And Then I Saw the Mannequin Head in the Hockey Mask

This past spring I found myself with a free afternoon and a babysitter for the kids.  I had to meet a friend in Plaza-Midwood to scope out her wedding location for flowers and decorations, but the meeting went quickly and then I found myself in sunny Charlotte all alone.  I decided to stop in at Ruby’s Gift, which is a shop in NoDa featuring local artists.  I knew I needed a few gifts for our upcoming trip to Massachusetts, and I wanted to look for a Father’s Day gift for my husband.

One of the featured artists at Ruby’s is a painter named David French.  He largely paints scenes from Charlotte, and David and I both loved his panoramic scene of North Davidson street between 36th & 37th.  It’s where we usually go on date nights, so it holds a special place in our hearts.  I decided to purchase it for him for Father’s Day.

The only problem was, the painting wasn’t mounted.  It was enclosed in plastic with some foam board behind it, but I could envision a long, expensive process of getting it custom-framed in my future, and I really just wanted to be done with the gift that afternoon.  I asked the cashier if they had any mounted ones available.

Here’s where the story gets exciting.  She said to me, “No, but let me call the artist and see if he’d be willing to mount it for you.”  Next thing I knew, she was on the phone with David French, who apparently lives just a few blocks over from Ruby’s.  He replied that he couldn’t leave the studio just then, but if I was willing to stop by, he could exchange the non-mounted painting for a mounted version for a small price.

The cashier gave me directions on how to get there, and concluded them by saying, “It’s pretty crazy,  You can’t miss it.”  Meanwhile, flashing through the back of my brain was every warning I’ve ever heard about going to a strange location alone.  Don’t do it!  You’ll never make it out alive!  Surely the artist is a crazy person locked up in his lair, waiting for someone to be stupid enough to be lured in alone!

Because I am a very rational person, I ignored all those voices in my head and got in my van and began following the directions.  On the way I called my husband to give him a heads-up in case I really did die.  But he didn’t answer his phone, as usual.  At least I had the comfort of knowing that I had tried.

I got to the street where this man lived and as it turned out, the cashier was right on the money.  There were a score of normal houses, and then on the corner there was a very bright, somewhat dilapidated home with a two-story, open garage in the back.  The lot was overgrown with weeds, dotted with eccentric metal sculptures, and hemmed in by rusted metal gates which opened just enough for the van to fit through.  As I drove slowly up the gravel drive, I looked out my window to see a mannequin head fitted with a hockey helmet hanging from a tree.  Comforting.

To put all of your minds to rest, I had decided that if the studio looked enclosed and scary, I would drive by.  But as I approached I saw the doors wide open, and the artist and an intern/helper person were both working within eyeshot of the road.  OK, probably no death coming my way this afternoon.

I walked up, shook the man’s hand, and introduced myself.  We made the exchange and he showed me around the studio.  At that time he was working on this painting:

You can buy “Soul” here

This painting was commissioned by the girlfriend of the owner of Soul Gastrolounge.  If you click on the image, you’ll see him looking over the railing at the top of the stairs.

Mr. French told me about the work he had started doing for some locations in Matthews (locals, look for his stuff at Renfrow’s!), and offered his business card to me — but not before turning it over and crossing off a phone number he’d jotted on the back.  I drove away happy that I had made the stop.

The end of the story is that David liked his present, although we’re still trying to figure out where to hang it.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Amelia at Amelie’s — because this is how I feel there, too

The Five Stages of Wal-Mart Grief

Last night I headed out to our local 24-hour Walmart to buy school supplies. This weekend is our tax-free holiday in North Carolina; it began at 12:01 midnight (this morning). Here is my sad tale.

1. Denial

10:45 Drive the ten minutes to the store, blasting old 80’s tunes on the radio. No late-night errand is complete without Chicago or Air Supply. Pull into Walmart parking lot, remarking how busy the place is. “There must be a lot of other people doing the same thing I am,” you think. With a spring in your step, you secure a cart and decide, since you have a little time to kill, to do a little grocery shopping first.

Everything is going great! This is the best idea ever! I am so smart and thrifty!

11:10 Head to the school supply section at the front of the store. Pick up a few items on your list, trying not to give into disappointment over a seeming lack of variety. Remember the school-supply aisle at the rear of the store. Perfect. The better selection is hiding back there, and you find everything you wanted.

Walmart is not that bad. The employees are friendly! That man wanted to talk Red Sox with me: I love that!

12:01 Congratulate yourself on completing your task in ample time. Walk to freezer section and put a celebratory choco-taco in your cart.

2. Anger

12:02 Begin march to front of store to check out. Wait a minute, why are the lines so long? Why do they only have THREE registers open out of twenty-plus? Why are there at least TEN customers in each line?! It’s MIDNIGHT, people, why aren’t you all in your beds?!

Grrr…no matter what time it is, there are always impossibly long lines at the checkout counters at Walmart. I’m tired. I don’t like it here. Blarg. Why am I so tired? My bedtime in college used to be one AM or later. Oh wait, that was ten years ago. Someone hand me the Polident and tuck me into bed. Grr.

Attempt to soothe your anger with reading a checkout-stand magazine as the line wait continues for twenty minutes.

3. Depression

12:20 Finally make it to the head of the line. Start unpacking school supplies from your cart onto the conveyor belt. As the cashier scans the first of your carefully-selected portfolios and binders, you decide to get a verbal confirmation of what you already know: the tax-free shopping started twenty minutes ago.

“This is tax-free, right?”

“No, it doesn’t start until one AM.”


