on footbathing and living alone

footbath bubbles

Most evenings year-round I light at least one tealight candle (from IKEA for about four cents a pop, so one cent an hour), a ritual that says, I'm home, I'm safe, I'm winding down the day. Another ritual I perform only in summer when socks peel off and toes peek out. After wearing sandals or heels all day and collecting the dust and grime of streets and sidewalks, it only makes sense to come home, kick off the shoes (in my no-shoes home), and wash my feet—and often again before bed. Everyone washes hands all day long, after all. Bare feet in summer just feel good. But feet, like hands, get dirty. A quick turn of the tap (warm or cool, depending on how hot I am), a squirt of soap, a rub, a step-and-dry on the bathmat, and it's done. Clean feet are a simple luxury.

I've been thinking a lot about luxuries lately. It feels a luxury to be living alone again after many years of living with other people, partner and roommates—to do what I want at home, where I want, how I want, whenever I want—without compromise, justification, or explanation. Until now, I've lived by myself for only two years, once upon a time in Berkeley.

A while back, I read Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, a sociological discussion about the increasing numbers of people worldwide choosing to live alone and yet remaining productive members of communities, confounding stereotypes of the lonely old cat-hoarder lady or cranky old misfit bachelor. But one needs a certain income level to afford to live alone, especially in cities. Very few people my age could swing it in the Bay Area, from my experience. It was simply too expensive to live alone (and have any extra money) for most people, even those with decent full-time jobs. Couples often moved in together rather early in large part to save on rent. And even couples often had extra roommates. So to live alone in thriving, popular cities, living space must contract.

Space is a luxury, a fact reinforced when touring studio apartments this month and trying to imagine how I would fit everything I own into one small room. How could I do yoga? I considered selling the temporary, hand-me-down futon and switching to companionable chairs. Other pieces would need to go, too, but which? Every studio I walked into felt like someone had begun winding me up in binding cloth, some kind of walled girdle, and I could barely breathe. I ended up deciding to pay more for a small one-bedroom in an old building downtown with a great location and a view of a brick wall (but I love brick and it's south- and west-facing light, the best kind). Purely on cost, though, I wonder if I made the right decision to choose the one-bedroom over the studio, but I went with my gut on how I felt in each apartment—constricted versus open—even though they were in the same building on the same side. 

Here in Portland, I need two jobs right now to afford this luxury, but it's a price I'm willing to pay. As an introvert, it's hard for me to live with strangers—or rather, people at first strangers who become situational, passing-ship-in-the-night companions but who, at least for me, have never turned into lasting friends. It's hard to live with clashing expectations when there is no long-term interpersonal incentive to repair the cracks that inevitably appear between any two people. Everyone knows the perfect roommate is the one who's never home: the workaholic who, even when off work, spends half the time out or over at the boy/girlfriend's place. It's not that I wouldn't live with a partner again, but at the moment it's not an option. (And then sometimes I wonder, based on my own experiences, whether living together, married or not, is even beneficial for a romantic relationship. People are fickle.)

And yet as I begin the packing process, I am faced with the mountain of everything I own and how much work and time is involved in perpetually sorting through and moving it from one place to another, and so am having fleeting but recurring fantasies about how it would be to live in a tiny studio with a futon mattress as couch and bed on the bare floor, with a pile of library books on one side, a lamp on the floor, my laptop, a mug, a bowl, a spoon, clothes hanging in the closet—but nothing else: no furniture, no decorative objects, nothing to pack and move, nothing to dust, no objects to worry about taking care of, getting rid of, or upgrading. I've lived with people who have almost no furniture. They entertain on the floor, on their mattresses. They seem as happy as anyone else, maybe happier. Do I want to live without things?

