All Hail the Regent Square Yard Sale

What’s that old Who song about how “I’d walk 900 miles”? Well, apparently I’D walk 900 miles if a vast neighborhood yard sale were involved...

And I’d FEEL every mile of it the next day, too.

But in a good way. At the Regent Square annual neighborhood garage sale, a little bit of physical pain is to be expected. It just shows you really put in the time and the effort in search of little treasures.

And let me tell you, the little treasures seem pretty darned big-- or at least weighty-- after three to four hours of trekking, carrying them.

It was not quite eight a.m. when one of my friends and I began our adventure last Saturday, powered by some serious caffeine, and wearing our most sensible shoes. The vendors were just setting out their wares, and even so, it seemed pre-sales in some areas had intervened, making certain purchases impossible.

“We already bought all this,” a lady said protectively to a few of us lookey-loos, giving a sweeping gesture across some 40s panther lamps, a Shabby Chic-ed up mirror, and a pile of other things that were too numerous to register so early in my caffeination process.

It was okay. I am not in lack o’ stuff, and my deep lamp obsession apparently doesn’t extend to pottery panthers.

So my friend and I trekked on. My first purchase was some green Depression glass-- I think the larger of the two is for butter. The other smaller, lidless container I’m currently using for Sweet ‘n Low (doubtless, the Depression-era manufacturers would be surprised at this new use).

A little way down the road, my friend added to her Avon Cape Code ruby glass collection with a vase-- for just $3. And further still, the local antiques store, Le Mix, was having a sale in their back alley, where I came across these old greeting cards, Valentines and Easter programs.

It looks like someone had used them for a bit of roughly-executed crafting, stapling cream-colored lace around their edges. So I’ve been spending a little time removing the staples from these where possible and trying to get them back in a better form.

In some cases, though, the lace just looks really pretty. So maybe I’ll just remove the staples, give it a new backing and glue.

By this time, the rummage sale on Mifflin Avenue was open. And there I came upon this little Madame Alexander “Alice in Wonderland” doll.

As you can see, she needs a bit of TLC. (The photo below kind of makes me laugh, because in person she doesn’t have the creepy, overly-alert look that got captured via the camera. The Alice above looks like she’s got Gothic, nefarious plans.)

Anyway, the little gal has her original dress, pinafore and underthings, but a little research seems to show she’s been given shoes and socks different from the black Maryjanes and stockings she was supposed to come with. Her face also has some smudges. If anyone reading has tips on how to clean the face of a plastic doll without harming her, I would love to hear from you. Also, if you happen to know of anyone who sells replacement stockings and shoes for Madame Alexander dolls like this.


The next church rummage sale was at the Waverly Church on the corner of Forbes and Braddock. There I got a number of pieces of French pink glass that fills out a set I’ve been accumulating through thrift stores. At three pieces for $1.00, it was an exciting find.

So what lies ahead next week? Join me as we revel in, and renovate, some roadside finds. There’s nothing like the early summer to support one’s trash-to-treasure dining chair habit!

Have a wonderful week, my friends!

Meet the Arts: Art Deco and Art Nouveau

I view the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles like fine old relatives…

I love to see them, I value them for their character, and they’re absolutely welcome in my home.

Funny thing is, only recently have I come to learn the differences between ‘em.

And maybe it’s just me-- but initially I found it VERY CONFUSING when these two particular style terms were bandied about.

(I used to get Grandpa and Great-Uncle Irvin confused all the time, too.)

But I realized lately I’ve been doing more than my share of, um, bandying here on this site. Which seems kind of unfair.

So today, for anyone else out there who’s as confused as I was about the difference between Grandpa and Great-Uncle Irvin—


--The difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau, today I hope to make that just a little bit clearer.

And for you folks who know this stuff already and are yawning politely into your hands, I hope you’ll stick around today, anyway-- for the spiffy photos, the camaraderie, and the tuna ball.

There’s no question, for anyone who likes to decorate, it’s infinitely useful to be able to identify particular types of design. Certain design movements automatically compliment each other, and having a little insight into style and time period of an item can often explain just why that is.

This makes it easier to make better choices in picking out accessories. It means there’s less trial-and-error in your purchasing. And you have a better chance of snapping up some great vintage finds cheap! (Which is totally what I’m about.)

