Friday, March 14, 2014


My sister Abigail has a book of dark timeless everyday magic poetry out in the world. Her collection won the 2013 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize, and the gorgeous volume is available through Amazon among other means: Sylph.

March 2014: Sylph in Hand
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

"In her first collection of poems, Abigail Cloud draws inspiration from nineteenth-century European Romantic ballets, which often portrayed scorned females as mystical spirits such as sylphs, shades, and wilis. ... For Cloud, the dark gravity that holds these enchanters to the earth is the same as our own and thus these demons are as everyday as air."

Her poem collection makes me think of a sorceress's jewel coffer: motifs coil like glinting chains, vanishing and resurfacing in the chest; words shimmer like gems with ominous powers. "This malevolent aunt-smoke stalks into the party, takes a drop too much whisky, and drizzles invective into your cradle..."

The cover features delicate garment art by Louise Richardson. It's a detail of a piece called Tatting.

Abigail is also in The American Poetry Review for March/April 2014. You can read one of her pieces online: The Everyday Demon Experiences Burnout.

She asked me last summer to take author photos. An honor and a pleasure; my lenses have loved her for years. It is a creative high to see one of our choices on the back of a book, and a nicely designed book at that. It just looks so good there -- better than my snapshot conveys.

March 2014: Sylph Back
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

Here she is again. She has upcoming readings in Findlay and Bowling Green, Ohio; at Siena Heights in Michigan; and in Central Missouri.

Flyer Image via Professor Dave Essinger

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gothic Inspiration

If you've known me for a while, you might recall my penchant for vintage gothic romance suspense novels -- and their spooky yet stylish covers. If you don't recall, you can read about my fascination (not entirely tongue-in-cheek) here: Gothic Nightgowns.

I enjoy the Gothic Romance Paperback Novels group on Facebook, and I much appreciate their time and generosity in scanning and sharing vintage covers. Recently they posted The Lucifer Mask.

I just... I mean, I just...

Cover of The Lucifer Mask, Belmont Books
Image via Gothic Romance Paperback Novels

...I just haven't encountered a gothic heroine who so evokes my style dreams before. Juliette's hair, her jewels, her shapely gown and dark coat, and even the ladylike gloves... This is my ensemble for my next white tie affair. Very well: my first white tie affair.

Now who might invite me to a white tie affair?

(And then, let's flee through a cemetery.)

Have you found fashion inspiration from book covers?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Passing in the Night

For our second themed photo challenge, H. N. James and I had decided to pursue "Dark Entries": dark, unexpectedly spooky things in our towns. I imagined spotting eerie local sights throughout autumn, particularly around Hallowe'en, but it turned into a rushed season for me.

Dark Entries were going slowly for H.N., too. By the end of November she proposed that we work on our "Passing in the Night" (night time photography) challenge simultaneously. "I've changed my mind about winter being a bad time for it," she wrote. "It's actually a GREAT time for it, because it gets dark earlier, there are lots of lights, and we don't have to stay out so late."

True! I managed some frosty glowing shots within a couple of weeks. You can see the full sized selections in my Flickr set here: Passing in the Night.

There's still a lot I want to try with night time photography, but these are my reasonably timely selections for the challenge.

Nature gave me a lovely gift on the night of my birthday. I'd had some quiet time in my study as my husband monitored the children, and I'd pulled my curtains open to watch the near-full moon as I worked (well, as I gamed). The moon settled behind some windowpane frost accumulation and made a miniature nebula:

December 2013: Moon Window
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

We traveled to my parents' home in Michigan for Christmas week. After eight hours on the road we arrived in their driveway literally the moment freezing rain began to fall. It became a heavy and dangerous ice storm. Tens of thousands were without power through the week, even on Christmas Day, but somehow we kept ours:

December 2013: Ice Lights
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

The icy coatings lasted for days. I wrote to a penfriend on Christmas Eve, "The trees sway just a bit in the wind, and their branches crack and shatter and bomb the crusted snow below. The constant sound when one strolls (living dangerously) outside is of angels above throwing china and smashing wineglasses in the hearth."

