Monday, May 24, 2010

Adventures in Vintage...Classic!

What a weekend, to be sure!  I had a booth at the 11th Annual Lucketts Store Spring Market in Lucketts, Virginia and hung out with a bunch of vintage thrill seekers and antique trekkies.  You know who I'm talking about--those people who are in it for the thrill of the hunt, the call of the bargain and they definitely get a rush when scoring the deal of the century--or, at the very least, the deal of the weekend.  "I can do this, too," I've said to myself through the years and this was the year I decided to finally walk the talk and venture into the antique/vintage wares selling  business.  After all, I've been selling lavender for years.  How different can this be?  So, here I am...

I've been to this fair many times before and have always marveled at what people sell here and marveled more at what people buy here.  From beanie babies and childrens toys to posh antiques, old rusty garden decor and even bathroom sinks.  Everything and anything that was once somebody's trash and now somebody's treasure--bought and sold--sometimes at exorbitant prices and sometimes dirt cheap can be found at this Spring Market and now I have added my 2 cents worth. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked, over the course of this past weekend, things like, "Why are these milk cans so cheap?" or, "What's wrong with that chest since it's priced so low?"  C'mon people, you don't always have to look a gift horse in the mouth, just consider it divine intervention that is going your way!!

Everybody, it seemed, needed a story to go with their new found treasure.  I had a bidding war going on over an old pew given to us from my in-laws, when we were first married. It was from their old church in Niantic, Connecticut.  I had marked the ticket showing it came from there and a women asked me about it.  I was telling her how my mother-in-law had asked Peter to design a new planting plan for their newly renovated Niantic Community Church just as he had finished his Landscape Architecture Degree almost 30 years ago.  The church had no money to pay him but offered two old pews instead, which we were very grateful for and used them for many years all around the house.  Another woman was listening in and then wanted the pew as well.  Not only that, I had another lady at the same time asking me for the story behind an old pink-flowered platter (which was my Swedish grandmother's, Helga Charlotta Anderson Ivarson--no kidding--I couldn't make that name up if I tried!)   Anyway, back to the pew--while one lady took cell phone pictures to send to her husband claiming it was hers, the other lady was insisting that I slap a "sold" ticket on it for her.  I suddenly felt as though I should have on a black and white striped shirt with a whistle in my mouth.  Touchdown!  The woman with the cell phone scored.  Afterall, she was the first to inquire about it.

There were also the self-proclaimed "negotiators" doing their best to haggle their own price.  Many a person would pick something up like a pair of pillows and ask, "What is the best price you can give me on these already very fairly priced, carefully and lovingly handmade pillows from a prized quilt you have had since age 9 that your mother bought for you at Grace's Quilt Shop in Merrimac, Wisconsin where you spent your summers with your Swedish grandmother Helga Charlotta?"  Okay, so she didn't quite put it that way but that was what I was thinking as the customer carefully inspected her find. I replied calmly, "That is the best price I can give you and I feel it is a fair one," confident that I would sell my old treasure to someone else, if not her, and, in the end I did.  No matter the person who was trying to barter a better price on something, they would look at me with an incredulous expression on their face and either buy it or give the item a daring toss back to it's original position---Geeesh!  You can't be weak in the vintage business or they'll walk all over you.

To my surprise, my booth neighbor on one side, Diana, had also been my booth neighbor at  the Montpelier Wine Festival a few weeks back where I sold garden items only.  At first she did not recognize me without all of those urns but did see the ladies colonial shoe planter and the pineapple finials and then she knew at once, it was me...who else? I ended up trading her an old fireplace broom for two jars of her homemade lavender jam that she sells among other herbal flavors.  I think I got the better end of the deal.

Saturday was so busy, by the middle of the day, I had to call Peter and tell him to bring more things for me to sell.  He showed up with watering cans, garden obelisks, pillows and even silver spoons that he had spent the morning polishing away years and years of built up tarnish they had gathered while sitting packed away in the dining room cabinet.  No sooner had he spread the spoons out on a table and turned to me to ask what should we price them at, there were customers swarming all over them like bees to honey.  I announced $5.00 each on the individual silver souvenir spoons collected through the years by my mother everywhere and anywhere she went.  Peter also brought old silver-plate knives and forks with the letter "S' engraved on them that a lady snapped up within 20 minutes of putting them out to sell...who knew!?

