Monday, December 15, 2014

Sew What?! The "Happy Holiday" Frock

People often ask me where I go shopping for the fabrics that I use to create Mary's wardrobe.  The answer is simple - everywhere.  Wherever there is fabric being sold at discounted rates, one will likely find this oversized cheapskate knee-deep in broadcloth, seersucker, tartan plaids, and even metallic upholstery yardage.  It is, in fact, six-and-a-half yards of lamé, ribbed upholstery fabric in crimson and gold, bought at a deep discount at a hole-in-the-wall fabric store, that became Mary's Christmas frock this year.

As usual, my design process meant allowing the fabric to dictate the silhouette.
Surely there are myriad directions one might take with this light-as-a-feather, shimmering,
fantasy fabric, but in my mind, Christmas always calls for an extremely-full skirt!

Adapting the pattern I drafted for Mary's Halloween costume, I made a drop-waisted, boned bodice with princess seam lines.  When Mary wore the dress to a Christmas party last weekend, I was flattered when a new friend complimented my decision to vary the direction of the stripes (vertical on the bodice, horizontal on the skirt).  As much credit as I wanted to take for the clever design choice, I had to come clean that it was merely a byproduct of laziness.  Vertical stripes on the bodice meant I didn't have to worry about matching stripes; horizontal stripes on the skirt meant I could use the full length of the yardage with only one seam at the back.  The real question is, why is it so hard for me to just accept a simple compliment?

If you follow Mr. Tiny on Instagram, you might remember this picture, a
sneaky peek-y of  the dress in progress.  When a fabric I love comes in
multiple colorways, I will almost always buy them all.  Having bought
this material in purple (project pending), red, and acid green, I thought
I could use the latter colors to add a whimsical hip corsage in the form
of holly and berries; when it came time to apply it to the dress, I just
couldn't make myself do it.  Even the king of wacky tacky found the
size and scale of this appliqué a little too whimsical.  Occasionally,
I am forced to admit that in some cases, simplicity really is best. 

While a very-talented friend, and photographer, has graciously offered to take proper pictures of Mary in her new dress, I couldn't resist sharing a couple of photos of the Happy Holiday Frock in action before the big photo shoot.  I figure that it is best to share a couple of "low-budge" images and give you a very honest sense of how regularly unprepared we are to take glamorous photos (the following were taken at two-thirty in the morning on the streets of Los Angeles using an iPhone) and how much we preferred enjoying the scintillating company of the amazing party to pretending we know what to do with a camera.  The lighting and the resolution may both be low but the dress still sparkles!

It is hard to convey the scale of the corsage but I would estimate
that it was roughly the size of her face.  Don't you think I was right
to leave it off?  Even thought the belt was part of my original design,
I sort of hemmed-and-hawed over that decision as well.  In the end, I
think it defines the waist well and breaks up Mary's already-long torso.

Mary was a trooper; it was crazy-cold by Southern
California standards and the only she thing she had to
protect her from the cold night air was the matching wrap...
and the six-and-a-half yards of skirt.  Nary a crinoline nor a
petticoat was needed;the fabric was so airy and voluminous
that the skirt's fullness supported itself!  

What will you be wearing this season?  Do you have a favorite holiday ensemble?  Be you clad in fancy frock or ugly Christmas sweater, we wish you a very Happy Holiday!!!

"Happy Holiday" - Bing Crosby with The Music Maids (1942)


Mr. Tiny

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kitsch-en Kounter: O Krisp-mas Tree, O Krisp-mas Tree

Am I on Pinterest?  Yes.  Am I positive that I understand the intended purpose of Pinterest?  Not so much.  At face value, I think it is an ingenious way to electronically organize and store useful bits of information that would otherwise clog my years-old, unbacked-up hard drive and/or perpetuate that archaic process of tearing pages out of magazines.  In action, I see that it is just another way of wasting time online while simultaneously making me feel equal parts self-important and hopelessly inadequate.  Inadequate not simply because it is hard to imagine living up to the professional-quality photos of clever crafters lit beautifully by perfectly-diffused afternoon sunlight, rather because I am pinning neither as often nor as well as I should.  Seriously, you don't want to be inside my head when I launch into a neurotic inner-monologue about how I don't have enough pins, how the pins I do have aren't cool enough, and how I can't re-pin other people's pins because then I would just look like a dirty copycat.  It is entirely possible that I have problems much greater than Pinterest.

