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Tales from the Cupboard or The Dark Side of Curbside Shopping

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When I started this blog a few years back, one of the first things I wrote about was the pleasures of curbside shopping. I still get a thrill from discovering a discarded treasure, but today’s story is about the other side of the equation. Like the Cryptkeeper, I will now share with you one of my darker and more frustrating journeys into junk!  I like to think of it as Tales From the Cupboard–The Armoire Affair.

One beautiful fall afternoon I suddenly saw an amazing treasure on the side of the road. A giant armoire free for the taking.  Its primary virtue– its sheer capacity to hold things– would also prove to be its primary fault.  The thing was big, it was heavy, it was a solid piece of furniture–and impossible to move by myself.  But it was also PERFECT!  I had been looking for a large hanging cupboard for the crafty daughter’s room, as her tiny closet could not hold her love of dresses and skirts. This piece had been painted white, had that shabby chic feel to it, and had a shelf, a long rack for clothes, a full mirror and a tie rack.  It was the score of the decade.

Assuming, of course, that I could get it home.  I don’t have a truck, most of my friends have back problems, and my immediate family is not inclined to encourage my junking habits, so I would have to pay to move it. But, I figured, it was worth it for such a great piece. Unfortunately, no junk haulers were available. I couldn’t even find a hand truck to rent and time was ticking away. The longer the armoire sat on the curb the more likely it was that someone else would come along and snatch it away.  

I went home and rummaged through our meager tool shed ( our basement) and found a very small wheeled base that attached to a large bucket. I ran the few blocks to the armoire, gently tipped it on its side so that it would balance on the base, and saw it promptly slide ride off.  Several scrapes and bruises later I managed to balance it on the base only to find that I couldn’t possibly guide it down the street on my own. Fortunately, a group of painters took pity on me. First one came over to help, but given the size and precarious nature of my treasure, he called over two of his buddies.  The five minute walk to my house took more like twenty minutes. I swear that all three of them grew increasingly fearful as they noticed that every house on my block had steps leading to the yard and then more steps at the front porch.  

I couldn’t do that to them, however, since they were refusing to take any money for helping. Instead, I raided the fridge for beers and soda and wished them well.  One guy said it was his good deed for the day.   If only I had realized what would come next, I would probably have wished that they had refused to help!

Mind you, I was excited—I ran into the house, got some old painting tarps and draped them over the steps and began the slow process of inching the armoire onto my property.  Angle, twist, turn upside down, angle, twist, turn right side up, sliding and pulling and grunting and groaning till I got the beast onto our front walk. After showing off my prize to my neighbors( I was really really proud of myself) I repeated the process, using the tarp and some muscles that I didn’t know I had to inch and turn and position the armoire onto the porch.  I knew that I couldn’t get it into the house and up the steep flight of stairs to our second floor without professional help, so I situated it nicely next to the front door.

That was October of last year. My husband thought my treasure was ugly. My daughter pretended at first to like it but confessed to my mother, who was visiting at Halloween, that she hated it but didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  I came to the sad realization that I would have to let my treasure go.  

And here is the dark side of junking.  Part of the pleasure I derived from the armoire, and virtually every other find of its kind, is the story of discovery.  I loved that armoire because my efforts to get it home made a good story, something that became more and more a sort of personal quest with each retelling. So no way was I just going to pay to have someone hall it off.  That would mean my treasure cost me money, and my personal quest was a defeat 

I tried to sell it. I tried to give it away.  No one wanted it.   And the armoire stayed on our front porch all winter long.  I tried again in the summer– nothing.  Finally, in August, on our anniversary, to surprise my husband, I reversed my slow and painful process of easing the armoire to a new place. Down the steps, across the yard, and down the steps again, to the curb.  I knew someone would want it.  But it sat there for days and no one took it. We could tell that a few people considered it– we would come home to find the doors open or the armoire moved ever so slightly, but still no takers.  A friend suggested someone who  refinished furniture. She was interested but wanted pictures

This is when it gets ugly.  I dutifully took pictures from all angles but in doing so stepped back right on to a small manhole cover ( a water main access cover) which gave way,plunging me into the hole. My right leg was in the ground up to my thigh, the metal cover was jammed between the edge of the hole and my leg, while my left leg was turned at a funny angle on my knee.  I was stuck, I was in pain, and it was all because of the blasted armoire. 

