Endless Antiquing, or Can’t We Stop at a TJ Maxx for Just One Minute? Please?

In a bitter irony, a recent freelance-writing assignment for a magazine I’d never worked with before was something that’s caused me much aggravation in the past many decades: shopping in local antiques stores. My unease about antiquing began early. My mom was (and still is, but more on that in a minute) an enthusiastic collector of linens and glassware. Of course, it can’t be a coincidence that her mother also amassed extension collections of … linens and glassware. One of the rituals of our yearly summer visits to my mother’s native Illinois was sitting in my grandmother’s dining room as she pulled goblets, plates and bowls out of her two corner hutches and she and my mother discussed marks and patterns and auction prices and my 10-year-old self wondered when we could go swimming and/or get some ice cream. But my mom did plenty of antiquing on her own. Most family vacations — always car trips for us — involved detours through towns where she would promise my dad she’d only be in the shop for a few minutes and HOURS later we had added carefully wrapped breakables to the precariously full trunk. At least, it seemed like HOURS. No complaining from me, though. As long as I had a book — and I almost always did — I was content. Luckily, by the time I was old enough to opt out of enforced antiquing, my younger brother stepped in. Apparently the antiquing gene in our family skips siblings instead of generations, and he happily went along with Mom to add to his collections of advertising and sports memorabilia. That is, he was a co-antiquer until he reached the age, as we all do, when shopping with your mom just isn’t cool. And so it was my turn, again. And occasionally still is, although my brother still is a willing partner now that he’s progressed to the narrow collecting niche of hotel and train espresso cups. Now, just so you understand, I love spending time with my mom. I admire her depth of knowledge and her skill at negotiating as well as her physical toughness. (Standing at auctions in 95-degree heat and lugging around heavy boxes of fragile treasures is not, literally, for the faint of heart.) I love shopping (I’m known by name in every TJ Maxx in a three-state area). I even really do like antique shops. I really do. But here’s the thing: I go in, I look around and then I leave. Total time spent never is more than a half-hour. In that half-hour, my mother barely has progressed beyond the front door. It’s not just her, either. I have friends who go to auctions and antique shops and do the exact same thing. In my head I’m saying “People! Must we spend 20 minutes examining one hand-painted footed china meat platter? There’s probably one just like it next door. Besides, Belk is having a 50-percent-off shoe sale. So why are we standing here breathing dust??? Let’s move!” But in real life, I smile and nod and say, “Oh, yes. I believe $75 for a Limoges platter is a fair price.” Because I’m a wimp and I love my mother and my friends and if they want to spend ALL DAY in search of a pink American Sweetheart pitcher, then I’m all in. At least, with my iPad along, I’m still never without a book.

Next post: More from the antiques trail.

Life of Setting Cool Tables

Creative folks amaze me. I mean, how can they come up with ideas out of nowhere that just knock you over with adorableness? My creativity is limited to “Hey, I wonder what would happen if I put tiny chocolate chips in the cookie dough instead of the regular-sized ones???” and coming up with excuses when my husband calls me and he KNOWS I’m in T.J. Maxx yet again. That’s about all the creativity I’ve got.Thank goodness I have friends and Seared tuna with saladfamily who practically are oozing with creativity, so all I have to do is relax and enjoy. Take my four-woman book club. Three of our members prepare thoughtfully themed meals with fun decorations and appropriately chosen wine for our sort-of monthly meetings, and one of our members does not. Draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, book club was NOT at my house for our recent “Life of Pi” dinner and discussion. With her usual flair, our hostess went all green and tropical with the decor (loved the leafy chargers!) and served us delicious seared tuna, veering away from the book for a Mardi-Gras dessert of king cake and bread pudding. (Full disclosure: She had a friend bring back the king cake from a New Orleans bakery but was disappointed  because, she said, it tasted like a gas-station cinnamon roll. Luckily, gas-station cinnamon rolls are pretty much tops on my food list so I was happy.) As for the book, we all agreed that the writing was graceful and lyrical made us feel as if we were there with Pi and Richard Parker. On the other hand, we were confused about parts of the plot and what it all was supposed to mean. WERE we supposed to pick which story was real? WERE we supposed to question Pi’s sanity? CAN bananas (thank you, Gwen Stefani, for guaranteeing I always can spell “bananas”) truly float? And what’s with the person-eating island, anyway? Surely that had some allegorical/mythological/philosophical threads we were not picking up. We didn’t come to any conclusion but had a fun time, anyway. As always. And now I just realized that our next book — my recommended pick of “The Dressmaker,” by Kate Alcott — is about shipwrecks and lifeboats, too. But no tigers.

It’s Still New Year’s as Long as People Tell You “Happy New Year!”

Continuing the January theme of “newness” and “making positive changes” and “taking risks that don’t involve bodily harm,” after four years of sticking with the same blog layout, I’ve updated to a sleeker and cleaner look. Which sounds as if I spent all morning designing and coding but actually means I simply slicked on the “Your theme has a new version” button that WordPress annoyingly insisted I pay attention to. And I’m glad I did. I like this minimalist & organized format — it obscures the fact that in real time I have stacks of newspapers, magazines and books threatening to topple over and take over my workspace and I can’t decipher the bottom item on my scribbled grocery list. I need to add “live up to the image of your blog layout” to my rapidly decimated list of New Year’s resolutions. Inspired by the one-click success of trying something new, blogging-wise, I then decided to update all my various profiles scattered throughout cyberspace — you know, those bio forms you filled out back when you were proud of your Beta Club presidency and those photos you posted back when you were a size four. Those days are never coming back, so why enshrine them in Interwebs permanency? In other attempts at newness, I’ve started a new job as managing director of our local community theatre — have I mentioned that theater folks are a wacky bunch and I seem to be fitting right in? — and I somehow have gained 5 pounds over the past two weeks. Could it be that my steady holiday diet of eggnog, sugar cookies, Chex mix and See’s chocolates is responsible?

