April is the pearlest month day twenty-six: Sister with the black velvet choker

FACT. Revealed: This is a sisterhood story. The sisterhood of 1) the lady with the black velvet choker, and 2) the lady with the unworn pearls.


The velvet choker sister, you already know of her. You know that story. Right? She wore it all the time. Her suitor-and-then-husband was like, why do you wear that thing ALL the time? Can you ever take it off, ever??? She was like, no, I can’t. You’ll be sorry if I do. SO I WON’T. For years, they had this same conversation.


It drove him crazy. Not in a fun way.


So obviously one night he tried, like he reached between her neck and the choker while she was sleeping, just really subtle, and he realized it was a CONTINUOUS BAND. No clasp. A full and seamless circle. Husband took a scissors and he did this.


BAM. Velvet down. Choker to the floor.


And you know what happened next. You know. You remember, right, from stories at sleepovers? From your big sister telling you this horrible thing right before she made you summon Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror? You know that her head fell off. It fell OFF.


Husband freaks. Who wouldn’t. Like she didn’t tell him, though.


She told him. She tried to tell him.


Pause. We pause here so you can process this. For a more complete version of the story of the lady with the velvet choker, like if your older sister didn’t do as good a job as she should have of initiating you, you can read it here, on the delightful horror blog Dreadful Dreary.


Tomorrow: The other sister. Unworn Pearl Lady. The unworn pearl sister speaks OUT.

April is the pearlest month day twenty-five: Name tags vs. heartbreak AND AN ANNOUNCEMENT

You feel how old this is getting, right? Same damn indecisive bitter whinywhiny thing day after day. “I have pearls! But I can’t weeeearrrrr my pearrrls.” Please. Poor us. This is exactly what I meant about the month of April. It’s 70 degrees, then it’s snowing. It’s springy damp, and then it’s icy damp. It’s sandals and legwarmers. April feels like never ever ever getting it right.

For example, Exhibit A, last night. Getting it right! It’s because of the name tags. Nothing says “grownup” and “accomplished” and “heckyeah I’m wearing (whatever)” better than preprinted name tags on business-semi-formalwear. Attire: Business. Attire: Semi-formal. Attire: Business but festive yet formal but not too TOO formal. That kind of thing.

2015-04-24 19.32.12

MSU Distinguished Alumni Awards. With Maria Baxter, who graduates next month, for the third time. Maria! Your friends and fans are proud. Congratulations. And your ‘do is spectacular.

And then, Exhibit B, baggage. Shadows. Spoken or unspoken unwearableness, or at least a creepy feel to the wearing. It was maybe once right, but now it’s, like, I don’t know. It’s just not. As in Exhibit B, below, just in from Day Twenty’s guest writer Terri Ryburn:

My daughter, Amy, read the blog and realized that I had given her the pearl ring many years ago. (I should have asked her if she still had it but I gave it to her and she could have sold it or given it away by now.) She has sent a picture of it. Her comment: “Now that I know it’s a heartbreak ring, I’ll never look at it the same way.”

pearl ring

Oh GOD, mom, you gave me a heartbreak ring.

Right?! This is how it goes. Pearls do this. And the month of April is coming to a close and I know you’re thinking WHY HASN’T SHE FIGURED THIS OUT and I’m pleased to announce that it’s better than that. Thanks to the Pearlest Month street team, and to my guest posters, and to my husband who I don’t even know why but he’s indulged me in hella more pearl talk than a person really counts on in a given month or lifetime,

scott says

“I don’t remember this as part of our vows.”

I’ve done better than figure out how to wear them. I’ve figured out why we’re not supposed to, i.e., what it means when pearls eek you out and why it’s imperative to leave them in the box. This is not my opinion. It’s an origin myth. Or more like a folktale. The origin folktale of the unwearableness of pearls, in four parts. You can’t wait.


 Tomorrow: Part one. 

April is the pearlest month day twenty-four: The fashion future is in good hands

And now! A woman wise enough to heed fashion guidance from a pearl-loving cowboy-boot-wearing five-year-old. Please welcome Sara Gilbert Frederick.

gala sara with lucy

Lucy, Sara. MSU’s Purple and Gold Gala.

