Sunday, December 28, 2008


At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited…

--Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush”

My sister always seems to be prepared for anything, which would befit a girl whose childhood heroes were the resourceful Nancy Drew and any cartoon character who had the ability to crack a case. Need a story for any reason? Autumn’s got one. Have a blister and need a Band-Aid? My sister probably has one in her purse.

“With a mirror right inside the cap touch ups are a snap—anywhere,” reads the box of Autumn’s favorite lipstick. How fitting!

My sister found her Lola brand “lip crème” at a darling, darling store right next to the Metro station in South Pasadena. Puff Beauty Studio specializes in modern make-ups with an old time attitude, as illustrated by the sleek 1950s Barbie pictures on the shop’s walls.

The girls who work there are friendly and helped Autumn to the perfect orange tone to complement many of the clothes she wears. The color’s called “Pucker,” in case you were wondering.

I think my sister looks air-ready with her cute flight jacket. She could be a bird—light at the throat, dark wings and body, and a beak that’s a charming hue. Then, what’s she doing playing with that cat…?

Autumn suggested that we move this time’s photo shoot outdoors and under the peach tree that’s showing the effects of winter. “Wet and wildness” would have been my poetic assessment of the back garden’s current state, but my sister was ready with another more appropriate poem that includes this tree-image: “The tangled bine-stems scored the sky/ Like strings of broken lyres.” This Hardy poem is about a bird who expresses “Hope” at the prospect of a new year and era.

That’s my Autumn, always prepared.

Many thanks to the wonderful readers of My Sky-Blue Portfolio! See you in 2009!

Puff Beauty Studio
1005 Mission Street
South Pasadena, California 91030

Saturday, December 27, 2008

After Christmas anecdotal

We had a set of Christmas crackers this year, and someone, who shall remain nameless, had the good fortune of getting a little red dinosaur in his. I could have used that dinosaur. He would not trade—not for a moment—and joked to me, “They say the dinosaur is our common ancestor, and I’ll be keeping this one in the family.” I asked this person what he would be naming the figurine, and he replied, “I have to go to church for a proper name.”

From my cracker, I got a whistle (to use on the misbehaving kids at the library, of course), a stylish paper crown, and this joke:

Patty: Did you know that it takes three sheep to make one sweater?
Matty: No, I didn’t even know they could knit.

Also delightful this holiday was the Short Story Dog Contest with its 12 entries. You might read my contribution, “Bungalow Dog,” which I’ll admit isn’t really fashion-related, either. However it does include the line, “Molly was a model, and a fairly famous one at that.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Just look at Autumn's colorful striped legs, so free-spirited and happy... These are the stockings that I got my sister when I was away on vacation, that are still a joyful surprise whenever she wears them again: "Ha-ha-ha-hello, Autumn!" Now that the days look sunny but feel icy, what better way to capture the general temperament with one's choice of legwear?

These tights remind me of Pippi Longstocking, one of Astrid Lindgren's fanciful characters, and a childhood favorite. I remember being especially impressed by the way that Miss Longstocking rolls- and cuts-out her gingerbread cookie dough--on the wood floor of the kitchen of Villa Villa Cola, no less! I would have been thrilled to get one of her giant Mr. Nielson monkey cookies as a Christmas gift!

But, a book closer to my heart by this same Swedish storyteller, The Children of Noisy Village, depicts a more everyday sort of story with more everyday sorts of children. "Noisy Village" comes from the fact that there three houses close together, each with children. At this moment I must admit to feeling somewhat like the nine-year-old main character, named Lisa, when she says:
The night before Christmas Eve I felt sad because I didn't think that Mommy and Agda could ever get everything ready for Christmas. It looked so messy all over the house and especially in the kitchen. I cried a little after I had gone to bed.

(Real truth: Even as a child, I thought that, if this Lisa-girl was so concerned, she should get out of bed and help her poor mother!)

