Old Friends: The Sylvanian Families

Sylvanian Families, shown here enacting the Sgt. Pepper album cover.

The Sylvanian Families, shown here reenacting the Sgt. Pepper album cover.

I wish I had more cause to use the word “sylvan” on a regular basis. Sylvan means “of the forest” and it’s a well-formed adjective if you ask me, a real looker. I’m also fond of it because it’s the root word in the name Sylvanian, as in The Sylvanian Families, the line of woodland creature miniatures that experienced huge popularity in the US in the late 1980s. I was a child in the late 1980s and my sisters and I had a handful of Sylvanian Family characters. Did we love anything more than these toys? Maybe we loved our mother more.


The Sylvanian Family toys are achingly adorable. They defy the laws of cute. Somewhere, there toy designers responsible for these things are doing time for crimes against humanity. For one thing, Sylvanians are perfectly sized: around two to five inches tall, depending on the character. They all wear finely made clothes — pinafores, little overalls, kerchiefs. They’re plastic, but they’re soft. They have like, a soft little pelt of fur on them. They have little black eyes that are either glistening with love for you or sparkling with general jolliness, depending on the light in the play room.

Sylvanians are grouped first into species; in my day, that meant rabbits, squirrels, beaver, hedgehogs, bears, foxes, raccoons, deer, and mice. These days, the company who makes them** has more animals on offer, including freaking meerkats. Within the species there are different families with the most wonderful names, e.g., The Timbertop Family (bears), The Dappledawn Family (rabbits), and The Thistlethorn Family (mice.) Within the families are the individuals (e.g., Brother Dexter Pepperwood, Sister Magdelena, Baby Aiden, etc.) and they all have their little character descriptions. 

As it turns out, The Sylvanian Families toy line originated in Japan. When I read that, everything made sense. The Japanese do seem to have a lock on cute. The word “kawaii” means “cute” in that culture and even the word “kawaii” is cute. You can really take those double “ii’s” into a high register. It’s perfect for those moments when you see a figurine that is a tiny mouse baby with a diaper on and her own teensy baby bottle.

There t’wernt a lot of money in the ol’ Fons household back when we were kids playing with toys, but before the divorce came in and effectively closed the toy box, we scored a few rabbits and foxes and a couple mice, I think. My sister and I were reminiscing about the Sylvanian Families today and also about taking a trip together. We could use a little bonding time, a little one-on-one. We’re all grown up now and it takes planning to make plans.

We were thinking about locales when it came to me: “Wait a minute,” I said to my sister, clicking and clacking on my computer. “There’s a Sylvanian Families store in London.”

“Well,” said my sister, “Maybe we should go to London.”

We may just. If we do go, it will be in December and it won’t be a terribly long trip. London is expensive, I’m only able to eat hamburger patties for a year or so, and it’ll be chilly at the Thames that time of year. But I can sip tea with my sister. And we can talk about the blue shag rug at the farmhouse. And we can buy a few little mice while we’re in town.

**The story of the manufacture of these toys is long, long, long and complex and confusing. Many companies have owned the line and its knock-offs and licensed etcetera. Wikipedia is there for you if you seek the deets.

High Heels On a Bike = Remarkable?

I'm like her! Only I've got heels on and she's younger than me or uses excellent face cream. Photo: NY Transit Forums

The Citbikes of New York. I’m like this chick! Only I’ve got heels on and she’s younger than me or uses excellent face cream. Photo: NY Transit Forums

A large man with a proportionately large afro shouted to me today that I was the most amazing thing he had seen in New York City.

Let me explain.

Some time ago, I spoke of my love of the Chicago Divvy bikeshare program in its infancy; the NYC version works just the same and upon arrival I became a key-carrying member. The bikeshare system has changed the way I relate to this city and I am most grateful for it.