I got myself out of the hole with no major damage–just muddied and bloodied and ultimately all for naught, as the potential recipient declined the armoire as too big and too much work to refinish.  My very sore knees were a reminder each time I went up and down stairs that I had failed. I needed to admit defeat and pay to haul the beast away. Just in case, however, I did a curb alert under free stuff on Craig’s list.  I mean there had to be someone else in the city who saw the beauty in this beast. More days passed, and then I received a text asking about the armoire. When I got home, someone else had taken it. In the end not one but two people saw the armoire as an object of desire. 

Vindication! Jubilation! But I have learned my lesson. I will not haul something home without a specific plan. I will not haul something home if I can’t get rid of it easily. I will tell myself that nothing is free if you must pay to haul away.  And, I will not become so enamored of a story that it blinds me to the ludicrous fact that I had an armoire on my front porch for 11 months.  

But you know, just the other day I saw some vintage filing cabinets on the side of the road. I bet they might fit in my car and therefore none of the above applies. Right?

Stopping and Shopping in Santa Fe-Jewelry and Tradition Combine at the Palace of the Governors

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Stopping and Shopping in Santa Fe-Jewelry and Tradition Combine at the Palace of the Governors

I had a few hours to myself in Santa Fe recently and was simply overwhelmed by the beauty of it all–the people, the landscape, and the amazing art.  Naturally, I gravitated towards the jewelry, but in a town filled with handmade jewelry, how do you decide where to go?   Locals and guidebooks alike recommended the Vendors Program at the Palace of Governors for authentic jewelry sold by Native American artists themselves.   Prices range from $10 to the many thousands, but the chance to talk to the makers themselves and hear their stories is priceless.

Each morning the vendors arrive on the main historic plaza of Santa Fe to claim a spot under the  shade of the long portal (porch) of the Palace of Governors.  No tables or fancy placards, just blankets abd tarps with jewelry everywhere.  People encourage you to touch and try on, and many vendors have examples of the raw gems and shells that they carefully, painstakingly transform into beautiful jewelry.  If you see something you like, but can’t decide, find out the vendor’s schedule–tomorrow may be another day, but there’s no guarantee your favorite vendor (or piece)  will be there!

There’s a rich history and tradition to the pieces you will see at the Vendor’s Program.  Many of the vendors have been making jewelry for decades; some reflect traditional designs and techniques, others put a modern spin on their pieces, incorporating new textures, shapes, and items for sale.   I was fascinated by the beautiful and intricate designs of Mrs. Verdie Mae Lee,IMG_1821 who gently and quietly told me about learning her craft at her father’s knee.  Even her turquoise has a history–many of the stones have been in her collection for years, and they reflect the color and quality of the past.IMG_5114

Turquoise, although ubiquitous, is not all the same; ask about the source of the stones you see.  Many of the most famous mines, with the rarest and most beautiful of colors, are long closed.  Consequently, prices will vary significantly based on the color, quality,  shape, and availability of the stone.  Some vendors cut IMG_5097and shape the stones themselves, which also increases cost and value.  There is also an abundance of other semi-precious stones as well as various sea shells –it is amazing what a talented artist can do with a piece of abalone or conch shell.   In addition to  hand-hammered silver, brass and copper pieces, you will see plenty of stones set in hand-made bezels, and marvelous shaped pieces in which stones are sliced cut and polished, glued together, and then magically transformed by  grit and elbow grease into smooth, seamless objects.

For a more modern take on tradition, I found  Miriam Ortiz’s happy circle of life designs fun and elegant at the same time. IMG_1823  The National Museum of Contemporary Art must think so, too, as I stumbled upon her pieces in their gift shop as well!.  Her textured pieces are an effort to capture the look of very old Navajo designs, she says, but in new ways.IMG_5104IMG_5105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The artists at the  market are also in the forefront of protecting their legacy. IMG_5099 Leonard Paquin has been making jewelry for more than thirty years, returning to his father’s craft after doing many other things in his life.IMG_1841  He was part of the group that helped to organize the market, establishing bylaws that hold vendors to a strict standard.  He proudly explained that many of the same principles he drafted were ultimately turned into law and are followed by other artisan’s groups around the country.  And he offered for sale beautifulpieces, just IMG_5102right for my husband and daughter (shh, they are supposed to be for Hannukah!)(oh, well–I couldn’t wait!)

I also found the inventive bead wrapping techniqueIMG_5103 of  George and Grace Ann Herrera a fun and affordable treat.  Look for her signature white bead in each design.
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Finally, on my way back to the hotel, I stumbled upon Lewallen and Lewallen Jewelry and had a delightful time talking to Laura, the owner.  She and her late father, Ross Lewallen, created a wealth of whimsical silver beads and charms, and the incredibly unusual Ascent bracelets–a mix of the practical (climbing rope) and the fancy (stones, gems, and beads).   As we talked about our mutual love of jewelry, Laura told me the story of some of her handmade beads, including the EWOP, or Everything Works Out Perfectly, bead, a motto I thought everyone in my family could use.  Her dad used the

IMG_5109phrase in his spiritual teachings, and it just struck me as a great way to remember to take a breath and enjoy what comes your way.  Laura also let me peek inside her studio–thanks to Syd, whom I believ she called a singing cowboy as well as an artist and jeweler, for showing me around!IMG_5098

The generosity of spirit and the pride in craft so evident among the people I spoke with reminded me of why I love making jewelry.   People put a bit of themselves, their history, and their traditions into their work.  And with so many rich traditions  to choose from in Santa Fe, it’s no wonder that I can’t wait to go back to see and do more.

 

When Glue and Glitter Won’t Do

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IMG_2735My daughter got 4th place in an archery competition the other day.  Fourth place is good, but disappointing when you are just one point shy of third place and qualifying for the national tournament.  It was especially poignant because my child, who is not materialistic, dislikes odds and ends, and isn’t particularly sentimental about stuff, said wistfully that it would be nice to just once earn a trophy to have something to show for all the hard work. (The picture above is one of the ubiquitous soccer medals and trophies still in the house from her childhood).

My brain immediately flashed to other trophies and awards I have made for people over time.  I could, I thought, make her something like the “You still bowl me over” trophy I made for my husband for our anniversary a few years ago.  Or I could make her some kind of archery medal, crafted from all my jewelry in the basement.  Or I could take the top of one of those Simply Orange juice containers (which are great bases for making small trophies or displays) and glue some cute things on top of it to make her a  special trophy.  I could pull one of the many amethyst crystals we have (leftover from decorating her bat mitzvah dinner) and make a little sign that said “You rock.”

But I didn’t.  It occurred to me that this was one time where homemade wouldn’t do.  Now mind you, homemade rules in our house.  We bake our cakes and pies from scratch,

do elaborate handmade Halloween displays each year,IMG_4444 and every corner of our home is crammed with craft supplies.

Halloween costumes, in particular, were handmade (even when I didn’t want them to be.  There was the year that Rebecca wanted to be Kim Possible and there were many many Kim Possible costumes available and I was desperate to just buy one and be done with it, but Rebecca wanted Kim’s battle suit, which just couldn’t be bought.  Ultimately, it turned out great, but I probably wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t expressed her clear preference for homemade, as in “Mom, I want you to make this for me because ours are better!”ry=400

Sometimes, however, that cheap plastic trophy can’t be duplicated.  Yes, years from now it would have ended up in a box somewhere in the attic or in the bottom of a landfill, but right at this moment, it represented an intangible made concrete.  Proving to yourself and your peers that you can do it, your are WORTHY, you know what you are doing–all of that stuff that is so deeply felt when you are a teenager once in a while requires outside validation in the form of a trophy or a ribbon or the top score on a test.  At that point it isn’t about being good or talented or proficient; instead, it is answering one of those deep questions that burn within–do I, can I measure up?

My daughter is fantastic and talented and skilled.  And she knows that she has much to contribute. She loves the pure feeling of calm and determination that comes from aiming and letting her arrow fly.    But I can’t fault her for wanting a little statue that says, “hey, you did good!”  And I can’t duplicate that particular one, because it is deeply tied to a particular moment, and contest, and time and place that won’t be repeated. Moreover, there were only three trophies per category–three high school girls; three trophies.  That was it. And as with  commodities everywhere, the scarcity makes the reward that much more desirable. So we had a good lunch and a long talk and she got some high fives and some hugs and we all moved on.  She will remember that, too, I hope, and know she is loved.