So, full disclosure: The only time I’ve actually worn a real strand of pearls was as the “something borrowed” on my wedding day. I do have a pearl necklace that belonged to my grandmother, but the clasp is broken and I’ve never worn it. Of course, I probably wouldn’t know how to anyway.

The extent of my fashion sense can be best explained with this story: One morning a few years ago, I came downstairs dressed for work in a black skirt, a pink top, and a pair of black boots. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, because usually the top would have been black, too. But when my daughter saw me, she grimaced. “Really, mom?” she said. “Those boots?”

I went right back upstairs and changed.

The point is that I took fashion advice from a five-year-old. And in all honestly, I still seek her counsel most days before I leave the house—and usually, the critique she gives is right on. So when it came to thinking about this whole how-to-wear-pearls thing, you know who I went to first: Lucy.

A little bit about Lucy: Her first word was “shoe.” She started trying on my heels as soon as she could walk. And she has a drawer full of pearls in the jewelry box on top of her dresser—all gifts from her Grammie, who will keep giving them to her until she has enough to string up for a necklace.

Somehow, Lucy already instinctively knows how to wear those pearls. She already knows when she’ll wear them—and actually, she’s hoping one of her cousins will get married soon, because that would be exactly the right occasion. She even knows what she’ll wear them with.

“Well, a dress of course,” she told me. “But probably not one with long sleeves.”

I asked Lucy, who has grown up without a very pearly role model, what she thought about people who wear pearls.

“I think they are fancy,” she said.

Is that a look she might like?

She shrugs. She’s actually in a sweatpants stage right now, although she wears the look with as much panache as is possible when there are words written across your butt. Her accessories du jour are elastic hairbands around her wrist and a braided pink bracelet that she wears everywhere.

“Maybe. But I just want to look like me.”


Editor’s note: Yes. Yup. Very confident in our fashion future. Very, very.


Sara Frederick is Editrix of TODAY at Minnesota State, the magazine for alumni and friends of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Also, full disclosure, I would kill a small mammal with my hands if I could have Sara’s massive and naturally curly hair. Oh what. Please you guys. Only six days left in the Pearlest Month. Time to get real.

April is the pearlest month day twenty-three: Pearls are not Tic Tacs OR ARE THEY

SPOILER ALERT: She turns 30 this summer. So, is that the time for the passed-down pearls?? Please welcome 29-year-old overachiever-yet-possibly-under-accessorized Alyssa Auten.


Alyssa. Great earrings, great nose jewelry, bold stripes. Got no time for pearls.

Pearls remind me of my grandma.  She was classy, fancy and had twelve of the same white blouse from the Oval Room section of Dayton’s (and let me tell you, the Oval Room was a swanky, swanky place…pretty sure I once saw a price tag of one of the shirts that read $120.00).  Grandma Ellie wore pearls frequently; accompanied by one of those white blouses, some Kleenex tucked in her sleeve and at least three packs of white Tic Tacs in her purse.  I’m not kidding about the white TicTacs.  When she passed away we found dozens of those small, clear, minty-smelling containers all over her condo.

My grandma instilled a sense of refinery and “dressing for the occasion” in my mother and I think some of that trickled down to me. I grew up hearing, “You need to dress nicely for this graduation party,” and, “this pearl necklace is worth a lot of money and it’ll be yours someday.” I was always interested in “outfits” and being put together, however, my high school stint as a “Goth” perhaps changed my style and clothing course forever.

I went from that Goth phase to college where my University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee mantra was, “I’m wearing my sweats to class and there’s nothing you can do about it,” to a young professional wearing outfits that may have been more fitting for pearls. During those years my grandma passed away and the pearls became mine, but the necklace stayed nicely packed away in my mom’s jewelry box.

Today, I love dressing up but often feel that pearl necklaces are too fancy for me.  I do, however, own two different sizes of fake pearl earrings, no doubtedly from Target. I also own a multiple-strand fake pearl necklace with a giant white flower on it…something from my more adventurous years that rarely gets put over my head these days.  Now it just hangs among the other seldom-worn necklaces from my early twenties.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was intimidated too, but then I remembered. Chick has an architecture degree and historian credentials. That kind of person of COURSE has their neckware precisely spaced and ordered in a graduated palette.

