March Style: Rebuttal

My style column in the March 2015 Mankato Magazine calls out Grant Pladsen and Rhett Waldock for wardrobe-related failure to lift us out of winter.

I’m so sorry but it was true. The boys looked perfectly stylish and put-together the day I took their photo, without permission and on moments’ notice, but stylish was not what I was after. I was after explosions of color to warm our eyeballs and lift our wintry spirits.

I haven’t known Rhett for very long but I’ve known Grant just about forever. Like, since he asked to be driven home from a sleepover due to stomach discomfort. Sweet kid. Explained the situation and apologized for the inconvenience with so much eloquence, it was kind of startling. Grant’s been a well-put-together gent of substance since middle school. So if you’re not into color but rather you’re into neutrals and naturalness and casual post-preppy ease, you can feel free to toss my column aside and embrace Grant Pladsen as your new style icon.


“My style paradigm? Stolen. Or actually borrowed. This is Rhett’s.”

The pants too. “Sometimes I accidentally dry his stuff and then it’s too small and it’s mine.”


Now here is color. Color! Possible that I missed this the day I shot the incriminating photo. Doesn’t matter. This street-level pop of green wouldn’t have made Grant a fashion icon for that particular piece. However, this 2% whimsy in an otherwise conservative ensemble is noted and admired, especially because it’s mostly only visible to Grant himself and even he has to work for it by looking down and making sure his pants are out of the way. But then: Green! Hello.


I also appreciate that Grant lets his hair be his hair and that is that.


Also, I enjoy his art. The knife. The knife is Grant’s. Much like the small slice of whimsy on the shoes, you gotta work for this. It requires a little bit of thought to delight in the sad-face knife.


Thought, pauses, quietude, a shrunken cotton shirt, neutrality — these are your alternatives. Alternatives to screamy showy color signaling a kind of panic that winter won’t end. It always ends. My Mankato Magazine piece kind of suggests otherwise, and I’m sorry, you guys, I didn’t mean to incite panic. Everybody just calm down. Everybody put on some borrowed pants and whimsyshoes and patience and grace and trust that the soft browns and greens of spring will follow.


Black Friday with The Dan and a box fan

It’s Black Friday! The day we celebrate the Steely Dan tune commemorating a failed ploy to corner the gold market on the New York Stock Exchange. That was in 1869, the epic crash that was the original “Black Friday.”

black friday 1869

In 1975, Steely Dan released “Black Friday” on Katy Lied, the band’s third album and the first one they made with mostly session musicians. That was because the real band quit because they were so tired of Walter Becker’s and Donald Fagen’s obsession with perfection. I mean my God you guys. Forty takes, or something like that, that’s what they made everybody do.

katy lied

Steely Dan’s defectors went off to join the Doobie Brothers, and Walter and Donald got what they wanted out of the session musicians, so everything pretty much worked out and both bands served me really well through some preteen years when I was learning how to sew.

the presewing stage

If you’ve never pinned together fabric on the basement floor, kneeling on a cardboard grid that’s made exactly for cutting out fabric, with a horn section in the background on the basement radio, and your whole family is upstairs, and nobody’s bothering you because you’re working on a 4H project so this is SERIOUS and you need some ALONE TIME to plan this thing, you should. I mean you should.

the draping stage

Push it to perfection, Becker and Fagen used to say, and then go past perfection. Past it. I didn’t know any of that when I was listening to the radio in the basement, but I think it’s something you can feel. I’m sure I felt it. I am sure it accounted for my ambitious if also unsuccessful techniques in terms of pleating, hand-sewing, iron-on crystals. Visions that transcended the Butterick pattern envelope and floated out behind me, as if with a fan, as if with a box fan brought down to the basement just to see.

the box fan stage

I mean, if you were to hold up the fabric. Just to see.

Just to enjoy something while it’s a pinned-together possibility, not yet a failed ploy or an epic crash. Not yet a thing for your mom to come downstairs and fix.

mom can you

You can probably get Katy Lied right now at TuneTown, which is having a big-deal Black Friday sale. You can borrow my cardboard grid if you want. I can’t loan you my box fan because I might sometimes still use it.


