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Milkmaid Leaves House On Prairie, Scores Sunflower Wedding Cake

October 8, 2014

The Rumpus is an online magazine that publishes essays on eclectic subjects. They asked me to illustrate one called In My Clothes. In it, a woman looks back on her life, musing on what she was wearing at the time. You can read it here.

This is the third and final post on this assignment. The first referenced child movie star Shirley Temple, the second MTV video icon, Robert Palmer.


Certain lines will often conjure up ideas for me. This early memory, for example:


I touch my braids, wrapped around my head like a milkmaid. I feel silly.

And then there is my Little House on the Prairie dress. 


All the references to clothes in the essay made think of paper dolls. I may have gotten a little carried away with the braids. The milk can and cat bracket the main elements, and give the illustration some extra appeal.

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Paper doll set, little girl with rosy cheeks and big milkmaid braids hairdo standing next to old milk can and Little House On Prairie dress with bonnet and tabs, and kitten licking puddle of milk

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Here’s a detail image:

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detail image of Paper doll set, little girl with rosy cheeks and big milkmaid braids hairdo standing next to old milk can and Little House On Prairie dress with bonnet and tabs, and kitten licking puddle of milk

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Towards the end of the essay, the author writes:


I am forty-three, and I am getting married today… There is small cake from Wal-Mart with an orange sunflower on top… We eat bowls of fried rice in the living room and we say, I love you.


I knew there was a wonderful illustration in there as soon as I read the lines. I substituted a takeout box for the bowls of rice, because, for me, Chinese food is very much identified with those boxes. And little packets of soy sauce.

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Wedding cake with orange sunflower frosting, waxy takeout box of fried rice from Chinese restaurant, packet of soy sauce, chopsticks as man woman paper dolls with tuxedo, top hat, wedding dress and veil

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This illustration is a good example of how one’s subconscious mind continues to tinker with an idea even after you think it’s “settled.”

I had envisioned a pair of ordinary chopsticks, but as I roughed out the line drawing, it occurred to me that I could do something a lot more creative, which would also allow me to extend the paper doll motif.

Here’s a detail image:

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detail of Wedding cake with orange sunflower frosting, waxy takeout box of fried rice from Chinese restaurant, packet of soy sauce, chopsticks as man woman paper dolls with tuxedo, top hat, wedding dress and veil

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We all have vivid memories of certain events. Do you have any where you can remember exactly what you were wearing?

Did anybody play with paper dolls when they were young? I remember seeing paper doll outfits in comic books. They’d be credited to the readers who sent them in. Were you one of those budding fashion designers?

Has anyone ever eaten sunflower cake? Do the little seeds get stuck in your teeth??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:


Forgotten Hero: A Tribute To Baseball’s Roger Maris

Draw A Rough Sketch First: It’s The Thinker Thing To Do!!

That Horse Coulda Been A Contender!

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2014 4:38 PM

    I love those scantily clad chopsticks. That was an inspired stroke of genius.

    I actually have a pretty amazing memory for the visual. I can’t remember my own phone number but I can tell you what I was wearing 35 years ago when a particular thing happened. I wonder if that’s a common ability or not.

    I do remember having paper dolls but not playing with them. I was a tomboy and was into competitive marble playing. I, therefore, recollect swapping a brand new paper doll book for a pocketful of large sized marbles when I was about 7 and getting into trouble for not seeking parental authorization before conducting the swap. I was wearing brown cord dungarees and a checked shirt at the time, I kid you not.


    • October 10, 2014 9:13 AM

      Ha! Scantily clad chopsticks… the next time I’m in a Chinese restaurant, I’m gonna say: “I can’t use these things– they look so– so naked!!” : )

      Competitive marble playing… no kidding, I’m impressed! I remember having a marble collection when I was a kid, everyone else did, too. But I can’t remember every playing marbles– I guess no one in our neighborhood was smart enough to figure out how to do it… : )

      I love your story about swapping the paper doll book for the marbles– that’s a classic! I’m sorry your parents didn’t appreciate your entrepreneurial spirit. I’m astounded you can remember your clothes at the time. But dungarees and checked shirt sounds like my childhood– and every kid wore some variation of same. Brand names? Phooey!– back then, “generic” and “anonymous” were cool!

