Rowan Light Tweed wool, $1/hank, thrifted

I have just one crafting hobby. In 2003 I'd run across a one-page article in a magazine talking about how cool and popular knitting was again; now of course I know that statement is made in magazines every few years, but right then it made me think, "Huh, maybe I could learn to knit." And it wasn't that I needed to feel cool and popular, which I've never been, but that I was staring-out-the-window-at-birds-and-airplanes-for-hours depressed from a long stretch of unsuccessful job hunting (after quitting a job I didn't enjoy and attempting a new field) and bored of being an unplanned stay-at-home wife with nothing to do outside of job hunting but cook and clean and grocery shop. I needed a new challenge, something productive. And somehow, nobody around me knew how to knit.*

I grew up in a U.S. religious subculture that still separates women's work from men's work with lines as clear as the ones painted on the basketball court in the middle of the stake center (church), repurposed as needed for Halloween-candy booths, yearly father-daughter dinners, and sweaty-palmed youth dances. In reaction to all that, I stubbornly avoided becoming skilled at most of the traditional women's work, such as canning and bread-baking and sewing and other forms of crafting. Silly me to have avoided learning that stuff for free, when DIY domesticity has since become something hipsters buy books and take classes for. No, I dressed my Barbies in suits and gave them kissy boyfriends and sent them off to work in offices with briefcases—only Barbies' jobs were vague and undefined—they did something in offices in heels, maybe as book editors, whatever that was. (Now that I think about it, I never bothered giving the boyfriends jobs; their job was to be adoring. No wonder I'm in therapy.)

vintage Orchard Knitting Worsted in "coral," $1 (original tag: 78 cents)

Anyway, deep inside the baggage of my upbringing, secretly I'd always wondered how people can take two sticks and some string and magic that into sweaters and socks. Truly, this is a miracle. (By the way, anyone who believes in the Watch-Needs-a-Maker argument that the organization of nature must require a designer has never tried to wind a ball of yarn: knots create themselves.)

Chester Farms Pride of the Flock, $2, thrifted
So I bought a used knitting reference book and taught myself how to knit from a book—the wrong way (into the back of the stitch, not the front, which twists it), as it turns out, but I realized my mistake six months later when watching a woman knitting a fuzzy scarf across from me on BART. (Book learnin' has its downsides.) But I did it! I taught myself how to knit. I started frequenting yarn shops, eventually becoming part of the online knitting community.
I'm not the kind of knitter who must knit every spare moment of his or her life. It's mostly something I do with friends-who-knit or when watching movies or TV series on Netflix on free evenings, which seem rarer and rarer. And because yarn is easier to collect than knit, I now have an entire dresser drawer and a few baskets full of yarn to knit up or de-stash before I die. So for this and other reasons, a couple years ago I restricted myself to only buying secondhand yarn. Finding actual wool yarn at the thrift store, rather than acrylic, doesn't happen often, but unfortunately more often than I finish projects.

vintage Luxuria Knitting Worsted in "char gray," $1
I've been knitting, off-and-on, a simple black cardigan from locally-produced Oregon wool/alpaca since November. It may be finished in time to wear next fall. And that's because my interests, like my former religion's historical and postmortem allowances of wives, are poly-.

*I know of only two people in my family who knit(ted). A story my mother tells is that her grandmother was so allergic to wool that one time as a child, frustrated because no one was listening, she cut up all her wool socks. After learning to knit, I found out a lovely older cousin of mine is an excellent knitter, but alas, she lives in Texas. And one great-aunt on my dad's side knit up and mailed us slippers some Christmases, but she lived in Ohio and I never met her.



knitting bags

I have a thing for canvas bags, big and small, plain or printed. Some contain knitting projects; some are dedicated for errands, groceries, packages headed for the P.O., and thrift-store finds; some corral kitchen-appliance accessories in drawers; some hold clothes waiting for dry cleaning or, when traveling, the dirty clothes in my suitcase.