I'm reading Oliver Burkeman's The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking. One of the things the formal Stoics suggest, he says, when contemplating a decision or facing a fear is to imagine the most probable realistic worst thing that could happen—turns out, the most likely worst-case scenario usually isn't nearly as intolerable as the horrific one first feared. Living without things? I could. Living without clean feet? I'd rather not.

bathed feet


tips for shopping neighborhood garage sales (Eastmoreland 2013)

28th Annual Eastmoreland Garage Sale map, marked

This was my third year attending the Annual Eastmoreland Neighborhood Garage Sale, Holy Grail of Portland yard sales for the sheer number of houses participating—over 130!—and the higher income-level of households (as indicated from real-estate values) and their more-upscale-than-average, trickle-down possessions. The first year, I found my beautiful white Heath Ceramics teapot for $1. Last year, Jeff and I went on Sunday because Saturday had been pouring rain but discovered that a lot of the houses only set up on Saturday (because who wants to give up both days of a weekend selling hand-me-downs when they don't technically need the money?), and the holdovers seemed shell-shocked from getting soaked the day before, so pickings were sparse. This year, Jeff was up in Seattle with friends at a pro-baseball game, so I went on Saturday both alone and car-less, which proved challenging but worth it.

vintage white, gold, and turquoise tile coffee table

I got to the sale at about 9:45 a.m. after a forty-five-minute, two-bus ride (for a 10-minute drive!), the sale having started at eight. The first house I came across right off the bus had a round, low-slung, mid-century tiled coffee table out front, white with brass legs and a turquoise-and-gold star-cross design in the center. The tag read $45. My eye never leaving the table, I asked the woman, Donna, if she had any maps, and we commiserated at the stinginess and secrecy of the neighborhood association with their maps. She said a friend of hers had some down on SE 31st Avenue. Then I got to the point: "That's a great table." She said it had been her mother's, that the legs unscrewed and you could either place them straight or at an angle. I asked if she'd take $30. She countered at $35. Sold! I knew if it didn't work for my own place, Jeff could easily resell it at his space at Hawthorne Vintage. We exchanged numbers and arranged that I'd pick it up Sunday or Monday. That table turned out to be the only mid-century-modern furniture piece I saw the whole day.

restored 1976 Airstream Caravanner for sale

large lambskin rug, 28th Annual Eastmoreland Garage Sale

I'll spare you the play-by-play, but by late morning I had found myself hefting around a four-pelt lambskin rug too big to fit in my bags. Everyone kept staring at the bulky sheepskin as I walked by, possibly in envy but more likely in pity because it was midday and too warm for a fur coat. Soon after coming across the lambskin, I snagged a gold-metallic, fake-leather pouf for just $1 and found my arms and bags neither wide nor big enough to tote the awkward, slipping load, even though so far I was only carrying three purchases—the sheepskin, the pouf, and a pair of curtains—none of them heavy. Fortunately, I had meandered over near a bus stop and decided to make a run home to unload and have a snack. Unfortunately, that meant I lost almost three hours of the sale because that particular bus line doesn't run often. At least I had a book and something to sit on.

By the time I got back to Eastmoreland at 3 p.m., there were only two hours left. The afternoon wasn't as fruitful as the morning, though I found a pair of shoes, a bit of silk yarn, and an entry-way wall organizer. Sellers were packing up early, so at five I walked up the hill for some groceries, since I had room in my bags. Overall, it was a tiring but productive day, even though I'd only covered maybe half the map.

Here's the breakdown:

$35.00    vintage tile coffee table (down from $45; retails between $300-400)
$20.00    New Zealand lambskin rug, like-new (down from $25; retails new from $200-600)
$  1.00    faux-leather pouf (down from $2; unsure of origin, maybe Target?)
$  2.00    pair of Pottery Barn cotton curtain panels (down from $4; retails new around $45 each)
      .50    partial skein of sari-silk yarn (full skein new retails around $10)
$  3.00    Hannah Anderson Swedish clogs (down from $5; retails new at $68)
$  3.00    Umbra cubby organizer, new-in-box (down from $5; retails new at $30)