Read last year’s Black Friday post, a Steely Dan/Mall of America mashup, here. And the year before that, a Steely Dan/Front Street mashup, here. You guys I just really love Steely Dan.

Thrift-Shop Your Way to Moral High Ground with the Seven Deadly Sins

I’ll say this first and I’ll be really clear about it. I have no problem with virtue. In regular life I’m virtuous as a routine and I appreciate it in other people as well. Right now, for instance, I’m drinking coffee with coconut oil and I tipped the barista a dollar, and it was a paper dollar, not a bunch of change. I’m doing all this before 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Do you see what I’m saying? Temperance, charity, diligence. Those are three of the seven official virtues and I’m not even thinking about it.

But it’s not as if I have some kind of hyper-virtue problem, like I need you to join me in condemning bad behavior so we both know that’s not how we operate. For example. I’m not inviting you to freak out at the news that a bunch of French women were killing their infants and hiding the corpses in plastic bags in the foundation of the house. Women, plural. Like it was a thing in that particular town. A thing to do.

This was a landing-page story a while ago on, and you have to assume it got that placement because CNN knows people like to read that kind of thing and say, oh my God, who would do that? Who would do that? In this way, the reader makes clear that they wouldn’t do it. They can’t even comprehend. They can’t even. To read a thing like that, your silent reading voice taking on a shocked tone, and then to tell other people about the story you just read, in a shocked tone, you can feel ok then because everyone understands you wouldn’t do a thing like that. It’s understood.

I’m not asking you to do anything like that. I also don’t need you to do the opposite, to join in doing bad things with me so I’ll feel better about myself. As stated, I’m comfortable with virtue. What I’m trying to propose here, what I feel strongly about and want to share with you, is that when the seven deadly sins are applied with intention, when they’re committed in the interest of successful thrift shopping, virtue results. Virtue and great style. Which, together, are wicked hot.

Postulate 1: Avarice is next to thriftiness.

(Avarice means greed. I had to look it up.) Without this, you can’t even walk into the Goodwill. You’re not ready. You might as well go to Nordstrom where you can afford only one thing, or two if they’re on clearance, because who cares. If that satisfies you, if that’s who you are, then you’re not right for the Goodwill. No, for proper thrifting you need to crave luxuries beyond your means. You need to want what you can’t afford in quantities your closet can’t accommodate. You must desire quality and quantities only available to a person of your means via the Goodwill. Once that’s your mindset, once you yield to that, you may enter.

do you think

Postulate 2: Lust trumps whatever makes your ass look fat.

When you move through the Goodwill guided by lust, you choose your try-ons based on texture-color-fringe-vibe. Your choices may or may not be advisable for your bust size, hip-waist ratio, day job, whatever. Don’t waver. Don’t give thought to those rules or you’ll never ever dress any more interestingly than you’re dressed this second. You’ll just keep wearing boring flattering things versus things that give you pleasure. On the other hand, if you buy what you want and wear it like you mean it, it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t, whether it matches or fits or anything else. If you shop from lust, you’ll look good because you’ll feel pleased and triumphant and oblivious to your ass size. Your posture will improve. If people think it’s some kind of feminist or postfeminist rejection of fashion industry edicts, whatever-whatever, that’s fine. Let them think that. Lust has a long history of working better when it’s secret.

oooh soft

Postulate 3: Slothfulness actually equals efficiency.

There are no escalators at the Goodwill. There are no separate levels or rooms of alcoves, no one-brand-of-belt-here and another-brand-of-belt-over-there. Everything is exactly right in front of you, all things of one kind are grouped together, often quite close. Often color coded, which makes it so easy. Very little effort is required to yield an impressive variety of head-to-toe outfit items, all of which are within swatting distance of each other if you were to spread your arms and twirl in the Women’s half of the store, giddy with the lack of exertion required to knock over shoes and a bag and a scarf and a dress from the Quality Clothing rack. And due to this, due to everything being literally within arm’s reach, you can look at just about everything on every rack in the time it would take you to locate each of the separate belt alcoves at an energy-sucking lust-stifling upscale department store.

sooo many belts

Postulate 4: Envy is dirty, but useful.

This is stuff from other people you’re buying, used clothes with perfume and deodorant still clinging to the insides. Not fresh fabric that smells like a store. This stuff has lived. It’s been places. It’s possible that you’re drawn to a piece because of who wears that kind of thing. You know damn well who wears wrap dresses, and it’s never been you. And by God starting today it’s going to be you. Wrap up in her life, her smell. She gave it up for some reason. Possibly for you. Go ahead and buy it, be that woman, and if you like the smell don’t have it dry cleaned right away. (This is lust and envy working together. Are you seeing this synergy? OH WAIT I think I mean sinergy. Oh my God.) If you stay focused, stay with the fragrance and the possibility of a new-to-you life, you can pull this off. You just might be mistaken for a wrap-dress woman. Ultimately with all the right accessories and a hand-crafted messenger bag and whatnot, but right now just take it one piece at a time.

i know right

Postulate 5: Gluttony benefits the greater good.

In the situation of Goodwill, it’s most logical to buy overstuffed bags full of clothing in order to 1) limit the amount of times you need to get in your car to travel to the store within a given period; 2) give discarded clothing an appreciative home; and 3) usually, if it’s indeed a Goodwill or Salvation Army or something like that, help fund social services for people in need. Do you see this? The more excessive your binge, the greater the goodness. Yield to the bag sale. Yield and feel your carbon footprint shrink, your karma improve and the operating budgets of your local nonprofits swell as you load your trunk with one, maybe two, reused grocery sacks of goodness.

yes yes yes

Postulate 6: Pride spreads the love.

Get home and dump it all out on the floor and know that you are fabulous. Thrifty, efficient, not beholden to restrictive style conventions. And it’s not enough to know this for yourself, you have to tell people. You have to. No $2.99 platform boots, no bag-sale velvet blazer realizes its full emotional or fashion value until somebody compliments you and you go, oh my God I know, these were $2.99! The praise, then, goes beyond the superficial. It’s not about the boots. It’s about the fact that you did this. You’re not just wearing this stuff, you accomplished it, you in the smart smart thrifty hot smart boots. When you share your pride undiluted, it helps ignite avarice and envy in others, and then voila. A self-sustaining cycle is established.

oooh shiny

Postulate 7: Wrath is inevitable.

It’s included. It just is, and you can’t avoid it even if you think you can because everything looked great in the store. That’s just part of the cycle you’re now trapped inside. It’s a particular risk in places without a try-on room. Wrath happens, right away or eventually, because you start wearing this stuff, these bold choices, and you realize you were frenzied. You were high on texture and color, high on your own brain imagining yourself as some kind of wrap-dress wearer. So you made some choices that turn out to be not the best. Honestly, to be honest, they look really bad on you. Worse than a lot of things you already own, in fact, the stuff you thought you were replacing. And now here they are in your house, in the closet or still on your bedroom floor or whatever, looking back at you in a mocking way, as if you were ever, ever, ever going to be that woman or anything like her. Ever. And since you are a buyer of full bags at the Goodwill Thrift, really full bags to be efficient, it’s not like you can go back tomorrow to give back these few items and try again. You can’t. It would be awkward, it would be a failure. These things have to stay in your possession until you can justify another trip. And based on when Goodwill turns over their inventory, and based on the fact that you went through just about every hanger on every single rack on that last trip, you are stuck, stuck with this load of ill-fitting off-brand crap and you can’t even think about passing it off to anyone else, because you already know no friend wants any of this. If you’d had a friend along with you, in fact, she would have saved you from yourself, she would have said, um, I don’t think that works for you. But you didn’t ask. This is your doing, your stash, your closet for a good six weeks. So I hope you’re happy.

Frustrating, yes. But it’s wrath that completes the cycle and sends us back to the beginning. One by one, the mistakes go into a small shopping bag and then later a larger bag, then two, and then they sit there on the floor of the closet for a while, and at some point the bags make it out to the car. When that happens, it’s time. Time to want what you can’t afford, want what feels good to touch, want it all within reach, want to dress like-look like-be like someone else, want more and more and more, want the world to know. Time to take your bag of bad choices to the Goodwill — the source, the mandala, the mountain — and deliver them to the back door, where offerings are accepted between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and then walk back around to the entry and begin anew.

the mandala



This piece originally appeared as a guest post on The Gloria Sirens, an online journal that hopes to “touch, amuse and empower.” It does. Go see.

NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS because I’m dying to know what you wore

OK guess what, Mankato Magazine has invited me to write a monthly style column. Fun! Style! However.


If that’s going to be any kind of useful public service, it would be good for me to know what people in other places are wearing and why. People in cities. Your city. You.


New things. Repurposed things. Beautiful or disturbing things.


So if you don’t live where I live, you are officially and excitedly invited to submit a guest post. Guidelines are here.


Please write. I already know my blog would look adorable on you.






Additional criteria to help make it less obscene when a photo of an awful thing is a well-done photo

This is not exactly a conflict of interest I’m declaring. It’s a bias. I’m declaring a bias, or an agenda. The rules don’t say to do that but I think it’s fair.

the rules

It’s about that still shot of James Foley. I don’t often click through to stories about current events so it’s odd that that photo showed up with advertisements to the right of my feed. Ads for shoes, ads for design-your-own promotional products, and that photo. I’m assuming it showed up in everybody else’s feed too. So I don’t need to put it here. I don’t think it would be right to put it here, I’m thinking you know what I’m talking about. Also thinking we all made the same obscene observation that the composition was amazing. The colors, the way things were laid out with balance and symmetry and negative space.

negative space

His parents’ press conference was something. You are damn right that mom wore sunglasses the whole way through. She looked like Sophia Loren. You don’t get to see the eyes of that mom. Her eyes might be gone. They might be just burned-out holes at this point. I don’t think we get to see that.


The panel starts tomorrow morning. There’s a 30-minute orientation first, with refreshments. I don’t know if there will be time in there to talk about any of this. It’s the literary fellowship program so we probably won’t get into the principles of design, or what to do about that photo, like what kind of responsibility we should take for that photo being in the world. But there should be something. You can’t really sit around a table judging works of art without some accountability to a thing like that. Just some kind of nod to the fact that basic principles of design or beauty or whatever can be applied to all kinds of content, making all kinds of messages and leading to a lot of different ends.

So it’s a big deal to give or get funding to do your thing. To get a grant that pays your rent while you finish your memoir or whatever. It’s a big deal bigger than suddenly awesomely having your rent paid for a couple months so you can adjunct one less class. That’s my bias. I mean I’ll follow the rules and evaluate the applications according to the official criteria, for sure, but additionally, I mean we all have biases, I’m just saying this out loud, the applicants I’m going to love most will be the ones who write like they believe in the big deal.

It’s two full workdays of reviews which can get kind of long. So I think it would be helpful to have a reminder to glance at now and then. It’s just a guess that there will be juice in the mornings, orange and other flavors, probably in a bowl with ice. So that’s a start but it probably won’t be enough. It would take an amazing event planner to think of standing up just a few OJ bottles on ice in the bowl, and putting a tall black carafe next to that, and using sand-colored linens and painting the wall that gray-blue. The bowl of juice bottles would need to be low on the table. That’s what it would take. There might be someone on staff who did think of this but I doubt there would have been time to paint the wall or order new linens by tomorrow morning. So I won’t share this during introductions or anything but I’ll have it in my folder and we can probably make color copies if necessary.


mystic golden hanger

Post-script 9/1/14: Color copies were unnecessary, because that panel was a remarkable assemblage of reader/writers from around the state who cared more than you’d imagine about what it means to make art, not to mention what it means to award or to receive funding for making art. Including Wendy Skinner, 2014 MSAB fellowship recipient for her work about how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents of northern Minnesota. Wendy will read from the project Nov. 13 at Open Book. I say we all go.