“I thought it started at 12:01,” you say, referring to the printout you got off the internet earlier in the day, which you diligently brought with you.

Cashier looks extremely annoyed, sighs deeply, and goes to find a manager.

12:25 Manager approaches, and over the din of the angry mumbles from the customers behind you, you hear her say,

“We started downloading the changed prices at midnight, but they don’t take effect until one o’clock.”


“Well, I guess I need that stuff back then, because I don’t want to check out until I don’t have to pay tax on it.”

Manager voids the order while you restock your cart, apologize to the angry people behind you, and turn around back into the store, which has now become a bit more like prison.

Return celebratory choco-taco to freezer.

*sigh* I’m so sad. I’m so tired. Why did I think this was a good idea? Braving the crowds at Target with the kids would be better than this.

Just thirty minutes ago, you were high on school supplies. The smell of fresh pencils and new paper had obscured your vision….made you silly…made you stupid. You now see what your rose-colored glasses were hiding: every single aisle is jammed with boxes for restocking. The employees act like you’re in their way, crossing in front of your cart without warning and not even acknowledging your presence.

The light is grey and harsh as you stumble around wasting time. You buy a few more groceries. You sit down on the bottom shelf in the book section and page through a magazine. The electronics department, over your shoulder, rings deafeningly loud with Michael Jackson’s Number Ones and the movie Cars. An hour ago, this was fun. Now it’s the stuff of bad horror films.

Will I ever make it home? Is any amount of school supplies worth this torture?

4. Bargaining


Maybe if I get in line right at one, they’ll get me right through. If they just get me through the checkout line faster, I might actually darken the doorstep of this store this time next year. Or not.

In an ironic twist, the lines are remarkably shorter than they were an hour ago. You have just one customer to wait behind. This still takes ten minutes, since the customer is getting her daughter ready for college.

Also in an ironic twist, your (different) cashier smiles as she confirms that, yes, the tax-free pricing has taken effect. She is the picture of friendliness and courtesy.

It’s almost as if the store — nay, the entire Walmart empire — is toying with you.

5. Acceptance

1:20 As the total rings up and your cart is filled up with the tax-free merchandise, you remind yourself that you’re in Walmart. You should have known. Yes, there are five young children who need you at home, and they will be greeting you in about five and a half hours’ time. But there’s coffee. There’s always tomorrow night for sleeping. At least you don’t have to cram some shopping into an already-packed weekend.

1:40 Arrive home, carrying packages with you. Make repeated trips to car. Remark how quiet your neighborhood is at this hour. Unpack refrigerated groceries and wearily head upstairs to bed.

1:55 Your husband stirs in bed, sighs, and asks, “how did it go?”

You have no trace of sarcasm or malice in your words as you reply, “do you see what time it is?”.

You’ve finally accepted your fate.

Your process of mourning is complete.

This post was originally published on 8/7/09.

You’re Not Too Good to Shop at Goodwill

Yesterday I had maybe one of my best-ever trips to Goodwill.  In the picture above, please find:

5 boys’ long-sleeved dress shirts
7 pint sized mason jars (I am mildly obsessed with mason jars of all shapes and sizes)
6 tiny canning jars with lids
8 single-subject notebooks
15 folders with various sports on the front
4 large containers Elmer’s school glue
3 pairs children’s scissors
1 name brand air filter for furnace

My total at the register?  Thirty-five dollars and change. 

It looked like Target had unloaded their leftover school supplies to this store.

Do you think women in ancient times came back to the village and bragged about how much they had bartered for?


This makes me want to hug a cat. It makes my husband want to sneeze (and maybe kick a cat).

HT: The Nester


Scene:  Family Sitting at IKEA’s restaurant, taking advantage of the “Kids Eat Free” promotion for the holiday weekend.

Ben, looking out window:  Mom, what is that blue and yellow flag?

Mom:  That’s the flag of Sweden.  IKEA is a Swedish company, so they fly that flag to remember their country.

Ben:  Oh, wow!  Cameron, that’s the SWEDISH flag!

Mom leaves table to take Andrew to the bathroom.

Ben:  Dad, I can tell that this is a Swedish restaurant.  You know how?

Dad:  How?

Ben:  ‘Cause all the food tastes weird.

Heirloom Seeds

This year I am venturing further into my gardening adventure, starting our crops from heirloom seeds.  I bought our seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which has a huge variety of non-GMO seeds. They also have one of the most attractive catalogs I’ve ever seen, and their delivery was very quick.

“The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it.  We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as ‘progress,’ doesn’t spread.” 
Andy Rooney

***I should add for those of you in the SF Bay Area, you can visit their new store in Petaluma, CA.

There’s No Order Here

Today I am posting about something we did late in our vacation week because WE MUST DISCUSS ZABAR’S.

Remember the dizziness?  It was caused by paint buckets of olives…

an entire WALL of cheese (that didn’t count the cheese counter, across the way), barrels of special blend coffee, baked goods, every kind of olive oil under the sun, meats, and anything else you might imagine, and THAT WAS JUST DOWNSTAIRS.

We also did a little “Seinfeld” homage.  Can anyone supply the lines here?



We found aisles and aisles of kitchen toys and gadgets.

 *feeling dizzy*
*head exploding*
*impersonating a Jedi with a large paddle that normal people use to stir beans when they’re cooking over an open flame*
READ THAT!  15 QUARTS!  This is by far the largest Le Creuset I have ever seen.  I lifted the lid, looked inside, and then cried happy tears.
Oh, it was a happy place, my friends…so happy we went back again the next day.