Johnson Children, Gather Round

Here's the truth.

I currently have an ermine in my basement freezer because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
I guess genetic heritage is hard to overcome.

In a stroke of good fortune, my father-in-law left the perfect storage box for it.

(And I'm pretty sure Dad would approve...)



In honor of the third day since November ninth that bare ground has appeared (following on the heels of yesterday, day the second), I took Skylark outside this morning to document her birthday dress.

I bought (yes, bought) her this four dollar frock because I could not resist it (okay, "resist" is probably not the right word, as I jubilantly bought it after actively searching for just such a dress). It stands in lieu of the birthday gift I never made her but that still revolves inside my head in all its untainted perfection. Most of the time, things look better in my head, anyway.

I'm mourning that, after a year of dandelion poof, her hair is starting to settle down, even though some residual poof remains. Darn gravity. 

You had a good run, though, little one. Here's to long and luscious locks in 2019!
Oh, how we love you.


Real Time

Due to having little sleep, heaps of candy, and coffee (which I generally avoid due to my fickle ticker), and to offset the despondency that tends to pool on gray days, I decided to go slogging for the first time in over a month.

While puffing down our road, I was plenty warm, but coming back inside our heated house, I was freezing, so I dressed as I always do....for the arctic.

We were given a coat on Sunday that is lightweight, comfortable, and toasty warm.* Its only downside is that it may look like a garbage bag. I don't like it off me, but when I put it on, as I just voiced aloud to Mildred, "I feel strangely fashionable."

"Oh, boy, Mama," she replied without hesitation and without glancing up from her mathematics book, "You're so fashionable, I can barely stand it."

Middle-aged mothers.
What is this world coming to?

See?  Strangely fashionable.

*With thanks to Mitzi, our long-time benefactor, who has made me classy indoors again. Bathrobes no more! Puffy jackets all the way.



Departing blackbirds thought our home was rest this year,
Settling in great swarms to blanket backyard trees
And giving further burden to the heavy heads of sunflowers,
Which were, at last, too bent to face the sun,
And which the many birds stripped bare,
A pointillism brought to life by need.

Last week the stars shone hard and bright,
With force that only winter air allows.
Orion lay propped on his elbows, the Dog curled near,
And I stood below, a single spot of ink among the multitude.

This morning I walked toward dawn
And did not see it for what it was,
Thinking in error that the shaft of white was a neighbor
Out for who-knows-what at five o'clock.

Today, like a flock of birds, my sister's husband and his kin
Will swoop upon a yellow house, and their weight will ease a burden.
The air will smell of diesel fuel, the fallen leaves, and new snow,
A potent mix to make one crave cold water and saltines,
A rising incense in mid-November to resurrect my father.


November doesn't know what to do with itself. In the space between all the endings and all the beginnings, I, too, find myself turning in blank circles. In my calendar today, November 10th-- "Dad."

Everyone's right. Grief changes, and we change with it, but it doesn't end. It's not something to cross off a list and leave behind. I guess, instead, it's something that forces clumsy poetry first thing in the morning.



Yes, I know the following posts are the blog equivalent of beating a dead horse. Humor me or skip them altogether, but in case you haven't noticed, I have a thing for costumes, and after spending too much energy on a thing, it somehow feels right to beat it further before leaving it utterly behind,
until next year, when the circus begins all over again. 

Regular posts about something other than costumes (thank goodness!) will return when they return.
Flesh and blood life continues to crowd out its electronic counterpart for now, as it should.
Until then, it's OZozOz until everyone swears off the Emerald City for life.

Break It Down: Dorothy

If we had just lopped a good eight inches off of Millie's hair and remembered to put in curlers when we got home on Hallowe'en Eve, she would have been perfect! ;) Everyone except one person knew who she was, though, so I guess trimming her glory wasn't necessary.

Toto was indisposed, so for these snapshots we used his understudy, a lovely young thing named Olivia de Havilland (more to come on her later).

And the chicken is Billina, of course, the stubborn and spunky companion to Dorothy in a few of the Oz books. We can't have a Mill-orothy without a chicken in tow!

