pouf, an Albini!

new-to-me Franco Albini ottoman via Hawthorne Vintage

The whole day started with the dangling carrot of some free Eames chairs. I was on vacation over the holiday weekend, if tagging along on someone's house-sitting while fifteen minutes away from home counts as vacation. (Jeff was staying at a friend's, babysitting their pets, and invited me along, it all being kosher with the family whose porridge, chairs, and beds I was using, sort of like Goldilocks getting a free Groupon from the Bear family). So there I was, propped up late Sunday morning on pillows in their bed with my laptop, when I spotted a Craigslist posting for four free blue-upholstered, unnamed-but-definitely-Eames office chairs sitting out on the sidewalk waiting to be claimed up near Lloyd Center. But we were in southeast and still in our pajamas. So by the time we showered, dressed, and drove up there in his Jeep, about two hours after the post had gone up and maybe thirty minutes after I'd last checked, they had vanished—Poof!—because free Eames chairs are, like fairy tales, too good to be true.

And so I still need chairs for the vintage round dining table thrifted from Goodwill on Easter, which I haven't talked about yet, preferably at least two being vintage Eames fiberglass shell chairs, preferably in orange, parchment, or charcoal, and preferably on the Eiffel or dowel bases. But this post isn't about that. This post is about heading out in search of free chairs and coming home with a splurged pre-birthday-gift purchase—half from Jeff, half from myself—of a vintage Franco Albini cane ottoman. How did that happen?

Well, first there were the disappearing chairs. Then, because we were nearby, we hit the Broadway Goodwill where Jeff found a large Italian moka coffee pot for camping ($4), and I ran into a student from work in the shoe aisle while trying on a pair of lemon-gelato-colored, Italian-made, snakeskin-print, leather peep-toe heels that fit like gloves, half-off for $5. "Should I get these shoes?" I asked the student, who herself was trying on a pair of oversized slippers, but I was just making conversation because of course I was buying them (and she'd have something to tell her friends at school).

secondhand Italian-made, lemon snakeskin-print leather peep-toe heels via Goodwill

We had planned to check out a couple more Craigslist free piles in southeast, but then Jeff got a text from Sheila at Hawthorne Vintage saying the Lane surfboard coffee table he'd lovingly stripped and refinished a couple months ago had finally sold. And so because we had to head back to my garage to pick up a replacement table to restock his space (#A6), we next stopped at the 6th Avenue Goodwill where I bought a feather pillow insert ($4, to replace a foam one) and Jeff a vintage Japanese mug ($1).

vintage Franco Albini ottoman

Then over at Hawthorne Vintage with the table, while Jeff was installing a lamp, I spotted the Albini ottoman, and since I've wanted one for a while now, I somehow talked myself into it. (I'm so convincing!) Though over the years I've thrifted several secondhand wicker baskets in which to store yarn and laundry and such, this one is a fairly rare designer basket, and an upside-down one at that. Not having been reared with any designer décor, as in most working-class families, with the exception of my grandmother's kitschy print of Tretchikoff's green-faced Chinese Girl, whose origins I didn't know anything about till a couple years ago (it was sold at their garage sale while I was off at college or in Korea), this is my first official piece of modernist furniture designed by a real live architect. Well, Albini's long dead and (presumably) buried in Italy, but you know what I mean. I may cry, even though most people who see it sitting in front of my armchair will probably assume it's just some Asian wicker thing from Goodwill.


field trip: Milwaukie Farmers Market

farmers market carrots, Portland, OR

Last Sunday, Jeff and I met up at the Milwaukie Farmers Market in search of ladybugs, of which they were out. Instead, I brought home leeks for soup, bib lettuce for sandwiches, cilantro for pesto, spinach for a big lentil salad, red d'Anjou pears from Hood River for dessert, and peonies for my bedside vase. Because northwest growing seasons are shorter than in more southerly parts of the country, Portland's farmers markets open in early May and close in late October. But in those months, they bring the city together to celebrate home-grown harvests and local producers.

Though I haven't yet visited all the neighborhood farmers markets in Portland, the Milwaukie Farmers Market is one of my favorites, nestled in the center of downtown Milwaukie, just south of Portland proper in Clackamas County where Jeff was born and raised. That means we can expect every time to run into someone he knows. Sunday, I met a friend of his from high school, with her family, and the aunt and uncle of one of his best friends—meaning the Milwaukie Sunday Market, at least for locals, comes with free hugs.

hanging annuals, Milwaukie Farmers Market, Oregon

Farmers markets, like thrift shops, contain the unexpected, the heart of their charm. A couple years ago at this market, I picked up off the sidewalk a sprig of a flowering annual that had broken off somebody's hanging basket. I took it home and stuck it in a glass of water on a windowsill, planning to enjoy the little purple flowers for a few days until it died. But instead it started sprouting roots. Eventually I gave it to Jeff, who planted it in a little pot, where it lived on his deck until finally conking out in the cold late last fall.

Voted "Best Small Farmers Market of 2012" by the Oregonian, the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market sells homemade sausages and local cheeses, hot coffee and freshly squeezed juice, handmade bread and local honey, ladybugs and worm tea (for pest control), plants of all kinds for home gardening, handmade baskets, seasonal vegetables, fruits, and flowers, handmade jewelry, and much more.

City Hall, Milwaukie, Oregon

Masonic Lodge, Milwaukie, Oregon

Strolling around outside the market boundary, at the Friends of the Ledding Library Book Booth in the City Hall fire bay, I picked up for $2 LaGrone's Basic Conversational Spanish printed in 1967 (something for the bucket list). A local club was also holding a fundraising estate sale in the Masonic Lodge, so we popped in towards closing time. Spry old folks had been clearing out their garages. I bought another complete set of Denise Interchangeable Knitting Needles for just $2 (when they retail new for $45), along with three pieces of old linen cloth to make my own fringed kitchen towels ($1 each); seeing a kindred spirit, the ladies threw in a bunch of vintage knitting patterns for free. Jeff bought an old green metal contraption to take camping that winds newspapers into logs.

old Ledding Library book drop, Milwaukie, Oregon

Then we walked over to the Ledding Library, impressive in its compact organization, cute children's section downstairs where kids were playing oversized checkers, plump-chaired reading nook with a view of a shady creek, and even its dictionaries laid open on a large stand, reference-ready. The Friends of the Ledding Library were also selling leftover plants from their Spring Plant Sale inside, a bit worn by now but cheap! After, we walked down and around the corner of the building to watch the baby ducks and geese and a squirrel stretched out on an arbor, sunbathing.

geese and ducks, Ledding Library grounds, Milwaukie, OR

Impressionist duck, Ledding Library pond, Milwaukie, Oregon

Downtown Milwaukie also boasts a highly rated chocolate shop (sadly not open on Sundays), an art-gallery collective, coffee shops, restaurants, antique malls, and the headquarters of Dark Horse Comics, which owns most of the downtown area, keeping it afloat. Milwaukie's downtown location just east of the Willamette River is near prime riverfront, so it's too bad the water treatment plant hogs the view. Once the new MAX line opens in late 2015, maybe Milwaukie residents will further embrace and expand the gentrifying downtown and riverfront and snub their many strip malls.  

Milwaukie, Oregon, sidewalk sign

Enchanté chocolate shop, Milwaukie, Oregon

May roses, Milwaukie, Oregon

Dark Horse Comics window display, Milwaukie, Oregon

spring leaves, Milwaukie, Oregon

Under 300 Gallery, Milwaukie, Oregon

drinking fountain message, Milwaukie, Oregon


balcony picnic

solo picnic with book: homemade hummus, baby sweet peppers, roasted asparagus, and pita on thrifted Heath Rim plate

(Note: This content was originally published on May 12. While I was doing minor blog edits on May 21, I somehow re-posted it out of order. Apologies for any confusion.)

These days, with my working two jobs and commuting two-and-a-half hours each day on the bus, leaving two whole hours at home before bed most days, any weekend spent mainly at home feels a luxury, precious hours of silence and near-solitude. And so what if I have to spend much of that time doing domestic work: cooking for the week ahead, doing dishes and laundry, ironing, cleaning, paying bills, and tidying up little piles of clothes and papers built up during the workweek? At least I don't have to go anywhere.

Because the weather the last couple weeks had been unseasonably warm, blue-skied, and dry (Have global warming effects finally reached Portland?), I'd been taking my new thrifted purple-pink-gray-and-blue picnic blanket to work (see here for the blue-and-green one found last summer) and eating my lunch out in a far corner of the schoolyard lawn. These woven cotton blankets in colorful stripes are large yet featherweight and thus perfect for travel. I have no idea where they're made (though my guess is India) or who markets them because they lack tags, but they scream summer.

Lately I've been trying to incorporate more little luxuries into my days so it feels more like I'm living than just existing, and lunchtime picnics at work qualify, stretching out on the soft grass for a half hour or so, feeling the spring sun on my skin. So do weekend picnics out on the balcony. So does wearing my Great-aunt Mary's vintage Native-American silver jewelry, nothing valuable but personally meaningful, as if I'm carrying around bittersweet secrets on my body, visible only to me. So does buying a new yoga DVD to vary the routine. So does wearing the vintage black lace nightgowns I'd been saving for a different future that may not come, which no one sees but me. Such things are small treats that mean nothing to anyone else, the lesson I've finally learned about life's most important romance: with one's self.

Eating my solo picnic out on the balcony in early evening, I heard popping noises from the yard kitty-corner, the one that had the keg-stand party the night before, and some guy's voice saying, "They'll think it's a blue UFO," which I'd already spotted, running inside for my camera. One of their balloons, a turquoise Mylar star, had gotten loose during clean-up, the balloon tumbling fast on the breeze, rising higher and blowing north—like global finance.

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (1)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (2)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (3)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (4)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (5)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (6)

neighbor's stray Mylar balloon (7)


lost & found

TriMet Lost & Found sign, SE Center & 17th Avenue

Coming home from work on the bus the other day, I put my book away and stood up to leave, hearing a metallic clink. I couldn't think of anything of mine that would have fallen and so gave only a cursory glance at my spot and then got off the bus, walking the two blocks up to the transfer stop, where my reflection in the window of a bus showed I was missing an earring. Oops. They're not valuable but a simple pair worn often. Plus, I have good (if vague) memories of the day I spotted them in the gift shop of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, which my then-boyfriend gifted to me, replica of an ancient teardrop design.

Two days later, I had time to contact TriMet's Lost & Found office. One either calls their number and leaves a detailed message or fills out an online form of who, what, when, and where. (They don't care about the how or why.) So I submitted the online form. But since I live near TriMet's administrative offices, I figured I'd also go in person, imagining an office counter somewhere with a view of a large storage room full of bins, which there surely is, only the view customers get is of the Lost & Found bus out front and a man speaking through a hole in the back window.* Like Cinderella with her one shoe, I showed him the matching earring. He wrote a note on a legal pad and made a phone call somewhere into the depths of the building behind the truck. Then he shook his head, "Sorry, ma'am. Nothing was turned in." He said to try again on Monday.

TriMet Lost & Found bus, SE Center & 17th Avenue

"Why would anyone want one drop earring with a French hook?" I asked Jeff, walking back to my place. It's not like it was in any way punk or edgy enough to warrant rounding out someone's uneven set of ear holes. "Was it silver?" he asked. "Yes." "Well, pawn shops take silver, melt it down," he said. "Are you serious? Even that little bit?" "Yep."

So there goes my earring, found and pawned off by some crackhead on the bus. A driver I'd asked said the bus drivers and the cleaners check for lost items each day, so employees would have found it by now. At least I didn't lose my phone, phones having surpassed umbrellas as the object most left on the bus, though the strangest lost item has to have been a human skeleton. (See here for the quiz.)

Jeff had come over for dinner, so walking to my place on the way back, we stopped by the Warehouse Café on Milwaukie Avenue to pick up accompaniments for a chickpea-and-spinach salad. Warehouse Café in Portland's Brooklyn neighborhood is half coffee shop, half (very small) grocery co-op. Unlike how it is in rural areas where I grew up or the suburbs where friends live, in inner southeast Portland one can spend $12 on a locally made baguette and organic apples and avocados if one is out walking on an errand with a friend and feeling too lazy to walk twenty more minutes over to a slightly less expensive and bigger co-op (People's) or to New Season's. Take that, suburbanites!

tiny carrot, Warehouse Café, Brooklyn, Portland, OR

Going local also means more conversations with strangers, which isn't such a bad thing, even for an introvert. I asked the cashier if she knew anything about the broken green vintage chair sitting outside around the corner. She walked out of the shop and came back saying, "Don't know. But it looks like a free chair. Score!" Then she showed me a tiny carrot she'd found that day in their stock, though all my pictures turned out blurry (boo!).

free curbside: broken vintage green chair needing TLC

Good-bye earring, hello chair! This painted green chair, the back of which came in pieces (not pictured), needs reupholstering and a few ounces of wood glue, but Jeff and I can handle that. (What else can a person expect for free?) I'd like to think my decorative style is more modern and clean-lined than this chair—which I'm guessing dates from the 1930's or 40's—with its curves and a center back that reminds me of cat whiskers; but I also prefer eclectic interiors with objects collected and edited from different eras and places so that everything doesn't look like it was all put on a credit card from the same chain store—Wrap it up! I'll take the whole room!—which would show serious lack of imagination, time, or personality.
As I've written about before, objects come and go, earrings, chairs, and everything else. According to TriMet, only a fraction of what's lost on buses or MAX actually gets claimed, most likely because of people assuming their belongings were stolen rather than found. I'll check back a few more times for the earring, though it's probably gone for good. And for the record, in case one day on the bus or train you lose an umbrella, phone, or Grandma's ashes, there's a deadline: TriMet only keeps unclaimed items for two weeks, after which everything gets donated to Goodwill—except maybe Grandma.

*Note: Apparently, customers used to be allowed into a lobby to talk to someone on the phone, though reporters have gotten peeks at the actual storage room.


in the pink

gift: new knitter's bag (from IKEA) with thrifted yarn, needles, and book

While I've never wanted to be a mother, I've always thought I'd make a pretty good aunt. The problem is none of my siblings have kids, and we're all getting up there in childbearing years, so it may never officially happen. So that means I get to borrow my friends' kids or nieces and nephews. And of course the great thing about borrowing is that I can give the kids back to their parents when I'm done playing—ah, peace.

So because Jeff's niece has shown interest in knitting for a couple years now and in fact brings it up every time I see her, which isn't that often, I finally put together a little knitting bag for her. And because virtually all second-grade American girls love pink, everything's pink: the vintage needles ($2), Funky Knitting book ($4), and the yarn (less than $1) all from Goodwill, and the highlighter-pink nylon shopping bag from IKEA ($1). (Coincidentally, the bag is almost the exact shade of shocking pink as the neighbor's rhododendrons, already faded by this year's unusual May heat.)

neighboring rhododendrons

Other than a day when I subbed at work in the after-school program for a knitting class, this was the first time I'd ever taught anyone else how to knit. It went smoothly until the end. We're talking about a perky, bright little girl here who blooms under the least bit of positive adult attention. Unfortunately, her parents wouldn't let her take the knitting home because they were afraid the younger brother would get hold of the metal needles and fall and stab himself, or else the kids would sword-fight with the needles and jab each other in the eye, so the knitting kit was left at Grandma's for Grandma to police. (Don't ask why the parents couldn't do a little more parenting. Nobody knows.)

When I last saw her, tears were drying on her face only because Grandma had reminded her she'd be over after school all week. And I felt strangely guilty for the big scene. What was I thinking giving an eight-year-old child metal knitting needles (aka weapons) that all children who knit used to use in olden days without poking out everyone's eyes?

old-fashioned lilacs, April 2013

At work, one of my second-grade clients the same age as Jeff's niece had a birthday last week, so I made her a pink paper crown with triangles cut out along a long slip of pink construction paper and pink hearts and silver stars drawn or stuck on, and her first name written illegibly (at least to the kids, who no longer learn this antiquated skill) in cursive along the center. All too soon, these girls will learn there's no such thing as a princess and instead will find themselves—Poof!—with jobs, laundry, and car payments like everyone else. But at least they can dream. This particular social butterfly, the spoiled-but-sweet youngest daughter in a hardworking Mexican-immigrant family with five kids, is destined to be a party planner, so I made extra effort, serving raspberry lemonade and those pink-frosted animal cookies with rainbow sprinkles on top. It's all part of enjoying the charm of children while not having any of the responsibility, heartache, or boredom, which to me seems the best deal.

rock rose (Cistaceae), Portland, OR, May 2013


ode to Edith Heath

secondhand Heath Ceramics large serving bowl lid, with pears

I fell in love with Heath Ceramics after I'd moved away from the Bay Area, where I was born and where I'd lived for years before moving to Portland, meaning I haven't yet taken the factory tour in Sausalito—something for the bucket list. Edith Heath, former children's art teacher, transformed herself into one of the finest mid-20th-century American ceramicists with a deep understanding of clay and glazes, designing simple lines of California pottery for the home, as well as a range of hand-crafted architecture tile. Plus, from the photos, at least, she always looked stunning, even at the potter's wheel, with her Danish bone structure, striking jewelry, and full skirts—a beautiful, successful artist and businesswoman. Isn't that still the dream of many?

Right after I began thrifting in earnest almost four years ago out of necessity, I came across a cache of Heath Ceramics items at one of the Beaverton Goodwills. Not knowing their worth at the time and worrying about finances, I passed on a lot of it, though I brought home seven brown Coupe-line bowls and a brown Coupe creamer. In years since at different Goodwills around town, though I've never been so lucky as during that one Beaverton score, I've snagged mugs in the Coupe and Rim lines ($1 each), four "seconds" Rim-line plates ($1 each), a couple Coupe saucers ($1 each), a green "seconds" Chez-Panisse-line side bowl ($2), and a large 11-inch serving bowl ($4), minus the cover. At the Eastmoreland Garage Sale two summers ago, I also scored a Heath teapot for a mere dollar. Since not all pieces are easy to find, I did buy a used pair of Heath salt-and-pepper shakers off eBay a few years ago. To see how much use my Heath pieces get, just search for the word "Heath" here on the blog and scroll down. Most are of varying degrees of vintage, while some are newer, but all are secondhand, mostly from Goodwill. Collecting dinnerware this way keeps me focused and my shelves lean since I do not find Heath pieces at the thrift stores often, maybe two or three times a year, shopping regularly.

secondhand Heath Ceramics large covered serving bowl with lid, bought separately, $28 total
Before her death at age 94 in 2005, Edith Heath sold her business to a youngish couple who have expanded Edith's offerings, not all of which are to my taste since the new owners have begun experimenting with pattern on the classic minimal shapes. (Patterns on dinnerware, no matter how lovely, detract from the food itself, which, if tasty and made from scratch, deserves the spotlight on a plate.) In any case, spending any time on the Heath Web site, one can see how much well designed, handmade, American-made items rightly cost to produce and market. And though I support local handmade production in theory and fervently believe more Americans should and one day will have to, like it or not, start making things again themselves, creating environmentally sustaining cottage industries, I simply cannot afford to buy a new Heath anything on my income. Plus, why buy everything new when one can buy vintage? So instead I wait and trawl the used-goods market, finding a secondhand piece here, a couple more used pieces there—months if not years later—in the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the jackpot.

secondhand Heath Ceramics large covered serving bowl, open

I've had this large orange-and-brown Heath serving bowl for over two years now, used as a fruit bowl and a serving bowl for salads. My friend Jeff surprised me last night with the matching lid, placing it on the bowl on my metro shelving in silence while my back was turned filling his glass with ice at the freezer. I didn't notice for a while (so sly, he is) and then gasped. He had seen the lid a couple weeks earlier on eBay and asked if I wanted it. I did. He bid. And then later when I asked, he told me we'd gotten outbid. Oh well—win some, lose some. So I forgot all about it until I saw it nestled in its matching bowl as it was meant for. Somehow, nobody else had bid, so he got the lid for $25 (half of which was shipping), quite a bit of money for a mere casserole lid but peanuts compared to a new set or even an intact bowl-with-lid secondhand, meaning my covered bowl cost $29 total compared to $134 new.

secondhand Heath Ceramics large casserole lid via eBay

Having the lid makes the bowl even more multipurpose. Now it can bake casseroles and store leftovers in the fridge. And the lid, turned over and stood on its handle, makes a sturdy platter or dessert plate. Function and beauty—this is why Edith Heath was a genius. If only more people would stop in the aisle of Target or Walmart and take a look at the Chinese-made, seasonal-fall-apart trinkets in their carts with a more critical, thoughtful eye to multi-functionality, minimalism, and durability. But there is no teaching taste.

secondhand Heath Ceramics large serving bowl lid, empty

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