7.27.2014

tumbling bricks (the Jefferson West)

unsafe sign, SW 11th and Jefferson, Portland

It's easy to postpone thoughts of old age or death when only halfway there, just as it's easy to ignore the big red-and-white "unsafe" signs affixed to the empty building next door when a lease is signed. (After all, you still sometimes confuse the firefighters' red U with the Umbra logo.) Your apartment manager said the building next door had been empty for some time, so there would be no one peeping in, only a view of a private brick wall and a few windows across a wide air shaft.

It's easy to forget how the landowners of the world cannot abide physical spaces not producing income, that the world is made of invisible dollar signs. (Can you not see them floating in the air among the glittering dust motes and dry falling leaves?)


The Old Church, dwarfed (SW Portland)


Notice of Public Hearing: 11th & Jefferson Apartments (photo: April 30, 2014)


green chair, Jefferson West


room shadows, Jefferson West

Who but me cares about an old textured brick wall that glows salmon-pink in afternoon light, or the ferns growing from a crack in a windowsill—life willing itself along, blind to what's coming—or the pigeon family roosting in alley shelves aside a rusty air shaft, their morning coos, their evening shadows fluttering past, stirring my sleeping cat to stalk, tiger-like, the windowsill?


ferns in window brick, Jefferson West


pigeon at roost, Jefferson West alley

Who cares about debt-ridden students and middle-aged workers fallen on hard times between social cracks, whose already thin, oblique shafts of sunlight will be fully eclipsed by a shining fifteen-story LEED-certified apartment tower with all the usual amenities and gated underground parking? Why be cooled by a gentle breeze blowing through an open window sash when you can turn on the air conditioning or fan and send the electric meter spinning?


rusty air shaft, Jefferson West

Who cares that urban planning studies show people prefer more human scale buildings of three-to-six stories, as in Paris, France, or that the high-rise public housing projects of the 1960's failed infamously in large part for this reason? (But who reads these days, anyway?)

Who cares about local history like that of the Mural Room, a former post-war jazz club once swinging inside the Jefferson West, or that the building soon coming down like a ton of bricks next door to my sanctuary of this past year, was once the first campus of Reed College back in 1911 when the building was shiny and new and the tallest thing on the block? As this one block, my block, of downtown clearly shows, cities evolve and grow, but what Portland and the rest of the U.S. need right now if society cares at all about the working and middle classes is not more upscale apartment towers but affordable housing and better paying jobs in dense, walkable neighborhoods with excellent public transit amid retail, entertainment, parks, and services. (The current housing situation is similar to famines in which available food rots in developing countries because people lack the money to pay market rates.)


Mural Room entrance at Jefferson West

The Reed Institute building (aka the Jefferson West) could have been saved if Portlanders had had the will. The old Pendleton Building could have been saved. In some cultures, such buildings are worth saving, despite the costs of renovations and retrofitting to earthquake or other safety codes. Any developer can erect yet another generic glass apartment tower. Look at all the tall high-end condos in the Pearl and South Waterfront, many of which lie empty because too few people in job-desert Oregon can afford them, though the lower-end rental market tightens like a noose. (Who cares about poor people?) Just look at Nevada, where the Molasky Group is based, with its glut of new-construction single-family houses no one can afford and indistinguishable glass office towers whose windows never open. This is the future we Americans are building for ourselves?

What planners and designers and engineers and contractors cannot construct—only as the fake of Disneyland, the faux of Hollywood—are multifaceted, complex, priceless qualities like character, charm, and history—changing aesthetics layered onto well worn edges, those cultural meanings and stamps of time and use that can only be preserved and guarded by way of the past—saved and then exalted and carried into the future. Older buildings (and everything else) also tend to be made better, with more hand-crafting from higher quality materials. All this is why photographers often shoot their best work in places like Morocco in the developing world, in ancient places, or cities like Rome, the living juxtaposition of old and new.

