Collecting | Saving the snowpeople

Despite my best efforts, my little collection of snowpeople keeps growing.

snowman collectibles
I never go out looking for them, but (like a lot of other things) they just keep finding me.

snowman collection
This is the guy who started it all. He was a Christmas gift when I was kid. (You might recognize him as an Avon decanter; he’s still half full of Sweet Honesty, my signature scent in the eighth grade.)

snowmen and Gurley candle Christmas tree
Most of the rest of my little snow family have been picked up for a song at garage sales and thrift stores over the years.

vintage snowman collection
I really like the vintage ones, like this couple of cuties, who are actually salt and pepper shakers.

snowman collection
But I have a soft spot for simple wooden snowmen, too.

snowman collection
This guy even came with a name tag. (Poor Bob. What kind of a heartless monster would dump him at a thrift store???)

The big guy in the center of this video clip is solar-powered. When I first saw him at the St. Vincent de Paul, I thought he was a broken clock or kitchen timer. I bought him anyway. After I got him home and held him up to the light to inspect him, he started to shimmy, and it dawned on me that the panel on his base was actually a solar cell, not a broken LCD screen.

snowmen on a shelf

Most years, I set my snowpeople out on this three-tiered shelf before Christmas. This year — as part of my ongoing quest to put off studying for finals and writing the three papers that I have due next week — I decided to document the process.

red metal plate
On the bottom shelf, I started with this chippy red metal plate.

making a Christmas display
I propped an evergreen branch (trimmed off the bottom of our Christmas tree) up against the plate.

ceramic tree
Then I put a ceramic tree in the center of the shelf …

vintage snowmen and tree
… and added a couple of larger snowpeople to the right. (I used a few checkers and poker chips as risers in order to vary the height a bit.)

snowmen on a shelf
I filled in around the big pieces with smaller snowmen and added a few more random pieces of greenery to hide the risers and fill in the gaps.

creating a Christmas vignette
For the middle shelf, I started with this green metal plate.

green tray and evergreen branch
An evergreen branch went in front of the plate again.

Creating a Christmas vignette
Then I added a couple of cocoa tins and a vintage battery-powered light-up Christmas tree in the center of the shelf.

snowmen and tree
I added Bob and another wooden snowman on the edges …

snowman collectibles

… and then I finished up with some other random smalls.

evergreen branch on shelf

The process was pretty much the same for the top shelf, except I skipped the plate in the back and just started with some Christmas tree trimmings.

Gurley Christmas tree candles

A couple of vintage Gurley candles went next, with one of them on a riser.

snowmen and candle Christmas trees

Then I placed a couple of bigger guys …

snowman collection
… and filled in with some smaller pieces.

vintage snowmen on a shelf


Collecting | Secondhand stars

star ornaments
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll collect almost anything. Except for stuff that’s made specifically to be collectible. Hummel figurines? I’ll pass. Precious Moments? God no. Those faceless Willow Tree people that everybody else loves? Not my thing.collection of stars

But turn me loose in a thrift store or at a garage sale and I guarantee I will find some random castoff that has absolutely no monetary value that I will just HAVE to have.
And then I’ll find another one. And another one. And another one. Case in point: my collection of secondhand stars. Most of them cost next to nothing.
Some of them I’ve given makeovers, like these two. The star on the left was unpainted cardboard when I bought it. The one on the right was one of those plastic glow-in-the-dark models. I gave them both a coat of copper paint and now they look like they’re metal.
These were all basic pine stars that I’ve picked up one or two at a time. Most of them were unfinished wood when I bought them. One was bright blue. I painted them all white, glued a little newspaper on them and grunged them up a bit.
collection of stars
This one was obviously a cookie cutter that someone had drilled holes in and turned into a Christmas ornament before casting it off.
star Christmas ornaments
Most of these were bright shiny gold stars, which I didn’t love, so I brought them home and painted them silver.
collection of stars
I tend to put out a star or two here and there occasionally, but most of the time, my stars live in a box.collection of stars

With Christmas coming, I decided I’d pull them all out and give them a chance to shine.
They’re still just a bunch of random, discarded, picked-up-at-a-thrift-store-for-a-quarter-each stars.
collection of stars

But all together, they make a lovely collection.