Years ago, after my mother had passed away, my sister and I divvied up the spoons and whatever pieces of silver and silver-plate flatware that my mother had and I got the majority of these pieces because my sister's interests were on other things of my mother's, like the walking spinning wheel that I covet still, today.  She's a shrewd one, I tell you.  Anyway, once customers started snapping the spoons up, I noticed a few I had forgotten all about.  They were engraved with the name "May"  which was my German grandmother's name, May Schwarz, and my middle name is "May", after her.  Germans, at least in my family, may not have been as creative when it came to names as the Swedes were, but they were every bit as industrious and proud of their European heritage, Midwestern life.  I squirreled a few of these spoons away before any more would sell in hopes that someday, I may have a granddaughter named, in some way, "May."  Hope does springs eternal.

Five o'clock came in a flash and the day ended with a soft, gentle rain that helped to usher the customers out of the field and back into their cars, carrying with them a whole host of things from the Blooming Hill Booth.  I tidied things up a bit, secured and tied the walls of the tent, zipped up the doors and bid "adieu" to my booth neighbors on either side of me then, headed for home dreaming of Sunday and how fun it was going to be selling more things I'd gathered through the years from relatives, tag sales and auctions.  "I can do this!" I said to myself.

However, upon arrival to the tent yesterday morning, we discovered that the soft gentle rain turned into something akin to the smoke monster on the television show, Lost.  Through the night, the rain poured steadily and heavily with off and on thunderstorms at my house and, by the looks of the collapsed tent canopy that Peter found when he got back to Lucketts was every bit as bad, if not worse in Lucketts.  Thank heaven I listened to myself and had covered just about every piece of furniture with a big plastic leaf/lawn bag before I left so these items had stayed pretty dry but the soft green grass floor of the booth was now a shallow, muddy puddle.  Peter got there first and had the tent canopy up before I arrived and I found him wiping surfaces off with damp towels. "Did you get a picture of it? I asked.  "Are you kidding!?" he shot back.  "I was so shocked to see what had happened I almost slipped and fell in this ankle deep mud while running from the truck to the booth," he added sounding perturbed, to say the least.

In spite of what had happened during the night and the rain that was still refusing to subside yesterday morning, we decided to put our happy faces on and open for business in the wake of other vendors closing down and packing up.  We were rewarded with friendly and understanding customers who bought a serpentine oak dresser, depression glass and plant stands from us.  Now that's divine intervention at its best.  However, by 2 o'clock, the rain was still  falling and we were tired of constantly wiping raindrops off of wood surfaces and trying to protect indoor items from the outdoor forces of nature so we packed our things and joined the parade of vendors doing the same thing.  We were one of the lucky ones who were able to get our truck and trailer out of the muddy field without having to be towed...kudos to Peter's driving skills and courageous spirit.  Home we went to refinish and repolish things for another show on another day, someday soon.

Would I do this again? Absolutely!  It was great fun and that far outweighed the rain, soggy clothes, water-drenched surfaces and muddy feet.  The antiques?...They'll live to see another day and be just as beautiful as before with a little cherry wood finish and lemon polish.  I'll be back but with a good pair of "muck" boots since it can get a little deep, in stories, history and especially mud.  The tent will live to see many more antique and garden shows as well, once it has been water-proofed and shored up with additional stays to weather whatever Mother Nature sends us for the next vintage adventure turned classic experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consider the Peony

Glancing out of my kitchen window and into the garden beds that surround the brick patio, I see the pink, fuchia and white mop heads of enormous peony (Paeonia) flowers and buds bowing down to the ground under the weight of their own "frilliness" and the onslaught of raindrops. It was a good week of peony watching last week with the rain holding off until yesterday so the peonies have remained somewhat sturdy thanks to their strong stems.  The sunny May weather has produced a bevy of blooms now almost to their peak in my gardens and their sweetly scented appearance, as always, has been a gift from mother nature. Their rich and colorful history make them such a wonderful and imaginative addition to the garden landscape.

So, I'm not complaining about the rain drenching the peonies because we really haven't had enough rain this spring.  The weathermen have said that we haven't had a full inch of rain/precipitation to come in one day since the first blizzard of this previous winter which was back in early December.  Hard to believe, I know, but the snow/precipitation that we did have came in several days and since the heavy snows of  December and January, the wetness factor has been fairly scarce in our area.  It's a good thing that peonies, once established, are hard to discourage from growing in the garden and their graceful beauty seems to compliment whatever they are grown next to.  Even after their late spring to early summer bloom period is long over, their dark green leaves will turn slightly purple in full sun and stay full and thrive through the long hot summer giving texture and a wonderful backdrop for other plants in the landscape.  During the fall, peony foliage comes alive again, tinged in golden yellow.