In years past, I was a subway-taker, like everyone else in Manhattan who doesn’t have a driver. (This is most people, though in Manhattan, Those Who Are Chauffeured must be counted.) I had to admit to myself awhile back that even though the people-watching and the idea of the subway is cool to me, the actual subway makes me claustrophobic and neurotic. At least once per ride, I think of a skyscraper sighing down into the ground the moment I’m barreling underneath it and !squish! bye-bye Mary and everyone else who just wanted to go see a movie or whatever.

The other trouble with the subway in a city so intricate as New York is that I would descend into a hole and pop up out of another hole and miss the geography of the place. It’s hard for me to get the lay of the land that way; I need to knit together the streets, the blocks, the neighborhoods. As my main mode of transport is now the Citibike, this is solved. I am understanding this place in a way I never have before. And yes, I wear a helmet. You just have to wear one.

So back to Afro Man.

I like to wear heels. I’m the shortest in my family, so I took to wearing heels years ago and now it’s just a rule. I also like to be girly and fancy. I ride my bike in heels, too. Not all of my shoes are appropriate for this, but my knockin’ around town heels are. They even have little nubbly things for traction.

As I hopped onto a Citibike to go to the store for farmer’s cheese, I swung my leg up over the saddle of my horse-slash-bike, and my be-heeled feets began to push the pedals. I went about a half a block and slowed for a car to pass when the aforementioned large man with the aforementioned large afro called out to me from the sidewalk.

“High heels on a bike!” he whistled. “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen in New York City so far!” He laughed and shook his head.

I laughed, too. “You haven’t seen much yet,” I called after him, and rode away.



Quilts + My Brain Fog

Eva Phillips, Lora King and Crystal Cruise on side of quilt frame. Photo: Terry Eiler, 1978.

Eva Phillips, Lora King and Crystal Cruise on side of quilt frame. Photo: Terry Eiler, 1978.

Nestled cozily in the Library of Congress, waiting for me to discover it tonight while doing research, the photograph above shows members of the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church quilting group hand quilting a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt on a frame. Isn’t it marvelous?

Quilts have wrapped around me, covered the ground under me, and been pulled over me my whole life. As a tot, I sat on a lap I had to share with a wooden hoop (didn’t mind.) I played under tables in church basements while quilts were basted above me. Spools of thread were great tables for my sisters and my Sullivan Family figurines. Being immersed like this means I have had a deep love for the American patchwork quilt for a long time, almost like a person loves her country. There’s no question, almost no notice taken of the love and honor one has for it; it’s just who you are.

As a result of this immersion and by sheer osmosis I’ve known a fair bit about quilts and quiltmaking for some time — even when I wasn’t making quilts myself.

My “quilt epiphany” happened right around the time I got sick. Life as I knew it was falling to pieces, and it made perfect sense to tear fabric up into pieces and sew it back together again, but prettier. Growing along with my passion for making quilts grew a deep and abiding love for the history of the American quilt, the story of the thing, the reasons why, the hows, the styles, etc. And so my quilt geekhood has ripened into true geekdom. I could talk double-pinks and madder browns all day, I think. The stories, the people, the quilts themselves never get old. Even when they are old.

This post has taken me well over an hour to compose and it’s still not right. My brain is in a fog. The diet is very difficult. My guts feel better — honestly, they do. In fact, there are several reasons to be extremely happy with the results of this major change so far.

But I’m slow. And I’m foggy. And I keep looking at those women quilting and I would like to crawl under the table and be six.

The Color Me Quilter Promo Video.

A still from the film. (A fancy way of saying I took a screenshot of my screen while the video was playing.)

A still from the film. (A fancy way of saying I took a screenshot of my screen while the video was playing.)

I made a video.

It is very silly, but it’s also meant to be informative.

It explains a bit about the webinar series I do called “Color Me Quilter.” The next one is on Thursday, and it’s all about blue. Blue and white quilts, indigo dye, how to “audition” blues for your quilt (green-based? red-based? help!) and a bonus lesson, plus all kinds of other pretty fascinating stuff you never knew about blue as it relates to quiltmaking in America. These webinars, they’re kinda neat.

