Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Potluck Ideas

I love my library. One of the reasons I love my library is because they periodically hold book sales in which they sell off old books from their collection or those which have been donated.
And just in time for our monthly potluck, I found these two gems:


I really don't know how people lived through the 70's. Good music and weed? Because the recipes in these books would have kept me fasting for years. For. Years.

The first book, "Casserole Cook Book" is not so bad. I mean there are reasonable casseroles in there like


Jumbo Cornburger





Chicken Chip Bake 

That's not chips make from chicken or chicken chips as in cow chips, but chicken with potato chips. (note to self: send email to Herr chip folks suggesting new flavor.)

photo credit: K. Frye
On the other hand, can Chicken Chip really compete with DAWG! ?
(exactly what flavor is DAWG! ?)



Here's a Tex-Mex favorite: 


Chili Con Weine

Because to say Weine is classier than saying Chili con DAWG! Make sure you garnish with olives because that's what makes it authentic.


Alas, there was no photo for this, but the ingredient list caught my eye.



Whoever wrote this must have gone on to work for a political campaign. The recipe calls for a batch of "Potato Fluff Topper" What is that, you ask? If you read through the recipe, it's your basic mashed potatoes with two eggs thrown in for good measure. I love how simple, down to earth mashed potatoes have been re-worked to be "Potato Fluff Topper" Is it a duvet or a meal? It's both!

This cookbook also has helpful hints such as:


Cereal and sesame seeds together? Using canned meatballs? What level of hell is that from?

My absolute favorite is what constituted a "salad" from the 70's. Now a days, when I think of salad, I think of fresh greens and veggies with a nice vinigrette. Back then it was stacked:

 

Tomato Towers!


Or, even better, in gelatin!!




Read the fine print: "Favorite - Perfection Salad"

Perfection was defined in the 70's as shredded cabbage and celery floating in unflavored gelatin.

And it's a "Favorite" 

Think on that a while.




Friday, November 08, 2013

Bucket List, part 2 (because I have a really big bucket)

My original bucket list had 14 items on it and in the year since I've published it, I have accomplished one thing! Woot! But I've come up with 5 more things for my list!! Woot, woot! At this rate, I'll have to live a very long time to get done what I need to get done. Hear that, Grim Reaper?

How much longer do we have to wait?


Here's an update: 

On the items requiring travel, those will just have to wait a while. Unless I win Powerball next week, there's no way I can swing airplane, hotel and food for eight people to all the places I want to go. 

However, I can cross off number 5! I ran my first 5k in April of 2013. It took seven months to get up to the 5k/3 miles but I did it with Princess Buttercup, W. Bear and Bo Hunkmeister. The best part is we still continue to run.

I'm close to achieving number 6 as well. I finished writing the series on my friend's experiences living in South Africa and America, but I've yet to stop procrastinating on getting it published by Lulu. I thought I would print up a few as Christmas presents, but at the rate I'm going, it might be Christmas 2020.

Here's some new bucket list items:

1. Eat out for two weeks.
Because I have issues with breakfast cereal, I basically cook breakfast five days a week for the kids. "But there's seven days in a week, oh Domestic Goddess!" Yes, my darlings but one day a week is cereal day and on Sunday Bo cooks the chocolate chip pancakes. Anyway, I also cook dinner six days a week, 52 weeks a year. I say six because we've recently instituted a "Kids Cook Friday" rule wherein the oldest three are in charge of getting dinner on the table. All that to say I cook. I cook a lot. And trying to cook something healthy, appealing and economical that many times is hard. So I have told Bo that the day my youngest moves out of the house, I'm going on a cooking haitus. I don't want to have to think healthy, appealing or economical for an entire two weeks. I just want to point at the menu and say, "Bring me this and bring it now!" I'm even going to leave my dirty plate on the table. Bo, having done a bit of business travel in his career, says I'll get bored eating out. I say, I'd love to know what it feels like to be bored of people bringing me food on demand.

What is your pleasure, my Queen?


2. Eat my way from one end of Atwells Avenue to the other.
We have a wonderful street near our house that has quite a few notable restaurants. It's Providence's version of Little Italy, but on a smaller scale. Ok, much smaller scale. Atwells Avenue used to be just Italian restaurants with one Chinese place thrown in (owned by an Italian of course) but recently, it has evolved into a more eclectic mix of cuisines. I want to eat at each and every one. Except the hookah places. I've got no desire for apple cinnamon smoke.

