Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rotten Pot

Got your attention on that one, didn't I? And, depending on your age, that could represent some unique things...but it is actually the literal translation for "potpourri." I am reworking the shop for spring...and spring cannot come a minute too soon. I know, I know...winter...winter...winter...enjoy, but I preferred the less white winter. Anyway, I am trying some potpourri handcrafted by a woman in West Virginia...I am trying so much to support Americans. Anyway, it got me thinking about the origin...

It appears that potpourri was created in the 12th century to freshen the rooms in castles. Spices or herbs were placed in huge cooking cauldrons after the meal tasks of the day had been completed. People then took these herbs and spices and placed them in containers with lids, moistened them with spirits, and left them to rot. This process created a pungent perfume which was released each time the lid was lifted. Flowers were then placed in handsome bowls and baskets with these fragrant herbs and spices to beautify rooms throughout the castle.
Another method mentioned that semi-dried rose petals were layered with salt. It's basically the same method as making sauerkraut, a process of fermentation. It seems that jars of rose petals have been excavated from ancient sites in Egypt, so perhaps potpourri actually goes back that far.

Potpourri jars -- opaque, with a solid cover to keep scent in and a pierced cover to let it out -- date back a few hundred years. I found this jade one from China that had sold at auction for several thousand dollars.
Dry potpourri is usually fortified with essential oils, and essential oils don't go back further than steam distillation, which is late middle ages. Research indicates that growing flowers in the quantities needed for essential oil production is a product of the industrial revolution, with railroad transport and the prospect of using farmland for growing specialty cash crops.

During this era, the convenience of bathing and washing clothing was not as accessible, so wooden vessels were constructed to contain these lovely mixtures, and were hung inside of women’s heavy petticoats.

The art of making potpourri is now extremely varied. Commercial varieties depend on imitation oils, which are applied to leaves and mixed with some of the original ingredients used for potpourri.

The potpourri I have introduced to the shop is made in small batches. She uses high-quality oils and the finest natural botanicals, bringing scent to life by adding clean, fresh, fragrant oils to real dried flowers and herbs. All the flowers and herbs are in their naturally dried state. Nothing is artificially colored, there are no dyed woodchip fillers or fake perfume-y scents. She avoids using large pod-like ingredients used by many modern potpourri companies which only serve to bulk up potpourri and add nothing to the quality and longevity of the fragrance.

Varieties include "Sensuality"~Soft, lush and feminine, pink and red with roses and pepperberries. Sensuality has flowery notes highlighted with jasmine, rose and sandalwood; "Belle du Jour"~Abundant with the prettiest flowers combines glorious multi-colored roses with the heady scent of gardenia and fresh lilac; and "Blue Lilac"~Shades of blue, with highlights of green ferns and red roses. It has a fresh, clean, open lilac fragrance.

Selling by the scoop, you can fill a little bag for yourself or for a special friend.

"Flowers leave some of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them."
(Chinese proverb)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

“I have received no more than one or two letters in my life

that were worth the postage.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Of course, we know "Henry" was not thrilled with much in his modern world, but he may have appreciated our modern world where the letter is going to be an unknown along with said postage!

I just started the semester, and I teach Composition...basically the art of research...but every semester brings students more attuned to the text message so...
?4U(question for you)...is the letter going extinct?
We look to the ancients for the art of writing since the pen and paper as we know them today were developed by the Greeks. They employed a writing stylus, made of metal, bone or ivory, to place marks upon wax-coated tablets. The tablets made in hinged pairs, closed to protect the scribe's notes. The first examples of handwriting (purely text messages made by hand) originated in Greece. The Grecian scholar, Cadmus invented the written letter - text messages on paper sent from one individual to another.

According to my research, the Chinese invented and perfected 'Indian Ink'. Originally designed for blacking the surfaces of raised stone-carved hieroglyphics, the ink was a mixture of soot from pine smoke and lamp oil mixed with the gelatin of donkey skin and musk. (I cannot even imagine what that smelled like!)The ink invented by the Chinese philosopher, Tien-Lcheu (2697 B.C.), became common by the year 1200 B.C. Other cultures developed inks using the natural dyes and colors derived from berries, plants and minerals. In early writings, different colored inks had ritual meaning attached to each color.

The invention of inks paralleled the introduction of paper. The early Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Hebrews used papyrus and parchment papers. One of the oldest pieces of writing on papyrus known to us today is the Egyptian "Prisse Papyrus" which dates back to 2000 B.C.
The Romans created a reed-pen perfect for parchment and ink, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses, especially from the jointed bamboo plant. They converted bamboo stems into a primitive form of fountain pen. They cut one end into the form of a pen nib or point. A writing fluid or ink filled the stem, squeezing the reed forced fluid to the nib.

