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.


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

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.



Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »