I've wanted to do this since last year when those ghastly inbred Britons they keep making movies about had that wedding everyone seemed to think was so important. I'm not anti-Princess, you see, I'm just pro-truth when it comes to selling the deplorable lifestyle of European royalty to little girls. If the evil Disney corporation ever loses a class action lawsuit when a dozen poor little girls are horribly disfigured after their non-flame-retardant polyester princess gowns go up in flames at some birthday party in Hoboken, I hope part of the settlement involves handing out a coloring book like this one at all their theme parks, free of charge.

1. A Royal Wedding

Like most historical princesses, as soon as Princess Isabella of France reached breeding age she was shipped off to become a sperm depository in some other European duchy and live out her days incubating male heirs or facing the wrath of a shrewish dowager. In 1308 when Isabella was twelve she was sent to London to marry the gay prince, Edward II, who must have stared longingly at the many gowns of baudekyn, velvet, taffeta and cloth she brought with her from France (and almost certainly tried on all 72 of her headdresses and coifs when she wasn't looking). Unfortunately for Princess Isabella, Edward II loved his friend Piers so much he chose to sit with him rather than her at their own royal wedding. He even let Piers wear Isabella's jewelry in public. When Edward II later started shacking up with his other friend Hugh, Isabella left him and enlisted her relatives in France to help raise her son to to the throne. When she caught her husband's new husband, she dragged him from his horse, stripped him, and scrawled Biblical verses against corruption and arrogance on his skin. Poor Hugh was then castrated, condemned to hang as a thief, disemboweled, and drawn and quartered as a traitor. His body parts were picked up and dispersed throughout England. Isabella found herself a new boyfriend named Mortimer and her gay husband died a few years later in jail.

Isabella joined a convent after Mortimer was executed by her son for treason. 

2. A Princess Tea Party

Princess Nazli lived in a beautiful Turkish-style palace on the banks of the Nile in the early nineteenth century. A daughter of Muhammad Ali (the founder of modern Egypt), she was notorious for her cruelty. It was reported that her husband once said something kind to a beautiful serving girl; for the next night's feast, Nazli cut off the girl's head and served it to her husband as the main course. Nazli also demanded that her chambermaids hold a mosquito net above her bed all night, and if one dropped it she would be executed. When one servant girl dropped a corner of the net, Nazli ordered her eunuchs to pin the girl to the ground and place burning hot coals between her breasts. She then calmly boiled a pot of tea on the coals while the girl shrieked and burned to death. Not much later, news of Princess Nazli's exploits reached her family, and her brother Ibrahim ordered her to kill herself or he would do it himself. She reportedly took poison and died.

3. A Real-Life Prince Charming

Princess Marie Louise was was the eldest daughter of the Duke of Orléans. In 1679 when she was sixteen she was forced to marry the last Habsburg ruler of Spain, Charles II. Sadly, Charles II's gene pool was more like a fishbowl. The Empress Maria Anna was both his aunt and his grandmother and Margarita of Austria was both his grandmother and his great-grandmother. All of his great-grandparents were descended from one royal couple. His "Habsburg lip" was so pronounced he could not chew his own food and he was famous for drooling during important matters of state. This Prince Charming reportedly did not bathe. He went bald at a young age, suffered from epilepsy, and was supposedly lame, impotent, infertile, and mildly retarded.

When she arrived at court, Princess Marie Louise discovered that the starving Spanish populace already hated her. They frequently rioted outside her dark and gloomy rooms in the Royal Alcázar of Madrid. She and her husband presided over the largest auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition, where over 21 people were burned at the stake. After ten unhappy years of marriage, Marie Louise grew fat and died of stomach pains while horseback riding. Rumor had it she was actually poisoned by her mother in law.

3. When You Wish Upon a Prophet

Princess Salome of Judea was the stepdaughter of King Herod (the king who wanted to kill baby Jesus, so he just went ahead and killed all the babies born in Judea around the same time). One night, Princess Salome performed a "special dance" for the drunk king and he was so impressed he became the proverbial genie in the bottle and said, "Your wish is my command." The girl pondered all of the riches she might possess, but at the urging of her mother simply said: "Bring me the head of John the Baptist." The old hermit's head was summarily brought to the princess on a platter.