      Great to see you, thanks for your lovely comment! : )


  2. soul . to . earth permalink
    October 8, 2014 9:14 PM

    Dear Arm-Uncle,
    Now I know what Heidi looks like all grown up.

    As the bride and groom rice to the occasion to stick it out, your sketches take the cake. Must say the l’il ball of fur lapping up milk is quite the cat’s meow! 😀

    It’s alles gute to partake of your talent and crazy humour!
    – Fräulein RottenQuipster


    • October 10, 2014 9:51 AM

      Arm-Uncle! I never thought I’d wind up as a character in a Heidi parody!! I suddenly feel a strange compulsion to yodel. My neighbors are in for an interesting day. Leave it to you, my dear Fräulein Radhika!! : )

      Yes, poor Heidi! Her mountain of milkmaid braids caused her serious neck strain over the years. She later shaved her head. It diminished her cuteness somewhat, but she felt much better… : )

      Your parade o’ puns doth rice to the occasion, as they always do. In fact, I’m giving you a prize: a round of my famous goat cheese. That is to say, it will be famous, as soon as I get some goats… : P

      RottenQuipster?? Nein, nein, das ist eine menge von jodel-suppe! Your quips are brilliant. I say with absolute confidence that there is no one else on the planet who would ever think of using alles gute (which I’ve just discovered is German for “all the best”) as a pun for “always good.” That requires immense linguistic intelligence, an exceedingly merry disposition, and a pronounced capacity for fun and mischief– all of which you possess in abundance, my dear Radhika!!! : )

      Always a great pleasure, thanks for wreaking such delightful havoc here at the Armstrong Goat Farm!! : )


  3. soul . to . earth permalink
    October 10, 2014 10:50 AM

    High on the 3rd floor, this Indian goat heard….leh-yodel-ah-yodel-ah-ee-ooh…..! Unlike you, dear Arm-Uncle, who lives on acreage (ahem, I recall a holy interview), my condo peeps overheard the Heidi-ous sound as I opened AGF’s hard but winning round even if Canada Customs turned up its nose at the pong….baaa-ite me!

    Since you’ve blown my zen-soul cover what with my delightful havoc-wreaking abilities, all I can say in gratitude (Thanksgiving weekend here) is: Off with her zen !

    Danke sehr,
    Fräulein RottenQuipster 😀
    P.S: Heidi brought out the Sinéad in her…..baldilocks, eh?


    • October 11, 2014 11:39 AM

      Indian goat heard… ha-dee-haha ha-dee-haha yodel-leh-ee-HA!! Alps me, somebody, I’ve fallen over laughing, and I cain’t git up… : )

      A holy interview? Hm. I don’t remember being a guest on your Saints For Today program, but I make so many guest appearances, you know… : P

      Pong. I knew the game and the giant ape, of course, but I dinna know it had an olfactory meaning. I shall always wrinkle my nose when I hear it in future. Third floor? Well, if the cheese ponged straight up, at least residents on floors 1 and 2 were spared… : )

      Off with her zen, auf Wiedersehen… segne meine Bratwurst, das ist wahnsinn inspirierte!! You must keep your zen, it’s the source of your power for good and/or mischief. I do insist, however, that you remove that ridiculous Heidi O’Connor skinhead wig– that’s carrying a cheesy joke too far, my dear Fräulein Plottin’ Hipster!! : )

      P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, don’t eat too much sauerbraten and kartoffelpüree… : )


  4. October 11, 2014 9:36 PM

    Mark … I love how your creative mind works. The gal with the H-U-G-E hairdo reminds me of Dolly Parton. Adorable. Just inspired! The chopsticks – too cute. And, no, I’ve never had sunflower cake.

    I didn’t play with dolls or paper dolls much when I was a kid. I was a tom boy. I do remember one outfit when I was in elementary school – a brown corduroy skirt and vest. Very snazzy at the time. A few others stand out from my high school years, but not all in a good way.

