Monthly Archives: January 2017

Declutter 2017: The Treasure Chest

When I was very young my parents purchased a set of  books that probably set the course of my life as a reader: My Bookhouse Books. These were a set of books that began with nursery rhymes and stories for young children and progressed to stories for older children throughout 12 volumes. The stories were mostly classics and I learned about literature through those pages.

A Christmas present from my parents in 1971 was a sort of follow-up for me, although now that I think about it and where the book was purchased (a Christian bookstore) I wonder what was left out of the book for the sake of decency (yes, I am jaded these days). I was 15 when I was given the book. Mom bought herself a copy too — I found that in a desk drawer last summer.

I recently came across the book my folks gave me 46 years ago while sorting books in the basement. This is a keeper because of my feelings for its history (joy). Every single poem or quotation in the book can be found on the Internet, but it is nice to have these all in one place categorized by topic or intent such as Achievement, Creed, Determination, Influence, Joy and Work. I think used this book to find poems and quotations for when I’d send people cards or letters.

Now that I look through the pages for a sample to share with you, I notice that it is very Christian and God or Christ is mentioned in many of the quotes or poems. Here’s one that doesn’t, under the topic Criticism:

“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

— Baruch Spinoza

I like that one. And according to Wikipedia Spinoza was a Panthiest.

Mary Hamilton: Apparently our favorite artist

Dean and I were first introduced to Mary Hamilton’s work when we went to Pittsburgh’s annual “A Fair in the Park” when we lived in Pittsburgh. Her artwork was on the poster advertising it and we picked up a free copy while there (it turns out she does the posters most years). That could have also been the year we bought a print — but since we were poor back then, I don’t know how we were able to afford it. It is possible that once we were settled in Alexandria and had a little spare cash we went back to Pittsburgh and bought our Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. That also must have been the year we bought the cat print for Neal and Marie. Anyway — we first heard of Mary Hamilton in Pittsburgh in 1984 and fell in love with her linocuts. Ms Hamilton’s work is whimsical, magical and colorful and it appealed to both Dean and me — which is very rare. We bought the Wolves, Dining Out (Observed) directly from her and she told us to make note that the wolves were eating peas and were very messy eaters.

The year I was pregnant with Clare, and we were paying a visit to Neal and Marie in early summer, I wondered what we could bring them for a host/hostess gift. We both wished that we knew where to buy a Mary Hamilton print since they loved the cat print so much. I did a bold thing (for me — I hate talking to strangers on the telephone) and called the telephone number on a card that came with my Wolves Dining Out (Observed) print. The next thing I knew, I was talking to Mary Hamilton herself. She told me that the only place nearby that I could purchase her work was at P Street Gallery in Georgetown (now closed, alas). So I did another rare thing — I drove to Georgetown, parked the car and bought a framed print. This one was of two children in a tree. Marie loved it — maybe Neal did too, I don’t know. It is possible that Dean went to P Street Gallery with me at a later date and we bought our “The Invitation” print. Otherwise, I don’t know where it came from.

The Invitation
The Invitation

Now we have this thing called the World Wide Web and I can find her work on Google Image search, Pinterest, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Somewhere, perhaps at P Street Gallery, I bought a box of greeting cards with Ms Hamilton’s prints on them. I only gave them to very special people (or Dean since he could give it back to me if I wanted it) because I loved her artwork so much. I recently came across the 4 remaining cards and plan to get them framed either individually or as a quartet.

I am not sure of the reason for this post except to show off our collection of Mary Hamiltons. I’m also thinking of planning a trip to Pittsburgh in early to mid-September to maybe buy more…

The Corrections — a dysfunctional family as seen through a Diane Arbus-type lens

The Corrections The Corrections has been sitting on our shelf for years. Two people in my family read it and told me I would not like it so I expected it to sit there, unread by me, for many more years.

Then Erika chose to have us read The Corrections for our December/January book. I was not entirely pleased because I assumed, based on what family members told me, I’d not like it. It seemed like a long dull book about a family that I didn’t want to know anything about, despite the fact that the author may be a distant relative of Dean and, therefore, the kids.

I finished The Corrections on Saturday morning and rated it 3 stars on Goodreads from my Kindle (yes, I bought the book on Kindle — and Audible — because I could not find the book and we were in the middle of a basement remodel and I didn’t want to sift through the dozens of boxes of books). Soon after that I changed the rating to 4 and wrote a short review on Goodreads and responded to an online friend about her 1 star rating.

Last night I thought more about the book and discovered that I might like it enough to rate it 5 stars. The book was compelling enough to make me want to read it whenever I picked it up. The characters were very well fleshed out, although they all had many flaws. The story, though very depressing and disturbing, was well thought out and the book, was very well written.

To me, the most disturbing thing about the book is the fact that the family could, possibly, be any family. My family, my husband’s family, your family. Franzen, for the most part, focused on the negative traits of each character and accentuated their really bad decisions. While I didn’t want to identify with any of the characters, I did find myself giving most of my sympathy to Enid and Gary.

The Corrections made me think of the photographer Diane Arbus’ work. I remember looking looking at the photographs in her An Aperture Monograph collection and thinking that she could have photographed many of us in the same settings, with the same lens with the same film settings and we would have looked not much different from the people in the collection. That’s how I felt about how Franzen portrayed his characters and I wondered how Anne Tyler might have approached the Lambert clan — definitely more upbeat and more quirky than disturbing.

I’ve seen reviews calling the novel “Word vomit” and others complaining that they didn’t like the book because they could not sympathize with any of the characters. I disagree with both criticisms. I did sympathize with the characters, except perhaps with Caroline, Gary’s wife — but she was the least fleshed-out character in the book.

