autumn reds

thrifted red rubber clogs in wet leaves

red vines with raindrops on green metal overpass rail

red maple leaf after a passing shower

red leaves and blue berries on white stone wall

climbing horizontal red vines on white stone wall

bare trees reflected on red car hood


cork liners

2 x 4 cork roll

I wish someone had told me about cork drawer liners a long time ago. Years ago (because Contact paper, like wallpaper, has never been my thing), I spent quite a chunk at the Container Store for a slew of reusable opaque plastic shelf liners I then had to cut up over time to fit different-sized cabinets in various apartments. Since then, grown increasingly distrustful of plastic, I sent the last of those liners to Goodwill during my last move.

This time, I used a brand-new roll of Williams-Sonoma cork picked up at Goodwill a while back for about half the retail price ($15 new per the tag, $8 at GW). At the time, I didn't need it but knew sooner than later I would (which is the tricky thing about thrifting, having to think ahead). But that cork roll ran out before I finished all the drawers and shelves. So I bought a couple new rolls—marketed as bulletin-board cork—on Amazon for about $11 per two-by-four-foot roll. (The current Williams-Sonoma cork roll being sold is narrower than the bulletin-board cork roll but much longer, so is actually the better deal. Oops.)

vintage thrifted Heath Ceramics mug collection on cork shelf liner

Cork is natural, sustainable, attractive, reusable, mildew-resistant, relatively inexpensive, absorptive, and easily trimmable to fit either drawers or shelves. I even put the scrap strips into my bathroom medicine cabinet. The downsides are that the thin sheets do tear easily (though are still functional) and can stain, though, like stored dishes themselves, the goal is to keep everything clean and dry. Still, cork makes the perfect drawer/shelf liner. (You're very welcome.)

secondhand Heath Ceramics, Homer Laughlin, & various handmade bowls on cork shelf liner


hanging a plant

DIY hanging pothos

I not only inherited my maternal great-grandmother's giant split-leaf philodendron years ago, but also for a housewarming gift asked my mother for a cutting off my deceased grandmother's pothos plant (not to be confused with a heart-leaf philodendron), the one she always kept atop her toilet tank. So it's fitting that this pothos start now has a place in my own bathroom, hanging off the end of the clawfoot tub. Since my great-grandmother has been dead for 25 years and my grandmother for 16, the fact that houseplants of theirs are still living and thriving I find rather amazing as well as nostalgic. Who knew common houseplants had such longevity?

Philodendrons and pothos (aka devil's ivy), of course, are some of the easiest houseplants to maintain: prolific, tolerant of low light, and hard to kill. Because my thumb's only a light green, durability and a degree of self-sufficiency are qualities I highly value in my leafy dependents. I water them when I think about it and keep them away from direct sun, and they're more or less content. Plus, they detox my air.

However, this poor start has been sitting in a canning jar filled with water for three-and-a-half months till I found the right pot. The plant has lost leaves and color, the new growth smaller, stunted, so I'm hoping it likes its new earthy digs.

hanging pothos

For this simple DIY project, I used this tutorial, modified to look more like these from 3191 with a color accent and a more streamlined shape. The pot is a hand-thrown planter found at Goodwill for $3, a bit small but fine for a couple of years. I liked the shape, glaze, and built-in saucer.

hanging pothos plant, secondhand pot

The hanger is cobbled together from a small key ring and a stainless S-hook from IKEA, both of which I had on hand, wrapped with a bit of thrifted hot-pink cotton crochet thread below the hanger and on the underside, which, granted, is a bit trendy but can be easily undone. 

hanging plant, top ring detail

hanging pothos, knot detail

Full-on macramé is too retro and visually heavy for me, so this look with the thin hemp, minimal knotting, and hot-pink accent color modernizes the hanging-plant concept and softens my stark-white bathroom. And with any luck, the hemp twine will hold and the pot not come crashing down on my head the first time I take a bath in the tub, which, admittedly, I have not yet done, bathing (as opposed to showering) being for me purely a winter sport.

hanging pothos underside with accent detail



book shadows on galvanized steel table

After finding myself in a hospital bed this week, I realized that, other than the monitors stuck to my chest and the IV needle poking out of my arm, it felt rather like being in a hotel—room service, maids, attendants, complimentary travel-sized soaps and lotions, and nothing to do. There's something wrong with one's life when a hospital stay feels like a vacation.

But after a day of monitoring and blood tests, they couldn't find anything wrong, other than the symptom itself indicating a cause or causes. But because of the tests, the symptom is now no longer seen as life-threatening, though the symptom is by default a marker for action, for concern. So to ease everyone's minds, more tests are ahead, a specialist waiting in the wings.

shadows on galvanized steel

I was told by a young Asian-American resident in California years ago: "There's a saying in my culture: You only get so many heartbeats." I seem to be using up mine rather quickly. Another doctor, a cute young dentist, told me just this August: "You're like a hummingbird," which is essentially saying the same thing.

