Wednesday, April 30, 2008

If they don't have it, you don't need it

{Hardware store dog (Bo), originally uploaded by estteolson}

I had to go to Home Desperate this weekend to pick up some little thing and I was dreading it. I miss small mom & pop hardware stores like the one in the town I grew up in. It had creaky old wooden floors and the store was really narrow but ran the full length of the building. You could get keys made, buy tools and grass seed, pick out paint and wallpaper and order lumber. But you could also get some Pfalzgraff (when they still had only 6 patterns and hadn't moved into every outlet mall in Suburbanville), a hurricane lamp, real linen dishtowels, a crock pot, baking pans, horsehair brushes, and a red flyer wagon. I bought a steamed pudding mold there that I still use. I think there was a cat. If there wasn't, there should have been. They had the best selection of greeting cards, lots of Boynton, Kliban and other non-Hallmark staples. There was a simplicity about shopping there that the big box stores completely lack. You could walk in, find what you wanted pretty quickly (and if not, someone who worked there -- and who actually knew what they were talking about -- would help you find it). You didn't have to hike through a huge warehouse of a store, and there were only two or three options at most for each item, not like the option overload of modern-day shopping.

I know there are still stores like this -- there's one on the main street of the town just west of mine. But they are a dying breed, and those that are still around are having to scale back on what they offer as the big box stores eat their profits. I know for a fact that the store near me did not have the item I ended up buying at HD, because I went there first. I did, however, buy some soy candles, a flower pot, and some picture hooks. ;-)

Monday, April 28, 2008

New birds on the block Nos. 9 and 10

{Birdie Mobile by spindesigns}

Mrs. French was loving this pretty mobile today, and it just so happened I was looking for some new birdies to post. I love the simplicity of silhouettes, and this design has simultaneously captured the whimsy of a vintage design with the spareness of a modern look. Plus there is some assembly required, so you get to feel crafty, like you made it yourself (well, if you happened to have some museum mat board and a laser cutter lying around). You can pick it up at SpinDesigns' Etsy shop.

{Michelle Jank dress, photo from}

All Things Bright And Beautiful is another daily haunt, and she was obviously feeling my bird vibe today, as she posted this and other dresses by Australian designer Michelle Jank. A true flight of fancy, no?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not your average brown bag

{A b.happy bag in the Leslie pattern}

I'm managing a big event in Chicago in a couple of weeks, and among the schwag are these fantastic, upholstery-grade, 100% cotton, made-in-the-USA grocery (etc.) bags from b.happybags. We ordered three different fabrics (because we couldn't decide on just one) and hopefully there won't be too many fistfights over who gets which pattern. I'm partial to this pattern, since I have a thing for Jacobean prints, and I think the plaid on the side is not as Burberry-ish as it looks in this pic.

b.happybags was started by two Phoenix-area women whose goal in producing these bags "is to appeal to the people that think you have to don your Birkenstocks to make a wise post consumer decision." Plus its way cooler to carry your cat litter in a Pucci-inspired tote.

The last thing I need, however, is another cotton grocery bag. I have been bringing my own bags to the grocery store for about 6 months now, and while I occasionally have need of a paper grocery sack to store the newspapers before recycling, for the most part it has been an easy switch for me. And I actually remember to bring them into the store with me 99% of the time. I keep them all in my trunk in a tote-shaped basket with leather handles that I use for heavier canned goods.

Okay, maybe just one more bag...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

{The esteemed Bill S., doesn't look a day over 443.
Portrait attributed to John Taylor. Pic from Tudor History}

My first encounter with The Bard was at McDonalds when I was in grammar school. No, he was not shakin' down the Hamburglar for some change so he could buy an apple pie. He was, however, plastered all over the place in a 1970s Tudorbethan fantasy of "stained glass" windows and half-timbering, interspersed with stencils of famous lines from his plays. Very Merrie Olde England.

Why, you may ask (and I did when I was a kid) was this place an homage to Shakespeare? Because it was in a town called Stratford, named for the fair city over the pond, home of the Globe Theater abroad and the (now defunct) American Shakespeare Theater here. Back in the day, my parents tell me, the AST was the place for great theater in the region, Shakespeare or otherwise. Folks drove for miles to see Christopher Plummer, John Houseman, Lynn Redgrave, etc. perform on its stage, and restaurants in the area did a brisk trade in pre- and post-theater dining. The Bard became a bit of a theme and I guess McD's just jumped on the bandwagon.

