Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 55/365 All I Want For Christmas Is the Loch Ness Monster

We always have a traditional Christmas at our house, you know, the kind with a concrete Loch Ness Monster circling your tree. This Nessie was my Christmas present from my daughter and husband, destined for either my Swing Garden or the new wetlands pond in the backyard.

It seems they have been hiding it all over for the last couple months or so - first in the brush pile (which, after 5 years, I decided to clean up this fall -meaning they had to quickly smuggle it off to another hiding spot), then upstairs, disguised under blankets.

This sunny Christmas morning Nessie finally got to come out and swim around the Christmas tree. Eventually in the spring she will have a new pond just for her.

She's got a beautiful face, complete with little ears, and detailed scaling, just like the real Nessie in Loch Ness, Scotland. Yes, I do believe, I do believe......

Even though Seri played Catzilla earlier this week, she backed down when faced with a real monster.

After a few contemplative moments, she decided it was best to make friends, possibly form an alliance, and then snuggle next to Nessie.
From our Celtic home to you and yours - we hope all your Christmas' were bright!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 54/365 CATZILLA

Doesn't look like there's enough room here for a 10 pound black cat with a wide butt, does it?

And yet, there is. Catzilla prowls the Christmas village, terrorizing its tiny residents, who cannot be seen, but who are running through the ceramic streets, screaming in Japanese and pointing up in terror.

Somehow, Catzilla attacks the village without knocking down a single building, tearing up a single gas main, knocking over any nuclear reactors, or attracting the attention of any military personnel.

Except for the Catzilla Airlift Reconaissance Team, experts at extracting giant creatures from the village streets they have invaded.

The tiny people are cheering, saved once again from the Giant Creature and It's Deadly Hairballs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 53/365 Life as an Online Bookseller, or, Maybe We Did Annex Canada, and I Just Missed It

This morning I find myself staring at an bidder’s email, wondering how to convince him that Canada is not, in fact, included in the US postal system, and that he WILL need to pay the international shipping rate in order to receive his book. This is the third set of emails we have exchanged on this topic; he is convinced he is right.

At times like this I find myself wondering if this self-employed, buck-stops-here , online bookseller job is all it’s cracked up to be. Sales are down, sell-through rate is down, purchase price is down; non-paying bidders are up, fees are up, need I go on?

Thinking back to my days as a corporate slave I had it pretty good: clockwork paychecks, yearly raises and cost of living increases, free health insurance, five weeks of paid vacation, one week of sick leave, disability coverage, company car… why did I leave? What on earth possessed me to do that?

I should mention it has taken me almost ten years to get to the point where I even briefly wonder why I exchanged that comfortable existence for an online seller’s somewhat more tenuous life. After fourteen years, piles of excellent job reviews, letters of commendation, etc., our division became the momentary stopping point for a corporate climber, one of those medium-size fish who feed on smaller ones as they swim to the top of the tank to play with the sharks.

My boss, a couple years away from retirement, and himself a major target for dismissal, was expressing his concerns about this fishy situation we found ourselves in—and, I, in all the wisdom of my fourteen year career, said, Don’t sweat it—it’s only a job, bottom line is he can’t do anything to you to touch anything that’s really important. Hearing that he asks me,
What’s really important to you? And without any hesitation at all, or really any thought, I said: My daughter’s smile.

As long as I get to see that smile every night when I come home, from where ever, the rest is icing on the cake.

A year later, I had to back that up, when the bigger fish came after me.

And I was absolutely right. Even on days when I am called upon to explain that Canada, in truth, is not an extension of the U.S. postal system, my no-frills, self-employed online bookseller job beats that corporate slave job by a mile. I have no paid vacation, no sick leave, no health insurance, no ‘reliable source’ of income, no one to pass the buck to when a mistake is made, more days than I can count when I have little to no money for groceries and I am perpetually keeping my fingers crossed hoping some bidder will paypal me before my check for the electric hits the bank.

But then there is that beautiful smile, hand in hand with the priceless gift of time. I’m not at the office, or in the car driving home. I’m available whenever she needs me, not just on scheduled
vacation days or evenings after my paperwork’s done. I arrange my working hours so they occupy their proper place, which is secondary to the rest of life, not the main event.

Until I received this payment in time, I had no idea it was so valuable or that I would have to learn to enjoy it. It is truly one of the best-kept , and most appreciated, secrets of being an self-employed online seller.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Day 52/365 It Takes The Other End of the Village Too, The Sequel

It takes all kinds to sustain the ceramic economy. Green's Garden & Floral sits in the commercial district on the main drag. Inside, all sorts of Christmas floral arrangments are being created, and the lights are burning late while the clerks fill last-minute orders.