5. The Princess and the Anarchist

Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria (popularly known as Sisi) was cousin to Mad King Ludwig II and the daughter of an eccentric Duke obsessed with mummies, folk music, and circuses. When she was sixteen she caught the eye of the emperor of Austria and left her beloved country castle for the rigid formalities of Imperial Vienna. She grew increasingly anxious, developed a fear of staircases, obsessed over exercise and combing her hair, and experimented with binge eating and anorexia. Princess Sisi's bulimia rotted out all her teeth, and after age 32 she constantly hid her face behind a leather fan. She was famous for her extremely tight corsets and her 16-inch waist. The only male heir she produced for the empire committed suicide in 1889 and afterwards she wore only black. In 1898 she was stabbed to death with a homemade shiv by an Italian anarchist too poor to buy a knife.

* * * * *

I was railing against the princess industrial complex well before that lady turned that great New York Times article into a really long book about it. See also:

Parenting the Enemy (the most fun to write)

Why Can't There be Fairy Archduchesses 

Santa Makes Local Dad Feel Like a Total Asshole

And previous coloring book remixes here.

Tall Tales

Posted by jdg | Thursday, February 23, 2012 |

It all started with a sword. A stick, really: we were playfighting in the park and I made a Z in the sand. That led to the story of Señor Zorro, the heroic masked defender of the weak who left his mark wherever he went with his cutlass. Those stories led to an exclusive viewing of the youtubed Douglas Fairbanks version of Mark of Zorro. Antonio Banderwho? So he gathered up Darth Vader's cape, a long-sleeved black t-shirt turned inside out, the hat that the Nain Rouge wore last year, and asked me to make him a cloth mask. Thus Zorrito was born:

When he puts on that mask, my son disappears and I have to deal with Zorro himself. All my pants now have a Z cut into the seat. Chandeliers regularly fall on my head to silent guffaws. He won't answer to his own name and will only talk to people if they acknowledge him as Zorro. It's sort of like dealing with a 4-year-old Robert De Niro. He won't take any of this off when we go out in public either. Pity me: I have to bring l'il Zorro with me to the coffee shop.

As I'm sure it is with a lot of kids, when this one sees or hears about a character that appeals to his sensibilities he doesn't just want to hear more about him, he wants to become him. Of course, I indulge this, and his faith in the possibility of becoming anyone is encouraged by all the costumes we make him. He may only be a few feet in height, but I love helping him feel as tall as he can imagine. By now our costume collection is the envy of several small-town community theaters. Neighbors seek access to it when their kids need something for the school play. I love it, and only occasionally fear that LARPing is an inevitable part of his future. I really love it when he throws a costume together on his own based on some story he just heard, whether that's Ulysses or Beowulf or my favorite so far: Paul Bunyan. I read him a thrifted Paul Bunyan story book a few weeks ago and (of course) he had to be Paul Bunyan. He put together the flannel shirts, knit cap, boots and drew his own beard. He just needed an axe, so he pestered me until I glued a couple pieces of dense foam from an old laptop case to a dowel. A bit of gray spray paint and he was ready to chop down a few thousand trees that afternoon:

It hasn't been easy making six hundred flapjacks every morning, but we'll survive. His sister wanted to get in on the fun, so she naturally chose to be Babe the Blue Ox. We already had the head from an old hobby ox in the basement, and we just added some blue fabric scraps left over from the Totoro project. I think she found the shirt in a pile of clothes her mother planned to donate to the Salvation Army:

I've heard that graphic designers and unemployed baristas have been dressing like lumberjacks in Brooklyn for awhile now, so maybe this isn't even all that weird. These kids have been so much fun lately I've felt inspired to make them some complicated new costumes. More on that soon.

