Thrifting Away in Margaritaville

Ah, Thanksgiving. Where we all gather round the table, the peel-and-eat shrimp piled high on ice before us, cocktail sauce trickling down the front of our shirts, stuffing ourselves with cracked crab until we have to loosen the drawstring on our Hawaiian-print shorts, while Jimmy Buffett plays over the loudspeaker and...


Oh, right. That's just MY Thanksgiving. My dad lives in the Florida Keys.

But hey, we all have our traditions. And one of Dad's and my traditions-- in addition to a little seafood-- is thrift shopping.

I believe I've mentioned it before: Dad likes stuff. Dad likes stuff, if possible, even more than I do. More than ANYBODY, really.

And Dad especially likes stuff if he isn't quite sure just what it is. Then it's really excellent. If it's got fine craftsmanship, is made of interesting carved wood or metal or stone, and he can't for the life of him figure out what it's supposed to be used for? He's ALL OVER IT...

Like once, at a flea market, I had to stop him from unknowingly buying an artistically-designed bong.

This also means that at Christmas time, I receive some rather... UNUSUAL... gifts. I hesitate to even include this here because, while Dad is a very good sport about his penchant for the Strange and Unusual, I also suspect public discussion will only encourage him. But the item here is a reasonable example of the sort of things Dad revels in finding and passing along.

(And Dad, I'm TOTALLY good on Creepy-Owl-Dragon-Satanic Mirrors for now, thanks.)

Is it Asian? Does it have Egyptian Influence? Does anyone KNOW? O please tell me. Before I accidentally open up an inter-dimensional portal with it to somewhere unpleasant.

Anyway. Dad likes stuff. So, naturally, when we think "Thanksgiving," we think: thrift shopping and antiquing in the Keys and lower Miami.

Thrifting in this area always feels a bit different than it does around Pittsburgh. Many of the donations have a tropical look to them-- from donated papasan chairs to reggae CDs to palm tree prints. Because many of the communities themselves aren't terribly old, vintage items are typically from the 60s or 70s, though it is possible to stumble on some older merchandise. It also appears there are a lot more consignment shops than there are up my way. And as you can see here, many take advantage of the tropical theme in their marketing and signage.

Name-wise, the establishment below is one of my favorites. The "Antique Mall Y'All." Great antique mall: entertaining name. If this were a Pittsburgh business, it would translated into, "Hey Yinz Guys. Old Stuff n'At."

And what did we come away with after a happy day of thrift-shopping and antiquing?

Well, I discovered an Express lined velvet jacket for $9 at the Goodwill, in perfect condition. (Can't beat going to a warm place to pick up hardly used winter weather coats!)

Then antiquing brought me some nice examples of the 1900s whiteware plates I collect (ironically one of which is from East Liverpool, Ohio), as well as a very sleepy little metal cherub, who managed to snooze his way home in my carry-on luggage.

And Dad... Ah, Dad is not one to disappoint. Yes, in a store packed to the rafters with stuff, Dad's keen eye immediately was drawn to this.

What is it? Um, yeah, we don't know either. But it's brass. And it was only a few dollars. And the amount of enjoyment Dad has had already. just trying to figure out what the heck kind of animal it is (cat? monkey? You tell me) and what it might have been offering on the half-shell, well, that pretty much made it priceless. Dad also found an electronic Starship Enterprise, a couple of field guides to fossils and minerals, and this clock which is also a lamp, which is also an anchor, which is also a ship's steering wheel...

It also makes smoothies. (Kidding.)

Nonetheless, fun was had by all. But now-- now I must say goodbye, and apologetically so, with no pithy sum-up or clever turn-of-phrase. The Thrift Shop Romantic is a very tired gal this week-- what with all the travel... And the MRIs to get through airport security... And the stress about whether my liquid lipstick could threaten the safety of my fellow-passengers (Cinnabar, I'll have you know, is a specifically non-terrorist color)...

So for those reasons, I'll just ride off into the sunset.

Thankful Thrifting

Once again it’s that time of year we turn our thoughts to the things for which we’re grateful. Because:

1.) In this hustle-bustle world, it’s so important to take stock of the meaningful things in our lives…


2.) We have a day off for it.

And while I try to be appreciative o’ the good stuff all year round, sorta as it comes in, there’s no better time than now to share my top ten reasons I’m thankful for thrifting…

Okay, here goes.