Looking over the rooftop of the bookstore, the Catholic Cathedral is on the left, next to the neighborhood pub (which has just had several crates of Coke delivered for tonight's party). In front of the pub the lamplighter is up on his box stretching to light the oil lamp.

In front of the cathedral, kids pose with Frosty the Snowman, and sell tickets for the school Christmas play, while the Coke peddler drives his horsedrawn wagon away from the pub.

To the left is the Toy Emporium, and on the right, the corner of the Tattered Corner book store.

The Toy Emporium in all it's glory - two lighted glass towers full of elves putting together toys -trains, toy soldiers, dolls, you name it, it lives at the Toy Emporium.

And here's our final destination, my favorite, the Tattered Corner Rare Books store. Chewy and I will be inside reading at the fireplace.

Have a very Merry Christmas from our village to yours!

Day 51/365 It Takes A Village

We've been building Christmas villages for many years. The original village was created during a previous life when we had great jobs and a much bigger house to decorate. The buildings were all Department 56, and set in the 1930s time period - I remember my favorite was the Honeymoon Diner.

Then came the Great Life Readjustment, and a smaller house, and the cut-throat village real estate sell-off on ebay.

But, as all things must, the economy came around, and we began to re-invest in
ceramic real estate.

Today, we have an overbuilt metropolis, with a long winding Christmas mile, stretching eight feet from the busy downtown Catholic Cathedral neighborhood, to the blue-collar Baptist community on the opposite end. The Episcopalians are comfortably housed in the middle in the Gothic stonework church, next to the Tea Room.

All sorts of folks conduct business on the winding street between the neighborhoods including the Christmas tree wagon, and the pup in the dog house sharing his kibble with a bright red cardinal.

Outside the fire house, a firefighter watches Santa ringing his bell, while the horses pulling the tree wagon wait patiently for their driver.

This year, the rich folks from Uptown are coming down to the blue-collar neighorhood, looking for deals (the Christmas village is not immune to stock market woes). That's the Courthouse on the right, across the square from the Stone Clock Tower, and next to the Police Station. The tower in the right foreground is the Episcopal Church.

Outside the train station, three soldiers are coming home for the holidays, headed uptown towards the Bed & Breakfast, and to the right of Green's Floral.

Watch for Uptown views and news in "It Takes A Village, The Sequel".

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 50/365 Santa Baby

Our family's primary holiday is Halloween, but we still have a couple Christmas traditions.
One of those is the "Half-Dressed Christmas Tree", well-known to any dog owner, designed to
thwart the "fluffy tail wag". It's also a Christmas present for the cats of the house, who treasure the opportunity to climb up the tree, and poke their furry heads out at eye level to any humans that wander by.

A more normal tradition is the Santa collection. At some point I realized I had acquired more than the customary number of Santa's and then started looking for a special one each year to add to the mantle. We've now run out of room to display them, so just the favorites come out.

These Santa's are the oldest, and in the folk art tradition. The chubby Santa on the right was a gift from my mom, handmade by an artist she knew.

The long tall wooden Santa face stays out all year - sortof like a Santa "Green Man". The Santa and little girl was bought for my daughter when she was born. And the Half Moon Santa-on-a-Stick was bought for our last Minnesota house, along with a couple of the tall thin Norse-style Santa's.

We found this Scottish Santa a couple years ago - a must, since we have 5 strains of Highland Scots in our family history. And yes, we have bagpipe Christmas music too.

This is a nod to our 23 years in Minnesota (and DH's home), Santa-in-an-Ojibway-birchbark- canoe, dressed in fur robes, with holly and berries, and various wild creatures alongside. It's huge, almost 20" long, but worth the space.

Tomorrow - the Christmas Village, or as Seri the Cat thinks of it: the set for Catzilla!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 49/ 365 Never Judge A Book By Its Covers

On the off chance that someone will buy a book, I was sitting here listing, in this case, The Timber Raising Handbook, and out of its pages falls this snappy 8 x 10 black and white print.

No identifying information, although it's a print made of an even older original photo.

This is all it takes to send me off on a Find-the-Clues-and-Solve-The-Mystery wild goose hunt.

Several hours later, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I have narrowed it down to the time period of 1900-1904, probably American, because those sort of men's hats were not popular in Europe.

However, the make of the horseless automobile is proving more difficult. I have emails out to various car club sites, including one called Curved Dash Oldsmobile Club, because the first auto maker in America was R.E. Olds, and his vehicles had a distinctive curved dash. This one is curved, but not in the same way as the Olds I can find online. Also, the sides have different identifying marks. I'm wondering if it's an odd model, or a knockoff?