We like to think we can make everything better for our kids, whether it is with a hug or a shoulder to cry on, chocolate cake, or even a homemade trophy, but sometimes, we can’t.  Being sad and facing disappointment are part of growing up.  Sometimes a homemade trophy is the best thing in the world, but sometimes it just says we are trying too hard to substitute or supplant an emotion that must be faced.  I guess knowing when to make that call will always be part of parenting, whether your tools of the trade are your shoulders, your arms, or your crafty hands.

The Re-imagining of Atticus Finch

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Like so many people, I was excited to learn that an old “new” book by Harper Lee would come out this summer, followed the growing controversy between Lee’s family and publisher, and then, ultimately, hesitated to read the book upon learning that it portrayed an Atticus who had become a racist in his old age.  I asked friends whether I should read the book, lest it tarnish my image of Atticus, the moral and upright lawyer who defended an innocent African American accused of rape in To Kill A Mockingbird.

But I couldn’t turn my back on the fact that this was a chance to peep inside Harper Lee’s complex mind; to see how she imagined the future of characters I loved so much.  I still remember the furtive strains of the opening credits of the movie, back when they showed movies at 10:30 pm after the news, drawing me out of my bedroom just off the living room.  I remember my mom didn’t have the heart to send me back to bed, as this was just such a good story.  I also remember my surprise, and unfolding delight, when I read the book a few years later and realized  that the story was so much more than the events portrayed in the movie.  We grew up with Scout, wondered with, and loved Atticus because he was always fair, always right, and always there.

So, I’ve read Go Set a Watchman now, and I’m glad I did.  Just as we saw Atticus the man through Scout’s eyes in her childhood, we experience her despair as she comes back to a Maycomb, and  a family, that isn’t as she remembers it.  She’s out of place, disgusted, and certain that she can never love these people again.  But then some things happen, and, without giving away the ending, she begins to understand that Atticus is no longer an icon, but he is still her father, and he still helped her become the woman she is today.

As a novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is the superior book.  Go Set a Watchman, so the story goes, was Lee’s first submission and it was too rough and unformed–the editors urged her to go back and develop the characters more.  The seeds of To Kill a Mockinbird are all over the text–some paragraphs even made their way into the better book and other things that are just passing references become full-blown chapters in Mockingbird.  Watchman is more of an internal dialogue which at the time might have served as both an accusation against and an apologia for Southern whites who opted out of the civil rights movement.

Now, I think it probably is best read as a different coming of age novel.  There is that moment (not counting the teenage years), when you realize that you passionately, fundamentally disagree with your parents and it shakes you to the ground (mom, you are one of my loyal readers, don’t worry, it happened so long ago that it is ancient history).  I can only say that Scout’s family anticipates that moment, encouraging Scout to embrace who she is.

Do they love her enough to change their position?  To change their ways?  Who knows.  Believe me, there is some pretty awful, disappointing stuff in Go Set a Watchman. But this is a novel that can only be really powerful for those of us who love Scout, and Atticus, and Uncle Jack. It challenges you to ask how far you will go to understand the people you love in all their imperfections.  IMG_0480

This is said best towards the end of the book, when Uncle Jack is encouraging Scout to move back to Maycomb, Alabama from her home In New York City.  Scout retorts “Uncle Jack, I can’t live in a place that I don’t agree with and that doesn’t agree with me.”  Eventually, Jack tells her, “The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise.  They don’t need you when they are right.”

And that is when I started to cry.

Decoupage transforms lives, or at least, plain wooden surfaces

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Decoupage transforms lives, or at least, plain wooden surfaces

I have been making collages for years and years.   It probably started when I was a kid, when I would make dummy newspapers, magazines, and once even a sewing pattern, that combined pictures and text and silly headlines that I made up for presents.

But my serious adult collaging began when I was a law clerk in Chicago.  A friend was taking the bar exam and I wanted to send her something fun and distracting.  I was flipping through a magazine that featured a story on barware called “Stocking the Bar” and I found myself obsessively looking for the word bar in everything I could find.  The resulting collage was a search and find–instead of “Where’s Waldo?” it was “Where’s the Bar?”– with pictures of wheel BARrows, Ellen BARkin, BARns, and so forth.  Try your hand below

Passing the Bar--a distraction for my friends while they studied

Passing the Bar–a distraction for my friends while they studied

Many such collages followed, decorating wedding invitations and birth announcements or simply celebrating, like so:

