7.21.2014

the slow path to a beautiful home



This past weekend M and I went to 2 wonderful estate sales.  One of the best things about going to estate sales is getting to see how people really lived their lives.  It used to make me sad, watching a bunch of strangers rifling through a deceased persons belongings. Now my focus is on the beauty that was woven into each of their lives.  You see the dishes they used each day, the art they looked at and the wear marks of a favorite chair.  It really is an absolutely fascinating glimpse into a life lived.

The first sale was a home in Sierra Madre, a pretty little town near Pasadena.  The gentleman that lived here was a collector extraordinaire. The company that organized the sale said it took them nine, 15 hour days to get it only partially sorted.  Imagine that. There is still a great deal that will have to be gone through and another sale will take place in the future. One of the rooms in the house was dedicated to his work and love of the Navajo. There were gorgeous rugs, baskets and a museum worthy photography collection. But there were also collections of butterflies, arrowheads, shells and axe-heads that he cataloged with painstaking detail.  Just check this out...













Above is just a small sampling of his shell/arrowhead collection.  Each and every one of these tiny shells and arrowheads has a notation on them as to the location it was found and the date. There are thousands of them!  Each arrowhead, each butterfly...everything was recorded in this manner. It's an incredible collection and the attention to detail is staggering.

The other sale we went to was in swank San Marino, an upscale town also near Pasadena.  It appears the lady of the house was at one time an antique dealer specializing in French antiques.  She was a lover of beautiful art, books and gardens.  It was pure joy walking through her home.  I picked up an old teak garden chair, a couple of old books to give as gifts and a lampshade that I thought might fit a lamp I had gotten at an estate sale about 2 years ago.  The shade is beautifully made but I wasn't sure it would fit.  For $3 I took a risk.

Here is what the lamp looks like...









The lamp was $5 and so pretty but I failed to realize how hard it was going to be to find a shade that fit it. But low and behold, 2 years later a perfect match was found.











Everything in this cabinet, including the cabinet itself was obtained 2nd hand.  I think that's why I love shopping this way.  It's a slow, steady and mindful path to beauty.









Those tiny pine cones were picked up last year while walking through Prince Charles' garden at Highgrove. I'm sure a definite no-no but I couldn't resist.  Inspired by the gentleman in Sierra Madre, I'm going to put a little notation on these pieces so maybe one day someone will see a story instead of just an object when they pick it up.  Decorating this way takes time but it is so rewarding.  Your house won't just be a reflection of your taste but will indeed tell the story of your life.  

61 comments:

  1. Beautiful lamp, Janet! Being selective is key when bringing things home. I'm paring down to the things I love and use, and the feeling is wonderful. You start to see and appreciate things that you didn't before. Thanks for your inspiration! Deni

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  2. I love the lamp Janet...I would have bought it too!

    I have gotten VERY selective when I go to estate or garage sales...having a smaller home and not wanting a lot of clutter keeps me in line. (except I do pick up an occasional item that I list on ebay)

    Like you I feel somewhat sad going to estate sales...but it is interesting to see what type of life they had. I can imagine the sales in your area are much better than mine...every once in awhile I get lucky though! My sister lives in the historical section of Boise and she and her husband score the best stuff, most of which they sell on ebay. Most recently they found a Pillivuyt duck casserole for $2 (not really knowing what it was worth) and someone bid $130!!!

    Linda
    xo

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  3. I love nature also and have picked up rocks, sticks, shells and odd little trinkets along the shore while in Scottland, London, Bermuda etc...I didn't label but have them all in a tall glass candle holder - when people have asked what the "assortment of oddities" are I tell them that they have special meaning to me but will never be "special" to anyone else...this way when I pass my children can toss with no guilt. - Pam Atk

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  4. Very thoughtful post, Janet. I like for most of the things in my home to tell a story, too.

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  5. I too love estate and garage sales. I now have a beautiful and modest collection of antique ironstone that I have slowly collected at wonderful prices. Just this past weekend, I stopped at a pre-estate sale (cleaning out the garage before they hired the pros to go through the house) and found lovely 115 year old cake stands--one was an ironstone for $4 and the other a smaller cut glass one for only $1!

    I still am always sad when I go to estate sales, not to be too melancholy here. I never look through the clothes. It just seems too personal to me. I think the reason I feel sad is that too much stuff is not what we should really focus on in life. When I see what often is a hoarder's home, I have to wonder if loneliness was filled with too much shopping.

    Anyway, I am a very discriminating buyer with a pretty spare home. I never want to leave all that stuff for my children to sort through!

