Friday, May 22, 2015

Adding purple to a purple garden to make it more purple

Zombie Liz 2
Before the advent of modern chemistry, purple dye was scarce, and therefore expensive.  It was considered to be the color of royalty because only the royals could afford it.  Or so says Wiki.  The truth is that purple clothing makes most people look like one of the undead, but the Windsors (former surname Hauptberg-Sax-Konenbergfahrter) use it as camouflage because they actually are zombies.  Everyone knows this, but most are afraid to write about it in a blog.  Lucky for you I'm so darned brave.  

Could not visit Red Lobster until 1958.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the dye used to make purple was extracted by pressing millions of otter penis bones between the weighted pages of obscene literature.  As a result, clothing made of this fabric tended to enlarge and stiffen when in the presence of fish - which, as any bishop of that time would be happy to tell you, could make things awkward.  Those ecclesiastical turmoils are now the subject of ribald tales and nothing more.

All very fascinating, as color history goes.  But I have a problem with the color purple.  The problem is specific to my garden.  As in, why is it the only color out there?  At the present moment the beds are a riot of lavender, magenta, puce (a combination of "puke" and "mucous"), violet, blackberry, and grape.  Nothing blooms now if it isn't a shade of purple.

Turkey seen out front.  
Let me backtrack a bit.  We never planted for color.  Our goal over the years has always been to have the most bee- and bird-friendly plants which are reasonably native (thankfully, everything is native somewhere), noninvasive (that ship sailed with the oregano and garlic chives) and, above all, not tasty to deer or other wildlife. That latter characteristic is essential, as we are awash in groundhogs, raccoons, the aforementioned deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and at least two kinds of squirrels.  We also are visited by the occasional fox and coyote, and a few weeks ago I saw a turkey.  I have never heard of a garden being raided a turkey, but the thing was massive and intimidating, and I'm sure it was up to no good.  

(When you choose certain characteristics in plants or animals, you necessarily leave others to chance.  Check the hardiness of the hybrid rose or the intelligence of a Pekingese dog to verify this.)  

So, without going all tree-huggy granola on you, dear reader, the truth is that we ended up with purple plants because nothing eats them.  And it works in
"What's all this purple stuff?"
that regard.  I've seen bunnies munching along the lawn who hop into our garden beds and find nothing edible.  The hop right through.  Likewise, that Scourge of Dandelion Flowers known as the groundhog finds nothing worthwhile in our garden. In the fiercest winter (of which we just had one), deer eat everything, including fir branches and the razor-sharp leaves of the yucca plants - not planted by us! - that line the pond.  But they never enter

our completely unfenced garden.  

Which garden, as I write this, is a spectacular homage to the color purple.   

I attach photos of today's garden in the text and below, so you can see for yourself.  I wouldn't make this up.  

It's an intriguing fact that some of these plants began life as cultivars of an
A salvia
entirely different color.  They are contractually obligated to be the color on the plant label only in their first year.  In successive years they color themselves at will, which I've found means either a white or a purple flower.  Sometimes it's white one year, purple the next. Plants apparently have a limited imagination, although they are very playful when choosing where to grow next.  

Due to the voracious tendencies of some of our inhabitants, we've had to rely heavily on the onion family.  They smell bad to browsers, but butterflies and flying insects love their flowers.  We have many types of chives and alliums.  We also have several varieties of purple salvia, oregano and basil. The specialist hybrid irises we bought years ago in shades of pink, yellow and white are now all deep purple, and they seem much less constrained in that color, spreading themselves far and wide.  

Regular chives, not garlic.
A note on garlic chives:  They are as invasive as a Mongol horde on steroids, and they colonize both from their tubers and from seed.  In past years we've dug them up and planted them far and wide on the property. This year we gave up and we're now throwing them away.  I hate to discard a living thing, but these little dudes will not quit.  Even though they have lovely white flowers (a small blessing), they WILL take over.   If you decide to plant a garlic chive, do yourself a favor and put it in a pot. It will hate the pot, but you will save yourself all kinds of grief.  

So we have plants in all colors of purple: lilac (actual lilacs and the color in other plants), periwinkle, mauve, plum, amethyst, heliotrope (just the color, we're too far north for this), orchid and amaranthine. The garden is green stalks and purple flowers, as far as the eye can see.  This iris at right has a lovely yellow stripe, but I'm pretty sure next year it will be solid purple.  That's what plants do in our garden.