Collecting | Vintage briefcases

Like a lot of things, I didn’t set out to collect vintage briefcases and portfolios.

leather briefcases
I just stumbled upon one at a thrift store that I loved. So I bought it.

Then I found another.

leather briefcase
And another.

leather briefcases
And another.

leather briefcases
The great thing about this collection: It’s useful.

old leather briefcase
I take one of the cases to work with me all the time.

briefcase collection
A few others I store photos and memorabilia in.

briefcase collection
This case came with an ID tag taped inside.

old briefcase
I love the aged hardware and leather.

old potfolio
Here’s one of my favorite portfolios.

leather briefcase and portfolio collection
The zipper still works.

old leather portfolio
One of the portfolios is stamped “Marvelux” on the inside.

briefcase collection
This portfolio gets a lot of use.

vintage portfolio
A chunky old zipper closes to keep the contents safe inside.

leather covers
I also love old leather-covered folders, scrapbooks, diaries, calendars, etc.

vintage books and portfolios
Here are a few my favorites.

vintage leather calendar
This one’s a pristine 1966 calendar.

vintage calendar
Because you never know when you might need a 1966 calendar.

tooled leather cover
This one’s a diary. About half of the pages have been ripped out, but I still love the embossed cover.

leather cover
This one’s  an organizer.

vintage leather collection
It’s not old, maybe from the 1990s. But I love the cover.

vintage leather books and covers
Inside it says, “Scully Since 1906.”

leather books
This one is faux leather — and new.

leather book cover
It has my 2016 calendar in it. (Yes, I still use a paper calendar.)

old leather book covers

This cover is about 5 inches by 8 inches.

leather cover
It could hold a pad of paper and a pen.

leather cover

Here’s a cover that shows its age.

leather cover
It has a plastic photo insert in it.

leather cover
This three-ring binder is stamped “Made in Italy” on the back.

old briefcases
I also collect vintage suitcases. Click here to read about that collection.

Collecting | Vintage typography jars

Earlier this summer I was picking through the leftovers at a garage sale that was about to close when I found this little jar for a quarter:

I love glass jars with typography on them. And I especially love glass jars with Helvetica Bold on them. There was one little problem with the jar, though.

It was sans lid. I bought it anyway.

Then this weekend, I found this cute but somewhat nondescript jar at a thrift store. The mouth of the jar appeared to be about the same size as my leftovers jar…

… so I thought perhaps I could harvest the lid off of it.

For 95 cents, it was mine.

The lids on these clamp-style jars come off pretty easily. You just have to squeeze the inside metal brackets together until they slide off the other set of brackets.

A pliers helps.

Once the lid is off, you squeeze the metal brackets on the lid together again to slip them inside the metal brackets on the other jar. Easy peasy.

I’m happy to say the lid fit the leftovers jar perfectly.


So now I have another glass jar with typography on it to use in my kitchen.

Collecting | A few secondhand finds

I had a couple days off of work at the end of the week last week and a long list of chores to do around the house: painting the trim on the porch, weeding the garden, organizing the kitchen closet, etc.

I went garage sale/thrift store shopping instead.

My favorite find was this kitschy plastic Statue of Liberty ($2). She’s about 5 inches tall.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her (except for maybe start a collection of Statues of Liberty?), but with it being the Flag Day/Independence Day season and all, it seemed like my patriotic duty to buy her.

After I brought her home, I pulled out my box of random stars. Because what else does one do with a box full of random stars besides use it as a backdrop for a miniature Statue of Liberty?

I also bought this hideous bar stool ($2) because I have a very similar (but less hideous) stool in my kitchen that is literally falling part. One of the spindles connecting the legs broke in half a while back and the whole thing is a bit wobbly now. I’m not sure if it can be repaired. By which I mean: I’m sure it could be repaired by someone who knows what they’re doing, but it probably cannot be repaired by me. So, if the old stool needs to get thrown out, I now have a replacement.

I plan to remove the dated/stained/all-around gross upholstery and then re-cover or paint the seat. I think I’ll leave the unfinished legs and weird mint green boards as is. (As are?)

 This little foldable tripod stand (30 cents) seemed like a good deal. It’s probably from an artificial Christmas tree, but I’m hoping to use it as a stand for one of the scarecrows that I set up on my porch in the fall.

