Favorite Things Friday (Wednesday Edition): Cheerful Cars

I have always loved a cheerful car. There are a couple in Ann Arbor with plastic dinosaurs and toys all over them. There are also some spectacular custom paint jobs. When we lived in Milan, there was an awesome, junky ice cream truck that was painted solid pink and had zebra fur lining. It played the Pink Panther theme song as it prowled the neighborhood in case of treat-loving street urchins. Best ice cream truck EVER!

I don’t exactly know what cheers me so about a well-appointed or obviously beloved car…maybe it has something to do with the fact that I spend a lot of time in mine. Less so since I now have 1.5 young drivers in the household, but there were years when both kids were doing travel soccer when I practically lived in my car.

My family had a lot of kooky cars over the years. My dad was quite fond of Volkswagens. Nothing wrong with that, but there was an odd disconnect between the size of cars we drove and the size of our family. When my mom dropped us off at school late, kids in the classrooms would stand at the window and point and laugh as we did our version of the clown car routine.

The tightest squeeze ever was a Christmas party trip to Toledo when my dad worked at Owens Corning. Dad (6′ 2″ tall) drove, mom (7 months pregnant) rode shotgun. In the back seat were six kids, the biggest of us on the bottom. There was no need for heat or safety restraints, as we had nowhere to go. We were our own airbags. (Toledo is about a 1-hour drive from Ann Arbor, in case you are doing the math.)


ours were not nearly this pristine, but still adorable

A car does not have to be expensive or new or even very fancy to be cheerful. Some of my favorite happy cars sport home-grown paint jobs. When I was around 10, my dad had an old green ’62 or ’63 Chevy pickup. It was quite beat-up and smoky and we used it mostly to haul stuff to the dump. One day something possessed me to paint a heart on the driver’s door with my parents names or initials in the middle of it with brown paint. Perhaps they had been fighting and I wanted them to stop, or perhaps I was just seized by the intense romanticism that occasionally possesses me to this day. In any case, Dad handled it with aplomb. As I looked at him looking at it, it struck me that it may have been a bad idea, but he didn’t rant or rave. A somewhat wincing chuckle was all I recall. (When asked, Dad said it made him smile. Time heals all wounds. 😉 )

My current joymobile, I must confess, is new and shiny, a Mini Cooper Countryman named Maybelline. I love her to bits. She’s sporty, fun to drive, and gets 30 miles to the gallon! She also hold a lot of stuff, more than anyone can believe. I don’t plan to outfit her with long eyelashes or a fake wind-up key, but I appreciate drivers who do accessorize their rides, as well as those who take great care of theirs. We also recently adopted a cherry VW bug which awaits a little restoration with the original parts and such procured by the previous owner.

So back to the car that inspired this post…I was having a rough day earlier this week and I was actively looking for something to cheer me up as I finished my errands. I was thinking about a cupcake, but then I came upon this gem:


Hand-painted, great colors. The inside was fancied up, too! Stickers and figurines on the dashboard. I couldn’t get a good picture of the backseat, but that confirmed that the car owner was someone who shares my vintage affinities…the seat was covered by an old chenille bedspread and on the seat rested a vintage train case, one of my favorite gifts for travelers.

It surely cheered me.

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Vintage Advice: Here’s How to Be Healthy

Here’s How to Be Healthy
Bengamin Gayelord Hauser
Tempo Books, Inc. 1934

Poor complexion? Lethargy? Slow stomach? Indigestion? Weight loss or gain?
(cue the trumpets…) Never fear, Gayelord Hauser is here!

Most vintage recipe or health books and pamphlets seem to be thinly (or not at all) disguised advertisements. I was surprised to find the first mention of a brand name on page 27, a suggestion to use a Health-Mine Juice Extractor. Although he was a partner in its manufacture, the author seems to be more than just a brand mouthpiece. Gaylord Hauser believed a vitamin-rich diet cured his tuberculosis of the hip and he made it his life’s work to learn about and spread the word about naturopathy. Hauser was popular with celebrities and became close friends with Greta Garbo and advised many others including Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson, Gloria Swanson, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergmann. Earth Kitt even gave him a nod in the song Monotonous: “Gayelord Hauser sends me vitamin D…”

a vitasphere juicer, circa 1938

a vitasphere juicer, circa 1938

Hauser published nineteen self-help and nutrition books. Some people dismissed him as a quack, but the advice he gave seems to hold up. It’s mostly in line with today’s popular diet recommendations: avoid sugar and white flour and eat many fruits and vegetables without too much handling/heat/modification.