Happy New Year!

If my New Year’s resolutions were to watch football and stake out the coziest corner of the couch, then Jan. 1 was a success — although my beloved SEC took a hit as both LSU and Mississippi State LITERALLY dropped the ball(s), leaving Georgia and Vandy to represent so far. Now, since I am lazy lucky enough to work part-time in places that sensibly close during the holidays, it’s back to work for me after a two-weeks vacation. My family had a super Christmas. Hope yours did the same. I did discover that my children are sneaky — Older & Younger Daughter conspired to give me an iPad for Christmas and kept the secret (after bringing husband JP into the loop)  ever since Black Friday, when my son-in-law apparently was conscripted to stand in line for it after Older Daughter came down with the flu. And you know I try not to be materialistic and to believe in the simple things of love and laughter, but the iPad is THE BEST THING EVER. Ever. It only leaves my hands when it’s time to finish leftover Christmas cookies. Also, husband JP took note of my Amazon wish list and I now have a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired business-card holder and a lotion warmer that is the most luxurious thing ever and makes me think that perhaps a towel warmer is next. And then my mom gave us a monogrammed doormat, not knowing that JP only tolerates the open-scrollworked metal one we have now because although I think it’s the coolest doormat ever and totally says who we are as soon as you come to our front door, it does leave rust marks all over the porch’s concrete floor. So everybody was happy. And that’s a pretty good start to 2013.

Keep (Small) Shopping

We’ve had Black Thursday Night Friday, where we spent all day fighting crowds and staking out parking spots at the mall. Coming up is Cyber Monday, where we hit multiple “submit order” buttons while watching out for the boss’s signature sneaky walk-arounds. But the best day of all is today: Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express and promoted by the Small Business Administration and The 3/50 Project. If your skin is dried out and your eyes are watering from all the florescent lighting you couldn’t get away from yesterday and your sinuses are protesting all the perfume samples sprayed your way, head to the nearest hometown downtown  this morning. You will find friendly local folks who sincerely are glad you stepped into their stores and will make you feel welcome and valued. You’ll meet your neighbors. You’ll talk to visitors. And you’ll find everything you need for a memorable holiday 2012. Look, I enjoy a mall crawl as much as anybody. Sometimes you just need a Cinnabon and The Gap and disinterested employees who are paid too little for too much work to care whether you buy anything or not. Nothing wrong with that, at all. The thing is that shopping downtown with your local retailers is a different experience — it’s somehow more satisfying, as if you’re doing something good and helpful.  That’s how I felt, anyway, when I spent my Black Friday wandering around my downtown of Corinth, Miss., where I spent a little bit of or maybe some or maybe a pretty good chunk found great gifts for lots of folks on my list and perhaps a whole big bunch a few things for myself. Highlights: The fun and funky decor and jewelry at the newly opened Baxter & Me and the wearable style and creative embellishments at women’s boutique Andi Grace. I also went to the bank, the dry cleaner’s, the alterations shop, a jewelry store for a couple of repairs, the library, the coffee shop and the museum; had conversations on sidewalks; waved and smiled to tons of folks; and enjoyed brownies made and sold by the young niece of one of the store owners — all in three or four hours and a couple of blocks from the house. And to prove my dedication to supporting the local economy, I’m showing you my shopping results — without revealing specific contents. Remember — no peeking until Dec. 25!

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Shopping!

Husband JP and I were lucky enough to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Older Daughter’s in-laws, who pretty much set the standard for Southern hospitality and generosity. Not to mention incredibly good food — melt-in-your-mouth smoked turkey, Older Daughter’s signature corn casserole, homemade sourdough rolls and that broccoli salad with onions and grapes I love but never make myself were only a few of the highlights, along with JP’s favorites of deviled eggs and green-bean casserole. After we rolled ourselves away from the table, it was time for after-dinner entertainment — which, predictably, seemed to split along gender lines. Those who were planning upcoming shopping trips —  this group seemed to be mostly women — settled in to scan the ads and make a schedule. Outside, another group — and this one was mostly men — tried to outdo each other with feats of strength, skill and endurance chopped firewood from a lovely old cherry tree and fixed a balky chainsaw. But then we regrouped for a late afternoon hike. And I got to take some banana pudding home! So my Thanksgiving started out with precious grandbaby hugs and ended with a bowl of leftover goodness. Hope yours was full of love and sweetness, too.

Shopping & History

Have you ever been in an America’s Thrift Store? These huge Southeast Salvation-Army-type dig stores benefit Christian charities — and your own sense of adventure. And by “adventure,” I mean “the thrill of hunting through racks of acid-washed mom jeans to find that one pair of perfectly fitting $200 J Brand marked at $3.99.” Wear comfortable shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dusty and be prepared to spend hours. HOURS. And while it definitely is a bargain-shoppers’ paradise, your friendly America’s Thrift Store also houses historical items worthy of an admission price. Such as this collection of vinyl that, I think, is taken directly from my 1960s childhood. The New Christy Minstrels were my parents’ favorite and I still remember how carefully my mother would take the album from its cover and place it on the turntable, which was one of those that closed with a latch that made it look like a square suitcase. And the Firestone Christmas records! Classics! And what about 45s? I was in a multi-age meeting recently when talk turned to records and somebody mentioned 45s and one of the younger guys said, “Oh, you mean those are the little ones without the different bands on them?” We oldsters had to be revived after that. I so remember saving my babysitting money and then walking across the highway from our house to the local record store when the new shipment of 45s came in on Saturdays. Good times, good times …