Winter Math

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, February 08, 2012


[see previously here, here, and here]
+ this:
= this:

[sorry for the shaky camera work, it's tough keeping up with that dog]

Unfortunately, this winter has been minus the snow so we've only had one chance to go dog sledding (which is only sad because we bought Wendell some really cool snow boots after this run and he still hasn't had a chance to use them). We're not complaining, mind you. There's still plenty of time for more homework.

Just an Old-Fashioned Street Urchin Surprise Party

Posted by jdg | Thursday, February 02, 2012

Last Sunday was my daughter's seventh birthday (You heard that right, long-time sweet juniper readers. My daughter is SEVEN). She's really into "old fashioned" stuff right now and I've been reading her a lot of Victorian/Edwardian chapter books (Little Lord Fauntleroy, Water Babies, Horatio Alger), so we decided to throw her an old-fashioned surprise birthday party.

We were really fortunate to get to use the new banquet room at Slows BBQ: a long brick-walled 19th-century storefront. I started out by telling the young guests how hard it was to be a kid in the old days, how you had to work all day and never got to play any video games or watch television and if you were lucky enough to go to school you had to walk ten miles uphill in the snow in both directions. "By the time most kids were your age," I said, "They would already be drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and complaining about their arthritis." We printed out a bunch of Lewis Hine photographs and spread them out on the tables as proof. A few days before the party I found a bunch of newsie caps, vests, and other old-timey clothes at the thrift store so we had a huge box of dress up clothes for the kids to transform themselves into urchins (some even arrived in old-fashioned clothes). I set up a photo booth so I could take pictures of each kid in costume for a party favor. I wish I could share some of those pictures, but I don't want to upset any parents by putting their kids' faces on my "weird internet thing." Here are mine:

I got a few rolls of shiny new nickels from the bank and set up various stations for the kids to "work," including a newspaper-rolling station, a lego "factory," a cloth-flower-making station, and a human whack-a-mole game (the kids earned a nickel for being the mole).

I was going to buy a bunch of coal and make the kids go into this creepy tunnel in the building's basement to get it out, but my wife vetoed that idea. That was probably for the best. We served baked beans, cornbread, and mac&cheese. I wanted to make them eat slumgullion style out of tin cans, but my wife also made sure that didn't happen (another good call).

At the back of the room I set up a soda fountain (The L'il Sugar House) where the kids could exchange their nickels for gumballs, old-fashioned candy, and marbles. We served the birthday cake (made by Jess at Astro Coffee next door) with root beer floats, Boston coolers, chocolate milkshakes, and for the adults we had bottles of old-timey soda (dandelion, sarsaparilla, cream soda, and birch beer). Although we kind of threw the party together last minute, there was a rush of preparations so my daughter knew something was up. She thought it was just going to be a low-key gathering at our house with a few close friends. You should have seen the look on her face when she walked in the door and saw nearly all her friends and classmates in costume as they shouted Surprise!

My favorite part of the party was the silent cinema we set up in the back of the room. I blocked off one corner with curtains and put a few rows of chairs together. I'd put together a playlist of some of my favorite kid-friendly silent movies (Snub Pollard's It's A Gift, The Little Rascals in Dogs of War, the soda fountain scene from Buster Keaton's College, Fatty Arbuckle's Coney Island, the opening scene of Mary Pickford's Little Annie Rooney, the best parts of Chaplin's The Kid, Chaplin's dance of the dinner rolls, the eating machine from Modern Times, the clock scene from Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, and many more). Our friends who loaned us the projector even let us borrow their popcorn machine, which we served in little paper bags like at the real movie theater:

I stood there in amazement at a bunch of little urchins watching silent comedies and munching on popcorn in a makeshift theater:

I couldn't believe how much the kids enjoyed those movies. A few pictures I took of their faces show them as captivated as those kids Alfred Eisenstaedt captured so beautifully at the Parisian puppet theater. All during the party, kids wandered in and out of the little theater, and I couldn't have been happier about it.

I'll put a few more pictures up on the Sweet Juniper Facebook Page, if you're interested.

See previously:

For appetizers we served possum fritters and raccoon-stuffed mushroom caps