I half remember someone's birthday party (mine perhaps? Third grade?), sitting with a group of classmates in two booths that spanned the end of the aisle. We took turns eating each other's fries (back when they were cooked in beef fat and quite tasty) and reading the quotes on the wall, but we were too young to understand them or their references, and too engrossed in our smorgasboard to care. Fast food was a rare treat then, and going to McDonald's for someone's birthday was a novelty. We were easily entertained.

Table for 4 please, in the "Rose by Any Other Name" section if you have it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Every day is Earth Day

{aluminum oxygen tanks abandoned on top of the world become Bells of Everest}

Okay, I won't even get started on the whole commercialism of Earth Day, aka, the new Christmas. Ick. Is this really a reason for a sale at Home Depot? Or Best Buy? Or Bob's Matresses? I'm ashamed of our culture sometimes.

Here is one of my favorite executions of recycling: take something that is almost impossible to discard (because of the inaccessibility of proper disposal - read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air if you haven't already to understand the lethal beauty and futility of climbing Everest). Bells of Everest, located in Maine, collects discarded aluminum oxygen tanks and turns them into unique bells and gorgeous bowls. Even the scraps from separating the two halves get made into lovely ornaments. I love the idea of taking something so utilitarian and turning it into something beautiful when its useful life is over, rather than letting it forever litter the side of a mountain. If you can't make it to the top of the world, at least a bit of it can come to you.

{the bottom of a tank makes a stunning bowl, from Bells of Everest}

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black and white and I toile you so

{meghan fabric from Rubie Green}

There is something so refreshing about a crisp black and white print, especially when it is something unexpected like these pineapples from Rubie Green. "Rubie Green" is actually 25 (!!!) year old Michelle Adams, a former Domino market editor who left the publishing biz to pursue her dream of designing beautiful upholstery fabrics and producing them in an eco-friendly way.

{Country Life fabric by Waverly}

When I first moved to my current apartment I stiched up drapes and a duvet cover in Waverly's black and white Country Life toile, a pattern I have loved-loved-loved forever (and by "forever" I mean waaay before toile went from being "classic" to "the latest trend" to "ubiquitous" to "so passe you can find it at Ocean State Job Lot"). Now it seems commonplace and pedestrian. Thankfully the other side of the duvet is natural muslin, which looks great with the new natural muslin drapes and coffee-with-extra-milk walls. Someday I may feel the toile love again, and I'll flip the duvet over and rehang the drapes and be ahead of the curve. Everything old is new again, n'est pas?

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

If you have, know or love a cat (or an engineer) you will appreciate this video.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Form and function

Me, to neighbor, while digging through cabinet next to stove and moving utilitarian red fire extinguisher out of the way:

"Why are these things so ugly? Why can't they be prettier? Then I wouldn't feel compelled to hide it in the cabinet."

Well, the smart folks at Sweden's FireInvent have come up with a stylish alternative to the ugly red (but necessary) safety tool:

{form AND function. What a novel idea! by FireInvent Design}

Wish I thought of it first....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New bird on the block No. 8

{Luella Bartley "Robin" shirt for Tonic}

Now here is a birdie who looks good and does good too. Do-good e-tailer TONIC has teamed up with British designer Luella Bartley to launch a limited-edition line of organic tees, each of which benefit a different global cause. When walking to school, the last thing a kid needs to worry about is his or her feet. Along with Friends of Paradis des Indiens, TONIC is helping provide shoes to 2,500 children in Haiti to help them get to school and learn academic subjects and skills such as carpentry, sewing, weaving, agriculture and reforestation. Each t-shirt is an organic cotton and bamboo fiber 70/30 blend and provides 1 pair of shoes to a child in Abricots, Haiti.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My purple heaven

{Iris at work in the woods, originally uploaded by zenera}

When I was a little girl, my dad (who was a self-employed carpenter) was doing some work at a very, very old white house, owned by a very, very old woman named Mrs. Parrott (you know how when you are 7, you have no idea how old "old" really is? She was probably only 70, but to me she was at least 110). Since the house was ancient, it needed quite a bit of work and she kept my dad pretty busy.

