What’s Old Is Cool Again

One of the great pleasures I’ve discovered in recent years in antiquing with our four older kids. Rummaging through old junk and treasures is not Jodi’s favorite thing — but the kids enjoy it, and through this activity, they’ve begun to cultivate new personal interests. It’s a delight to see where their curiosity takes them.

For Emma and Trevor, antique shops are like free museums. They wander and browse and ask questions about the novelties they see — and many things appear new to young eyes. Emma is never looking to buy, but is drawn to colorful kitchen implements and old machines with buttons: manual typewriters, adding machines, cash registers, you name it. Trevor has no such particular interests, though his attention is drawn by typically boyish subjects: creatures, toys and games, and oddities. And both (in fact, all four) of the kids are becoming expert at spotting Fiesta dishes for their mother.

Brendan and Gabe are active antique shoppers, and prefer to have money in their pocket when they step into a shop. Gabe likes religious artwork and books, vintage hats, and Coca-Cola memorabilia, while Bren looks for military surplus, historical books, manly artifacts like hunting and camping gear, and anything to do with Vernors ginger ale. Last weekend the three of us ventured out to give Brendan some driving practice in snow and traffic, and hit a military surplus store and three antique shops. Brendan spent $20 on an explosives crate, pictured above, to complement his military ammo box, and Gabe got a steal: a like-new copy of Our Daily Bread for a dollar and change. (Brendan drooled briefly over a signed ink sketch of Captain America knocking the heads of Hitler and Hirohito together, but decided that he didn’t have a couple hundred extra bucks.)

Both of these older boys show a nose for finding the right stuff and finding deals. Last spring, when Gabe and I brought Rosa (my old pickup) home from Michigan, we stopped at a junk shop in northern Wisconsin packed floor to ceiling with old stuff, new stuff, repurposed and recycled stuff — none of it marked. While the old fellow running the place made sporadic attempts to buy Rosa, Gabe nosed around the shelves of “smalls” and emerged with an inexpensive plaster-cast of the classic “praying hands” sculpture, a thimble-sized glass bottle of actual Coca-Cola, and a leather-bound Polish prayer book, pictured below. (Gabe knows how to say a few Polish words, but how he recognized this book as Polish, I don’t know.) He showed them to the old man, who was so intrigued by Gabe’s finds he charged him just a few dollars for the entire collection.

Brendan, meanwhile, has been eyeing an old, unopened six-pack of Vernors at a local shop for a year or so now. It’s priced at $50, as I recall; he went in last fall during a 20-percent-off sale, but still wasn’t sure he could drop $40 on it. He asked at the register if they could take less, and they told him the collector who was selling it had a deal with the shop that they could take 20 percent off his prices, but anything lower had to be negotiated with him in person. Brendan said thank you and walked away.

I told him later that I was impressed with his resolve. “Well, they basically told me I could get it for 20 percent off anytime, so I might as well come back another time when the guy is around,” he said.

Good thinking.

Me? I like books, boots, and beer memorabilia; shaving supplies; old tools; and all the stuff they like. Not sure who is influencing whom in this case, but with fresh eyes, what’s old is cool again.

More Mush and Drivel

The tulips are blooming outside Morrill Hall, and they got me to thinking. There was a time when I was young and twitterpated, a long way from Jodi with a longing sigh in my lungs. I remember the flower vendors on Yale’s campus in spring, and I remember walking past, because my girl was half a continent away. I remember admiring the colorful splash the tulips made, elegant among the carnations, seductive next to the pinched rose buds, and I remember writing a sappy verse, first in my head, then in a note to her …

Floral Kiss
Tulips you have, tulips have I—
pure pink, or pastel-painted bliss.
Should we combine them, you and I,
our tulips softly meet—a kiss!

Ah, love! And yeah, I kind of dig flowers …

Feel the Burn

I had kind of an involved, downer of a post for tonight, about the lengths we’ll go to as a nation to avoid sacrifice or discomfort. There is virtue to be found in a some self-sacrifice, a little pain, and I may yet write that post — but as a light-hearted lead-in perhaps, tonight I share these:

There is a chance tonight (however slight) for frost, and a chance tomorrow (however slight) that I may do some fall cleaning around the yard, deck and shed. So I went out to the pepper pots tonight and plucked countless ripe (pictured) and ripening chiles.

Smoky yellow habaneros, plump green jalapenos, cayennes like lean red flames and serranos like green firecrackers, some turning red. Beautiful aren’t they?

I’ve done a little digging online to find a way, better than freezing and short of canning, to preserve them more or less intact. I’ve seen some interesting ideas involving vinegar and olive oil — but if you have suggestions, do share! (I also have a recipe for jalapeno chili vodka that I may have to try.)

The kids were amazed that the jalapenos are the mildest of the bunch — and that the habs are as much as 60 times hotter, chemically speaking. Why grow ’em? The sweet, smoky taste they impart is critical to a good batch of Old Lamplighter.*

See what I mean? Good things come from a little pain and suffering.

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*Old Lamplighter is my best hot chili recipe. Permission to brag: It actually won a chili contest at my old job: took Best Overall and tied for Best Heat. (Of course, there was some controversy because the contest was my idea — but the ballots were cast secretly and verified independently.) I make thick, mild stuff for the little kids — Good Dog Chili-Dog Chili. Bren and Jodi mix ’em to get the temp just right for them …

Summer Vacation, Day 23: Wandering Mind …

Done with work for a better than a week. Tomorrow afternoon we head west. Tonight, the mind wanders, unhobbled, grazing freely where it will. Ah!

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Yesterday at the baseball practice, Trevor spotted a tiny sparrow (not one of the fat noisy English guys) hopping through the grass.

“I just saw a walking bird,” he said. “Why do some birds walk?”

“They walk when they look in the grass for food,” I said.

He climbed down from the bleachers and walked toward the grass. I watched older boys take batting practice.

Trevvy came back, looking slightly flush. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I guess some walking birds are walking birds and flying birds!” he said.

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I passed a car on the way home today missing an entire front fender and half the grill. As I passed I noticed the driver with her cell phone in her left hand, tight to her ear, and her right hand gesturing wildly in time with her fast-flapping lips. So: steering with her knees, or not at all? She’s done this at least once before, I suspect …

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The beans and sunflowers I planted late this spring have germinated and are growing nearly as fast as the weeds. That little miracle never gets old for me, any more than animal births. How is it that vegans aren’t bothered by eating sprouts?

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Wow, it feels good to be off. The Cold Spring Pale Ale is kicking in, though. Lil sleepy. See you soon …