This July, I’ll turn 30. Does that mean I’m at an age where I can pull off pearls more appropriately?  I’m not sure; I’ve seen adorable tweens wearing pearls and they look fabulous. I’ve just never thought I could pull them off. At the moment I’ll be sticking with my fake pearl earrings where I’m much more comfortable. And for the time being, my lovely and responsible mother will keep my “expensive and passed-down” pearls in that navy, velvet-lined jewelry box in her bedroom (sans boxes of white TicTacs).


Cultured. For sure.

And who knows, maybe Grandma Ellie loved those Tic Tacs so much because they reminded her of her treasured pearls..?


Alyssa Auten is executive director of the Nicollet County Historical Society. Some beautiful stuff out there, taxidermy and prairie trails and wildly popular comedy nights. She’d love for you to visit.

April is the pearlest month day twenty-two: Let’s take a quick break from the substance to find out how I’m doing

I’m doing ok. I mean it’s going ok. I’ve stopped piling the costume stuff on top of the single strand, the challenge strand, THE strand, and I’m just wearing the thing and I guess that was the point. Wearing them like no big deal. Last weekend at the Arts Center somebody came up and asked me about it (my street team is ON IT). I was mid-conversation with the Arts Center’s Board President, who is a man, and not a pearl-wearer or blog-reader or Facebooker, and he’s like, what? And I’m like, well, this thing. These pearls. Can’t wear. I don’t know. It’s a thing.

And he goes, do you have a clasp?

A clasp. A clasp?

He goes: Do you know they have to be worn?

I’m like, mmm hmmm. [thinking, WHATEVER] [thinking this is is just the kind of poetic edict that does not help]

No, he goes: They disintegrate if they sit in a box. Pearls disintegrate.*

He comes back the next day with a wad of pearls. His wife’s. She doesn’t wear them. “Oh, she gets it, she’s totally on board,” he tells me. She can’t wear the pearls he bought her during his time in Germany when he was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. You guys. These aren’t just pearls. They’re European military pilot pearls. I think we can all agree that makes them a) superior and b) all the more unwearable. Board President’s wife, we are with you. Welcome to the street team.


Pilot pearls.

This said, the clasp is its own entirely separate issue.





Sadly, inexplicably, I don’t have a Barbie but I do have this stone lady gifted to me by Patti Kramlinger. Thanks, Patti.

Substance picks back up tomorrow with a guest post from architect, historical society director and would-be pearl-wearer Alyssa Auten. That’ll be great. She’s great. She probably has things to say. Meantime you guys if anybody has a Barbie that wants to get dressed up and hang out with Stone Lady and the Marys GIVE ME A CALL.


*They disintegrate if you don’t wear them. Huh. I can’t find a wiki to substantiate this. Let’s none of us look to hard. Let’s let this hang out there like a truth, please, to help us get through the month, ok? Ok?

April is the pearlest month day twenty-one: Real vs. fake vs. intentional weddings vs. unintentional cocaine

In which Judie Ziemke Björling sifts and finds the real. A guest post.

Judie and Samantha. Photo by the groom.

Judie and Samantha. Groom beaming somewhere off-camera.

Do you know how to tell real pearls from fake? A co-worker told me this many years ago.  Faye (her real name since I can’t remember her last) was formerly employed in the world’s oldest profession (we weren’t co-workers then), but when I met her she was in Phoenix, Arizona, selling carpet by the square foot in an establishment owned by New Jersey transplants.  I was the receptionist. The transplants combined carpet selling with cocaine-and-gun selling (those wild ’80’s, you know) and, last I heard, were in a federal prison selling nothing. But that is a tale for another day.  There is a dildo story also but I will spare you that as well. I can truthfully state that I played no intentional receptionist role in the selling of guns or cocaine. I didn’t have anything to do with dildos either but whether you find that reassuring or not will be dependent on your view of such things.