I didn't think I could pull this costume off, because I'm pretty thick when it comes to garment construction, but while scouring the internet for someone to save me, I ran across this tutorial for a little girl Dorothy costume. Hurrah and THANK YOU! I made the bulk of the dress in one long night but nearly ruined it by chopping huge armholes that were more fit for a gnome king than Dorothy, which required lots of cross-my-fingers adjustments once Millie tried in on the next day. I also nearly ran out of fabric because, having never done it before, I hadn't realized how much cutting on the bias for the little details would gobble up fabric! I ended up making some small changes to the straps and sleeves to mimic the original, and Millie can tell you how astonished and relieved I was that it all worked out. I couldn't stop walking past the dress, staring bug-eyed at it, and jubilantly exclaiming, "Wow! I just can't believe it!" This was after she kept catching me muttering, "Please, please, please, please, please..." as I was sewing it. Ha! All's well that ends well.

Thanks to hand-me-down fabric and notions, including some blue checked fabric that my sister Becky gave me in the nick of time, Millie's costume cost of grand total of $0.00....

...a grand total of $0.00, that is, until I realized that my hand-me-down red sequin roll was only going to last for one and a quarter ruby slippers.  Dorothy needed two ruby slippers in order to get home, though, so I caved and bought more sequins. I used less than a dollar's worth.  (FYI: I have NINETY-THREE yards left of a 100-yard roll, so you know who to call when you need to get home again.)

Even after tromping through the mud trick-or-treating, they still sparkled the next day, so I, Ebenezer Scrooge, have no regrets.

B.I.D.: Scarecrow

This was one of the costumes I made on Hallowe'en Day. Having no time to properly figure out sizing, I blindly started cutting fabric to make the shirt, only to discover too late that I was two sleeves short, so the shirt is made from 3 different fabrics. Good thing scarecrows favor that style!

This girl-- oh, man. She wasn't that excited about Hallowe'en this year and thought ber costume would be boring. Thank goodness she ended up liking her character and costume both (though the costume was scratchy and "made her look fat." Ha!)

She was pretty perfect, and her grin is worth the 1/2 hay bale scattered all over our downstairs.

Costume cost: $2.00 for brown pants at the thrift store.
Girl inside all that hay: Beyond worth.

B.I.D. : Tin Man

A couple of weeks before Hallowe'en, we watched The Wizard of Oz for homework, because the younger children had never seen the movie before.

Zeke had already decided on the Tin Man, but after watching the movie, the rest of us realized anew how perfect he would be. Zeke is a sensitive, little guy. He feels joys and sorrows very deeply, and if anyone didn't need a heart because his own was so big already, a la the Tin Man himself, it would be Zeke.

I accidentally caught him blinking, but-- look!-- blue eyeshadow! I didn't have the patience to put on eyeliner, and I forgot the round, little nose and eyebrows, so the eyeshadow counts for something.

Zeke's costume was the first one I made, when I wasn't rushed and actually enjoyed the process. He was unbelievably cute watching it take shape, asking to try it on every three minutes and clearly nearly bursting with delight. I felt like he was giving me a gift by letting me make him a costume, which he was.

I followed this tutorial (same genius internet lady!) pretty closely, only since I didn't want to buy any special materials, I used pliers to bend a stiff metal coat hanger to help the upper half keeps its shape (bent back on itself so it wouldn't poke out), and instead of cutting off bolts for the chest details, I used (very short) flat hex bolts and nuts I found in the toolbox. I should have gotten a close-up, because they looked really cool. I used hand-me-down vinyl, spray paint leftover from last year, and when my mom heard I was going to buy flexible ductwork, she asked what it was and then pulled through with the perfect dusty amount that had been sitting in her basement waiting to be turned into a tin man. Hurrah again! Zeke's church shoes each had two huge holes on the bottom. Soaked and frozen socks aren't fun all winter long, so I spray-painted the shoes silver and will get him replacements (without holes!) from the thrift store. Expenses were a pair of thrifted gray pants, a set of three funnels from the dollar store, and hair and face paint, which altogether came to a grand total of $5.00. That's more than I'd normally spend on a costume, but it turned out cool enough for twice that.

A note on this costume-- definitely heed the genius woman behind this tutorial when she says to give it lots of drying time. Ours took part of a day outside and nearly five days in the basement. Tin must be a very wet metal.

B.I.D.: Cowardly Lion

Talk about a costume suiting its wearer! (No pun intended.) Cadence's personality is unlike any other girl we've had. She's such a timid thing, still, and here she is as I take her snapshot, visibly concerned that the chickens scrounging close by may be readying themselves for a bloody attack.

She was quite shy for the first half of the night, but a few pieces of poison later, and she was trick-or-treating with gusto.