But Americans have a short past and thus a practical disregard for history, despite the popularity of TV shows like American Pickers, preferring to tear things down and build everything up again from scratch in the Cult of New. And so, since America still sits precariously atop its Empire, the world's resources, its trees and mountains and aquifers and air, are all being used up like so many paper plates, all the oxygen-exhaling trees minced into toothpicks, the grand, irreplaceable mountains melted down into computer parts and sliced up into upgradeable kitchen counters, the very water we drink and air we breathe turned into carbon garbage dumps—a disposable world, though the only one we have. We act as if there will always be enough, as if the earth can replenish itself in the lifetime of one biological species.


pigeon on roof, Jefferson West

Yes, the unknowing pigeons I watch each morning, once disturbed, will leave for some new nest the day the earthmovers arrive, as will many of my neighbors, perhaps even myself. Yet how much is lost when all the old bricks come tumbling down—and at what price?

7.26.2014

Overlook Neighborhood Yard Sale 2014

lavender in rusty wheelbarrow, Overlook Bluff, Portland

The Overlook Neighborhood Yard Sale, held on Saturday the 19th, was the most casual, laid-back Portland neighborhood sale I've attended yet, so casual it barely seemed organized, though maybe that was the intent. Without a sale map—and even with the map—it was hard to spot most of the yard sales, tucked back into their driveways with few, if any, signs. Plus, it was a hot day, so nobody seemed to care much whether they sold anything or not, too busy chatting with their neighbors or sitting in the shade, trying not to melt. Maybe they were just waiting to put everything out onto the curb for the Free Share on Sunday. I realized, scrolling through my photos after, that I hadn't even taken any pictures of the actual sale yards—too busy playing neighborhood tourist. Oops. But I enjoyed this sale, at least the first few hours of it.


giant all-white house, Overlook neighborhood, Portland

My thrifting pal Jeff and I met up near Overlook Park and wound our way north on foot. The houses were well kept, some even posh, leaving me feeling like I'd discovered a secret Portland neighborhood nobody's ever heard of: Wow, and some of these people even have crazy-good views! One of the yard sales specifically supported the Friends of Overlook Bluff drive to save the last remaining section of riverfront white-oak savannah from development and instead gently nudge it along into a native-species park with natural habitat trails. Save the Overlook Bluff! One friendly supporter ranted about the evils of apartment complexes. I said apartments certainly had a place in cities, just not on the bluff. She eyed me askance. I imagined her very easily starting a petition to Ban All Apartments! Ah, the perpetual battle between single-family home owners versus apartment-complex developers: no one wants a blocked view or riffraff like me living next door.


Save Overlook Bluff sign, Portland, Oregon


Swan Island, Portland

After we'd gotten about halfway through the sales, we found ourselves cut off by some kind of expressway, which turned out to be Going Street. Though I'd lived for a couple years in inner Northeast Portland up on Alberta Avenue where gunshots still rang out on hot, restless summer Sunday evenings even post-gentrification, only last weekend did I learn that Going Street becomes another type of street altogether west of Interstate Avenue—no more walkable north-south grid—meaning if headed west on Going from Interstate, you'll only be going to Swan Island, for Going bisects the Overlook neighborhood almost like a knifed freeway. White money sits well tended south of Going near the Bluff overlooking downtown, while shades of poverty and color are increasingly visible further north. All the poor folk haven't yet been gentrified out of Overlook, though the apartment complexes are mostly all up near Killingsworth and alongside Interstate. These are the kinds of urban facts you can learn firsthand from garage-saleing: exactly where the money is and where it isn't. In other words, most of the good yard sales were found south of Going.


DIY street sign, Overlook Neighborhood, Portland


Adidas Village sign, Overlook, Portland, Oregon

Who knew before last weekend that Adidas had seated its North American headquarters on the Overlook Bluff? Not me.

Another interesting part of north Portland compared to most of south and east Portland are the many alleyways tucked back as unfinished streets behind houses and between minor streets. We walked along one dusty, gravelly alley atop broken blacktop and past rusty old cars and detached garages, plucking a few early tart blackberries from trailing vines.


purple hibiscus, Overlook Neighborhood, Portland

Reseller Jeff scored big at Overlook, even more than usual, spending only $17 and hauling home a trailer full of furniture and other stuff, including a free working gas barbecue grill; a box of green plastic army men ($1); two free 1960's candles, a dented turtle and an owl; four different free vintage chairs (three wood, plus one stripey-webbed aluminum lawn chair in perfect condition), a folding aluminum-and-wood-slat bench ($2), a mid-century teak-and-beat-up-leather armchair ($5), a Deco dresser ($7); and a pile of free lumber. If he'd had a spare $250, he also could have snagged a pristine 1950's custom-made, extra-long vintage sofa. Granted, most of the furniture he found needs fixing and refinishing: a couple of the chairs cry for wood glue and a good cleaning and oiling, and the bench requires a new screw and some sanding and staining. But that's the nature of vintage resale at these prices.


