Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fine Arts?

When I was growing up, I used to love the picture of the dog eating the little girl’s ice cone. It was hanging in my room along with the fiberboard cut outs of Little Bo-Peep and her lost sheep (magically reunited on my wall).

In the living room, there were framed pictures of some flowers broken down with all of their parts labeled, and there were two framed pictures from Heidelberg, Germany sent to my grandmother from my uncle who was stationed there in the early 1950s.

When we moved “over the mountain” in 1958, my mother spruced up the den (our first such room) with K-mart framed Paris street scenes (which she bought in a packet at the department store warehouse sale). She bought some really nice large “flower prints” which she had professionally framed. She gave the Heidelberg prints back to my uncle after my grandmother passed away in 1957.

I took art in elementary school, but mostly that was working with modeling clay and finger paints. There was no mention of fine art. Somehow I managed to graduate from high school and college and never visit an art museum or learn anything about the art world. Not totally living in a cave, I had heard of Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet and maybe a few others. But if you asked me anything about their art, I would have to have said – “I have no clue.”

I was about to receive my Master’s degree and had to also take the National Teacher’s Exam. Word was you had best know something about fine art to pass this exam. Oops! As it happened, the night before I was to take the test, I was able to borrow a slide show of the famous works of art from the library where I was working as a graduate assistant. That night, my future husband (with a fine prep school education) was able to give me a crash course in matching artists with their works. Sure enough, those same pictures were on the test!

On our honeymoon, my husband insisted we buy an oil painting of a the Flamboyant trees at Ramey Air Force Base, painted by a member of the Officers’ Wives’ Club.

In the years that followed we bought more and more art. During our stint in southern California we bought some paintings by Edmond Woods, whose art we fell in love with at a Palm Spring Gallery. Other paintings followed, along with some pencil signed and numbered prints by local fine artists and enamels on copper purchased at school fundraiser art auctions. I picked up some nice prints from the Cayman Islands.

When we moved into our new house in 1992, we re-assessed our art, including reviewing pictures inherited from my parents. I found those large framed flower prints of my mother’s and they are in the living room. In my father’s papers, I some nice prints of Birmingham scenes, so I got them framed and they hang in our downstairs family room. Suffice to say that we have art all over the walls throughout the house. Nothing we have is that valuable, but we like it – each piece brings back memories.

These days, we frequent art galleries wherever we find ourselves in the world. My favorite art destination, however, is Giverny, Monet’s Garden. My favorite art museum is the Brandywine River Museum, in Chadd’s Ford, PA – the showcase of Wyeth family art. There is something special about both of these places. You can somehow sense the connection between the reality of the location and how it is reflected in the art. That is the magnet that keeps drawing me back to both places in different seasons.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Shopping Bags

Remember going to the department store as a kid and they had racks of shopping bags? Those had handles that cut into young fingers and were so big they dragged the ground if you were not quite tall enough. As the day wore on, the bags got heavier. Even kids knew that the fancier the store, the nicer the bag.

It was a wise shopper’s “best practice” to go to the cheaper stores first, progressing to the most expensive ones. This, of course, makes perfect sense. For the Depression generation it was not optional – it was a mandate! If you can find it at a less expensive store, then why not buy it there.

I am not sure if it was that the bags from the more prestigious stores were better or that by the time we got to the pricey stores, the morning’s collection of bags were starting to go. I only know that we came got back to the parking lot carrying bags from the most expensive stores.
My mother and grandmother always saved shopping bags – at least the nice ones. At Christmas they often were beautifully decorated. Of course, we re-used shopping bags. While the cheapies might be used for trash (pre-plastic bags), the fancier ones were used to carry things about when donating to the rummage sale or going to the dry cleaner or maybe taking supplies to a literary club, PTA or DAR meeting.

Grocery bags were a constant when I was growing up. They never had handles and it was impossible to carry more than two at time. But they were ubiquitous. Need to wrap a package, draw a dress pattern, line the trash can, burn the trash (yes, we did that), start a fire in the fireplace, protect from paint spills, or a zillion other things – just grab a brown paper bag. Kids liked to cut holes in them and decorate them. The “bag on your head” concept was alive and well.

I am not sure when the plastic bag entered the scene, but it might have been the mid-60s and life has not been the same since. I remember raking leaves into black plastic bags, much as we do today. There were, and still are, white bags for the kitchen and small white bags for small trash cans. Now we have blue ones for recycling. We all know the code!

Some years ago, someone invented an orange leaf bags decorated like a pumpkin. For a few years you saw them every fall. What a great way to get kids to rake leaves, but maybe the kids got wise to the fact that inflating a large orange bag that looks like pumpkin is really just raking leaves.

Today, the stores use thin plastic bags that are easy to carry. Word is that there is legislation to ban them because of their environmental impact. I have to admit I like them better than paper bags because I have to make fewer trips and the bottom is less likely to rip out than with paper. On the other hand, I see the environmental problem. Personally, I recycle my plastic bags for all sorts of purposes and find them handy to store wadded up in one of their own on the pantry doorknob.

