The Sound of Silence

Ever since I was a child, I have sought out the silence. I’m sure this ties into being an introvert; we tend to shy away from the bright, the busy, and the chaotic. However, the older I get, I realize that those times when I am surrounded by dark and quiet are some of the most important moments of my day.

Right now I am sitting behind my computer, which at the moment is right by the open window facing my backyard. It is just before 5 a.m., so the birds are beginning to sing. The only other sound is my pond, gurgling away. Although I do not consider myself a “morning person” by any means (being social in the morning takes effort), I am a morning person when it comes to hoarding the peace and calm that the morning hours bring.

If it were just a smidge warmer outside, I would probably make a cup of coffee and go sit outside. However, being that May is rather unpredictable with temperatures, this morning is hovering in the ’50s, which is a bit chilly to sit out in the jams and robe. So that is why I’m sitting where I’m sitting now, next to the open window. I kind of get the effect without freezing my buns off.

Perhaps I seek out the silence even more now because the rest of the world is too damn loud, screaming about viruses and race and the economy and China and whatever else the current talking point is. In the interest of covering my own behind, my disclaimer is that I am not belittling any of it. It’s just that for an introvert, the blathering becomes an echo chamber that leaves me exhausted. Being on Facebook means getting a steady stream of other people shouting their opinions all freaking day long, and by the end of the day, I am so weary of all the people who think THEY are right and I need to listen to what they have to say. That’s the beauty of technology, I guess. In all reality, I am not required to listen to what they have to say. My phone screen makes a satisfying *click* when I get tired of all the ranting and raving.

I think this “quarantine time” has helped me rediscover the importance of quiet. I’m old enough to know myself now. This time is crucial to my well being. I know that in a few hours, the rest of the world will awaken, the keyboard warriors will once again be posting whatever memes make them look smarter than the rest of us, and I will be waiting once again for those moments in the day where I can retreat to a world that makes much more sense – one where I can watch TV with my husband, eat dinner with my children, and shut out the noise when it all becomes too much.

*click*

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Going on a bender – with tablecloths

I started collecting tablecloths about ten years ago after I decided to sell some that were just sitting in storage; they were not the right size for my table and were colors that I really didn’t like. I know now that I sold them way too cheaply, but I had no idea then that tablecloths were as collectible as they were. The swift sale of those cloths intrigued me, and I began looking for them when I went to antique stores and hunting for them online. I learned the good brands, what made a tablecloth particularly collectible, and how to remove stains.

I decided to try my hand at selling them on Etsy, and that is where the whole stain removal process became very involved, and surprisingly successful. I had some cloths that were so beautiful but marred by stains. I learned how to soak, scrub, soak some more, and lay in the sun for total stain removal. It was a labor of love, really. It was a complete thrill for me to take a cloth that looked like it should have been thrown away and turn it into looking brand new.

Washing tablecloths was easy in the summertime, where I had room to lay them out on the grass. Why lay them in the grass? Well, for whatever reason, laying a slightly stained tablecloth right on the grass results in some great stain removal. I do not understand the exact science, but I do know it works. The key for me is keeping my dog from running across it. (Yes, she has done that. Too many times.) Anyway, in the winter, I really do not have anywhere in my house to hang tablecloths to dry (because you shouldn’t put them in the dryer), so it became difficult to launder them for sale. After a while, life just got too busy to deal with it and my collection stayed stagnant.

I found that it became rather difficult to run across good tablecloths in an antique store or consignment shop the way that I was once able to. The cloths were either ugly or ripped or just boring. Finding one with a good label was impossible.