vintage red telephone box, Overlook, Portland

I myself spent only $3.50 at the Overlook Sale. A fraction of that was spent on two books, one being a first-edition hardcover short-story collection. Nobody except Powell's knows how to price books these days. I saw hardcovers at different sales selling for $2, $1, and even 25 cents. So guess which house I bought books at? That's right, at the twenty-five-cent bookstore—a whole table of books for twenty-five cents each. And that was the same house that offered U-pick peaches: "If you can reach it, you can pick it." The motto of that crowded sale, which seemed to be run by a group of lesbian friends pooling the work and proceeds, seemed to be: Life is about sharing and having fun. Not a bad motto (and awfully good marketing).


Little Free Library, Overlook Neighborhood, Portland

The other three dollars means I am now the proud owner of a vintage Rival Crock-Pot with removable server crock that I'll use to cook beans and soups overnight or while at work. Though I see Crock-Pots all the time at Goodwill, this one caught my eye because the design lacks the ubiquitous 1970's line drawings of onions and mushrooms and isn't avocado green. Ever since I switched from a traditional blender to an immersion blender, puréed soups like butternut are even faster to prepare, while regular soups are just plain throw-it-in-the-pot-and-leave-it easy. Theoretically, the slow-cooker takes less energy than an electric stove (mine's currently gas), but the real savings will be in time. And if I never end up using it, I'll just resell it to someone who will.


(not yet cleaned) vintage Rival Crock-Pot, Overlook Yard Sale map


Fremont Bridge, Portland, Oregon

By the time four o'clock rolled around, I was hot, tired, and cranky while Jeff was loading up his trailer. We used the restrooms and refilled our water bottles over at Kaiser Permanente on the other side of Interstate (free bathroom tip alert!) and then headed full-circle back to Overlook Park for a picnic dinner, though I'd forgotten to bring a blanket. We ate finger foods on the grassy, sun-dappled hill, one eye on the trailer, little bugs and spiders whispering over our legs and arms, watching the families down below playing in the park, a woman tickling her shaggy dog, carpenters at a nearby house sharing a beer after work, a two-generation family barbecuing on their deck in full view, while the sun eased down through the trees.

7.20.2014

private birthday party at Oswald West State Park

evening surf at Short Sands Beach, Oswald West State Park

Last week was my birthday week in a hothouse month. Notoriously picky, I learned somewhere along the way, after many annual disappointments, that if I wanted a great birthday, I must give it to myself: the right gifts, agreeable company, carefully chosen meals, the best cake-and-ice-cream combination. Life can be stressful, so why not make this one day a secret (or not-so-secret) extra-special day? Other people can disappoint. A friend might forget or be too busy to make time. A partner or family member might buy the wrong thing, even after weeks or months of dropped hints. Only you know what you really want. And that can depend: some years we might want to throw a big party, while other years we might want to be left completely alone. Plus, it's nobody else's job to make us happy, right?

Since I've always loved putting care packages together for friends far away, picking out little luxuries to make them smile, why not do the same for myself? Another benefit is that this stretches one's birthday out longer than a mere day. And since anticipation is much of the fun, this adds weeks to a birthday-fun quota.


pink wildflowers at Short Sands Beach
 
In the weeks leading up to the big day, I'd been buying myself a few gifts here and there to that end: a new pen, a new Moleskine day planner (using Powell's store credit), a few classic writing reference books (two of three being secondhand), two cans of spray paint for the Thonet chair, and the biggest splurge: the Caroline Z. Hurley "Jules" linen throw I'd been wanting for months (via Urban Outfitters for free shipping). The night before, I picked up a small chocolate cake and a bunch of blush-colored roses at Trader Joe's. And most importantly, I arranged for the day off work (unpaid), asking my friend Jeff, who's self-employed, if we could spend the day at the beach. And we did.