[Just so you know, I have two strands of pearls and a pair of pearl earrings. Strand number one is a set of pearls in gradually increasing sizes, part of a double strand my mother split up so each of her daughters could have a string of pearls for their wedding day. Or in my case, my first wedding day. I got the earrings that day too. My second (and final) wedding day featured a strand of baroque pearls given in the ubiquitous velvet bag. A gift from the wonderful man I married.]

Back to the story: Sifting fake pearls from real was easy, Faye said, rub the pearls against your teeth, if the pearls rubbed smoothly they were fake.  If they felt gritty, then they were real.  The point of her advice was for me to test any pearls I may get from male admirers. You want to know, she said, how to tell real pearls (admirers?) from fake.

[If you’re curious, my baroque pearls and pearl earrings are genuine but the strand from my mother is not. I would say it doesn’t matter, except it does somehow. Perhaps it is the outrage I feel on my mother’s behalf if she was given pearls by a fake admirer. But it must matter in other ways because I have only worn the real pearls since. I can’t, it seems, un-know the pearl test. And once I knew, the pearls from my mother have reminded of deception and knowledge of deception. Kind of like Adam and Eve and the whole apple eating thing.]

Pearls are sensual things. Cool and heavy against my neck and sternum, they remind me of their existence at every move. I think of them paired with silk, processed and raw, with texture and smooth, in neutrals with a spot of color from a hand painted scarf. Like this, perhaps.

scarf by pat

The real-deal pearls. With hand-painted scarf by Patricia Freiert.

Perhaps, because of my uneasy acquisition of pearl testing techniques (and for the uneasy reminders they leave), I have so far saved my (real) pearl wearing for “occasions” when the focus, for me, is on the event. I have worn pearls to both of my weddings, and I wore pearls at my son’s graduation from college. I have a wonderful jacket– cream silk and rayon twill with satin lining and shell buttons in my favorite, no-collar style. I wore that jacket and my real pearls at my son’s graduation and had our picture taken.

Judie and David, graduation day.

Judie and David. Graduation day. Photo by Lori Ruthenbeck.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this photograph has been on Facebook quite often lately. Anyone seeing it may think that I’m pearl-confident. Alas, that would be incorrect. Although I dress on the classic side, I have a little wedge of contrariness that makes me avoid complete submission to a style. However, after all the pearl talk this month, perhaps I’ll change to classic pearls and a more bohemian clothing style.

[Apparently the tooth test isn’t the only measure of genuineness. For those willing to take a bite of the apple, here’s the wiki that tells more.]


If you’re following the story of Judie’s son’s recovery from a recent motorcycle accident in Thailand, you already know that Judie Ziemke Björling is not only pearl-confident but lots of other kinds of strong. David is now home in Minnesota, making progress in a rehabilitation program. Judie shares the story here.

April is the pearlest month day twenty: PEARLESCENT. A former innocent speaks.

Please welcome Terri Ryburn, coolest boss I’ve ever had and a sage in the ways of pearls and lots else. A guest post.



I bought my first pearls when I was ten and lived in San Francisco. I took my savings hopped a bus, made one transfer, and walked a few blocks to the five and dime on Mission Street to buy a string of pop beads. They were lovely and pearly white— pearlescent I think was the wording on the package. They were reminiscent of pearls, in a weird sort of way, but much larger and, of course, much, much more plastic. And, with such a satisfying “pop” as you shortened or lengthened them.

My senior picture, taken 50 years ago, when I was 17. (Unlike some of my classmates, I had the good sense to remove the cat’s eye glasses with the little rhinestones at the upswept corners.) I’d slept on spiky wire rollers the night before, removing them at the studio, teasing the crown, and carefully brushing my long, red hair into this impossible flip.

Terri. 1966. Sans cat-eye glasses.

The photographer’s breath smelled of pipe tobacco, kind of wet pipe tobacco actually, with just a hint of whiskey, as he leaned in to adjust the flip on my shoulder, just so. But look at what he captured! Just look at this face—Mona Lisa-like in its innocent, virginal gaze. The mysteries that lurk within the smile. Oh, the possibilities that await this smooth, untroubled countenance. This is before life kicked my ass, of course.