What I enjoyed most about the children of "Noisy Village" is that they seemed always to be making things, and not just the woven paper heart baskets that Swedish people have as Christmas decorations. All their own, these children have stories, songs, poems, games, mischief, plans, and celebrations.

Happy holidays, everybody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Scarves are the accessory of choice this time of year, the cold wind and weather necessitating a little extra warmth, and what better way to add some color and texture around the face? Some people look cheerier in scarves, and others, with the lengths of knitted or woven fabric draped around the neck and shoulders just so, have the gift of appearing poet-like...

You can do your local library (and yourself!) a favor by trying-out a title of poetry. You might find a favorite. Too many really excellent poetry books never get checked-out, leaving librarians to wonder: "Should I withdraw this book from the collection?"

Can you believe it, the delightful poem below comes from such a never-been-borrowed library book?

Dance Steps
by Susan Kinsolving

When the world grew desperate enough, eccentric
solutions were attempted. The President started
xylophone lessons. Daily readings from Pushkin
and the I Ching opened Parliament. Every military
installation in Africa was required to maintain

a large aquarium. On alternate days, the Kremlin
became an infant day-care facility. Every Japanese
citizen wrote weekly to a Central American pen pal.
The Pope toured China and Australia to present Charlie
Chaplin film clips and vegetable gardening tips.

Of course, there was protest and cynicism, yet
undeniably things had changed. Newspapers reported
the details of foreign dreams. Summit meetings began
by swimming laps. Ancient Greek became the official
language of Mexico and Argentina. In Bombay, a luau

was given honoring Eskimos and televised by satellite
to Saudi Arabia. Exactly what resulted from all
these efforts was indeterminate; however, international
opinion favored further whims. Trees took on new stature.
Animals were consulted. Children held office. Romantic

love gained new respect. The gold standard broadened
to include well water, new jokes, and flower arranging.
Subsequently, values changed. Authority and innocence
merged. And it went on this way for a long time because
everyone wanted a better story with a happier ending.

And it went on this way for a long time because everyone wanted a better story with a happier ending. Albert Einstein knew that one must do something different in order to expect different results, which this poem illustrates with boisterous creativity. In this way, Autumn's multicolored boucle yarn scarf is a spirited break from the winter norm of "understatement."

Friday, November 28, 2008


There are people with you
Living in your houses
People from your childhood
Remember how you were...

You were always flying

--Judy Collins, "Houses"

Once upon a time, in a house that had a garden where a very large avocado tree grew, lived four sisters, Aubrey, Ashley, Amber, and Autumn. These young girls also had a much-adored baby brother, named James, but that's another story and shall be told another time.

Aubrey was the eldest, a bright girl with ready answers. Then came Ashley, who wanted to be an artist when she grew-up and meanwhile frustrated her mother by peeling bits of wallpaper off a wall in the living room for "art supplies." Amber was full of creativity and mischief, and in the mornings, she encouraged her sisters to tumble out of the bedroom window, still in their nightgowns, to dance in the garden for the new day. And then, there was Autumn, the "slightly smaller, more irritable fairy."

The expression originally comes from the autobiographical work by children's book illustrator Trina Schart Hyman; Self-Portrait tells of two imaginary fairies that the artist, as a girl, shared with her younger sister. And, it's interesting that we sisters remember this portion of the book somewhat differently than it appears and that both Amber and Autumn vie for the endearment of being called the "slightly smaller, more irritable fairy."

One day in the fall, the four sisters' father and mother told them that they would be going away on a long trip to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. Then, their father said, "You may each bring only one bag."

"What will we do?" the girls exclaimed.

"Don't worry," said their mother, "we will manage."

So, in child-sized knapsacks went sweaters knit in purple fair isle designs, red- and white-striped tights, red wool sweaters with white reindeer patterns, a gray "drop waist" dress with a white collar for Ashley, a red corduroy jumpsuit for Autumn, and other basic items. Clothes managed, the sisters were prepared to have a wonderful time.

