Archive for August, 2009

Painting the Guinea Way

Every single time we go to the library, Isadora heads to a particular shelf in the Childrens’ Non Fiction area, one that contains books on each of the 50 states.  I have no idea what draws her there.  We’ve checked out a couple, but each time confirmed my suspicion that they were too advanced for her attention span.  Or were they?  In one attempt to read the book on Philadelphia, I broke into an explanation of the feather quill that was pictured, about how people a long time ago used to write with them.  A seed was planted in that little brain, and recently she asked if she could try painting with one of the feathers discarded by our flock. Vinny the Guinea was first in line to donate for the cause.

The verdict?  Tedious.  Not quite fluid enough for this expressive artist – the quill end was rather useless to her, though painting with the feathered end seemed slightly more fulfilling.  It was a short-lived project; more likely a lesson in Modern Tool Appreciation than in Art Development.  But it was fun nonetheless and worth the effort.  I’d like to be the fly on the wall when, at some point, she shares her historical knowledge of the quill pen.  It’s all part of our special Prepare for Kindergarten Shock and Awe curriculum, where we fill her spongy brain with obscure knowledge and interesting tidbits for her to pull out later and impress her friends and teachers.  My mom seems to think this method of teaching will get us lots of phone calls from the teacher like, “Was she really quoting The Princess Bride?”  or “What is mullein?”  I only hope the teachers can keep up.

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The Summer of THE TURKEY FRYER and Other Thrifted Gems

Summertime around here has its fair share of hallmarks.  This morning I pulled on a sweater and the warmest socks in my drawer with dismay, wondering again why summer never showed up this year, but for those two separate weeks.  No, I tell The Girl, you can’t wear that skirt, shirt, or virtually any of the clothes in your drawer today – it’s too cold.  Of course my dismay is nothing like that of the bushels of green tomatoes languishing on the vines in my garden, scrambling to put together a Plan B for ripening, one that omits the need for sunlight and heat.  So this summer will clearly not be known for its abundance of beach time.  It will also not be known as The Summer of Scorching, Unyielding Heat.  That title rests with the summer of Isadora’s gestation and birth.  Last year might be otherwise known as The Summer of the Mosquito.  Not so this year, thankfully.  There’s been plenty of rain, at least lately, so Summer of Drought is out. And The Cold, Wet, Miserable Summer seems a bit too forlorn to commit to the memory.

There is one aspect of this summer that stands alone as superlative:  the thrifting has been extraordinary.  Rummage sales, estate sales, Craigslist, and even the thrift stores have made it the summer of Thrifted Treasures.

This is just a fraction of the goodness I scored at a particularly good garage sale liquidating a decades-long crafting stash.  You might have heard me shrieking as I opened up this box and discovered the Easter egg colors inside, all carefully bound by chocolate colored scraps, presenting a delicious palette of colors that got the neurons in my brain firing at lightning speed.

At the heart of this particular story lies an important thrifting phenomenon, the Holy Grail of treasures, if you will.  Call it the Grab Bag, or The Lot, or simply an overflowing box.  The biggest high of thrifting, for me at least, is to come upon a collection of something, to skim the tops of the boxes and find just enough goodness to justify the purchase of the whole lot.  Buying in bulk is almost always my preferred method of buying and thrifting is no different.  Negotiating a price for the whole lot often works to the best interest of the buyer and the seller.  But the best part, the ultimate sweet spot of treasure hunting is to get those boxes home and tear them open to see what other gems are buried within.  Oooh.  On the day I opened the box that contained the sweet bundles of pastel fabric shown above, I had just returned home from the doctor after presenting with an ear infection. (Because I’m 3yrs old?  Crappy, cold, wet summer.  Boo.)  The mercifully-prescribed narcotic painkillers were juuuuuuuust hitting their stride in my bloodstream when I exited the car, on the path to my bed, when….there they were, the boxes that I hadn’t yet gotten to excavate, being up to my ears in kids these days.  That day, the kids were at Gramma’s.