Then my husband and I happened across a few antique stores that had loads of them, and I started experiencing the thrill of finding the good ones. This past weekend, we went to a few antique stores in Okoboji, Iowa, and felt like we hit the motherload. I couldn’t go too overboard due to needing to pay some bills, but I made off with some good ones. I had to pass up a couple ones that actually had tags still on them because they really weren’t that attractive, but they were tempting. Here are some of the ones I have gotten lately:

This one still had the tag on it. However, I had to make a difficult decision with this one. It was very yellowed from age, so I decided to remove the original tag so that I could soak the yellowness out of it. Beautiful, isn’t it?
This luncheon cloth is pretty faded on one side, but I really love the cheerful colors in it.
This embroidered beauty is bright and cheerful and is in perfect condition.
This one too had some fading on it, but that is the charm of vintage tablecloths; they’re not perfect, they were used, and they continue to bring color to a room.
Orange isn’t really a color that I like, but this combo seems to work well.
I have wanted the Wildendur verison of this for ages, but it always seems to be an expensive buy. This is a homemade version (I’m assuming, since there is no tag) and it will be my project cloth for stain removal. Lots of stains but I think they will come out. I adore the colors in this tablecloth!
Another homemade cloth. It is hard to see the exact color, but it is a pale pink. Pink with black polka dots! How retro is that?
Enjoy my foot as a part of this pic. This one is a beige-colored linen with a bright, orangey pattern. Again, not my usual colors that I like, but it was in such good shape that I had to nab it. I made the seller quite a profit, as I realized when I got home and found a garage sale tag on it for $1.00. You’re welcome.
This is my absolute favorite one. The colors work well together, it’s in perfect shape, and it’s a unique color combination that I do not have in any other cloths so far.
Interesting color combo of pink, red, and green. Somehow it works.
Again, another cameo by my Asics-clad foot. This cloth caught my eye because it has what I call “my” green in it – that jadeite color. It’s rare to find a cloth that has it, so I had to get this one.
Handmade and simple. I was drawn to this one for the pink flowered border – very shabby chic.
Another handmade gem. This embroidered cloth is linen and very simple, but I love the curvy, finished border.

In addition to the tablecloths, I made one more score this past weekend. I saw this chalkware fish sitting on a shelf and grabbed it immediately, thinking it looked like a Miller Studio creation. I was right. These highly collectible chalkware creatures decorated many a bathroom from the ’50s to the ’70s. A true Miller Studio chalkware item will be stamped with the date and the name of the company.

Well, that is my haul for now. Now that summer is here and I am mucking out my house, I am hoping to have nicer spaces to use some of these cloths to provide spots of color. As for the fish, well, he is going to live in my bathroom with my other Miller Studios chalkware fish, which I have written about here.

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A Night with Night Ranger

A friend of mine recently started a blog and one of his recent posts reminded me of a story from years ago. I have not met many celebrities over the course of my life and tend to clam up around anyone who has made a name for themselves, so my stories are few and far between. But this one time, many years ago, I lived an ’80s dream.

Born in the ’70s, growing up in the ’80s, I was a child of ’80s music. Sometimes a song will come over the radio that catapults me back into the days of wearing Madonna-esque clothing (although I was a tomboy and really just wore the same jeans and T-shirts until middle school). Night Ranger songs tend to have this effect. Isn’t it strange how a song can help you remember things that you thought had faded from memory? Smells have that same effect; I keep a perfume that I used to wear in high school simply so every once in a while I can take a whiff and remember how it felt to be 16 with no mortgage to pay and a back that didn’t hurt all the time. It’s a strange effect, really. I can no longer wear most “real” perfumes because they give me an instant headache. However, I do like the nostalgia they evoke. Anyway, back to Night Ranger.

It was the summer of 1996. I was newly graduated from college and living with my sister in a very small town (think a couple hundred people) in southwest Minnesota. The town had one bar, but the place seemed to draw some pretty big names due to some fantastic networking by the bar’s owner. That summer, we found out that he had somehow convinced Night Ranger to play at the bar, and that is where the adventure begins.

The night was surreal, really. The bar’s ballroom could hold a few hundred people, but it was nowhere near the stadium you’d expect to see one of your favorite bands in. Yes, I know — by the mid-’90s, Night Ranger wasn’t exactly a big draw anymore. However, when you have those bands that mean a lot to you, it’s pretty darn exciting to have them play mere feet from you, playing songs that you love. I know that night I caught a thrown guitar pick, but I cannot for the life of me remember where I stashed it.