So when it comes to decorating, as a wiseman once said, “Knowledge is half the battle.”

Well, that was the “GI Joe” cartoon. But still. Wise words.

Ahem, moving on...

What IS Art Deco and Art Nouveau? Merriam Webster has this to say:

“Art Deco: a popular design style of the 1920s and 1930s characterized especially by bold outlines, geometric and zigzag forms, and the use of new materials (as plastic).”

And this:

“Art Nouveau: a design style of late 19th century origin characterized especially by sinuous lines and foliate forms”

But, really, sometimes a picture’s worth... well, two dictionary definitions.

And I think by far the most popular recent use of Art Nouveau I’ve seen has been within the “Lord of the Rings” films in the elfin village, Rivendell. (Credit for these photos goes to the original photographers... I just think this is a really good modern example... Mind the Hobbits.)

You can see, art nouveau is organic, with sinewy vine-like lines. It’s an interesting usage because historically, women depicted within the style ARE a bit elfin or otherwise mythic, with flowing tendrils of hair, a lot like the vines themselves. Art nouveau can be very ornate.

In contrast, I’d say one of the most wonderful examples of art deco architecture is the Chrysler Building in New York City...

Though you’ll probably see a more down-to-earth deco in the architecture of almost any unrenovated 50s diner. (Again, copyright lies with the original photographers. I am only using this for educational purposes. I make no profit from this.)

Art Deco may use mythic subject matter the way Art Nouveau does, but it’s more geometric, using shapes like rows of straight lines, Greek keys, pyramids and lozenges. The women in deco are often more streamlined, and less detailed than nouveau ladies, taking on the modern flapper qualities and less of the Victorian heroine or goddess look.

So how does this apply to your home? On to accessorizing! (This is the fun part.)

Here we have some nice examples of art nouveau and art deco in jewelry. You probably recognize one of them-- at left is a pin based on one the characters wore in “Lord of the Rings.” (And yes, I am a big nerd, why do you ask?) But to be honest, I own this because it really couldn’t be more Art Nouveau. It’s a leaf, but more stylized, with silverwork that winds in unexpected ways, almost like Celtic knots.

With it is a rhinestone pin from around the 30s made by a company called Coro. I got this at the U.F.O in Greensburg, PA. The pin is made up of various geometric shapes, almost like a labyrinth. Very deco.

When you’re talking Art Deco in pottery, Fiestaware-- like the little yellow vase below which I got at the Goodwill recently-- has it in spades. Tidy and streamlined, the form is equally at home in an arts-and-crafts home as it is a modern one. (Notice the tiered geometric pattern at the bottom of the yellow vase. You’ll see that in the Chrysler Building as well. That kind of linear tiering is typical of Deco.) While the little Art Nouveau jobby next to it elaborately uses a Christmas cactus motif as the basis for its design.

(Admittedly THIS style can be more of an acquired taste. When I got this vase from my great-aunt as a teenager, I affectionately referred to it as, “The Ugly Vase.”)

Well-- hopefully you all are not snoring face down right now, and maybe even feel armed with a bit of extra info to support your thrifting, antiquing, and just mainstream decorating.

And for you folks who were already Deco- and Nouveau-savvy, and you still managed to stalwartly make it through today, I am a gal of my word. Here is a recipe for Tuna Ball.

(Weren’t expecting that, were ya? Ha! :-) )

Tuna Ball

--1 can tuna (water packed)
--1 large cream cheese
--few drops of lemon juice
--Salt and pepper
--Garlic salt

Make sure cream cheese is at room temperature. Add drained tuna to cream cheese, salt, pepper, garlic salt and lemon juice. Form into ball and serve.

Extra points go to anyone who can mold it into the shape of the Chrysler Building.

Next week? See what treasures were uncovered at the Regent Square neighborhood garage sale. FOUR HOURS of walking, wheeling, dealing, photo-snapping and dog-petting. See you then!

Harvesting Memories of Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to all you hard-working Moms out there!

Ya know, whenever I had a bad day in high school, my own mother had a unique knack of offering just enough coffee and sympathy to make even earth-shattering teenage disappointments take on a more happy spin. Memories of that shot of caffeine, a listening ear and some optimism will always be dear to me.