I have also discovered a very similar vehicle was made even earlier, in Germany, by Karl Benz (yes, the one that hooked up with Mercedes). Apparently, the first long-distance automobile trip (65 miles) was made on August 5, 1888, when Karl's wife, Berta, threw the two kids in the car, and, without telling Karl, drove off to see her mother. During the trip, she had to stop at pharmacies along the way for fuel, as well as deal with mechanical problems, but arrived safely by nightfall, and sent Karl a telegram to tell him where she was. That event is still celebrated in Germany with a antique car rally each year.

I can almost hear Berta: : "Karl! I haven't seen my mother in months! She wants to see the boys! All you ever do is work on that stupid car - we never do anything as a family anymore!
Fine- I'll go by myself *and* I'll take your stupid car!"

Nothing ever really changes.

While Berta was dealing with modern technology, the rest of the world was moving ahead as well: in 1900, Freud released his first dream interpretation book, a hurricane hit Galveston and killed 8000 people; in 1901, Queen Victoria died after reigning 64 years, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in after McKinley was shot, and the first Nobel prizes were awarded; in 1902, Beatrix Potter wrote her first Peter Rabbit stories, and Caruso made his first recording; in 1903, W.R. Carrier introduced the first air conditioner; in 1904 the New York Subway opened, and the first telephone answering machine was invented; and finally, in 1905, the Russian Revolution began, trains acquired electric lights, the first movie theatre opened in Philly, and Albert Einstein proposed his Theory of Relativity.

I wonder what the two people in this newfangled horseless carriage thought of all this? Or were they still watching it unfold? Was this a father and son sitting in their household's newest acquistion? Being early 1900's, having an automobile would be a sign of upperclass (or insanity, lots of people thought that driving cars was careless and foolhardy (1900's version of bungee jumping), since cars would never really amount to anything, next to the safety and reliability of a good horse).

Or is this someone else's vehicle, and they've borrowed it for the day, or maybe come upon someone who has it, and asked to have their picture taken in it as a novelty? Taking pictures wasn't as commonplace then, although Kodak has just introduced the first mass-produced camera (The Brownie- Just $1.00!), and photography is the hot new fad. But this is no Brownie
photo. This was a large negative with sharp clear details, probably at least a 4x5.

So this may have been a "document our upward rise in mobility and class status" photo, or it may have been a commercial photographer who saw an opportunity to make a living with the two newest pieces of technology available: the horseless carriage, and the photograph.

BTW - I came across an especially obscure vehicle. When the first steam carriages came out, they were very loud and noisy, and continually startled the equine traffic in our streets, causing runaway carts, and injuries from flailing hooves. Some enterprising person determined the reason the horses paniced was not because of the noise, but because the carriages had no horses. His theory was that if the horses could see another horse, they would be reassured, and by the time they realized it wasn't real, the carriage would have passed by, and so, he carved lifesize wooden horse heads and attached them to horseless carriages, and called them Horsey Horseless Carriages.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 48/365 The Day the Art Museum Met the Tattoo Parlour

Being that the Christmas Rush isn't, I blew off work and took my daughter into town to see the new art museum. Yep, the one that looks like a UFO landed in the middle of Roanoke.

It's been controversial since the plans were first announced and the opinions weighed in on all sides: it's too modern and "big city" for Roanoke; Roanoke is too provincial for an upscale art museum; all that glass and steel and swooping design would be out of place in the circa late 1800's downtown (we still have some streets with bricks); and the final winning argument, that this building would make Roanoke into a modern progressive city that would draw people from all over the county to see our uber-modern art museum (like other cities don't have their own museums). Usually the last argument was presented by upscale rich folks, who do indeed spend their time running to other towns to see their museums and saw a chance to save themselves airfare.

Turns out all those opinions were right. The museum is way more modern than the rest of downtown, Roanoke is provincial, and the swooping building looks sortof like an bizarre bird that landed by accident, and is now trying to figure out how to get out without knocking anything over.

It's also way classier than Roanoke deserves, and may singlehandedly pull our self-image up out of the vastly overrated "we're a small town and we're proud of it" mindset.

This is one of the postcards of the museum at night, with a much better photo than I could ever take, just so you get the full-effect. To the left is the city of Roanoke, and to the right, the Norfolk Southern railyard (yes, easily confused).
All galleries are on the second floor, including the American art that they never had room for in the old museum, plus modern photographic art, as well as my favorite, Florentine art on special loan from Italy, from the Medici era (1500's).