3. Play Chorus 42 from Handel's Messiah on the piano
Singing Chorus 42 (Hallelujah) from Handel's Messiah was an annual tradition with my high school choir. Accompanying the choir on piano was my friend Zoe. I played piano at the time but seeing her storm through this piece like a boss blew me away. I want to have that level of skill and dexterity. I wonder if she'll commute down from Boston to give me lessons. I have my own libretto and I'll pay you in cookies, Zoe!
Wait, what note is that?


4. Get my motorcycle license
This is more of a house keeping sort of thing. I've got no desire to run out and get a Harley. I just think that in the event I'm out for a ride with Bo and he becomes incapacitated, it might be necessary for me to ride the bike home.

5. Do an IronMan Equivalent
I say equivalent because you have to travel to one of these competitions and the entrance fee is usually big, like $700 big for the one in Lake Placid, New York. An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bicycle ride and a 26.2 mile marathon, raced in that order and without a break. Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. You know, given the effort I expended to get to a 5k, I might have to reconsider this goal. Seeing as how I'm only at 30 minutes of running, no swimming and I don't own a bike, this one just might be a pipe dream. I also think dropping $700 so I can hurt myself is silly. Unless there's good swag. I'd do it for really good swag.
"Excuse me, when do we get our t-shirts?"


Ok, so let's see here...my original list was 14 items, remove one, add 5, carry the 3, disregard the 2 and I'm left with uh....uh....a lot to do.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Morning After

I think the morning after Halloween is the most anticipated morning second only Christmas.

This is what I woke up to this morning:


The kids spent close to an hour sorting and trading their candy. They will set the candy up on display so the siblings can see what there is available for trade (OCD much Tater?). This photo was from 7:30 AM and already Tater had cornered the market on Nestle Crunch bars. Of course, Mom has a big bin in which kids can trade in "undesirable candy" (i.e. Double Bubble, Butterfingers, Almond Joys) for whatever Mom has left over from last night's give away stash. Mom has also been known to pull rank and force a trade for Kit Kats or Milky Way Dark. I like to consider it a unit lesson on life in the former Soviet Union.

Observing the mayhem, Buttercup asked, "Are we actually going to eat breakfast this morning or just fondle the candy?"

Here's some fun stuff that was acquired last night.



This made me laugh. When I was a kid, these candies were packaged to look like cigarettes. I guess it was decided this was not a good idea since, oh I don't know, CIGARETTES CAUSE DEATH. So now they're called "Candy Sticks." Just what flavor is Hulk Candy Stick? I'll probably continue to call them candy cigarettes just like I continue to refer to my breakfast as Sugar Smacks and not Golden Crisp (you're fooling no-one Post!)











The most coveted Halloween prize is the "Full Size" candy bar. Apparently calling something Fun Size does not make it so. The winner in this year's "Full Size" haul is Gummi. It's that smile. I swear, one day I'm going to walk into a BMW dealership with that kid, have him smile and walk out with a new car.









Do the Tootsie roll people have a factory somewhere that churns these things out just for Halloween? Is there someone out there who thinks, "Boy howdy! I can't wait for Halloween so I can get some of those lime Tootsie rolls!" I mean orange? Lemon? Vanilla?!? Apparently some of these flavors are actually made with an excretion drawn from beavers. But "Beaver Butt" flavor is a lot to typeset on a tiny wrapper.













Our very sweet neighbor gave us these cupcakes. Given the noise she has to put up with living next to us, I'm surprised she didn't give us a half dozen tranquilizer darts. This is also the neighbor who introduced me to Stroopwafels. I will never move from this neighborhood as long as she's here. Never.















This is by far my favorite piece. Who needs marketing? Branding? Pshhh! Get right to the point! Why waste time on logos and typefaces?
Maybe GUM is an acronym for something?
Gob-Smacking Unimaginative Marketing?
Gross Unidentifiable Mucilage?














Definitely more fun than should be legal.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween

 Halloween makes for some fun times here at Casa de Diva. Of course, having an incurable case of Art-School-Itis as well as being a tight wad means I require homemade costumes. Not only that, but I was scarred by those vinyl sheaths with the plastics masks that passed for Halloween costumes when I was a kid. Remember your breath making the plastic Casper the Friendly Ghost mask all hot and icky inside? Yeah, me too. I've noticed they don't make those costumes any more. Did OSHA catch up with them?

Anyway, having a large family,  I refuse to buy those 'costumes in a bag' for all six kids every year so they have to come up with costumes on their own. There's some whining and complaining, but I think it's right and proper that these kids expend some effort for their yearly bag of candy.

