Friday, June 29, 2012

Finnish Fridays: Dog cards

So this is one of the items I had with which to entertain myself on the flight from Helsinki to JFK (with a significant stopover in Amsterdam). It was 1976, I was 7 years old, and the DC-10 felt like the QE2 compared to the DC-8 we'd flown over on. I did not know, and still do not know, what this card game was all about; I just liked dogs (still do) and made up my own games. That is, when I wasn't watching the in-flight movie (Paper Moon, starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal) or reading my new Asterix comic books or my brother's Tintins. If memory serves, the journey was 14 hours long and I was terribly well-behaved. There was no air rage. The stewardesses—they were still called stewardesses then—kept the vodka flowing.

Ah, what a difference 36 years makes. Right now, I'm packing for a three-hour 6am flight to Minneapolis, which will be followed by a five-hour drive to the deepest, darkest, albino-deer-fullest woods and muskiest lakes of Wisconsin. Lindsay is busily downloading new kid-friendly apps to his iPad (a.k.a. "Paddy") as well as movies (the Rex Harrison Dr. Doolittle). I've already packed a dozen DVDs to play on my laptop, and downloaded several audiobooks to my older daughter's iPod. The DS is charged. The kids have packed their matching, monogrammed Pottery Barn Kids wheelie backpacks with books, sketchpads, coloring books, pastels, watercolors, markers, snacks, water bottles, stuffies and cuddle-cuddle-up-its-blankets-that-are-puppets.

Do kids really need all this stuff to endure a domestic flight? Probably not, though flying really does suck incredibly compared to the ’70s. I'm not going to wring my hands over it. With Kindle, iphone, pack of gum and bag of almonds, I'm flying about as light as I did 36 years ago, to the closest thing to Finland the US of A has. Funny, no?

I doubt I'll be blogging next week, though you might find me on instagram. I've sussed out at least one flea market in deepest, darkest Wisconsin. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What big eyes you have

I found this litho while crawling on my hands and knees through the supply closet of a deceased art teacher. I did not shell out a dollar for it because I'm a fan of the creepy-campy 1960s school of saucer-eyed sad art, popularized by Margaret Keane, and a bunch of mono-named artists like Igor and Gig. I bought it because this "Pity Puppy," named Potato Chip, greatly resembles my own Pity Puppy, named Cupcake. I mean, am I right? Cupcake may not have saucer eyes but that sad-sack demeanor is unmistakable.

I don't know anything about the artist Gig, to whom this puppy portrait is attributed. With the exception of Margaret and Walter Keane, who started the whole genre, these purveyors of mopey creatures—precursors to the Littlest Pet Shop critters, for sure—seem to be a shadowy lot. The story of the Keanes is pretty fascinating, though. Apparently when they were married back in the ’50s, Margaret allegedly did all of the painting while Walter got all the credit (he compared himself to Rembrandt and El Greco). After an acrimonious divorce, Margaret eventually sued him in the mid-’80s, challenging him to a paint-off in court. She produced a waif for the jury in less than an hour, while Walter claimed to have a shoulder injury. The jury awarded her some $4 million. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Burton is making "Big Eyes," a movie about the Keanes starting Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds. What—no Johnny Depp??

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sisu, and the beginning of Finnish Fridays

This blog is supposed to mostly be devoted to the stuff I buy at estate sales (and thrift stores and flea markets and occasionally on the internets) but as I sift through my possessions and ponder their origins, I'm realizing that's a little limiting. Or at least, that one theme keeps recurring—one that speaks with a lilting accent and has a taste for vodka, herring and good design: Finland.

See, my mother hails from the land of Marimekko and Moomins, and according to a keychain she once bought me at ScanFest (the Scandinavian festival that used to blow through our corner of Jersey once a year), this makes me 51% Finnish. I'm also a barrel of laffs because I've got a mug that proclaims it so ("Finns are Fun"). And, naturally, I've got Sisu—which is like the Finnish je ne sais qua but not quite so perky—because I had one of those license plate frames trumpeting the fact.

True story: I was once idling at red light here in San Antonio when suddenly the driver of the car behind me appeared at my window. I nearly had a heart attack—was my car on fire?? No, she'd seen my Sisu license plate and couldn't quell the urge to express Sisu solidarity. (At great personal risk, I might add; this being Texas, I probably had the right to shoot her.) But there you go: Sisu—which translates roughly as a powerful will, determination, stoicism in the face of adversity—encapsulated in one anecdote.