Remember when I was telling you about "optimistic fashion?" I realized that I didn't really define it and decided that it's looking your best because you're sure that, just around the corner, exciting things will happen. And, exciting things did happen!

Then, they were in Sweden, and their mother told them that they were to ride a ferry. The sisters thought that she meant "fairy" (they believed any sort of enchantment from this land across the sea) and onlookers couldn't help but be amused by the children's confusion.

But, as you can tell from the picture, the sisters enjoyed the ride, nevertheless.

"When are we going to see the fairy?"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oh, Alhambra!

It was on a recent Friday off from the library that I ventured to the little city of Alhambra to visit the Trina Turk Outlet Store, which also doubles as the company's design and production headquarters.

Trina Turk's website will tell you that the store's location is fittingly "minutes from Downtown Los Angeles," but I have my own reasons for waxing poetic about this San Gabriel Valley town: you see, my mother grew-up in Alhambra, and it was there that she was well-taught the art of garment-making in Ms. Kaboda's Home Economics class. (Alhambra is turning-out to be the fashion capitol that you never knew.) Furthermore, it's fantastic that Trina Turk chooses to fabricate her designs here, rather than outsourcing the work overseas.

The Trina Turk Outlet Store is located in the industrial area of Alhambra, so you can't tell much from the building's boxy gray exterior. But, once inside, a showroom displaying colorful and coordinated clothes greets you. There also are some distinctive accessory pieces--chunky wood bracelets and a newsboy cap in Dutch blue cotton, when I was there--which caught my eye.

Adjacent to the showroom is an area of racks full of clothes offered at even more reasonable prices. It's a very authentic experience, and men aren't allowed in this section for the women customers trying on different things. And, if you peer over a movable wall partitioning this section of the warehouse from the rest, you can see workers cutting dress pieces from fabric.

If you like the optimistic Los Angeles style of Trina Turk, you really should go.

Trina Turk Outlet Store
3025 West Mission Road
Alhambra, California 91803
(Entrance and parking in the back)

626-548-7768 ext. 25

Open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, noon to 6 p.m.
Also open the second Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

That Girl

(Picture from Trina Turk Online)

There are quite a few reasons to love this picture of Southern California native fashion designer, Trina Turk, not the least of which are her great light straw sun hat and orange-toned accessory accents, adding fun personality to her otherwise all-white ensemble. Trina Turk is carefree and stylish--at the same time!

Autumn will tell you, from her experience with the khaki-colored shift and other Trina Turk dresses, that these items are admirably well-made. The dresses are never bulky because they are tailored just so, and they feature the very nice detail of linings with lace at the hemlines. It's not really a surprise that Trina Turk likes thrift store shopping, because "you can learn a lot about how quality things are made." Many terrific seamstresses and dressers came out of the 1960s, and Trina Turk cites Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas as a couple of her early style influences.

Never heard of Marlo Thomas, the Marlo Thomas of the late-1960s television show "That Girl?" She looked somewhat like the young woman in the hat. Trina Turk's clothes have been described as "optimistic fashion," and on the show, Marlo Thomas wore cute outfit after cute outfit. And, she never walked--always ran--which could epitomize an optimistic person, always eager for what comes next.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

--e. e. cummings, "i carry your heart with me"

I miss UCLA, but I think that I spend more time talking about missing UCLA than I actually spend missing the place. Besides, I make as many visits back as possible. My friend Kuan was in town this past week, just returned from being abroad in Japan for a year. And, partly because he studied art, we decided to attend an artist lecture at the Hammer Museum.

Artist Amy Sillman spoke about her working process for abstract painting. Often, she sketches people from life, then putting the drawings away to work from memory. After several generations of drawings and paintings, the finished works are about form and color. The "people" seem architectural--very similar to buildings, in fact--and there may be only one or two of the original defining details. For instance, a woman's uniquely-shaped eye may remain, and its lasting existence creates prominent importance.