So most of our costumes end up being made of found objects or pieced together from Savers. We also instituted a rule of no last minute changes. The deadline for costume decisions is night before at 7:00 pm. This rule was set because I would have a kid that wanted to be the Michelin Man. Much effort and time would go into making said costume only to have the kid come up to me Halloween morning and announce they have a new and better idea. This in turn meant the entire day was spent scrambling for something to make them look like Mrs. Haversham. Thus we created the rule.

The day of Halloween is like backstage at Versace's Fashion Week show in NYC; semi-clothed people running round with make-up and hair partially done, fussing and fuming about missing costume pieces. And Mom sewing up last minute pieces or gluing a child into their costume. Finally, after about an hour of mayhem, we're assembled and ready to go.

Trick or Treating is always fun as the kids have to explain at each and every house what their costume is. "I'm a Weeping Angel. Yes, Weeping Angel. It's from a TV show called 'Doctor Who'. No, 'Doctor Who'. It's a British show." Why can't they just be a princess??

Gummi, the youngest, is fun to watch because he's still amazed that all he has to do is say three words and people give him candy. And that this happens more than once. He'll go to a door, flash his winning smile, even though he's dressed as a deadly spider, and then come running back to us with an exuberant, "Look what I got!!" He won't move on until we look in his bag and admire the latest Three Musketeers Bar. And this happens after each and every house.

I think the best part is the next day, what I call the 'horse trading'. The children all gather in the living room and assess their spoils. They sort the candy according to size and desirability. Then they commence furious trading with each other. Not just one for one trading but market value trading. After all, a Snickers mini-bar is worth at least three of those weird Tootsie roll flavors that are only available in October. Certain candies are confiscated by Mom. Like those Sponge Bob chewy things. They are just too weird to be safe to ingest. Some kids try to corner the market on a particular candy. Tater is known to trade anything, including younger siblings, in an effort to get Nestle Crunch bars. Other kids try desperately to get rid of the undesirables like Butterfingers. Then there's the kids who try to gain the Kit Kats and Twix bars so they can use them to bribe Mom later.

Here's the run down of this year's costumes:



This is Buttercup as a pirate. That's her most intimidating face. Maybe she should keep her day job.
















This is Gummi as a Black Widow Spider. I think the penny loafers go well with the skull cap, don't you?



















This is Baby as RobotMan. No small pieces were swallowed in the making of this costume.


















This is W. Bear as Hawkeye. Those are milk jugs put together to make a quiver for his arrows. Reduce, reuse, recycle Hawkeye!



















This is Git Ur Done as the aforementioned Weeping Angel. Although in this picture, she looks more like the What's Going On Here? Angel.


















This is Tater as Artemis Fowl. Seeing as how Artemis is a criminal genius, we told Tater to look smarmy. This is his best shot.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Illustrated Woman addendum


Betty just recently went on a trip to Las Vegas and since she was in the area, stopped by her favorite public works project and tattoo inspiration- the Hoover Dam. She sent these pictures showing the tattoo element and the design inspiration. Kudos to the artist, Mike Drexler, for some pretty fine work!





These are the penstocks towers which regulate the flow of water into the turbines.




This is one of the two "Winged Figures of the Republic" designed by Oskar Hansen. They flank a memorial dedicated to the workers who died during the construction of the Dam.















This is another part of the Hansen memorial. The full quote is "They died to make the desert bloom."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Realities of Having a Large Family

Most posts about having a large family are about the joys of having a lot of kids, and while I agree that having a large family can be great, I think we have to be honest and admit the other side of the dream. I think large families are afraid if we say something negative about large families, someone will jump out of the closet and yell, "Aha! I knew it!"

Having thoroughly checked my closet, I will now list for you the down side of a house of mirth and merriment. Mind you, this is not a statement of regret, more like a "you should know this before jumping into large family-dom."



1. We go through an insane amount of toilet paper.

We should own stock in Charmin. I got a $10 Starbucks gift card for 16 years of using Pampers. Charmin, I'm expecting bigger things from you.

hint, hint

2. Be prepared to answer the same question 10 times, usually within 5 minutes.

Usually the kids are listening in on conversations that are none of their business. Yet when one of them asks me what's for dinner, this is the one time the rest of them don't listen in. So the next kid, who was a mere two feet away from the first child asks, "What's for dinner?" Then the next kid, within even closer ear shot, but for some reason deaf for the past five minutes, asks, "What's for dinner?" I wish I lived in a canyon at dinner time. That way "what's for dinner?" can be repeated without effort on my part.
Tuna Casserole!!....Tuna Casserole!!....Tuna Casserole!!...Tuna Casserole!!