I am not a therapist or a psychologist, so I cannot speak to the depression that many of the characters seemed to have been plagued with. I got angry at the fact that everyone in the book made really awful decisions though — which may have been a result of the depression?

My biggest criticism is the ending. The ending was too happy for such a depressing book. Everyone seemed to have finally learned from their mistakes all at the same time which doesn’t seem real.

I did like the many references to Narnia — except naming the drug Aslan. I’ll have to think more on the relationship between the book and the Chronicles of Narnia. Maybe there is no relationship except that the author liked the series as a kid.

Declutter 2017: Can Man (Mr. Man Can?)

red can manI wish I remember on which trip to England I came to possess a 5 lb coffee can decoration. It might have been 1976 or possibly 1979. Anyway, one of Jeremy’s relatives — an Aunt perhaps? bought me a can man — I don’t know how else to describe it — at a church sale or something.

It is possible she knew of my love of the Mr. Men books and perhaps this was a homemade version of Mr. Strong? Anyway, I still have it. And I cannot get rid of it. Does it bring me joy? Not exactly joy — more like nostalgia or familiarity. I’ve owned this decoration for 40 years or so. It used to have two “arms” but one fell off years ago which is probably somewhere around here.

Until the basement remodel it sat next to the hamburger pencil holder on a shelf in the basement office. Before that it hung around my classroom — maybe holding rulers? Now it will hang out with me (and the hamburger pencil holder — see it in the background of the photo?) in my office attic. Maybe in our next declutter I will finally part with it.

Updates 1-29-2017:

I received a Facebook comment from Jeremy that clears up the mystery of this object: ” I think it was Auntie Ella, not sure when. They are a spin off from a t.v. quiz show featuring a character called dusty bin. They were probably made by a resident in Auntie Ella’s old folks home.” (Auntie Ella was a midwife, I believe — Jeremy’s grandmother’s sister. His grandmother had been one too. I always think of them when I watch “Call the Midwife”.)

I’ve decided to use him to hold all of the broken items that need to be disposed of in a different way than tossing them in the regular trash.

Declutter 2017: Aunt Ginny’s Book About Hunting Racoons

Today Dean forced asked me to go through the books that belong on the basement bookshelves. I did and found three book boxes full of books I was willing to donate. I found hundreds I am not ready to part with and I found about 40 that I want to examine more closely before making the ultimate decision toss or keep. (joy or no joy)

cooning with the cooners

One of these is a book by a D. Kuechler called Cooning With Cooners. At first I thought it said Crooning with Crooners and thought it might be about Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and company. But no. It was actually Cooning with Cooners and is about shooting raccoons. I assume that is what it is about because the cover drawing depicts a man with a gun pointing at a raccoon in a tree that a dog has spied and possibly chased up the tree. I have not read any of the book, nor do I plan on reading it.

Aunt Ginny's name and address

I wondered how I came to have a book (from 1924) about hunting raccoons, but then saw that it belonged to my Aunt Ginny. I still wonder how I ended up with it and why on Earth she was interested in hunting raccoons, but it will remain a mystery, I guess, unless she wanted to be a Lady Coon Hunter as described in a chapter written by Mrs. R. J. Merrick.

Lady Coon Hunters

I’ll likely send this to Uncle Jack along with two books I found that belonged to him as a child. He can decide what to do with Cooning with the Cooners.

Declutter 2017: The Hamburger Pencil Holder

Except for a misplaced electric wire, our basement remodel is complete. We spent this afternoon putting items back where they belong and deciding what to toss, what to donate and what to keep. It is very hard to me to get rid of things because …what if I will need it in the future even though I have not used it in two decades and it is beginning to rust? (toss) …but that was my mom’s! (keep)  …maybe someday I will find a record player that plays 78s! (keep for now).

So, apparently, there is a book that says if you hold an item and it gives you joy keep it, if not get rid of it (or something like that we have a copy of the book but I cannot find it so I have not read it yet). Some of the things I held today definitely did not bring me joy (toss), but some did (keep). One of the items that I held today was a gift from my favorite student ever whose mom is my favorite mother of a student ever. It gives me a lot of joy because of who gave it to me.

It is unique and kitschy and  full of memories and I want to keep it but since I really don’t use pencils or pens that much anymore, I really don’t use the pencil holder. It has sat, empty, for years on the shelf in the basement office but once sat on my desk at work and held extra (sharpened) pencils for my students to use. I may end up tossing it, even though it brings me joy, but not quite yet…

Paint pot children and spark plug toys

When I was a kid I had plenty of toys. I had dolls and books and crayons and records. I was really wanting for nothing. That’s why it still seems strange to me that my most memorable “toys” were not toys at all.

I liked spark plugs. My dad was an auto mechanic for the first part of my youth and must have given me some to play with. You have to admit — they are kind of pretty with the metal and ceramic. I don’t remember what I actually did with the spark plugs — maybe just admired them but I always think of my dad when I see a spark plug.

Spark plugs among other garage stuff
Spark plugs among other garage stuff

I also remember playing school with my mother’s paint pots. She was taking a correspondence art course, so she had a lot of art supplies. I used to put a large paint pot in at one end of a table, then line the smaller ones in rows like desks. Girls on one side, boys on the other. (Red, yellow, pink, orange, white were girls. Blue, green, brown, black, gray were boys). The teacher would then teach the class.

Some paint pots lined up on a table
Some paint pots lined up on a table

As I said, I had plenty of toys but these were unique and memorable. Did you play with anything unusual as a kid?

Note: It seems I already blogged about this!