My biggest issue with Pinterest is that it proves the saying, "There is nothing new under the sun."  When struck with the "best idea in the whole wide world," I have been known to check Pinterest to make sure that mine is a wholly original one.  Inevitably, I learn that the pancake layer-cake has been done far earlier and far better than I could ever do.  After so many Pinterest-induced disappointments, I abandoned this practice - much like I had abandoned so many of my "original" ideas.  Just because somebody somewhere else in the world had come up with the same brilliant idea didn't mean that I hadn't experienced my own brush with brilliance, right?  Two bolts of lightning can strike distant points on a map without diminishing the electrifying brilliance of each other, am I right?

Brilliance often begins with Rice Krispies (or puffed rice, or "Crispy Rice" cereal
product, or whatever generic label suits your fancy).  It just so happens that the
real deal was on sale and less expensive than the store brand - Christmas miracle!  

It is always a challenge at holiday time to come up with something to take to the never-ending series of potlucks.  On a side note: the occasional potluck can be a real kick but what ever happened to throwing a party and just allowing your guests to be guests?  Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes I want to just show up at a party without having to bring the entire party with me (hostess gift, hors d'oeuvres, white elephant gift, ornament for the ornament exchange, two-dozen cookies, and ugly Christmas sweater).  In many ways, I am such a control freak that the thought of someone bringing something unexpected to a party I had so carefully planned would be enough to send me into a tailspin.  Like I said, my issues extend far beyond Pinterest and potlucks!

Charged with bringing "something to share" to a holiday party this year, I knew I needed a dish that would be easy, that would travel well, and that would bring a spark of seasonal drama to the heavy-laden buffet table.  I needed to make something that would snap, crackle, and - dare I say it - pop!  With Rice Krispies at the ready and a pantry full of staples like mini-marshmallows and green food coloring, I started farming my very own Rice Krisp-mas Tree!

Nestled on a bed of newly-driven coconut snow, the Rice Krisp-mas Tree
 is adorned with cinnamon candies and dusted with powdered sugar.  Designed
to be a pull-apart finger food, the tree felt like it was missing something... 

I almost forgot the topper, a Krisp-mas star!

Although, the real star of this show is probably the chenille-stem,
spun head snowman and his cheery, cherry-red top hat!

Just like a real one, even the most perfect tree on the lot needs a bit of trimming after it survives the ride home on the roof of the car.  After trimming the excess away from the graduated layers, notching out the branches, and several rounds of sampling , there were still more than a few scraps.

Ignoring the admonition to not play with my food, some of the scraps
turned into the perfect pretzel-shaped Krisp-mas mask for Santa!

Even if there are already 1,000 similar examples, there will be room for one more Rice Krisp-mas Tree on Pinterest by the time this post is published!  Hopefully it will have everyone singing, "O Krisp-mas Tree."

"O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum)" - Vince Guaraldi Trio

Be sure to check out Mr. Tiny's Pinterest page for other Kitsch-en Kounter ideas and to feel good about how superior your pinning is!  What are you taking to your holiday potlucks this year?


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

wacky tacky Icons: Mary Wickes, What a Character!

Mary Wickes
June 13, 1910 - October 22, 1995

From postmistress/switchboard operator (It Happened to Jane), to wisecracking housekeeper (Annette, On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Sanford and Son, I'll See You in My Dreams), to gargoyle with a heart of gold (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Mary Wickes is your favorite actor whose name you probably don't know.  Imbuing every one of her roles with the plain-speaking, salt-of-the-earth gumption suggestive of her Midwestern roots, Mary Wickes was the go-to character actress for nearly every no-nonsense nun (Sister Act, Sister Act 2, The Trouble with Angels, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, Punky Brewster) and nosy neighbor (Dennis the Menace) that Hollywood created during her seven-decade career.

"You don't say."

Featured in practically all of Hollywood's more memorable productions, scanning her extensive IMDb page is to realize that Mary Wickes is at the heart of wacky tacky's most beloved screen classics.  At this time of year, the role that immediately springs to mind is Pine Tree, Vermont's most misguided, if well-intentioned, hotel housekeeper.

Columbia Inn's head of housekeeping, Emma Allen (Wickes), counsels
General Waverly (Dean Jagger) in a pivotal scene from White Christmas (1954)

It is an underreported fact that White Christmas' entire love story hinges on Wickes' character; her meddlesome eavesdropping results in filmdom's greatest weather-related, hotel-reviving, sister-act-involved, Crosby-crooning, yuletide misunderstanding.  And without her eleventh hour cajoling of the General, there would be no glorious, snowy, Technicolor resolution.

As a child, I couldn't forget her star turns in White Christmas, Dennis the Menace, and Punky Brewster.
To the world, she was unforgettable as ballet mistress, Madame Lamond, on I Love Lucy.