    Isabella

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  6. I love estate sales too for the same reasons. You can spot the person right away who doesn't care that there once was a person's life attached to the stuff. I find they can be very intimate when you take the time to find out who that person was. A home should be collected slowly, steady and mindful. I love that thought.

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  7. Slow shopping is much better than a quick fix. I like to think my home evolves organically over the years with newly found things arriving and replacing other belongings on a weekly basis.
    Those arrowheads are incredible and I adore the lamp. xxx

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  8. We don't have many estate sales here, but I do love the flea market, antique shop thing. I have been lucky, having inherited so much, and I love it when kind of arrive and stay in funny ways. As an inveterate collector, I can so relate to that gentleman, but except for books, I don't think I could rival him (and likely not there!)

    How great about the lamp! I think patience is a virtue when one is decorating. Eventually it does all come together, though perhaps not till close to the end!

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  9. The lamp is fabulous! So nice you found a shade that works. You have great taste. Enjoy the day!

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  10. That lampshade works perfectly. I love going to these estate sales. It is with those one of a kind pieces, scooped up for a song, where you can really add personality to your own home. While in the Army at Fort Bragg, I used to go every weekend in Southern Pines/Pinehurst with their divergent equestrian/golf lifestyles. While a golfer, I much preferred the horse set.

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  11. though I have pared down my possessions in the past months there are so many objects which bring back memories. I love looking around and remembering. I had to laugh about your pine cones. two years ago I brought back a couple of chestnuts I picked up just outside of Hampton Court near London. they reside in an antique scale with two chestnuts my Daughter brought back for me from Paris. looking at your home is such an inspiration, one can have a beautiful home without spending the moon.
    Darby

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  12. I believe Stanford Phd professor, http://thereikiguild.co.uk/information/power-of-intention.html, who did the Power of Intention with water studies, and science, is totally correct.

    Some of us are born with more intuitive skills at various things than others.

    Oddly, it was a client, a practicing neurosurgeon, who told me of the belief/science.

    These 'things' are truly doing something for us.

    Even thru this crazy medium of social media, the energy/grace/joy of your aesthetics is passed along.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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  13. I also love going to auctions, tag sales, not so much yard sales. I'm paring down now, but when I look through my house, I see my story. And I like it! Great lamp and lampshade find...sometimes it just takes a while.

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  14. What a delightful post - thank you.
    Have a joyful day,
    Julie

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  15. That shade is a perfect match! Estate sales are my favorite place to shop for my home. I love a home that is collected, rather than decorated, like yours. I'm fine with letting a space sit empty for a while before I find just the right thing. I love that cabinet of yours as well.

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  16. I always appreciate things more when they come together over time. There's something about the patience it takes that makes things more personal and rewarding. Lovely lamp.

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  17. This whole post brings a smile to my face.

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  18. beautiful post & i couldn't agree more with your approach.

    i have had similar experiences with vintage lamps & shades ~ the seem to be seeking each other ♥

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  19. I love this post so very much. This is exactly why I enjoy acquiring things for home either antique or second hand, and making my own art to decorate our home. I want our home to tell our stories and want to live surrounded by beauty every day. xx

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  20. I have never done this, and am only just now starting to consider how to proceed. Your lamp looks wonderful with its new shade.

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  21. I love the well-worn feel to items found at estate sales and such. Your lamp is beautiful with it's new hat.
    How fun to have a few of nature's pieces from Highgrove.
    karen

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  22. Your thoughts and photos are beautiful. But, as an anthropologist, I have to say something: please (to the general public) don't remove artifacts from where you find them. Almost all the information from a site comes from studying *where* the artifacts are found, so carrying away an arrowhead or shell bead renders it relatively worthless. I'm sorry to be a downer on such a lovely post, but I worry about this stuff. Arrowheads are kinda "in" at the moment...

    But, beautiful sentiment, beautiful photos.

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  23. I've only been to one estate sale like the one you visited...they are not that common here.
    It would be fun though and your shade looks wonderful on that lamp.

    I'd wonder what people would think of if they went through our lifetime of accumualtions...we have hung onto some pretty strange things...rocks, shells, marbles and a few rusty finds from out garden!

    Your natural touches add great interest and texture and look like a still life painting.
    Decorating in the slow mode seems to work well for you janet.

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  24. I have acorns picked up in Kensington Gardens. The humblest of things can hold the most beautiful thoughts and memories.

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  25. I love going to estate sales too, but sometimes it can seem a little sad. I find I don't buy something every time I go. The things that I have picked up along the way have been true treasures.