And I don't do myself any favors.  I decided to break with tradition this year and get some of the ultra-
Wave petunia plotting
world domination
hybrid Wave Petunias, which I understand colonize like 
like crazy (but since they're annuals, who cares?) and which are probably produced in the worst GMO cloning facilities in an extraterrestrial space station orbiting some iron meteor near Jupiter where no one even dreams about minimum wage.  Or by Monsanto, same difference.  And, knowing what I know about my own garden, what color did I pick?  Purple.  Not just one but two shades.  Maybe it's the color I really want.

Maybe I'm royalty?

Wave petunia in Toxic Neon Purple, a color
never found in nature.  We'll be watching
it closely.  
A spiky type of salvia which I do not remember buying.  

This year I had the bright idea to plant over a hundred yellowy orange marigolds as an antidote to the purple.  Unfortunately I've now realized that the purple and yellow-orange are nearly opposite each other on the color wheel, which means they'll make each other more vivid.  When the marigolds take off it's going to be glaring out there.  

For now, I believe I'll work on accepting the color purple.  I really should, because it's all I see when I look out the window.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Wacky World O' Vintage Stuff

Here are some of my favorite odd items.  A couple of these are available in our Fiona Dorothy shop on Etsy (link at top left of this page).

The stupidly named Fat-O-Meter.  This looks like a plastic adjustable wrench, because it is.  Did armies of women order this and spend lonely afternoons pinching themselves and feeling huge?  The truth is, if you actually are fat you probably have no folds.  None that these tiny pincers would fit around, anyway.  I like question #1 the best.  The awkward grammar tickles me.  Maybe people back then weren't smart enough to realize that fat people will live longer when the famine hits.

I don't know why this product seems funny to me, but it sure does.  Maybe it's the elation on the man's face.  He's finally found the right tank ball! I certainly like the idea that companies making tank balls were competing and had marketing campaigns to ensure that their tank balls did better than the competition.  And in the end it was just a tank ball.  "Best by Test" is also quite evocative.  What did those tests entail, and did actual scientists collate the results?  Why does it fit only "popular size valves?"  What are the unpopular valves supposed to do?

Available in the Fiona Dorothy shop.
Slinky Eyes, also called Googly Eyes.  The company that made the fabulously successful Slinky toy just couldn't stop.  There were Slinky Animals, and I seem to remember a Junior Slinky, for those who loved Slinky but just needed a smaller one.  Then some genius decided that kids would find it a real hoot to wear glasses that had metal eyeballs attached to small Slinkies.  I'm old enough to remember when these came out, and I promise you these were never very popular.  Loser kids wore them when trying to seem funny.  No, they weren't cool then. But they are now.

I could discuss this ad for a very long time.  There are so many things wrong with the ad itself and with the product.  And the thing is, there always were.  Classy women never wore this kind of thing.  This is a Beach Blanket Bingo type outfit, worn by teenaged girls who had absolutely no body fat and never had to pee.  According to "Rivera Originals" (company headquarters nowhere near the Riviera, and nothing original about this product) this jumpsuit is exciting and versatile.  You can wear it for house cleaning (number one choice), shopping or gardening.  No doubt women put on dresses and high heels to cook, which was the other thing they did in those days.  This torture "jump-in," which no one ever jumped into, was available in "gala plaid," a fun, happy pattern that came in several colors, all of which spelled "trailer park trash."  It's hard to imagine this little number in a sleeveless version, but it sure did come that way.  And the saddest part?  Apparently it once sold for a whopping $5.98.  Thank God there's a money back guarantee.

When I first saw this I thought "so falcons do go flat after all."  But this is no joking matter.  What if your kestral has a blow-out at 80 miles an hour?  You're going to have to take care of it yourself, and this is the kit for you.

Turns out this is just a vinyl patch kit in a fancy colored box.  Obviously, at one time, there were enough "vinyl plastic inflatables" (bicycle innertubes, pool toys, sex dolls) to support this home repair product.  Although the graphics here are stunning and very patriotic, I'm pretty sure what's inside the box smells like old, rotten rubber.