The extra surreal part came after the concert was over and the bar closed. The owner allowed some of his favorite people to stay behind and, well, party with the band. After many beers that night plus twenty-five years behind me, I cannot recall exactly what was said, but I know I had an extended conversation with Gary Moon about — get this — education reform. I had the chance to talk with the guys of Night Ranger about anything in the world, and I end up in a conversation about that. I never said I was cool . . . or smooth. That right there just proves it. Whatever the case, Gary had some sort of interest in the subject, and we talked for a long time about it. Maybe it was refreshing to have a conversation about something other than himself and his music career; who knows.

As the night wore on and the crowd thinned, someone brought up the subject of their tour bus, which had been pulled up right outside the bar. Somehow my sister and I were brought out to take a peek on the bus. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re all thinking about the hijinks that happen on tour buses. This honestly was a peek. We went up the stairs, looked in, said, “Wow, that’s cool!” and then got off the bus. No Penny Lane stuff going on that night. Not from me, anyway.

I think the thing that gets me the most is that in 1996, cell phones were not what they were today, hence no instant access to a camera. I have NO PICTURES from that night – only the story to tell.

I’ve since seen Night Ranger several times since that night but have never gotten the chance to meet them again. Gary Moon has since departed from Night Ranger and is doing his own thing now, but I would like to think that if he ever needs to have a deep conversation about the state of Native American education in today’s school systems that he knows who to call.

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Um, toads? Don’t you know about the “new normal”?

I’ll admit that I am more than a little weary of the new talking points of this time period, including the one I used in the title of this post. New normal, social distancing, and whatever adjective ad execs and politicians want to use in front of the word “times” – challenging times, unprecedented times, difficult times, extraordinary times, uncertain, etc. I am mildly annoyed that I have to sit through commercials that now talk about COVID and social distancing. Good lord, enough already.

At my house, however, nature knows no social distancing rules. The toads have invaded my pond and they are NOT 6-feet apart.

I know my pond has been the subject of this blog before, but for those who may not be familiar with the backstory, let me digress for a moment.

When I was a child, my parents built a house on the family farm. Next to our house was a stream which led to a river. I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent HOURS next to that stream, watching the creatures that lived in its watery depths. I observed them, noting weird species that I had no idea existed, like caddisfly larvae, which would create their own little housing case that they lived in until they matured. It was a weird, secretive world where I could just watch and learn.

Several years ago, I became weary of the ultra-tame deer around here eating the produce in my raised garden beds, so I ripped them out and decided to put a pond there. Now, a sane person would have gotten ahold of a mini excavator or something to do the digging. I was fresh from a breakup and a little angsty, so I decided to dig it myself. By hand. Initially, I thought my children would find it fun to help with the project, but they tired of it after about an hour or so. I was on my own after that. So I dug. And dug. And dug. And dug. Pretty soon I had a pond that was about 10′ long, 6′ wide and 3′ deep. I had no idea what I was doing, really. I just knew I wanted a big pond that was large enough to house frogs, toads, and possibly fish.

Since then, I’ve been utterly amazed at the creatures which inhabit the pond each year. I’ve learned that early on, small chorus frogs will be the first to discover the pond. (Yes, some frogs try to winter in the pond, but they always perish.). There will be some wonderful singing that lasts for a couple weeks, followed by some frog eggs. Then the toads will discover it and fill the air with their shrill singing, and then their eggs will appear. Soon the pond is full of tadpoles, and I often have to shut off my pond pump for fear of the little guys clogging it up and burning it out. (Yes, that actually happened. Gross.)

This season has been an unusual one because everything has happened so late. (Not a fan of 2020 so far – just sayin’.). The frogs visited, sang, and then seemed to go away without laying any eggs. However, when I rinsed out the pump filter a few days ago, I did notice a tiny, almost microsopic tadpole. Just where these frogs laid their eggs is a mystery, as they usually lay them in the shallow shelf of the pond, but not this year, evidently.

A few nights ago, I started hearing the toads sing. I found out recently that the toads are of the American toad species. First there was one, then two, then all of a sudden I have a freaking party going on in my back yard. The sound they make is deafening at times, and sometimes I pray that my neighbors don’t secretly hate me because of the extra racket I create in this neighborhood.