stained sea cliff, Short Sands Beach, Oswald West State Park

Though I'm familiar with Cannon Beach and love the hidden, less touristy beach in Manzanita, those spots being more or less straight shots to the coast from Portland, I'd never been to Oswald West State Park, sandwiched between them along Highway 101. Since one of my favorite artists with excellent taste, Stephanie Congdon Barnes of 3191 Miles Apart, had mentioned Oswald West years ago on her blog as a place her family liked to camp at, it had long been on my to-see list. (Sadly, the park no longer allows camping after a large tree fell in 2008.) Unlike the long arm of beach at Manzanita, Short Sands Beach nestles inside a cove popular with surfers. Most of the visitors were in fact surfers, toting boards and backpacks full of wetsuits, though some were like Jeff and me: family or friends just out for a weekday at the beach.

And what a day! We walked down the short, easy trail under the highway and along a bubbling creek to the beach, picked out a spot on the sand about halfway down the beach and whipped out the picnic blanket, anchoring it on all sides with sea-rounded rocks. The morning was overcast, even nippy, so I was glad I'd brought a long cardigan. But the cove grants quite a bit of sheltered wind protection, so at least we didn't get as windblown as on most Oregon beaches. And though we wore hats, we both got a little burnt on our lower legs and feet scrambling like monkeys over the south-side rocks and tide pools before we even thought to pull out the sunscreen. The midday tide pools were full of anemones, tiny hermit crabs, little fishes, barnacles, mussels. There was even a narrow sea cave slit into the cliffside.


seaweed on rocks, Short Sands Beach, Oswald West State Park


rock-carved initials, Short Sands Beach


kelp in tide pool


driftwood whorls


wormholes in driftwood

The afternoon, though, grew hot. Cloud banks rolled in like waves, threatening to pull the shades on the sun but kept burning off right over the beach, as if by magic. We alternated between people-watching on the blanket, jumping up and taking a stroll down the beach in bare feet, snacking on dilled Havarti and caraway crackers, dozing on our stomachs, cooling our feet off in the chilled surf, and reading paperbacks. (I'd packed a copy of an old Agatha Christie mystery checked out from the library just for the occasion—my kind of summer-trash reading.) Late in the afternoon, we picnicked on homemade hummus, pita, Greek olives, sheep's-milk feta, and cucumber, tomato, baby sweet peppers, and carrots for dipping, with cherries for dessert. Somehow I didn't take any photos while we were on the blanket. Maybe I was sun-dazed, hypnotized by waves. Or I was just . . . happy. (I did think about snapping a picture of my toes on the purple-striped blanket against the sand, but nobody wants to see toes.)


driftwood dragon


visitors at Short Sands Beach, Oswald West State Park

Then in the early evening, though I wanted to stay on the warm sand forever, we packed up, stored everything back at the car, and returned for a walk along the mostly flat trails in the preserved old-growth temperate rainforest of the park. We saw a woodpecker and giant banana slugs and salmonberries and walked along a babbling brook and over a bouncy suspension bridge.


early thimbleberries at Oswald West

Reluctantly, as the sun dropped behind us, we drove back on Highway 26 to Portland, commenting on the many sad, bitten clear-cuts and replants in the coastal forests, the quiet small farms, the brightening and clearing of the sky from gray to blue as we headed east. Back at my place downtown, we ate chocolate cake with coffee Häagen-Dazs and played Gin Rummy till midnight with candles and French jazz.


backlit tree, Oswald West State Park

It was the loveliest day—let alone birthday—I've had in a long, long time: a perfect day. I felt alive. And Oswald West State Park is now my favorite spot on the Oregon coast. Can you believe all this is still available for free? (Thank you, Jeffrey, and thank you posthumously, Governor West, for saving Oregon's public beaches.)


What would your perfect birthday look and feel like?

7.19.2014

rescued Thonet No. 18 chair

black-painted vintage Thonet No. 18 chair

My friend Jeff and I spent a good chunk of last Saturday fixing up a chair—a vintage Thonet No. 18 bentwood café chair, beat-up but salvageable. This chair I had actually gotten for free from William Temple a few months ago (long story, mostly irrelevant, possibly karmic: lent Jeff some money to buy some furniture for resale, got a store discount, ended up with a free Thonet chair, not this antique peacock-patterned one we'd seen weeks earlier). The lines of the classic Thonet design were lovely, even if the feet were all chewed up, the frame splattered with yellow-and-red paint, and a chunk gouged out of the back.


vintage Thonet No. 18 chair with paint splatters and gouges

Free Thonet is always a good deal, even when needing work, since the design and engineering of the No. 18 chair have stood the test of time since 1876. Plus, the original finish was so far gone, I felt only a touch of guilt painting over it rather than restoring the wood. (Yes, the yellow-and-red paint splatters were cool in a bohemian-artist way, but the chair legs looked like a pack of dogs had been gnawing on them.)