In the spirit of taking vintage advice seriously, I decided to try a few of the recipes. First up: Celery cocktail. It didn’t taste bad at all (though I’d stop short of “delicious”) and was pretty refreshing, as promised.

celery cocktail: fights indigestion, sour stomach, and rheumatism

fights indigestion, sour stomach, and rheumatism

Next: Iron cocktail. This one I feared the most. It didn’t taste bad, but it did taste “good for you.” Not something I’d ever look forward to, though I could easily get it down.

spinach, parsley & orange juice. good for anemia and all-around health.

spinach, parsley & orange juice. good for anemia and all-around health.

Lastly, Beet Cocktail. Beautiful. Tasted like earth, even though the beets were well-scrubbed. I found it more than palatable, my husband actually liked it. It definitely seemed vitamin-rich. (Also, my kitchen looked like a crime scene until I cleaned this one up.)

isn't it pretty? beets + pineapple, good for driving out acids

isn’t it pretty? beets + pineapple, drives out acids

After three rounds of chopping vegetables and cleaning the numerous pieces of my modern juicer, my verdict: these health cocktails tasted much better than I expected. I buy the logic about eating fruits and vegetables that are relatively unmolested by heat and additional ingredients. That said, a few of Hauser’s promises seem hyperbolic…

  • “The carrot cocktail, if faithfully imbibed, is warranted to produce that schoolgirl complexion.”
  • “This party cocktail is a specific against gloom and depression.”
  • Regarding another book he wrote called Child Feeding: “If [these] methods are followed, a child has a far greater chance of growing into splendid manhood or womanhood.” (Editorial pause to let that sink in.)

The back of the book features an add for another Hauser piece, Keener Vision Without Glasses. The blurb suggests good diet and “Eye Gymnastiques” will free people from “…unsightly spectacles– eye crutches!” The horror!

I found this mostly reasonable little advice book quite entertaining. And though I am out of patience for juicing today, I would love to think that drinking carrot cocktail might give me a school girl complexion. We shall see. For now, I leave you with another tasty treat, the fabulous Eartha Kitt, who is definitely not monotonous.

A little bit about the Legend…

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Favorite Things Friday: Halloween!

So it’s the day after Halloween. But I have been thinking about this post for weeks. That counts, right? Also, there may be a follow-up post when my missing pics surface in the (hopefully) near future. You have been warned…

Halloween is one of my favorite celebrations. I like to be scared and scare people; I like to dress up; I like to make things; I love a parade. Oh yeah, and the candy! I am a bit of a candy freak.

Here is the earliest Halloween picture of me that I have. I was four. I was a witch. My costume had purple trim, which I thought made it extra fancy.

at Bader preschool

at Bader preschool

Most of my costumes were homemade. They might be pieced together with staples, chewing gum, and duct tape moments before it was time to wear them, but we could always count on having costumes. When I was younger, I coveted those plastic costumes that came in a cellophane box from K-mart. The costume was about as sturdy as a thin plastic garbage bag and the mask was sharp and sweaty–and often so scary you were grateful you didn’t have to look at it yourself. But I learned to love the one-of-a-kind homemade outfits we produced. As the flock grew, my mom had less time and patience for sewing us all elaborate costumes so she grew more inventive and required more assistance. No complaints here!

Some memorable years:

  • 1st grade: a fortune teller (silky blue fabric with fringe trim and pink roses on it; a balloon covered in foil sitting in a bowl for a crystal ball)
  • 3rd grade: Princess Leia (I rocked the cinnabon hairdo, so wish I had a photo!)
  • 6th grade: full face paint vampiress
  • 7th grade: a Lipton Tea bag (interfacing+ leaves + paper tag attached to my braid=genius)
  • 9th or 10th grade: a twisted sister (pregnant nun) (yes, I attended Catholic school that year. I blame my heresy on the popularity of hair bands at that time).
  • 11th grade: Cinderella (we didn’t really trick or treat…much. but we earned every piece of candy we scored.)

Other favorites: a giant Hershey’s kiss; a bunch of grapes (in college); a bag of jellybeans (first year as a teacher); a seductive alien (ugly mask plus sexy 70’s dress…my most “attractive” costume ever. Everyone begged me to take off the mask but after disappointing the first few who asked, I decided to maintain the air of mystery.)

boys at work

boys at work

It seems like the hardest thing about Halloween (in Michigan, anyway) is placing your bets on the weather. Do you throw caution to the wind and make the costume you want? If it’s sheer, the weather will be cold and wet. If your costume is warm and heavy (say, Bigfoot), you’re pretty much guaranteed that Halloween will be one of those 80-degree late fall days.

No matter. We sweated and/or shivered for our art.

