new succulents in old pots

succulents in secondhand vintage pots

We took advantage of the summer-like weather this week to plant the succulents bought a while back, the smaller ones from Home Depot, the larger from IKEA. (Guess which were cheaper?) The cactus-mix potting soil and washed gravel were picked up from Fred Meyer during a grocery run one day. And the handmade pots were all sourced from Goodwill and cost between two-to-four dollars each. Even for those like myself who are not master gardeners or terribly crafty, the project is easy and inexpensive and the results polished. Although, if you live near Portland and are one of those people who has more money than time or DIY interest, my friend Jeff will be selling most of these little beauties in his vintage space over at Hawthorne Vintage.

succulent potting prep

We'd come across different indoor-succulent-potting directions on the web but most seemed to advise multiple layers of potting material, from charcoal to gravel to sand. We kept it fairly simple by putting a thin layer of gravel into the bottom of each pot—since these pots lack drainage holes—and then planting with a sandy cactus mix.

succulent varieties in thrifted handmade pots

succulent in repurposed glass pot

The succulent pictured above is tucked into a glass jar that was formerly a scented soy candle given me as a gift. I'd melted the remaining candle wax on low in the oven and then poured and wiped it out, the soy wax cleaning up easily. The glass pot has three layers for functionality and visual interest: gravel, the black cactus soil mix, and a red woody soil holding the roots. How's that for reuse?

succulent varieties in Goodwill-thrifted pots

Potted succulents or cacti would also be a great way to salvage and repurpose a piece of cracked or chipped pottery, like a favorite mug. The large dark-brown pot, for example, has a small chip on the bottom edge that isn't at all noticeable because the handmade pottery and glazing are so organic (read: imperfect), anyway.

In fact, I'm tempted to keep the dark-brown planter for myself. I even added three baby hens and chicks—so, the chicks—from the pot on the porch the day after these photos were taken to fill in some of the empty space and make an odd number of plants. The lesson learned from my first succulent experiment was to take charge and be fearless. After all, they're only plants. If only the rest of life were so easy. . . .


graffiti redux: welcome to the cat bridge

"LA/Love Sunset," SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland

On my blurry-eyed half-dashes to the bus stop in the mornings not long after sunrise, I've been chuckling over the latest incarnation of the mural on the SE 9th Avenue pedestrian/bike overpass, which some might remember from a post last May. Here's what we find nearly a year later.

"Hella Kitty, El Gato Bandito," graffiti on SE 9th Avenue pedestrian overpass, Portland, OR

I have nothing much to say about "El Gato Bandito." I'm no graffiti expert, though I enjoy photographing it. But having lived in the Bay Area, I find "Hella Kitty" a funny bit of wordplay. And the smoking bobble-headed chulo cat in the buttoned-up flannel shirt is kinda cute. Plus, the use of the schwa in a couple of presumably intentionally misspelled tags is hella weird: "mprəbəbl." The signs and symbols of this in-group community of practice—taggers, gang members—are beyond me. I'm just a bystander running to catch the bus.

"Own It!" smokin' cat graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

"mprəbəbl" cat graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

"mprəbəbl (welcome to the cat bridge)" graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

caped-cat graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

ghost-cat graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

Random non-cat-themed tags also appear here and there along the route:

SE 9th Avenue overpass graffiti, Portland, OR

graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

"Brotherhood Is Dead" graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

giant snail graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

"Brick by Brick" graffiti, SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR

So I hereby dedicate this picture poem to my talented friend Carol, writer, artist, and fellow aficionado of the painted underbelly of Portland—at least as seen from a distance—who e-mailed today: "You aren't blogging. Are you sick?" She inspired me to walk down the street to take graffiti photos tonight after dinner as the sun was going down, something I've been meaning to do for the last week. I dodged a few bikers and couples on the bridge, snapped a few pictures, wrote a few lines, making myself late for bed. But I'm happy as a snail on lettuce.

