Friday, February 25, 2011

What's Your Face Like Today?

In my last post, I wrote about Diana, Princess of Wales, and the exhibit of her gowns and mementos.

Through much of her royal career, Diana wore a mask -- the mask of happiness when she was profoundly sad; the mask of confidence when her world was shaken. Behind that beautiful face and seemingly self-assured presence was a young woman whose world was falling apart. But her mask was simply lovely.

I went to the most wonderful exhibit at the MSU Museum recently -- and I know I'll go back many times more to take in more detail. (It continues for the next year.)

The exhibit is of masks. They represent a number of cultures -- from pop culture...

... to ancient tribal masks from Africa and other countries.

They are monochromatic or colorful ...

... smooth and textured...

...frightening and whimsical.

Masks are used to conceal, to hide; to play with or protect.

The gas mask, for example, has been a staple of war for more than a century.

And really, don't we all wear masks now and then?

Good morning," we say when it's anything but, and we really don't care if the one to whom we say it has a good morning or not. (Perhaps the snipe in us hopes it isn't so good, in all truth.)

You've seen masks -- if you're a parent of a hockey or football player, you're darned glad these are protecting your athletes.

A friend and I were talking recently about the American funeral -- perhaps it is our best coping mechanism when deep in grief that we can smile at someone as graciously as welcoming them at a cocktail party and say, "It's so nice to see you; thank you for coming."

The tears will fall an hour or two later. It is the mask we show.

Whether one looks at masks as being works of art (they are), sociological tools for coping and hiding (they are) or anthropological pieces that help explain a culture (they are that, too), the fact is, we may all be more familiar with masks than we think.

They can transport us to evocative new worlds...

...or shelter us, emotionally, hiding disfigurement, whether physical or emotional.

Do you know what is behind the mask of those closest to you? Are they happy or sad? Really?

What mask are you wearing today?

(The comedy and tragedy masks above fit in nicely with the newest entry at Chopsticks and String -- a wonderful murder mystery by Nicola Upson, in which one of the lead characters is a fictionalized version of mystery writer Josephine Tey!)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I have always been an Anglophile. Long before I fell in love with Paris, I feel in love with all things English -- the history, the literature, the monarchy, the pomp, the countryside, the china, everything.

I have a large collection of books related to England and the Royal Family, along with postcards, souvenir china (my favorite being a mug to commemorate Edward VII's coronation, which of course never happened).

And while I am not following with great attention the upcoming William/Kate marriage, I pause and watch when it comes on television. It reminds me of the obsession of the world with Diana and her wedding to Prince Charles, then all that happened after.

I confess, I had all the books -- the last I bought was after she died. And I cut everything out of the paper I could.

Friends in England sent me memorabilia, newspapers, first day covers.

One friend gave me a needlepoint -- I can't find the book with a photo of the completed piece.

It was 22 stitches to the inch done with embroidery floss. I got fairly far, but never finished.

Someday perhaps I'll find a good seamstress who can turn the finished bits into tree ornaments.

But I digress. The point is, when the Diana dress exhibit came to Grand Rapids, I really wanted to see it.

So last week my friend Carol and I took off on a road trip. I wanted to share some observations.

First, if the exhibit comes to your city, and this is something that interests you, it's worth a visit. (Even if they don't allow photos inside -- these are all from the catalogue.)

It's not huge -- you can do it in a couple of hours; less if you don't stop like I did to read every sign or watch any of the video.

Second, it is more than dresses. In fact, to me, the dresses were the least interesting part -- and I'll have something more to say on that later.

What I found remarkable was not the jewels... though they were spectacular.

But instead, the personal memorabilia. It is called "Diana: A Celebration" and it truly reflects that -- rather than being named "Diana: The Dresses" (which is what gets the media attention.

For example, I was captivated by things like her grade-school report cards...

The letter she wrote to her father from boarding school, along with a portrait of her first childhood pet, a cat named Marmalade, which rests near her grave.

Her correspondence was included -- letters to benefactors and thank you notes.