My mother was also an amazing cook and hostess. She made everything from complex dishes like chicken kiev, to a rich and saucy Crock Pot chili which I once had the opportunity to make for HER-- and which thankfully received a gracious thumbs-up from my beloved Maternal Figure...

(I will share that recipe with YOU all at the end of this blog! I think Mom would have been simultaneously delighted and terrified at the idea of her chili recipe going global, nourishing distant families.)

But it’s funny, as I look around my HOME, I somehow think poor Mom would have been really distressed at all the sage, lavender, rose and lace.

Mom was a woman with simple tastes, and a deep devotion to 70s Early Americana. Which did not fade over time. She embraced those early 70s harvest colors-- orange, russet, goldenrod and avocado-- as part of a decorating Constitution, something tried, true, and only to be altered with rare reason.

For example, I remember when the original couch was worn beyond repair in the mid-eighties. My dear mother was forced to step from the inviting warmth of her Colonial Williamsburg cocoon and enter an MTV world of design choices-- one filled with space-age blacks, reds, grays and chromes.

I recall venturing through store after store with her on this mission to reclaim the golds, pumpkins, coffees and olives for the family--and trying throughout to explain the futility of thinking you can turn back the trends.

If she’d been questing for the Holy Grail instead of the Spirit of 1776, she might have had an easier go of it.

But eventually, she settled on a pale substitution for her seating at Sears. A three-seater of forest green, olive and orange, with a sculpted lily-pad pattern. There were no Liberty Bells in its print. Or hand-crafted barrels or American flags. No olive and orange eagles with their wings outstretched in harvest-colored pride. But we had scoured most of the state.

Mom knew when it was time to stop tilting at 18th century flaxwinders.

It would have to do, she determined. But the colonies had really taken a hit.

So the household moved on. Albeit begrudgingly and in ways so small, visitors to the house might not have noticed. The orange and mustard Colonial lampshade with all the bells and eagles was replaced with a more plain burlap shade. The pottery jug side lamps with the eagles on the base were exchanged for some pottery baskets the size of small island nations-- which were eventually covered in orange-and-green flowers that took hours to fill-in by hand.

You have to admire the woman’s dedication to her color palette.

Of course, it wasn’t something I spoke about much, given my mother’s passion for the harvest, but I kind of.... well... HATED orange.

Not only was it rooted in every corner of my home, but in our school colors as well. Put a girl with red hair in an orange gym uniform and just see how the ol’ opinion forms about the color.

And the colonial look-- well, considering every single year of my social studies education began with the building of the 13 colonies, I was about up to my ringing ears in Founding Fathers and Liberty Bells. I could no longer find the proper reverence for Mr. Revere. It was bound to happen.

So in my house today, nary an eagle or George Washington portrait is to be found. When my dad recently sold the family home, he gave me the black milk jug with the eagle and stars decals on it, which had sat in the entryway by the door for years. I promptly painted it over cream and now store my vintage parasols in it.

And Mom’s 70s singer sewing machine cabinet with the early American handles? It’s gotten a lick of shabby chic paint, and some glass knobs. It works as a side table in my guest room, with the sewing machine just waiting for its next big project.

Of course, I never meant the updates as a sign of disrespect. Just a way of accepting, and moving on.

But Mom, she still wouldn’t have liked it.

So I conclude with this. A week or so ago, I was strolling through the Goodwill. And there, in the housewares aisle, something familiar caught my eye...

Four plastic placemats just like the ones my mother used every day in the kitchen. Placemats with enormous yellow and orange flowers and bright olive-green leaves. I hadn’t thought of them in ages… and in retrospect, they seem a bit pop-art hip for Mom.

Perhaps it was the lure of the beloved harvest colors that had prompted her purchase.

Well, I stood in the aisle for a moment, just staring at those long-forgotten placemats. If Mom had been shopping with me, she would have pounced on them-- they were in so much better condition than the ones she’d had. The harvest would have continued on.

The placemats made me smile.

In fact, I kept thinking about those placemats over the course of the week. Thinking I should have at least taken a picture of them, for posterity. But when I went back to the Goodwill, camera in hand, they were gone.