Last night was one of those nights that you wish you could bottle up and keep forever. No wind. Mild temps. And in my yard – the singing of the toads. Click on the link to hear the toads singing in full force.

https://www.crackediceandchrome.com/0514202039c.mp4

All of a sudden, I have toads everywhere. Yesterday I saw two of them getting “friendly.” Today? Three mating couples at the same time, with one of them leaving egg strings as they swam around.

Yup – I am definitely going to have to shut off the pump soon. Consider this post an official birth announcement, I guess.

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The Power of an Idea

Last week, my husband and I were sitting on the back patio by the pond. We had just spent the past two days going around buying flowers at different greenhouses – mostly perennials, as I am trying to make landscaping as maintenance-free as possible. The area that was just to the left of the pond is full of colorful perennials, and I love going to the backyard when everything is in full bloom and just marveling at the beauty of it all. My backyard is my little haven, but it needs a couple of things: some privacy (I have two houses that angle toward my backyard and nothing to shield them) and even more color.

I turned to my husband and said, “What if we put yet another perrennial garden to the right of the pond, leaving a little walkway in between? Then in the middle of summer this whole area would be full of flowers.

In typical “me” fashion, I grabbed a can of spraypaint right then (leaving my coffee to get cold) and outlined what I had in mind. My husband liked the idea, so we changed into work clothes and started digging out the grass.

After we dug out the grass, we then had to go hunting for some edging. The one local store that carries it was sold out (go figure), so we had to travel 25 mins away to a different town to get it. There went an hour of our work time. By suppertime, however, we had our new planting area all ready for the next steps.

The shape of the left side follows the curve of the pond if anyone is wondering about the weird shape. I envision that we will soon put in some stepping stone to serve as a path between the two features. We then put down the landscaping fabric and decided which perennials will be placed where.

Then we planted. That night, we sat out under a beautiful evening sky and marveled at the color of the blooms and how it all added something special to the ambiance of the pond. In hindsight, I should have taken a pic of the finished product.

The next morning, I eagerly made coffee so I could go sit outside in the early morning hours to enjoy the flowers. Before that, however, I had gone outside with my phone in order to get a pic of the new perennial garden to include on this post. That, my friends, is when I faced the horror of living where I live.

All of the blooms — ALL OF THEM — had been chomped off by the deer in the middle of the night. Now I just had a bunch of greenery, but no color.

I should be used to this. When I had a garden a few years ago, this happened regularly. I had tried everything to keep them away – soap shavings, human hair, human pee, coyote pee, egg/cayenne pepper spray, and on and on. Nothing worked for very long. After getting frustrated that the deer obliterated my green beans for the millionth time, I ripped out the raised garden beds and started digging the pond that I have now. (That is also the primary reason why I have horrible back pain, but that’s another post for another time.)The deer around here are super tame; there have been times that I have walked out of my backyard and they are standing 15 feet away. Their heads jerk up initially, but then if I didn’t move, they would go back to eating. I swear that these deer think they’re dogs.

I went to the local store and bought some stinky spray to keep the deer away, and I think it has been working. I mean, I have no more blooms for them to eat, so all I can judge it by is how much more everything else has been chomped down. So far so good. Since I did not get a pic when everything was newly planted, I will have to settle for showing you today, post-deer obliteration. I am anxious for the plants to regenerate and bloom once again. And when they do, this time I WILL get a pic!

I scattered some tomatoes in pots so they are getting the good sun that hits this perennial garden. I like the extra pop of color that the red mulch adds, and eventually the blooms will also add color.

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The paranoia is thick!

So, the quarantine days drag on. I think if I lived in a larger town, the stifling feeling of all of this wouldn’t be so bad, but as it is, we have few options for shopping. We have a grocery store. We have a Dollar General. Truthfully, that’s about it. We had one of the last K Marts in the country, but that closed down this past winter. It’s just four people in a too-small house in a too-small town.

It’s spring — or what passes for spring in the Midwest, anyway. That usually includes a snowstorm or two. We got dumped on a couple weekends ago, and it has been frustrating to wait for warmer weather. In the Midwest, it is usually the norm that when a nice day arrives, it will be accompanied by gale force winds. A calm, nice day around here is a rarity.