 I also picked up a couple of vintage Corelle plates that match a set I have been putting together a piece at a time.

My grandma had this exact harvest-gold-patterned set when I was a kid in the 1970s.

 By the 1980s, poor harvest gold was so passe, it was punchline. So when I got married in 1989 and picked out my own Corelle, I opted for what I was sure was going to be a classic color scheme that would stand the test of time: blue and mauve.

I’ve regretted that choice since about 1990. But we still have the damn dishes because they are virtually indestructible.

A couple years ago, I started picking up Corelle in my grandma’s old pattern, the once-tired harvest gold. I just buy a plate here and a cup there, as I find them, usually for a couple dollars a piece at thrift stores.

When I finally amass a full set of harvest gold, I plan to get rid of the much-hated blue and mauve dishes.

And one last find:

A Homer Laughlin sugar bowl. (I can’t remember what the price was; I think around $4?)

The Corelle gets used every day, so that gets put away in my kitchen cupboards, but the hutch in my dining room is full of all my pretty white dishes that I only use when I host fancy dinner parties. Which is to say, I never use them.

 But I do like to look at them.


Collecting | I love (other people’s) trash

I’ve spent most of my free time during the past few weeks cleaning, organizing and purging the clutter from my basement.

But one Saturday morning, I decided I needed a break, so I drove to a nearby town to check out a citywide rummage sale…

citywide rummage sale

… and came home with a whole new batch of clutter. It couldn’t be helped. I kept finding great stuff at crazy low, low prices that I needed/wanted/bought impulsively and may or may not have regretted later.

Here are a few of my favorite finds of the day:

garage sale finds

A vintage Sultana Peanut Butter tin, minus the handle. I’d love to put a plant in it and set it on my deck, but I don’t want it to rust. So it may end up holding markers or paintbrushes on my desk instead.

garage sale finds

The old type and graphics and its all-around orangeness more than make up for the missing handle as far as I’m concerned. (It was $2.)

garage sale finds

A reproduction Hutton’s ham tin. It’s not old like the peanut butter pail is (I paid 50 cents for it), but I love the graphics on the can, and it reminded me of a Granger Tobacco tin I bought at another rummage sale earlier this spring:

garage sale finds

They look like they belong together, don’t they? The tobacco tin is the real deal (i.e., vintage). (And it was only $3). When I saw the Hutton’s can, I immediately pictured it sitting next to the tobacco can.

garage sale finds

And in the fall, I can tuck a few gourds and pumpkins in among my three new tins and have an instant Halloween vignette.

garage sale finds

A pewter plate with type around the rim. The alphabet plate is the new one (50 cents). It reminded of the cheese plate I already owned. Now both plates are in my hutch, nestled among my dishes, which brings me to my next find….

garage sale finds
Two small oval plates ($1) and a matching serving bowl ($1.50).

garage sale finds

They also happened to match a creamer I already had at home.

The three clear glass canning jar lids and the random silverware in the previous photo are the only things I bought that truly ended up getting stored in my (less-cluttered-than-before) basement. I use canning jars all the time for storage and craft projects, so the lids will definitely get used at some point. As for the lovely vintage flatware, I have a million different ideas for projects I’d like to make out of it, but it’s so pretty as is I hesitate to bend it or stamp into it, so we’ll see what becomes of it.

garage sale finds

This white canister, which I got for a quarter — probably because it was missing a lid. Not a problem. I already had the lid for it at home.

I buy orphaned lids occasionally, when they are really, really cheap, hoping that someday I might be able to reunite them with containers. Often enough, I find a match. (It’s my gift.)