I bet right now, they’re on someone else’s kitschy kitchen table. And maybe that table’s even avocado green. Or orange. And maybe they’re even having Mother’s Day dinner.

Hope you all have a wonderful week.

Mom’s Chili

3 8 ounce cans of kidney beans
1 large can crushed Italian style tomatoes
3 8 ounce cans of Hunts Tomato Sauce
1 pound ground beef
One small sweet onion
Chili powder
Italian Seasoning
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Parmesean shaker cheese

Dice small onion. Fry ground beef with chopped onion. Drain on paper towels to remove excess great. Add to Crockpot. Drain beans and add them to the beef. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Add remaining ingredients aside from Parmesean cheese to taste. Cook over Low for 6-8 hours. About 15 minutes before serving, sprinkle in Parmesean cheese. Enjoy!

Tag: "You're It!"

I was "Tagged" recently-- and separately-- by Mandy, Rosemary and Anne so, to fulfill my end of the deal-- here are the Seven Weird Facts about me you might not otherwise know (I mean, really, why WOULD you?!):

  1. One time I sat next to Dave Matthews (in coach!) on an airline flight from New York, but initially I thought he was just some sort of madman. Why? Because when I sat down, he was playing with these green pipecleaners, pushing them into the carpet on the wall in front of us. Now this business trip had been one of the WORST of my life up until this point; it had been a tradeshow and just everything had gone wrong. Things I'd ordered hadn't shown up, things I'd shipped hadn't arrived... So it seemed only right I'd be sitting next to a crazy man on the way home, too. After he caught me raising an eyebrow at the pipecleaners, he looked embarrassed and confessed they weren't his, they were there stuck in the wall like that when he sat down; some kid before us had left them. And feeling a bit better about the situation, we talked a bit about New York, restaurants and travel and all was well. I started to think something was up, though, when people kept coming to ask him for autographs. And suddenly, it clicked that this wasn't your average pipecleaner-bender-guy-- Now, this was the blurry guy on my CDs! Nice fellow, too. I'm particularly glad he wasn't a nutter.
  2. Mayonnaise and I are not friends. If mayonnaise is accidentally on a food product of mine, it's pretty much contaminated.
  3. The most amazing trip I ever had was to the Tate Gallery in London, where I got to see Waterhouse's "Lady of Shallot" in person. And WOW, is it huge-- much bigger than you would think it is. Millais' "Ophelia" is also in that gallery. And I had such a hard time believing that these beautiful, important paintings were right there in front of me.
  4. I'm not particularly fond of circular staircases. It's not that I have a lot of phobias, but climbing the staircase of the lighthouse in Key West was not one of my favorite moments.
  5. I drew a weekly comic strip about anthropomorphic sheep, called "Shearadon and Woolworth" many moons ago in college. Both sheep wore red tennis shoes and one sported a Hawaiian shirt. You know: as sheep tend to. :-)
  6. I call my home "Waterhouse" after artist John William Waterhouse-- which wasn't quite so funny the first time I had plumbing problems
  7. I don't currently have any pets, but sometime I hope to have a yellow cocker spaniel. I think I will begin my pet ownership, though, with a Starter Cat. (Less maintenance for a first pet.)
Okay, with this I understand I'm supposed to tag seven other people. So don’t hate me too much for this guys, I’m just playin’ along. Here goes:


PS--you can click here to read the Regularly Scheduled Blog- “The Grout Look- or How Broken China Mosaic Nearly Broke ME”

The Grout Look: Or How Broken China Mosaics Nearly Broke ME

Ah, Pittsburgh-- Land of Slopey Yards. And I-- owner of one such Slopey Yard-- grew weary of straining my skinny, flabby girl-arms dragging a lawn mower up a bunch of concrete steps every two weeks just to mow my whopping 15-feet of grass.

I mean, talk about overkill! Might as well just take a chainsaw to a dandelion while I’m at it.

So one summer, I had the bright idea that I would use those same skinny, flabby girl-arms to dig up all the grass in my front yard and replace it with cedar chips, creeping phlox and stepping stones made of broken china. It’d be idyllic! So rejuvenated! So cottagey! And I’d never have to mow again!...


Did you know that fifteen feet of grass automatically expands to the size of Heinz Field when you attempt to dig it up by hand?