Aside from the traditional herbaceous perennial peony, there are also the woody tree peonies that bloom a couple of weeks earlier in the spring. In my garden, their blooms don't seem to last as long--only for a day or two--and they require at least part shade, even through the summer, for the plant to survive through the hottest months.  Yet, their blooms are every bit as elegant and expressive as their traditional cousins.  Long gone from the garden borders here at Blooming Hill, the picture above is one of those tree peony blossoms from April for a memory in May.

However, for now, I'll just enjoy the vivaciousess of the peonies blooming right now and hope the rain will continue to fall fairly softly as to not pummel these vibrant and spirited flowers.  In anticipation of these rainy days, I cut a few bouquets to bring into the house and their sweet "tangyness" fills the air in the dining room, kitchen and living room reminding me that the sun will shine again soon and the peonies will rise to their fullest potential before their bloom time is over for the season.  Along with their heady aroma, the peonies also boast a few ants crawling through their petaled crevices. Attracted by the flowers' sweet scent and, as bothersome as they are inside your house, particularly in the kitchen and especially on the dining room table, ants and peonies are in an ongoing co-dependent relationship so, grin and bear it.  As much as I don't like having ants in my house, they are a small price to pay for the beauty of a peony bouquet.

Did you know that peonies have been around for at least 2000 years.  Native to China, Asia, Southern Europe and even Western North America, they were named by the Greeks after one of their gods, Paeon (physician to the rest of the gods) because of the plant's medicinal qualities.  Peonies have long been regarded as useful in relieving pain from toothaches, headaches, seizures and even chiildbirth.  In China, peonies were cultivated in the gardens of the Chinese emperors through the ages because of their extravagant beauty and delicate fragrance and the peony is still considered China's national flower. 

Since ancient times, peonies have been the symbol of wealth, luck and happiness.  They also represent elegance and poise, something always welcome when your having a sort of "bad hair day" like the peonies are having today, due to rain...kind of like grace under pressure.  With their lush, full and rounded blooms, peonies embody romance and prosperity and are often thought of, in gardening lore, to be an omen for a long and happy marriage and good fortune.  Peonies are the traditional gift to give for a 12th wedding anniversary.

The peony plant will last a lifetime, if left undisturbed after planting.  Legend has it that uprooting the plant will bring extremes of bad luck.  So, if you are superstitious, make sure you like where you are going to set your new plant in the garden and be happy with it there. In earlier times, peonies were traditionally planted along the walk to the front door of a house in order to ward off evil spirits. Looking at the beauty and versatility they bring to my garden beds, it's hard not to believe that peonies do not possess some magical power of bringing only good fortune to the garden.  Beauty and practicality aside, the peony truly is a symbol for spirit and determination with the ability to adapt and thrive in all types of weather and conditions.  No wonder it has so many meanings to so many people, particularly gardeners, all over the world.  So take a moment and consider the peony.  See the beauty and all of the possibilities it brings with it to your garden and enjoy the rain today!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

Happy Belated Mother's Day to those of you who fit into this category and to everyone else who has a mother.  I hope yours was as nice as mine but, perhaps, not quite so exciting as mine.  The day started off just fine. My son Kevin is home from his first year of college and for Mother's Day, he roto-tilled and spread composted leaf mulch into the pumpkin garden at the back of the property.  This was nothing short of a really special Christmas present (if not even a Christmas miracle) for me since the roto-tiller is big and, I'm pretty sure, older than me (somewhere, I suspect, close to the age of dirt) and a bit hard to start not to mention it being a cranky piece of machinery.  And, if you live anywhere on the east coast, you probably experienced just as windy and chilly a Mother's Day where you live as it was here in Northern Virginia.  To top things off, the threat of frost last night which, incidentally, we did have, kept me from planting the many seedlings in the greenhouse, still huddled together for a better "weather-wise" day--I hope tomorrow! 