I’m not even sure that I’ll use much of this fabric – they’re mostly vestiges of the days when Polyester ruled the day.  (it is triumphantly under-represented in this house) The real treasure lies in the color combinations within and the inspiration they bring to my studio.  That light on dark blue has got my head spinning.  How lovely.

Oh yes.  I’ve also scored a turkey fryer, a pressure canner, a fire escape ladder for our bedrooms, and countless other things, all for real cheap.  It really has been a good summer.

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We are something like royalty

Eating like kings…

+unintended, but perfectly appropriate sea-serpent-shaped 5 Minute Artisan Bread to accompany us to our nautical themed dinner party+

The King…

The Queen…

In the Counting House, counting all her money…

And the people of the kingdom rejoiced.

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Now that’s what I call a Makeover.

One Saturday, not too long ago, there was a small explosion in our house.  A metaphorical one, thankfully, but nonetheless producing a wave of impact that was felt within a 25 foot radius.  It was a Saturday morning, on a rare weekend that was to be spent at home.  What, Andrew asked, are your plans for the day?  Famous last words, but my blank-faced stare bore no hint of the turn of events to come.  There was the spare bedroom to tidy, with a visitor coming later that day, and…

I set about the chore, starting at the top of the stairs, in the small bathroom we fondly call The Office.  It’s really less of an office and more of a Room with a View.  The toilet sits squarely in front of a generous window to the back yard – the best view you’ll ever have from a toilet, we tell everyone on a tour of the house.   Actually only a half bath, its counterpart with a shower and bathtub lives right around the corner.

I paused as I washed my hands, glaring at the splatter-painted frame of the mirror above the sink, scowling at my decapitated image, as the placement of the mirror was determined by a much-shorter former occupant of the house.  For some time I had been collecting pieces for a bathroom redo and at that moment I considered how quickly I could replace said splatter-painted mirror with one more proportioned to my height and less offensive to my design sensibilities.  Just an anchor, a screw, some new wire….my peripheral vision took in the mirror propped against the wall and the thrifted cabinets stacked alongside.  And then it happened.  The explosion.  Why don’t I just go ahead and redo the room?  It’s tiny, after all, and it is The Weekend, which from the inside always looks like it’s made of nothing but time.  Yes.  It was settled.

I had been mentally redesigning that room for months, had been collecting pieces and stashing them, and any design choices I hadn’t yet made could be hashed out on-the-fly, riding on the crest of the Morning Coffee. I could complete all of the painting and most of the design work on Sunday, right?  Yeah, right.

So it took over a week to finish, of course.  But to me, it is spectacular, a re-purposing showcase.

I had been saving these used circuit boards for eons.  Any time I come upon a lot of the same thing, I imagine how they might look in a grouping like this.  I also try the “how much for the whole box” method of bargaining.  Can you imagine how thrilling it was to find this box of circuits while thrifting and then to get it for a song?  Uh huh.  Hung on the wall in a grouping, they remind me of an old city plat map.  Love, love, love it.

This is a variation of an idea I’ve seen floating around the design sphere, using vintage door knobs or plumbing valves as towel holders or curtain tie backs.  Andrew came up with the copper configuration to make it hang to my specifications.  I was in such a hurry to hang it up that it hasn’t even been soldered yet, so it rotates a bit too much. 5 minutes of soldering or even glue could fix that.

And in an homage to one of our favorite obscure animals, the Prairie Dog has brought some literacy to the formerly-purple switch plate.

The standing shelf, shown above, gave me the perfect opportunity to use some gorgeous vintage wallpaper to line the inside back.  (Thanks Lily!)  And the red painted backdrop behind the mirror was pure on-the-fly design and something I’ll definitely use again.

No one ever accused me of minimal design, as you can clearly see; there’s a lot going on in this tiny space.  I tend to hang out in the “more is better” camp and most often have to reel myself in a bit.  But it works for me, in it’s eclectic marriage of vintage and industrial/techno.  And the splatter paint has been drop-kicked into oblivion.

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We court The Guitar like a new lover.

Andrew and I are both learning to play the guitar.  It was one of those things we both wanted to do, but perhaps seemed so GRAND and INVOLVED that we couldn’t quite wrap our brain around actually getting started.  Silly us – getting started was actually pretty easy, with an instructor friend in town eager to get the ball rolling.

