Archive for the ‘things’ Category

little brass feet

(not quite an ode to Sandburg and his fog on little cat feet)

First of all, you’ll be relived to know that I solved my paperwhite crisis: Ricky was kind enough to remind me that our landscaping involves many thousands of pounds of unwanted, smallish rocks. So I used some of those. And found a discarded Southern Comfort bottle in our front yard. Thanks, neighbors.

And then I bought found myself in possession of more brass. Specifically, brass feet.



One of the many things I never really thought about needing but have, in fact, found myself needing is a set of fireplace tools. The first time we used our fireplace I found myself rather at a loss; I hadn’t really thought the whole thing out. After most of a winter not having said tools—and refusing to settle for the big box offerings—I finally stumbled upon a set at Goodwill.

The other set of feet belong to one of a pair of herons—or maybe cranes—from the same Goodwill trip. They’ve landed on the mantle for now (with price tag goo still clinging to their legs), but we’ll see where they end up.


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hodge podge

I’ve been getting cabin fever lately—hence the trip up into the mountains—which seems especially wrong given that the weather has been beautiful. Bright skies. Sun. It’s Colorado.

So, a few days ago, I decided to break up my staring-at-the-computer routine by first walking to Starbucks…and then staring-at-the-computer. After I finished my work, I kept walking, past Old Navy, past Barnes and Noble, past TJ Maxx, all the way to Homegoods, where I bought some cocoa powder on clearance. Ricky has mixed feelings about buying food at Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/etc., but I like the odd things they have. Candied mango. Chocolate granola. Cheap saffron. And when we went to Whole Foods the other day—or, as one of Ricky’s colleagues calls it, Food Hole—they were out of cocoa powder (save one $8 canister that was thoroughly smashed on one end).

All of this is quite mundane, but it amuses me; there’s something contradictory about sprawling, yet pedestrian-friendly expanses of big box stores. I walked a three mile loop (losing a pearl earring somewhere in process, alas) and felt almost like I could have been in a city again. The big boxes here are bigger, but somehow, this town almost works on foot. In Canterbury, we walked everywhere in a freezing, gray fog—to buy packets of mango slices at Tesco, to indulge in cream tea, to browse department stores (my navy Longchamps bag, purchased at Fenwick, is still a frequent companion) and charity shops.

I bought this little porcelain creamer at a charity shop in Canterbury—a shopfront crowded with our own artifacts, the detritus of one century (give or take)—worn shoes and yellowed paperbacks and novelty mugs—standing above layers of stratified junk from epochs past, Roman trash that has come full circle into treasure again—shattered bits of glass, cracked pottery, tilting floor tiles, ancient earrings with no mates.

Perhaps my own earring will emerge someday from the ruins of this civilization. If we are to believe political debates, cable news, and my dentist (who proposed, gauze and gloved hands crammed in my mouth, that all our economic ills be met with nation-wide adoption of night guards for stress-induced tooth clenching)—that end will be here sooner rather than later.

I’m at Starbucks again (wearing a different, complete set of pearl earrings—a Wellesley woman is always prepared). I meant to tell you about  the new light fixture that my dad and I installed. It will keep.

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The thing about using vintage dishes and silver is that one becomes rapidly aware of the particularities and peculiar functions of the individual pieces. I don’t know that I ever really considered the existence of fruit bowls before this endeavor began. Once again, this forms an odd intersection with the process of registering for my own china; I think that I’m going to skip the fruit bowls. Much as I like fruit, I think I can make do. Or I could just go buy a couple dozen for fifty cents each.

Yesterday, after pounding at my keyboard all morning and sending off some writing, I took my thrift store wandering—flanerie? in a Prius?—a bit further out of my usual in-town circuit. For whatever reason, Madison is thick with thrift stores—and they’re generally really good. I don’t quite understand it. You’d think that the fact that everyone here seems to want blue mason jars and milk glass would mean that such things would be scarce, but they’re everywhere.

Usually, I ignore the bins of flatware in thrift stores. It mostly seems to be cheap, sharp spoons that were stolen from dining halls or Old Country Buffet. Yesterday, though, a silver-plate pie server caught my eye. I started digging, and came up with 61 pieces of silver-plate.

A lot of it is odd—sugar shells, berry spoons, cold meat forks, butter knives. The teaspoons and forks will be making an appearance at the wedding tea, which led me to my contemplation of the proper use of silver. Can one eat cake with a dinner fork? Well, one certainly can—but should one?