So along with Sisu, I've got a lot of Finnish stuff. Stuff that my mother brought over on the ocean liner back in 1961 and that she's slowly been relinquishing. Stuff my relatives have sent me for Christmas over the past many decades (always in the best wrapping paper bound with ribbon—never tape. Finns don't use tape, which may be a Sisu thing, not sure). Stuff I got—just a few things really, but naturally I still have them—when I went to Finland as a kid. See below, that's the puzzle that came in a bag of toys Finnair bestowed on all kid passengers back in the ’70s. Stuff I got when I returned to the motherland in my 20s. See above, that's me, age 25 and aglow with acquisitiveness, outside a Helsinki antique shop where I scored the WWII German pilot hat I'm wearing. The perfectly distressed leather schoolbag came from an animal-shelter thrift shop the day prior. And inside the plastic bag is a wooden elk I held on my lap the whole flight home. See the elk in question below—did you doubt that I still had it? You couldn't have—not if you've made it this far.

The first time I went to Finland I was 7—and it was a pretty seminal experience. Maybe it's something about being 7, when you're first consumed by that fever pitch of curiosity about the world, and some stuff actually starts making sense. Maybe it's because we didn't travel much as a family; we spent almost all vacations on the Jersey shore so Christmas in the Arctic—well, that one really stood out. Maybe it's because Finland truly is a singular place—Marimekko and Moomins? Come on! Maybe that's why I remember everything from that trip. It also probably helped that my parents gave me a travel journal in which I assiduously documented my observations for three whole weeks. (And yes, I still have that journal but don't ask me where it is just now.) These days, I feel that whenever I buy something for my house I'm consciously/subconsciously circling back to what I saw on that trip (minus all the snow). If someone were to say my home reminded them of ’70s Finland I'd totally be thrilled. Some stuff just gets under your skin and stays there.

And so that's why I will be featuring all things Finnish on Fridays, until I run out of Finnish things. TGIF!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happiness is... a Mighty Men & Monster Maker

Just a little something-something from one of our favorite categories here at Thingummery HQ: what the husband scored. "Scored" meaning different things to different people, obviously.

This Mighty Men & Monster Maker, made by Tomy in 1979, would certainly be considered a score by any of the 229 followers of the Mighty Men & Monster Maker facebook page, if it were mint in box. Unfortunately, this is far from mint—it only has 6 of the original 18 plates, and all but two are torsos. Sorry, did that not make sense? Check out this action-packed video explaining how to use the Mighty Men & Monster Maker for further clarification, but basically this is like doing grave rubbings, with mix-and-match plates depicting the heads, torsos and legs of various Mighty Men and Monsters.

Still, who would presume to put a price on the joy Lindsay experienced upon laying eyes on the Mighty Men & Monster Maker and its $1 pricetag at a supercrusty estate sale? Not I.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My little Cherokee maidens

I bought this Cherokee doll with mysterious pockets at my favorite little thrift store in NJ. Whenever I come across Cherokee stuff—admittedly, not that often, and it's mostly books—I buy it because Lindsay is of Cherokee descent, ergo my children are too. His grandmother was a Cherokee who lived on a holler in Oklahoma, picked strawberries and sold roadside trinkets (I have a few—a very precious few). This makes my kids a little bit Cherokee, which we all think is incredibly cool, though I can assure you that we won't ever claim their Native American heritage when applying to college. That is just so lame. Ahem, I'm looking at you, Elizabeth Warren, hopefully the next Senator from the great state of Massachusetts. Wasn't that a total bummer? I guess no politician remains on the pedestal for long. Bleh.

Meanwhile, in the pockets of this doll I found a card from the Qualla Co-op, which is a collective of Cherokee artisans in Cherokee, NC, established in 1946. When I showed my find to Lindsay, he wanted no part of it: wrong Cherokees. Bad blood dates back to the Trail of Tears, between those who were forcibly relocated from their native lands to Oklahoma, and those who managed to remain on the East Coast (the "Eastern band Cherokee"). As a Finnish-German-Anglo-American, I'm staying out of it. The doll remains on a bookcase in my office, because I like it and at some point I'm gonna figure out what to put in those pockets (right now they hold markers but that's kinda stupid—this house has way more markers than any hand-made Eastern-band Cherokee doll could possibly handle). Anyway, it's to be hoped that one day my kids will read all the books I've bought about Native Americans and form their own opinions, and if that means they're going to stick this poor doll with pins, so be it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

She's (so not) crafty

Right as summer vacay begins I tend to have all kinds of grandiose plans about what we'll be doing in this year's Mommy Camp, those slivers and slices of downtime between attending actual camps and going to the grocery store and going on vacation. My vast collection of vintage craft books figure mightily into these visions but somehow I never really manage to pull it off. I just don't have the crafty skill sets.

