Ever cleaned out a walk-in closet, maybe part of that activity entailing sorting through a massive amount of papers very carefully, shredding some, recycling others, properly filing away every single one you needed to keep? Then afterward you re-organize your belongings in an efficient manner, perhaps adding a few pretty touches along the way? When you’re all done you leave to make yourself some tea, thinking you’d go on the computer a bit or watch a little TV? As you pass the closet again on the way to the sofa you eye the door. No, just leave it. Oh what the heck. You open it up and stand in the jam, just looking at the beautiful, orderly, spacious new closet. Just looking. Then you leave, and maybe an hour later go open the door just to look at it.
Ever done that? Heh heh, yeah, me too.
Sometimes I have a similar experience with décor, or items I’d found with a little luck. I thrift shop quite a lot, you see – that is to say a lot meaning a significant percentage of the shopping I do, as opposed to I do it all the time. For example, the curtains I purchased last year were brand new, but some frames I needed to replace ones destroyed in an earthquake, well, those came from a local Goodwill, which I’d noticed in the past tends usually to carry a very large stock of frames in all sizes and designs – plus they’re way less expensive than buying them new, and in very nice shape. There I also found a fantastic basket to hold my book-quality magazines and a lamp I intended for the office, but loved it so much decided it was too pretty for a mere office.
Anyway, so sometimes I find an item and can use it as is, or may need to transform it a bit. In either case, it’s not uncommon for me to stop as I walk by just to admire it. It might be because I worked it into a more lovely state of lovely, or it may have memories attached to its acquisition. With one item I am glancing at periodically as I type, it’s because an idea came to me for how to use something I’d gotten that didn’t really work for why I purchased it. I suppose there are other explanations; those are just a few. Whatever the reason, I stop to admire and it usually makes me feel happy.
I do have material interests and preferences, but this isn’t really about the material, even though that’s the kind of items we are discussing here. On occasion I have shared these thoughts with my teenage son (he has sometimes helped me with the items’ transformation), who made really nice conversation or asked thoughtful questions. A couple of times it gave him ideas about doing something himself. I was pretty impressed, considering he isn’t all that interested in this stuff, plus he is a teenager!
In a way, though, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised because some of these ideas, at least one I can think of off the top, I’m certain were influenced by a beautiful book I’ve borrowed from the library several times: Susan Ure’s 10-Minute Decorating: 176 Fabulous Shortcuts with Style. In it Ure shows many small but significant ways in which to revitalize areas or pieces, do small makeovers, liven up, make an area or room all yours. And isn’t that what it’s all about? When we come home from the big world out there, the place we come to is our retreat from the world, a space just for us: it holds and comforts us—at least it should—and the surroundings put us at ease because they are us. They reflect back to our eyes and minds who we are as they wrap us in their warm and welcoming embrace. To me that also speaks of relationships because so many of the material items I own came to me via connections to someone else. I suspect this is not really unusual.
And so I thought I’d briefly share a few items I’ve been eyeing lately, hoping it might make you feel a little happy too. And if I’m very lucky, something in here might pass on to you a bit of what Susan Ure’s ideas and eye for the lovely gifted to me. Some of them may relate to literature and history—perhaps more—which really begins to comb a bit deeper in our thought processes. And who knows where that might lead?
Last summer, my goal to do a wipe down of my windows and generally freshen up led to a wider expanse of cleaning and, in turn, decision to do a greater overhaul than I’d intended. I’d recently been reading Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life and, though I didn’t angle to start papering my walls and installing patterns on everything in sight, there was something influenced by the era stirring within me. I was slightly baffled by it because I’d never been that interested in this time as one to study or read about. Perhaps I only wanted something softer than the medieval I’d been targeting for quite some time and had been unable to really achieve (“go online” and “do second hand” not having yielded real results, given that shipping to Alaska is typically astronomical and the medieval thrift finds Lower 48 people so often gush over don’t really exist here).