You must agree that blue was my color. Never mind that the sweater was faux mohair purchased at Uncle Adolph’s, a cut-rate store in Bloomington, Illinois, that sold household goods and clothes and tires. Kind of like Blaine’s Farm and Fleet, but not as upscale. You, of course, know what the sweater so sorely needed—pearls. A short strand or choker of pearls, perhaps. But, alas, dear reader, my 17-year-old self didn’t know that and couldn’t have afforded them if I had. The pop beads were long gone, no longer in fashion or eaten by the dog. I forget which. And, the sweater, after all, set me back at least $3.49.

Lest you have the impression that I have never owned real pearls, let me disabuse you of that notion. I’ve had real pearls. Not a strand of pearls, mind you, but real pearls nonetheless—a gift from my first serious boyfriend. Really, Mark wasn’t my type. He wasn’t my type at all. Well, I didn’t know it then, of course. It was 1966 and boys weren’t types, were they? They were just boyfriends or not boyfriends. I have kept his letters, re-reading them just yesterday. I wept as I read his protestations of undying love. There is no greater love than that of a 19-year-old boy!

Mark was a sweet boy, really, from Niagara Falls, New York. (That’s what we said about boyfriends then—they were “sweet.”) He was away from home for the first time, stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. He was 6’2” to my 5’2” so we had kind of a “Mutt and Jeff” thing going. I was never considered beautiful, but, dear reader, you must agree that I was pretty. If nothing else, I had that dewy-eyed youth thing working for me. He, on the other hand, was not very good looking. Did I mention that he was sweet? To be honest, he was kind of homely. Of course, I wouldn’t have said it then, but when you’re 67, you’ve got to tell the truth, even if it reveals how shallow you can be and the truth about your character and the real reason you’ve been married three times!

At Christmas, Mark gave a ring to me—a plain silver band with two pearls—one black, one white. I suppose now one might see that as metaphor for the complete opposites that we were but who knew metaphor from Mephistopheles back then? I guess it was what would be called a promise ring now, back when life held promise, prior to the aforesaid ass kicking. Whatever the promise might have been, it was never kept. And I weep now for Mark’s 19-year-old broken heart.

[Editor’s note, post-publication: Then, she gave the ring away. Then, the recipient read Terri’s guest post. Mixed feelings here.]

This brings me to my current pearls—the closest thing to pop beads that I have ever found. A necklace and a bracelet, mind you! Not as plastic, perhaps, as the pop beads, but plenty, plenty plastic. And, this is the way I wear them today—on my night stand! (Until I took this photo, I didn’t realize how much of a shrine to my late husband, Bill, my night stand has become. And before anyone makes the inevitable crack about “pearls before swine,” let me hasten to tell you that he was the only one of my husbands worth a damn!)


Editor’s note: I knew Bill. He was indeed worth a sweet smart damn.

Why do they repose on my night stand? you may ask. Because dear reader, dear sweet, gentle reader, when you reach a certain double-chin age, nothing, and I mean nothing, looks good around your sagging and hopeless neck, full of age spots and skin tags and too-much-sun wrinkles. And the occasional stiff-bristled grey hair. Even a lovely silk scarf can’t disguise all that. So, hello, young lovers, wherever you are—get those pearls on now and wear the hell out of them! Do you hear me?! Yes, wear them to the grocery store or the pool or the gym. Laugh knowingly at jokes and touch your pearls lightly, calling attention to your lovely neck. It won’t be so many years that you will, alas, desire to wear pearls but realize that you no longer have the beautiful neck upon which to do so. You, too, may resort to hanging your beautiful pearls at your night stand shrine.

And remember, dear readers, what this pop-bead-wearing, 67-year-old former innocent has learned and learned well: If life kicks your ass, kick back! In pearls, of course. Faux or real—your choice.


Dr. Terri Ryburn, who was my boss and mentor back in the day at ISU, has kicked the ass of some serious life. Here is the story of her connection to Route 66. Here is her book about Route 66 in McLean County. She’s brilliant and it’s adorable that pearls thought Terri might have use for them. Adorable.

Tomorrow: Depends on who devoted their weekend to writing a guest post about the agony and ecstasy of pearl-wearing. One of them did. I know they did. I love and trust my street team. TOMORROW.