One More Year: A guest post by Amy Rosenquist

You know one weird, kind of salvation-y thing about having a severely disabled child? No matter how crazy things get, how unrealistic the possibility of getting a super-special-needs nanny for a yoga class or Sunday night candlelight meditation or trip to the women-only spa in Lakeview, or the dozen other “me-time” things you hear other moms talking about at the park as you push your oversized kid on the baby swings parallel to a slightly better-rested, slightly less resentful, alien species? The revelation is that you don’t need them. After awhile, you’re better at living in the moment than a Buddhist monk, because you don’t have a choice. The days and nights blur into an endless stream of cleaning expelled food in various forms from various surfaces, reconnaissance missions for potentially chewable clothes, cords, books, writing utensils, rolls of tape, sweeping the landscape to ensure you’re still in the same room, moving locks on the outside doors so they’re too high for him to reach, moving them even higher; then, when he towers over you and there’s no higher place to put in another sliding lock with small jingle bells, perusing the internet for the best, yet most affordable, permanent tracking system. I went with a Road I.D., though I still struggle with the choice. He never takes off the bracelet, but there’s no GPS component.


Amy, Noah, girls, horses. By Adèle Phung.

It’s an ironic silver lining. Where other people with other tragedies can and do linger over the permutations of finding meaning, I didn’t have a single cell left in my brain for that kind of thing for a long, long time. I lived moment to moment, grateful for each one, mostly, but not really thinking much farther than the lunches that needed to be packed for the next day or two.

My first boss had a brother who had died of a sudden massive heart attack when he was only 46 years old. When I worked for her, she was already in her 50s. She reported that every birthday she’d celebrated after 46 felt like she was living on borrowed time, which, she said, was sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it made a person appreciate being alive. On the other, there was always a storm cloud on the horizon. Would this be the last year? Day? maybe tomorrow, or the day after that? Her brother, her family for that matter, didn’t have a genetic history, or significant risk factors. It was the unknown, not being able to assign blame to a specific lifestyle habit and therefore choose a different path, that contributed most to the shadow.

noah on the way

Noah en route. By Amy.

When my father died unexpectedly at 49, I had a sense of how young that was. As a kid, many of my friends had lost a grandparent, but no one my age had even started to consider that they’d bury a parent. Case in point, I’d saved every letter, thank-you note, even the gift tags from all my grandparents, acutely aware it could be the last memento I ever got. There they all were, all four of them in perfect health, at my father’s funeral. I hadn’t saved his things, not wanting to burden my young self with a half-century’s worth of papers to carry through life. I figured I’d wait until he was old to start that box. Barely a legal adult when he died, I really had no idea how fast a life can fly by.

This July 1, I turn 48. If I were my father, I’d have one year left. As it draws closer, it’s almost visible, an approaching storm cloud. It causes me to forget that I’m a superhero single autism mom, not the kind of person who sits idly by hoping I get lucky, hoping fate deals me a better hand. That ship sailed. I’m the kind of person who painstakingly creates the topography itself, then maps out a route as if I hadn’t just invented the entire landscape.

noah on the lake

Noah and the lake. By Amy.

One of the things that still haunts me about the days right after my father’s death is that I discovered a book on his end table, next to his recliner, with a bookmark about halfway through. Who dies in the middle of a book? It seemed like one of the cruelest parts of the whole story. If I were writing my own ending, I’d plan better. I’d make a prioritized list of all the books I hadn’t read yet and a timetable for how to finish them in time to not die mid-chapter.

I mean because it seems like there are two choices: 1) Cry for the next twelve months about the randomness yet beauty of life, the universe, and everything (which would probably justify avoiding the Planetarium, even on free days), and then, if I make it past 49, live the rest of my life under that increasingly terrifying cloud. Or 2) Live my potentially last year ever so that if our genes match exactly, like they just, just might, I’m ready.

amy up high

Amy and the city. By Adèle Phung.