It does. And let me tell you, the Steelers don’t really like it when you’re out there interrupting training to take their turf away. (“Can you move the huddle a little to the left, Hines? I need to get that clump.”)

Anyway, digging up the yard was ONE project. (Much blistering, weeping and indelicately sliding down the hill ensued.)

And making the stepping stones was another.

And to be completely honest with you, I look back upon both projects with about the same amount of, er, love.

I DO like how the stepping stones turned out, I must say. But if you’ve been on this site much, you probably know me by now: I have no barometer whatsoever for what is “Enough” to try to tackle. It is my Achilles Heel. (Which was pretty sore at this point, by the way, what with indelicately sliding down the hill.)

So was ONE stepping stone good enough for me to attempt as a central feature?

Oh NO-- I needed to make THREE of them, having never mosaiced before! Because three is some Magic Decorating Number inside our brains. And the Brain did say, “The number of the count should be three, no more, no less.”

How can you argue with that?

“And since you’re already making three,” continued the Brain, “then why not make SIX, so your best friend’s mother can have a set for her own yard? What a nice Mother’s Day it would be for her, if you gave her three handmade broken china stepping stones! How happy she would be!”

Stupid, zealous Brain.

But wide-eyed and earnest, I went to work on the first stepping stone-- assembling china that had already suffered structural indignities at my hand. I went to Construction Junction, our local architectural salvage place, and got myself some colored tiles that coordinated with the china. I rummaged through my craft drawers and came up with some floral display marbles that matched the china, as well. Mosaic adhesive? Check! Tile grout? Check! Plain concrete stepping stones? Check, check, and check! Tile nippers? Got ‘em! All was good.

So let me tell you what the Grout People DON’T tell you on the back of the grout packaging.

Oh, they’ll tell you that you need a damp sponge to remove some excess grout. They’ll tell you that you need to work in small areas at a time. They’ll tell you to wear rubber gloves. All very good advice!...

They do NOT tell you that the mosaicing project-- which will eventually be very beautiful and you will be happy you made-- is extremely gloopy to work with. So gloopy you will worry it’s a disaster and maybe even HATE IT a little, while you’re working on it.

They do NOT tell you that you will need more damp paper towels than the Brawny Man can provide. EVER.

And they are entirely mum about suggesting that you should, perhaps, wear something that can properly support The Grout Look.

One single stepping stone, one foot across, and there was grout on my cheek, my sleeves, my jeans, and in a knee-high pile of wet, grouty paper towels. I finished the first stepping stone and looked balefully at the five undecorated cement discs still sitting in a stack beside me.
They taunted: “Look, we’re waiting. The Brain said SIX.”

Yeah, yeah, zip it.

I washed my face and went back to work, wondering why, if the Brain was so gung-ho on aesthetically-pleasing odd-numbers of objects, then let the Brain grow some darned fingers and help out a little.

Slowly but surely, I went to work on the other two stepping stones for my front yard. More broken china. More salvage tile. And me encased in enough grout to make a chalkware statue.
But finally-- FINALLY-- there were three completed! What a sense of accomplishment! I stood back, arms folded, and surveyed my work.

“Hi,” said the three blank stepping stones in the stack next to me. “Um, so exactly what are we doing for Mother’s Day again?”


I was half-way through my fourth stepping stone of the season when the Brawny Man phoned and told me about the de-forestation because of this project of mine. He said while he certainly appreciated all the business, the mosaicing really had to stop for a while. For the greater good.

So when Mother’s Day arrived, the Brain was forced to view ONE as the number of stepping stones for visual splendor. My friend’s mom WAS pretty delighted to have it, at least, which made me happy. And the ones in my yard have held up well.

But when friends tell me off-hand that they think they want to try mosaicing—and say it in that breezy, devil-may-care way, like it’s some innocent decoupage or something—I shake my head in wonder...

Ah, the innocents. Are they really up for the Grout Look?


Oh-- Before we go today-- I was “tagged” by two fine folks along the Internet highway to list Seven Weird Facts you all otherwise wouldn’t know about me (you know, without, say, a gumshoe on my trail)... So while I usually do just one blog article per week, this week is a little different. You can click here for the tag response. I don’t want to not fulfill my duty as part of the greater Web Community. :-)