18 December 2011

Zoe's Second First Christmas

We awoke this Sunday to a snow-covered lawn and gently falling snowflakes.  A perfect morning for Christmas: Round 1!  Since we will be rendezvousing with family for the actual day, we decided to have a  quiet Christmas morning of our own a week early.  Zoe Mae was confused, and then very pleased by the pile of gifts that greeted her this morning.  The first gift she eyeballed was a vintage rocking chair-- straight from Grandma's attic-- you see Mama had used this very rocking chair as a wee child.  Since Zoe has what can only be described as a "chair fetish", it was instant hit. (Wait - Zoe digs furniture? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, now does it?)

Fireside chat?
After some good old-fashioned rocking by the fire, Zoe plunged right into the holiday spirit.  Presents!!  She found a new way to express her inner artiste, via a snazzy magnetic doodle pad from Grammy.  Look at that girl draw!!!

Not bad, eh?
To her delight, she also found a new favorite snack.  After all, it wouldn't be Christmas without a tri-flavor popcorn tin.

Nom nom nom.
Inspired by the Christmas spirit, wee Zoe was even so kind as to offer Papa some popcorn.  The emphasis on "offer," as most of the kernels were offered only in jest.  Just as Papa would chomp down, Zoe would pop the corn directly into her own mouth. Hmpf. She did, eventually yield a few ABC* pieces.  (* Already Been Chewed - mmmmBop!)

You want some popcorn big guy?  Well too bad, no popcorn for you!
Revived by a full belly, she ripped right into her last gifts.  Granted, it took her a few minutes to figure out the whole "presents" thing, but she's a professional now.

Wait - it's a toy, wrapped in paper? WTF?
Now, she's really cooking.  With an electric inspired stove from the 70's.  They don't make em like they used to.

You'd never believe it - this thing was COVERED in paper!
But try as she might, Zoe just couldn't sneak up on the stove.

New favorite photo? We think so.

See ya for Christmas, Round 2!

29 November 2011

Destination Thanksgiving

This year on Thanksgiving, a fine new tradition was started-- the first ever Phillips "destination" Thanksgiving in western NY. There was good food, laughter, and room to run around.  The sun even came out for the occasion. Who could ask for anything more?

Zoe Mae had a blast with her cousins.  She was even willing to let them each have an itty bitty piece of Papa's lap.

In return for her generosity, the cousins did their best to teach her the wise ways of the world.  For instance, playdough is in fact for playing, not for eating- even when it comes directly from the kitchen of Grandma Phillips.

The cousins also showed her how Grandma loves to have help with blowing out her birthday candles.  But you better not hesitate, cause a certain curly towhead is quick on the draw...

All in all, a great Thanksgiving/birthday celebration was had.  A great start to the holiday season indeed. Stay tuned for Christmas!!

02 November 2011

Zoe "More" Mae

It's Zoe's first snow!!!!.... that she'll remember!!!... maybe.  In any case, it was pretty darn exciting for the munchkin.  We got her all bundled up and she had her first go at holding little snow/ice-balls with fleece mittens.  She was up for the challenge.

Zoe was so excited by the snow that she insisted on bringing it inside.  So, under Grandma's tutelage, she had her first lesson in phase changes.  A mass of compacted ice crystals quickly transitions to liquid when subjected to a heated home and hungry puppy.  Who knew?

After a fun filled weekend of snow and the loving attention of grandparents, Zoe was ready for Halloween.  Thanks to hand-me downs, the girl had many outfits to choose from-- but she insisted on wearing the cape for her costume party at school.  Who could blame her?

Then, on Halloween night, she used her superpowers to transform into a frog.

If only she could have figured out how to use those superpowers to fill her bag with candy...  But no worries-- Zoe is no stranger to asking for "more" of everything.  More spoons for her yogurt...

More barrettes...

And more of Papa's breakfast!

12 October 2011

Fall River Shivers

With Fall in the air, Cara, Tommy, and Wee Zoe loaded up the box and pointed it North for one last river adventure this year.  Unlike years past, the chosen date for the big autumnal visit was the weekend before Columbus Day.  Strangely, this meant freezing temperatures and rain, whereas this particular year Columbus Day weekend was decidedly summery - 80º and sunny.  Funny, that.