IMG_3717 When my nephew, Theo, was born over a Thanksgiving holiday, my husband’s whole family joined me in making a collage for the new parents.  We had just been to a bunch of antique stores, and I picked up some old magazines  from the forites to use in the collage.  The difference was stunning–the crazy old ads, the textures, and colors brought the collage to a new height, and I was hooked on repurposing the old and new together.IMG_3711

 

Fast forward to my previous job and perplexity about what to do for birthdays.   First, I made some birthday collages, but I wasn’t sure I really knew everyone well enough to make things personal.   I brought in a small IKEA mirror, a pile of magazines, scissors,  sponge brushes, and Mod Podge and convinced my team to start collaging.  As one friend said, she thought I was nuts, but the minute she started flipping through magazines, snipping headlines and images to create something new, she was hooked.  In the 5 1/2 years I was there, collages became a team building event, a going away present, and most recently, a party activity.

This time it was my turn for the going away party, and to my surprise and delight, my friends and colleagues threw a work party that included a “decoupage room.”  It was great fun to watch the broader staff of our organization sit down and start cutting and pasting. photo 5 photo 4 photo 3 photo 2 photo 1 Another friend who had never participated in our collage ritual said that she loved it–and was going to do it with her daughter.  Several other people talked about how peaceful it felt to just do some art as a break from work.  And yes, several people (I am talking about you, Walter) made fun of us, but sat down and did it anyway.   My friend, Wendy, who organized the decoupage activity, enthusiastically explained the steps–create a background, find words and images that make you think of thecraftylawyer, and when we have enough, arrange and plan the order, layering images and text over each other, sandwiching it all together with mod podge.  The results were fabulous and heartwarming.

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And the thing that made me the happiest?  Seeing a group of wonderful, intelligent, but usually very serious people, let a bit of art guide their day and making something beautiful in the process.  It is proudly hanging in my new office

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Happy Anniversary –how to say I love you without spending a dime

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Happy Anniversary –how to say I love you without spending a dime

My husband, Michael, and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago.  It’s been an expensive year–medical bills and the early demise of our 2006 VW Jetta–so neither one of us was inclined to spend money.  In fact, the car died the week before our anniversary, so I guess you could say that we bought each other a new car as a present, although he did all the research and narrowed it down to a few choices for me–so maybe I should just graciously say, he gave me a car for our anniversary.  But you know, when you HAVE to buy a car, it’s not really so much a gift as a necessity.  Or, as one friend said–it isn’t exactly like the Christmas Lexis commercials where you step outside and there’s a new car with a bow on it.  Still, kudos to him for steering us to an electric car.

So if his gift was high tech, mine was unabashedly low tech.  I essentially made him a gigantic card, spanning the length of our dining room table.  I came up with 8 pairs of objects that either naturally go together or are forced together, and one extra.  Feel free to steal the idea (the scissors ARE the best).  Here goes:

1. You need: string, markers, card stock , blank paper,  or index cards, random things you have around the house that you never thought were crafty, and your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

2. Tie a string to the bedpost, the stairs, or any other place that can’t be missed and attach an arrow to it, or, as I did, a card that says “you are”

3. Match common objects bacon with eggs (OK, confession, i found these great tin bacon and egg pieces on ebay and had them on hand because they were cool–they actually inspired the card), chips and dip, salt and pepper, matches and candles, etc. I made 8 pairs, as you can see below, which equals 16 years plus an extra special message for year seventeen. If you are in an even numbered year (although let’s face it, every year of marriage is an odd year, right?), then you will have to split the last pairing to make the point. See below.

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Start with a teaser . . .

The Eggs to My Bacon

The Eggs to My Bacon

The Match to My Candle

The Match to My Candle

The Pop to my Soda

The Pop to my Soda

 

The crab to my dip

The crab to my dip

The D to my C

The D to my C

The chip to my cookie

The chip to my cookie

 

The Light to my Life

The Light to my Life

The POINT to it all

The POINT to it all

I do understand that not everyone has battery operated christmas lights or an old bubblegum dispenser, but you probably have a string of lights, or even a candle operated tea light somewhere in your house.  And there are probably all kinds of things you all do together, eat together, or watch together that lend itself to pairings.

The POINT of it all, really, is that love is boundless, and endlessly creative, and one never has to spend money to show that.

So, happy anniversary to my beloved husband, yet again.  Thanks for tolerating the inevitable mess that seems to accompany all my projects and for cherishing these curious little presents you get every year.  And good luck to the rest of you–send me a picture if you do a dining room table card.