Is my body overreacting to normal stressors, and if so, why? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Or is there an indirect physical cause, a malformation, something gone off track, strange and hidden in the pulsing dark? In the meantime, I have little orange pills to slow things down. I finally got a flu shot. And I've been advised to take an iron supplement (the one thing they found on the side because I don't eat bloody steaks or any other animal flesh) and meditate for five minutes, four times a day—something my handsome young East Indian-American doctor said everyone would benefit from.

doctor's notes torn from a paper examining-bed protector

The week has been sobering, a reminder of mortality, an acceptance that I have wasted, am wasting, so many days on jobs I don't enjoy, on people who aren't worthy, on tasks that don't fulfill. Tick, tock. So what am I going to do about it?


eating the elephant

refinished dining-table leg

It's embarrassing to admit, but over three months after the move, I still have two large boxes sitting around waiting to be unpacked; two pictures and a big mirror to hang; the hand-me-down purple futon in pieces in the main room, taking up precious floor space while up for sale on Craigslist; my boring-beige lateral HON filing cabinet rusting in pieces over in someone's garage until Jeff has the work space to sand, prime, and repaint it; the round mid-century dining table he beautifully refinished for me (topic for another post) lacking the chairs to make it functional for anything but laundry folding; and all the windows bare and missing the curtains stacked and waiting patiently in a closet.

Granted, it's taken time to get a feel for living in this space—where things would be most efficiently placed and stored. Certain projects were delayed from needing refinishing or else, like the curtain rods and cork rolls and scrap stone slabs, needed to be sourced and purchased, which all takes time and money. The first month or so, I unpacked a little each evening after work, but the remaining two boxes are purely my own fault: I procrastinate when I don't know how to handle something. Yet the whole decorating process has required decisions, my lifelong nemesis.

unhung thrifted bird print, top-left corner

unhung purple bird print via Goodwill

Do I want to remove the bottom base from the thrifted, mid-century Drexel secretary-hutch and put it on casters or keep it all original? (Don't get too envious: the piece was cheap but has irrevocable sun damage to the veneer, too deep to be sanded out.) And if I keep the top and bottom parts of the hutch together, rather than taking off the bottom cabinet and putting it up on hairpin legs for a TV stand as originally planned, where then would I put my two black file cabinets? (Answer: Keep the hutch original. Put the TV down low in the metro shelving. Put the black file cabinets on casters in the kitchen with butcher-block or stone scrap slabs on top for extra prep space.) Should I paint my beige HON lateral file cabinet high-gloss, sweet-pea fuchsia or compromise on polished tomato-red because hot pink is impossible to match without spending a fortune on car paint? (Answer: High-gloss tomato-red car paint, cheaper than hot pink but still dramatic and also less trendy.) Where should I buy the white Formica for the thrifted round mid-century dining table, which white, and do we try to take off the chipped original faux-wood Formica layer or glue the new one right on top? Those decisions have all been made, but they were just the bigger, more immediate ones.

The littler decisions have been like: Can I find eight same-size secondhand casters at the ReStore or Rebuilding Center or will I have to buy new ones or trawl eBay? Should I repot my two huge houseplants because their tall metal pots are about to rust out or wait since large pots are so expensive? Should I get new cheap clay planter-saucers at IKEA to replace the ones that broke in the move or try to thrift Italian-made ones? Do I separate the water-heater-stand coffee table into two pieces for greater flexibility or keep it together, though there's not really enough space to easily walk around it? Should I keep both or just one? Do I separate the metro shelving into two pieces and put the top half in the narrow bedroom closet for storage or keep the shelves tall to maximize vertical space? Where should each of the pictures and mirrors be hung for best effect and, more crucially, to reflect light into this dim apartment?

main room: thrifted glass vase on refinished, thrifted dining table

(Just how working women with kids and partners have time to think about this kind of stuff on top of their jobs, child rearing, and relationship maintenance is beyond me. I barely have the energy after work and on weekends to home-cook my own meals, scoop cat litter, and keep myself in clean underwear. The answer, from friends, is they have no time to themselves and barely sleep.)