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  26. Your post made me feel solemn. I have been engulfed/immersed in going thru my family's things (6 relatives), on and off, for ten years; it's exhausting; I've already talked about it here too much. My great-aunt refused to record the story of her life or label any of her things; an uncaring Trustee turned it over to auction/sale, family shut out; big mess; all was lost. People who I know, who went to the sale(s), said it was sad. I had to get cool with the fact that her lifetime collections of things from all over the world (she was a traveler) would intrigue a buyer, and they'd weave their own (new) stories about them...and they wouldn't have bought them in the first place unless the stuff had value to them, for whatever reason. On the other hand, my mother, bless her, documented most of her collections/collectibles with painstaking detail; obviously an incredible help. It only takes a minute to jot down something, say, on the back of a framed piece so long as you don't damage it, or tape a note to something else (although tape, over time, can lose its sticky feature and fall off). Mom had a lot of ceramics like pitchers and vases; I find tiny little rolled-up notes in them (like treasure maps!).

    I think you're talking about patience; to not rush to fill a house with meaningless things to where it looks like a furniture showroom. I had a friend who would do that, and a home it did not make. (Had another friend who did it with a decorator and it was beautiful but so sterile/impersonal.) I resist shopping now, though. I especially resist antique stores and yard/estate sales, because I don't want to accumulate anything more. I'm curious; when you pick up the chair and the lampshade, do two other things get pitched; I think they call it the one-in, one-out rule, to control clutter. I know it also means self-control as a shopper; you probably saw a zillion things you wanted. I always do, so have to do without the temptations. (Well, at least that's the New Me, anyway.)

    PS: Luv the open shelving; shallow stacks of plates; nothing nesting on top of them; ease of everyday use.

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    1. i most definitely employ the 1 in 2 out rule! that is always on my mind whenever i contemplate a purchase!

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  27. Hello Janet,

    We are absolutely with you on allowing your house to evolve into a loved home over a period of time. We have always gardened in this way too.

    Many would consider that we are surrounded by junk whereas in our eyes we are surrounded by treasures all sourced or handed down over decades. Indeed, very often we think that we are really living in an entirely different century from the one in which we find ourselves!

    Your lamp is charming and it is such fun to have discovered its perfect partner shade after so long. You know that we love the way in which you mix and weave so any different things into your house and how they all come together so beautifully. Joy!

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  28. Lovely post and I could not agree more. I grew up in a big old house surrounded by mostly old and inherited things and my parents loved browsing flea markets and antique fairs. Not so many estate sales back in Germany then - but I remember a very long time ago we went to an auction of the estate of a very rich industrialists widow in Dusseldorf - it was fascinating. My parents didn't really have money to spare at the time and also really didn't need anything - we just went to have a look. In the end we decided to bid on one single item - and we managed to get it. Nothing special - just a simple chest of drawers - but every time I see it now standing in my parents house it reminds me of the nice day we had.

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  29. ... oh and that lamp is lovely, though my favorite is still the one that lives in your bedroom.

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  30. I am zero at estate sales, thrift shops and generally speaking sniffing out second-hand stuff potential. I wish I did when I see all the beautiful things that bloggers find ! xxx

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  31. Treasures to behold. For the past owners and now for you.

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  32. I can never pass up a great estate sale. In fact, I sell on etsy just to justify my addiction, because I cannot keep it all! And, I feel exactly as you described it. It is a glimpse into how somehow lived their lives. I try to go in with great respect as these were someones belongings, usually for a very, very long time. The arrowheads are fascinating! And, I love, love the lamp. Glad you went for it!

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  33. I love anything beautiful with a history. Whether it's my history or someone else's. My house is full of second hand items. Some people just don't get it though. I am surprised at the looks that some of my friends give me when I say I got something at Goodwill or a yardsale. I've since learned that if I just say 'estate sale' they say, "oohhh, nice!" Funny, huh?
    I think I want everything in that hutch. And the hutch.
    xo
    ~diane

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  34. Lately estate sales make me sad. I look at all the wonderful things that someone cared so much about and no one in the family seems to value them. China, silver, jewelry, antiques all abandoned. I see the future of my things and realize that I may as well sell everything now and have a good time with the money.

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  35. Janet, I help a friend organize estate sales and indeed it is very heart rendering. I always try to be very respectful. One recent sale I found myself getting very emotionally involved in the couple's life and belongings. They captured my heart and imagination. I find there are many life lessons to be learned from these kind of sales. I always buy something from each sale ... sometimes too much as I am not as disciplined as you are. I also take away ideas in living good and bad. If there is a sale of my belongings I hope the attendees see a life well lived full of love, laughter and peace. Oh yeah, and alot of stuff.