Saturday was a beautiful, warm sunny day for the Eastmoreland Sale this year. Besides collecting a few furnishings for the new apartment I'll be moving into next month, I also got in hours of exercise and fresh air—the perfect multitask. On Sunday, the poor householders and shoppers in Eastmoreland got drenched (that's June in Portland, for you, fifty-fifty odds), while I stayed cozy and dry at home, checking tasks off my to-do list.

porta potties at Duniway School

If you've never been to an all-day neighborhood yard sale, here are some tips:
  1. Find a sale map as early as possible. For some strange reason, most of the Portland neighborhoods don't make their maps available digitally or ahead of the sale, which can make planning hard. (Seriously, PDX Neighborhood Associations: PDF downloads, please!)
  2. Circle the porta potties (aka honey buckets). Shopping with a full bladder can be dangerous.
  3. Bring hand sanitizer. Though modern portable toilets offer sanitizer dispensers, bring your own little bottle because you never know when you might pick up something sticky or dirty while shopping, true for all thrifting hunts.
  4. Take highlighters to trace your routes and mark places you might want to return to or pick up items you bought but don't want to carry around.
  5. Carry water, or plan to buy lemonade from children's stands. Dehydration headaches are never fun.
  6. Bring snacks, or else plan to eat hot dogs from someone's stand.
  7. Wear sunscreen and a brimmed hat, even on an overcast day. Nobody likes sunburn.
  8. Wear comfortable shoes. You'll be on your feet, moving, for hours.
  9. Stay home on rainy days. Even great deals are not worth getting wet and uncomfortable. But if rain doesn't bother you, wear a visored jacket or slicker rather than taking an umbrella since you'll be less likely to knock over or bump into things and people.
  10. Bargain, haggle, make an offer! Most Eastmoreland folks were pricing things rather high this year (I overheard a French-speaking trio saying the same thing) but sellers were ready to make a deal, even early on Saturday morning. However, nobody likes to be low-balled, so be fair. If it's a four-dollar item in good used condition, offer half, a ratio I found was usually accepted eagerly. If it's a never-used or higher-value item, maybe offer two-thirds of the asking price, and if you really want it, accept the counter-offer gleefully or else haggle further.
  11. Use your smartphone for pricing, directions, and pictures. If you're not sure of a fair secondhand price, take advantage of technology to look the item up on the spot. This was my first year with my own smartphone, and though I only looked up a price once at the sale (for the lambskin), it made the difference between wondering whether I was getting overcharged and knowing I was getting an amazing deal.
  12. Follow your gut. If you really like something and it's beautiful and useful, valuable to you, make the deal right then because if you wait, odds are it'll be snatched up by someone else (true of all secondhand shopping). Plus, if you do change your mind later, the item can always be resold.
  13. Buy only what you need and love for your own home and lifestyle, not just because something's a good deal. Otherwise, you'll end up with a garage or closets full of someone else's junk.
  14. Bring plenty of sturdy bags and, if on foot, a shopping cart. If in a vehicle, plan for plenty of hauling space. You never know when you might find that perfect furniture piece or hobby or sports item. Many sellers are perfectly willing to hold items you've purchased for subsequent pick-up later that day or the next, but confirm this before buying.  
  15. Travel light, especially if on foot without a car. If you come by vehicle, packing light becomes less of an issue but you'll still be doing a lot of walking and carrying back and forth to the car, as well as moving the car around the neighborhood. I didn't bring my big camera this year and just used my phone camera to save space and weight, though that also meant I didn't take as many photos. Consider the trade-offs when packing.
  16. Be open. As with other secondhand shopping, you never know what treasures you'll find.

This upcoming weekend is the annual Maywood Park Garage Sale that Jeff and I will be attending for the first time, Maywood Park being a cute little neighborhood in far-northeast Portland that incorporated itself years ago in a failed effort to prevent the 205 freeway from splitting up their burg. It's still a pretty, pine-filled neighborhood of century-old houses with safe streets and so a good place to raise kids. I have friends in Maywood Park doing just that, who are selling on Saturday. See you there!

(Edited to add: Sadly, we didn't end up attending the Maywood Park Sale this year; I was too busy getting ready to move. Next year, though!)


June afternoon

Portland Art Museum garden: three sculptures

Deborah Butterfield's Dance Horse, "bronze with pigmented patina," Portland Art Museum garden

beautiful, uncomfortable design classic: black Bertoia wire chair, Portland Art Museum Grounds Café

Portland Art Museum "P" Nutcase bike-helmet wall installation for Cyclepedia Exhibit

endangered Victorian (Morris Marks house) dwarfed by neighbors, SW 12th Avenue

well earned, post-apartment-hunting treats: new library books & garden raspberries

red geraniums home after a year at school


miss you already

Love-in-a-Mist, May 2012

This week, while running around downtown after work looking at pricey (for my budget), closet-sized apartments, I've been waxing a few drops nostalgic over the things about my current space I'll miss, mainly flora from the yard (though one of the many reasons I'm moving is to wriggle out of the contractual responsibility for yard maintenance, something in my opinion only trained, paid landscapers should do, not the average tenant who doesn't know a weed from a native plant). This top-floor flat is rather a nice spot during the few sunny months of summer—airy and open—but fairly miserable the rest of the year: cold, dark, and boxed-in (though much of that could also be said of the entirety of Portland and the whole west-of-the-Cascades region in this land of low-hanging clouds).

unknown garden flower, May 2013

self-seeded orange nasturtium

Being downtown on foot so much lately has also underlined just why I want to move across the river to the city center: errands without a car are quicker and easier—even in the rain—since everything's more densely sited: from my credit union to the Central library branch to Powell's (for last-minute gifts) to the TriMet office to grocery stores and pharmacies and stores upon stores, whether chained or local and independent.

gleaned hot-pink wild sweet peas

Moving out of inner Southeast to the west side of the river, I'll mainly be giving up a balcony and free flowers and berries. But this time, unlike the last, moving feels more sweet than bitter. So in the spirit of gratitude, here are a few things I will miss about living in this Brooklyn house:
  • the hot-pink sweet peas picked for free all summer down the street under the SE 9th Avenue overpass
  • the orange nasturtiums that reseeded themselves from last year
  • the raspberry canes transplanted a few years ago as starts from friends—and free handfuls of fruit each June
  • free strawberries, even if slug-holed
  • a garden that blooms with something new (and often, to me, unknown) most of the year
  • a balcony for informal meals on sunny days
  • the garage as photo backdrop
  • sunrise views

June raspberries, Portland, Oregon

daylily, June 2013

unknown garden flower, April 2013

Portland sunrise, April 2013

This, the last week of the school year, for two whole days instead of drilling kid-friendly sound-labels, sight words, and spelling (i.e., all the dusty dull stuff required for basic literacy), I sat in a green beanbag and read books to my students, modeling the kind of expressive reading I want one day for them, these children with severe reading difficulties, to achieve for themselves and their own kids. One of the books I pulled from the shelves was Eric Carle's House for Hermit Crab. Because the theme was relocation and the adventures that come with change, I settled in and read to a wild-haired first-grade student who, even after a year of intensive one-on-one work, still has trouble telling "b" and "d" apart. But really, I was reading the book for myself, just as on the bus I've been reading Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, a history of the mass emigration of black southerners north in the 1900's to escape Jim Crow—both, stories of places outgrown and gambles that life could be better elsewhere.

How could I be leaving all these lovely flowers for a bigger rent check on a studio whose kitchen may be not only closet-sized (as at present) but possibly in a closet? (Such places exist, both vintage and new, such as the $800 "microloft" in the Pearl District touting a microwave but no stove—maybe because the Pearl has so many restaurants?) Well, remember I'm an introvert and we need privacy, even if it means less physical space. Or maybe I can blame it on my restless gene pool or that I was born an astrological crab, forever torn between the safety of the rocks and the wide-crashing sea.*

Love-in-a-Mist, June 2013

*No, I don't believe in astrology.


fly away home

green leaves, blue sky

Last weekend, Jeff suggested I come to his softball game, not to watch (boring) but sit on a picnic blanket over in some corner and bask in the sun for a couple hours. It wasn't a bad idea, even though I had unfinished tasks on the to-do list and was babysitting a squirming bag of ladybugs that should have been home in the fridge.

Milwaukie farmers market ladybugs in paper bag

So I found a half-shaded spot under a tree and worked on a cotton-linen summer top, knitting round and round, and during breaks pulled out a book or lay down and closed my eyes, shifting the blanket and the beetles as the sun winked through the silk-dressed leaves, arcing west.

picnic-blanket knitting: Montauk blouse in progress

Amid the ambient noise of leaves rustling, aluminum bats clinking, and freight trains rumbling over beyond the highway, I stared up at the sky, my blanket mirroring the blues and greens above, feeling still and warm and content, feelings I've had little of the past near-year. I've known for months than something needed changing, but big changes can be hard and scary (and often expensive), the results unpredictable.

"Big Bag of Lady Bugs" (1500 beetles per bag)

This week I came across this print on someone's wall on a design blog, the essence of which is that happiness—whatever happy means, though we know when we're not—requires change: trying something new, doing things differently, flipping up the routine. While it's unsettling to have life turned upside down by someone else's decisions, when change is considered and chosen (or else embraced), rather than thrust upon us, it makes all the difference between feeling like a victim, rolling around like a billiard ball, or the hero of our own tale, leaving the safety of the village, facing dragons, following an inner quest.

farmers market ladybugs in plastic net bag

The tomato-red, polka-dotted beetles, cute muse of old nursery rhymes, having been bought and sold like little slave soldiers, were released half-frozen into the garden beds a couple nights later at dusk to lap up drops of water on sprinkler-soaked leaves and find a meal, maybe lay some eggs. But I haven't seen sign of any ladybugs in the garden since, maybe because their prey, the aphids, haven't hatched out in summer's full heat (it still being spring) to hide in tiny black dots under the nasturtium leaves while mimicking dirt spray. So the ladybugs flew away, all 1,500 of them. This turned about to be one of those ideas brilliant in theory—a last gift from me to the garden—but poorly executed. Yet as a symbol, an omen, it's perfect. Home isn't here at this house for me anymore—time to find another. Decision made, ball rolling, this time I'm the one taking the shot.


secondhand projectland

vintage framed latch-hooked sunset rug & garage projects

Once departed from the shores of pristine objects to sail the seas of used goods, one discovers that secondhand land abounds with projects. Because—let's face it—pre-owned furniture and décor has flaws: water spots, chipped veneer, dents, rips, broken or missing parts. These things, after all, have been used. They're old. Time isn't kind. (Ask any actress.)

You might have read the recent post about the Albini ottoman I did not find at the thrift store. Even at fair market price, my new-to-me designer cane footstool is missing some of its X-wraps around the horizontal pieces. But I choose to define that as character, rather than defect. As people age, physical flaws mount: crow's feet, varicose veins, spare tires, liver spots, male-pattern baldness. (Just look in the mirror.) So why should we expect anything less of vintage furnishings?

vintage Franco Albini ottoman with flaws (missing cross-wraps); upcycled pendant lamp

Of course, everyone has her own threshold for how many chips, nicks, stains, or dings can be tolerated in secondhand goods. Some people are fine living with major damage, while others can't stomach the barest scratch. Yet certain flaws in vintage pieces do need fixing for functionality or basic visual appeal. And so my friend Jeff has more projects stashed in my garage than he has time to work on, something Kurt at Sabi & Friends warned about before he got into the business—the dangers of stocking up on fix-its rather than ready-to-sell pieces. Yet there's something inherently satisfying about taking an object with a history and restoring or repurposing it into something that continues to function and give pleasure. So this post celebrates thrifty and chic DIY repurposing (not that I have time for it myself).