The longer-term questions running through my head have been linked to budget. How am I going to find four Eames shell chairs that don't cost a month's rent? How long will I have to wait to get the globe light fixtures installed? Do I want a giant modernist white-glass ball in the main room or a sparkling, dangling crystal chandelier, and when will finances allow for either? When can I replace the hand-me-down purple futon with a vintage upholstered sofa (accomplished—topic for another post)? Bobo problems, right? Some chick amateurly obsessed with home design has time and funds to browse thrift stores and yard sales and buy low-end mid-century furniture a friend refinishes for her. And she can even afford grocery-store orchids. Boo-hoo, what a hard life.

fuchsia orchid

In my defense, I sound more bourgeois than my tax returns prove. What can I say except my taste exceeds my income? I'm a professional in theory, based on an advanced degree; in practice, I live just over the edge of poverty, which some days scares me stiff and most days has me reflecting on life's wrong turns. In the language of simple-living practitioners, I am choosing to spend extra income on secondhand home furnishings and clothing—nesting and display—rather than maintaining a car or typical suburban lifestyle. Other bobos or yuppies might instead choose to spend disposable income on concerts, gaming, dining out, wine tasting, offspring, or skiing. But really I should be focusing on making more money so I can creep away from the edge of the abyss, squirreling it away in preparation for the looming environmental apocalypse. But that's the future, my friends. At least I'll already have years of practice living (relatively, of course) like a poorish person.

Most of my summer was spent sitting here in the apartment among stacks of boxes, my head in decorator mode, looping, almost paralyzed by the amount of little decisions needing made. For two months, pictures and mirrors were leaning against the walls, some still wrapped in their green moving plastic. This year, there was no camping, bike riding, tennis playing, nada. The closest thing I got to a summer vacation was a couple of weekend days spent in lazy hours out on a picnic blanket at a park, reading a mindless mystery, sun-warm and in the moment. One summer wasted, I don't wish to miss a whole autumn, too.

So to face the beast head-on, this month demands a final unpacking push, the last of the picture hanging and those remaining two boxes, which first means wiping down the thrifted secretary-hutch with Murphy's Oil Soap and finally cleaning up after the Great Dough Tsunami of 2013.

Oh, I haven't told you about that one? Well, while making pizza dough back in August, I'd stupidly tried using the well method rather than a big bowl. (Jamie Oliver makes everything look so damn easy.) The yeast-sugar-oil-water mixture broke through the flour dam, waterfalling from the counter down into the few drawers I'd already painstakenly cleaned, lined, and filled. But somehow the whole-wheat dough still turned out fine, rising on the heat from the pilot light atop the gas heater. Jeff came over and we walked the short block to the grocery store, then came back and chopped up toppings, turning the oven on full blast while listening to jazz, and then watched a documentary on Easter Island. But, oh, how I hate cleaning up messes that can't fully be righted. Tiny flecks of bran will forever be lodged in the cracks of the drawers, despite hours of scrubbing. Down with the well method! Off with indecision!


mixed materials

vintage mirror reflection: decades-old split-leaf philodendron (inherited)

secondhand: vintage chocolate mohair velvet sofa, Kennebunk Weavers cream wool-mix throw, cotton-linen West Elm pillow

mid-century black ceramic horse (inherited)

white knobs on thrifted vintage Drexel secretary-hutch

woven baskets on metal wire shelving

handmade vase collection, thrifted

secondhand gold velvet chair

fuchsia orchid via Trader Joe's

turquoise thunderegg via Goodwill



thrifted wire plant-stand side table

I'm still only showing pieces of my apartment because a) there's only enough natural light right next to the windows, and b) things are nowhere near ready for a full tour. But it's far more ready than it was three months ago, so that's something. I was going to post this last Sunday but got distracted by zombies (Walking Dead, Season 3). Watching before bed the last bits of humanity hack-and-slashing the undead or failing and getting themselves eaten (to atone for mistakes and make their survivors feel miserably guilty) makes my workdays with children whose brains flip letters around backwards seem so much more manageable.

Anyway, I needed a side table for my reading chair, one that didn't take up much space. I'd been imagining vintage Lucite (clear acrylic) nesting tables, something along these lines, or else an antique marble-topped oval end table. But one day at Goodwill, I happened across this cream-colored wire plant stand and remembered a digital house tour of a studio I'd bookmarked on Apartment Therapy, whose owner had used narrow, round, leggy plant stands as end tables, side tables, and bedside tables, which was rather genius. So now, scrubbed clean, for a mere five dollars, this small side table sits beside my gold velvet chair at the main-room window, fitting perfectly and, with its two shelves, just big enough to hold a cup of tea and a pile of library books.

round wire plant-stand side table via Goodwill, $5

thrifted candleholders (aka Japanese sake cups)

An easier-to-thrift repurposing idea is using Japanese sake cups as tealight holders. For about a dollar each at Goodwill, these tiny glazed Japanese pots are cheaper and more interesting than your typical mass-produced candleholders.

dried lavender bundle

And what's a post without flowers? A few weeks ago at the PSU Farmers Market, I bought a large bundle of dried lavender, now standing on the shelf in my clothes closet and, with luck, helping keep moths away from wool and silk. (And now, back to the zombies . . .)

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