My oldest bags purchased new from Berkeley Bowl 10 years ago in another life were about $8 each; unfortunately, the handles have frayed over time, making them near-useless as totes, so I have barely one left of the original four. By contrast, my unloved Trader Joe's canvas bags bought for $3-4 each around the same time as the Berkeley Bowl bags are faded but structurally sound. In other words, you don't always get what you pay for.

When thrifting totes, I spend no more than a couple dollars per bag, depending on size. The big Milwaukie Farmers Market tote now storing my car supplies was $2. My cheapest tote was free, a small Bitch Magazine bag found (empty) a few years ago in an alley puddle, the handles all muddied (the stains mostly came out). There's a thin, organic-cotton, not-canvas HOO (Hands On Owner) owl tote I got for volunteering for six months, three hours a week, at my local co-op grocery—i.e, will heft bulk beans and rice for tote bag and temporary additional 10% discount. Newest is a bird-watcher bag, which feels like it should belong instead to my beautiful, colorful, butterfly-wearing great-aunt Mary, who has begun drinking white wine "for her heart." (Moral: When old, do as one likes.)

bird-watcher tote, washed & ironed (!)

We are what we carry. Totes convey status and other socioeconomic messages. A monogrammed L.L. Bean tote bag, probably the quintessential WASP canvas, is reputed to be extremely durable, as in will-last-longer-than-you-do. Most bookstores have long sold logo-ed canvas totes, though the cotton ones at Powell's I only see in-store, not online. Most nonprofits, of course, print up a canvas tote as a free-gift-with-donation, but they're usually made in China, like everything else. Even entrepreneurial artistic types are getting in on the tote-bag marketing action. But at the thrift store, I most often see canvas ads for stores-selling-stuff, as well as insurance companies and banks for fundraising or one-off commemorative events; I tend to avoid those. Also, though many grocery stores now give back a nickel per bag you bring in, the reusable bags they tend to sell seem made of the strange stuff of airline-pillow protectors, not exactly machine-washable, so, no.

Aside from being trendily eco, my canvas bag fetish is probably in reaction to my mother's germophobic obsession with plastic bags. No purse or tote of hers will ever touch a surface outside her own bleach-cleaned home, thank you very much. The woman (love her, I do) puts her purse or tote inside a plastic bag and transports it that way in public. She does reuse plastic grocery bags as bathroom garbage-can liners, so there is that.

My mother's child, I do wash my bags as needed. Even after ironing they look rumpled, part of their plant-fiber charm. Note to self: To reduce ink smears like those below, after washing, iron inside-out and go easy on the spray bottle.

Title Wave Used Books tote

P.S. While not canvas, here's a clever DIY project for creating cotton drawstring bags-within-bags to further reduce plastic use. I hate sewing, but this one sounds easy.


wandering roots

treasure box

We all have our exceptions, like this box of treasures, the hand-carved and -painted container a souvenir from extended family members traveling in Russia years ago. I saw similar folk art myself in Poland in the mid-1990's. But the box itself isn't important.

When I was younger, I defined myself as a traveler. I have lived abroad twice. Now it's been almost 15 years since I left the U.S., though I suppose Hawaii could be a qualified exception. (I used to think I'd rather go anywhere but Hawaii, where all middle-class West Coasters vacation, until the plane landed and the air smelled of flowers and mountains were shaped like heartbeats, and I walked in a bamboo forest, crossed a swinging rope bridge, fell in love with a smiling white-and-brown goat—and never wanted to leave.)

travel coins

For years I've been trying to put down roots, to stay for a change, like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty in Mississippi or Flannery O'Connor, who had an "ancestral farm" in Georgia—longing for that kind of rootedness, sense of place. The thing is my ancestors were nomads, drifting in wagon-dust clouds from the deep South into Texas and Oklahoma, up to Montana, down to California, up to Oregon, or from Denmark to Colorado to Oregon, or from Canada to the Ohio-Indiana border to California. And this was mostly back when horsepower wasn't figurative. For European-Americans with any generational history on this continent, once a family line hits the West Coast, there's nowhere to go but backwards. My family somehow ended up in the remote high desert of southern Oregon, of all places. But I have their genes and couldn't stay. Few of us can, really. We disperse like tumbleweeds, collecting in the digital cloud on Facebook (though I tried even that and couldn't).