Pendennis helped me make this video and I’m afraid he appears extremely ornery in it. He’s actually well-mannered for a monkey. I think it’s a snack issue. He needs a lot of snacks and he didn’t have one before we started. As you’ll see in the video, he reaches a point where he simply can’t wait.

Check out Color Me Quilter. You will like it. And do enjoy the video by clicking right heah. 

The Big Orange Head Joke.

Big. Orange. Head.

Big. Orange. Head.

Tonight, a joke.

I’d heard this one before, but driving in Wisconsin not long ago, I heard it again on the radio. It’s a keeper for sure — and the kids love it.

A guy is walking along the street one day and he sees his friend Tom. But Tom looks different. Tom has a big orange head. Like, his head is big and orange. The guy goes over to Tom right away.

“Tom! Hey, man… What happened to your head?” asks the guy.

“It was the darndest thing,” says Tom. “I found one of those magic genie lamps. You know, the ones where you rub the side and the genie comes out and grants you three wishes?”

“Wow!” says the guy. “That’s amazing!”

“I know!” says Tom. “And he wasn’t kidding. I wished for a million bucks and poof! The genie showed me on my phone that I had a million bucks in the bank.”

“Holy cow!” says the guy.

“Yep. Then, I wished for a beautiful wife and poof! this amazing woman appeared and we’re married and she’s incredible, look.” and Tom shows the guy a picture of his beautiful wife.

“Dang,” says the guy. “That’s unbelieveable!” Then, eyeing Tom, he says, “What was the third wish?”

“Well,” said Tom, “For my third wish, I wished for a big orange head.”

[that's it]

St. Mark’s Place, NYC.

Exhibit A: Punk lighting cigarette.

Exhibit A: Punk lighting cigarette.

Of all the streets I’ve lived on in my life (are there ten? twelve?) St. Mark’s Place is the most colorful.

This is a street with a popular history. I’m sure 29th and 112th Street have their lore, and we all know about Broadway and Madison Ave., the hogs! But St. Mark’s hauls itself into the better-known of New York streets because of the now-famous punk scene that flourished here in the 70s. The American punk, an eye-catching animal, continues to slink around the neighborhood, reminding you of the history of the place. There has not been a real punk “scene” here for decades and decades, but some young punks (from Oregon, or Iowa, or maybe just Far Rockaway) come here just the same, still.

St. Mark’s Place is three blocks long. That’s it. The street starts (or ends, depending on which direction you’re walking) at 3rd Ave. and dead-ends at Thompkins Square Park, there at Avenue A. Manhattan streets are numbered going up after Houston St. in Lower Manhattan. If you’re walking north on, say, 3rd Ave., you cross Houston and hit 1st St., then 2nd St., and so on. If St. Mark’s were a number, it would be 8th St., followed by 9th, etc.

The street is named for nearby St. Mark’s Church In-The-Bowery (which makes me think of Stratford-Upon-Avon but is very far away from that place.) St. Mark’s Church is very old. The first incarnation of the church was a chapel built in 1660 by early New York City player Peter Stuyvesant and he is buried there, but we’re not here to talk about him. We’re here to talk about why there are so many kids with safety pins through their lips on my block. They would ask why I’m on their block, and I can appreciate that.

In 1967, Abbie Hoffman started the Youth International Party (they called themselves “yippies”) at a club on St. Mark’s and counterculture settled in (it has a tendency to do that quickly, much to the chagrin of all the counterculturists standing around.) The yippies and the hippies and their ilk needed places to hang out and party, so clubs like Electric Circus opened where Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground all made art and did heroic amounts of drugs. But what to wear? A pair of shops called Trash & Vaudeville opened in the early 70s right in the middle of St. Mark’s. Debbie Harry shopped there and The Ramones, too, and the punk rock scene was really taking off because of bands like The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and Damned In London, who were all singing and screaming and making music which, at the time, was a person had to admit was really fresh and amazing and different, even if you hated it. Which most people did.