Like many a ’70s child, I hooked my share of shag rugs—I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of my original orangey-brown owls on cream backgrounds are floating around on etsy. (It's more likely they're moldering in one of my parents' storage units.) I made some pillows, some potholders, some easy needlepoint. I think there was a brief moment when I knew how to cross-stitch. But none of it really stuck. And I never felt especially drawn toward the stitchy-bitchy, crochet-grrrly, knit-witty trends of the past decade or two. Maybe if there was a way I could craft and read and run on the treadmill and blog about craft books simultaneously,I'd feel my time was being used more efficiently. Probably I'm just lazy.

Nature crafts are different. No two words go together better. I was no Girl Scout; I never went to any old-school summer camps. I never made a dream catcher. But I am quite capable of affixing googly eyes to a split walnut and calling it an owl. Finding interesting sticks in the backyard and propping them together and calling it a Fairy House. Creating a pine cone forest in the sandbox. It's just easier. Nature is a very forgiving medium; nature makes everything look good.

Anyhoo, Nature Crafts by Ellsworth Jaeger (Macmillan, 1949) might be the first nature crafty book I bought in San Antonio (as you can see, from Half price books, where they don't think twice about putting a stupid pricetag on a cute dustjacket). It's the first of many craft books I'll feature here, which fall into two categories, design-wise—old school, pen-and-ink illustrations, and super-saturated color photos a la the ’60s and ’70s.

I love these illustrations though I would never make any of this stuff. I should try at least. My five-year-old is obsessed with Susan, the corn husk doll beloved by Laura in Little House in the Big Woods. She even has an old wooden toy she carries around and calls "Karen." Yet when I look at these "directions," my head starts to hurt and my vision blurs. But if I saw the Chipmunk Candy Butcher (awesome band name!) or the Porcupine Match Holder in reasonably good condition at an estate sale? I'd totally buy it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baby, you can drive my typewriter

I am not a car person, by any stretch of the imagination. I got my license when I was 20 (three and a half years after I was old enough) and that was only because my plans to be a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City had imploded and I was forced to spend the summer at home. What else could I do in that one-horse-town, but work at a record store and learn how to drive?

When summer ended, I went back to NYC and pretty much never drove again—until I moved to Texas and had no choice but to reacquire the suburban life skill and get me some wheels. Lindsay picked the car—a very safe, economical and not-terribly-attractive Subaru Outback—because I didn't really care, as long as there was enough room in the back to carry my junk around. Besides, the only car I'd ever truly admired was quite out of reach: the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Come on, you know it—a design icon of the 60s and 70s? Maxwell Smart drove a powder-blue one? Well, someone used to park a red Karmann Ghia outside my local library, which I'd gawk at as I toted my Anne Mcaffrey books home. That's the kind of car I'm going to drive, I thought, and when I drive it, I will wear a leather pilot hat like Amelia Earhart and a long white silk scarf like Isadora Duncan. Never worked out.

So I may not be much of a car person but I am a typewriter person. And this here typewriter is the eye-poppingly lovely result of a 1970 collaboration between Carrozzeria Ghia, the designer of the Karmann Ghia, and Smith Corona. They called it the Super G. I bought it ten years ago at a flea market in Brooklyn for $20. At the time, I felt like a fool—it didn't even have ribbon and who knew if they still made them?—but I couldn't pass it up, this merging of one of my favorite things with the old dream car.

I know a lot of luddite hipsters fetishize typewriters nowadays—see this entertaining article about the "Analog Underground" in New York magazine—which is why my Super G is worth a lot more than I paid for it. But I don't believe I fall into that category. Those youngsters are nostalgic for something they never had. (Isn't there a word for that?) Whereas I had no choice but to use a typewriter.