After the lecture, Kuan and I went for a dinner of Japanese food at a restaurant on Sawtelle Boulevard, one of Los Angeles' "Japanese districts." Many UCLA students would tell you that the location of the campus, near many L.A. cultural spots, lends to its specialness. Not long ago, I was again in the UCLA area, to see a Japanese film made in 1965 called "Kwaidan." Besides being delighted with the film's use of Japanese folklore stories and backgrounds with skies that appear to be painted by hand in striking colors, I was impressed with the unique theater on Fairfax Avenue. "The Cinefamily" also shows silent movies, but you don't have to be a film follower to enjoy this theater's cozy clubhouse feeling.

These pictures of my sister were taken during yet another visit back to the university, at a couple of the great brick buildings on campus. Noticing the outfit's contemporary art appeal, we also took our camera to the sculpture garden. One of the pictures that did not make it into this post is when I told Autumn to stand in front of the "praying mantis." Although the sculpture that I was referring to is not necessarily representative of that type of insect, Autumn knew which one I meant, which shows that she and I think alike.

Autumn's dress is by half-Japanese-descent designer, Trina Turk, whose website aptly describes her fashions:
Inspired by the multicultural mix, architecture, and landscape of Los Angeles and California, The Trina Turk Collection is full of the Season’s most casually sophisticated and 'must have' silhouettes. Trina’s philosophy is to create wearable, optimistic fashion that incorporates the best aspects of classic American sportswear.
To me, Autumn's clothes' modern design makes my sister's dark eyes and brows seem even more distinct.

One last anecdote: Autumn asked my brother lately, "Do you think that my arm muscles are getting bigger?" as she gave a demonstration flex. "Why?" I interjected, somewhat confused. Autumn explained that she's been carrying two heavy school bags across the length and breadth of the hilly Westwood campus.

UCLA students only get stronger, it seems.

Friday, October 31, 2008

You're ducky.

One of my favorite parts of the "Sweet Land" movie is when Olaf's friend, called Frandsen, turns around in the horse-drawn buggy to look at the pretty, fresh-faced Inge in the back seat and says: "You're ducky." Frandsen tells Inge that "ducky" means "good."

As a young child, I drew a lot of ducks, as well as chickens. They were fanciful birds, the boys wearing top hats and the girls eyelashes. (Children, indeed, have their own sense of fashion.) "Ducky lips," made by positioning one's mouth just so, had a certain attractiveness, and my two-year-old self liked to wear a plush duckling secured onto my head with a satin ribbon that was tied in a bow under my chin. Chickens also made very good hats.

I am glad that Vogue agrees.

In my heart

It has been suggested that I romanticize farm life, which may be so. But, I am not so unrealistic to yearn to live and work on a farm for always. I would miss my favorite cities. Luckily, I can make myself content with farmers' markets and works depicting rustic locales.

Lately, my sister and I have re-visited a favorite story of ours, taking place in post-World War I farming Minnesota. "Sweet Land" is a lovely film based on the short story "A Gravestone Made of Wheat" by present-day American author Will Weaver and features a proverbial "Norwegian bachelor farmer." Olaf would like to marry Inge who has good recommendations from his parents in the old country. However, Inge is originally from Germany, and the town's anti-German sentiment left over from the war thwarts Olaf and Inge's marrying.

If you like authors such as Willa Cather and Edna Ferber, you will like this farm story. As frustrating as the young couple's predicament is, the story has a delicate sensitivity and is gently funny at moments. And, the photography of the film is luminous! The story made me consider again "What does it mean to be American?" For me, there are few things more American than the pure and orderly life that I believe is on a farm, and "A Gravestone Made of Wheat" lends to my idealization:
For [Olaf] realized there was, after all, a certain order to the events and times of his life: all things he had worked for and loved were now nearly present.