There is little on record in regards to Mary's private life.  For that reason alone, she had just the kind of career I would want should I ever become a player in motion pictures.  Friendly with the major stars of both the big and small screens, Wickes side-stepped the relatively short career spans of those same friends by avoiding the press and Hollywood's biggest pitfall, vanity.  Taking a face perfectly suited for radio and turning it into a lifetime of steady screen work, she will always be an inspiration to those of us blessed with less-than-matinee-idol looks.

"Pick a Little, Talk a Little"
Wickes played one of River City's clucky society matrons, Mrs. Squires,
 in one of my all-time favorite movie musicals, The Music Man (1962)

Some of Wickes' earliest film roles were as uncredited dress extra.  Turning a corner, her career gained momentum when she donned a nurse's uniform for two of 1942's greatest films, Now Voyager and The Man Who Came to Dinner, both starring Bette Davis.  

"Dora, I suspect you're a treasure."

Always forthright, always funny, always fallible (but never mean-spirited), Mary Wickes brought tremendous charm to every character she played.  As a consistent presence in my preferred childhood entertainment, she is unquestionably one of my favorite actresses - character or otherwise.  I, too, suspect she is a treasure!

Don't you just love Mary Wickes?  Do you have any other favorite character actors?  Wherever you live, we hope that Mary Wickes ushers in a White Christmas for you this year!

Mary Wickes is a panelist on Match Game '76

Mary Wickes guest stars on Doris Day's radio show (1952)


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sew What?! I'm Dreaming of a BIG Dream Pet!

Perhaps it is the flocks ("herds" doesn't allow for such clever word play) of flocked reindeer so ubiquitous at the holidays. Perhaps it is because they are the only pets that don't amplify my seasonal allergies.  Or perhaps it is the fact that they are a perpetual line item (bold and underlined) on my yearly letters to Santa Claus.  Whatever the reason, Dream Pets always remind me of Christmas.  It doesn't really matter that the only two Dream Pets I own that are not currently in storage include a backpacking squirrel and a red-and-white poodle; I can't help but get wistful for the holiday season whenever I see a Dream Pet.

At least I think it's a poodle...

One might think that after my tedious dealings with Mary's Showgirl Halloween costume that I would have gotten my fill of red velveteen but after giving the remnants a second look, I started dreaming of a big Dream Pet.  Attempting to recreate the red-and-white poodle Dream Pet in a large scale, would be my way of finally setting Halloween aside and welcoming in the winter holiday.

I actually had nearly all the materials on hand - red velveteen, fiber fill,
button nose, pink material for the tongue and eyelids, and black vinyl for the
eyelashes.  The only thing I needed to buy was one skein of nubby white yarn!

Much like the crack team at Madame Tussaud's, I had to carefully study my subject, taking countless measurements, making several plaster molds, and photographing it from every angle.

Or maybe, and much more likely, I just dove head first into making my own pattern with
absolutely no technical understanding of pattern drafting/grading for poodles whatsoever.

After one rough draft, I started sewing, pushing past the usual thoughts of, "This is never going to work," that occur whenever I begin a new project.  I was afraid I had hit a major roadblock when, after stuffing its red, velveteen body, I sewed the Dream Pet shut and stood up, or rather tried to stand up, my strange, faceless creation.  The disproportionately-gargantuan head toppled the pet over every time.  Mildly discouraged, I forged ahead, figuring that adding the tail would act as a suitable counterbalance; and wouldn't you know, it worked! 

What resulted, however, was hardly an exact replica of the toy.
Generously described as only a reasonable facsimile, the poodle's
fluffy fur was achieved by making the world's longest chain of single 
crochet (I'm trying to make that sound fancy but after one lesson, 
more than fifteen years ago, the only crochet stitch I still remember 
how to do is a single crochet).  I simply wrapped the legs and looped 
the crochet chain over the tail's wire frame.

Sure, my big Dream Pet's enormous head is cocked at a jaunty angle, the fur is bright white, and the eyes
are a little high on the head.  Nevertheless, I think this pair could easily pass in public as parent and child.

To heighten the seasonal splendor, and to avoid the inevitable cease-and-desist
orders from the Dakin Corporation, I averted what would otherwise be considered
blatant trademark infringement by making my Dream Pet's bow out of vintage
"Velvette" ribbon in emerald green and topping it with a holiday pick from the
local cake supply store!

This Christmas, while most people are dreaming about luxury goods and a giant, red bow atop a brand new car, you can be sure that Mr. Tiny's Dream Pet reverie will only be briefly interrupted by the occasional visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.  

