A Week in Whanganui: Moa Bones, Museums, and Art

Last week, I did something unusual – I spent six days in Whanganui, New Zealand. Whanganui is a pretty place, a large town/very small city traced along a shimmering river, a bit off the beaten tourist track on the west coast of New Zealand. WanganuiRiverAnd I was there to spend time volunteering at the Whanganui Regional Museum…
WHM-MuseumOutside…in their moa bone exhibit. This is not just the largest dedicated moa exhibit in the world, it is also “living storage” for the museum’s  significant moa bone collection. I was there to help process moa bones for physical and online curation, and to document the process for other volunteers. You can read more about the technical and communication aspects of this at my professional blog here.WhMu-MoaRoom   I was able to get up close and personal with the moa collection – a fascinating experience.Moalab-skull

ECwithDNAspecimenDo I look stylish? Enh, probably not. I went up to “Wangers” with a thoughtful fall capsule wardrobe in my luggage, and then the weather there decided it was going to be summer again. So I could only wear about half the clothing I had with me without broiling, and I was too wrapped up in the museum to care much. I wonder if other capsule wardrobe travelers get caught out like this.

The museum also hosts rotating art exhibits from their deep collection. This month they were opening an exhibit about retro New Zealand woodcraft by a company named Sovereign. Here are some sleek 50s and 60s pieces from the exhibit.

WhMu-retrowoodartI timed my volunteering week to be in Whanganui for the Open Studio art festival. That meant I was in Whanganui for their first Pecha Kucha on Friday night. On Saturday, a friend and I zipped around to multiple glassblowing studios and artist exhibits. There’s lots of wonderful artwork and I will be back for the next Open Studio next year. Here’s a hasty shot of the treasures in progress at Chronicle Glass Studio:
ChronicleStudiosTo complete my “geekcation” I even found a great new pair of eyeglasses at Eyes on Victoria – turns out they have exotic French and Italian frames, along with Karen Walker’s world-famous-in-the-world NZ designed eyeglasses and sunglasses. I am really lucky to be able to take a week off of work to volunteer in a natural history collection at a museum. It was a fantastic six days, thanks to everyone who hosted me and who I visited along the way!


After a week of volunteering (and handling other bones with care) I was allowed to hold a giant moa leg bone. SCIENCE!!!


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Where I’ve Been

Happy Spring Equinox! What did I do in the second part of winter? I was…

…exploring the deliciously austere and windswept Palliser Bay with my fiancée…

WinterCapePalliser…emceeing two great shows in August (look, I got memed!)…

…helping out with a wonderful event, Glory Days’ Winter Vintage Fair

WinterVintage…and surviving a busy period at Ye Day Jobbe while doing a surprising amount of web freelance work. WordPress, SEO, online advertising, and content. Here’s a preview image from a freelance site in progress.

Skirt-BlackBlackRuffle-FullSmileThis lovely lady is modeling a spiral-ruffle circle skirt from Velvet Cherry on upper Cuba Street. If you like steampunk, lolita, gothic, or pinup, Velvet Cherry is ready to outfit you.

The last thing I was doing was getting my fitness back after a more-unwell-than-I-thought period in May. I have also learned that, if you’re in New Zealand, you should eat two Brazil nuts a day. Just two, to supplement your selenium. I stumbled upon doing this while following these nutritional guidelines here with the aid of a mixed bag of nuts, and now I have MUCH more energy.

I’ve got several beauty and burlesque events coming up that I’ll chronicle for you soon, including a very unique fragrance event from last weekend.


Oamaru Victorian Heritage Weekend: Oamaru Itself

More photos from Oamaru Victorian Heritage weekend – this time, focusing on Oamaru itself. With the delicious food, the quirky establishments reusing abandoned buildings, and the grand event, Oamaru feels like it has been taken over by a tribe of artistic best friends who turned it into the New Zealand medium-small town of their dreams.


Here I am getting my 1893 on at the walk-in vintage radio museum. My costume is thrifted, except for the Chinese silver belt buckle and the hat made by my friend Khaybee.


The $5 cheese tasting plate at Whitestone Cheese, with glimpses of their brick-sized cheese scones.


