A Look Back . . .

gecko

Here’s looking at you, kid!

I’m taking a brief break from blogging. A week-long respite from writing. An Internet interlude, if you will.

My plan, if I can manage it, is to take the blog into re-runs and to revisit a few of my favorite early posts.

Because I had no readers and no followers last summer when I started all this, some of these poor posts never got read! And that made them sad, so I’m giving them a second chance.

I’ll be back with new content soon! Have a great week!

Early Bird or Night Owl?

early birdIt’s 4:30 as I start to write.

That’s 4:30 a.m.

I’m not up early, at least by my standards.

This is my time of day. I’m an early bird.

Some of you will read this and smile and understand. Others will shudder, shake your heads in disbelief, turn over, and go back to sleep.

I am the poster child for “morning person.” I think this is the most excellent time of day.

There are no distractions. It’s quiet. Everything seems possible.

I’m one of those people who loves to feel productive and to check things off a list. It’s amazing how productive I can be first thing in the morning. Feed the cats, drink the coffee, and go!

Early, early is the perfect time to do many of the things I need to do. When I was working in college administration, it was the time of day I could analyze numbers and deal with logistical issues without interruption. The phones didn’t ring, my secretary didn’t tap on my door, no students showed up with problems.

Now, early morning is when I start more complicated candy making projects so I can think through the steps and get the timing right. I do bookkeeping for my online shop. And I commune with you; I read what you have to say and ponder whether I can add anything to your day by writing.

It’s also really, REALLY quiet in the morning. It’s always pretty quiet where I live, out in the country, with my fairly taciturn husband. But when my husband is awake, there is always music on, every single second. I love music but I also love pure quiet so I get my fix of quiet in mornings.

It’s not just quiet in the sense of noise, though. My pets are quiet at this time of day. The weather is quiet; the wind is usually calm in the early morning and the lake is like glass (at least in will be when the ice moves out!) There’s no traffic outside. Quiet like it can’t be when the rest of the world wakes up.

The early morning is so quiet that it allows my brain to be noisy and to consider all the possibilities of the day ahead. When it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m up and alert, everything seems possible, and manageable, and doable.

At this time of day, my mind burbles with options—I’ll temper chocolate and dip those caramels, and then I’ll blog, and then I’ll iron those napkins I bought yesterday and take pictures of them so I can list them on Etsy. I’ll embroider. I’ll bake bread. I’ll find a cure for a dread disease. I’ll climb Everest. Then I’ll eat breakfast!

There are downsides to be a morning person. It can get a little lonely. I am constantly wanting to call someone to make an appointment or text someone to chat and realizing that the time simply is not right for that.

And, in early afternoon, it hits me and, right about the time the rest of the world is at the peak of productivity, I’m thinking, “nap time.” And, of course, I miss out on a lot of late-night fun because I go to bed pretty early, too!

Right about now, it’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve knocked a lot of stuff off today’s to-do list. I’ve worked on this, walked away, come back to it. I’m ready to package up the Irish cream meltaways I just finished dipping in chocolate. I’m ready to go out and tackle the errands, if the bank and the shops would just open!

And what about you? Other bloggers, when I read your posts, sometimes I try to figure out when you’re writing. Is it early morning where you are and you’re watching the sun rise as you hit “publish”? Or are you a late-night person and this is the way you wind down, at the end of the day?

Early bird or night owl? What’s special about your time of day?

The One That Got Away: Dansk Paella Pan

IMG_0911In two and a half years of selling vintage treasures on Etsy, the online marketplace, I’ve found loving homes for a lot of cool stuff. Mostly I sell things that I like a lot but that don’t fit my very relaxed lifestyle or that I simply don’t have room for.

Every once in a while, though, I regret parting with one of my beauties.

One such regret is this fabulous Danish Modern paella pan.

IMG_0919These pans were made by Dansk in the 1950s and ‘60s; the line is called Kobenstyle. The exterior color was a rich, deep yellow enamel–the color of French’s mustard. The interior was glossy, bright white with a thin black hint of metal showing around the edge.

I found the pan at a garage sale and I could see it was special. Even though my usual taste does not run to Danish Modern, the pan was priced very reasonably and in perfect condition, so I bought it with the intention of selling it.

After I took photos of it and listed it on Etsy, I put it out on my coffee table, just as a place to keep it until it sold.

And I got used to seeing it there. It was sunny, and sleek, and made me think of a perfect fried egg.

In the couple of months I owned the pan, sometimes I’d fill it with fruit but mostly I thought it looked great empty.

But it was rarely empty.

Why?

Because it was the perfect size and shape for a cat.

IMG_0657And when a cat wasn’t sitting in it, it made the most amazing cat toy. The concave interior shape of the pan made it just right for containing a ping pong ball.

A cat could (and did) bat the ping pong ball around the slick interior and it would sail around that perfect groove, making the most fascinating zhoop-zhoop sound. Once in awhile the ball would go flying out, and bounce around the room, providing more fun.

But then, just when we got really attached to it, someone bought the pan. I heard the special “cha-ching” that the Etsy app makes on my phone and checked to see what had sold.