As I don’t really need another canister-canister, I think I will use this one for Calvin’s cat chow.

garage sale finds
A white metal table, for $2. I’m going to set it on my deck between a couple of patio chairs. The top is plexiglass, which is practical but not real pretty. I’m thinking about tiling over the top of it. I’ll live with it a while first. Maybe once I set a big bushy plant on it, I will forget all about the plexiglass.

garage sale finds

A lefty scissors. Just because. (40 cents.)

garage sale finds
A Wisconsin pin (10 cents). I’m not sure what exactly that gold scrolly thing on it is. A company logo of some kind probably. Is it an “e”? A roll of paper? A toboggan? I tried Googling it but have come up empty so far. I feel like I should find out what it is before I start wearing it in public, just in case it turns out to be a symbol for the neo Nazis or something. (If anyone has any insight, please share.)

garage sale finds
A roll of newspaper print wallpaper ($2). I have no idea what I am going to do with it. But it is going to be fabulous.

garage sale finds

And finally, this little item.

garage sale finds
Do you recognize it? I didn’t right away. There were no tags or markings on it.

garage sale finds

I had to turn it over and study it from every angle before it finally dawned on me…

garage sale finds

It’s a Connect 4 game. I was so happy when I finally solved the riddle I had to buy it (for 50 cents).

Collecting | Easter decorations

I used to go all out decorating for Easter, but, as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve learned to say no to Pepto-Bismol pink plastic baskets and bears in rabbit ears.

I haven’t been able to kick the seasonal decorating habit altogether; but (I like to think) I’m a little more discerning in what I collect and keep.

I have a little flock of oddball sheep that, like a lot of the things that I collect, are not particularly old or valuable, but I absolutely love them.

They all came from thrift stores and garage sales.

I think it’s their quirkiness that appeals to me.

That and the fact that none of them is Pepto-Bismol pink.

I have few rabbits that I’ve rescued from thrift stores that I have a soft spot for, too, including these wooden ones …

… and this metal hoop:


This moss-and-chickenwire-covered pair is a recent new addition…

moss rabbits
… and by “new” I mean “new,” not just “new to me” (which is what I usually mean when I say something is “new.”) My general rule is that I only buy holiday decorations secondhand, mostly because I prefer vintage, but also because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on seasonal items that I’m only going to display for a few weeks a year. So when I break my secondhand rule, it’s on something that I really love.

In addition to my sheep and rabbits, I have a few chickens I set out in the spring.

hen on nest

The green glass ones (above) go in a hutch in my dining room.

My Pot Rooster (below) goes on the stove.

Pot Rooster
I used to leave him out year round, but I’m kind of a messy cook, and after one too many pots boiled over, the back — which was in perfect condition when I bought it — started to look like this:

Pot Rooster

I just bought this little seasoning can at a thrift store recently:

poultry seasoning
It has a plastic top, so it can’t be all that old, but I love the graphics on it.

I also have a few paper mache German eggs with lovely cartoon images on them:

paper mache egg
I bought them from the Pamida store I worked at when I was in college in the late 1980s.

The insides are just as beautiful as the outsides.

paper mache egg
The type says “Made in German Democratic Republic” (which we knew as East Germany back in my college days). The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, and Germany was officially reunified the following year. So, even though the eggs were new when I bought them, they have a bit of history to them and would probably be considered “vintage” today.

Also vintage: these cookie cutters, which I framed in a shadowbox and hung on my wall:

chicken and rabbit cookie cutters
I would love to find a lamb and a duck that I could swap out one of the chickens and one of the rabbits with, so the pyramid doesn’t have duplicates. But until I find them, these will do.

Happy Easter from the flock.

Collecting | Miniature watering cans

I have a somewhat crazy fascination/borderline obsession with unusually small things: Model trains, doll houses, hotel soap bars, single-serving boxes of cereal that look EXACTLY like the full-size box (just smaller), puppies, pencil sharpeners shaped like Lilliputian typewriters or cameras, travel-size bottles of shampoo, those little paper umbrellas that bartenders put in your pina coladas. The list goes on…

spring decor

The full-size versions do nothing for me (except for grown-up puppies, of course).

But when something is shrunk down to a tiny percentage of its full-size self, I can’t get enough of it. Case in point: miniature sprinkler cans.

I find them at thrift stores all the time, and I have to say, in my book, they are the best thing since miniature sliced bread.

I think my favorites are the galvanized cans.

spring decor
… but I like the painted ones, too.

This one was just a plain white can when I bought it:

sprinkler can collection
 I decoupaged the bee (crookedly) onto it.

sprinkler can collection
(Even with a crooked bee on it, it’s still worth every penny I paid for it.)