I know I am supposed to be using the non-disposable bags that the grocery stores sell. In various fits of environmental fervor I have actually bought the bags. The only problem is I can never seem to remember to bring them with me to the grocery store. Sometimes they get as far as car, but then I forget to take them with me into the store. On the other hand, they come in handy for all sorts of things, so it is good they are conveniently waiting for in the garage.

My husband collects paper bags and shopping bags. We have an endless supply in the pantry. I am not sure what he does with them, but he too, had a Depression era mother, so some things you just have to do – and saving bags in one of them! Even I can't throw out the ones from the expensive stores -- it is in the DNA.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Things I Never Anticipated in 1964

1. Taking off our shoes, belt and jackets to board a plane
2. Trash pick-up reduced and replaced with recycling pick-ups
3. Gas that cost more than $3 per gallon
4. Gas mileage over 30 miles per gallon
5. Tiny cars that make a VW Beetle look big!
6. Bottled water
7. 600 e-mail messages every day
8. Networking
9. Metal detector scan to go in a government building
10. Stamps that cost more than $.40
11. Typing on something the size of deck of cards
12. People being arrested for typing while driving
13. Gizmos that convince you to take really bad roads
14. A way to watch TV programs later
15. Channel surfing
16. Telephones that sound like our favorite songs
17. Kids teaching grandparents how to do things
18. Skim milks that tastes good
19. Watermelon in January
20. Cameras without film
21. Blow dryers
22. Pillow Top Beds
23. Hotel beds in all white with loads of throw pillows
24. Plane trips with only peanuts to eat
25. Peanut butter being banned in schools
26. Digital clocks
27. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
28. Candles without flames
29. Water heaters without tanks
30. Countertops made out of granite
31. Solar panels
32. Ugly shoes being “OK” if your feet hurt
33. Money dispensing machines
34. Cafes where everybody is typing
35. Beds that inflate that you can’t also take in the pool
36. Spray on tan
37. Leaf blowers
38. Fax machines
39. 3-D printers
40. Dozens of yogurt choices
41. Public television as innovative
42. Ordinary people going on cruises
43. Suitcases on wheels
44. People writing “blogs”
45. Ice coming from the refrigerator door
46. Air popcorn
47. Organic foods
48. Sea salt grinders
49. Massages for “nice” people
50. APPS!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Electric Gadgets

My earliest memory of an electric “gadget” was the hand held massager my uncle sent my mother all the way from Germany in the early 1950’s. She could strap little vibrating monster to her hand and massage by grandmother’s sore shoulders.

A few years later we got an electric can opener. My mother loved it because it replaced the hand-cranked model with the little wheel --- oddly, the kind I prefer today. Of course, I open far fewer cans.

My mother had a fascination with manicure equipment and she was especially proud of his manicure tool that reminded me of a miniature power sander. I still have it! But I prefer a simple nail file.

When I was thirteen I received a “Hot-dogger” as a present. You could put six frankfurters in this little device – sticking each end of a metal post. They “dogs” cooked well enough to impress my teenage used it once and then forever it rested under the mini-kitchen counter in the “rumpus room.”

In the early 60s, hair was VERY important to teenage girls and I was no exception. The ability to dry one’s hair without having to sleep in rollers overnight was the ultimate goal. I remember the table top dryer that looked very much like a modern hand-held dryer. I stood on a metal stand and squirted out hot air. The secret was to position yourself so that your entire head eventually got the hot air. Just think – if we had only scrapped the rollers and taken that thing off the stand we would have leapfrogged ahead 20 years in hair-drying technology. But alas, the bag dryer and the table-top dome dryer intervened. It was not until the mid-70s that hand-held dryers came into use. The other hair innovation was hot-rollers. Imagine the idea of rolling your DRY hair with the hot roller that actually produced similar results to sleeping in rollers.

My mother was especially fond of her electric knife. I still have that too, but I never seem to find reason to use it. But she could make short work of slicing a rump roast or ham. I don’t much care for rump roast, and my ham comes spiral sliced—so the electric knife goes unused.
When we first got married, back in 1969, my husband had to have a slicing machine. Over the years it has come in handy for slicing the occasional chunk of cheese or large stick of salami, but mostly it just sits in the pantry waiting patiently for its next slicing job.
We also have a “foot machine” in the closet. About thirty years ago those were all the rage. You would fill it with water, and turn on the heat and it would vibrate and soothe your tired feet. Hmmh, I wonder if it still works! My feet could use a little soothing!

I had a “power” toothbrush decades ago; it ran on batteries. A few years ago I bought another power toothbrush – one that has a little charging stand and costs about the same as a life-time supply of toothbrushes (at least my remaining lifetime anyway).

I have reluctance to dispose of anything that plugs in and still heats, vibrates, files, or slices – you just never know when I might want it again. I think I going to go right now and dig out the foot machine.