The thought would have probably shocked my grandmother, whose impossibly varied set of Tiffany silver winks at me from beneath blue felt wrappers. The proper occasion for her tiny, three-pronged forks has never arisen in our house, though I suppose it has something to do with the fact that they are probably meant to pry some unwilling creature from a shell, and tofu seldom fights back.

Silver-plate is an odd thing. Is it trash, or is it treasure? As I was piling my finds on the counter to pay for them—twenty-five cents a piece—an odd little man with a jeweler’s loupe started to dig through them, studying the hallmarks and tossing them down again.

The scale of my wedding-related thrift purchases—ten teacups at a time, twenty dessert plates—tends to raise some interest among that kind of person. You can feel the anxiety rising around you as he peers suspiciously into your cart full of teacups, convinced that you’re on to something great. If you step away for a moment, he reaches in the cart and shifts the plates, looking for maker’s marks.

While I have come across bits of Wedgwood, Limoges, and sterling in my thrift shop scavenging, it’s mostly—from the reseller’s point of view—pretty unremarkable.

But it’s funny what you’ll find.  A few weeks ago, I lifted the lid of a pretty unremarkable looking box and found an impressively large set of “Eternally Yours”—my other grandmother’s pattern. It even has the cold meat forks.

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Despite the number of photographs that I take and post here, my house is actually completely empty of displayed photographs. I’m not really sure why. I seem to prefer paintings (often of cows) or mirrors (the older and more silvered the better).

Last week, I came across a box full of old and rather grubby photo frames at a church rummage sale (which was otherwise quite terrible). I bought a stack of them for five dollars, put them outside to clean them off, and then forgot them overnight—during a rainstorm. I guess they’re clean now, though a bit worse for the wear.

You can’t really tell from the front, though, and I tend not to like the look of immaculate new things anyway—with the exception of my continually problematic white twill upholstery. I should have gone for a bit more grubbiness there from the start.

Last year, a box of old photographs surfaced in my mom’s house— large portraits of my paternal grandmother, her family, and my paternal grandfather’s family.

One night—much later than was perhaps advisable—I started scanning some of them and printing smaller versions to fit in my new/old frames.

Some of the family stories that accompany these portraits are quite sad. Nevertheless, I like having their faces in my midst. I added in an old school portrait of my maternal grandmother and a picture from a dear friend’s wedding. One of the frames I bought came with a mirror in it, so my face is in the mix, too.

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I’ve been waging war against my basement ever since I moved into this house five years ago. Things have gotten better over the years; it has certainly never been as bad again as it was right after I closed on the house and discovered that the vibrations from our footsteps were causing dormant flea eggs—left behind by the previous owner and/or her one-eyed chihuahua—to hatch in staggering numbers. The cats, bathed in pesticides, were the only mammals who didn’t have fleas for that first month.

I dealt with the fleas (boxes and boxes of Borax to dessicate their nasty little selves), replaced damp remnants of Berber carpeting with clean wall-to-wall carpeting, painted, had the electrical fixtures upgraded, moved some furniture in and kind of gave up. A couple of years ago, I finally dealt with some of the hodgepodge by replacing my insufficient folding bookshelves with tall, white Ikea ones. Then I kind of gave up. Again.

Last week, I showed you what the room looked like after I moved the piano out into the unfinished half of the basement and got a new bed.

That major change made a few of the more minor ones finally seem possible: spackling and touching up the drywall under the window where a cat caused some major damage, adding window trim, putting on outlet covers that have been in the garage for five years, and painting the nightstand and the mirror, both of which came to me—at different times—in an odd, antiqued olive green.

I’ve painted dressers and mirrors before, but adding trim and framing in a window was something new to me. I’m sure I didn’t really do it “right,” but if there’s anything I’ve learned from five years of homeownership, it’s that there are varying levels of right-ness in any project.

I bought a bunch of scrap trim at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and just started cutting pieces and fitting them together inside and around the window frame.

Sometimes done is good enough. And there’s always wood putty to fix the things that happen when you’re not really sure how to use a miter box.

Glossy white paint will also distract from all manner of sins, especially when you’re used to staring at bare concrete, cobwebs, and flaking drywall.

The nightstand matches the painted dresser in my bedroom, but I’ve never had room for it there and feared that the custom-tinted paint—which has spent five Wisconsin winters in the garage—would, by now, be unusable. But, miraculously, it wasn’t, so now they finally match—except that I used this hilarious turtle knob on the nightstand and glass ones one the dresser.

