit next Christmas. We have to make do with your mean-eyed Barbie and my bubblehead Barbie and our one outfit apiece not including the sock dress.

Until next Sunday when we are walking through the flea market on Maxwell Street and there! Lying on the street next to some tool bits, and platform shoes with the heels all squashed, and a fluorescent green wicker wastebasket, and aluminum foil, and hubcaps, and a pink shag rug, and windshield wiper blades, and dusty mason jars, and a coffee can full of rusty nails. There! Where? Two Mattel boxes. One with the “Career Gal” ensemble, snappy black-and-white business suit, three-quarter-length sleeve jacket with kick-pleated skirt, red sleeveless shell, gloves, pumps, and matching hat included. The other, “Sweet Dreams,” dreamy pink-and-white plaid nightgown and matching robe, lace-trimmed slippers, hair-brush and hand mirror included.

How much? Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, until they say okay.

On the outside you and me skipping and humming but inside we are doing loopity-loops and pirouetting. Until at the next vendor’s stand, next to boxed pies, and bright orange toilet brushes, and rubber gloves, and wrench sets, and bouquets of feather flowers, and glass towel racks, and steel wool, and Alvin and the Chipmunks records, there! And there! And there! And there! and there! and there! and there! Bendable Legs Barbie with her new page-boy hairdo, Midge, Barbie’s best friend. Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend. Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. Tutti and Todd, Barbie and Skipper’s tiny twin sister and brother. Skipper’s friends, Scooter and Ricky. Alan, Ken’s buddy. And Francie, Barbie’ MOD’ern cousin.

Everybody today selling toys, all of them damaged with water and smelling of smoke. Because a big toy warehouse on Halsted Street burned down yesterday-see there?-the smoke still rising and drifting across the Dan Ryan expressway. And now there is a big fire sale at Maxwell Street, today only.

So what if we didn’t get our new Bendable Legs Barbie and Midge and Ken and Skipper and Tutti and Todd and Scooter and Ricky and Alan and Francie in nice clean boxes and had to buy them on Maxwell Street, all water-soaked and sooty. So what if our Barbies smell like smoke when you hold them up to your nose even after you wash and wash and wash them. And if the prettiest doll, Barbie’s MOD’ern cousin Francie with real eyelashes, eyelash brush included, has a left foot that’s melted a little-so? If you dress her in her new “Prom Pinks” outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch, and hair bow included, so long as you don’t lift her dress, right?--who’s to know.
~Sandra Cisneros

Naturally, I had to share this essay with my cousin Dodie, and she wrote back to share the most astonishing coincidence -- she really did have a burned Barbie! -- and so many other insights as well:
"Thanks for sharing the Cisneros essay! You know Barbie and I are the same age -- she came out in 1959. The first time I ever saw a Barbie doll was when I was 4 or 5 and visited Aunt Judy. Our cousins Glenda and Carrie had them and I was enthralled! I loved them so, that they sent me one for Christmas. I got so few new "cool" toys that I was thrilled. I swear I would still have that Barbie if she had not burned up when our house burned when I was 10. She had dark "bubble" hair. Barbie's were always my favorite toy.

"These days, girls have tons of Barbies. I had one Barbie and one Ken when they burned. I got one more, maybe two after that. My girls have, and I am NOT exaggerating, at least 15 if not 20 different Barbies. And they really play with them, really love them. Miranda will close her room door and forbid any of us to disturb her, while she plays out elaborate stories or something in there. I would love to set up a video camera so I could see it all!

"I too remember the mean eyes! Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!" ~Dodie
Even without daughters, I knew what Dodie meant about the plethora of Barbies, because I had seen them everywhere at my friends' houses! For Ben and Sam, not so much, but there was the summer (1995 - 96) when we went to the store to pick out pool toys and I suggested Sparkle Beach Barbie and Ken. Whether or not they were waterproof, they were perfect for going to the beach or floating around in the pool or the bathtub:

As early as 1st grade I had my first Barbie, but she was a fake version of mean - eyed Barbie. Of course, Barbie never meant to look mean, it's just that her eye makeup was so badly drawn; and, believe me, however mean real Barbie looked, fake Barbie looked even meaner! By 3rd or 4th grade, I had upgraded to a new, improved fake, at which time my sister Di received a fake Midge as well as a real Skipper, both with red hair to match her own. Over the years, Barbies have become so accessible and inexpensive ($3 at the grocery store) that no one really needs a knock - off version, which I'm sure we had only because they cost less.

Skipper & Stacey

When we were a little older (5th / 6th grade), I got my first and only real Barbie and Di got a real Stacey (another one of Barbie's cool, modern cousins, I guess). We never did have any Kens; as Cisneros says, that would have been a waste of resources! But sometimes we did borrow a couple of GI Joes from my brothers and squeeze them into some of Barbie's pantsuits (cross - dressing!) and make them get married to Barbie and Stacey. Oh what fun!

Here is my beautiful, kind - eyed 1969 Barbie in her wedding dress, made by my mom, from the same fabric as my sister Peg's highschool graduation dress. You might also notice that my Barbie Case features the same "Red Flair" Ensemble worn by the Barbie of Cisneros' friend:

A few closing thoughts after reading "Barbie-Q":
My friend Diane to me: "That's a great article - it does bring it all back! I think I only had one Barbie (and probably a hand-me-down) that I dressed up in hand - made clothes that my grandmother made for us, and I built her houses out of wooden blocks. I remember building houses WAY too late in my years to be "normally" playing with dolls. And I seem to remember my younger sisters getting many more dolls and accessories than I did. But I'm not bitter. Sure wish I had some of those hand-made outfits now -- bet my grandmother had fun doing that!"

Me to Diane: "I know my Barbie years lasted throughout 6th grade (with my friends Cyndee and Kathy) and probably into 7th & 8th. While I remember very well all the store - bought outfits from seeing them in catalogs, we didn't own any of those things. Instead, like you, we dressed our Barbies in outfits made by my grandmothers. I marvel now over the tiny stitches they made for us. How did they do it? They were way older then than I am now, and already my eyesight is so far gone, I can barely get the mending done!"

For the love of Barbie!
I sent this Barbie to Diane
after we saw "Wicked" in 2006.
Some of the subsequent Elphaba Barbies
had mean eyes, but not this one!

Other favorites:
Liddle Kiddle Kolognes from Little Brother Aaron
Honeysuckle for Me and Rosebud for Di

Liddle Kiddle Lockets from Grandma Carrie
and Penny Brite Dolls from Grandma Peggy

Disney Watches from Big Brother Dave
Alice in Wonderland for Di & Snow White for Me

Postscript from my sister Di: "I loved that Little Rosebud Kiddle. I remember smelling it constantly. Held it's scent for a long time -- maybe still -- just don't know where it got to."

My response: "Me too Di! I feel sad that I don't know where our originals are -- I copied the pictures for our perfume & locket Kiddles and the Penny Brite and the Disney watches and figurines from the internet. It's almost as good to go to google and have a walk down memory lane, looking at all the old treasures that are no longer with us in person -- but not quite. Heaven knows I've hung on to enough old stuff, but sort of wish that I'd hung on to just a bit more (a topic to be explored in greater depth next time)!

And from another Diane: "I think you may have tagged me in error, but I am glad you did. Here is my Kiddie Cologne - Lily of the Valley. It was always precious to me because it was a gift from my godfather whom I truly loved. I love lily of valley to this day b/c of this gift. As for Barbie Dolls - I had my share and would play with them for hours. I used Dixie cups and other household items as furniture.

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, May 28th

Between now and then, check out THRIFTSHOP BARBIE
and take a look at THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading