Tag Archives: mid-century modern

Planning for Christmas




Today, while I was searching online for Shiny Brite-style Christmas ornaments in colors that match the Mondrian wall, I found a 7-foot silver tinsel Christmas tree for $60.

A 4-foot vintage aluminum Sparkler like mine, for which I paid $50 in 1998, IIRC, will run somewhere around $150 to $200 on Etsy these days. A 7-foot Evergleam like the one I passed up for $70 on that same shopping trip two decades ago will cost you $500 if you are very lucky and $800 or more if you aren’t.

Fairly convincing replicas of vintage aluminum trees can be found online for $200 to $250.

The tree I ordered is neither an original nor a convincing replica (it’s basically a shiny silver version of the green Walmart special I bought to decorate my first classroom in 1997), but to the untrained eye, it will look pretty good, and I didn’t have to listen to Ron grumble or sigh about the price. WIN.

Photos forthcoming in a few weeks, of course.




New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.


Make-It Monday: Credenza repair

This is such a small project, I hesitate even to post it, but it was one I put off for a long time because I thought it was going to be much more complicated than it was.

The credenza I fashioned a few months ago from a set of storage cubes and four mid-century-style legs was not quite as well-supported as it needed to be, and when my parents were visiting a few weeks ago, Dad noticed it was developing a slight dip in the middle. He recommended I add a set of legs to the middle to shore it up.

Because I’d installed the others at an angle, I assumed I’d have to shorten the new ones before I could install them vertically in the middle — not a difficult process, but one with just enough steps to seem daunting — so I bought legs and installation hardware and promptly stuck them in my craft closet, where they remained, quietly generating low-level stress in the back of my mind every time I looked at the credenza.

A couple of weekends ago, I got sick of thinking about them, grabbed a tape measure and the new legs and installation hardware and set about taking measurements so I could trim them to the proper length …

whereupon I discovered that the designers of the legs and mounting hardware had already anticipated someone might need vertical supports on a large piece of furniture and had adjusted for that eventuality within the design of the hardware, thus obviating the necessity of trimming anything. All that procrastinating, and all I really needed to do was unload the bookcase, flip it over, and install the new legs.

Shored up and back to normal.

I left all the books stacked at the ends of the credenza for a week or so to give gravity a chance to repair the dip that had developed while the middle was unsupported; two weeks later, it’s balanced properly, reloaded, and much sturdier. It still isn’t perfect, but it should be fine until I can score something nicer from Joybird or (’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished) Herman Miller.

Sitting in the living room feels much more relaxing now.


Tiny Tuesday: Merry minimalism

When I bought my Christmas tree, I wasn’t dreaming of living in a tiny house. I didn’t even know tiny houses existed. I just wanted a cool retro tree that would fit in my apartment.

Seventeen years and four moves later, I appreciate my shiny, easy-to-assemble aluminum Christmas tree as much for its space-saving design as for its great atomic-era look.

I’m not suggesting everybody who’s considering a tiny house should rush out and buy an aluminum tree and color wheel, but as I was taking mine down, it occurred to me that of all the things I’ll have to shrink when we finally build that tiny house in northeastern New Mexico, my Christmas tree isn’t one of them.

I have a few other decorations, but they usually stay in storage; the ones I get out just about every year are the tree (with matching green and red glass balls hanging from its branches and a color wheel underneath to illuminate it) and the little plastic creche my mom bought for me at Ben Franklin when I was 3 or 4 years old:

Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I'm betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.
Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I’m betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.

In the featured image and the one below, you can see what the tree looks like when it’s packed into its box:

Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.
Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.

Below is the whole setup, packed and ready to be stashed in a plastic storage tub in the garage:

Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I've no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.
Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I’ve no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.

If your holiday decorations are taking over your attic or spilling out of the closets, I can wholeheartedly recommend a throwback Christmas tree, ca. 1958, for ease of assembly, disassembly, and storage.


Sunday Self-Care: Christmastime Is Here

Maybe it’s the election.

Maybe it’s the way people treated each other in the months leading up to it, or the way they’ve behaved in the weeks since.

Maybe it’s the weather.

Maybe it’s the usual seasonal depression settling over me.

Maybe it’s some combination of the above.

Whatever the reason, I haven’t had much enthusiasm for the holidays this year, and I really considered leaving my Christmas tree in its box in the garage and letting December go by more or less unacknowledged.

I considered it. But that tree is aluminum, straight out of the late 1950s, and it’s got a color wheel to light it up and a set of matte-finish red and green ornaments to hang on it, and for the first time since I bought it, I have a living room full of furniture that goes with it. How could I possibly pass up a chance to see how that Marshmallow sofa looks with a real mid-century aluminum Christmas tree glittering beside it?

And if I’m going to take myself back to the era immediately preceding my own existence, shouldn’t I have period-appropriate music to listen to while I assemble the color wheel?

Yes. Yes, I should.

Behold the magic of a mid-century modern Christmas.

So I downloaded the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, set my iPhone inside a coffee mug to amplify the sound, and let Vince Guaraldi soothe my frazzled nerves and erase all the grown-up worries and fears and frustrations from my mind.

“Christmastime Is Here” is one of those songs I took for granted for years. It wasn’t the sort of Christmas song you’d hear at church or sing in school or hear on the radio stations that switch their format to “all Christmas, all the time” during December. But it was always part of Christmas, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the way it strikes a balance between grownup melancholy and childlike wonder.