As a kid, I had an old grey Royal, upon which I authored some truly terrible poetry for the high school literary mag Calliope. When I headed to college, my parents bought me my first electric typewriter—a very bare-bones Brother. I wrote all my papers in longhand on yellow legal pads and then typed them up on the Brother. The summer after freshman year I went to Harvard summer school and took my first creative-writing class, Autobiography (yes, still navel-gazing after all these years!), with the remarkable Bill Corbett. This was 1987. I remember him asking the class how we wrote, if we wrote longhand or on typewriters or on a "word processor." So quaint! Though it seemed pretty state-of-the-art to me at the time since all I had was my trusty typewriter. I seem to recall that he was reluctantly making the transition to word processing and that he was well aware of how it made writing such a different enterprise.

Word processing was just too fast, allowing you to write unreflectively, ten different ways and then obliterate it all in a moment. You know, the way we write now. If you write longhand (especially with a quill!) or even on a typewriter, you're more careful, considered in your choices. You think more about what you write before you write it. Ah well. Too late to turn back the clock. And so word processing begat...blogging, and all the platforms for verbiage that followed. (One might argue that twitter, with its 140-character restriction, signals a return to concise, pointed language, but that argument doesn't really take into account the sheer volume of tweets tweeters tweet.)

I didn't process words until I met Lindsay at the end of my junior year. Lindsay had a Mac SE. Bye-bye, Brother. I wrote all my senior papers on his Mac, and I'm sure they were all twice as long as they needed to be.

Sometimes I think I should try writing on my typewriter again. I have a whole drawer full of ribbons; as is the case with most fetishes, there are ample resources available on the internets. But then I try and it's just...too...hard. My fingers don't work that way anymore. Nor does my brain. So I gave it—excuse me, loaned it—to my kids, who one-finger type on it till the novelty wears off, and it does wear off rather quickly. I'm afraid it's too late for them as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The bald and the beautiful

Here we have another estate-sale enigma, which has collected dust in my: childhood bedroom, college dorms, a dozen or so NYC apartments, my home office here at HQ. Yes, she looks like a bald, Bambi-blue-eyed lightbulb, but seriously, what is she? What's with the holes? (Insert your own I-need-another-enigmatic-tchotchke-like-I-need-a-hole-in-my-head joke here.)

Monday, June 11, 2012


I bought Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats, a celebration of felines written by John Gilbert and published in 1961, for my kids at some library sale that I don't remember. Before I gave it to them, I googled it—had to make sure it wasn't too valuable, of course—and found that it isn't at all. There are many more copies of Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats available on the internets than there are wee little cats nestled in buckets, baskets, tea cups, trophies, vases and potted plants throughout this book. One person hawking Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats claimed to be selling off some of the estate of Rock Hudson. I can't remember if he described himself as a friend or someone who merely worked for Rock, but he had a whole bunch of random housewares and incidentals and a copy of Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats. With dustjacket. Crazy.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

I buy a lot of cat books. My kids love cats, they love books, they love cat books. They also loved their cat, who died in January, unexpectedly, at the spring-chicken age of 11. They desperately want another cat, but I'm not done with grieving for the old one and I don't think they are either. My five-year-old lays valentines beside our cat's urn, which is still in the box because I'm not ready to take it out yet, and cries whenever she hears the Lucinda Williams song "Jackson" because she used to serenade Ace with that song. (No, his name wasn't Jackson, it was Ace, and we have no connection to Jackson, Mississippi, she said he just liked that song. She could tell.) Kids groove to the rituals of mourning, or at least mine always have.

Back to cat books. This one is not the best example of the genre. I bring it to the table for two reasons: (1) the title, Cats: Little Tigers in Your House, is excellent; and (2) the photo below is amazing. The couch! The carpet! The Candice Bergen lookalike mom! What is she doing? And the coffee table, the coffee table, the coffee table! Oh yeah, and the cats, but get enough cat books and you get jaded—those fluffballs are totally incidental here.