I’m thankful for thrifting because:

  1. I’m able to support worthy causes, shop and participate in the circle of recycling, all at the same time. (It’s good to multi-task.)
  2. Thrifting leads to the kinds of craft projects that keep me safely and merrily occupied. So I’m not, you know, off embarking on a life of crime. Or sucked into watching all five seasons of “24” straight through, without ever leaving the house.
  3. At thrift stores, the vintage look is always ‘in.’
  4. I get to experience quirky fellow thrifters, like Grouchy-Man-Who-Wears-All-Over-Denim. Or Incessantly-Humming-Goodwill-Cashier. Writers need to encounter unique personalities, and thrift shopping presents a wealth of them. I bet that’s how Wes Anderson got his start.
  5. If it weren’t for thrift stores, I would have had no clothes at all in high school; and I doubt it would have increased my popularity.
  6. I can satiate my vintage lamp addiction 100% guilt-free. (“It’s $6! It has to come home with me for $6! So what if there’s already enough light in the dining room to bring in small planes for landing? This one is $6!”)
  7. I get to snicker when guests ask me if something is a family heirloom.
  8. I can buy velvet all year round.
  9. How many other places can you shop with such serendipity?
  10. Otherwise, I would be sitting on the floor with my keyboard as I wrote this. (Thrift store desk and chair!)
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Talk to you next week.

Taking a Shine to Lusterware

I’m a total magpie. Anything that sparkles, twinkles, has an iridescent glow or rainbow sheen is fair game for feathering my nest; in fact, it’s just a wonder I haven’t accidentally bashed my beak on an over-clean window.

At home, mirrors glint on walls and tabletops, colored glass sits on window sills, and one of my favorite types of porcelain is lusterware.

See that opalescent sheen, like a child’s soap bubbles? This is lusterware. That rainbow gleam is caused by metallic oxides which are added to pottery glaze after the porcelain is baked and enameled.

Like so many of today’s collectable vintage items, lusterware was considered commonplace back in the day. It was inexpensive, functional and sold in stores like five-and-dimes. Much of the lusterware you see today was made in Japan after World War II. But some turn-of-the-20th-century lusterware was made in Czechoslovakia and Germany. And because many of the pieces are marked, that makes collecting from a particular region or time period a lot easier.

Yet lusterware of different styles, time periods and brands works well together. Here you’ll see my German lusterware canisters.

These are representatives of three different sets made by two different companies: White & Block and Mepoco. Yet because they’re in the same basic colors, they give the feel of a matched set.

Best of all, vintage lusterware turns up at thrift stores. I came by this tureen and ladle, as well as assorted luster bowls and tea cups at different thrift stores over the years.

Sometimes, I’ll find an orphaned saucer while I’m thrifting and I’ll just set it aside. Since lusterware looks good with any number of other lusterware pieces, it usually isn’t long before I find a saucerless cup looking for an appropriate match…

Yes, basically, it’s my own dating service for lonely porcelain.

Collectively, lusterware can make the kind of cheerful table setting that I’ve used for dinners and even a tea.

So if you’re looking to put a little shine in your dining and retro in your room, lusterware can easily give polish to your own occasion.

Field Trip!: Floral Meets Fable at Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, exhibits dazzling flora year-round, so it's always worth the time to wander through their gardens. The peaceful atmosphere and beauty alone can provide gardening inspiration and a mini-vacation from hectic life.

But a recent Phipps show, "Mystical Beasts," showcased a twist on topiary tradition. And if you've read about my garden, you know I am a gal who loves a good topiary. So today, come with me and we'll explore a world of magic and whimsy...

These are not your average lollipop trees.

Step off the bus... Venture through the doors... And there before your eyes is one of the most revered and elusive of mythic beasts-- the unicorn. This is one of the more traditional topiaries we'll be seeing today.

Topiaries usually come in one of two types: a tree or shrub cut-to-shape, or a wire form upon which plants like ivy wind around to flesh out the form. And--

Oh no! I think we've disturbed it. Shhhh... let's move on to the next room...

YIKES! It's a dragon archway with heads at either end! Based on those teeth and that smoke coming out of THIS mouth, I do believe this must be a case of two heads NOT being better than one-- not for our health, anyway. If we dare inspect it more closely, we can see this dragon had been fit together on a wire form... Then the eyes were...

The eyes, er, look kinda... hungry... don't they?...

Here's some nice plant food for you, Beastie. That's it: Miracle Gro, yum-yum.

(...Let's pick up the pace just a bit, shall we?)

Most of the creatures you'll see here are a clever combination of sculptural objects and greenery, so they're not all technically topiary design. But, honestly, how often do you see a candy-colored snake having a sip?

A centaur with more bark than bite?...

And a misting Medusa?...

The room here below is the one I always find most inspirational for my own gardening design. This little English formal garden has varying looks throughout the year.

As you see it here in autumn during our magical Mystical Beasts tour, it's lush and untamed, like the layout has overgrown. The colors, too, feature cooler looking blues, greens and purples than usual.

Because this: this is what the same room looked like in Spring. The low hedgerows, trimmed appearance, statuary and symmetry are all elements you expect to see in formal gardens.

Well, let's take one last look around and make sure we didn't miss anything important here at Phipps and--

Oh NO! The hideous Hydra!...

(Er, and an attacking plant, too.)

...Run away! Run away! Back on the bus!...

Everyone make it? Phew! So much for peace and tranquility.

Go and have a nice lie-down, and I'll see you next week.