Slow Down!  This is a 15mph town...
Nevertheless, with a huff and a puff, they got the good ol' tandem back in action for a brisk and lively trip around the park -- or, as they like to call it, the T.I.Park 500. With such cool damp weather, a fast bike ride is sure to wake anyone up and make them demand a hot whiskey asap.  Not so with the Zoster...

Zoe: officially slowed down. We seem to have ridden right past naptime...
She loved the bike ride, and was giggling away and pointing at things right up until she went right to sleep.  At speed.  On a bike.  Even whispering sweet nothings in her ear had no effect.  The girl was tuckered out!

Culinary perfection is not to be taken lightly.
That, and she had to get home to feed her baby. Turns out that babies get really, really hungry.  Good thing Zoe knows how to take care of them with some good ol' home-cooked invisible food.

Run faster, Papa!  And backwardser. 
And then it was time to speed around the park again.  This time in the little well-loved umbrella stroller.  The rules were simple:  1) Everyone would run.  2) Rocco was clipped to Tommy's belt.  3) Tommy would run alongside Zoe and Mama while doing his best impression of a steadycam.  4) Slow shutter speed. 

Better... Now stop cutting Mama's head off.
The end result mightn't win any photo contests, but wee Zoe sure loved watching Papa running sideways while being pulled by Rocco and precariously holding the camera in one hand.  By some miracle of chance he didn't even run into anything and he managed to avoid falling into the river.

Finally - you gots it!  Now faster Mama...
Hot.  If only ever day could be a leisurely river day.  (yes, yes, we know, every day could be a leisurely river day, but we've got THREE rivers in the 'burgh, so there.)  Even all bundled up, Zoe LOVED motoring around the park.  No surprise; she's a speed demon, just like her mama.  

Quick - somebody refill that man's beverage, lest he drink the child!
After such excitement it was time to sink into the oh-so-plush couches and say goodnight.  There's Grandpa giving little Zoe a smooch goodnight after a celebratory glass of champagne: just a week earlier marked the big 40th Anniversary for Vera & Jim - go team!!!   

Somewhere there's a funny caption about three generations in this photo.
And Grammy gets the final goodnight snuggles from the little munchkin, while Zoster consoles her (no-longer-starving) doll.  Happiness is a heated cottage in the off-season.

14 September 2011

Tommy's New Do?

Huh.  So that's what Tommy would look like in black-and-white with reddish-purple hair.  And strangely black pupils...

While tidying up my office amidst working on my dissertation I found this leftover passport picture stuck under the window ledge.  Somehow the sun managed to fade my hair into that nifty shade - I can only wish that my passport ever sees enough sunlight to suffer a similar fate.

05 September 2011

Laboring to Jamestown

Like any kid, Zoe loved school, but was even more thrilled at the prospect of a long weekend, just two days into the academic year!  August had been a very busy month, with Tommy in rehearsals for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park's Merry Wives, and Cara back in full swing as the semester began at CMU.  Thus, a trip up to see the cousins was planned for the long weekend!

The Buff Loaf.  Culinary excellence, two pounds at a time.
Cara's a master baker, especially with a Zojirushi in her hands, so while Tommy was busy baking in the sun at the opening of Merry Wives (preview here), Cara set to doing a little baking of her own...  Unbeknownst to either of them, the loaf came out decidedly R-rated!  Whoop, there it is indeed.

No visit to Lakewood is complete without ample backyard time, so the pool and slide quickly joined forces to amuse the kiddies.  Funny how water has proven such an endless source of amusement for humans.

What's a little psi to a tow-head like me?
Gracie is no exception, proudly raising to the pesky hose's challenge.  Rest assured that no Anderson was harmed in the making of this photograph.  Gavin was standing close by with a bucket of water, lest Grace somehow managed to escape wetness from such an endeavor. 

Slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.
Emma on the other hand, channeled her physics knowledge and let the water do the work on the Slip & Slide.  

Why on earth would they call this awesome sprinkler a Slip & Slide?
Wee Zoe saw all the fun, and immediately needed to be part of the action as well.  This was her first ever meeting with a Slip & Slide, and she probably should've spent a bit more time researching the etymology of the term.

ALERT! ALERT!  This thing is slippery!  Sooooooooo slippery!!!  HELP! HELP!
Slip & Slide she did - right onto her keister! Poor lass - sometimes the world is such a cruel and unjust place.  Especially when your age is counted in months.

