Gretchen Roehrs

Sometimes in the course of my research/googles-gone-awry, I run into things that are too charming, interesting, or striking for me not to share. No advice, no pearls of wisdom- I’m definitely, pretty much, mostly very certain those are reasons you decide to stop by- just something cool that might brighten your day. This week? The fashion illustrations of Gretchen Roehrs.

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“We Need a Grown-Up Here!”

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If I had to pick a moment, I’d say being one of almost 20,000 watching with horror as a horse used the bathroom on stage was when I stopped understanding what it means to be an adult.

It was the yearly executive address at the IT company where I work, and the CEO was presenting the direction of development for the next year to the staff of 9,000 and the 10,000 customers in attendance. And naturally, there was a horse.

Because I studied clothing design in college, I always expected whatever job I got out of college to contradict with the picture painted by the career counseling nights organized by my college’s business organization. I never pictured myself in suits, the outfit of choice at the annual career fashion show, sharing business cards at networking events. I never anticipated needing to network. My portfolio would speak for itself, right? Or it would at least say, “this person knows every color. And she will make that color into a ruffle.” I wasn’t expecting an office, trading in a desk for a cutting table and a dress form, but I also wasn’t expecting farm animals. At least not real ones.

Irrelevant Work Experience

My first job was as a sales associate at Hallmark. Three days a week, after high school let out, I’d head to work, stopping by the neighboring grocery store to pick up a dollar frozen macaroni meal for dinner. Around each holiday, the staff of teenagers might be responsible for finishing the installation of a seasonal display, spending hours attaching Star Trek and Sesame Street and Gone With the Wind ornaments to brightly colored display boards, but for most of the year, the afternoon to closing shift, six hours of lurking by the cash register, stretched on through what felt like countless repeats of “Mandy” by Barry Manilow, playing at the music sample station located by the commemorative scrapbook selections and lace-covered wedding albums. The Manilow-mania was only interrupted by straightening the aisles and aisles (and aisles!) of cards, digging through the minefield of novelty ceramic statues to show a collector the newest selections, probably two cows styled as famed magicians, Sigfreid and Roy, and crouching below the checkout counter eating a white chocolate Lindt truffle, resembling an angry Golem with the one ring to rule them all.

I was never going to win employee of the month, but as is the case with most places that predominantly employ high schoolers, I think we count ourselves lucky the building didn’t burn down in a tragic Yankee Candle accident. Heartbreaking, but smelling of pumpkin pie and strip malls.

But in college, I was marginally older and marginally wiser. I picked up a summer job at a flower shop, my main responsibility being delivering flowers around Western North Carolina in a dingy, windowless van that loudly beeped whenever I put it in reverse, and if it weren’t full of flowers, might be the type of van people are warned to avoid in parking lots. Being before each phone was built with no less than seventeen navigation systems, I’d spend my days poorly navigating my tank around corners and cul-de-sacs with handfuls of wrinkled MapQuest directions clutched in one hand, wrestling the wheel with the other. Continue reading

A-Flap-Shuffle-Stomp, Indeed: Tap Class and The Bravery of Being a Beginner

Last week as I was skipping in circles with three other women, all of us wearing tap shoes, a fifth woman yelling at us about what we were doing with our arms, I wondered what brought me to this point in my life. If I made a mistake. If I could make a run for it. Or make a skip for it, as the case may be.

I wanted to quit, and that works quite well for me because have a track record of being a quitter.

I quit learning how to ride a bike. It started when my dad took me and my baby pink Huffy to the parking lot at the local elementary school. He would run behind me while I pumped the pedals, holding onto the bicycle seat to keep me from falling. And when I got more confident, he started letting go of the seat and let me ride on my own.

Now, this is how parents typically teach children to ride a bike. I, however, was so appalled that he did not continue to run behind me, terrified of spiraling into what I was sure was either certain death or the bushes, I 1) panicked, 2) cried, and 3) quit. Continue reading

How Do You Measure, Measure 7 Months and Then Another 2 Months?

I have the very real prospect of going to Scotland within the next year. 9 months specifically.

Let me tell you why this is a big deal. Because I’ll admit on the face of it, it may not seem like a big deal. It may not even seem like a deal. But trust me, this is at the very least a deal.

Fun fact, “this is at the very least a deal” is the opening line of my Shark Tank pitch for my company, Uber for cheese.

I’ve wanted to go to Scotland since Spring of 2012, but my interest started growing the year before. A friend of mine asked me to make her wedding dress, which in hindsight, feels like an insane thing to ask a twenty-three year old who couldn’t find an actual design job so was subsequently working retail in the gift shop of an historic home.