The one below isn’t really a sprinkler can, but it’s close enough.

watering can collection
When I pulled my little collection out of storage this spring, I decided to display them with some vintage seed packets. Unfortunately, I didn’t own any vintage seed packets…

… so I made some. I found an old box of invitation envelopes that were about the right height, and I figured if I cut them in half, they’d be about the right width too.

Once the envelopes were cut in half, I slid one side inside the other…

…and trimmed off the flaps on the back.

The Graphics Fairy provided some fabulous old-time vegetable images that I added my own verbiage to in Photoshop Elements.

I trimmed the images to fit and folded them in thirds around the envelopes.

Then I just had to run a few beads of glue along the seams and voila: five (almost) vintage seed packets:

Another small project done.

sprinkler can collection


Collecting | Wooden cutting boards

Old wooden cutting boards are the Rodney Dangerfields of the thrift store. They get no respect.

They’re generally sitting on the back of a bottom shelf somewhere with a pile of mismatched Corelle and frayed wicker plate holders on top of them. And if you go to the trouble of digging one out, it’s probably priced at a quarter or 50 cents.

Most shoppers don’t even bother to look at them. Because who wants a nasty old dried-out, scarred-up wooden cutting board?

Um. I do.

Personally, I think old cutting boards are beautiful, even if they are gouged up from years of use. In fact, especially if they are gouged up from years of use. Scratches and scars add character.

I never set out to collect cutting boards. But I kept seeing them on the bottom shelves, under the stacks of Corelle. And something about the simple beauty of their clean lines and rounded edges spoke to me. So I bought one, and then another, and pretty soon I decided that whenever I found a sad case for a dollar or less, I’d give it a home. So that’s what I do now.

I always wash my “new” cutting boards in hot, soapy water (with a little bit of bleach added) to clean and sanitize them. Then I rub them down with mineral oil.

Usually the mineral oil — which is non-toxic/food-safe (and dirt cheap) — soaks into the old, dried-out wood immediately.

Most of my cutting boards are a simple, no-nonsense style with a handle at the top. But a few have fancy inlaid wood designs. Probably somebody’s high school shop class project, cast off to the thrift store when Mom decided she didn’t want it any more.

And I have a couple of small pieces that are technically trivets, not cutting boards.

Just look at the intricate designs.

I think they’re absolutely gorgeous.

The bulk of my rescued cutting boards resides on top of my refrigerator …

… inside an old wire basket…

wood cutting boards

… which is another thing I didn’t set out to collect but seem to have acquired quite a few of over the years.

Collecting | Glass jars and bottles

I do NOT collect glass jars or bottles.

Really. I don’t. If you asked me what I collect, I could easily name 20 things off the top of my head, and glass would not be on the list.

I am not one of those crazy people at the flea market buying up every piece of brown glass out there …

… or going gaga over all the green bottles for sale.

Yet somehow my house is full of glass.

I can’t explain it.

I’m really not even sure where most of the jars and bottles came from anymore.

The only glass bottles I ever purposely sought out to buy were the old apothecary-style ones that Bath & Body Works used to sell. I absolutely loved those bottles. (Still do.)

I rarely used any of the lotions or potions inside them. (What exactly does one do with pillow mist anyway?)

Honestly, Bath & Body Works could have sold rat poison in those bottles and I still would have bought them. At any price.

Thankfully (for my bank account), Bath & Body updated that line a while back, so the current bottles are a different style and shape (and I think some of them are even — shudder — plastic).

As for the rest of my non-collection? All I can say is that the pieces were accumulated so gradually and so by happenstance over the past 20+ years, I hardly even noticed the trend.

I would just pick up a jar here and a bottle there as I was out and about and would stumble upon a piece that spoke to me, usually something vintage or vintage-style and usually for just a few dollars (at most) at a garage sale or thrift store.

And then when I’d get my new old piece of glass home I’d realize, “This apothecary jar matches that one.”  Or, “This bottle is the same color as that vase.” So I’d group things together.

But they are most definitely NOT a collection.

They are just a group of objects that I have accumulated that happen to share similar characteristics.

(And just to be clear: I AM one of those crazy people at the flea market. Just NOT one of those crazy people at the flea market stalking the glass bottles and jars. I’m stalking the 20 or so other things that I actually collect.)