3. Restaurant Visits

Any visit to a restaurant will take hours. First is the look from the 20 something hostess at the front desk. "Eight?" she says incredulously. And then looks at all the kids like we're some kind of social deviants. Then there's the wait for the staff to set a table for 8 with high chairs and crayons and kid menus away from the rest of the general public. One restaurant actually put us in a seperate room! Then there's the wait for 8 different meals to be ready at the same time so the waitress can serve it. And forget about the "Kids Eat Free" promotions. If you read the fine print, there's something about one free meal with each adult purchase. That means we're still a few meals short of a good bargin.


4. Order an extra large of whatever drink you get or embrace the inner Grinch and don't share.

It's like having a pizza in a room full of stoned people. Every time I get an iced coffee, two seconds after I pull away from the drive thru window, a chorus of "Can I have a sip?" begins followed by the responsorial call "I'm thirsty!" So do I let all six have a sip and possibly not have an iced coffee by the time the drink gets back to me? Or do I be a meanie and say no one gets a sip? Maybe I should set up a rotation schedule: "Sorry Gummi, it's Tuesday and that means only Buttercup, W. Bear and Baby get a sip. Tomorrow will be your turn."

Daffy, I feel your pain.

bonus fun: My son Tater took as sip of my coffee once and AFTER said, "I just don't know how you can drink without leaving backwash." I didn't much want my coffee anymore.


5. Sexy and fuel efficiency are inversely proportional to passenger capacity.

The more kids we had, the less pretty our vehicle got. We now drive a whale that gets 10 miles to the gallon down hill with the wind behind us. It came in two colors.


6. When in public, be prepared for questions.

"Are they all yours?" Uh, why would I rent extras?
"Which is more difficult, girls or boys?" Neither, it's pesky people with silly questions.
"Are they all from the same father?" ?!?
"How do you handle it all?" I don't. Seriously.
"Are you going to have any more?" What, tonight? That's kind of personal, don't you think?


7. I am in constant need of socks and underwear.

Harvard University hasn't returned my calls, but I need a scientific study to see if large families go through socks quicker than smaller families. I suppose those boys up in Beantown have more pressing things on their plate but this is a serious need for me. I buy those mondo packs of socks and the very next day the boys are traipsing around here with mismatched, holey (and not in the spiritual way) socks. We have a box where we keep the orphan socks on the hopes of reuniting them with their lost partner after the next load of laundry. I'm embarrassed how big that box has gotten.


8. Noise

I once saw a definition of boys as "Noise with dirt." I've got four of 'em. My husband asks me why I stay up so late. It's because the silence is - and I thought about what word I'd use here for a while - the silence is luscious.


9. Totally utilitarian dishes

Those cute 4 qt. crock pots? Individual ramekins or onion soup crocks? Yeah, whatever. Making elaborate individual servings of stacked and saucy vegetables is a thing of the past. Four is not a problem, eight and you have to go next door to borrow the neighbor's counter space. Then there's the storage issue. I do not have enough cabinet space for 8 sets of custard cups, mini souffle dishes, soup crocks, bread plates, etc. Although I make an exception for those shallow fluted creme brulee ramekins. It is my rule in life to always make room for creme brulee.
Creme brulee, you complete me.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Illustrated Woman

"Nothing evokes that superior shudder, that anal-retentive cluck of civilized disapproval, quite like the tattoo." -John Gray

Tattoos are a curious thing. Despite their use in non-Western cultures and their increasing popularity here in the US, for the most part, they still evoke a negative response as shown in the comment above. A 2012 Harris Interactive poll reported that "Currently one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo (21%) which is up from the 16% and 14% who reported having a tattoo when this question was asked in 2003 and 2008, respectively."