vintage gold-and-gray chevron-striped lamp with handles

:: DIY Hand-knit or Hand-sewn Pouf

Because poufs are, even if trendy, such multipurpose pieces for small spaces, functioning as footstools, end tables, and extra seating for guests, why not knit one? All you need is an old duvet for the stuffing (easy to find at Goodwill for around $20, even for goose down, and if stained, all the better), lots of thick yarn, rope, or twine, and broomstick-sized knitting needles. These textured poufs look especially chic in natural neutrals or bright colors like fuchsia, chartreuse, cobalt, or marigold. If you can knit (or teach yourself), this would save money and earn ego points over buying mass-produced.

Or if you sew, here are a couple make-it-yourself poufs for the machine: faux-Moroccan leather (linen) with contrast stitching or canvas with a touch of graphic paint.  

:: DIY Hand-knit Bath Mat

This thick, textural bathroom rug—the free pattern from Cocoknits—would be an easy and quick knitting project, if a bit hard on the hands, according to crafters on Ravelry. Old sheets cut or torn into strips become the yarn. This would be a perfect reuse for thrift-store or hand-me-down sheets (items I tend not to buy secondhand myself, considering all the things people do in bed). After scanning the Ravelry project pictures, I'd recommend skipping the fringe and choosing a medium neutral like bronze or gray or else a bright color, rather than prints or mix-and-match.

:: DIY Hanging Planters

Have some twine lying around? Short on table space? Hang up your plants! Gone are the days of thick, heavy macramé. Here's a site offering sleek, modern knotted-twine planter instructions, with similar examples available over at 3191 Miles Apart.

:: DIY Pendant Lamps

The pendant sitting on the ottoman above is a hand-thrown object of some kind (maybe originally a pendant?) that I found one day at Goodwill in the tchotchke aisle, envisioning it as a pendant. We found an IKEA light fixture the same day to fit inside but still need to figure out a way to secure the light to the pendant and hang it in a nonobtrusive way, a work-in-progress. But this modern pendant you can whip up at home from concrete and plastic soda bottles would give a similar effect.

:: DIY Latch-hook Art

While the framed latch-hooked sunset rug pictured above in blue, orange, yellow, and tan that Jeff and I found at the Teen Challenge Thrift store here in Portland is hip and groovy without being overly retro, you could, instead of brown owls or orange mushrooms, hook your own modern graphic print with thrifted or scrap yarns. (I'd choose wool over acrylic, myself.) See instructions here to get started. Or try hooking a painting using a free digital-image-to-pattern conversion. (It's up to you how kitschy you want to get.)

:: DIY Repurposed Coffee Table

Speaking of projects, the day of the Albini pouf, we did stop at a couple more free piles at the end of the day, and Jeff brought home a battered ammo trunk in need of a good scrub, deciding it would make someone a great coffee table and conversation piece with the addition of industrial casters and topped with a big piece of round bronze glass, which I just happen to have stored in my basement (long story).

Plus, the Albini ottoman had been priced as a set with a small, round glass tabletop I didn't want, which we'll repurpose as another table on top of—who knows?—maybe a free, polished cedar log or something else gleaned from a future free pile. (Long live Portland!)

Since nearly anything flat-topped can become a coffee table, try a big scrap piece of granite or marble on hairpin legs or an old crate or door on casters. Peruse Google images or Pinterest for ideas. Get creative. Be frugal. The old can be new again.

free-pile battered ammo trunk, Portland, Oregon

And while you're working on your next do-it-yourself home decorating project, you could even listen to podcast episodes of Destination DIY, an independent radio show locally produced here in Portland, Oregon. (I was actually present as a volunteer at the recording of the show about the Portland Fruit Tree Project.) Long live projects!

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