But when she and I went fabric shopping, the only fabric that grabbed our attention was a bolt of navy and green tartan taffeta that, as luck would have it, was on sale. It was practically waiting for us.

Illustration for Schiaparelli

If you’re not familiar with tartan, imagine plaid but with a much more interesting and complicated history. A history involving magic and romanticism! A history involving nationalism and war! All of that, while still looking very much like plaid.

(There’s also a history of  a plaid, coming from the Gaelic word “plaide,” being a specific garment worn by the Scottish in colder months. But I feel like that’s not necessarily a fact you’ll want to share at parties. For the purposes of this blog post, tartan is typically the name for plaid fabric in the UK. Plaid is what we use in America.)

But my friend, being incredibly proud of her family’s Scottish history, saw it for the tartan it was.

Lucille Ball. Not my friend in her wedding dress, though the two are interchangeable.

Over the next few months, we made a wholly unexpected dress. She looked like royalty. And it had pockets, so she was sensible royalty. And while we purchased the fabric in a “let’s just do it” moment, in the end, I couldn’t imagine her wearing anything else. And officially, tartan was on my mind.

So the next year, when my 19th century dress professor was helping me brainstorm topics for the semester research project, she looked at me and said, “what about tartan?”

Little did she know, I would not only say, “yes,” but I would not be cool about it at all. The next year and a half of graduate research would be devoted to tartan. Tartan and the 19th century. Tartan and punk culture. Tartan production and cultural enchantment.

  1. Tartan is fascinating, guys!
  2. I’ve been informed my definition of fascinating is not always spot on.

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Behind the Scenes in the Smithsonian Collections

Sometimes in the course of my research/googles-gone-awry, I run into things that are too charming, interesting, or striking for me not to share. No advice, no pearls of wisdom- I’m definitely, pretty much, mostly very certain those are reasons you decide to stop by- just something cool that might brighten your day. This week? Behind the scenes in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute

Mineral Sciences Collection

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Spring and Tornado Shelters of Choice

Spring happens gradually and all at once in Wisconsin.

While there is slow improvement from the crippling cold that steals your breath and then subsequently, your hopes and dreams as February creeps into March, it’s often expected that Spring, true blue Spring, birds-are-chirping-time-to-stop-crying Spring will takes its merry time in Wisconsin.

I had the conversation a few times through the months of March and April.

“How’re you enjoying this pretty weather today?”

“Oh gosh. Isn’t it amazing? I’m just hoping it will stick.”

“You and me both.”

Spoiler alert: it never sticks.

And around mid-April you find yourself fuming at socks, holding grudges against pants, and vowing revenge on the coat that you never want to put on again, while friends in Southern climates start posting pictures of hikes and outside and smiling. Coworkers complimenting your outfits, mentioning they’re a little more tailored for warm weather, and instead of saying thank you, looking them right in the eye, and saying, “I can’t do it anymore. And neither should you.” And then they stop talking to me. One can only assume it’s because they’re too cold.

Spring always takes its time up here. And this year, especially so.

But progressively, the jackets lose their down, and boots are traded for slip-ons, and you find yourself at the farmers’ market deciding on hanging baskets for your patio garden’s grand reopening.

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Under The Parrot Umbrella: A Highlight Reel

A lot has been going on in my life lately.

I may be in a turf war with a bird, for one. (I yelled “I BEG YOUR PARDON!” when it landed a foot away from me on my patio. It did not seem phased, and has since returned to defecate all over my West Elm patio furniture.)

In similar news, I recently hit two hundred posts under the parrot umbrella! It’s a big umbrella!

We’ve cooked. We’ve complained. We’ve gone on thing you can almost count as trips.

There’s been pie. There’s been Hanukkah churros. There’s been mediocre cheese made from scratch.

I’ve gone to Milwaukee. I’ve gone to something called a Forevertron. I travelled first class once, and was abundantly not cool about it.

This blog is my show and tell, a roommate who can’t tell me my stories are bad, and my outlet. And we made it 200 posts in, and have yet to be murdered in Murder Mall. I’m calling that a win.

To commemorate the occasion, I’ve selected my ten favorite posts from over the years.

Greatest Story [I’ve] Ever Told

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Believe it or not, some people call me hyperbolic (see: avian turf war). But sometimes things happen in your life that don’t need exaggeration. The “conducted a job interview in my pajamas while chasing a dog through a field” story is doing just fine on its own.

Check it out here. Continue reading