Yet a lot of us still think of tattoos as mostly an act of rebellion. The same Harris poll reports "among those without tattoos....
  • At least two in five say that people with tattoos are less attractive (45%) or sexy (39%);
  • One-quarter say that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27%), healthy (25%) or spiritual (25%);
  • However, having a tattoo seems to make little difference in non-tattooed people's perceptions regarding strength and athleticism (82% say it makes no difference); yet,
  • Half of those without a tattoo say people with tattoos are more rebellious (50%). "

But this is not the story in other parts of the world. Through out history, tattoos have been used to indicate a rite of passage (Crusaders, Tahitians), as spiritual talismen (Borneans, sailors), as an indication of group affiliation both positive and negative (Romans, Coptic Christians, Maori), as simply body adornment (Japanese) and the normally assumed reason, as an act of rebellion (Japanese, early Christians in Rome). And they have also adorned people of all sorts of social and economic strata. King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King Frederick IX of Denmark and the 'Sailor King' George V of the United Kingdom all shared the same tattoo artist, George Burchett.

I first met my neighbor Betty two years ago after her kids started playing with my kids. I would be lying if I didn't say the first thing I noticed about her were her tattoos. However, I know how stupid stereotypes can be. I didn't know the reasons behind why she adorned herself in this manner much like I'm sure many people do not know the reason I teach my children at home. But I do know behind every great work of art is a great story. So I asked her to share her story and she graciously agreed.


The First Tattoo

D: How old were you when you got your first tattoo?

B: I was 17. It was a small sunrise on the small of my back which got eaten by a larger tattoo later. A few months later, I got another one.

D: What made you decide to get your first tattoo?

B: I knew from a young age it was something I wanted. There was no defining moment or someone I wanted to emulate. It was more of just an opportunity presented itself as opposed to anything else.

D: What was your parent's reaction?

B: Not much in the beginning. My tattoos were small then. I think my mother accepted my tattoo as a sign of my independent spirit and fierceness. She was actually more upset when I pierced my nose because it was on my face. Over time, as the tattoos got bigger, her reaction was, 'Well, it looks very pretty, but I'd rather see it on a piece of paper on the wall.' And then the reaction became, 'It'll make it easier to identify the body.'

D: Any draw backs to tattooing at a young age?

B: There are definitely reasons why 18 should be the absolute minimum. For one thing, you're going to keep growing and your body is going to change shape and size, and as a result, so will the tattoo you get. And stretch marks through tattoos don't look very good, I can tell you that.


Stereotypes

D: So what's the biggest stereotype that you run into as someone with tattoos?

B: Probably that I'm a biker. Or that my boyfriend's a biker. I get a lot of, "So, do you ride?"

D: Which is funny because when I first met you, you were on your bicycle a lot, so technically, you do ride. It's just not a Harley.

B: Yes, I power my bike myself. There's also the stereotype that comes up when I seek medical attention from someone other than my usual doctor. For example, in an emergency room situation, I'm perceived as drug seeking. I actually bounced that off of a doctor friend of mine and she said, "Oh, yeah. It's the tooth to tattoo ratio." Which means, generally, if a person has more tattoos than teeth, they're thought to be a drug user. I said to her, "Well I have all my teeth!" And she said, "Yeah honey, but you got more tattoos."
Then there were times when my children were younger, and I would pick them up from daycare and I would be asked, "Are you a relative?" or "Are you the nanny?" I guess I look young to begin with, and having the tattoos makes me seem even younger.

D: Does it bother you when people ask you about the tattoos? Is it kind of like being pregnant when people ask the same questions all the time?

B: It's a mixed bag. I never mind when kids ask. Sometimes when kids ask, their parents tell them, "Don't be rude." But I'm fine with kids asking questions. With adults however, it largely depends on the approach, and I'm usually pretty clear in the beginning as to whether or not I want to have this conversation. If I'm not in the mood and people persist, they will get a tongue lashing. And touching is never ok.

D: Like the way some people will reach out and touch a pregnant woman's belly without asking?

B: I have to say no one touched me when I was pregnant. But every once in a while, someone will try to touch one of my tattoos. Sometimes men see my tattoos as an opening to hitting on me, and that gets shut down really quick. People who want to tell me that I'll regret it when I'm older, I have no interest or time for that. But I get that people are curious and interested cause there's a lot going on in some of the tattoos. So if there is a genuine interest, a curiosity for the details, I'm fine with that.
It's funny how sometimes people feel like they have license to make comments about what is actually a personal choice. It's almost like if you couldn't chose your situation; for example a physical disability or race, then to comment would be rude. But if they perceive that you could have chosen another path like eat less to not gain weight, put down the cigarettes, not get a tattoo, then they feel like they have the right to criticize you on the choices you've made.
So generally, compliments are nice, genuine questions about design details are ok, but if you're going to tell me I'll regret it, don't bother making the comment.

D: Have your tattoos hindered you in finding a job?

B: Yes. I had the upper half of my arms tattooed and was working for a place that had about 500 employees. The entire dress code for the place re-written on account of me. My employer considered my tattoos 'inappropriate accessories'.

D: Was this a manufacturing job? Public service?

B: This was was a mental health and drug treatment facility. I once applied to be an office assistant at a doctor's office, but the doctor felt my appearance might make some of the other patients uneasy.
Right now, the place I work for doesn't care. They care more about piercings. For example, where I work now, men are not allowed to wear earrings. My co-worker, Eddy has to take his nose ring out before coming into work. I think I'm getting away with mine because I'm a woman.
I mean, I feel like people need to run their businesses, they need to control how their business is perceived, they need to have their marketing, and employees to whom the customer can relate. Like it or not, it's a capitalist society, and people can shape their businesses how they want. And if somebody doesn't want visible tattoos and piercings, then, they have that right. Not every person is for every job and I'm ok with the fact I've made choices that exclude me from certain jobs. Like I'm pretty sure I won't get a job at Yankee Candle. I'm not really their demographic.

D: Any tattoos that you regret? I mean either because the meaning or significance has passed or the tattoo was poorly executed?

B: No. I mean some of the stuff on my lower legs is not the best because it was done by friends who were learning. Which is fine because I don't look at them, you know?


Trends

D: It seems tattoos are becoming more prevalent. Tattoo shops are popping up like Dunkin' Donuts. Any thoughts?

B: I feel like somewhere around the early to mid 2000's, the tattoo thing started snowballing. There were very few tattoo parlors up through the late 90's. When our tattoo artist friends got licensed in the 90's, the license numbers, which are sequential, were still in double digits. Now there's a ton of them. Lee (Betty's husband) and I used to be aware of pretty much all the shops in the state. Now we can't even keep up. For a while, at the end of the 90's the beginning of the 2000's, I was one of the more heavily tattoo'd women in Providence. And now, you know...

D: You've lost your title?

B: I don't have tattoos on my face, I can't hold a candle anymore.

D: Do you think this current tattoo trend is a passing fad or here to stay?

B: I noticed when the rock-a-billy thing hit, tattoos started getting more common. Then there started to be themes and trends. For example, dark solids, not a lot of negative space, like the tribal or Celtic designs were common a while back. Now there's a lot more piece meal stuff. Instead of being one tattoo from shoulder to wrist, it'll be a bunch of smaller ones. Text has gotten huge. You know, the sayings, phrases, or quotes. Also behind the ear thing is really big.

D: Is there any place you wouldn't get a tattoo?

B: Pain wise, square in the center of my palm, that spot was horrible. It got less bad as the tattoo went out towards the edges, but it was one of the more painful spots. For social reasons, I think my face is off limits.

D: Do you have a favorite? Or would that be like picking which one of your children you like better?

B: Kind of. I really like the Hoover Dam tattoo on my arm. And I have some pieces on my leg that I like a lot. I have a very well done five cent mug of beer. I like the "No." on my palm. It's my favorite sentence. Oh, and I like my hinges a lot.


Hinges: tattoo as talisman

Tattoos have often been used as talismen to protect against bad events. For example, sailors would have the north star or a compass rose tattoo'd to "guide" them home. Or tattoos of hinges would be done on the elbow on the belief that it would add strength to the joint. Prison inmates would have religious images tattoo'd to protect them while incarcerated. 
 
artist: Jen Guertin

D: Tell me about the hinges.

B: I like the elbow hinge prison tattoo idea. I thought it's a good tattoo to put on that space just in terms of how it fits and such. However, I wanted to make it pretty so I did some research on art nouveau and was intrigued by the idea that the hinges at one point in time were this beautiful. I mean, they're on the door, you don't see them, yet there's so much detail in them.

D: In something considered so insignificant?

B: Yeah.

D: The architect Mies van der Rohe said, "God is in the details."

B: Yes.


NUT ON RIGHT HAND: tattoo as memorial


D: Tell me about the nut on your right hand.

artist: Mike Brousseau
B: Lee's father was a machinist and had tools upon tools in his garage along with bins and containers and cans and jars of various size, nuts, bolts, washers, screws, nails, whatever. I mean, hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of hardware. He also had a weed-wacker which required a left-hand threaded nut because otherwise, when the motor spins, the housing would undo itself. However, when he needed another nut for his weed-wacker, he could not find a 9mm left-hand threaded nut. He would call the hardware stores and they would tell him that there was no such thing. Finally he found one, and since he went through such hell to get it, he was going to make sure he didn't lose it. So this nut was on a giant tag on his window sill in his kitchen and that's where it stayed for years. When he died, I took to wearing it on a necklace, but then I realized if I moved my head in a certain way and momentum carried the necklace, I was going to eventually chip my teeth. Then I carried it in my wallet and thought this isn't good either because I'm gonna lose it. So I had it tattoo'd on my hand, actual size and now the nut can live at home.