(And yes, Carol, I'm faux-sick, meaning my body just thinks it's sick, having allergic reactions to all the pollen floating in the air now that the weather is warming: runny nose, stuffed sinuses, plugged ear, dark circles under the eyes, general fatigue. It's not another cold; it just feels like one. Do I love this town or what?)

"El Gato Bandito" graffiti tag,  SE 9th Avenue overpass, Portland, OR


cock fight, tiger wars

unsigned virility totem found at Goodwill

So one day last week I got a text-with-photo from Jeff: "Dick totem. Best purchase ever." I responded the next day: "What the hell is that penis sculpture and which thrift store was selling it?" The Mormons at D.I. would never put up a quad of angry lingams for sale, and I figured the same was true of the Christians over at Salvation Army. The culprit turned out to be Goodwill. I should have known. Goodwill will put out anything for sale—like a half box of pregnancy tests, a partial stack of adult diapers, or a hammer without a handle. However, Jeff admitted it was "an awkward experience waiting in line with it in front of a family," just this "guy holding some wooden dicks."

carved virility phalluses, secondhand

He claims I've taught him to think ahead about buying presents throughout the year, so he snagged the penis totem for next Christmas' white-elephant gift exchange among his group of dude friends. (Shhh!) I'm sure it will be the hit of the December party season. Taken individually, his friends are successful, smart, and above-average: electrical engineers, computer VP's, graphic designers—guys with rental properties and cute wives and such. But taken as a group, they resemble a frat house, with the adolescent-spy show Archer their favorite series viewed each week from somebody's hot tub.

carved wooden phalluses via Goodwill

Jeff brought over the unsigned carving last weekend to show it off in person. It's much more, shall we say, solid in real life, a true presence. My housemate walked into the room unexpectedly, and I said, "Uh, can you believe Jeff found this at Goodwill?" "Oh, yeah," my roommate said with an arm wave. "They have those in Thailand, only they're much smaller and worn around the neck—you know, for virility."

lingam face, close-up

Speaking of virility, the theme of the week, yesterday I happened to read a Condé Nast article by E.L. Doctorow about a tiger-slash-birder expedition made to a couple Indian nature reserves in the early 2000's. In it, he cited some depressing tiger statistics. Myself, I'd rather see a bunch of carved wooden phalluses with Easter Island faces decorating someone's house than think about all the endangered tigers around the world shot and killed so the Chinese can grind up and eat large cat penises in traditional medicine. Just because some cultural practice is old, doesn't mean it isn't full of baseless superstition. Who decided eating tiger balls would keep an old man active in bed? Let's be more open-handed with our Viagra and save tigers from extinction, shall we? Just because, as Doctorow was told by a tiger expert, tigers tend to eat the genitals first when a man is captured screaming as prey, it doesn't mean we have to reciprocate. What's going to happen when humans are the only hunters left at the top of the food chain? Do we start hunting each other? How exactly did Homo sapiens get left in charge, anyway? Humans blow each other up for fun—or maybe to underline a debate point. (Who really knows?)

wooden virility totem, Goodwill-thrifted

Jeff refused to take his lingam home the other night, so the crew of stern cocks has been sitting on top of my bookcase, standing guard while I sleep, though not so far contributing in any way to my dreams. But maybe they'll bring luck to my job hunt. Go team!

wooden lingam set, thrifted at Goodwill


mixed bag

pen cup at home: new & vintage pens in thrifted Mexican painted pottery

Because my schedule is obviously not full enough and to amuse the gods while they dally with piddly human lives like mine, this weekend I've been job hunting while sick with a bad head cold. That's right—this makes five colds, one flu, and two ear infections since September when I first started working in an elementary school. My hackles were raised this week by comments from a few acquaintances who suggested that this much sickness is somehow my fault—not eating healthy enough, not enough vitamins, too much sugar, "When's the last time you had a complete physical?"—rather than it being a case of first-year-schoolteacher syndrome like the doctors and ENT specialist all said.

I know I should just let ignorant comments die a quiet death in the corner, but I'm addicted to truth telling, so I did a little Googling yesterday, uncovering much anecdotal evidence that, yes, new school teachers on average get sick a lot the first three or so years before things quiet down when the immune system has been buttressed. And the younger the kids taught, the worse it is because young kids have the worst basic hygiene. I also work in an impoverished school with a majority of immigrant children from Mexico, Asia, and Africa. (And, by the way, being a mere parent of a school kid does not subject a person to the same level of exposure as that kid's teachers. Sorry, but it just doesn't, so parents don't have my sympathy. It also isn't the same for teachers of adults—I've done that, too, and I rarely got sick.)

thrifted vintage skein of Tahki Nodolino cotton-linen yarn in pastel-crayon tweed

Scientists have even shown that the work surfaces school teachers are exposed to are exponentially germier than those of any other profession. I already require the kids I remediate to cough into their elbows, to wash their hands in front of me, to use hand sanitizer after blowing their noses. We keep the window open whenever possible. My first- and second-grade students especially are sick on a rotating basis as much as I've been this year, but unlike adults, the kids don't know they can complain about it, so adults often don't seem to notice until the kids are sporting a blushing fever. In any case, every afternoon this term I've been wiping down everything at my desk with ammonia wipes, "proven to kill flu viruses." This week, I will institute a Don't-Touch-My-Pens! policy, since some of the forums I scanned highly recommended this tip. (The sharing principle we all learned at age five should only go so far.)

So even though I skipped work on Friday to stay in bed (it was a grading day with no school), and have been home resting most of the weekend, I did somehow find myself yesterday pulled by Jeff's orbit into Goodwill "just to look at furniture" before heading to the grocery store to stock up on vitamins, fruits, and vegetables (because I don't at all eat healthy or cook all my own damn food from scratch). Did we only look at furniture? Of course not. He bought a vintage Faribault orange-cream-brown-and-yellow woven wool lap blanket and a 1950's space-age, brown-and-orange-swirled ashtray (Sheila says ashtrays sell because nobody makes them anymore). And I came out carrying a big bag of mostly unlabeled yarn I bought for the four skeins of labeled tweedy wool inside, the discards to be consigned next weekend at ReRun.

thrifted Harrisville Tweed Indigo yarn hanks, "spun in U.S.A."

And now it's time for some more online job hunting—because teachers like myself need second and third jobs in the summer just to make ends meet. Will this be the last respiratory virus of the school year for our heroine? Tune in next time for more adventures of . . . The Disgruntled Educator.


an almost home

succulents in thrifted handmade pots (for sale)

In spare time, I've been helping my friend Jeff stock and style up his newly rented space over at Hawthorne Vintage, where Sheila, the owner, offers a wide range of mid-century pieces at reasonable prices. One of the homey touches I'm recommending—aside from piles of books and records, a woven basket or two, billy balls in vases, and more wall art, shelving, and fabric—is the addition of succulents in handmade pots, most of which will be fully planted in potting soil and gravel, though some will simply be tucked into their new (old) cachepots. So last week, we picked out a variety of plants and pots I've been tending.

The funny thing is the longer these things sit around my apartment, the fonder I become of them and the more they feel mine. (This is a pointed warning to Jeff, by the way.) After all, I was the one who imagined and then sourced these pots and plants, having to convince him they'll sell fast as marionberry pancakes, also happening upon the big, dimpled, possibly handblown vase I'd first envisioned as a terrarium, having since become enamored by its reflected light, especially once all the dust and fingerprints were washed off. In fact, Jeff and I may soon need to stop thrifting together, since we've been having tussles over who gets to keep what. Because he's taller, more curious, and generally more observant, he often spots big items first.

thrifted flower vases: handblown (?) glass vase of unknown origin ($5, Goodwill); white ceramic West Elm vase (.75)

In any case, with all the extra decorative objects stashed here and there around my apartment, I've been realizing that once they're in the shop, my flat will again be sparse, not empty exactly but far barer than the average house because of a) shortness of money, b) procrastination, and c) a lifelong bent to minimize that which must be dusted.

Not all the furniture is even mine. The galvanized-steel, repurposed industrial-stand coffee table showing up in many recent photos I'm babysitting for Jeff. The dining table (which never gets used as such) is my roommate's. The purple futon with oak Mission-style frame that replaced the sleeper sofa I'd sold to buy my camera was a hand-me-down from a neighbor who'd traded up for an antique daybed for her TV room. (Must I even bother to say I dislike royal purple, tired of Mission style while in California, and quit oak back in the early '90's?)

Hating clutter, I've always erred on the side of minimal yet not in a good way—because even minimal should feel complete. None of my apartments has ever felt cohesively put together along the lines of, say, any of the Apartment Therapy tours or Design Sponge sneak peeks of the real-life houses and apartments of creative types, whether the kitschy-vintage ones, the cutesy-paper-artist ones, the I-paid-someone-to-overdecorate-with-matching-fabric ones, or the move-me-in-you're-perfect ones. This half-done decorating style is partly because I've never lived in any apartment longer than this one at three-and-a-half years, and that's only because I haven't been able to afford to move.

billy balls reflected in low light

But that can't be the whole reason. Many people can make a house look like a home within a few months on not much money. It's not that I don't know how to make a space looked lived in and inviting. All one needs are stacks of books; walls of real art; framed photographs of friends and family; handmade pottery and globally sourced artifacts; healthy houseplants; bowls of fresh flowers; a combination of antique, vintage, and new furniture of both domestic and industrial origins; distinctive curios found in nature (e.g., animal skulls or horns, old coral, bits of geology, striking feathers); large mirrors; an overall mix of texture and pattern; interesting rugs over natural flooring; restrained window treatments; and varied forms of non-overhead lighting (just pop into any IKEA for examples of task and mood lighting, as well as efficient use of vertical space).

But no place I've lived has ever felt like home, not even the houses in which I grew up. Maybe I'm a generational nomad with spatial commitment issues who will never have a rooted home. How sad would that be? Or could it be that cold and impersonal is the congenital state of my heart? That's an uncomfortable thought. A smart ten-year-old who happened to be in the reading room at work for the first time a couple months ago while I was subbing an after-school knitting class asked why I didn't have any family photographs up on the walls of my cubicle like the other teachers. Good question. Let's step away from that abyss. . . .

On Easter, Jeff and I stopped into The Good Mod for some product and price comparisons, knowing they've got the best, most expensive mid-century furniture in Portland and so probably in all of Oregon. We hadn't been to their new West Burnside space before, but the place felt oddly familiar since both the old location near my Brooklyn neighborhood and the new building were labyrinths of corridors, right angles, and arrows concocted like some test for lab mice. (Were we being watched on closed-circuit cameras to see who found their way upstairs the fastest?) But they could keep all their pricey furniture, beautiful though it was, if only I could move into a corner of that old warehouse and set up housekeeping on the cold, polished concrete. That's another idea of my dream home, aside from the repurposed shipping container option and the whitewashed, adobe-and-tile house on an Aegean island: a refurbished old warehouse loft with giant windows and a wide-open, wall-less expanse a floor robot could spin in circles all day to sweep.

succulents ready for potting

But for now, I've got a purple futon blooming in the center of my living room, so I must work with that. Last weekend, I brought home a large, dark-orange, West Elm linen-and-cotton-velvet throw pillow from the West Burnside Goodwill, which has warmed up all the purple and gray. And at William Temple, I bought a pale-yellow, loose-weave linen-and-silk curtain panel I'll probably hang up to shield, without blocking light, the view into our closet-sized, vinyl-tiled kitchen. I'd love to arrange succulents and cacti in pots all over my apartment, with herbs seated on windowsills, but this place, this town, isn't for sun lovers—maybe when I move into that warehouse.

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