But I couldn't resist stepping out to capture the lights and sparkly glow of my folks' festive shrub.

December 2013: Ice Lights 7
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

(That one is much better viewed at a larger scale.)

We've had some extraordinary winter weather here in the Midwestern US. Have you been inspired by unusual weather patterns recently?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Suburban Sarah and Urban Decay

As the 1990s glowed in the USA, with a booming economy, alternative music, colorful subcultures, and green consciousness, we saw a proliferation of unconventional beauty brands. That's how I remember it, anyway.

My awareness of this fantasian world beyond drugstores and department store counters came with the first thick Body Shop catalogue I received in the mail. It must have been 1992. The Body Shop was born in England in 1976, but only in the 90s did it start to spread across the USA. I still have that texty recycled paper catalogue, with my favorite Dewberry Shampoo, Orange Cream Bath Oil, and delicately tinted artwork.

I quested for other intriguing offbeat cosmetics companies. I found a few via Sassy magazine and high technology. In January of 1996 I was sitting in my sophomore dorm room, surfing the 'net through my text-based Lynx browser. And I found a glowing link to Urban Decay.

I hadn't met Mosaic or Netscape yet. I didn't know one might see pictures online. There weren't many to see anyway, and most companies didn't comprehend the marketing potential of the internet. But there, in neon ASCII, was Urban Decay -- bold brainchild of Cisco Systems founder Sandy Lerner. No wonder a makeup company had an internet presence so early.

According to their text, Urban Decay offered the unheard-of: shimmering indigo lipstick, or corpselike grey if it pleases you! Olive green nail enamel, and gunmetal, and the most vampiric blood maroon!

I submitted a request for their snail mail brochure. I had to see these hues for myself. I was sure I wouldn't have a use for such odd shades, but I fell in love with the brochure. I began to save spare dollars for a few refreshingly weird things.

Urban Decay Brochure I

I still have that piece of 90s ephemera. Eighteen years later I'm sharing it with you. "Does pink make you puke?" It hasn't made Urban Decay puke in years, of course. They offer all shades of pink now -- dirtied up psychologically if not visually with names like Anarchy, Catfight, Heartless, Burnout, Trashed, and Jilted. But here is UD at its most rebellious:

Urban Decay Brochure II

Urban Decay Brochure III

Urban Decay Brochure IV

Urban Decay Brochure V

Urban Decay Brochure VI

My first items were the Bruise and Uzi nail enamels. UD's text site told me I could find their products at a certain surf shop in Muskegon, and so I did after a visit to my grandmother. Ah, Internet.

"But Lerner says she's already bored. 'I guess the things that were bugging me are not bugging me anymore,' she says. 'Blue-green nail polish is really mainstream now.'" --Forbes, "Does pink make you puke?" August 25, 1997

By 2013, both The Body Shop and Urban Decay had been acquired by the L'Oréal Group. Le sigh.

Do you remember UD from back in the day? Did you make any memorable beauty discoveries in the 1990s?

Have a beautiful 2014!

Monday, December 2, 2013

New Visions

Wants versus needs. What do you do when you're on a spending diet, but a prospective expense walks the border?

Never in my life have I felt attractive in glasses. Since my first adolescent pair they've been mere silly-looking tools. I moved gleefully to contact lenses in high school, and henceforth wore glasses very little in public.

As my pupils dilated during a long overdue eye exam this summer, I tried on a number of frames to see if I could find anything that I would be proud to wear into the world. Was it possible? My prescription had been stable for years, and my ancient lenses were literally flaking away, so it was prime time to try something new. Something with definition that would go well with dark hair, pale skin, and a vivid lip.