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  36. Your style is so unique compared to other people I've read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.


    My page - long beach harbor cruises; plus.google.com,

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  37. Love. Love. Love! The lamp. "Your house won't just be a reflection of your taste but will indeed tell the story of your life." An interesting concept to ponder as I continue to downsize and minimize.

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  38. Hi Janet, I'm amazed at gentleman's home with all of the artifacts and the care he took. I was hoping to see the butterflies. You found some beautiful things. I appreciate the way you described the estate sales. You put it so eloquently . I will have to remember what you said. :-)

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  39. What a beautiful post - I will definitely keep this in mind when I start building my home!

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  40. I love estate sales but they make me sad at the same time. I love "experienced" things in my home. New is too easy and has no spirit. Beautiful post!!

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  41. Can you write about Highgrove. It is my favorite place but I've never been there.

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    1. i should. it was so beautiful. we were not allowed to take any photos though!

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  43. lovely, janet. you always inspire me.

    I took a photo just for you while we were in chicago recently. I hope I can find your e-mail address to send it to you...

    donna

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  44. Janet, I just wanted you to know that I've come back to re-read this post of yours (and reader comments) a few times since it's gone up. It has really helped me to look at things in a better/different way, literally the actual objects but also sort-of spiritually in general; hard to describe; two-fold, with me getting right with "used" things of my family's which I have, in the past, tossed if not practically perfect, but also the other part (soothing) to learn that many people go an estate sale in an unhurried, respectful manner...kind of a gentle way...giving the absent owner some dignity, being mannerly and appreciative of someone else's belongings (as if their spirit still quietly lingers) rather than that other sort of scavenger behavior which can seem a bit rabid. My 80-something neighbor is struggling so much over this subject of de-cluttering/downsizing, coming under great pressure from relatives to do it while she's still alive because they don't want the hassle after she's gone with an estate sale, and she just looks at me with a desperation in her eyes, saying "What exactly am I supposed to do? This is my home, these are the things of my life, which give me comfort at my age; my memories are here, sparked by things which took me a lifetime to collect, with love, and great stories. Look at this, it's just a little decorative thing, but when I pick it up, I remember where I was when I bought it, who was with me, why we were there; it makes me happy, to have the memory and, at my age, I forget too easily, so the object helps me remember, and then I feel good. Am I supposed to pare it all down to a bed, a chair, a table...and then just wait to die?" My great-aunt had said the same thing to me in her 90s, "I don't want to give away or sell my things; I like my things. All of this stuff, along with the people who lived here or who visited, is my life." In both instances, and I tell this to myself as well, I've suggested we could take photos of beloved items to put in an album they could thumb thru (this isn't the generation who would be comfortable with a computer archive) but, no, they want to feel the favored object in their gnarled hands, smooth over the fabric or ceramic with their fingers, light up their senses, when life is now so narrowed and the years are closing in. My husband thinks it's too much attachment to material objects. But I get a similar desperation sometimes because I have no one to follow me, so how much do I keep purging even after I've gotten everything very streamlined and lightened the load (I'm nearing that now). If I was 40 again, maybe I wouldn't be "thinking on" this so much, but I'm getting pretty far off the side of 40 now. I think I need to get to a point where the house is manageable, then relax-enjoy and quit worrying about it. The thing is, I'm more calmed to think that, if it came to it, and people are walking thru the rooms of my house, buying my things after I'm gone, my treasures will be their treasures, and it's not the cold, sad situation but maybe instead one of more heart and emotion that I'd otherwise realized. It's a serious and contemplative subject, what we accumulate based on what we think we need and like, and how we express ourselves thru decoration in the rooms we live in, what we surround ourselves with or even what we do outside of four walls to keep us fulfilled. Everybody has their own take on it; it's complex. My husband could easily be that person with spare furnishings and no collections of things; he reaches differently, to community, career, volunteerism (he has firmly no need to gather; he just needs a place to sleep; it could be a tent!).

    Anyway, I've just felt this was one of your best posts; it got to the core of the matter, for me; you wrote with eloquence. Thanks. I wish I'd had this enlightenment at an earlier age; I could have saved a lot of money if I'd had a more conscious mindset.