Using the "Sweet Land" story as inspiration, Autumn dresses in cranberry-colored wool. I love the wheat-colored threads running through the tweed fabric of the straight dress that Autumn smartly makes to be a sort of jumper by wearing a top underneath. The proportions of this outfit are just right, as the skirt is short--but not too short--and Autumn's shirt has elbow-length sleeves.

No sunglasses atop Autumn's head? No, not for these serious clothes. Autumn uses a headband to keep her hair orderly. Notice the two brass button detail at the front of Autumn's dress that works well with the tailored-looking backpack purse.

The October 2008 Vogue seems to admire farm life, too. Look at these pictures, taken in a pastoral setting, of model Isabeli Fontana with her son and brother.

Coming-up at my library, we're having a local author speak, who writes about farming history, and to help get the word out, I am having a table at the nearby farmers' market this weekend.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Game rules

The days are still sunny in Southern California, and just in case you should go to the Pasadena Rose Bowl some Saturday, you should know that my sister is a UCLA football game-go-er. Say "hello" like the friendly Bruin you are!

Autumn's studied. She knows the rules of the game. Observe:

1. Wear your team's colors: the side logo of Autumn's UCLA t-shirt is very "design-y," I think, and she's wearing her trademark top-of-the-head sunglasses, certainly gold-colored.
2. Take care against the bright sun of the stadium: Autumn's sunglasses are essential, as are her UCLA visor and the sunscreen that she's slathered all over.
3. But, a soft frozen lemonade can be pleasant.
4. Cheer for your team loud and long because your day will be ruined if the Bruins lose: Autumn makes good use of her blue and gold pom-poms.

5. The "Eight Clap" can help re-energize any situation. Also, Autumn enjoys playing the games presented on the big screens of the stadium.
6. Take a walk around the stadium to make sure that the place that you were standing has the best possible view of the field.
7. Say "hello" to all of your friends also at the game: Autumn knows that it's best not to say anything about the essay due on Monday.
8. Make friends with the people cheering in front and in back of you. Work on your "chat-up lines," or the other team's incompetence is always a promising conversation topic.
9. Have your picture taken with "Joe Bruin," if you can.

10. After the Bruins win, consider the fun possibility of pizza in Pasadena.

Hooray! UCLA just won against Stanford, 23 to 20! The last ten seconds very exciting!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nuit blanche

Last week at the library, we had a showing of the Alfred Hitchcock film "To Catch a Thief," and since the story takes place in France, one of the other librarians brought croissants and jam to serve. "That's perfect, " I commented, "Today's also very Paris-like because of the weather." Hurray for my current "climat oceanique."

But, I always think of Paris in the fall and wish that I could go, go, go! When I was there a few years ago, there was a festival, called "Nuit Blanche," when everythng (museums, restaurants, hangouts, etc.) were open through the night and university students had roof parties. It was all very bright and fun.

Don't you love Autumn in her all-white dress? To me, it has Parisian fashion sense, a la Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, and Feist when she sings "One Night." But, these are Autumn's school clothes for fall. (Autumn broke the American rule about no white after Labor Day, and it's fine--what does it matter in California, anyway?) The outfit's debonair, and that girl Autumn stands out in a sea of typically black- and gray-clad students--as she would against the French storm clouds.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vintage clothes

Small prints have my heart. I'll admit to wearing a lot of one-toned items (tangerine and navy blue have underscored the past couple of months for me) and clothes with a graphic edge, but aren't things cuter in miniature? Miniature is like memory, more manageable and with the awkward parts minimized. We ate outdoors that day, and it was perfect, and you told me that story, and it was perfect...

Before a week or so ago, I didn't really pay attention to the albums of the Beatles after they stopped being Beatles. And, then, I decided to give Paul McCartney's fairly new album Memory Almost Full a go. It was at the library, and that's what libraries are for, for checking things out.