Thonet chair leg, original condition


vintage Thonet No. 18 chair, front view

Years ago, I had spray-painted glossy black a large chunky bamboo-framed mirror picked up at a discount store, which became one of my favorite pieces, now hanging in my entryway and still looking suave. I envisioned the same finish for this Thonet chair, juxtaposed against the round white-Formica-topped mid-century dining table Jeff refinished for me last summer.* Since I already have a lot of brown furniture—teak wood as well as the chocolate mohair velvet sofa—the touch of black would provide contrast. These café chairs also take up little space compared to the average dining chair, both physically and visually.


vintage Thonet No. 18 chair, back view


vintage Thonet No. 18 chair

Jeff lightly hand sanded the bentwood edges, patched up a couple of gouges with Bondo, replaced a missing screw, dripped glue into a wood fray on the seat rim, taped over the Czechoslovakia mark on the underside (which I wanted preserved), and then carefully sprayed the chair in layers, the wood so dry it drank up two whole cans ($12) of Krylon high-gloss paint with built-in primer. (All I did was watch and direct.) The next day, he brought the chair over to my place, where it sits in honor, waiting for a companion. This chair design is so classic, minimal, and beautiful, it's like living with a work of art—which is how furniture should be. Plus, now the chewed up feet aren't even noticeable.

While high-gloss black paint does showcase surface imperfections, it simultaneously adds chic to a room. Somebody famous in the design world (okay, Jan Showers) once said, "Every room needs a touch of black," something I've long adhered to intuitively. Black adds sophistication, mystery, and glamor—especially rich-looking when paired with wood and used with restraint. (Too much black and the place ends up looking like a bachelor pad.)


vintage black Thonet No. 18 cafe chair

And so I only have one dining chair so far, but it's a start. Better to have one chair I love than four—or forty!—I hate.


*It pays to befriend a furniture refinisher. Do check out Jeff's shop space (A6) at Hawthorne Vintage if you're in town and seeking mid-century modern design. He's a big blond Swedish type who enjoys rescuing sad MCM cast-offs, sanding out all the dings and water marks and making everything fresh again.

7.15.2014

bed of roses

blush rose petals

At the grocery store after work, halfway home, I spotted a lone bunch of blush-pink roses. They looked a little sepia around the edges, which was a bad sign, but I bought them anyway—they were my favorite shade and only five dollars. It was a justified splurge.

Two MAX trains were broken down on the way into the city, perhaps because of the heat, so I got off near the riverfront and walked the rest of the way home, carrying two bags of groceries and trailing a few rose petals behind like breadcrumbs. I kept marching and sweating and when home, I set the flowers down on the kitchen counter, filled a vase with cool water, and snipped off the bottoms of all the stems on the diagonal. But when I picked up the first stem, it was missing all its petals, and the same with the next, and the next. Only three of the rosebuds were still attached to their stem. The rest of the petals—the ones that hadn't found themselves sizzling on the sidewalk—were lying in clumps on their plastic wrapper.

I could have cursed. I could have laughed. I could have cried. It was hot. I was tired and hungry. But instead I gathered up all the petals in both hands and carried them to my bed, strewing the sheets with pretty petals. Why not? So tonight I will sleep naked in a bed of roses.


rose petals on sheets

(These are the things one can do when living alone, and the reason such people often grow eccentric.)

7.13.2014

Heath shaker as bud vase


black Heath Ceramics bud shaker, back

The first and best trick of decorating is to use what you already have. The key is to swap the location or context. This is what designers like Lauri Ward have built careers around: helping people rework and tweak things they already own.