I loved seeing the photos her father took of the decorations preceding the wedding...

...and her gift to him, a photo I had never seen of her in the carriage. It doesn't show as well in my photo-from-a-tiny-photo in the catalogue, but it is simply lovely.

The boxes used for cake as wedding favors are there, along with a Christmas card from Prince Charles with one of his paintings, sent prior to their engagement.

There were other things, too -- toys, photo albums, tap shoes. All things that told a life of a young woman who perhaps never dreamed that one day she would be known all over the world. It was truly fascinating.

I told you I'd talk about the dresses. A whole room is devoted to the wedding, with video, bridesmaid dresses and lots of photos, as well as the wedding dress with its long train. It was the biggest thing I thought I'd ever seen.

I remember watching the wedding and thinking she was such a little girl -- that dress dwarfed her. It wasn't till later, when I learned she was very tall that I realized they probably thought she could handle it. I never thought so -- and when you see it in person it is like wedding-cake-bridal-top-Cinderella gone amuck.

The tiara looked tarnished. The diamonds didn't seem to sparkle, the metal didn't shine. Perplexing.

The other items -- some of the "name" dresses (the Travolta dress, among others) weren't included. Not a disappointment for me -- they probably had been sold off. The ones that were there were a good representation of her style and they were shown with photos (of some), showing them in context.

The thing is, the lighting was terrible. And none of the dresses looked like the photos.

This one, above, for example. I've seen that photo in lots of books, even in the display, and the suit looked white. It was actually a quite a khaki color. Fairly dark.

Another dress -- the long one here that says pale blue -- looked downright gray.

Some of the pinks in the photos looked peach on the mannequins.

Now, I know she wasn't hanging those gowns on the line to dry in the sun. As I told Carol, I have clothes older than that that haven't faded; I can't imagine the gowns have.

So has every photo been color enhanced or was the lighting casting an odd shadow that wiped out the color palette?

A curiosity and I will never know the answer.

I have to say the workmanship and detail is probably all you would expect from major designers creating gowns and a "working wardrobe" for one of the most photographed women in the world. That in itself was fun to see.

When Diana was killed, I think it hit me more immediately than ever before to live life everyday as best you can. She was young, very fit, had bodyguards. Who would think she would die. It can happen to us all, at any time.

It was a lesson we all need to be reminded of. Seeing this exhibit only reinforced that -- we never know when it is our time to move on. Make the most of every moment.

(Speaking of England, the WWI mystery "No Graves As Yet" by Anne Perry is highlighted on Chopsticks and String, along with "Thrift Store Saints." Look for more over there soon!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Angel Gets His Wings

I think most of us have seen James Stewart's classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." Clarence, the "angel-in-training," shows George Bailey (Stewart) what would have happened to the people in his life if he didn't exist.

The thing is, George never thought of the things he did in his daily life as being anything special, as something that would change the lives of those around him.

Really, do any of us?

I'm sure you have all been in the situation when someone tells you -- perhaps years later -- that something you did really made a difference to them. It may have given them confidence when it was badly needed, or the courage to make a challenging decision. You may well have saved more than a life or two and not even know it.

I was thinking about this because I just finished a wonderful book -- I hope you'll click over to Chopsticks and String after reading this, because I share much more about it and it truly is a memorable book and one worth knowing about.

First-time author Jane Knuth from Portage, MI, recounts her experiences volunteering at a St. Vincent de Paul store in Kalamazoo. The book is funny, touching, beautiful, delightful and thought-provoking -- and if you read what I wrote on Chopsticks, perhaps you'll see why. (End plug -- but really, I hope you'll go over there and read that post! Now!)

When I donate things, I tend to do one of two drop-off options: the Goodwill store in Gaylord (because I figure otherwise they are just recycling the same clothes from the same small town) or the Lansing St. Vincent de Paul store.

A number of years ago, I had my trunk filled with clothing and thought I would stop by after my mammogram. But when I got in the car after the X-ray, my hand went into crippling pain and spasm. I could barely manage the steering wheel. I had no idea what I had done to "sprain" or hurt myself -- it was fine not long before.