For Hallowe'en, we curled her with curlers, but it was a bit flat here. You get the idea, though.

She is one cute, cowardly lion.
(Costume cost: zilch. Prep. time: nearly zilch. This costume saved my sanity.)

B.I.D.: Wicked Witch of the West

I've had a black dress hanging in my closet for a couple of years just waiting for the Halloween when the stars aligned, or, rather, when I could fit into it on October 31st.  This year was that magical year, and when no one else wanted to take the part of the wicked witch (gasp! THE BEST PART!!!), I selflessly took the role. Granted, I also played Regan in a college play, so maybe I'm just inclined to wickedness.

I bought a hat for $1.50 and some hairspray for $2.00. The rest of the costume was just waiting for me in our house, including sheer green vintage gloves. Serendipitous....or suspicious. Not everyone has all the makings of wickedness right at their fingertips, even down to striped stockings. (The funny thing is that they'd fit a ten-year old and I had to pin them to my skirt at knee-height to keep them from falling to my ankles. Oh, the things we do for fashion.)

I didn't wear the chin and nose on Hallowe'en because I ran out of time to paint them, but they worked pretty well on this post-Hallowe'en run.  I made them the week before by rubbing on a petroleum jelly base and using some of this stuff someone had given us, along with aluminum foil and toilet paper (only the finest ingredients) to shape them on my face to dry, and then I used some of these, also hand-me-downs, to stick them on my face. It's funny that UGlue is no longer available for sale; mine might be as old as the hills. Maybe if UGlue had been marketed as fake nose and chin securers, it would have been a financial gold mine! It secured the prosthetics well and peeled off easily. Five stars!  Oh, and I used a flat bead for the wart.

I asked Millie to take the following picture because a few seconds prior, Aidan looked thoughtfully at me and said, "You look verra pretty, Mama. Verra, verra pretty." That boy could charm the warts off a witch.

The only thing I wouldn't recommend is painting parts of your face with acrylic green face paint (but it wasn't face paint; it was regular acrylic paint) before you go to a church gathering. Scrubbing your face raw is the only way to get it off.When I die from lead poisoning, now you'll know why. Take heed.

Lastly, I feel the need to let you know that, just like Maleficent, modern knowledge has revealed that The Wicked Witch of the West was really quite a charmer. See? Harmless as a butterfly.

p.s. It was sprinkling when we took these pictures, and I didn't even melt.


B.I.D.: Jack Pumpkinhead

Fully aware of my procrastinating spine, Susannah and I were both concerned that I wouldn't finish her papier-mâché pumpkin head in time. I started it five days early but still found myself painting it on Hallowe'en morning. We had no backup plan, so it's a good thing it all worked out. Susannah is fiercely protective of Jack's head and has it sitting on the piano like a macabre ornament. Who knows when she'll let me move it, if ever.

Before I cut out the features, she asked me to take pictures so she could see how it looked on her head.

When it was done, she was a pretty good mash-up between Jack Pumpkinhead from the books and Jack from the movie, thanks to a borrowed vest from friends and this impressive tutorial for a creepy pumpkin head, which makes our pumpkin head look like a kindergarten project. (I used glue and water instead of flour and skipped some steps for lack of materials or time-- no paper mache paste, for one-- but something tells me even with the paste, ours would never look like that in the tutorial.)

Cost of costume: nothing.
This costume was a lot of fun to make, and that's even better.

 The only drawback to being Jack was that when the neighbors (usually older women with the heat cranked up) continued to chat, Susannah was near fainting from the heat inside that orange head, but even so, she thought it was worth it. A word of warning for future pumpkinheads...

B.I.D.: The Patchwork Girl

The Patchwork Girl is a brave and comical character in the original L. Frank Baum books. She's also not a well-known character for people who are only familiar with the movies, so Lucinda had to explain herself at every stop. Thank goodness for the girl we met in town who loves the books and recognized the Patchwork Girl from across the parking lot! It made Lucinda's night. Well, that, AND the fact that she got to wear bright red lipstick.

Lucinda's costume cost nothing, not even much time. It was super-fast and easy, especially as it was one of the last I made on Hallowe'en Day. I used the basting stitch to applique the quilted star on the bodice of an existing dress and then quickly turned the curtain from their room into a temporary skirt (using basting stitch and elastic for easy removal afterward.)  The face paint was the fun part, anyway.

Grins don't get any better than this one, cute and happy and BRIGHT RED.