    I am, however, for some inexplicable reason wildly devoted to Project Runway. I can’t explain why – even to myself – as I’ve taken casual attire to new heights. (Just joking, my employer would never allow that.) 😉


    • October 14, 2014 10:57 AM

      Ha! Thanks, Judy. Dolly Parton, eh? I guess there is something a bit country-and-westernish about that leetle cowgal’s wig– er, hair. She went from The Little House on the Prairie to The Big Stage at the Grand Ole Opry… : )

      A tomboy… yes, they often grow up to be reporters, I believe. Other kids were runnin’ around on the playground, you were skulkin’ around back alleys with a notebook and stubby pencil… : )

      Re high school fashions: I can identify with the “not in a good way.” I helped define Unhip in h.s. It was easy for me… : (

      I’ve heard of Project Runway, but have never seen it. Is it a cable channel? My antenna and digital converter box help limit my TV viewing, so I guess I’m destined to be perennially unhip. Thanks for your delightful comment and all your support!! : )


      • October 14, 2014 7:02 PM

        It’s amazing, Mark, how you go back in your time machine and see the REAL me. Yes, that was me skulkin’ around …

        Project Runway is on cable on Thursdays. I don’t know which channel. I just love how they – like you – go from an idea into a gorgeous creation. Although, at times, I do question the judges’ judgment. Heidi Klum, a top model, and Tim Gunn are the top guns on this show. 😉


        • October 15, 2014 8:18 AM

          I’m too shy to be on Project Runway, but I’m willing to make a non-appearance on Project Run-away-and-hide… : )

          Liked by 1 person

  5. October 12, 2014 10:25 AM

    From now on I’ll refuse to eat with naked cuttlery, you’ve opened my eyes to how barbarous that behavior is!
    I love your milkmaids hairdress and would like to order a paper wig in my size!


    • October 14, 2014 12:54 PM

      Now, now, my dear Tutti! Sometimes eating with naked cutlery (nackt besteck) is the proper thing to do. For example: when your cupboard is bare ( = nackt = leer = empty). Hmm… translating stupid jokes and puns into German is not so easy… : )

      I’ll get started on your paper wig at once. I shall make it 2000m tall– that sounds about right for a distinguished artist and personality like yourself. I predict you’re going to become friends with a lot of pigeons. Hmm… I’d better go out and buy a very large mailing envelope… : )


  6. October 16, 2014 6:45 AM

    My dear Mark, your German is excellent and I truely start to love the ambiguity of my gibberish! Your Mr. Bighead :-p


  7. October 26, 2014 9:37 AM

    I did play with paper dolls…I remember cutting out the outfits and putting them on the paper doll …cutouts all from a book that could be bought.


    • October 26, 2014 9:08 PM

      All my sisters had paper doll books, and I seem to recall that some outfits included hats. I don’t remember seeing any bicycle helmets, however. Sex roles were pretty stereotyped back then. Of course, I can think of another reason, too: I never saw a bicycle helmet when I was a kid. Nobody had one. I remember a lot of skinned knees, cuts, and bruises, but no head injuries. Ignorance is bliss, as some banged-up philosopher once said… : )


  8. November 12, 2014 5:35 PM

    I love the braids, the dress, paper dolls and hmmm Chinese food!
    But most especially I love your mind on how you transform one’s idea to a very interesting illustrations- making them alive with lots of humor touch on and around them…
    Awesome! mmmwahhhh


    • November 17, 2014 2:44 PM

      My dear, dear Dolly–! Your wonderful comment made me weep happy tears!! They fell into my fried rice, and made it all soggy. Salty, too. Which taught me something: tears are a lot like soy sauce, only they don’t come in little brown packets… : )

      Your kind words make me swoon. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to fall into a vat of chocolate donut glaze… SPLAT!! Mmmmwahhhh!!

      Liked by 1 person


  1. Speaking The Same Language: The Gift We Take For Granted | Mark Armstrong Freelance Humorous Illustration for Marketing Communication Editorial and Social Media

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