vintage matchbooks

My three remaining grandparents died within a year and a half after I returned to the States from Korea. I miss my maternal grandmother the most because we were most alike: readers, morning-coffee lingerers. I regret the questions I should have asked; I thought I would have more time. Yet from experience, I understand her better now, see why she had grown bitter, why she carved up my silent, stoic, alcoholic, navy-vet grandfather with her tongue (though that doesn't excuse it).

vintage 1930's postcards, Oregon

Most of my maternal grandparents' possessions were sold at a garage sale while I was off elsewhere. I wish I had more belongings of theirs, more than a black ceramic horse and a few trinkets: postcards of the southern Oregon mountains where the family often camped, matchbooks from Southwest truck-camper road trips in the '50s and '60s, the remaining Old Maid cards from a set played by at least three generations, and a random old key—symbol of what's both lost and possible.

vintage Old Maid cards, vintage #7 key



The last time I went into Target, about a month ago, I had a head cold and bought salt for my neti pot for 52 cents. The place seemed a little creepy that night, so tidy, so clean, so red, so relatively empty of customers. The middle-aged cashier told the girl in line in front of me, who was also a Target employee in a red polo and khakis, minus her name tag, that she could no longer combine her Target employee discount card with her food stamp card, a new policy that had just gone into effect the day before. They conversed briefly about this shocking news, while I thought, "Why aren't you two marching with a unionizing sign out front, demanding you be paid enough by your employer not to need government food stamps on top of your paycheck?"

But that's the codependent part of me talking. I should focus instead on why I have a master's degree but get paid as an instructor, when the work is broken down hourly, less than half minimum wage. I could probably qualify for food stamps myself, only in my family of origin, accepting government assistance is shameful.

Now I know that Target is even creepier than I thought. (Note the anecdote in which Target learns the girl is pregnant before her father does.)

Target also donates merchandise that doesn't sell or is returned somehow damaged or "salvaged" to Goodwill. Goodwill, at least locally here in Portland, then marks this newish loot with pink tags and prices typically higher than their used merchandise, and the pink tags never become part of the half-off color-tag rotation. A friend recently scored a new ping-pong table this way; it was only missing the assembly instructions, but he's smart and handy and figured it all out on his own in a few hours.

I wonder now if Target is also somehow tracking their cast-off merchandise bought at Goodwill; maybe their statisticians and analysts are constructing the picture of my buying habits as we speak. Oh wait, I'm doing that myself in this blog. Next week, I'll probably be receiving coupons for salt, diapers, ceramic planters, and Old Spice—the diapers and Old Spice to throw me off the scent of Corporate Big Brother, watching.



anonymous flower Dicentra (bleeding heart), Washington State, June 2011

I thought about posting this picture for Valentine's Day but forgot, part of that whole non-sentimental thing mentioned recently. I have had no idea what this pink heart-shaped flower is was (see comments below), but like that the outdated Nikon D50 SLR I traded a Pottery Barn sleeper sofa and armchair set for a couple of years ago (i.e., "traded" means sold the furniture on Craigslist and then bought the camera from someone else a few months later on Craigslist) lets me feel like a photographer. Plus, I enjoy sitting on the floor.

When I was a kid taking pictures with a cheap little rectangular Kodak film camera that had a square lightbulb on top, I thought the grainy photos of the rattlesnake my grandfather cut in half with a shovel in the yard and my first trip to Disneyland where my recently divorced dad lost my younger sister for a half hour (what was I off doing, taking pictures?) meant I was a bad photographer; now I know it's the camera. (At some point I should probably figure out what I'm doing with a camera and graduate to the manual settings that require actual knowledge of light and exposure.)

But what I wanted to say was that driving home from work last night, listening to Radiohead's OK Computer, I briefly got teary at the line in "Fitter Happier": "fond but not in love." I never knew as a kid that relationships would be so hard. Adults don't tell you that, either.