Oh, no! My pretty bowl. My cat’s favorite toy and spot to nap.

There was nothing to do but package it up and mail it off to its new lucky owner.

I found a ceramic bowl I had sitting around, to put on the table. It’s sort of the same shape but has never caught on, with the cat or with me. It’s pedestrian and has none of the verve of the Kobenstyle bowl and it doesn’t make a ping pong ball sing either.

So, now I have one more thing to look for when I go garage saling. Maybe someday, I’ll find another yellow Dansk paella pan, to replace the one that got away. The cat hopes so!

 

 

 

 

So Shall You Sew: IBMDT #7, #8, & #9

Singer FWSerendipity swept down the street and stopped at my house yesterday,

It all started when I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD) for ages and, in doing that one, I managed to knock off two other goals at the same time. I hit the trifecta!

IBMT:

  • Call the sewing machine repair guy and have him come fix my mechanical machine
  • Kick my fancy computerized sewing machine to the curb
  • Buy a vintage Singer Featherweight sewing machine

I’ve had the intention to call Mr. P., the wizard of sewing machines, for ages. Every time I talked to anyone who sews, his name came up, and everyone raved about this man. “He’s kind.” “He’s sweet.” “He can fix anything.” “He’ll come to your house!”

I’d been meaning to call him but am so phone-averse that I just kept putting it off. But as I’ve been trying to work on my quilt project, the need became more pressing. Every time I used the machine, the thread was constantly leaping out of the take-up lever and jamming everything. I’m bad enough at sewing without having to deal with that!

So, I called Mr. P. and he came later the same day—all the wonderful things I had heard about him were true! He cleaned and spiffed up my mechanical machine, and now it works just great.

While he was here, I brought up the subject of my fancy computerized machine. I have had this machine for quite awhile and I LOATHE it. It has been a big computerized albatross around my neck for years and has generated quite a lot of family lore, in all of which I come across as a fool.

Everyone else who has this kind of machine loves it but I have not been able to reach any sort of détente with mine. Some will say the fault, dear Kerry, is not in the sewing machine but in yourself. Whatever.

The fact was, it was not working, yet again, and I asked Mr. P. about it. He, the sewing machine whisperer, couldn’t fix it.  The nearest location where it could be fixed is a two-hour drive away. Ai yi. Here we go again.

Fast forward in the discussion.

I was talking about how much I like a mechanical, as opposed to a computerized, machine. I mentioned how a Singer Featherweight seemed to be just about my speed and how I’d always wanted one.

Long pause.

“Well,” says Mr. P., “I have two or three refurbished ones.”

“Could I buy one?,” I pleaded.

And he, lovely man that he is, came up with a solution that made both of us happy—we could swap. He would take the evil, devil-possessed computerized machine and trade me a sweet, docile Singer Featherweight!

Yes! YES!

For those of you not familiar with the Featherweight, they were made in the mid-20th century. They are designed to be portable, fit neatly into a carrying case, and weigh only 11 pounds. They are small and quiet and have no bells and whistles whatsoever. They are especially popular among quilters.

It’s everything I could want! Mechanical. Old school. Sturdy. Easy to fix. Cute. Most important—it is NOT smarter than I, unlike some machines whose names must not be spoken!

You may think this is the dumbest decision you’ve ever heard and that I got the short end of the deal. But if you could have felt the joy and relief I felt when that computerized machine went down the driveway, maybe you’d understand.

So, today I’ll spend some time getting acquainted with my sweet new friend.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that, when you got it, all you could do is sit there and grin at it?

SInger FW2

 

History . . . and Mystery

IMG_5956I buy a heavy linen sheet at a garage sale, with beautiful drawnwork at the hem. In its folds is tucked a card on which is written, “Nona made the hem all by hand.”

I buy a mixed lot of linens on eBay and amid the napkins and table runners is a tiny scrap of white linen with embroidery. The letters and numbers on it are:

AU
1795
LVH
1838

All are stitched in white thread except the last two numbers, which are stitched in slightly off-white thread.

IMG_5962I find a little piece of fabric in my aunt’s attic. On it is embroidered a quirky, grumpy little boy, pulling a wagon and carrying a flag.

What do these three have in common? Well, first, they’re common. Each is an item we’ve all seen and used a hundred times—a sheet, a hankie, a napkin.

But, the second thing they have in common is how uncommon they are. Each is a total mystery.

No vintage item is completely without mystery. We’re left to wonder who chose that pink-striped dishtowel and why—because it was chosen for a little girl to use when helping in the kitchen? Because a Depression-era homemaker was seeking a little color and life in a penniless and drab existence?

That great big damask tablecloth. Why was it so obviously seldom used? Because it was an extravagance or because it was a big pain to wash and iron? Where did that stain come from and what child was banished back to the kid’s table as a result?

But some vintage items are really, really perplexing and engage my imagination. What hands worked on them? Why? How old are they? How did they survive so long? What’s the story?

I can get caught up with these questions, both in trying to research answers and in spinning tales to make sense of the oddities.