The most common emails I receive all revolve around the same basic
question, "Mr. Tiny," they ask, "in what do you sleep?"  The answer is
always the same - my glasses and a stocking cap, you weirdos!

Incidentally, the photographer indicated that this is possibly the most disturbing
photo she's ever had to take of me.  All I can say is, "Sweet dreams, everybody!"

Do you dream about Dream Pets?  Do you collect them?  Which is your favorite?  Does a giant Dream Pet defeat the purpose of these terrifically-tiny little toys?  Whether you dream of Dream Pets or White Christmases, we hope that all your holiday dreams come true!

"White Christmas" - Bing Crosby


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kitsch-en Kounter: Thanksgiving Leftover Luncheon Loaf

I'm going to cut to the chase; I don't really care for Thanksgiving food.  Call me un-American, but it all just seems so...cooked (like thrice-baked and covered in gravy).  My oh-so-casual attempts to fool my family into an alternative menu are thwarted at every turn; "Hey, gang!  How's about we have a taco bar and make-your-own Jell-O station on Thursday?  Sounds pretty neat, huh?"  But no dice.  Who knew I was related to so many traditional-type sticks in the mud?!!

Over a lifetime, the fatty within (and without) has tried to convince me that Thanksgiving food is both good and worth all the effort, but at this age and stage I am finally willing to live in my truth; I will give you a hundred Thanksgiving feasts for just one 4th-of-July BBQ!  Don't get me wrong.  It's not that I abstain from the bounty of the Thanksgiving table but I am far from inclined to overindulge on turkey and dressing; any average Wednesday afternoon will find me much more in need of elasticized trousers.  What I do love, however, is leftovers.  Within the remainder of chilled, uneaten scraps I find an endless source of creative culinary possibilities.  Even in the dull, grey leftovers of Thanksgiving food, I see a turkey transformation just waiting to happen.

As in all things, I find inspiration in my Kitsch-en Kounter forebears. 

It seems that Turkey Tetrazzini is so retro that it has become "now-tro" and therefore "out-ro" by Kitsch-en Kounter standards.  I decided to turn the flotsam and jetsam of our Thanksgivings past into "Thanksgiving Leftover Luncheon Loaf."  I'm pretty sure that a wise man once said, "We eat with our ears first."  And what sounds more appetizing than "Leftover loaf?"

I had my materials.  I had my inspiration.  Who knew that in creating this sweet-and-savory, layered delight that the hardest part would be finding pristine bread unmarred by an automatic slicing machine?  Two bakeries and four grocery stores later, I couldn't find a single loaf not already cut to ribbons.  The pendulum of preferences in baked goods has swung so far in one direction that now we'll laud the latest marvel by saying, "That's the greatest thing since unsliced bread!"  Eventually, I had to settle for a trimmed-down boule (#wackytackyworldproblems).  Once I had the bread situation under control, it was time to fulfill my obligation to the fillings.

Layer 1: Turkey Salad (leftover turkey, apples, almonds, dried cranberries, and tarragon)

Layer 2: Dressing

Is there an angle from which leftover dressing becomes photogenic?
If so, I haven't found it.  Our family recipe for sage dressing includes
onions, apples, dried cranberries, dried apricots, and roasted pecans.

Layer 3: Cranberry Sauce
I stabilized the homemade cranberry sauce with a bit of cream cheese.

Even the fattiest fatty would have second thoughts about frosting his sandwich but it wouldn't be a layer cake of a sandwich without the unsweetened icing and some decorative finishing touches.  Taking style cues from the antique Thanksgiving greeting above, I made a rather primitive, if altogether edible, turkey out of a mushroom, a red bell pepper, almonds, a carrot, and a single clove.  The pumpkins are made of apricots and flat leaf parsley.  

A bird's eye view
Nesting on a bed of parsley, I only wish I could have surrounded the
Thanksgiving Leftover Luncheon Loaf with hard-boiled turkey eggs!

A cross section of the Thanksgiving Leftover Luncheon Loaf
and the Pecan Praline Pumpkin Bread made for dessert.
As they say, one good loaf deserves another!

Thinking that by adding a few fresh herbs and a loaf of bread I had somehow reduced the richness of Thanksgiving dinner is probably one of my greatest delusions.  In the chance to rework the leftovers of what is my least favorite meal of the year, however, I found something in all of that heavy food for which I am truly thankful.  Maybe next year I'll just make turkey jerky!

"Jerky Turkey" (1945)

Tell the truth, have you ever frosted your sandwich?  What is the best thing you've ever made out of leftovers?  How will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?  We think that wherever one may live in the world, it is never a bad idea to reflect upon those things for which one is particularly grateful.  Mr. Tiny is especially thankful for his family and his family of wacky tacky turkey necks.  Thanks for your love, loyalty, and support!!! 