But by and large the most fascinating exhibit was The History of Tattoo Art and Tattoo Parlours. Turns out Virginia has a somewhat tenuous connection with tattooing, thanks to the Newport News-Hampton shipyards and the U.S. Navy. The museum exhibit includes hundreds of examples of tattoo designs, tattoo dolls, and a huge canvas sign that hung inside a famous tattoo parlor in Newport News, covered in enlarged tattoo hearts, flowers, anchors, naked females, snakes, eagles and the occasional puppy.

And the beautiful lady above is Mrs. Wagner, portrait taken in 1907.
Apparently there was a less-than-obvious reason for those high-necked Gibson girl dresses with the long sleeves and zillions of buttons.

I will never look at all those old family photos the same way again.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 47/365 The Iceman Cometh and He Bringeth Books

Winter arrived this morning. I was sorting books and heard this odd rustling sound, and realized it was rain on the roof. Really really hard rain. Like ice. Sortof a wimpy version, half slush, half ice, and gone even as I'm typing this. But even that slush can't be a good sign.

Being the summer-loving, warm-weather craving person I am, I promptly ran away from winter and hid in my book room.

Those of you who sell on ebay know the amount of *stuff* that occupation requires. If you sell books, you know that they are everywhere. At our house, things progressed to the point that we were using stacks of books for end tables, and occasional impromptu seating for sudden visitors.

So, we built the bookroom: heated, air-conditioned or dehumified as the season warrants, carpeted, sealed against insects, and full of shelves so that titles could be neatly organized and classified. Everything worked out, except the "neatly organized part".

Part of being a bookseller is being a book addict. You have to love them. Really, I mean you have to. You will never become wealthy selling books, they will never get any easier to move, and you will never get any younger or less arthritic. So, you really have to love books to be a professional bookseller.

The word "addict" is by definition too much of anything. Say.... books, for example. I began reading when I was 3. In first grade I won a prize for reading 100 books. They were not from the school library, they were all mine. I still have them.

I was 35 before I gave away a book, permanently. I have never not finished a book. I simply cannot leave those characters hanging.

This sort of mindset leads to having literally thousands of books, theoretically 'neatly organized' in the bookroom, but in truth, they are everywhere in the house: genealogy, history and gardening are running off the shelves in my office (and have literally brought one plastic bookcase to its knees); medieval history, literature, philosophy, art, science, architecture are
somewhat vaguely shelved in the livingroom, mixed in with homeschool textbooks; scifi and fiction fill up the bedroom, and the landing is full of keepsake books that belong to my daughter,
whom I have corrupted into being a booklover, and who now has her own bedroom full of books of military history, weapons, martial arts, dragons and fairy lore.

Obviously this affliction is contagious.

For those of you who are my bookbuying clientele (I recently learned there are a couple of you out there reading this), here's a tour of the book room, recently home to that volume you now own:

Dosen't look like much, but note there is a deadbolt lock on the door, in case the days of Fahrenheit 451 come around again. If the books go, I go.
This is actually a very tidy condition, since I have stopped buying stock, owing to the uncertainty of the ebay marketplace, and the necessity of moving the vast majority of listings over to Amazon. Usually boxes are stacked so high and so wide, I can hardly get in the door.
The Mickey Mouse phone on the top shelf is just for looks. Even if the boxes fell on me, and I called for help, no one would come - they would see it as an inevitable event I brought on myself, and good riddance.

The long, long, Amazon mile. These actually are organized, specifically by stock number, and the top two shelves are even alphabetical, having been pulled off ebay when it lost its mind earlier this year.

The other long wall is full of love and heroes, longing and yearning - yes, it's the Romance Aisle. I love my romance readers - they are the most loyal of customers, the most devoted to their particular authors, and, I suspect, the most optimistic of all of us. I have a special tuckin for my romance buyers with interesting little tidbits they can flaunt at people who mock them:
55% of all books sold are romances. They are the one genre that is growing by leaps and bounds.
Of the people reading romance 42% have a bachelors degree, 15% have a doctorate, and 22% are men. What would we do without romance?

This is the *secret* stash of books. It actually goes back for another two sections, stands 6 shelves tall, and all of the shelves are doublestacked. This is my inventory that I pull from to list. I'm slowly working my way through it. It's mostly non-fiction, history, although somehow I ended up with a number of 1950's fiction horse books, and some Doubleday science fiction. Not entirely sure how they snuck in.
So this is where I am these days - sorting books, pulling books to list, culling a few unfortunate titles to send to the library sale, but mostly ending up sitting in the floor and reading, getting caught up in one title or another, getting my daily fix.