For instance, someday I’ll be able to learn more about that linen sheet. I have the name of “Nona’s” granddaughter and I know Nona’s full name and the name of the man she married. The sheet was no doubt something she made for her trousseau. When I finally cough up the bucks for a subscription to Ancestry.com, I’m sure I can solve part of this mystery.

Similarly, I will ask my aunt what she knows about the hankie with the little boy. It was unearthed as my cousin sought to make some sense of an attic packed to the rafters with . . . stuff. I may be able to solve that mystery with one simple conversation at the upcoming (and much-anticipated) pancake breakfast!

But that scrap of linen with the initials and numbers is always going to remain a mystery. The numbers seem to be dates and the stitching seems to have been done at two different times. Most of it was done at one time and then the last two numbers seem to have been added, as if when some momentous event—a birth, a marriage, a death—occurred.

But the fabric doesn’t seem likely to be as old as the dates on it suggest. And who were AU and LVH? Two entirely different people, obviously, since they share no initials. Forty-three years passed between 1795 and 1838. That’s a long time and a long time ago.

I hate that I’ll never solve this mystery but I love that I’ll never solve it.

To me, this beguiling mix of history and mystery is what makes vintage and antique items so fascinating. In some ways these things are easy to relate to and so common and so knowable.

But in other ways they are as mysterious and unique and unknowable as were the human beings who made them. And those mystery humans made these mystery items for reasons that were as completely transparent to them as they are opaque to me. It made sense to the maker.

All this musing has gotten me thinking about some of the things I have made, like the piece of jewelry with my great-grandmother’s signature I described here.

Banker quilt pendant-5Will this piece be found someday and be as great a mystery as the ones I’m pondering here? And how do I feel about that? Should I print the blog post and store it with the jewelry and solve the mystery before it starts? Or will that take away all the fun for the future treasure hunter?

How do you feel about the balance of history and mystery? I’d be very interested in hearing other thoughts on the subject. Do you have any vintage items that have engaged your imagination and given you a mystery to ponder?

1812 Quilt–A Letter to Catherine Macomb

IMG_5925Dear Catherine,

My name is Kerry. This will seem an odd letter to you, since I am writing across the years from 2014. I’m writing about the song you wrote, as you watched your husband, Sandy, fight in the War of 1812.

It’s nearly 200 years since you wrote your song, “The Banks of Champlain,” to express your feelings about the Battle of Plattsburgh. You may be surprised that I know your song but, in fact, it moved many people and your words live on.

It was published in a book in 1842 and people sang it and passed it on by word of mouth—it was that memorable.  Then, in the mid-1900s, more than 100 years after your death, a famous man recorded it.

What does that mean, “recorded it”? Well, it’s complicated; let’s just say this man, Pete Seeger, sang your song in a way that meant people could listen to it any time and anywhere they wished.

I like the song so much, I spent several weeks embroidering the words on a quilt that I am making to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. In a way, I felt I got to know you very well during the time I spent stitching. I thought about some of the ways our lives are similar, and ways they’re very different.

I have so many questions I’d like to ask! Were you really in Plattsburgh, watching, as the battle was waged? How frightening that must’ve been. Where were your children? I know that you had twelve little ones, including an infant born just a couple of months before the battle. Were they with you? Where did you live? How did you manage?

As I sewed by the fire, I imagined you sewing by the fire. What did you turn your hands and thoughts to, while your husband and Thomas MacDonough made their plans? Did you make a small quilt that Sandy could carry with him, as he fought? Did you have a little cat who played in your lap and wanted to bat your thread? I did.

IMG_1309You wouldn’t recognize Plattsburgh now, although some of the houses would look familiar. There are streets and buildings with the names Macomb and MacDonough on them! Both men are considered heroes here.

Some things, though, haven’t changed at all. The lake and the mountains are still beautiful. Autumn is still glorious. The War of 1812 brought, eventually, a lasting friendship with the peoples of England and Canada.

Sadly, another thing that hasn’t changed is that we still go to war—men and even women, now. We haven’t fought on American soil since a civil war in the 1860s. I won’t tell you about that—it would break your heart.

No, now we seem to fight wars in far-off places. My husband fought in a place in Southeast Asia that you may never have heard of. Right now, even as I write this, Americans are fighting in wars.

We don’t stand and watch our loved ones fight now, as you did, but that doesn’t stop the worry and fear. And the death.

In fact, the same famous man who taught me your song wrote another song about war. In that song, he asked, “when will we ever learn?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Sincerely,

Kerry

­March 3, 2014

Plattsburgh, New York

_________________________________________________________

 Notes on the embroidery

As mentioned in a previous post, I transferred the words of the song, in the font I chose, using the freezer paper method. I made the printing color quite faint and the embroidery stitches cover the printed words nicely.

I started the embroidery of the song on January 23, 2014, and experimented with different color threads and different stitches for a couple days. When I made the decisions about what I wanted to do, I set myself a stint of doing at least one of the 24 lines each day. I finished on February 25.

IMG_4808