Being a parent on Halloween is just as much fun as being a kid. Even though most years, my kids changed their minds at the last minute, (“but mom, I only thought I wanted to be Inspector Gadget but I really wanted to be a superhero!”) the crazed hunt for props was part of the fun. I only sewed from a pattern once, a teletubby, and I cussed all the way through that project. But it was cute. And I learned my lesson: improvise.

baby cow

baby cow

We did have a few Halloween fails as parents…the year Carsten was a man-eating shark, we bought some fake blood makeup at the dollar store. (Don’t laugh). It smelled funny and plastic-y, but pretty much all store-bought Halloween paraphernalia smells weird, doesn’t it? While we were painting Carsten’s face with it, he said, “That smells funny.” Then, a minute later, he said, “I see sparkles!” Luckily Mike realized Carsten was going to faint and he managed to catch him.

Mostly my kids were not interested in super bloody costumes. In second grade, Max wanted to be a ghoul with a scary but not bloody face mask and black suit cape. When the letter came home from school saying no weapons and no scary costumes, they’d be confiscated, I obeyed. Oh, how Max argued! But I didn’t want to be that mom. When I got to the school parade, I watched as legions of ghouls, many of them with weapons and gore and some of them with recirculating blood squirting masks proudly trooped around the playground. And there was my Max, in a black cape and outfit, no mask, scowling like all get out. I learned another lesson: don’t ask, don’t tell. Kids know the score.

Another thing I love about Halloween is vintage pictures. Things were quite a bit scarier in olden days, even though we have super gory costumes nowadays. I find creepy costumes way more fascinating and/or terrifying than obviously violent ones. I’ve included a few oldies from my collection below.

After all that build up, all that fun getting dressed and traipsing around in the dark, then there was the candy to sort. And count and trade and stockpile and sneak for breakfast. The best!

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Favorite Things Friday: Buttons!

a bunch of buttons

I don’t know where the picture is, at the moment, but there is at least one photo documenting one of my favorite childhood pleasures: playing with buttons from our button jar. We sorted, counted, traded, grouped, admired, and made art with them. It was quite a cooperative effort considering there were 5-10 of us doing this at any given time. We shared buttons much better than we shared Legos.

I read a Scholastic book once where the main character finds a precious pearl in an old jar of buttons. It doesn’t look like a pearl, though, and she doesn’t know what she has for a while. Even though I knew my mom had amassed the buttons in our family jar at sales and such, I still hoped to find a treasure there some day.

My childhood affinity for buttons continues. The jar pictured above is one we found at an antique store in Iowa City. (Hey, Artifacts! Are your ears burning? Your treasures feature in many of my Favorite Things Friday posts!) We didn’t need it (as you’ll soon see) but my lovely sister-in-law Dimitra saw how excited Carsten and I were about it and she got it for us. A perfectly impractical gift, the best kind! It is remarkable for the quantity and quality of buttons. My favorites are 40s or 50s vintage (60s aren’t bad, either), brightly colored and unusually shaped. This jar is full of them. When my nieces and nephews visit, they often haul out the button jar and dig in.

surveying the riches

(Speaking of digging in, you know that scene in Amelie where she plunges her hand into a sack of beans at the market? Plunging your fingers into a bucket of buttons is pleasant like that.)

In fact, I have a little pile of buttons in a candy dish that sits on my coffee table for little and big people to peruse. Sometimes the buttons are sorted by color or some other attribute, other times they mingle gleefully.

eye candy

Sometimes I’m compelled to collect things just because I like them, but I have a general policy about things needing to be useful. I use buttons for decorating, making birds, sewing projects, gifts, etc. I also like collecting old jars. One day when I was setting up my crafty nook, I realized the buttons and the jars were meant for each other. I sorted them by color and shape, which let me display two treasures and made both more useful.

Like many of the relatively practical treasures I hunt for in flea markets and estate sales, I can’t help but wonder about the lives these buttons had before they came my way. What kind of coat did they adorn? Did the wearer finger them lovingly as she went about her errands? What kind of vintage fabric were they paired with? Did someone lose one button from a set, and did they miss it terribly?

Buttons are perfect souvenirs. They take up little suitcase space, they’re inexpensive, and many regions have their own pretty kinds of buttons. I have some lovely Czech buttons that I got in Denmark, and I like to think about how they traveled there. I have buttons that somebody must have worn in Europe during World War II. So much history.

Buttons are also a perfect token of affection. You can keep one in your pocket like a worry stone, or tack them to your bulletin board to perk it up, or keep them in your change purse for a hit of nostalgia when you’re out and about. I have a few friends who I know love buttons and they often share my stash, but I’ve also noticed that non-button people start to love buttons if they are given a good one. I often tuck them inside treasure boxes or greeting cards or the shrines I make.

My favorite buttons resemble candy, perhaps not surprisingly. Here’s a gander…

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