Sometimes my mom would take my sister and I there after school or on weekends while my dad was working on the house. Mrs. Parrott's property was as neglected as her house, and so whatever garden there had been in the past had melded into the woods behind it, and everything was overrun with wild concord grapes. When they finally came to bear, the air hung heavy with the foxy, heady scent of ripe fruit. If purple has a smell, this is it. My mom and my aunt picked baskets and baskets of grapes, and we were eating home-made grape jelly for, it seems, years afterward.

Across the road from the house was an old red barn that housed an even older cow and a white horse with blue eyes. Both were gentle (or just old and slow) and didn't mind my dad fishing in their cow pond for sunnies or my sister and I running around. How I longed to ride that horse! Of course I had never ridden a horse at that time (that would come later, at Girl Scout Camp), but what little girl doesn't want a pony?

The best part about Mrs. Parrott's house was the cats. She gave new meaning to the term "cat lady". She had hundreds of cats. Some were in the house, some were in cages in the garage, but most were loose on the property. She told us that people would drop them off for her to watch while they went on vacation and they would never come back to get them. I suspect she had become a defacto humane society and folks knew she would take little Mittens or Smokey or Fang off their hands and not ask any questions. Now, we had always had a cat at home, and it was pretty tolerant of a the "affections" of two little girls. But this was like winning the Cat Lottery. My sister and I reveled in the abundance of fuzziness. Tiger, tortoise, tuxedo -- it mattered not to us what color or size, all that mattered was here was a cat to be held and petted. And another. And another. This cat is tired of being "loved"? Just put him down and pick up that one.

Fast-forward almost 20 years. I am wandering some back roads in an effort to skirt the traffic on the way to a new job in the same town. I find myself sitting at a light on a side street, looking at a boarded-up old house in an overgrown patch of woods, maybe a half acre; it was all that remained of a once-larger estate that had obviously been sold to a developer. Behind it was a large shopping plaza, and across the road was a small office park. Lounging about on the weedy "lawn" of the house were a couple of marmalade cats. Next to the garage are a couple more, white with small patches of orange. And suddenly I realized where I was... the cat-filled purple heaven of oh-so-long-ago!

It was so sad to see it in that state, but I understood the reality of the situation - I don't think Mrs. Parrott had any children, and the town had undergone booming growth at that time. Every farm, hill and meadow had been or was being developed into an office park, shopping strip, or McMansion farm. But here was a last holdout, tangled with grapes and guarded by some hardy felines who would not give up their spot and surely were so feral as to be vicious to anyone who wanted to rip down their paradise.

Sadly, they failed in their mission. There's a Staples there now...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Paris 360

{Paris s'éveille, originally uploaded by gadl}

I have not (yet) been to Paris. It was never high on my list of places to go (Italy, Greece, California, Bali, etc.), but lately it seems I know someone who is going to Paris or just got back from Paris or has a cousin in Paris. Even the re-run of House Hunters the other night was one of their International episodes, with an almost-too-cute American couple looking to buy an apartment in Paris (for just under $1 million...). My BFF honeymooned in Paris last July, one of my favorite former neighbors was there (and Amsterdam) just two weeks ago with his BF, and one of my other neighbors is headed there next month.

Hmm, guess I'll just have to content myself for now with this 360-degree photo of Paris By Night. Cue the accordian music...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New bird on the block No. 7

{Little Bird Screenprinted flat notes by sarahparrott825}

Here is a sweet little bird on a thistle, waiting to send greetings and salutations hither and yon. You can buy him and some of his friends at Sarah Parrott's Etsy shop, Things Are Better With A Parrott.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A warm Spring day at last

{Spring is coming...................., originally uploaded by twentyeight}

Some daffodil bulbs are poking their green fingers through the dirt and leaves in the stray bit of garden next to the townhouses on my block. I've been cataloging their progress when I park my car and they are at about this stage today (these aren't them, these are from twentyeight on Flickr. I'd have to lie down in front of a few cars to take a decent picture of our daffodils and I don't feel like doing that).

I love daffodils, so sunny and cheery with their lion's mane of petals around a wee trumpet to herald the arrival of Spring.

{yellow on white..........., originally uploaded by twentyeight}

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New bird on the block No. 6

{bird tile by Cursive}

Because every birdie needs a doily! A little modern, a touch of vintage, and as useful as it is pretty. Perfect.