I painted the mirror with “Celery” spray paint. I now want everything in my house to be this color. I may have to settle for an ugly table that is currently holding up some flowerpots in the garage.


So, things are much improved. Except that I got a little carried away and accidentally touched up the flat paint on the walls with what turned out to be semi-gloss. Win some, lose some.


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I went (garage) sailing.

On my way to pick up a friend today, I stopped at a garage sale in my neighborhood. They’re usually terrible around here, but I found these three chipped pieces of Blue Willow china for a dollar. Generally I avoid chipped ceramics (nothing would make me sadder than a ceramic deer with a missing ear), but these pieces are old enough for the chips and cracks to seem somehow endearing. Most of my dishes are blue and white these days, so I have plans for these in my someday-it-will-be-new-and-white kitchen.

And then, because the universe wanted me to be late, I stumbled across another sale a few blocks further along the way. I bought a copper-lined tobacco cabinet for four dollars, a giant old tin coffee pot, and a wooden dough bowl. The cabinet needs some paint or stain, but I really liked the copper lining.

As I as leaving, the woman holding the sale said she thought that she had something else I’d like: an old piece of wood that was once used for hanging up slaughtered hogs. She was right. My vegetarianism is complex. I did grow up, after all, eating tofu off of a scarred Eastlake table that my ancestors relegated to the barn and used as a slaughter table.

The blue and white bowl on top of the cabinet is Shenango china; it’s from the same sale but I didn’t buy it at the same time. I came back a few hours later—after checking out a weird but not great estate sale and hauling six forty-pound bags of water softener salt—because I had been thinking about getting the bowl to add to my blue and white china. I caught the sale just as the owner was packing up and she was happy to sell it to me for half-price. Shenango china comes from New Castle, PA—just a few towns over from where my mother’s family comes from. Perhaps it was meant to be.

I’ve been hard at work cleaning and sorting. Maybe soon I’ll show you my other exciting thrifting finds. I’ve unburdened myself of several boxes of unwanted things this weekend, so these new finds feel especially rewarding… except for maybe this one:

(The umbrella stand, not Darwin—although both of them came second-hand)

Don’t worry. I didn’t pay for the umbrella stand. It was a bonus with my other purchases. It’s kind of hilarious, though. Ugly in a good way? Maybe not. We’ll see.



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So, it turns out that writing a dissertation, adding a dog to one’s menagerie, beginning a kitchen remodel, and going on three different trips is a good way to stay very busy for a month or two.

(Look, a new throw pillow.)

My return to blogging has been inspired by two days of remarkable thrift store and rummage sale finds. When I say remarkable, of course, I mean remarkable in terms of ceramic deer yield and other silliness.

This one was FIVE CENTS. Church rummage sales can have the oddest pricing.  I may be the only one who appreciates such things—but maybe not—so I overpaid on a strange elephant flowerpot that I also wanted so as to not deprive the Moravians of their rightful funds.

I’ve also been doing a bit of this:

After five years of staring at that painstakingly-laid peach and blue tile and wanting to hit it with a hammer, the time has finally come.

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The Darwin-Nutmeg Adventure

Spring is off to a cold, slow start here—well, it was until I returned from a weekend in D.C. to hot and stormy weather that makes me long for the tundra. But not really, because I do like being able to go outside for more than thirty seconds at a time, even though my eventual retreat is now forced by stickiness rather than by the threat of frostbite. The crab apple trees in my yard still haven’t come into full bloom; they’re finally beginning to open almost two weeks later than last year.

Last week I drove to Milwaukee—essentially, it turned out, to buy new drinking glasses. I went only because I wanted something different to do; I’ve been a bit restless waiting for spring. Recently, I decided that I needed an African violet to put under my bell jar (like any elegant Victorian lady).  I stopped at every Home Depot in Madison and between Milwaukee and Madison and failed to find even one living specimen; eventually, one turned up at a local grocery store. But the violet, as you will see, isn’t the only addition to the landscape*:

Yes, that’s a dog. And his name is Darwin, though I wanted to name him Nutmeg—not only because I find food-based pet names kind of hilarious, but because it also fits the literary pedigree of my cat herd. Sir Walter Scott gave a dog named Pepper to the Wordsworth family during a visit to Dove Cottage. This was not, however, as charming a gesture as it might seem; apparently he had quite a surplus of dogs, and named them all according to their coats. The Wordsworth Pepper was just one of many Peppers; Scott also had quite a few Mustards, Gingers, and so on.