I am inclined to choose the latter. My father, impossible as it seems given that he quit mid-book, was a planner. I am choosing to live ready for the end, and so far, things are on track. Here’s what I’d like to lock down in the next twelve months:

  • I want my legacy to include that I had kids who valued local produce. It sounds trite, considering life, death, loss, the meaning of it all, the disabled older brother, and all that, but are our shopping habits anything if not a metaphor for how we live? Every week of every summer, I have had a reason why our family is too busy or overbooked or out of cash or whatever to get to the enormous Farmer’s Market that happens for four months, twice a week, one block – ONE BLOCK – from my house. I want them to think that the normal course of events includes walking to get vegetables from the farmers who grew them, then going home to make them into dinner – not just popping stuff from the freezer into the microwave. At least, not in the summer.
  • I want them to have been forced by their mother to take piano lessons, or violin, or in some way have passed down the gift of music we were given as kids. It’s a thing we just haven’t gotten around to squeezing in. I want my kids to have more memories of reading and dance parties and picnics, less of watching Netflix while I clean the next room. Not that I’m cutting down on cleaning. I’m double-half German (both grandmothers), so that’s not going to happen. But if I knew I only had a year left to live, I’d find a way to make it into a Pine Sol dance party more often than not.
  • I want to find a Christmas Eve babysitter from another religion, or one who isn’t going home for the holidays, although this would need to be due to logistical issues rather than some kind of bitter family drama, and sing one last midnight mass.
  • In this scenario I will quiet my inner Ronald Reagan long enough to take out wads of cash from the ATM on the way to some of Chicago’s legendary (but absurdly overpriced) festivals. Taste of Chicago, Square Roots. It seems senseless to endure the winters here without at least a little bit of subsequent temerarious summer celebrating.
  • I’d buy a better blender, and some frozen kale. Life is too short to spend any time at all, much less as much as I do, envying the smoothie pictures posted on social media by my friends.
  • I will stop forgetting to make everyone take their vitamins. I have a degree in natural health, I’m the most organized person I know, but I appear to have some kind of mental block when it comes to remembering to open the vitamin cupboard until after everyone’s asleep. Or perhaps I will pay the teenager an allowance to go around and hand them out, which I’ve been making her save for college (the college I’ll take her to visit four years early as an 8th grade graduation present, so we can wear the hoodies and have the pennants up around the house while I’m still around).

Then, if nothing happens, if I live, we’ll just be another northside organic-vegetable-eating, festival-going, vitamin-taking, college-bound family, living out our days with a lot of blanket-tent-flashlight-shadow puppet shows and dance parties that somehow end with cleaner surfaces than they started with. We’ll just be those people. And then maybe, with so many more things to fit into a day, I’ll mostly not notice the cloud.

amy et al

Those people. By Adèle Phung.


Not kidding, right after I read this, I bought a new blender. Thanks, Amy.

amy beaming

Here’s Amy’s essay I’ve Never Told Anyone That My Great Grandmother Was a Slave: A Crazy Autism Parent Speaks. Here she is on Twitter


Happy graduation to the kid, happy diabetiversary to me

Today he graduates. So very happy for him, and so proud. Proud of his creative outside-the-lines accomplishments throughout K-12, yeah, but mostly right now proud that he hung the rental robe on a hanger to get the wrinkles out, just like the directions said. Just like the directions said! Public education, everyone.

props to education

Today also marks twenty years with diabetes, for me. Which makes it the anniversary of being told pregnancy wasn’t a good idea. It was the first thing I asked, because we were on the fence about when to start that whole deal. The doctor was like, well, you can try, but you’ll have a high risk of ___, ___, ___ (blah blah things nobody who wants to have a baby wants to hear). That nailed it. We knew that now was the time. How else do you know that now is the time, other than somebody with a clipboard telling you that now is not the time?

actual vs perceived

This isn’t my usual way. There was just something about that day and that doctor. Also, I’m married to a person who sees rules and restrictions the way some people see gnats. It’s artful, how he waves them away. Like tai chi but a kind of tai chi that erases cement, if that’s a thing. Anyway. Pretty soon Jake was in the world.


Today, at this point, there’s very little for which we can take credit. I didn’t even art-direct these photos. Honestly. I just made sure there was enough chalk for him to do what he wanted and I got the suit cleaned afterwards. That’s how it is, at this point.

this is his only suit

I do take partial credit for the look in the eye.

this look

It’s not my look and it’s not Scott’s but I’ll take some credit because I think there was something that sprung up off that clipboard that day, and lodged. Something like OK, mmm hmmm, we’ll just see about that. It’s a good look. It’s a very good gift. Happy diabetiversary to me.

here we are


Portraits by Claudia Danielson. She is the best.