D: There's irony in that it's on your right hand.

B: I know! It doesn't make any sense. I had a reason for that and I don't remember what it was.


Hoover Dam: tattoo as homage


D: What's Hoover Dam all about?

B: I love the Hoover Dam.

D: Fond childhood memories of vacations there?

B: No.

D: Art-deco architecture?

B: Yes! In high school, I loved learning about the Hoover Dam; the architecture, the massive scale, the fact that it was a government project that was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, that it was designed to create jobs with everything that was going on at the time. And there was a lot of ingenuity that went into it. Like, concrete as it cures produces heat, and they had to figure out a way how to cool it down, and expedite that process. Just a lot of ingenuity, a lot of insane ingenuity. 


D: Are these wheat stalks or arrow tails?





 B: They are wheat stalks from a memorial plaque to the workers who died in construction. The plaque has the wheat stalks coming off and lightning coming down and it says, "They died to make the desert bloom." I have a book with some good pictures, one of which is this guy chiseling out some of the rock face. The workers would go down on these swing seats, down this rock face and periodically would fall to their death. I have the other quote from the plaque "The best safety device is a careful man." on my arm as well.
 
D: What's with Colossus here, was he part of the original design?

B: He's one of the "Winged Figures of the Republic"; two 30 foot tall bronze statues on either side of the memorial. He was one of my 'must have' components because the statues are gorgeous. And they're bronze so they've oxidized and they have that blueish color on them.




D: Who put the design together? Was this you and the artist working together? Did you sketch this out?

B: It was mostly him. I mean, I had a bunch of pictures from our trip there which I gave to him. I told him what my favorite elements were and what absolutely had to be in the tattoo and what I could pass on. Then he traced the size of my arm and put the design together. We changed a few things to make it fit properly, but otherwise, this is it. We had the tattoo end above the wrist bone for coverage purposes. I really like the idea of taking something I like very much and putting it into an aesthetically pleasing art form.

D: Between design, execution and then coloring, how long did that take?

B: A lot of time. The artist who did this was a guy who lived in Brooklyn and would come up to visit periodically. So I had to get it done during those visits he was up here.

D: So you picked a specific artist for this tattoo?

B: Yeah.

D: You felt like you couldn't trust a design that complex on just anyone.

B: Right. Every tattoo artist has a different skill set. There are people that like doing black and gray work, some people like doing color work. So you really have to pick the artist based on what you're getting done.
artist: Mike Drexler



"NO."


D: Is the "No." for your kids?

B: It's just my favorite sentence, and it's just for me. I think a lot of times, particularly when you're a young lady in the world, people expect you to extend yourself beyond what you're capable of to meet needs of everyone. And you're just suppose to be dutiful and do it all. But this is to remind me to maintain firm boundaries. No. Don't overextend. Say, "No."

D: When did you get that? Was it before or after you had the kids?

B: After, definitely after the kids. I came home, and my eldest said to me, "I know what that spells."  This tattoo was actually something tacked on the end of a bigger tattoo I had done so the artist didn't wasting sterile materials on something little.

artist: Mike Lussier
 

Asian Characters: tattoo as rite of passage/group affiliation
In a lot of non-western cultures, tattoos have been used to mark rites of passage such as a girl achieving marrying age or a boy becoming a man and therefore a full member of the community. Examples of this can been seen among the people groups of the South Pacific. Tattoos have also been used to show affiliation with a group. For example, the Maori would tattoo their face with the design of their tribe or early Coptic Christians would tattoo a cross on their wrists to show their allegiance to the faith.

artist: Mike Lussier
D: Asian characters on your feet? Please tell me that you had those translated properly. You understand that as an Asian, I had to ask you that.

B: Yeah. I know. In Providence, there's a Japanese language and culture center. I went and I had them check all of my characters. The two on my feet say Love and Faith.

D: Why is that?