Hence, we switched to plan "B"--sailing on the Potomac River.  Probably not the wisest choice either but, it was by all appearances, a rather sunny and pleasant day.  So, Peter, Kevin and I, along with Peter's nephew, Chris, bundled ourselves up and went out to the sailboat for what would be a thrilling, chilling and wet ride.  Forty-mile-per-hour wind gusts kept us pretty much on the edge of our seats, literally!  At one point, the boat had heeled so far to one side that we took in water up to my ankles.  For the rest of the day, I squished along on soggy running shoes and damp capris and tried not to think about how cold I was.  Too bad I don't have pictures of this particular moment out on the boat but we were all trying to hang on for dear life as Peter kept yelling, " Let the sail out!" 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Montpelier - James and Dolly's Place

I had the good fortune to spend the weekend in the rolling green countryside of Orange, Virginia as a craft and gift vendor at the Annual Montpelier Wine Festival this past weekend and we had a great time--a bit hot and sticky and Peter swears he lost ten pounds just sitting there but even as vendors we were able to get out and about to see what was happening at the "old homestead" of James and Dolly Madison.  Montpelier is nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is currently under a major restoration to bring it back to it's once grand and stately self when the Madison's lived there. Today, it is still a show piece for the people of Orange County--especially the walled gardens that surround the mansion.

The weekend started off splendidly and we were surprised and thrilled to see all of the visitors to this event.  High heat, humidity and threatening thunderstorms apparently does not stop those in pursuit of their favorite libation--wine! Everyone, it seemed, was in a good mood, with or without a filled wine glass in their hand.  There was also kite flying along with live music and entertainment to keep the the thousands of visitors (organizers said they had around 9000 people stop by throughout the two day event) occupied and perhaps a bit tipsy at times while enjoying their picnic lunches out on the vast lawns that spread away from the mansion and frame a giant steeple chase horse track, built by the duPont Family in the early 1900's when they owned this grand estate. 

The duPont's also put their own brand of interior decoration on the place which, when the restoration is completed, will not reflect that period in this estate's history, although I am sure there will be nods to the duPont Family given by the tour guides here.  I had visited here seven years ago as a chaperon with Kevin's 6th grade history class when the restoration was just beginning.  Although it is not quite finished yet, Montpelier is looking quite a bit different from then.  The picture above is of the back of the mansion and I noticed that visitors taking a tour inside were treated to the upstairs as well, something we were not able to see back then because the upstairs had been gutted at the time.

But the gardens...ahhhh, the gardens...planned, constructed and planted in such a way as to hold private outdoor formal garden rooms and cozy nooks and crannies filled with stately trees and vibrant flowers, old stone urns and statuary.  By late afternoon on Sunday, Peter and I were able to take turns and steel away from the fair to walk leisurely through them and take in their beauty and tranquility. To me, this walled garden rivaled those of Monticello.  Take a stroll through the pictures and maybe you'll find a quiet corner to rest and read a book or close your eyes and dream....

The herb and vegetable beds, like the flower beds, were neatly planted in waves of color and texture and outlined by perfectly planned brick paths that lent to the ebb and flow throughout the garden rooms.  Even in the heat of the day, there was a feeling of repose and calm that made me want to linger and just enjoy.  I wonder if this is actually how the original gardens looked during the Madison's time here.  I know Dolly had fashionable flair and strong opinions about how things should look when company came 'a-calling" on the fourth President of the United States and I am sure these gardens were as gracious then as they are now.  The roads that led visitors here long ago were not quite what they are today but when guests arrived they were treated to a stay that would have been worthy of their hosts.

The original outbuildings and slaves quarters are long gone but there is a brick outline of the original detached kitchen today, just filled with grass and clover.  Given the choice, I'd take the kitchen this way--very simple with no appliances.  Eating out every day is my favorite style of cooking!

And then, before I knew it, it was time to get back to present day and the Wine Festival that was beckoning farther afield.  Wait a minute...I didn't even get a glass of wine to enjoy on my walk through the Madison's place...such is the life of a fair, work, work--always work!  Well, at least I had a water bottle to keep me company and in just a few hours it would be time to pack up and head home.
Before I knew it, it was time to bid good-bye to the entire fair at 5pm on Sunday Evening.  We had survived the heat and humidity, dodged rain drops and even thunderstorms and strolled through the past in a very pleasant and inviting garden and met and enjoyed so many people over the weekend.  We were exhausted!  Back up the road due north to Philomont and Blooming Hill--maybe not quite as grand and historic as Montpelier but we call it home.