Available in our Fiona Dorothy shop.
The Kord-A-Way.  This is an intriguing case of inventing a product to fix something that isn't broken.  I spent hours as a child in the same room where my mother did the ironing, and I never heard her complain about the iron cord twisting or getting in the way.  This advertises itself as a "blind-made product," which - then as now - was a pathetic attempt to increase sales.  I personally don't want blind people around irons or ironing products, but that was then.  Several hilarious claims are made by this product, chiefly that it "makes ironing almost automatic."  Yeah, except for the heat, the heavy iron, the damp clothes and all the work involved, it's almost automatic.  It's clearly marketed to the ladies, because a man would never.  He just wouldn't.

Some of the most extreme sex-based marketing involves one of my all-time faves, the Erector set.  I'm a fool for vintage Erector sets.  I have a huge collection.  I love the little yellow and red Erector houses.  I use the standardized small bolts in my artwork.  A lot.  I love the sprocket-like gears, the old motors, the tiny Erector tools. I adore the way the old, rusty metal smells.  And I've loved it since I was a small girl.  So imagine my feelings when I see the amazing Erector instruction manuals, most of which have illustrations like these. Yes, BOYS should get this.  But only boys.  It doesn't seem to have occured to anyone at all that girls might like to put things together and take them apart.  In their blind sexism, the Gilbert Company, master marketers
that they were, failed to find the huge market of children born without a penis.  Girls who wanted these things had to wade through mountains of sexist promotions to get our chemistry sets, our racetracks, our strap-on six shooter pistol sets (I had to get the double set because I was left-handed, and no one made a left-handed toy gunbelt - I was doubly discriminated against!), and our Junior Carpenter tool sets.  I remember being confused by the implication that I wasn't supposed to want these things.  But by damn I got them!  And I have them today.  So boys, I hope you had a lot of fun.  I know I did.  Do.

Available in our Fiona Dorothy shop.  
The scintillating Universal Stewardess travel iron.  Who is this "universal stewardess," and what does she need to iron?  When you think stewardess, do you think ironing? No?  If she's universal, why does the iron only work on AC? This is not the lightest thing on the planet, leading me to believe Flight Attendant Jan will be paying some overage charges on her next trip to Burma.  I suspect the manufacturers tied this molten lump of metal to the exciting world of the airline flight attendant (radiation poisoning, long shifts, low pay) in a failed attempt to make the iron more attractive.  Its excellent condition after so many decades indicates their marketing ploy didn't work.

This ends today's tour through the absurd land of vintage ads.  I'm sure we'll be back soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Well Do You Know Fiona Dorothy?

Our Etsy vintage and supply shop, Fiona Dorothy, is overseen by Fiona Dorothy herself.  Her unique paws-on approach ensures the highest quality customer service from order to fulfillment.  Nothing gets by Fiona Dorothy.  And yet she's a cat, so she communicates through facial expression and body language. How well would you understand Fiona Dorothy if you worked here?


1   a.  Did you answer those convos?
     b.  Hey, are you taking a break?  I don't think so.  
     c.  Did I hear the phone ring?
     d.  It's time for my nap.


2.  a.  What's that on the top shelf? 
     b.  Is there room here for all our new inventory?
     c.  Lower that price.
     d.  Lunchtime!


3.  a.  That sale went well.  
     b.  I'm pleased with your photographs.  
     c.  Have you worked on our listings today?  
     d.  I need a nap.


4.  a.  How are we doing on Google?
     b.  Reorganize those items.
     c.  Stop talking and work.
     d.  Look at my tummy!


5.  a.  You've all done pretty well today.
     b.  When I open my eyes, you'd better be dusting.
     c.  Make me a sales chart.  
     d.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Scoring:  No points at all for a, b or c answers. The correct answer is always d.  There would be more options if Fiona had more than four toes.  

FIRST PRIZE:  Free visit to FionaDorothy 
SECOND PRIZE:  Two free visits to FionaDorothy
THIRD PRIZE:  You get the idea.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Sunbeam Silencer

Listing things for sale on Etsy has shown me exactly what I will and won't part with.  I've been making things for several years.  It's only when push comes to shove that I discover what I'm not willing to list.

One favorite is The Sunbeam Silencer.  This was a project that kept me going almost without sleep for over a month.  It was the first thing I thought of when I awoke, and the last thing I worked on in my head at night.  In between, I constructed it.  And deconstructed it.  Then made it again.  