For true punk people, the music was only legit from like, 1976 to 1979. This is what I’ve learned in researching St. Mark’s. But boy, did it have an effect. The look of the musicians was hard, all spikes and leather and neon mohawks and pierced everything. It was a look that said, “Back off” and “I am pretty sure I don’t like you already.” Mean? Scary? Revolting? Maybe a little of all that, but a) they achieved what they wanted, perception-wise, so you gotta give the kids credit and b) I’m sure many of the punks (then and now) are roly-poly little bunny-shaped sweethearts when you get to know them. Isn’t that how it works?

There are so many punks hanging out on the street this summer. Several people have told me there are more than usual. Maybe because the weather hasn’t been too bad. Maybe because there are good punk bands playing here in NYC this summer and they’ve all made the pilgrimage. Many of them are painful to look at, with sores and things. I wonder if they do have a place to go and choose not to go there or if they are as homeless as their signs say. I could ask, but I’m not sure that would be appropriate. Sometimes I put change in the cups.

Perhaps I could tell them I went as a “punk rocker” like five times for Halloween when I was a kid. That could be a good conversation starter. Or not.

Changes, With Gelatin and Yogurt.

Photos of Elaine Gottschall from her website. Her book is "Breaking The Vicious Cycle." Isn't she cool?

Photo collage of Elaine Gottschall from her website. Her book is titled “Breaking The Vicious Cycle.” 

I have a mission in life: I am going to save my j-pouch.

It would be great to link to recent posts in which I told about my ostomy, my dubiously successful j-pouch surgeries, the complications, etc., but the dang server migration temporarily ate a bunch of PaperGirl. The posts should be back this weekend and thank goodness, too; I don’t have the guts (yeah, yeah) to rewrite one word of that story for a long while. A summary, for those who missed it:

1) I was a gimp** because of ulcerative colitis
2) I was spared UC but made more gimpy because of dubiously successful surgeries, all with new and exciting complications
3) Today I am less gimpy than I was but still a gimp and now have a decision to make: Do I opt for a permanent ostomy bag or continue living with my dubiously successful j-pouch and its attendant woe?

While an ostomy bag isn’t the end of the world — I know firsthand, having had one for three years — it does totally blow. More than what I’m dealing with now? Hard to say. But I’m not giving up my internal ileal pouch without a fight. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make my ruined gutscape look and feel like a damn prom queen. Think sunshine on a field of daises. Think kittens frolicking in strawberry patches. Think pretty – the opposite of what I got.

*     *     *

Back in the 1960′s, a woman named Elaine Gottschall had a young daughter with ulcerative colitis. Elaine and her husband lived in New York City. They went to specialist after specialist and their poor kid went on massive steroids and drugs, only to face surgery anyway. Then the Gottschalls had a stroke of luck. They met a doctor who stared down the hopeless mother and asked, “What have you been feeding this child?” None of the fifteen docs they tried had asked that one. “Um, food?” was the answer he got. The doctor put little Judy on a very strict diet. Highlights included zero starch, zero sugar, and lots of homemade yogurt. Within ten days, surgery was not a pressing concern. Within a year, Judy was growing like a weed, no longer bleeding, no longer living in the bathroom. The kid was better. She was a lot better.

Elaine was hoppin’ mad that her little girl had been through so much, had narrowly escaped being super sick, having an ostomy bag for the rest of her life, or, you know, dying. She decided to check out how it was that food could cure digestive maladies — and why she hadn’t known that till it was almost too late.

She went to the library. She read many books. Elaine came of age during the Depression, so she never had the opportunity to go to college. She decided to go. At 47, she went to college to find out more about why the diet helped her kid and how it could help other people, too. She got degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology. Then she wrote a book; then she wrote another book. Twenty years and a zillion testimonials later, Gotschall’s work is still in print and many lives have been saved, many more vastly improved, all through the science of nutrition as it applies to sorry souls who are smote with intestinal disorders.