Even before the addition of a Darwin-Nutmeg, animal-free space in my house was already at quite a premium. Now, the floor is littered with fuzzy things:

I had kind of been thinking about getting a dog for a while, though always with the idea that it’s not practical now, in this small house and with three or four cats (one of my cats is on loan to my mom as a companion to her kitten). A couple of months ago, Ricky and I were on the way to a friend’s house when a small dog ran in front of our car; I spent half an hour chasing her across the neighborhood before cornering her in a garage. The owner of the garage in question was surprisingly fine with finding me crouching next to her minivan. That same night, we managed to reunite the escaped “Trixie” with her family; I was, however, a bit sad to see her go.

As you may have guessed from my decision to drive an hour to buy drinking glasses, last week was kind of crummy for me; when Ricky arrived, it didn’t take much to convince him to go “look” at the shelter dogs, just to cheer me up. May 5th, it turns out, is “Cinco de Meow” at the shelter; apparently, $5 cat adoptions are quite the draw. We walked through the kennels at the shelter looking for small fuzzy dogs; almost all of them were on hold, ready to be adopted soon. I fell in love with an eager, sociable Pomeranian called Dolly, but she was scheduled to go home that day. I convinced Ricky that we should wait an hour to meet with the rather unpromising “Jabba” mostly so that our visit wouldn’t end without me getting to pet a fuzzy dog (which was really the primary goal).

Jabba was shy and depressed; he had been there for several weeks and met several families who decided not to take him home (small dogs generally come and go faster than that here). Still, after a rushed visit with him at the shelter (“Cinco de Meow” must go on), we decided to put a deposit on him so that he could be tested the next day with a shelter cat to see if he might be able to join our herd. I didn’t sleep much that night; I was really worried about making a mistake and throwing our feline household into chaos. The next day I taught my last class and packed to go to D.C.; we still hadn’t heard from the shelter about the cat test by the time I was getting ready to go through airport security.

But then, my flight was delayed and I was rebooked on one two hours later. Ricky and I waited; finally, the shelter called. The cat test had gone well; Jabba displayed no aggression. We decided, rather nervously, that Ricky would drop me off (again) and then head to shelter to pick him up—mostly because we learned that the shelter gives you 30 days to see if a pet will work in your household. Ricky was halfway to the shelter when I passed through security to find that my rebooked flight had been canceled; the only option was to try again in the morning.

When we got to the shelter, I was shocked to see that Dolly—the Pomeranian I had fallen for—was still there. Apparently, her adopters had backed out right after we had left. Dolly was with a potential adopter  so we decided to wait a bit and see what their decision would be. They seemed to be falling hard for her tail-wagging charm; after about half an hour, it looked like her adoption was a done deal (though she would still need to be tested with their two dogs). So, we met again with Jabba—he was still shy, still depressed, and still not that interested in us. But he was better, and I think we both began to feel that a shy dog might be the perfect fit for us—and that we might be the perfect fit for him. We took him home, armed with all kinds of reading materials about how to handle a nervous dog, how to build his confidence, and how to get him to bond with us.

All of this worrying, it turns out, was unwarranted. Darwin (Nutmeg) has made himself totally at home—sometimes we wish he would go back to being a little more shy. The cats are taking him in stride (probably because they’re twice his size). He’s a delight.

*I was going to crop the Target bag full of trash out of this photo, but I left it in because, as a friend recently remarked, it’s kind of funny that I fuss and fret over every inch of my house and then just hang a plastic bag on the doorknob. I used to have a trash can under the sink; my broken, leaky garbage disposal has made that impossible.

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The last few blossoms from the bouquet I bought on April 13 are still hanging on—the mint julep cup I found for 90 cents at a thrift store is just the right size for the stragglers. You can see the reflection of my Kindle in the cup. I’ve been reading Game of Thrones pretty much non-stop since the HBO series premiered… I am now very far ahead of the TV show, though I’m a little ashamed to admit just how far.

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greening grass

Outside, it’s winter again—snow and more snow.

I’m growing cat grass in a tiny pot. The sprouts looks like an alien life form—it’s pretty amazing just how quickly these seeds germinate and take root. Three days in and they look ready to conquer the world.

My bedside table is a jumble of leggy blooms. I was going to crop this picture more, but for some reason I liked the little slivers of pillowcase and gold frame that you can see along the edges.

At least it looks like spring inside. Maybe the out-of-doors will follow suit soon.

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