In that vein, I've long wanted a Heath Ceramics vase to add to my Heath collection, but the vases are hard to find secondhand and pricey even if vintage. I was staring at some photos of somebody else's Heath vase collection online this weekend and realized that, duh, I already own a Heath vase: it's the Heath pepper shaker I never use—because I prefer freshly ground pepper from my Perfex. (My pair of glossy black Heath salt and pepper shakers were found secondhand on eBay several years ago.) The Heath bud vase and salt-and-pepper shakers are the same thing, only the shakers have four little holes added in a row at the base of one side of the neck. If the cork is popped off and the holes are moved to the back side, who can tell the difference?


black Heath Ceramics bud shaker, front

Now I, too, have a Heath vase. Shhh. (It's better this way than the pepper shaker sitting all alone and empty in the cupboard.)

7.12.2014

steam curls

Caruso Molecular Steam Setter, Model C97953

My latest unnecessary but useful brand-new purchase is the Caruso Molecular Steam Setter—basically hair rollers done with steam heat instead of dry heat. Think about the difference between how your skin feels after a sauna compared to a week-long camping trip in the desert—it's the same principle for hair. I owned one of these steamer units back in the mid-1990's, though it was bigger and pinker and required a dash of salt, but gave it to Goodwill during one of many regular household culls, after it had been sitting for several years in a cupboard unused. As an American steeped in cultural notions of linear progress, I tend to forget that life is cyclical. Epochs and eras recur even in our own short three score and ten.

Both periods of curler use have been when my naturally straight, medium-fine hair was shoulder-length and in the process of growing out. This last winter, the stylist I'd been going to ever since moving to Portland suddenly decided I'd had my hair long for too many years or else had gotten too old to wear it long, or whatever, and so she whacked it off after I'd said offhandedly, while sitting black-caped in the pneumatic chair: "Sometimes I think about cutting it off, but I always regret it," which she took as permission for artistic license while missing the point. I've myself been steaming ever since. I went back to her after a couple of months to add some layers—and did communicate politely that I hadn't liked the cut and didn't want my hair that short—but after receiving two unflattering cuts in a row, I figure it's time she and I broke up.

Some women look great with short hair, usually those with curly or wavy hair and small, well shaped heads—people like Halle Berry. But when I've had my hair boy-short (which I tried a couple times in my twenties), it tends to poke straight out like a bristle brush, rather than lying flat to the head as wavy-to-curly hair does. So short hair is not a good look for me. Bobbed styles are okay, but I associate them with children whose mothers have grown tired of detangling sessions and older women who don't want to look like permed poodles. The nice thing about longish hair, even if it's more work, is that you can do different things with it—up, down, curled, straight, tailed, braided, twisted, and so on.

So after months of hating my hair, it's now tolerable again because the steam setter gives it curl on the first day and some bouncy body for the next couple, before it needs to be washed and set all over again.

The most important thing to know about using a steam setter is that the hair must be fully dry beforehand or the curls won't take. For the last couple years, I've been avoiding my hair dryer for reasons of time and energy economy and to save wear on my hair follicles. So if I washed my hair at night, I could probably set it in the morning, but usually I go to work with it wet and then set it the following morning. (Or you can just use a hair dryer first.)


Caruso Molecular Steam Setter, Model C97953
 
The steam is tooting along within a couple minutes after the unit is plugged in, but it takes about 20 minutes to roll my hair up, depending on how big the selected rollers. Smaller ones hold less hair and take more time to roll but create more curl. Bigger rollers lead to a more tousled natural look but don't last as long. And once you decide on your preferred roller size(s)—small, medium, large, or jumbo—you can buy additional rollers in that size, as needed. I start at the bottom of my head and work up, in sections. On workdays, I'll roll my hair right after I wake up, then eat breakfast, take a quick neck-down shower, splash my face, apply sunscreen and eye makeup, brush my teeth, and then unroll the curlers, fingering out the curls just as I'm dashing out the door.

Caruso also makes a newer ion steam hair setter, with some Amazon reviewers saying the ion-model curls last longer than the regular-model curls, but the ion model makes an annoying clicking sound. So I chose the quiet, regular-steam model. I do wish I'd never gotten rid of my old pink steam setter, though, since curls via the defunct salt version lasted much longer than the curls with the newer non-salt version—two or three days longer, if I remember correctly. And when I gave it away, it still worked perfectly.