Blue cod with bacon, the fish of the day, and St. Germain cocktails with elderflowers at the fabled Fleur’s in Moeraki.


Not only did we not have a lot of time to visit the Moeraki boulders, but they were clogged with other tourists on a fine spring Saturday. I would have liked to spend more time contemplating them, in fine rain, with just my immediate companions on the beach. Here, some of the boulders have eroded, while one of the remaining naturally spherical stones stands alone.


Pennyfarthings and cyclists at the parade.


A glimpse of the opulence inside the Grainstore Gallery.

What a prodigious engine! One of the interactive steamworks outside Steampunk HQ.

What a prodigious engine! One of the interactive steamworks outside Steampunk HQ.


Inside the strange post-industrial art installation called Steampunk HQ. Machines wheeze, images flicker, and steam alternates with stone-chilled air.


Our travel companions were beseeched to join in the costume parade on Sunday, held indoors at the Scottish Hall. Khaybee has resumed her handmade late Edwardian hat, adorned with roses, birds, and feathers.

All this machinery was irresistible to the adventurous!

All this machinery was irresistible to the adventurous!

I haven’t even noted the Explorers’ Club – a useful base for the weekend – the two historical dances, the bookbinders and artists, the stone-carving competition, or the steam engines and vintage vehicles and hot air balloons. Thrifting at the op shops might have been rewarding, too. If you’re snapping away with your camera, drop some coins into the donation boxes that are at many venues.

And do make your lodging reservations (and reservations at Fleur’s) in advance, especially for event weekends like the upcoming paired Oamaru on Fire/Steampunk Weekend next May/June. The only negative thing I noted about Oamaru: I had terrible, terrible hayfever the whole November weekend. Peonies and roses were in bloom in the town, and the pasture in the surrounding countryside was in its full glory. Bring all your medications. I should have avoided dairy, but between the cheese and the incredible ice cream handmade at Deja Moo, well…

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Oamaru Victorian Heritage Weekend: Oh, The Costumes

Two weeks ago, I was at the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebration weekend. Oamaru says it’s New Zealand’s only Victorian town. Looking through my photos, I’m reeling at the amount of fantastic Victorian costuming on the streets. With no further ado: many costumed photos.


I believe these elegant costumes and costumers came down from Auckland. Downcast eyes = so period.


A fortuitous sunbeam…


This lady caused a photography traffic jam when she posed for me!


A delightful family watching the parade.


The friends who encouraged me to come to Oamaru said that all levels of costuming were welcomed. Three historically accurate costumes.


Belles and beaus on parade on Saturday.


March of the suffragettes! New Zealand gained women’s suffrage in 1893. Note the purple, green, and white outfits – the colors of the suffragette movement.


A close up on some of the suffragettes, with bonus pennyfarthings.


The steampunk contingent! -salutes-


A happy, happy crowd, in the midst of the Victorian district.

People on the street were extremely gracious about posing, even about being moved into the shade for better shots – thank you, everyone! There was a Costume Parade in the Scottish Hall on Sunday, for some prizegiving and for serious costume review. Unfortunately, while the costumed gentlemen and ladies were happy as posing flaneurs on the street, they got hasty on stage, so I didn’t get the greatest photos.

Tomorrow I’ll do a general travel post about the festivities and the Oamaru area. And you’ll get to see my costume.

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Friday Follies: Reviving After Travel

At last, I’m back, after wrapping up my trip, followed by two weeks of jet lag and Extreme Busyness. Some of what’s going on is very good, and some of it has made me very sad, and there’ll be posts about that later. In the meantime: burlesque!

I emceed a fantastic little show in Martinborough, and I’m emceeing Frolic Lounge this weekend. I’ll also be extending some hospitality to a visiting performer next week – if you’d like to see her, check out The Burlesque Assassins.


It’s the Winter Solstice here, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain. But it’s a great moment to go back to our roots…here are 8 tips for developing personal style for us quirky types.

After my trip, my feet were beat. I was walking four to eight hours a day, sometimes in 95 degree heat. I had blisters on my blisters! This great advice on preventing and treating blisters applies to both long hikes and high heels. Thanks to moleskin, I could still keep going, albeit with frequent gimpy breaks.

