Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Seller's remorse (part 2)

Last night a nice son bought a pin from my shop for a mother's day present, and I'm thrilled that it will end up with someone's mom, and at the same time sorry that I sold it.

This pin belonged to my grandmother, Alice, a woman who was less than five feet tall but still imposing. She was a schoolteacher until they made her quit when she got married. She was a good cook and a perfectionist, which meant that cakes went down the toilet if they weren't perfect. (And why the toilet? A throwback to the days on the farm when she had an outhouse?)

I have vivid memories of her big house in Kansas City, where she always had one jar of baby marshmallows and one jar of chocolate chips; she had celluloid reindeer on her mantle every Christmas; there was an attic with holes in the floor over toward one edge, but trunks of old clothes that we were allowed to play with; and she always made the lightest home-baked crescent rolls and a green Jell-O mold with cottage cheese that my sister loved, but not me.

One of my last memories of her, and one of the most vivid, is driving with her into downtown Kansas City at about 40 miles an hour in the left two lanes of the highway. It was the last time I ever let her drive when we were together, though she kept her car (an old Dodge Dart) for a number of years, unwilling to admit she shouldn't use it. It was at least three or four years after that before she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

I have other pieces of her jewelry, but know I'll miss this brooch and memories of it pinned to her precise little suits. I'm starting a collection of her china though (Russel Wright in chartreuse) and I have her roll recipe, which I haven't made in years. Maybe I'll try it out again for mother's day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Exploring memory

I just finished The Gathering, by Anne Enright, a marvelous book of a dysfunctional Irish family (does literature have any other kind?) that is told by an unreliable narrator--a grieving woman who freely admits that she's not really sure what did or didn't happen in the past that led her brother to walk into the ocean with a pocket full of rocks.

"We know that real events have real effects," the narrator says. "In a way that unreal events do not. Or nearly real. Or whatever you call the events that play themselves out in my head."

(The book is sort of like that throughout.)

One of the fun things about having kids is watching the unreliability of memory in action. It's much harder to judge where your own memory is playing tricks, since you don't always have the objective ruler to point out your errors. But with your children, as they retell the stories of their lives, you can see where they have conflated events, incorporated bits of movies or stories as their own, or simply made things up.

When my youngest was 3, we got a lab puppy for Christmas from our neighbors. But she wasn't ready to be weaned yet, so Christmas morning we wrapped up a picture of the puppy hanging in a stocking and gave that to the kids. Now my son is convinced, and I've heard him tell this story frequently, that they came down Christmas morning and Stella was hanging there by the fireplace. We've told him a time or two it didn't happen that way, but the memory--borne out of the picture--is as real for him as anything.

Now I'm happy to let that memory ride. As Enright's book shows, there are far darker childhood mysteries to deal with.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pricing vintage

I've been buying and inheriting and coveting vintage items my whole life, but it's only over the past year that I've had to come up fair prices at which to sell them.

It started with my Barbies on e-bay--finding websites online that specialize in Barbies so I could look at their little butts and hairstyles and figure out what the model was and what year they were made. Then doing searches on e-bay and elsewhere on the Internet to get some idea of what they were going for, and how much it mattered if someone had gnawed off their fingers or drawn on a bra with red pen.

[Side note: My teenage son was helping me list these, and one of my fondest memories is of him bending down to take a close-up photograph of a Barbie butt. If only he hadn't had the camera, it would have made a priceless picture!]

Now for the past three months I've been selling vintage items on Etsy (in addition to my jewelry), and this has proved to be even more of a challenge, since I'm not a specialist and for each new item I need to find new resources. One of the first items I listed was a beautiful green dish with hydrangeas, made by Hutschenreuther Selb, Bavaria. First I had to figure out that the signature on the back said Selb, not Gelb (amazing how many e-bay sellers get this wrong). Finally after several hours of searching, I actually found a website (in German) that showed the manufacturer's marks and dates so I could tell that it was made before 1920.

Once I have a concept of the year and maker, then I need to do a search of e-bay, Etsy, and other online sellers to get an appropriate price. Seldom have I found the exact item, so a lot of it is guesswork. Fortunately, there's a great vintage community at Etsy, and they are a wonderful resource for relative newbies like me.

I can see why people end up specializing. Each new item--costume jewelry, a random leather purse, postcards, buttons--I've had to go through a similar process, and always I'm left wondering. Is this one of those Lisner necklaces that's worth $35 or $65 or $125?

You tell me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My new necklace

I just finished a steampunk necklace on commission, and now I'm going to keep it. Sorry, Charmaine, hate to break it to you this way, but I like it too much to give it up (let's see if she can track me down).

Charmaine, aka High Desert Diva, sent me some of her grandmother's Victorian buttons, including a beautiful large black mourning button with crepe and beads. She also sent a box full of clock parts, and using some of those and some of my own, I put together a design for her to approve. The finished piece, above, is pretty much the same, with extra reinforcement in the back and a black leather cord.