I tried frames that made me look too angry, or too anaemic, or too avant garde. Then I came across these Anna Sui frames. In the brown tortoiseshell they were the perfect shape and visual weight for my face -- I needed something dark yet petite, with a rounded bottom.

Anna Sui Frames Model AS559
Image via

But the frames were costly. Wants versus needs, Sarah. I needed new lenses for safety, but...I didn't need new frames. I put the Anna Suis down and walked away for a couple of months, but my lenses got worse.  I had to make a decision.  I called my vision center to see if they ever ran sales on frames. It turned out that they do, sometimes, sort of. Their current sale was $100 off frames, as long as one had a doctor's exam there (already taken care of) and also purchased a set of lenses (a need). That discount made my want-item far more reasonable, and more than competitive with shady internet dealers.

I could keep my old glasses as emergency backup, too; I'd never had that security before.

Here I am taking a break from pre-Thanksgiving housecleaning. I'm trying again to master DSLR focus in mirror selfies so I can show you my new glasses in nice light without glare. I'll get it someday.

November 2013: Thanksgiving Break
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

I'll have to settle for this photo for now, and work on my no-glare techniques in the future. Because I might actually want to show myself in specs from time to time...

November 2013: A New Look
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

Speaking of spending diets, I've returned to drugstore brands when I need to replenish toiletries and cosmetics. The Fine Brands might work better -- a bit better, maybe even 20% (twenty percent) better -- but it's illogical to me right now to pay 200% (two hundred percent) more for that performance edge and psychological cachet.

It's been fun to return to my old pleasure of browsing the hues and possibilities of Revlon, L'Oréal, Maybelline...and sometimes a drugstore product puts a "prestige" brand to shame. (Well yes Sarah, I can hear some of you thinking.)

I've found that cult favorite L'Oréal True Match liquid foundation is easier to work with and covers better than my exorbitant Laura Mercier Silk Crème foundation did, and it comes in a wider array of hues. Let's not forget that it's a sixth the price of Ms. Mercier.

St. Ives Timeless Skin Moisturizer, at around five dollars for a generous tub, is surprisingly lovely on bare skin or under makeup. It doesn't seem to irritate my sensitive complexion, it soaks in quickly, and it leaves my face and neck feeling like apricot skin for hours.

The drugstore red I'm wearing above is possibly the most perfect red I've found for myself: Revlon's ColorBurst Lip Butter in Red Velvet. It was four dollars and change because Walgreens was running its 40% off Revlon sale. It's a perfect bit of festive wintertime crimson in a lush translucent moisturizing format. I can wear a balmy red lip all day long, even to my son's preschool or to help in the library, and not feel like Too Too Much. And I love the retro feel of the diamond quilted case. I hope they never stop making this.

December 2013: Revlon Red Velvet
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

Ladies of long and varietous cosmetic experience: what other high performance drugstore products should I examine?

Sarah's wearing: Silk cotton blouse, Ann Taylor. Glasses, Anna Sui. Pearl studs, gift from husband. Gold necklace of small pendants collected since childhood.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Once Upon a Vine

I try not to let myself be swayed by pretty wine labels. But I was browsing for a new-to-me sauvignon blanc anyway, and I saw that this alluring brand came with a $3 off coupon if one purchased at least $3.01 in produce. Into my cart it went, along with the apples, bananas, and lettuce I needed.

November 2013: Lost Slipper Sauvignon Blanc
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson

Once Upon a Vine: Lost Slipper Sauvignon Blanc. "Smooth and delicate as a glass slipper," reads its label. "...our Sauvignon Blanc will...get your taste buds dancing with its fresh, bright flavors of sweet white peach, luscious nectarine, and lemon chiffon icing."

It is indeed a sauvignon blanc on the sweeter end, more like a Riesling experience, at least to my dilettante taste buds. It's not a buy-again for me, but I will certainly try to conserve the pretty pretty label. I'm off to Google how to remove it intact.