Also: jewelry and taxidermy. TOGETHER AT LAST. Oh yusss.

Amy Shutt photograph of Digby and Iona ring on a taxidermy quail.

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Travel: Packing, Pre-Shopping, and Unnatural Acquisition

I’m pretty pleased with how a “capsule wardrobe” has worked out for me on this trip. It’s taken me from lunch at a formal New York bistro to pizza on a park bench, and through a 40-degree range of temperatures. I was able to pack minimally, saving luggage space to abuse for other purposes (bringing clothing, book and culinary gifts). And I felt polished and relaxed. Polyvore makes it easy to play with the idea of capsule wardrobes, so it’s great to experience that they actually work well in real life.

This is the tight capsule wardrobe that has served me well: two pairs of jeans (one grey with a pattern), a black pencil skirt, six tops, two cardigans, and a wool ponte blazer. For a handbag, I am carrying an unfashionable, but useful and secure, leather messenger bag. Everything in the “capsule” goes with everything else. Here’s my ‘Polyvore On The Floor’ for you.


Yes, only one pair of shoes! More shoes, and a travel-friendly black dress were waiting for me. One of these pairs of shoes, black leather sandals from Naot, went with skirt and dress ensembles. I “pre-shopped” so that these items were waiting for me at my mother’s address. I’ve acquired some new items from sale racks and consignment stores – the only full-price items I’ve bought have been underwear. (Very good bras, mini-camisoles, and Jockey Skimmies.) Nothing – absolutely nothing – requires ironing. From my newer purchases, another pair of jeans and a shrug cardigan made it into the trip clothing rotation.

Acquiring a good chunk of my wardrobe every two years on trips to the U.S. is a very unnatural pattern of clothing acquisition. Why do I do it? Three factors. I can’t buy petite-proportioned clothing in Wellington, and I have difficulty buying shoes for my tiny hooves. I like the variety and huge range of colors in the U.S. And the tremendous amount of clothing in the U.S. means that those consignment stores, outlets, and sale racks stretch my shopping dollars. This time around, I’ve been shopping from a list, which is also helpful.

I love the advice at the long-term travel site Journeywoman, and their Favorite Travel Clothing stories are spot on.


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Travel: Philadelphia Freedom

“All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” said W.C. Fields before his death. And I’ve been thrilled to be back in the city I lived around or in for ten years. Seriously, I am so happy to be here. Some things haven’t changed, like the picture below, and some things have.
Phil-QuinceI used to live in the house immediately on the right.
Phil-LoveThe famous “LOVE” statue on a perfect spring afternoon.

Phil-Quest“Quest’ at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.


Flag and bunting emporium in Old City. Philadelphia has gotten a LOT more into the patriotism thing than it used to be. When I lived here in the 1990s, a lot of the historical atrractions were run down after a then-stylish update in 1976. Now, a massive new visitor’s center welcomes tourists and entertains them with storytellers and costumed historians. The line for the Liberty Bell snakes around a city block. New museums and a Philadelphia son et lumiere show have opened up. There was a Tea Party protest going on in front of a government agency.

Also, while visiting my mom in CT, I watched a lot of those new restaurant-voyeurism TV shows, which all seemed to focus on meatloaf. Evidently these shows found rich subject matter in Philadelphia – I went to Reading Terminal Market and my co-diners were Instagramming their food. It’s like everyone else realized how great Philadelphia is, and the result is some Philadisneying. Hm. I always praise Philadelphia to people outside the U.S. as a fantastic, affordable, walkable place to visit and get a sense of The Real America, much more than New York, which is its own beast. Based on the accents in the crowd, non-U.S. visitors have discovered Philly, too.

Away from the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross, there’s a vibrant liberal city with a strong queer presence. Medicine and science have been an integral part of the city’s  intellectual life forever, leading to institutes like the Philosophical Society and the Mutter Museum. It’s crowded – but not too crowded. Perhaps it’s because the crowds are thinner that I’m finding Philadelphians even more stylish than New Yorkers. Neon green, hardly seen in New York, is out in force here. The City of Brotherly Love is not as cheap as it once was, but I still recommend it to New Zealand travelers, especially as a stop between New York and Washington D.C.