It's going to look so good on me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Losing that ace in the hole

I used to work in a bar, several different places at different times of my life, and I also had a brief stint as a waitress at a family restaurant, where I wore a poo-brown uniform and learned to hate all children and generally sucked. The kind of waitress, forgetful and stressed and six orders behind, that you pity and loathe in equal measure.
Still, for some odd reason, after that when I had jobs that I hated for one reason or another (and there always was one reason or another), I consoled myself by thinking, Well, if they fire me, I can always be a waitress again. I don't know why, but I saw this as my ace in the hole. I'd always be able to support myself, so there was no reason to get overwrought about the current situation.
I'm not sure when it dawned on me that this wasn't really so. Maybe it was some time after my back surgery, when I watched a waitress balancing six plates on a tray held above her shoulders like a giant flying saucer. No, I could not do this. In reality I never was any good at it, but now I am physically as well as temperamentally incapable.
I don't mean this to be a reflection on aging and loss, though it could easily go that direction. Rather, I mean to celebrate. I never have to be a waitress again! That possibility is off the table, and the other things that I can pursue--things that don't require me to pilot a flying saucer through a maze of tables while trying to remember who the hell wanted more catsup and why I have an iced tea pitcher in my other hand--these are much more exciting and satisfying possibilities.
Best of all, no uniform required.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Life happens

A week or two ago I was tagged by MelissaKate (who, by the way, has Willy Nelson on her blog this week), and I'd like to follow the rules and share seven random facts about myself, but I've done it a few times already. No one cares that much. So instead, I'm going to share three weird or annoying things that happened to me recently. In no particular order:
  • My son found a mouse in the basement yesterday, which is no surprise since the kids leave food down there all the time. He took care of it; I won't go into details. Ewww.
  • Some fun-loving teenagers heaved a huge rock from our garden through the back windshield of our car last week. Little pebbly shards of green glass everywhere. We're still cleaning up.
  • My dog has epilepsy. She's had occasional seizures over the past year but had a big one this week, so the vet finally put her on meds, and she seems much better.
I'm sure everyone has a similar litany of gripes and distractions. But tonight I'm going to be a bartender at a fund-raiser for a friend who has cancer (pretty bad cancer) and no insurance. What is wrong with this damn country that people who are dealing with a life-threatening illness need to put their pictures in the newspaper and rely on friends and strangers for money? Anyway, it puts all these little things in perspective.

Peace out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You vote what you eat

Before you pour yourself that white wine for dinner, better ask whether you want to see Hillary in the White House. If you prefer McCain, make it a scotch.

A New York Times article today on micromarketing examines how political strategists are using information on what we buy, eat, and drive to target their campaigns. Among the findings:
  • Democrats prefer Pepsi-Cola, Sprite, clear liquors like gin and vodka, white wine, and Evian water. They prefer Popeyes fried chicken and organic foods (the article doesn't explain the apparent contradiction here). They are more likely than Republicans to subscribe to gourmet cooking magazines.
  • Republicans favor Dr. Pepper, brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine, and Fiji water. They eat at Chick-fil-A.
Strategists break it down even further. The article quotes Mark Penn (Clinton't former chief strategist and a miscrotargeting expert) as saying that Obama "has more of the arugula vote.... Senator Clinton's voters are more likely to be making ends meet and so they do a lot more cooking at home and a lot less eating out at expensive restaurants."

Not everyone buys that this is a great way to target a campaign, of course, and there are many cross-over eaters. Still, next time you're out to dinner with friends, look at what they order and ask yourself, Are these really my kind of people?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Country roadtrip

We thought yesterday, being mid-April, would be a perfect day to get out in the country for a hike and perhaps a quick stop by a winery for lunch, all in celebration of my friend Debra turning the big five-oh. Instead we had a bit of snow, some rain, cold, overcast skies, and wind. So we improvised--skip the hike, spend the whole time at a winery.

Yes, Missouri wine. I'm not here to defend it, though others would. We drank it. We enjoyed it.

The best part: a singer who billed himself as Maury Sinatra. He had a great voice, a fine trio behind him, and a marvelous repertoire. (We could have sung along to all of them but saved it till the drive home.)

No, this is not the winery. Just an interesting ruin of a farmhouse.

Debra and Maury

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dreaming in vintage

On Thursday nights, I dream in vintage--browsing through antique stores, trying on ravishing hats and dresses (I'm size 2 in dreamland), picking up baubles and knick-knacks and treasures.

That's because Thursday evenings in the forums of Etsy (the website of all things handmade and vintage), a group of sellers far more knowledgeable than me gets together to gab and share their latest, or more likely the things they love from other people's shops. The conversation flies so fast you can get up for a drink and come back to find 15 pages have passed and three people have left, three more arrived. It's like antique shopping with a group of hilarious friends. I always leave dizzy and a little overwhelmed.

Here's a brief sampling of some of my new favorites from last night's vintage marathon:

Cactus planter from AuntiePrincess.

Stalker dutch doll from PetitPoulailler
(check out the eyes)

Metalware tray by LorenzStudio

Royal biscuit tin by SurrenderDorothy

Killer red heels by RetroCycle

Green camel salt and pepper shakers by SlushyGirl

This is just a fraction of the gorgeous, and sometimes hilarious, items shared. Newcomers, interlopers, voyeurs all welcome--it's most every Thursday night for 3 or 4 hours (I poop out after 1 or 2), in the Promotions forum, hosted by SurrenderDorothy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Neglectful posting

My blog has been neglected the past few days, and though inspiration has not come, I'm determined to add a few notes today.