This year, finding that balance has been more difficult than usual, and I’m grateful for Guaraldi’s help finding it as I settle into a replica of a rocking chair that predates the Peanuts gang’s first animated special by several years, sip a cup of peppermint cocoa, and listen to piano and triangle and children’s voices mingle with the hum of the motor on the color wheel turning gently behind the tree.

Christmastime is here.


Marshmallow world

Wow. Where on earth has this summer gone? Seems like I was just waiting for the crocus to come up a minute ago, and now I’m listening to walnuts bounce off the roof, with way too little blogging in between.

I can’t say I’ve accomplished as much as I’d have liked this summer, but I’m really proud of my now-mostly-complete interior-decorating projects. (Mostly, but not entirely, complete because one of the legs on my new Marshmallow sofa knockoff is wonky, and we bought it online, so there are some logistical issues involved in getting that sorted out.)

Wonky leg or not, this is a pretty great-looking sofa. Hope we can get it straightened out.
Wonky leg or not, this is a pretty great-looking sofa. Hope we can get it straightened out.

Sofa situation aside, I’m really happy with the living room — especially this faux-mid-century credenza I fashioned from a set of cheap storage cubes and some hardware-store legs:

Songdog can't resist a photobomb.
Songdog can’t resist a photobomb.

With my big projects mostly behind me, I’m hoping to get back to blogging like I mean it this fall.

To that end, I’m rolling out a couple of new features and have mapped out most of the topics I intend to write about through the end of the year. Here’s a quick preview of the new features and coming attractions:

• Sunday self-care: A new feature basically addressing whatever I’m doing to feed my soul, maintain my sanity, or take better care of myself in general.

• Make-it Monday: Kind of a hodgepodge of DIY projects, artwork, gardening, or whatever else I’ve got going. Coming soon: a safety feature I added to the back steps, a new flowerbed, a quick cleaning tip, and a headlight-restoration attempt.

• Tiny Tuesday: As longtime readers know, my long-term goal is to build a tiny, off-grid house in New Mexico. To that end, I’ve been using our 690-square-foot bungalow as a sort of test lab for space-saving ideas. I’ll share one with you every Tuesday.

• Wednesdays will be sort of a wild-card day, when I post whatever is on my mind. This will vary from week to week, but tentative ideas include a bit of shameless self-promotion, some ephemera from long ago, and a review of a terrific microbrewery in rural Southern Illinois.

• Folk Thursday: Upcoming artists will include Simon and Garfunkel, Woody Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk and Phil Ochs.

• Vegetarian Friday: The next few weeks will bring you cheese-stuffed mushrooms, pasta e lenticche, frozen fruit pops, homemade kettle corn and instructions for making and freezing your own vegetable stock.

• Eco-Saturday: We’re going to take down a fruit-fly infestation, experiment with leafcutter bees, install a water-heater blanket and discuss the ecological and financial advantages of old-fashioned safety razors.

Stay tuned, subscribe if you haven’t already, and don’t forget to like my author page on Facebook, where I post pictures, stories and bits of information that don’t always find their way onto the blog.


Mid-century madness

It’s not quite finished (I still have a set of storage cubes to buy and turn into a quasi-credenza next paycheck and a couch to buy as soon as Ron and I can agree on what constitutes an appropriate price for furniture and an appropriate means of financing it), but my interior-design project is coming along very nicely.

I discovered a problem recently: Because I’m about four inches too tall to sit in it without holding my neck in an awkward angle, my beloved ball chair was contributing to chronic tension headaches.

Fortunately, my nephews think the “Space Chair,” as they call it, is the one of the coolest things in the known universe, so they were more than happy to take it off my hands. My parents came by a week ago and picked it up for them, and a few hours later, I was rewarded with a hilarious photo of Ollie lying in it more or less upside-down, giggling.

I discovered the perfect replacement on Target’s website: a Zuo knockoff of the famous Eames rocking chair.

Look at that fabulous chair. This was before I removed the futon cover and rearranged the furniture.
Look at that fabulous chair. This was before I removed the futon cover and rearranged the furniture.

I also picked up a couple of guitar hangers at Hastings’ going-out-of-business sale. My acoustic guitars are now out of the way, within reach, and pulling double-duty as visual accents on my faux-stucco walls.

We can’t replace the futon just yet, but I removed the Route 66-themed cover to reveal the black pad underneath and threw a falsa blanket over the back to give it more of a Southwestern look, as you can see in the top photo.

Walter approved of this move:

Sleepy kitty is sleepy.
Spoiled cat.

On Friday, Ron and I went wandering around the little antique stores downtown in search of mid-century pieces to go with the rocking chair and living-room tables.

By rearranging the furniture in several rooms, I managed to free up space for a bigger dining table and a couple of shelf units — a small, sturdy bookcase I found at a shop on Main Street, and a 1970s metal, faux-woodgrain shelf I found at a shop on Spanish Street. I filled the wooden shelf with books and started a bunch of herbs and cacti in pots on the metal shelf.

Metal shelves full of potted plants were popular in the ’70s, so to go with them, I went to Annie Laurie’s Antiques and bought a dining set straight out of the early 1970s:

Hello, 1972.
Hello, 1972.

It needed an appropriate centerpiece, so I recycled an old wooden salad bowl into a miniature cactus garden:

The bowl has a crack in it, but it works just fine as a planter.
The bowl has a crack in it, but it works just fine as a planter.

I still have a couple more little projects to do, but I’m really pleased with how this is all turning out.