Next post I’m going to discuss the beauties of Philadelphia shopping. Hold on to your tricorn hats and wallets.

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Travel: New York, Briefly

Going to America, New York feels…somewhat mandatory. At least, it is if your father and brother live there. I stayed for four days and spent most of the time catching up with people. “New York is one of the most uncomfortable environments there is,” says my Brooklyn-based brother. “You can get away with anything as long as you don’t get in anyone else’s way.” It was frantic and crowded and sweaty and dirty and exciting and full of wonderful, high-energy people.

Lovely Lolitas in NYCIn Bryant Park, meeting up with a friend, we ran into a fashion shoot and a separate Lolita meetup. By the carousel, of course!

Their "Ho Ho" cakeBryant Park cafe cake. Very dark and rich.


I stayed very close to here for three nights. Had some fabulous food in neighboring Koreatown.

Mi abuela Isabel NemirovskyRediscovered at my dad’s place, this photo of my Argentinian grandmother, aged 22 here.

Mister Showbiz courtesy of Juleskill via Creative CommonsIt’s not a New York trip without a dose of burlesque or cabaret. And I got mine from Mister Showbiz himself, Murray Hill! I saw him perform on May 18th, at Galapagos Art Space, with my “show date” being Judith of Unseen Censer. Such a pleasure to see the emceeing master at work. The show was flawless, too – unlike my excited, shaky photography. So this far better image is via Creative Commons, so you too can feel the love.

A word about New York shopping. It’s easy to get overloaded, jaded, bewildered, and overspent very quickly. If you have a strong interest in music, or crafts, or graphic novels, or some other highly specific hobby or subculture, you may get more pleasure out of spending money on the specialized items for these that you can find in NYC than on the chimera of “New York style.” But many visitors to New York are convinced the chimera is out there…

I find my best New York fashion return-on-investment comes from cosmetics. It is worth it to pick your favorite cosmetic counter and get some refreshing tutorials along with your purchases. My favorite is the boutique brand Paula Dorf, and their Henri Bendel counter is staffed by makeup sorcerers.  I went to them and said, “My eyebrows – can you help?” They did.

Clothes were more hit and miss – I’m not the only one to find this season of clothing rather meh. Macy’s on Herald Square was vast and confusing. I preferred the cleaner, more tranquil, and better curated Lord and Taylor at 38th Street – their sale racks had some bargains that matched items I was seeking.

New Yorkers look like everyone and wear everything – the full cross-section of humanity, not the tooth-bleached actors in Manolos we get in the media. That said, this spring, the New York fashionistas got a memo that said “Wear a very, very simple black dress. And beige shoes, and a bag of an entirely different color. Top it off with a clunker of a necklace or a bracelet, but NOT both.”

So, Many. Things. Made of leather!
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Brahmin Tent Sale: An Ocean of New England Handbags

Like many carbon-based life forms, I hate trying to replace favorite bags. Last year, I stumbled across a bag that fit my exacting topological requirements, by a brand named Brahmin. Not only did this bag have a great shape, and inside pockets designed to please, but it was made of a steampunk-looking crocodile-pressed cowhide that promised to outlast me.

I poked around to learn more about Brahmin, and was satisfied that I could feel good about giving them my handbag money. An intelligently managed midsized brand, they court bloggers actively – of all colors, ages, and sizes. They don’t overcharge. And while a distinctly feminine brand, they are tech-friendly and their core line has a clean-lined, sturdy aesthetic that’s often reserved for men’s leather goods.

So when I found out that they were having their biannual “tent sale” two hours away from my New England idyll, my mom and I planned to go. We get a surprising amount of designer sample sales in New Zealand, from our own designers, but I wanted to see one Yankee-style.

We arrived to an industrial parking lot full of tents, with traffic and security staff waving us along. Outside the tent, a local vendor was selling fresh, hot cookies, and we refreshed ourselves before entering the scrum. Inside the tents were vast quantities of fresh handbags.


