Monthly Archives: August 2013

When Carnival Glass Can Speak


There’s a carnival glass sugar bowl on a window ledge in my sun room.  It came from my old bedroom, on a shelf my brother made in junior high woodworking class, above the desk where I sat and did homework through high school.   This last spring, after my mom’s passing,  I needed to sort through her house and decide what to keep.  Pack rat that I am (see previous post) I took way too many things.  The box of greeting cards my parents received on their 25th anniversary.  My mother’s last pair of glasses, unfashionably big and causing the girls to giggle.  My brother’s favorite childhood stuffed toy, an elephant now faded with eyes oddly repainted red.  When I asked him if he’d like to keep it, he said, “Why?”  Why indeed.  And especially, why me? He is three years older and I don’t remember it, but I do remember my mother showing it to me during one of our annual attic cleanups.  She told me how he held it all the time when he sat in his little red rocking chair, the plastic cracked chair she placed it back into before we moved on to the pile of empty boxes saved for “someday when I need a box just that size” (again, previous post, and you can see where I got it from).   And I also kept the carnival glass sugar bowl, while asking myself, “Why?”

Several days ago Rose told me she needed my help for her first sixth homework assignment.  She was to ask a parent to find some object in the house with a story.  She needed to learn the story, write about it, and be prepared to tell the class why it meant something to her mom or dad.  As is often the case, she reminded me of this at the worst possible moment.  I was trying to head out the door to get to a wedding in Kansas City while answering repeated calls from Helen  “because no one else is picking up their phone!”  Doing my usual sighing for dramatic effect (Rose is now an expert at doing an impression of this), I looked around and saw nothing that seemed right until I spotted the glass sugar bowl.  This is what she wrote:

The special figure I have now is a carnival glass sugar bowl.  The story of this bowl started in my mom’s second grade class.  Back in the 1900’s, many families didn’t have very good items like we have now. One day in second grade, my mom and her family moved.

My mom was nervous that day because she had never moved before.  She was told to walk to her new house after school.  When the bell rang, her teacher asked her to stay a few more minutes, after everyone left.  Her teacher asked about their new house and how they liked it.  My mom answered some yesses and some no’s.  After they chit-chatted, my mom’s teacher gave her a special present as a house warming gift. 

Of course you know what it was, it was the magnificent sugar bowl.  This sugar bowl is made out of carnival glass.  It is an amber color, and the color and the handles remind me of a phoenix.  What makes carnival glass special is that every piece is shiny, translucent, colorful, and iridescent.  This figure is very special to my mom because it reminds her that it is from her favorite teacher.  From this day forward it shines bright on her travels everywhere.

I haven’t taken it on any travels but it does shine bright in my window.  And now another story comes to mind, a story about Rose and her favorite teacher.   It was the first day of kindergarten and, like many of the parents, I stayed at the back of the room to make sure my child didn’t have a complete meltdown.  The teacher, a petite woman with a very soft voice, stood in front of the children seated at her feet and asked who was a little nervous and a little scared.   There was a lot of looking around and timid expressions before a few hands went up in the air.  Then a few more and a few more until it was a sea of small hands.  And then, the teacher, this wonderful teacher, held up her own hand and said, “You know, I’m nervous today too.”

I know now why I kept this carnival glass sugar bowl.  I kept it to give Rose a story.  A story about a little girl whose teacher understood her fears.   And I kept it to give me a story too, and a reminder that, if you have the courage to hold up your hand when asked who is scared, there will always be someone around to help you find your way home. 

Homes and Hotels: An Updated Look at Clutter









I Sometimes think my middle name could be “Declutter” and this is not because I am good at it. Rather I spend a great deal of time thinking about decluttering, putting it on weekly lists, and mentioning it to everyone I know, as in “My goal this (week, month, season, year—depending on my level of ambition) is to declutter my house. Not that I don’t have limited success. A little over a year ago I got the dining room decluttered and wrote a four step plan to help others.  (See before and after photos.) I really should have put in one more beginning step, which is: My name is Ann, and I am a pack-rat. Here is that plan:

Four easy steps to declutter and dedull a room in your house:

Step one: Determine if indeed the room needs any work. I like to go by several simple formulas. The first one involves dividing the area of covered flats spaces by the area of uncovered flat spaces you had a month ago. Another formula that I have found helpful is to calculate the difference (in multiples of ten) of your personal clutter and that of other family members, but this can sometimes lead to conflict. If you prefer, simply look at a room and decide if it gives you a feeling of peace and well-being.  Above left is an example of a room that left me feeling ill at ease and also a bit agitated. There, you are done with step one. Continue to step two.