Figuring it would go away, I made my stop at St. Vincent de Paul to drop my clothes.

A volunteer -- not unlike those Jane tells about in her book -- kindly helped me get the bags out of the car. As I thanked him I apologized for not being able to help and told him about my hand.

"My sister had something like that happen, and then she had a stroke," he said. "You really should have that checked out." (Angel encounter)

Scared me to death, but it gave me something to think about. I went through all the "stroke" exercises -- moving your tongue a certain way, saying the alphabet, smiling, touching finger to finger. I decided I probably wasn't having a stroke, but as long as I was concerned, and it was only four o'clock, I should cruise by my doc's office, just for sport.

I walked into the full waiting room and told the receptionist while I was there. She immediately put me in a room, where they took my blood pressure several times. It was outrageously high. Way outrageously high. I could tell they were scared; I wasn't sure why.

Well, several hours later and after the BP came down, I was sent home, on medication. I'm pleased to say I've been fine since.

The point is -- this guy, this volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, whose name I don't even know, may have saved my life. Maybe that's an overstatement, but it could go either way.

And he doesn't know. I don't really now how to find him -- it was long ago. Yet now and then I think of him with such gratitude.

Rachel Naomi Remen, another author (and medical doctor) whose work is a great favorite of mine, is a dazzling speaker who when appearing at East Lansing shared a story of one of those miracle encounters. She said a few words to a woman -- a stranger, as I recall -- on the streets of New York City. Years later she met the woman again. The words Remen had said had given the woman the courage to leave an abusive relationship and set up a shelter, I believe.

Over on Chopsticks, you'll meet an angel and if you read her book, she'll tell you about others. And who knows -- it wouldn't surprise me at all if you might be one, too.

We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.
~Luciano de Crescenzo

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two Things I Love

As most of you probably know, I work for a public television/radio station. And, if you follow the news, you may well have heard of Congressional action to completely eliminate federal funding for public broadcasting. They expect a vote this week.

What you may or may not know is that of those funding dollars, the vast majority goes directly to public television and radio stations, assisting them with their broadcasting operations and programming. Another portion goes to some national program producers who create content. Only a portion goes to PBS or NPR.

Regardless how you feel about public funding for public television, it is important to let your Congressional representatives know those feelings. We are told that the signing of petitions online is not nearly so effective as a phone call, email or fax. You can find more information on the website Time is of the essence; the vote is expected this week.

I think you know how I stand, but what matters is how you feel. Please let them know. And thank so much.

Superheroes. In recent days, we've seen how everyday people can be superheroes, just by caring enough and expressing their opinion to the right people, making their thoughts known.

Please, let your voice be heard.
Someone asked me how my Valentine's poetry book for Rick was coming along. I do this every year -- a book that includes poems related to events in our year. I've done everything from pop-up books to envelope books to scrap books.

This year I copped out. I discovered Shutterfly.

I wrote my poems, used the easy program and lots of wonderful photos and was thrilled with the result. When I arrived, I just grinned!

Lots of the photos of the year in wonderful quality on beautiful paper. (I have done these books before and I know there are a lot of similar services. Since I switched to digital, most of my photos stayed on the computer. This gets them out where I can see them. Now I do a year book each year, and sometimes special books for certain occasions. If you haven't tried it, do -- they always have sales and coupons!)

Well, after that, I felt guilty -- after all, he has this collection of unique handmade books. This seemed so -- commercial.

So, I did another, with the poems, simply bound. I didn't take pix of the inside, but basically, I just used red ribbons affixed with the Xyron sticker maker adhesive on each page for color to highlight the poems.

I have to say, Rick gives as good as he gets! He made an amazing dinner -- the best pork I had ever had with roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts and fabulous wine. I made chocolate cookie-peppermint stick ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

And he gave me the wonderful Stephen Sondheim book of lyrics and stories. Sondheim is a favorite and I loved it!

Rick and public broadcasting. Two things I love.

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