This coffee table is exactly like one I almost bought at an estate sale a few years ago and I'm still angry about how it slipped between my fingers. I stumbled upon this sale right around the corner from my house; it hadn't been advertised and I was in no way prepared for it (i.e., I had no cash, and little time). I saw this table, asked the crazy lady how much she wanted, and when she told me $20, I stifled my gasp and asked her if I could write a check—that I was her neighbor, and a complete paragon of virtue. She hemmed and hawed but finally said no, cash only. I asked her sweetly if she would hold the table for me while I made the five-minute drive to the nearest ATM. She grudgingly agreed. I took off. I returned inside of 11 minutes. The table was gone. She saw my stormy face and immediately, defensively, started sputtering excuses, how she didn't know me, how could she be sure I would ever come back, etc. This, after I had suffered her whole life story! Grrr.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A blogger's house is her castle

Don't judge a book by its cover—from the outside Our Home looks like any one of a hundred drab vintage yearbooks I've seen on my rounds—but inside? Genius! Somebody clever needs to knock off this idea for all the house- (and apartment-) proud people who pin their interests and blog their blog-friendly finds on a daily basis. People like me.

My mom gave me this book when I moved from NYC to Texas. She told me she'd bought it at a shop in our small Jersey town back when we moved there in 1970. I guess she planned to use it but never got around to it. Or maybe had the same problem I did—the book is so ding-dang cute, who wants to ruin it? It's got a real Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House vibe, which makes sense considering it was published in 1947, the year after the Blandings book by Eric Hodgins (which I coincidentally just scored at a library sale last weekend), and the year before the fabulous Cary Grant/Myrna Loy movie came out. Written by Helen H. Thurber (with "decorations by" Florence Daly), Our Home also seems kinda rare—I can only find one, on amazon, and it's $60.

So it would suck to use the book and then it turns out your house isn't The One. But how do you know if your house is The One? Back in my NYC days, I moved every year, until I eventually slowed down and moved every other year. Flawed rentals, all of them, it was easy not to get attached. We bought our first house in 1999 and lived in it for five years. That house was good to us, but I didn't exactly have a psychic connection with it. The garden perhaps, but definitely not the semi-detached box covered in powder-blue vinyl that sat in front of the garden. Pleasant as the memories are of the place, it didn't deserve the Our Home treatment.

Now this house, the one I live in now, totally deserves it. I LOVE this house, despite all its flaws (and they are legion, or why else would I be making an appointment with American Leak Detectors?). I've waxed on about it here. Still, it's not perfect, and, with seven years under our belt, are we committed to living here for the long haul? Uhhhh. Various AC repairmen and other contractors have posed this question, especially when we first moved in: Are you going to live here for five years? Ten years? The rest of your life? They were just trying to determine whether I'd be receptive to their suggestion that we replace our old HVAC units with $40,000 worth of new ones. Or should we go solar? Or convert our pool to saltwater? Or go whole hog on the landscaping? Is this the lifer house? That's hard to believe though my kids believe it. And they look to my parents' house, my childhood home, as their example. They've lived there for—yikes!—42 years. My mom totally should've used this scrapbook/journal. Why didn't she?

The lifer house, approximately 42 years ago.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wait for the beep

I have a real hate-hate relationship with my land line these days, no doubt because I'm the stay-at-home hausfrau who's the target of all the survey calls, political robocalls, credit card bullshit calls, stupid magazine subscription calls and—I'm sorry but I have to say it—annoying calls from charitable organizations (I'm looking at you, Nature Conservancy!). When I hear the phone ring, my hackles go up immediately and I'm sure my friendly greeting reflects that (I channel J. Jonah Jameson from the 1960s Spiderman cartoons, which we're currently rewatching on Netflix—sadly the robocallers are not intimidated). Many before me with far greater understanding of technology have noted that the phone is practically obsolete; only old people have land lines now, and medium-old people like us. Lindsay has some cockamamie reason for maintaining ours—something about the sound quality being better on the land line but since he almost never talks on the phone at home, and when he does it's on his cell, and really he just texts, I don't know why he cares.

Despite how much I hate the phone, I have a deep affection for the quaint accessories that go along with obsolete technologies. Do you remember your first answering machine? Did it not blow your mind? This commercial for a cassette with pre-recorded answering machine messages might just be my favorite commercial of all time. Wow, did we used to think it was funny—the dude was rapping—though we never actually did buy the product. I'm also a sucker for little wooden message-holding tchotchkes like this one, which sits on the kitchen counter next to my ugly cordless phone, collecting dust rather than messages. Who takes messages anymore? Who leaves them? Who has the patience to even listen to a voicemail? What hath God wrought?

Notice the phone in this commercial? It looks remarkably like San Antonio's Most Famous Flamenco Dancer's phone, which I bought a few months ago.

Friday, June 1, 2012

As is

Never be put off by an "as is" sticker at an estate sale. Especially when the item is 50% off $1.50. That is all.

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