Inside the Brahmin Tent Sale: bags as far as the eye can see

In case this wasn’t enough, a stream of well-set-up Brahmin staffers constantly conveyed fresh boxes of handbags to our gaping maws. Experienced shoppers hovered for the new boxes.

So, Many. Things. Made of leather!

A constant stream of items for our consideration

There were bags that are being sold currently on the web site, bags from last winter, the winter before, and bags of total mystery. Colored oddments – puce! sandy mustard! eggplant! – were blended with standard reds, blacks, and browns, and with metallics. Privately, I was disappointed that there were no bags in the thrilling teal “Peacock” color from last winter.  Not that I was stalking them, or anything. I had to keep tearing myself away from the brown crocodile-look handbags that Brahmin does so very well. Many of the leather satchels were heavy, more than I prefer for a bag. There were tables of accessories. Keychains seemed overpriced, but leather picture frames were an excellent deal. We all have photos that deserve a frame of fuschia leather.

This handbag jungle had its laws. If two of us converged on the same bag at the same time, the first comer had dibs. I was charmed when, twice, the bag’s claimant offered to find me amid the scrum if the bag didn’t make their cut.

The handbag-shopping sound and fury was a bit much for my mom, who slipped outside after choosing one item. “I almost passed out!” I found her chatting amiably with one of the other shoppers, helping her choose between a red and a metallic bag. Many buyers tripped away with two or three giant grey shopping bags. Others slipped off with one modestly burdened bag. The more shopping bags they were carrying, the less they wanted to be photographed! To defend these super-shoppers, they were often buying gifts for friends and family. The bags were deeply discounted, 50% to 40% of their normal price – but still spendy. I wished I had that gift budget. Also, these bags don’t come with the Brahmin registration card, which means that Brahmin won’t repair the bags for free.

Gifts! Gifts, I tell you!Are three handbags between two women a “haul”? I don’t think so. My mother’s purchase grew on her. She likes a bag with compartments and stumbled upon a current-season Mojito Crossbody in Pecan. “Look at this pocket. And this one. It’s perfect for travel. Not that I travel. You can adjust the straps? How clever! I love the brown. It goes with everything.”

As for my bags, they seem to come from archives, or a department-store exclusive, or perhaps a parallel universe. One bag is of sturdy, moody, greenish-bronze-leopard leather.  Nobody understands this bag but me. We’ll walk together in the rain. I will shelter it under my arm, tenderly – it fits so perfectly into the curve of my waist – and slide haiku and dried fern leaves into its side pocket.


Despite the potential awkwardness of the “handles”, this bag passed the fumbling-with-keys-at-the-door test.

The other bag is an curiously soft black leather shoulder bag, a wardrobe workhorse. It’s the little things that add up, the brass fittings and the quality black stitching, actual pockets behind the diagonal zippers. It’s like that OK person at work who blossoms into a real friend.

A good solid bag

A bag destined to become a detachable part of my body. You know what I mean…

Both of these bags have been taken for an urban test drive and passed with flying colors. Next post: New York!

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Travel: A New England Interlude

Where have I been? First I was getting ready for a trip to the USA, and then…I was on the trip. Now that I’m at the midpoint I have time to share some of my adventures with you.

First, I spent close to two weeks in New Haven, Connecticut, for my mother’s 70th birthday, related festivities, and general catching up. I also had the great pleasure of seeing my Internet pen pal Michelle and her husband Mark, and with a friend of mine who teaches historical dance and is the mastermind behind the blog Rixosous. Most of all, seeing my mom doing well, catching up with her, reconnecting…oh, man. All the Feels. All of them.

CT-NewHavenThe mean streets of New Haven, Connecticut.

CT-YaleMuseumIn the Yale Museum of Art. Yale’s two art museums are free.

CT-MarshyBackyardSpring woodlands.


I made my mom’s 70th birthday cake for her birthday crowd: orange buttercream and vanilla wine cake (recipe for the cake layer is here).

CT-ChicksKicking it old school at Chick’s, a vintage seafood drive-in by the shoreline. This was where we went after the beach when we were young….Revisiting it, it looks grim and utilitarian, but the food still can’t be beat.