Isn't 'fond' better than 'in love?' (I confounded a boyfriend once for whom English was a second language by telling him I loved him but wasn't in love with him.) Fondness tends to last if you truly like the person, flaws and all, rather than relying on hyped-up mating chemicals that wear off. Over the weekend I watched Kristin Scott Thomas in Leaving (Partir), and, boy, can love chemicals make a person crazy. But I was also jealous; 'fond' can feel . . . tame. And yet even within 'fond' I can act foolish, dissatisfied—never enough. Is there a line to learn to walk somewhere between pink hearts and rattlesnakes? He says I'm scary, while underneath, I'm so fond.

Edited to add: Politically relevant, here Rebecca Solnit discusses Occupy's honeymoon phase in "Mad, Passionate Love—and Violence: Occupy Heads into the Spring."




Above is the white ceramic planter discovered and discussed yesterday. For those Goodwill shoppers who haven't figured it out yet, the Roman numerals written in black marker on clothing tags or the bottoms of ceramics state the price, in case a tag comes off, presumably. However, some of the time, in my experience, these black marks don't actually come off, depending on the porousness of the material, which then will unnecessarily flaw the item. Brilliant! Luckily, because the mark was on the glaze, the XIII did just now come off this pot with rubbing alcohol, topic for a future post.

Below is a case in point. You can faintly see the yellowed XV on the inside hem of this washed-but-not-yet-ironed Pottery Barn linen/cotton curtain panel. When I snagged the pair, after gambling by waiting a week till the color tag turned half off (don't ask how I know this)—meaning I bought two panels for $7.50 instead of $15—the XV was its usual black on the fabric itself, not on the product tag, which annoyed me, but I love linen and don't find such curtains often, so I bought them anyway. Apparently my WinCo oxygen bleach actually works, sort of. A few months from now, when the curtain rods are drilled into the plaster, the curtains are ironed and hung, and there is some actual sun streaming and warm air wafting through my windows, I'll show them in situ.

I'll post another time, too, about how Goodwill taggers create holes in clothing for the fun of it. Really, just because their merchandise is had for free, does that mean it needs to be ruined?


come, go

bedroom view, July 2010 (image processed via Poladroid)

In the image above, one-and-a-half years later the desk, the chair, the blanket, the water glass, and the bedspread are no longer mine. I realize I would save money if I never bought anything and cared nothing for aesthetics, owning just one bowl and one spoon, or organizing my electrical cords with used toilet paper rolls, and so on. After all, number one in the "Ten Sure Ways to Save Money" section of the classic business self-help text, Your Money or Your Life, is "Don't go shopping." And while I agree in principle with the adage, "Buy the best and cry only once," I can't usually afford the best—and neither could my grandparents or I, too, would own a giant French farm table or sleek mid-century-modern teak or marble design classic passed down in the family. So when shopping, I'm usually trading up.

Call me bourgeois, but it's easier to give something up once you've had it. This is why the Chinese who can afford them are buying cars when their streets jam even with bicycles. I've been called a snob but grew up in a mobile home in a family for which a meal of a 39-cent McDonald's cheeseburger, shared French fries, and no soft drink was a rare treat, and I cleaned my grandmother's house to earn money for clothing that came from a mall rather than K-Mart.

On the other hand, maybe it's a character flaw, but I'm not terribly sentimental. So since childhood, I've had a revolving-door policy when it came to my possessions; at some point, that cast set of teeth pre-orthodontia no longer worked as a knickknack on my bedroom bookshelf. It's the same reason I can't imagine getting a tattoo—how could I possibly be sure my tastes wouldn't change when I can't even keep a sofa for 10 years?

As a result, I've always had some form of outbox, generally a paper bag that when filled gets dropped off at Goodwill (though when I was a kid, the outbox was my sister). However, a few years ago I discovered that, gasp, I could actually receive money for much of that outbox stuff if I took a couple of detours. So now, first I make a month-ahead appointment at ReRun; then what ReRun doesn't accept for consignment, I take to Village Merchants to sell for cash, and what's leftover I discard at Goodwill. Today the cycle began again—things come, things go.

My favorite essay in the reader I'm currently teaching from, excerpted from Lars Eighner's memoir recounting his period of homelessness, Travels with Lizbeth, is "On Dumpster Diving." At the end of the piece, Eighner says he came to share a kind of ennui with the very wealthy: the understanding that there's always more where that came from. Though I don't (yet) do dumpsters, having thrifted regularly this long, I see to some degree what he means—if one is patient over time, whatever one currently needs appears at the thrift store, even recurs. Yet I wonder if, considering the expected state of the warming world ahead, this will continue to hold true. We are a wasteful, destructive species, and even I, who own far less than most Americans, have too much. These are such first-world problems, no?—owning more than one bowl, trading for shinier bowls, voiding both cultural guilt and class resentment in a blog. . . .

After the ReRun appointment today, I popped into Goodwill on Broadway, looking for another large basket to better organize my attic storage, and came out with an unused set of cork trivets and a large, round, white-glazed planter, neither of which I was seeking; but when thrifting, one learns to seize unexpected opportunities. The cork set is replacing a couple of silicone pot holders I don't really like, and the planter is because I enjoy houseplants, I like white ceramics, and rarely do I find large planters secondhand, let alone large white ceramic planters. Do I need these things? No. Will they give me pleasure to look at and use? Yes. Will I have them forever? No.


transportation upgrade

Toyota Camry trunk

Here is the somewhat organized but full-of-pine-needles-and-smelling-of-oil trunk of the hand-me-down vintage Toyota with engine problems that I recently sold to a junkyard. While it would have been ideal to save money and eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and contributions to climate change by not replacing the car, it was taking an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work on public transportation (bus and train), when the trip takes about 20 minutes via car; and when you work split shifts, that's a giant chunk of one's day spent commuting and out waiting in the cold and rain for a transfer. So at least for now, I have not gone car-less.

Below is the hatch of my new-to-me Volvo. I'll probably be storing the remaining emergency tools in the hatch bed's secret compartments to prevent glass-shattering, will-steal-anything-for-meth theft. In the large Milwaukie Farmers Market tote bag found recently at Goodwill for $2 are a flashlight, first aid kit, toilet paper, food, water, space blankets, alcohol wipes, etc. Another nice feature of my used station wagon is that I can sleep in it, though let's hope that won't be needed but rather optional for car camping. (I do own a military-issue, "extreme-cold" mummy bag, purchased for $20 a while back at Value Village.)

Now I just need to figure out how to more comfortably afford this pleasing little life upgrade.

Volvo hatch
Volvo secret storage


the edited version

This is the pretty version of my weekend. The rest involved feeling like something fresh-crawled from a cemetery, which is why last night when the tide turned (thanks to kind, wish-granting neighbors who left the depicted ginger ale, throat lozenges, and little oranges on my porch to avoid contagion), I watched the last few episodes of Season 1 of The Walking Dead—these zombies were my people; I could relate to their brain fog and general messiness.

Today, between bouts of rest on the couch, I am airing out the sickroom and washing up. It feels good to have clean teeth.

While stomach flu works quite well for short-term weight loss, for getting into one's tightest jeans, I can't recommend it because of the whole zombie thing. But the worst part of it all is that I was just sick with a bad head cold only a few weeks ago, so the immune system needs bolstering, apparently.

Before I take yet another nap, let me recount the glories of the neti pot. No longer must I cross the bridge to Washington State to buy pseudoephedrine (kept forgetting to get the Oregon Rx). This particular virus hasn't required much nasal irrigation, but the recent cold did, and all it takes is warm water and salt—aka saline, the stuff we are made of—much cheaper and safer on the liver. However, one must now beware of a "deadly brain-eating amoeba" linked to neti pot usage, and only use distilled or previously boiled water for nasal irrigation. I should probably boil my water first but so far haven't. So if I become an actual zombie, you'll know the amoebas in my neti pot did it.  

Note: The neti pot depicted was purchased several years ago at a local Portland co-op grocery for $10-15 before I knew better. I've since found neti pots for friends and family at Goodwill from between $1-3 (duh, run them through a dishwasher and use rubbing alcohol before use). Here's the classic neti pot instructional YouTube video (they use tap water), or watch this guy experimenting with saline, coffee, and whiskey.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...