7.07.2014

field trip: Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie, OR

Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie, Oregon
 
If you've never heard of it, Teen Challenge (hereafter abbreviated as TC) down in Milwaukie on SE McLoughlin is one of the best thrift stores in Portland for furniture and household goods. I don't get down that way too often, but whenever I go, treasure awaits.

TC is especially good for vintage and antique furniture like dressers and mirrors, as well as handmade pottery.  My huge, so-bad-it's-good vintage herringbone-patterned pottery lamp I'm using as a floor lamp was found there. (And that's a lot of lamp for five dollars.) The other giant brass lamp in my main room (also on the floor) is from TC as well; Jeff found that one for me this winter while I was at work, texted me a picture, and I replied, "Yes, please!" (It pays to have your own personal shopper.) And my borrowed mid-century Lane dresser on loan from Jeff was also bought there, a real deal because he only had to refinish the top. He also once found a huge round vintage beveled mirror there for just $15, after waiting till it went on sale. (Sometimes that gamble works, and sometimes it doesn't.)


Milwaukie Teen Challenge sofas and books


sea sponges, Teen Challenge Thrift

While furniture and pottery are the go-to items, keep an eye out for other things, too. Saturday I picked up a couple of handmade vases, one of which is now housing my cat's wheatgrass to showcased effect on the main-room windowsill; a small bag of natural sea sponges; and a signed silver cuff bracelet for layering (because three bracelets are better than one).


pair of vintage brass Stiffel table lamps with original shades, Teen Challenge Thrift Store

But the big score of the day was a large pair of vintage brass Stiffel lamps, original shades intact, from a high-end U.S. company that once made brass lamps out of former casts for WWII military parts (bolts). Modern Stiffel lamps are still made in the U.S.—almost unheard of these days—though the company did have fiscal troubles in 2000 and relocated from Chicago to New Jersey. Vintage Stiffel lamps, compared to knockoffs, are heavy and solid and worth pretty much whatever a thrift store or secondhand dealer is asking, though the styles tend to be traditional. (I just happen to like well made eclectic decor: a mix of different styles and periods.) We were lucky these happened to be 30% off that day. But I already have a treasured black-shaded brass Stiffel lamp in my bedroom, found at William Temple, and so don't really need a third brass lamp—since too much of a good thing equals an uncreative thing. Plus, they really should be kept as a pair, and I'm not into matching sets. So Jeff's keeping the new (old) pair for himself, which will make for a striking bedroom set.


Stiffel logo on vintage lamp


dishes aisle, Milwaukie Teen Challenge


wooden spoons and plastic utensils, Teen Challenge Thrift Store


Ann Sacks tile, Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie

We also saw three boxes of designer-label Ann Sacks tile for cheap, a fantastic find for anyone in the market for tile, which we weren't.


MLF license plates, Teen Challenge, Milwaukie, Oregon

The funniest find of the day was a pair of "MLF" license plates that Jeff snagged. The guy up front even gave him a discount unasked, saying the price seemed high (!). (How often does that ever happen?!)


Milwaukie Teen Challenge clothing aisles

Clothing, however, is not TC's strength—probably because whoever is donating all that cool vintage furniture and pottery is, by now, old and wearing embroidered poly-cotton blouses and comfort pants with elastic waistbands. But I did once find at TC a like-new army-green Ralph Lauren linen tunic, now a wardrobe staple, for just a few dollars.

For the record, Teen Challenge used to be up over on NE Sandy before moving down to Milwaukie, presumably for lower rent and more space. I'd gone in there a couple times. But at the old location, the goods overall seemed shoddier (like, clothes with holes) and the store dingier. So the move was a good decision, the new space lighter and brighter. They also have other TC Northwest stores across Oregon, Montana, and Washington.

Admittedly, TC is one of those thrift stores that pipes easily forgettable Christian music into the aisles, but it all seems for a good cause—helping former addicts get clean and turn their lives around, even if via Jesus. The salesmen (and yes, they're all men) are friendly and helpful: we were reminded of the 30%-off sale yesterday at least five times while shopping, as if we hadn't noticed all the big signs.

TC often holds store-wide sales from 30-50% off, depending on inventory levels. And those sales are the key to great deals, so it pays to be patient. Milwaukie isn't a high-hipster-traffic part of town, anyway, even if McLoughlin is a busy street. Saturdays are likely days for sales. Sundays, though—for good Christians and the rest of us heathens—are closed.


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