Along with some other treatments — and under the care of my physicians — I’ve begun Gottschall’s Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is designed to starve out harmful (to me) bacteria in the gut and repopulate it with healthy bacteria. It’s a rebalancing act, a total — and totally natural — intestinal renovation. “Gut remodel” would be an appropriate, if too cute, way to put it.

It’s a major change. “Lifestyle modification” begins to describe it. I can’t use the wooden spoons I use for Yuri’s food because of cross-contamination. “Puree” is a word I have to get comfortable with for awhile. I have to eat an insanely limited number of foods the first phase of the thing, though after the first period I can start to branch out. If I thought about how I can never have chocolate again, ever, I would give up this second. Maybe. It’s funny how any food becomes far less delicious-looking when it makes you cry several hours after you eat it.

Ninety days. Then we’ll see.

**Yes, I can say “gimp.” We can call ourselves that, but if you’re not a gimp, you can’t call us that. 

La Vita Belli.

Belli (pretty much.)

Belli. Our version is rounder and in my mind, far cuter. (It’s different when they’re yours.) Little Cat Puppet by Folkmanis.

I am a (very) grown woman. I own several puppets — and zero shame.

You can attribute my puppet-owning to the four years I spent studying theatre in college or the nine I spent making it in Chicago. When I was a straight-up stage actress there was a dearth of puppets in my life and I didn’t even realize what a bummer that was. When I made the exhilarating break to be a performer rather than an actor — the difference between “firefly” and “fire” — the number of puppets in my life grew exponentially and I was a happier artist. It wasn’t that I was using puppets right away, it’s that I saw them more in the art I was exposing myself to; intricate, enormous, wild, complex, frightening, and fascinating puppetry seemed to be everywhere in Chicago. When I became a Neo-Futurist, the aesthetic wormed it’s way into my work — or maybe I just came home to the first version of me I remember, maybe I found my inner Sesame Street. I put googly eyes on mittens and stuck them on sticks and did a little play called “Mitten Time.” I put a bird on a wire. I made talking boxes that flew up into the grid on a string. I strung my retired brassieres on dowel rods and sang them to their death in a little play called “Bras I Have Known.” Searching my laptop tonight, I found the lyrics to “Bras I Have Known.” Why not put them down? It’s a simple cut-and-paste and then I’ll (quickly) tell you about Belli.

This was sung (in chorus) to the tune of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” as the actual brassieres from my life were strung up on sticks and bobbed around onstage. Shocking? Nope. Great fun.

Bra bra old bra
Opposite of young
Lace torn, cups stretched
Underwire sprung

Purple ones, gold ones
Yellow, white, and pink
Cotton, lycra, spandex,
Time to say goodbye, I think

A fine job you’ve done here
To lift and separate
Rest dear, rest dear,
The garbage is your fate

Each bra before you
Tells a story of its own
That one was there the night
Sin came free on loan

This one was present
When Jeremiah died
That one I never wore
But trust me, I tried

The gold one was funny
Never looked quite right
But I wore it frequently
Cause I thought one day it might

I couldn’t toss these out without
Offering them some art
Sure, they’re just old bras but
They literally crossed my heart.

Thus ends the lesson
And your straps on my body
Time to go pick up a new
Thirty-four D.

Good times.

A month or so ago, I popped into the toy shop on 9th Street, about a block from where we turn in our laundry. The shop is called Dinosaur Hill, and if I wanted to have a baby before I walked past the windows of Dinosaur Hill Toystore, boy, do I want one now. Little painted wooden figurines, toy trains, princess costumes. They’ve got everything. They carry many hand puppets, too: I learned this when I went inside, a (very) grown woman with no child who was determined to buy a toy anyway.

I spied a kitten puppet. She was so cute. A little small for my hand, maybe, but soft and so realistic, with wide eyes and soft paws. I surprised Yuri with it when he came home that night. We sat on the couch and I whispered, “I have a surprise for you.”