Step two: Find a friend or family member who occasionally listens to you. Never miss an opportunity to complain about the clutter and how you can’t stand it ONE MORE MINUTE. In my case, the friend (let’s call him Wayne) finally said, and I quote, “I can’t stand you complaining anymore and I’m going to build you a shelf so you can put things up off the floor.” “How lovely,” I said. End of step two.

Step three: Tell your older daughter (let’s call her Helen) that she cannot paint the room this month and maybe not even next month as it’s just too much, you can’t deal with ONE MORE THING and you don’t want to hear any more about it. After much more nagging from “Helen”, finally agree that you will allow it but have NO PART OF IT except choosing that bright shade of Sunrise over the Misty Hills Gold that you’ve had your eye on in the paint store for over three years.  Here we go!

Step four: Once the shelf is up and the painting done, look around and see all the things still keeping you from feeling one with your universe. Go to any discount store and buy several large plastic bins or go to an alley behind a liquor store for free study cardboard boxes (while in vicinity, stock up on wine for next potluck). Take everything from flat surfaces and throw into bins or boxes. This can be at random although you might want to leave a few items at the top for use in the near future. In my case, these were heart-worm pills and rosebush fertilizer. DO NOT and I say again DON’T EVER put these containers out of sight. They must remain in full view in a place you see every day. In my case, I put them in the downstairs hall, which forces me at some point to actually look through them, wondering why I would ever need dried up blow pens and tiny pieces of screen door netting. Another alternative, not as effective, is to place the items in a more attractive container, as a pretty basket, and cover with a patterned piece of cloth that somewhat matches the decor of your recently redecorated room.   WOW–finished (sort of)!

But now I’d like to give an updated opinion on clutter. This revised idea became more clear with a recent visit to dear relatives and friends on the East Coast.  I was in three houses, all lovely, but not without areas of clutter.  In one, I stepped over an assortment of trucks while crossing the living room, a treasured collection of a grandson.   In the second, I saw the attic room which was to become a little boy’s bedroom, now filled to the brim with boxes and bins, some containing clothes to be handed down from his older sister to her younger cousin.  In the third, there was a refrigerator door weighed down with magnets and photos not culled for 16 years, including pictures of my daughters taken on earlier visits many years ago.  And with each “clutter” I encountered, I felt closer to the people living in those homes.

In my four step plan, I used the word dedull to describe the “before” room, but the truth is that’s not a good description. My cluttered dining room was not dull. A hotel room is dull. A house with every surface completely clear is dull. A home with no clues as to the characteristics of who lives there is dull. I will admit here that seeing clutter in others’ homes make me feel just a wee bit better about my own piles of stuff, but that’s not the point here. The point is that life is not tidy. It is messy.  And it is messy in a unique way for each person on earth, a fact that blows me away if I think about it. And who I am and what is important to me, in all their messy forms, should be reflected in where I live.

I have often nagged my children about having a clear dining room table. I love to put flowers from my garden in the middle between two candles, on top of a printed cotton tablecloth, and nothing else. But right now along with my mother’s antique vase full of surprise lilies are Rose’s pierced ear cleaning solution and cotton balls and the collection of earrings she can’t wait to wear. There’s a stack of rough drafts and notes from Helen’s final research paper on autism, the last assignment required for the on-line summer class that’s needed for her December graduation, something important to a 17 year old ready to get a job in a place like California or Colorado.  There’s a set of honey bee charms that I intend to make into necklaces and give out to three friends who are fellow “rebels” in a cause we can’t seem to drop.

This is a part of what’s going on in my life. Thank goodness my house is not too neat, that my table is not bare, that our dogs are alive and well enough to play with the toys laying in the middle of almost every room. One time, when the girls were younger, I had another adoptive mother over for tea and a visit. I complained about the state of my living room, piles of spelling lists and birthday party invitations on top of the stereo, the cat carrying case in one corner, the half finished craft project on the coffee table.  She later wrote me an email, thanking me for the visit, and then she described what she had seen as “such messy joy and beauty.” It was the nicest thing anyone ever said about my home.