Friday, June 22, 2007

Obsolescence Foils Frugal Shopper

Planned obsolescence has been on the social critics’ agenda since Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders was published in 1957. Yet, 50 years later, our society is a card house of credit debt and endless shopping.

Recently, my frugality has run plumb into planned obsolescence. I needed to reconfigure some wall shelves, including the purchase of new boards. Even though the shelving is less than two years old, RubberMaid has stopped making the honey pine veneer. A Home Depot representative reassured me that the new color, natural, is the same. It is not.

I priced custom-made shelves, but that was too expensive. A home decorator suggested that I create a belly line of shelves in the center, or perhaps a top and bottom accent line of shelves in a different color. He saved the day.

I visited every Home Depot from North Miami to South Palm Beach. I sorted through board after board, finally managing to round up three honey pine shelves. That was enough to make a belly line in walnut possible. The darker color coordinates with some darker wood furniture. Blond wood is all wrong for my room, so the natural veneer was impossible.

My new quest is for a small hot pot to boil water for morning tea and, more importantly, to take with me when I travel to use in motel rooms. The nice metal one I’ve had for many a year has burnt out. New models are plastic. I even saw one with a plastic plug. I am not sticking little plastic feet into the wall.

I've also been on an endless quest for a special kind of hinge that folds flat in both directions to build a folding screen. "Like Mae West used to stand behind if a man was in the room and she was changing clothes," said a nice man named Bill at Grove Hardware -- a store I highly recommend. He called suppliers, including one that was importing the hinges from China. Apparently these hinges aren't being made any more. So what do manufacturers use for folding screens sold retail?

I'm doomed to these quests for products that are discontinued and nonexistent as long as planned obsolescence is the motor that keeps the economy running. So is everyone else who wants shopping to be simple and for good products to stay the same.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Handy Baskets Organize, Add Texture

Baskets are an inexpensive way to add texture to a room, as well as providing storage. Often, they can be found for a buck or two at a thrift store, rather than buying them new.

I use baskets on my wall unit of shelves.

These two baskets are larger than they look. The wicker basket, right, is a lunch box with a lid with clever handles that lock shut -- perfect for a quiet lunch alone in a park. A subtle diamond pattern woven into the front of it is too subtle to capture on camera. It holds computer program CDs and instruction booklets for computer electronics, such as this camera.

The red one hides an entire Leggoes box that I use for a classroom demonstration activity. There is a close-up below.

The next basket on the wall shelves holds music CDs. Lighter and darker reeds are interwoven to create an interesting pattern.

These three baskets, below, are grouped against a small wall for the time being.
The very large picnic hamper holds my sewing supplies. I've placed a tray on top of it -- you can see the blond wood rim -- to create a flat surface, so the other baskets don't sit askew. The square basket and pale reed basket with a graceful kidney-shaped top edge are being re-purposed as I reorganize my living space.

This use of a basket as a lampshade, below right, never worked out; it always sits lopsidedly. It currently resides in a corner behind my recliner that is a holding pen as I decide what to put where in my clean-up. I'd forgotten about the large round basket until I noticed it in the background. As you can see, it is a trash basket. It is not usually overfilled and serves more discreetly as my circular file. It is roughly brushed with white paint in a shabby-cottage effect.

I also forgot about this nifty harlequin basket, below, until I wrote about the other trash basket. I keep dashing off to take more photos as I write. This jaunty harlequin serves as a petite trash container in the jungle room half-bath. It cost a buck at the dollar store and is one of the few that I purchased new.

The little rope basket, below, holds extra hand towels in the jungle room. The two sides with their scallops resemble seashells. The spokes and handle are wicker.

The next two photos show my file-tray basket. In a one-bedroom apartment, I hide my printer behind a lamp in a dark corner of the room. Even the "end table" on which it sits serves a storage purpose; it is my cedar chest for woolens that we so rarely wear here in Florida.

Baskets are great for stashing paper -- bills, receipts, and mail offers about which I'm undecided. Two are shown below and in close-ups. I like the way rattan has been twisted to form a rope that was woven to create the round basket.

Notice how a rough brown twine has been woven into the center section of the long, thin basket, below.

This rustic basket is a refugee from Christmases past. It is woven of a flat bark or reed about an inch wide to form a diamond weave. These have been faintly brushed with red and green that does not show unless you are very close. It is a brittle wood, so I can understand why the maker didn't get the bottom quite flat. It must have been hard to work with this material. It holds everything I need next to my recliner -- eyeglasses, nail kit and hand cream, calculator, bookmarks, you name it.