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    1. thanks for sharing all this vicki. i'd like to think that, although we are all on different paths, that in the end we each lived just how we wanted. whether that be with a lot of stuff or very little, it's all about our journey. xo

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  45. Dear Janet

    That lampshade is perfect with the base and was just waiting for you. Wish we had such wonderful estate sales here. I'm sure the original owner would have been delighted that it's found it's way into such safe hands and into such a lovely home.

    On a totally different subject and at the risk of horrifying you, I ask if you've seen the trailer for 50 Shades of Grey? I saw it on Facebook yesterday and thought the heroine looked amazingly like you, or as you might have looked at 18 or 19. Have seen only the trailer so maybe when the movie comes out, she won't really look like you at all. But I wondered what you thought about likeness - or not? Totally leaving aside the subject of the movie. Best wishes, Pammie xx

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    1. that's what i'd like to think about bringing previously loved items into my home. and that's what i hope happens to mine when i'm gone.

      i had not seen the trailer and just watched it. that is quite a compliment and dakota johnson is quite beautiful. i don't see the resemblance but that is quite flattering. thanks pammie!

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  46. Hi Janet,

    I discovered your blog two years ago at the beginning of my own experiment with simplicity. I purposely moved into a small studio, gave away half my things, and waited to find things that fit into my new life. It was one of the best decisions I ever made as fewer "stuff" gave room to creativity, freedom and peacefulness.

    In those two years (as it was sometimes challenging to my patience), I have found encouragement and insight from reading your blog and I look forward to getting to where you are with a pared down and beloved wardrobe and home. My little studio is a bit more dramatic in tone than yours, as my studio doesn't get much light so it seemed appropriate to make it into a "jewel box" feel with navy walls, a diy "canopied" bed, wood carvings and garage sale finds.

    Anyway, I've never left a comment but today I discovered that you were in my town and we had both been to the same estate sale!

    This gives me incentive to say (and gush): Thank you for continuing to this blog; it is a wonderful place to visit. And your house is a dream of white serenity and gleaming furniture. How I admire the little touches you've done to make your home a reflection of your kind spirit.

    Esther

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    1. thank you so much! your studio sounds so pretty. which estate sale was it? did you get anything? do share!

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  47. It was the one in Sierra Madre. I did get a little abalone shell for myself and a very fine 1911 edition of William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" for a friend. It has gilded pages and charming wood print and calligraphy inside :)
    I didn't get anything else; I was mainly wide-eyed about the largeness of his collections!

    I do tend to enter estate sales with some ready awe at the intimate glimpse into someone's life and home. I hope Vicky will take heart that there are some of us who recognize that the things we purchased are loved...and that we continue that stewardship when we take those items to their new home. I'm always grateful as I am able to fill my own home with pretty and storied things that I otherwise wouldn't be able to afford!

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    1. oh how exciting! i didn't get anything from that sale but like you was absolutely fascinated by his life. the hours of collecting and categorizing had to be immense. and you can see that he derived a great deal of pleasure from it. since you are local, you may find this interesting too. the gal in the navajo room was intrigued by his shell collection and she opened one of those sealed boxes and pulled out a shell dated aug 1940 jenks lake. that is up in the san berardino mtns not far from me. so fascinating!

      i think vicki does indeed understand now and hopefully she'll read your comment b/c you said it very well...way better than i did.

      thanks for de-lurking, so good to hear your stories. x

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    2. I think you are both dear people and thank you for indulging my overly-long comment which was a sort of pouring-out of the heart there for a minute. I've loved your stories.

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    3. That is interesting! That little shell may have been in many a pocket before it made its way into the box...and, yet, hasn't yet ended its journey :)

      Vicki, I do enjoy your comments and read through them with pleasure. --Esther

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  48. Hi Janet, I just loved this post...in a world where everything is instant, including home decor, it is so nice to see homes where the individual's belongings are carefully selected, possessing meaning...rather than some "artifact" they purchased at HomeGoods. I cringe when I see "instant collection" in catalogs or online stores. Who wants an instant collection? Doesn't it mean more that you spent years, traveled wide and far, paid for some, found others...that all these "things" that we gather around ourselves have real significance and were not bought and arranged because they looked good on the bookshelf and added texture to the coffee table? Thank you for keeping it real, bringing us back to the authentic.

    JD

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    1. thank you. i think anon said it best. "I'm always grateful as I am able to fill my own home with pretty and storied things that I otherwise wouldn't be able to afford!"

      isn't that a great description!

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  49. I found your blog recently and have ready almost all your posts. We are on similar paths in life. I find your insights very helpful -- it's always nice to know there's someone else out in the world that thinks like me. Thanks.

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  50. Such a beautiful post Janet, thank you.

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kindness is never out of style.