It wasn't bad, and one song "Vintage Clothes" made me think that it could be played during a catwalk:
Don't live in the past
Don't hold on to something that's
changing fast

What we are is what we are
And what we wear is vintage clothes

Vintage clothes
Vintage clothes

(You just have to hear Mr. McCartney sing "vintage clothes" again and again and as if in slow motion to know what I mean.)

Past-inspired clothes are very popular nowadays, whether they are genuinely vintage or not. This shirt of my sister's I didn't consider vintage until I saw another girl wearing the same top in a 1950s-timed film. Those designers of Anthropologie do consider the past quite a bit, and it's the little bird print that gives Autumn's blouse its other time appeal.

Everyone has her favorite, and this outfit of Autumn's is mine. The blouse is whimsical while still being suitable for the studious days of September. Furthermore, the sturdy linen and cotton mix fabric keeps Autumn cool on the days that are (mis)behaving summer-like. With or without the vest, this outfit is classic.

Classic clothes make people notice the person wearing them more.  

Saturday, September 6, 2008

For Lisa, too

Here's my apartment, upstairs edition; please allow me to show you around...

This here sunflower and yellow-themed painting is not, in fact, upstairs, but they are in the bathroom near the staircase. Undoubtedly, it's all very yellow-looking!

My apartment has some nice functional furniture, and a small wicker table that's in the upstairs bathroom is conveniently near the bathtub. It supports a basket full of bath time necessities.

My "study" is a real luxury, because I have a place for all my creative pursuits. Some more IKEA "wallpaper" sets the mood for this room, and the the red-orange color matches the geranium plant's blooms. The space is very inviting.

This dark set of shelves in my study is a showcase for my art; it's a place for me to display completed works, works in progress, and inspiration. I'm presently in an inspiration phase, and the items on the shelves are things that I enjoy. (Lisa, do you remember when we chose those "Mama-bear" and "Papa-bear" yellow and white spotted bowls? It was during a summer some years ago...) There's Oh My Baby, Little One with watercolor illustrations by Jane Dyer, a personal favorite, and an illustration of a girl and her cat, who appear to be floating in air, from a terrific art book, Three Trees Make a Forest.

Thank-you for visiting!

For Lisa

Darlings, please indulge my desire to show my cousin Lisa my new and newly decorated apartment. She did request to see pictures, and I have an opportunity to put them up on the blog while we're waiting for Autumn's fall fashions.

Welcome to apartment number 306. It's been a busy day at the library, and this convivial entryway set-up puts me at ease at once. I rather like the poster, from a French publishing company, which I got at Book Expo America that was in Los Angeles last spring. The illustration with the bunnies in bed reading often makes me think of the expression "as snug as a bug in a rug," and even though my place has no bugs, it's very cozy!

Soon after coming home, I put my purse and keys in a place where I will be able to find them easily when I need to leave again, and this clever cabinet (that came with the apartment!) is perfect for this purpose. It also has a place for my shoes below--just right for the girl on the go!

Don't you think that the "wallpaper" is stylish? It is, in fact, table paper for picnic tables, that was purchased at IKEA. You know, real paste-hung wallpaper is not allowed in apartments, so this paper posted with push pins is pretty okay! It's yellow, because yellow is one of my favorite colors, and I love the way that the graphic design seems to "pop" in front of my eyes!

Not everyone has a table and chair with a hand painted floral design that comes from the famous Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. And, upon adding another chair, I have a dining room set. The love seat is another rare find: it's more petite and softer than average. I would hate if we had to part ways, so the couch is getting reupholstered in the very near future. Meanwhile, a soft pillow and throw blanket keep it content.

Many thanks to my past roommate Leigh for the tall chair that you see here. This corner seems to be the place where I keep the things that need to be sent away. (The blue-bowed present is a wedding gift.) Luckily, there's a friendly lapin to watch over them.

Up next: photos from the second story!