It rained hard here last night, and my dog woke me up, like she always does when there's thunder (brave warrior that she is). So while I was calming her down I looked online (Etsy addict that I am) and discovered my little moss green ring on the front page.

It's a beautiful treasury (collection of items for sale on the Etsy website) put together by starvingartistdsgns. And though it was the middle of the night here, somebody somewhere was up--I got more than 300 hits (and still the little green ring is for sale!).

More later...I've got to go nap.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Vintage Postcards: True Confessions

True confessions: I bought 18 vintage postcards at a huge postcard convention the other day, and if they hadn't closed up (and my friends hadn't borrowed the rest of my cash), I would have bought more. They were fabulous! Probably 50 vendors with millions of postcards each, all arranged in boxes with dividers with intriguing titles like Big Type, Midgets, Dancing, Multiple Babies (found that one after I'd already spent too much), and Enormous Objects.

I'm probably going sell some of the cards--I bought too many to keep them all. Worst of all, I found out from one of the vendors there's a postcard swap a mile from my house the first Monday of every month. I could quickly become addicted!
Almost as interesting as the cards themselves are the messages on the backs. Not all the cards had been mailed, but a number have messages and 1 cent stamps. The writing is all cursive, some beautiful, some hard to read. Many of the messages are mundane, things that would now be taken care of in a phone call or an e-mail. Here's a sample:

From a 1910 card of the flying machine:
"Dear frinds, We will be over Sunday Jnry 3. meet us at the tram good by Mr. Bert Broylis. if we are not there this Sunday we will be next Sunday shore.

From a 1953 postcard of two babies, sent from Michigan.
Dear Bill. We are up at the cottage. Drove thru the Toronto area. I will fung (?) some pape (?) pictures. Just can not describe how bad it was. So sorry for the people whoes homes are leveled to the ground. Writing this in car. Maby you can not read this.

From a 1911 card of a man swatting at mosquitoes, sent from Selma to California:
Dear Cousin: I will drop you a few lines tonight. Well, kid I was sure surprised to hear that aunt & uncle has come home so soon. I want to go to see them as soon as I can. Say Helen I have bought me a piano. What do you think about that? Say come up & we will play a Deut. ha ha.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Impressive condiments

The world's largest catsup bottle is not even an hour from where I live, and surprisingly enough I had not been over to see it until to day (all you people who live by the ocean or mountains, eat your heart out). I was over in Collinsville, Illinois, visiting a friend and going to a vintage postcard sale, where, yes, I spent too much (I'll share some photos later).

A few bonus pictures from my trip: a monkey sign, and a still life with dust and candles from my friend's house.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tagged by a banana-phobe

I'm not one to make fun of people and their phobias--just want to point out that Emily of Moesewco, who just tagged me, has a much more interesting list of seven random facts than I do. Visit her blog, Discriminating Weirdos, and see. (She just bought my funky pink pin for use on one of her wonderful hats; can't wait to see what it looks like.)

So, on to the list. After being tagged, the rules are, roughly, that I need to list seven random facts about myself and then tag seven more people.

  1. I am related by marriage to Tony Randall.
  2. I've visited at least three active volcanoes: Vesuvius, Mount St. Helens, and Kilauea (plus a bunch of inactive ones).
  3. Last night I went to see Roby Lakatos, a gypsy violinist. It was fantastic! They did a mixture of gypsy, klezmer, jazz--even some Fats Waller. The cimbalom solo brought down the house.
  4. When I was in third grade, I took violin. They asked me to stop.
  5. Stone Phillips went to my high school. He was like super jock, captain of everything, and also valedictorian. He had a date with my sister once.
  6. I never liked raspberries until we moved into a house with raspberry bushes. Then I decided to make myself like them, since I knew they had to be good and it was just something I had to get over. (I haven't been able to accomplish the same feat with beets.) So now I like raspberries, but I still have a little trouble with raspberry-flavored things. I think it goes back to hard candy I OD's on at my grandma's.
  7. I do not like to have my neck touched. I don't know why--strangled in a past life I guess. My kids know this and love to torture me.
That's all. Anyone reading this can consider themselves tagged--I'm off to listen to gypsy music.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Dolly Parton train wreck brooch

I knew it wasn't a good idea when I made this brooch--I couldn't imagine anyone actually pinning it to their chest. But just think: some stylish woman in some distant time (probably the 1940s) actually wore this hooter on a coat or dress. I would imagine that men couldn't keep their eyes off her!

Anyway, I love this little button, and I couldn't resist making the brooch, but I haven't had the nerve to put it up for sale yet. (I should mention that it's enormous--almost 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch deep.) I'd be interested to know whether my assumption is correct--that it's more fun to look at than to wear--or if someone could actually envision the day they would put this on and go out to meet the world.

On an unrelated note: There's an interview of me this week on the Etsy Vintage blog, featuring a few of my less bizarre creations. Check it out.