“Oh?” he said, smiling. “What is your surprise?”


The little cat had been on my hand the whole time and I pinged it up and waved a paw by moving my pinky finger inside the puppet. Yuri laughed, delighted.

“Hello! Oh, my! And what’s your name, little kitten?”

I hadn’t decided. Yuri said her name should be “Belly” but when he said it, he didn’t think how “belly” is a tough word for me to process as cute, what with my own belly being such a battleground. Funny thing is that I didn’t for a moment think he meant “belly” with a “y.” I figured he was being brilliant and going for something Italian, so in my mind, I instantly saw “Belli” as the kitten’s name. And so it was that the little cat puppet was named Belli and she has brought us great joy since that day.

(Just) East of Eden.

Salinas Valley, California. 2008.

Salinas Valley, California. 2008.

I made chicken with creamy pan sauce. I made a pumpkin pie. I made a batch of cookys for Yuri, (this time with white chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips, and pecans.) Right now, there are sweet potato fries in the oven seasoned with curry, cumin, and salt n’ pepper (plus some finely diced red onion) and this morning, there was a cheesy omelette for the man.

All the while, I thought of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. I’m reading it. And if you have ever read it — or ever read any genius work of fiction, I mean really the cream of the genius crop — you know what I mean when I say I’m only half in my world. The other half of me in the Salinas Valley around the turn of the last century.

Have you read this book? Have you ever? You must. Do not delay. Put aside any non-crucial tasks for the next week and take up East of Eden. I can’t see how this novel could not enrich a person’s life.


Look at this:

“Tom, the third son, was most like his father. He was born in fury and he lived in lightning. Tom came headling into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and it’s people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.”

When I read that particular paragraph, my mouth popped open. I had to go read it to Yuri. “His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture,” I read, and the words landed in him as they had in me. “Woah,” said Yuri.

“Yeah,” I said.

The character of Cathy Ames is so terrifying, so cruel, that I am afraid of her. Afraid of a fictional character in a book! And the Trask brothers’ complex, violent, loving relationship make them more real than some people you’ve met in real life. I’ve hardly begun to learn about the Hamilton family, but it’s the Trasks and the Hamiltons who are at the core of this epic.

It’s all a juicy Bible allegory; Steinbeck said so. He also said all the books and stories he wrote before East of Eden were warm ups for East of Eden. He called it “the first book,” and he dedicated it to his sons. Steinbeck was married three times and he lived the final thirteen years of his life in New York City with his third wife, whom he loved very much. “I am in New York,” he wrote to his editor, “surrounded by love.”

I know the feeling.

PaperGirl Rides Again!

Pin for WWII Victory Girls, who were the real Rosie The Riveters, I've learned. It's not that I have a huge thing for the WWII ladies, but the images are just so great.

Pin for WWII Victory Girls, who were the real Rosie The Riveters, I’ve learned. It’s not that I have a huge thing for the WWII ladies, but the images are just so great.

Good gravy that was awful!

The server. It had problems. There had to be a migration. The migration, it had problems. I was without you. Lost. Lost at sea. Lost at sea with no peanut butter. Lost at sea with no peanut butter, no coffee.

It was horrible! And over my birthday, too! What a rip-off!

Well, anyhow, PaperGirl and the site are both back up, obviously, and I apologize for any inconvencience. If not being able to access my blog rates anywhere near an inconvenience for even a handful of people, why, I’ve made it in this world.

Tomorrow, I can begin making the changes to the website I’ve long needed to make (turns out the server problem had to be handled first, bleh) and a fresh paper — PaperGirl, that is. What will we discover, friend? I’m considering observations on anything from Door County, Wisconsin, to turning [REDACTED] years old yesterday, or perhaps I’ll offer Reasons To Adore Yuri, or explain the kitten puppet I bought and named Belli. I promise no politics, no people-bashing, and no harsh language

Does that make my blog frivolous?

It does??

Welcome home, baby!