From all of us to all of you, a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, November 21, 2014

Save My Sole: The Big Shoe Shoe Repair

Did you hear about the big fire at the old cobbler's shop?  One hundred soles were lost.  I'll bet some heel started it!  Thank goodness that in 1947, an entrepreneur of unmatched brilliance, Mr. Deschwanden by name, decided to hang the shingle of his shoe repair business on Bakersfield's bustling Chester Avenue.

The Big Shoe Shoe Repair - Bakersfield, CA

For as much roadside excitement as we enjoy in California by way of googie coffee shops and fanciful playgrounds, we suffer from a distinct lack of thematic architecture (or maybe I just want more).  With the exception of the occasional giant tamale/orange/donut and muffler man, most of our novelty structures are naught but history.  So where do the last remaining muffler men go when they've worn down the heels on their big, crepe-soled shoes?  They go to The Big Shoe Shoe Repair, of course!!!

It was at this moment that I was despairing over my choice of footwear - if only I had the
foresight to have donned my white bucks.  You know how I love to team with the theme!

My casual shoes notwithstanding, I'm glad that the original architect of this wood-framed shoe decided to go with a classic style.  I'm not so sure that a sneaker would have gained as much traction in this - or any - community.  I mean, who wants to visit an athlete's foot?!?!!

Before we visited the Big Shoe, I thought I had big feet.  Finding out that a
fifty-foot length of rope makes up the shoelace certainly put me in my place.
I rather enjoyed the rarity of feeling dainty...

Naturally, we would never go all the way to visit a giant shoe without taking a peek inside.  Tongue-tied, the proprietor and patrons weren't that keen on having us snap their photo, so we backed out of the tiny shop.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the interior of the "big" shoe was exceptionally small.  To further our disillusionment, it also seems that the nursery rhyme is all a lie, nary an old woman nor her passel of ill-behaved children in sight.  We were waiting for the other shoe to drop but based on the proportions of this shoe, we thought better of it.  The nice thing was that it smelled as fresh as a daisy - a leather, adhesive, and shoe-polish daisy.

Do you have any thematic architecture in your neighborhood?  If you were a well-heeled old woman, would you live in a shoe?  If we lived in Bakersfield, it probably goes without saying that all of our shoe repair business would go to The Big Shoe because that's how all mama's children wanna rock!

"All Mama's Children" - Carl Perkins

We're not sure where our next adventure will be; all we know is that it will have some pretty big shoes to fill (a pretty big shoe to fill?)!!!

The Big Shoe Shoe Repair
931 Chester Ave
Bakersfield, CA


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Signs of the Times: Guthrie's Alley Cat

Guthrie's Alley Cat - Bakersfield, CA

The thing about an alley cat is that it hangs out in alleys.  Duh, right?  Well, unless you are the type that also frequents an alley cat's native habitat, then you just might miss said alley cat and therefore, what is arguably Bakersfield's greatest neon sign, Guthrie's Alley Cat (est. 1940).

The wagging blue tongue, the flash of bulging eyes, and the twirl of
animated, windmill tail indicate that this pretty kitty is as high as a kite!

Set back from downtown Bakersfield's major thoroughfares, the Alley Cat is the very definition of a hidden gem...or at the very least a slightly-obscured gem.  Given the sign's total lack of discretion, it is hard to believe that one could ever miss it.  Needless to say, old four-eyes over here drove by that darn cat at least three times in one afternoon without a second glance.  It wasn't until our pals, and fellow wacky tacky adventurers, told us that we mustn't miss it, did we set our coordinates for the gorgeous glow of Guthrie's gleaming neon marvel.

"Alley Cat" - Al Hirt

In actual fact, the secret to Guthrie's Alley Cat is not its back-alley location.  The real secret is found on the interior of this Streamline saloon, in the form of a multi-paneled mural by famed artist and wacky tacky icon, Al Hirschfeld.

Just look at how many luminaries are captured in only two of the
mural's panels.  How many of the well-known figures can you name?
Ms. Dietrich, is that you?

Ever the tacky teetotalers, we merely cased the
joint without ordering so much as a soda water!

The pleasant bartender didn't seem to mind our sober loitering as he could tell that we were getting plenty drunk off the "sparkling burgundy brew" of his fine establishment.  Oh, Alley Cat, you go to my head!

"You Go to My Head" - Marlene Dietrich

Guthrie's Alley Cat
1525 Wall St.
Bakersfield, CA


Mr. Tiny