I know I did want to set up a work table with a few pretty items on it as pictured in some other décor books I’d picked up along with Ure’s. Having examined them numerous times, I dragged my boy along for a few rounds of thrifting, looking “for something Victorian.” For a kid not into this project at all, he was fairly impressive (also managing to wheedle a few new glasses he liked out of the trips). He found the serving tray pictured above, which left me breathless at the scope of his eye. The pattern of it struck me as very Victorian, with its cherubic children, nature themes and poetic sentiments: “Far from thee be every care” read a message being delivered by a dove in one section. I imagined serving biscuits on it. Alas, we’d amassed a small hill of booty and I started to put a few items back. “Let’s not go overboard with our excitement,” I cautioned, once more bringing him into something he never volunteered for. His glasses I kept, the tray I put back. He insisted I get the tray while I feared I was diving into a novelty that would wear off all too quickly. He showed me how carefully constructed it was: “It’s duct tape? Still, it’s surely manufactured and not just a tray taped over by enthusiastic but unskilled hands.” I marveled at the diction he surely utilized to woo my decision and heeded his advice.
Today I’m super glad I did. When I purchase things, I try to do it with intent: that I will love the item as much a year or two or five years from then as I did the day I found it. I can accept not being in love with something anymore, so long as it isn’t a regret and that this sentiment or falling out of love doesn’t set in soon after I bring it home. As I look at it today I still feel the unselfish desire of a young boy to find something nice for his mom, and the joy I felt at having such a person in my life—that he is my own flesh and blood. I still occasionally wonder, as I did last year, who had it before, what motivated them to buy it and how did they use it? Did they love it? Was that love linked to the love they felt for another human being? How did it end up at the shop? These are the sort of questions I also often ask myself of items connecting me to other, unknown individuals.
I saw it sitting on a cluttered shelf, its empty vertebral shell beckoning to me for a ray of light. Straight away I thought of little tea candles I had at home, not knowing for sure if they would fit. Looking closer, I thought, “Do I really want this?” My mind went to Turtle, my precious boy with the nick name of his favorite animal, though that’s not why I call him that. He is sweet, kind, gentle, even mild. Certainly, he was definitely all boy: another pet name was El Gato because he so frequently fell from trees, tumbled down stairs, leapt haphazardly from tall playground equipment—you know how little boys are. Each time he landed on his feet. Yet from a very young age he took such great care of me.
I can remember once coming home from work with a raging headache: a student had thrown a pencil directly at me and in my recall I saw a slow-motion stick turning as it traveled through the air, eventually bouncing off my forehead, resulting in a sitcom-y sort of duh expression on my face. It hadn’t actually hurt, but the shock of a child acting in this manner and the stress of the day had taken its toll. My little one was too small to leave unsupervised while I took a greatly needed rest, so I asked him to lay at the end of my bed and maybe watch a DVD as I napped. Closing my eyes, I felt gorgeous little fingers caressing my face and hairline as I fell quickly into a delicious sleep.
Strangely enough, it struck me as akin to some of the weird pieces I’ve seen in pictures of Victorian mantlepieces—though their animals were usually much bigger than this mini masterpiece. And masterpiece it was! At home I marveled at the little critter, at his long, cunning front legs as compared to the back; at the precise lines drawn so perfectly-imperfectly into his marginal and costal shells. How his neck curves so gracefully! It was as if he was in the process of turning to look up at me. Dropping the tea candle into its place, I ran my fingers over his smooth surface. Metal clay, perhaps? I had to look it up; I didn’t actually know if there was such a thing. As it happens, there is, and I was delighted to find the creation process described here for a sea turtle not unlike my little guy.
Still he rests on a shelf not far from a green cousin brought back from Hawaii by one of Turtle’s friends, and another, smaller one, created by Turtle himself. Pictured here near some books, my critter and the others have since migrated to the top shelf of a taller case, where I pass by them many times each day. Each one has a splendid view of their environment and I of them, as I contemplate the biggest Turtle until he too will return home to claim his spot.