By 400 A.D. a stable form of ink was developed, a composite of iron-salts, nutgalls and gum, and it remained in use for centuries. Its color when first applied to paper was a bluish-black, rapidly turning into a darker black and then over the years fading to the familiar dull brown color commonly seen in old documents. Wood-fiber paper was invented in China in 105 A.D., but the Chinese kept it a secret (wonder what they are keeping secret these days?) until the Japanese found out about it around 700 A.D. It was brought to Spain by the Arabs in 711 A.D. Paper was not widely used throughout Europe until paper mills were built in the late 14th century.

So, with that illustrious history, shall letter writing fade away to the cyber message? The voice mail? Nothing to save...no handwriting to ponder...

I am going to encourage writing...even if it is just a few lines in a card! I have handcrafted cards in the shop...getting ready to order more...the inside is blank, allowing you to write...not someone penning words in a cubicle in Hallmark...and I am going to search for some neat old ink pens this spring when the flea markets start up again...a little corner in the shop for the writer.
Even if you write a letter to yourself, it might help you sort through ideas. Or, I read that Elizabeth Edwards wrote a letter to her children throughout her final years...maybe just a letter with a tidbit of sage advice or miss you...wish you were here...imagine the look on someone's face when they open their mailbox and see not form letters, but a hand written envelope.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

“Twenty years from now

you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~Mark Twain

The week has been newsworthy with the Arizona shootings. I was especially moved by the story of the 9 year old, Christina Green. Her parents showed great charity in the midst of unbearable tragedy to donate her organs. And then you had the story of Daniel Hernandez who practiced the first aid he was taught and may have saved the Congresswoman's life. All lessons learned, and, by comparison, talking about "stuff" seems so small in the big picture, but life goes on, doesn't it?

I think key in the lessons learned is to do what you love...to collect what you love...to use what you love. This business facilitates those who buy things because they will be worth money or "I can sell this on ebay and cash in." I am starting year 20, and I have to say that I have never bought anything that I did not like myself. I know that probably goes against retail rules, but so be it. I go back to teaching this week...spring semester...and I love it. I have been fortunate to do what I love...not making big bucks...but after seeing what can happen in a moment at a grocery store, money did not save anyone.

So, with the sail on metaphor...here is this week's highlight. I have a large collection of cobalt blue Depression era glasses, pitchers, and ice buckets in stock. By now, those of us in the snowy east are ready to set sail on the ocean blue!
Hazel Atlas produced this series, the “Ships” or "Sportsman's Series" line of glassware. These pieces are decorated with white decals featuring sailboats, skiers, Spanish dancers and even fish. These were primarily cocktail and occasional sets rather than complete dinnerware patterns.By the 1930s, Hazel-Atlas had fifteen plants (plants included those in Clarksburg, WV; Zanesville, OH; Ada, OK; Montgomery, AL; Oakland, CA; Pomona, CA) and was the largest glass manufacturer in the world. Their mark gets confused with Anchor Hocking, but it is an "A" nestled underneath an "H". The mark was reportedly first used in 1923, and it was used until 1964 when they were bought by Brockway Glass. Of course, not every piece was marked, but, if you see the mark, you will know it is Hazel Atlas.
So, as Longfellow wrote,
"...sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Time out...


I am taking this week to regroup...as you can see the shop is in shambles...along with the weather. But, I am getting a sense of where I want to go as far as "the look" for the coming year.

But I do have some wonderful additions
So, after a short time out, we will talk next week about this Depression find......
In the meantime, I will be shoveling and hoping for a thaw!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

“People are so worried about what they eat

between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas.”

I am always fascinated by the way people think...long term seems non-existent these days. If I had a dollar for every time the auctioneer says, these used to bring X dollars, I would be basking in some island sunshine today. Markets change. Life changes. Tastes change. Even the weather...a week ago we were looking at a blizzard;













today the snow is transforming into fog.









Since New Year's always seems to be a key in the diet revolution, I thought I would give a little insight into how we have grown along with the size of our dinner plates. The diameter of a typical new American dinner plate is 11 inches; the diameter of a typical European dinner plate is 9 inches. That 2-inch difference amounts to the 11-inch plate having 50% more surface area than the 9-inch plate. If you fill your plate, you’re putting 50% more food on it than a person with the 9-inch plate.

This means we’re eating 50% more food, since we usually eat whatever is on our plates (you know those starving children in {feel free to pick your country--I always heard China}). Or, to look at it differently, we feel full when our plate is empty. Restaurants gravitate to the 13-inch plates, which means it’s twice as big as the 9-inch plate.

If you look at these vintage plates...Limoge and Johnson Brothers from mid-century, you can see where the food would be is small compared to the plate size itself since you would not pile food up to the edge (unless you are in one of those buffet lines where people manage to create food drifts!)



So, maybe in your diet plans, you may want to consider a vintage dinner plate. They may provide a good alternative to that huge plate with your "Lean Cuisine" portion on it.

Remember also these words from Lewis Carroll: "That which chiefly causes the failure of a dinner-party, is the running short—not of meat, nor yet of drink, but of conversation."