Tuesday, November 25, 2014


It's that time of year - when the cold weather sets in to our hemisphere and, along with our woollies, the decorations come out. I thought we had gotten rid of all the decorations years ago, but upon opening the box of our coats my mother-in-law so kindly sent us from her attic, I found the one seasonal decoration I still had.

I actually love decorations. I love the change of the seasons: the pumpkins, Easter lilies, and red-white-blue buntings hung from porches. I used to enjoy my annual trip to Experience to stock up on bayberry candles. I love buying shelter magazines at holiday time. One year we decided to completely revamp our Christmas tree decorations and created a silver and white theme tree with ample glittery snowflakes. It was lovely, but it was also kinda lonely.

Slowly, I began to realize that what I really love are not decorations in a home, but the over-the-top decorations in public places. The ones involving cranes. Once we took the kids down to NYC to see the city decked out in its holiday splendor: Macy's windows, FAO Schwartz, Tiffany, Rockefeller Center - all of it bigger than life.  Now we're talking decorations!

While the visual sensation of all the glitter, ribbons and lights is heady, the real experience of big decorations in public spaces is the shared experience. We are looking at the big snowflakes hanging from the vaulted ceiling at the James Center together with other people. It's the press of noisy people on the sidewalk that make the line at Macy's windows exciting. It's the lighted bows on the street lamps along the shops that are just a backdrop for cheerful people. 

I can understand the desire to decorate one's private indoor spaces for the holidays. It is delightful to see the candles and greenery decked out across the mantle and a welcoming wreath on the front door. A bit of seasonal color here and there can go a long way. But, we don't have a mantle anymore, nor any horizontal surfaces worthy of candles. We also don't have any storage space for seasonal decorations. 

That's all more than fine for me. I don't feel the need to decorate indoors anymore. Been there, done that nesting. Now, I delight in stepping out the door and reveling in the huge Christmas tree that the advertising agency has erected in their courtyard. The trunks of the trees on the sidewalk are wrapped in lights 15 feet high. The shop windows are full of greenery and ribbons. The hotels have lights everywhere. The air is cold and nature has plenty of decorations of her own to share: pretty designs of frost on the parked cars, piles of brightly colored leaves on the sidewalks, the stark empty branches against the grayish sky. 

I have lots of decorations to enjoy *and* I get to share them with other people. 

Even this one is shared, since I don't wear the coat indoors much.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

coffee shop tour

My phone claims it's -7 C out there. My bed is snugly warm, my husband snoring contently. I'm wide awake, enjoying the thought of a Saturday with no commitments and no plans except to write and finish a tiny quilt. What about breakfast? I have some delicious leftover homemade waffles in the fridge and my favorite tea. But the sun is coming up, the world is calling.

Time for walkies!! Now that we have tucked in Red Ranger for the winter (a new experience in itself), it's time to explore our new digs. I've done my research on foot and on Yelp and we are now embarking on our extensive coffee shop reconnaissance tour. Our ideal early Saturday is spent sampling pastries and hot drinks while writing (or in my case, sometimes reading) the morning away. The shared space of a coffee shop is one of the joys of life. People bustle in and out, some staying to chat and recharge their lives with friends, neighbors and total strangers. I love it! The smells and sounds of the baked goods and oven door banging and the steamer foaming are backdrops to the welcoming comfort of people, not like a quiet kitchen at home (even with yummy waffles).

When we were nomads, we often had a different coffee shop in a new town every week. Now we have to go deep, not broad, but going deep is fun, too. I am a prodigious bookmarker. I have a folder for Richmond with several sub folders of links to various establishments: local food vendors, farmers markets, bars, historic sites, and an entire sub folder devoted to coffee shops. We are starting the march through the list. There are three coffee shops that are less than two blocks away. We've been to those many times. Time to branch out and explore. 

Favorite coffee shops on the Eastern seaboard, from the days of being tech nomads:
Annapolis MD - City Dock Coffee
Deltaville VA - Cafe by the Bay
Norfolk VA - Ghent Starbucks
Wrightsville Beach NC - Cafe del Mar
Summerville NC - Coastal Coffee Roasters
St Marys GA - Blue Goose
Ortega JAX FL - Starbucks
St Augustine FL - Kookaburra
New Smyrna Beach FL - Hotties
Vero Beach FL - Cravings
Port Salerno FL - Sammies
Coconut Grove Miami FL - Starbucks

Many pastries and cups of tea and coffee to consume! 

Monday, November 10, 2014


It's an instinctual urge in me, to collect things. Or maybe it's just because I'm a Bowers (see Bowerbird). I love things that match or have a common theme.  As a child, I cut out pages from the Sears catalog and lined up the pictures of the same object shown in different colors. I also love little things, whether they have any commonality or not. Growing up, I had a small blue velvet-covered watch box in which I collected tiny things: rocks, shells, kitten teeth, a tiny blue jay feather, a blue marble that looked like the earth. 

There's something about collecting that just sucks me in. The enumeration, the visual grouping, the treasure hunt for the next member of the set, whatever it is that connects with my brain hardware, it's an addiction. One item is interesting, two items has potential, but three items is a collection. The growth trajectory of a collection is dependent on the type of item. Most things are open-ended, there is an infinite number of things that could be added to the collection. Shells are a perfect example, one could collect shells forever, the collection could be as big as external constraints (time, money, space) allow.

Open-ended collections give the collector the opportunity for curation. Curation is defined as organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. This is where the fun comes in. One of the collections I had in the past was doll furniture. Scouring yard sales, antique shops and eBay for just the right piece makes part of my brain just plain happy. I still look for pieces, but I don't buy. Looking is just as much fun as it always was. I have a large watching list on eBay most of the time, but haven't bought anything there in years. Etsy also figured this out and offers a Treasury tool in which one can pick 12 items to create a curated collection of object images for any theme one can imagine: color, function, season, or any other random idea, just for the fun of it.

Finite collections come in two types, open and closed. An example of an open collection is US postage stamps, the passion of my middle school years. The list of all stamps produced is known, so the collection is finite, but more members are added every year. This gives the collector a framework for the collection. For stamps, we had paper books with a place for every stamp to be mounted. One could even complete full pages of stamps in the book. This type of collection gives the collector a defined goal and a progress indicator. 

A closed collection is one in which the members are defined, but no new members are being produced, such as artwork created by a deceased artist. I encountered this type of collection during my recent hunt for used apartment furnishings. I found a fascinating shop of 20th century pieces and asked about a certain vase that I instantly loved. I don't need any vases and it was totally out of my price range, but I went home to research the artist anyway. The shop owner had done his homework and this was a fair market price. The artist died in 1964, she won't be making any more vases.

Ok, so all this about my fascination with collections and collecting things: it's deep, it's ingrained, it's compulsive. But wait. I'm also a minimalist. I try to keep the things I own to a small set of useful items. How can I indulge my bent for collecting things while still keeping my possessions minimal? 

One way I've found to satisfy my urge to collect is by creating virtual collections. Virtual collection methods can involve pictures, research, lists, and experiences. For example, I have a collection of cute trailer pictures on Pinterest. I certainly can't collect trailers (although that would be so much fun!). I also like to learn all I can about decorative arts, so in a sense, my knowledge about furniture, ceramics and textile styles is a type of collection. Research doesn't take up much space, keeps me interested and dusting is not required. Lists and experiences are probably overlapping forms of virtual collecting, but examples are the list of books I've read on GoodReads, the countries I've visited and the microbrews I've consumed. 

Another collections strategy is to keep things tiny. Sometimes the urge to collect physical objects is hard to combat, so I indulge in a few. These all live in a mason jar.