This whole quarantine stuff has been a fascinating look into human psychology, I must say. I have observed my own reactions to having days on end of unstructured free time — the advantages, the pitfalls, the frustrations. I am a high school teacher, and I am in weekly contact with my students as much as possible. While I expected all of them to be enthusiastic that school has been canceled for the rest of the year, I have heard from several who say that they miss school and desperately want to go back. I feel a little torn, to be honest. I am finding the time to do things that I haven’t enjoyed in a while – keeping up with this blog, for example, and painting, and reading. However, I miss seeing my students and giving lessons in a classroom. I am frustrated that my students will miss out on an entire quarter’s worth of information. I am providing whatever instruction I can, but the number of students who have gone MIA now that school has been called off is growing by the week. On the plus side, My husband and I have discovered countless movies we have enjoyed — we take turns introducing each other to movies we consider “must see”), and we have stumbled across rather horrific shows such as Tiger King and The Wild and Wonderful World of the Whites of West Virginia. I think I watched both with my mouth open in amazement.

In my brief outings, which usually involve a run to the grocery store, I have noticed a subtle shift in the way humans interact with each other. Like my title says, the paranoia is thick. When I come down a store aisle where someone else is, they turn and look at you with a suspicious glance – something that would not have happened before. If anyone happens to cough because of whatever reason, there are actual stares and visible judgment. I watched a store clerk being asked to go home after a customer complained because she had allergies and was coughing a little. Yes, I understand that some of this paranoia is based on a real need for being careful, yet I am amazed that we have evolved into being paranoid and sometimes downright rude. I was talking with one of my students the other day – a girl who was adopted from China as a baby. She talked about visiting a Target in a nearby town and noticing people glancing at her and then moving away. I am not surprised, but like I said, all of this provdes a very interesting look into psychology and the breakdown of what used to be considered “Midwestern nice.”

Be safe, but remember to treat each other as human beings.

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A new scanning adventure

If you have read this blog off and on during the past few years, you probably noticed that I have quite a fondness for the WNAX Neighbor Lady cookbooks. Now that I have some time on my hands, I’ve decided to start scanning in all the books that I have from the 1940s and 1950s. You can find the ones I’ve scanned so far on the new page designed just for these cookbooks. I will be adding to the collection as I get them scanned in, so be sure to check back!

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An Easter to remember

Well, this “stay at home” stuff is an introvert’s dream, but even introverts hit a wall, and I think I’m getting there. I mean, it would be one thing if the weather was consistently nice and I could get outside of this small house to get some exercise. I did – for a few days. I got all the remaining leaves out of my yard and burned them. I got my pond up and running, which is probably the earliest I’ve ever had it cleaned out and functional. But then Mother Nature decided to play a little joke on us for Easter Sunday, and this is what the pond looks like today.

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I quarantine; therefore, I write

Like many people in the United States, I have suddenly become a homebody. I realized that my “Gee, I have no time to blog” excuse no longer applies, so here I am. Blogging. Thinking. Cleaning. Playing games with my family. Cleaning some more. Sneaking peeks at the CDC website to see what the newest bad news contains. Telling my kids that no, they cannot go hang with friends, although some days I am so tempted to just tell them to go wherever they want. I mean, MUST video games and movies be SO DANG LOUD? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

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Calling all Elvis fans!

Although I was a little late to the party, I discovered Elvis while browsing through channels one day in 1987.  It was around the birthday celebration week, and HBO was airing the documentary That’s the Way It Is.  My parents were not Elvis fans, and I had apparently grown up in some sort of bubble, so I had no idea who Elvis was.  I stopped on the special, intrigued.  Who was this man?  What was with that fringed jumpsuit?  But man, he was handsome, and he could sing.

I went upstairs and told my mom that I was watching some guy in a white jumpsuit sing on HBO.  She said, “Oh my, that must be Elvis.”

And that was it for me.  My obsession with all things Elvis began.

Continue reading “Calling all Elvis fans!”

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