Andrew has had an electric guitar for years now – it came with his VW Jetta TDI.  (Isn’t this how everyone gets started with The Guitar?)  It was a promotional gimmick, tapping into that latent desire we must all have to play the guitar while driving. (you can plug it directly into the car’s stereo system)  Yeah – it was funny for awhile – showing up with his guitar, plugging it in, shredding a bit.  Ultimately, though, the joke could only go so far without actually knowing how to play.

And I’ve always wanted to learn how to play something.  Piano, mostly, but there was that other episode with a guitar, the one where I got one for Christmas, stroked it lovingly for months, but never learned how to play.   A short stint with the trumpet in fifth grade was overshadowed by saxophone envy (everyone wanted to play the sax that year and got in line ahead of me) and the birth of my baby sister.  Mom said it was too much driving to keep up the lessons at the neighboring school, especially with winter approaching and a new baby.  Likely, though, she sensed my waning enthusiasm and jumped on the opportunity to simplify the routine.

I hesitate to put words into Andrew’s mouth, but I think I speak for both of us when I say that we act with a certain “where have you been all my life?” fervor towards our guitars.  The kids’ heads barely hit their respective pillows before we rush back downstairs to rock out.  The chords come pouring out, some more gracefully than others, and the expressions on our faces alternate between concentrated focus and awe, as if the sounds coming from our very hands are magic.  Daily, we compare the slowly-forming calluses on our left hands’ fingertips, take new interest in the state of our hands.  Hangnails and too-long fingernails become barriers to our new-found love and must be avoided at all costs.

I think we’re quickly becoming infamous as The People Who Bring their Guitar Everywhere.   While we’ve only racked up 3 lessons each so far, we’ve already given a handful of concerts:  at our fire pit, while visiting family, at the cottage, and most recently at a nautical-themed dinner party.  Was it fate that our ever-growing songbook included tunes perfectly suited for an after-dinner performance?  Perhaps.

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This time, as an insider.

We returned to the Sugar Maple Music Festival.  This must be our favorite event of the entire year.

It was the culmination of a year’s worth of anticipation, beginning the moment we left last year’s event.  Last year, as we danced and marveled and let the cornucopia of  sound wash over us, we also recognized the longing that we carried with us to make our own music.  Wistfully, we ogled the banjos and fiddles and guitars and accordions.  And as we wound our way through the crowd of contented listeners last year, taking our leave and observing our little one’s need for sleep, I made two wishes.   First, I hoped we would return to the festival the following year with a family of four. (check)  And second, I hoped that by that time the following year, I would be learning how to play an instrument of my own. (double check)

As it turns out, having a set deadline for a goal or wish is infinitely useful in manifesting that goal.  But more on that later.  For now, I’d like to focus on the marvelous time we had at the festival this year.

“We could live on this blanket,” I said as I set about preparing our picnic lunch.  A still-warm loaf of fresh baked bread was sliced on the spot for our sandwiches.  Fresh blueberries were squirreled away by a little girl sharing with a new friend on a neighboring blanket.  We were comfortably afloat in a sea of music, arriving just in time to hear the traditional cowboy songs performed by KG & The Ranger, an act that included yodeling and lasso rope tricks.  We had been anticipating it for months.

KG & The Ranger

The stilts were a pleasant surprise.

Maybe next year will find us joining one of the jam sessions offered in a nearby tent?  Or the accordion workshop? Perhaps the child-size accordion I stumbled across at a garage sale a few weeks ago can be put to good use.

This year, the painful angst came not from the intense, unfulfilled desire to play an instrument, but in having to leave the festival at the beginning of this act to head north for a wedding.  A consolation made its way home with us, allowing us to revisit the fest while (edited) washing dishes, bouncing baby, or making supper. vacuuming up broken glass, intercepting the maple syrup being emptied out onto two leftover blueberry pancakes, and accompanying the battery-operated noise of the Jumparoo.

I made a new wish as we drove away this year.  Respecting the rules of wish-making, I’ll share it once it comes to fruition.

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