Comrade Nick aims the Sunbeam Silencer
The Silencer started with a vintage Sunbeam hedge trimmer.  As soon as I saw it in the online auction, I knew I had to have it.  An idea for a steampunk gun had been germinating for a while at that point.  The hedge trimmer would be the base of it.

If I'd had any idea how difficult - and dangerous - it can be to take old tools apart, I might have thought twice.  The bolts were frozen in place.  The interior was loaded with black grease that resembled toxic primordial goo.  One good thing about vintage tools is that they actually were made to be disassembled for repair, unlike modern tools.  So there is usually a way to get them apart.  And if there is a way, I will find it.  

The Sunbeam Silencer on its stand.  The original handle
can be seen hanging from the bottom.  Most of the
base of the lower part of the Silencer is the original
hedge trimmer.  
Planning and contemplation are always a large part of assemblage projects, but this project was about 99% planning.  And unplanning.  There are limitations to what I can do when I don't use solder.  With the exception of the electric drill, all my tools are hand tools.  I do have a lot of epoxies and other glues in my arsenal, and I have a huge collection of screws and bolts.  Also, at the end of the day the Silencer had to make sense.  It had to appear to be usable.  Its parts all needed to contribute to the whole.  The last thing I wanted to end up with was some silly toy gun.  No one was going to react with "Oh, how cute!"  This dude needed to look dangerous.  

Throughout the construction I paused and held up the Silencer as if I were aiming it.  If it didn't feel right, something was wrong, and I reworked it.  Anyone who has ever become absorbed in a project will understand my absolute fixation.  I even dreamed about the Silencer.  Since I try to be all about balance, at times my absorption scared me.  But I went with it.
The handle end.

Pictured at right is the handle end of the Silencer.  You can see the white rotating mirror, perhaps used for distraction or refraction.  Not sure what the crystal jar is for (spices?), but it fits and it looks right.  Of course I managed to get a vacuum tube into the mix.  The metal housing that joins the vacuum tube to the Silencer body is a random piece of hardware that works.  I wrapped the handle with red velvet from an antique record player case, linen ribbon, and a length of vintage leather-studded dog collar.  The handle needed to be decorative but still usable.  

Another shot of the front, showing the rotating mirror, and the Sunbeam Silencer promise, "Ends the Noise."
The upper assembly of the Silencer was the most problematic.  It was very challenging to find a way to attach the assembly securely and extend it out to form the business end of the gun.  I tried two or three things that simply didn't work, and I liked some of them quite a lot.  Finally I made use of the
The business end.
metal housing of a flashlight Nick had picked up years ago on the shores of Lake Erie.  I was able to attach that securely at the back and the base in ways that looked organic.  More of the velvet, wrapped this time with vintage string, and an upstanding metal loop (adjustable, of course) for a sight.  I love the bushing at the end.  It looks like it could send out some deadly energy.  I have no idea what most of these parts were in their former lives, but I have many boxes of interesting bits in the studio, and I can usually find a piece that works in a way I'd never thought of but which feels perfect.  

Once the Sunbeam Silencer was complete, the problem of how to display it reared its head.  I wanted it standing.  My research showed that most steampunk guns were photographed lying down.  Not good enough for the Sunbeam Silencer.  I finally made a basic framework with good old Erector Set parts, of which I have just the right amount.  I adore Erector parts.  

The aiming end
Just one last shot (right) of the aiming end.  I felt the piece was a bit somber and could use a splash of color.  I also thought that a dial like this might adjust the power.  It's never cool to use more force than necessary, is it?   The photo at right gives a good idea of what it's like to look down the length of the Silencer, preparing to end the freaking noise.  It's a wonderful feeling.

This photo shows the detachable small telescope on the left side of the Silencer.  I felt this might come in handy for pinpointing targets, or for starting fires in an emergency.  It is attached to the Silencer with two tool holder brackets.  You can also see it clearly in the first photo I posted.

So this is something I'm holding onto.  I guess if someone offered me several thousands of dollars I'd have to reconsider, but that's not likely to happen.  At the present time, since my neighbors act up from time to time, I need the Silencer.  It doesn't have any real effect on noisy behavior, but I feel so much better just knowing it's there.  

With great power comes great responsibility.