Spray-painted gold years ago, this basket belongs in storage until the winter holidays. I threw a modular kusudama in for the picture, but the pink and yellow paper is too light to photograph well. Notice how the graceful rounded bottom is centered with a flat coaster-like circle that is woven right into the work so that it will sit right. How clever and practical!

This little basket is the right size to hide a small plastic flower pot. It has a large handle (extends out of the photo), and once hung from a wire plant hook on my patio, until the plant died. Plain rough brown twine forms the X pattern on the body and gold twine accents the top and bottom rims.

This wide variety of baskets adds (I hope) texture yet unity to my main living area. Wait, we're not quite done. There are still the scullery maids in the kitchen.

Once upon a time this lime-green basket accented a tiny bathroom trimmed in that color. Now it holds vitamin pills in the kitchen. Perhaps it's time to repaint it.

Last, these hanging copper wire baskets cost a few dollars at Wal-Mart. Every kitchen should have some, don't you think?

I almost forgot this pair, below. Set on an angle to each other, they contain bathroom clutter in a minuscule space with no storage. Less than four inches wide and 13 inches long, they are a tough rope fiber on wire frames.

In conclusion, you can see that I love baskets. They help keep my clutter in control. I like the way they look, and the price is right.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Biking to the Caribbean

Biking to the Caribbean may seem impossible. Because of the rich cultural diversity of Broward County, the Caribbean is almost as close as my doorstep. Want to join me on a bike trip to the Post Office?

This is the road just beyond the gate of International Village. I stay on the narrow sidewalk. Inverrary Drive is a two-lane road with lots of speed bumps, so I am pretty safe here. You can see a faux English Tudor structure on the left. The cinderblock apartment buildings are identical, except for the Disneyfication of the exteriors to vaguely resemble various European architectural styles – Marseilles, Bordeaux, Inverness and so on. A lot of these details blew off when hurricane Wilma came through in 2005, but the exterior repairs go on and on.

The ride gets dicier at the intersection where Inverrary Drive meets Inverrary Boulevard. When we find a name we like, we go for it around here. It’s kind of like Atlanta, where at least half-dozen streets seem to be named Peachtree.

Inverrary Boulevard is a four-lane thoroughfare with a grassy median. Cars mostly ignore the 30-mile-speed limit. There is a bike lane, but knocking down bikers is good sport in Florida. Our state took high honors for greatest number of bicyclists killed by cars in 2005, 124 out of 784 nationwide, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics reported in the November 21, 2006 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Three bicycle riders were killed during a three-week period at the time of that report.

The bike lane ends, but a sidewalk lies just beyond this entrance to another Inverrary subdivision of small homes with garages. Residents can have dogs there, which I would like to do.

This water feature, pictured below, with its rocks and flowering plants add a note of serenity to the ride. It’s a popular spot for newlyweds to have their wedding photos taken. The clever landscaping hides a major intersection just a hundred feet or so away.

Oakland Park Boulevard, left, is a six-lane divided highway with right-and-left turning lanes, thus eight lanes in most places. Run for your life! I mean it. Drivers are so mean that the traffic lights are calibrated to show you how many seconds are left to get across the road, like an electric-chair countdown. I walk my bicycle across intersections, my parents’ voices ringing across the decades.

I have to cross one intersection from the north to south sides of the road, and this one from the east to west side. See that little piece of white cement at the other side of the road? Look closely. Yep, there it is. It’s a sidewalk. Despite the heavy traffic on Oakland Park Boulevard, I will be able to finish the trip on this sidewalk and relatively safe access roads. I do not have a death wish. But maybe I should wear a helmet. There are maniacs out there on these roads.

Here is the strip mall that houses our little local post office. Not Caribbean enough for you? What about the Creole Diner and Juice Bar? The little store that specialize in island music? The ten-buck nail salon? Or how about the seafood restaurant where the men cook blackened fish on grills made from oil drums?

I stop at the So Loved Market before heading home to buy a bottle of water. Click on photo to enlarge to see sign. Amazingly, I see someone I know at the laundermat. Last summer, in brutal heat, I gave an elderly woman at the supermarket a drive to her apartment because she is nearly blind. She is such a sweetie pie, and I haven’t seen her since. She peers into my face but remembers me quite well. Her vision may be going, but she is still sharp as a tack.

There are two waterfalls and a small pond at this entrance to the subdivision, directly across Inverrary Boulevard from the pond I shot earlier. It is another great favorite of brides and grooms for their photos.

I am almost home. Once I turn on Inverrary Drive, a head wind combined with the slight incline is too much for me. I walk the bike for a while, until the ground levels. My packages are mailed, I’ve gotten some exercise, enjoyed my trip to the Bahamas, and had a nice chat. Mission accomplished.