B: Well, I don't have Lee's name tattoo'd anywhere on me. You know, that whole superstition that once you have your partner's name tattoo'd on you, it's a jinx and the relationship is doomed? When Lee and I got married, our vows were the Quaker vows, which said we would be loving and faithful. So I had "Love" and "Faith" done on the tops of my feet, as a sort of indicator of our marriage vows. It's not his name, but it's something. I put the characters are on the tops of my feet on purpose since the feet are the foundation.
But I also have a hot dog tattoo. That's our husband/wife matchy deal.

Lee's tattoo (a whole 'nother story in and of itself)


Woman on the Shoulder: tattoo as homage
"Sailor Jerry" or Norman Collins was an American born Navy sailor and tattoo artist. He is considered by many to have popularized the ubiquitous sailor tattoo (anchors, women, classically styled scroll banners). He used what is called "flash": straight forward tattoos images designed to be chosen from an assortment of images which could also be reproduced with ease.

D: What's with the woman on your shoulder?

B: That is traditional Sailor Jerry flash. At one point, I worked with a guy named Don at a job that Lee's father got me. Don had a tattoo done by Sailor Jerry himself and occasionally, at work, he'd see me looking at it and be like, "You can touch it. Go ahead, you can touch it."

D: The whole lady in the rose and the hand shaking and the heart, that's all part of the one design?

B: Yes. I picked the elements that I liked. The pretty lady and a rose is just sort of the standard thing.

D: It wasn't just because you're in Rhode Island that you did the sea faring thing?

B: No. Maybe. I'm not sure. Anyway, there's also stars and dots is the background and then there's little anchor. Then somewhere is buried a little dollar sign. Underneath it all is a little flowery arm band that existed before.


artist: Paul Slifer



Japanese Motif: tattoo as adornment

Japanese tattoos traditionally used vibrant colors as well as using subject matter from nature (i.e. flowers, animals, fish). Unlike western cultures in which the tattoo is more of an emblem with minimal consideration given to location, Asian tattoos are designed with the location of the body and a general theme or story in mind. As a result, they also tend to be larger in scale. 
 
artist: Paul Silfer
B: This shoulder has my traditional Japanese art. It's just something I have an affinity for. It's very nice art. The tattoos are gorgeous, the body suits are gorgeous. I like Asian art in general. Like the wood block prints?

D: So this tattoo started simply with the idea that you wanted something Asian?

B: Yeah. Like the Sailor Jerry stuff, I picked the traditional elements that I liked, like the fish, the flowers and the water. The tattoo artist then put all the elements together for me. It's not quite done though. There's some more color work that needs to be done, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to it.

D: Why's that?

B: Well, it's an investment of time not only to have the work done, but then the recovery period where the arm would be sore. Between home and work, it's hard finding time nowadays.



Kitchener Stitch

The Kitchener stitch is a technique used in knitting to bind two unfinished ends into one seamless piece. While it's not a difficult stitch, it can be confusing to remember which part comes first.

artist: Mike Brusseau
D: I love the fact that you're such a devoted craft person that you had the Kitchener stitch done on your thumb.

B: I went back and forth as to... that's why the nut ended up on the right side! Because when I'm doing Kitchener stitch, I have to hold the piece in my left hand and then do the stitching with my right hand. I needed to have the reference on my left thumb so that it stayed still and I could look at it as I'm knitting. So then I didn't want to clutter up my left hand too much and that's why the left threaded nut had to go on the right hand!
But about the Kitchener; I would have to look it up every time I needed to finish a knitting piece. I was like, "Wait, is it, is it..." so I just put it on my thumb. I had my friend Mike Brousseau do the tattoo and he was like, "Wait, what? What is this?" I said, "Don't think about it. It doesn't need to make sense to you. It makes sense to me. Just slap it on there." And he did.

Your Next Tattoo

D: Now in keeping with the knitting theme, you said you're going to have a picture of Madame Defarge tattooed next. Any particular reason for Madame Defarge outside of the knitting thing? Are you really into Dickens? You have a thing for the French Revolution?

B: None of those. It's just that people generally consider knitting to be something nice, sweet little old grannies do. You know, it's the nice woman who's in a rocking chair on her porch, who always has lemonade for you. Madame Defarge was knitting the names of the people who were going to die.




That last comment of Betty's made me laugh. We have so many stereotypes of people; tattoo'd people are irresponsible, knitters are grannies on porches, etc., but I think the author Chimamanda Adichie hit the nail on the head when she said, “... the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
As I've gotten to know her, I've learned that Betty is a woman of many admirable qualities, skills and talents, and it's as if the many tattoo traditions represented on her illustrate that, and in turn, show that she is so much more than just one story.