All together now...
And the afternoon ended with a nice communal swing - with Gavin as the photog.  This is before he ventured too close to the action looking for the perfect shot, which ended up with him taking a shot of his own.  Thankfully the blonde cushion of curls helped to protect him when the Zoster's swing bonked him as he crept in below.

Question of the day: Who's having more fun?

First Day of School!!!

Zoster, hard aground.  On our sidewalk.
We recently found this awesome boat at a nearby yardsale for a couple bucks.  It's just like the ubiquitous Little Tykes Car, except it's a boat, which makes it better.  Wee Zoe really prefers the salty aesthetic of a lapstrake hull...  This one even has a working throttle and a built-in beer drink holder.

Can I go to school already?  I'm done with pictures, I wanna play!
What a big day!  Zoe Mae started school on September 1st.  Her teachers were well impressed; she absolutely loved it, took a nap no problem, and made quick friends with a bunch of other toddlers.  Her report card said that she learned her ABC's and 123's.  Not bad for a first day.

Rocco, on the other hand, immediately seized the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep.  Little Zoe keeps him on his toes most of the day, so a the first few hours without the little instigator were spent curled up on the couch...

Zoe's footwear of choice...

19 August 2011

The Antique Road Hoe: a play in four acts

[NOTE - This post is part 1 of a series chronicling a trip to the ARS.]

As you may know, Cara and Tommy's television experience is limited largely to two shows:  Top Gear, and Antiques Roadshow.  A strange pairing to be sure, but both smack of entertaining nonfiction (though Top Gear pushed that boundary pretty far at times), and both feature live studio audiences in favor of laugh tracks.  Thus, it's only natural that we would endeavor to visit the show(s), particularly when one visits our town 'burgh.  That's right ladies and germs, Antiques Roadshow came to Pittsburgh last week, and thanks to Grammy Vera C, we tickets to the big event.

The first thing you must know about Antiques Roadshow, is that Thou Shall Not Forget the Letter "S".  Seriously - it's posted on a big sign by the door.  Something to the effect of "Be sure to remember the S in Antiques Roadshow."  Apparently they have significant problems with people referring to it as Antique Road-how.  Strange.

Anyway - the other rules stipulate that you can bring two items per person, so we rummaged through our stuff for the hidden treasures.  The primary reason for our visit was a rocking chair that we had found some years back via Craigslist.  Thus, we had to round up a few more items to get the best value-for-afternoon possible.   Thus, below is our story, which is hilarious, tragic, and only slightly unnerving.

ITEM No. 4: The Chess Board

It's a chess board.  Inlaid with lots of mother-of-pearl, and with reasonably good craftsmanship.  We know NOTHING about it, aside from the fact it hung on a friend of the family's wall for many years.  It was a tough call between this and an Andrew Wyeth print (from the same estate), but we figured since we were visiting the holy grail of appraisers, we might as well go with the bizarre and unknown, since any gallery can tell us what the Wyeth is worth.

The Appraisal: Act I

YOUNG APPRAISER:  What do we have here?

TOMMY:  You tell me!  It's been hanging on a family friend's wall for years, and was given to me.  We know nothing about it.

YA: What can I tell you about it?

T: Anything?   I'm pretty sure its inlaid Mother of Pearl...

YA:  Well it's a checker board and (rubbing the surface) I'm just feeling here to see what the other squares are.  Onyx perhaps...

T: I think they're just the same black paint that the rest of the board is covered in.

YA: Probably true.  And I'm guessing it is, maybe, 20th century.  So what's it worth?

T: You tell me.

YA:  Well it's pretty.  With black and white squares.  And it's shiny...  So what would you pay for a pretty, shiny, checkerboard?

T: I have no idea.

YA: How about $50 or $100?

T: Sure...


THE VERDICT:  Roadshow appraisers are not gods who know all about everything.  In fact this one was likely an intern.  There was little to go on with the chess board, so the appraisal was that it was shiny  and pretty so it might be worth $50.  Cara and Tommy had hoped for a bit more info, but hey, now it can be put back into service as a chess board with no regrets.

ARS ITEM No. 2: The Brass Serving Tray

[NOTE - This post is part 2 of a series chronicling a trip to the ARS.]

ITEM No. 2:  The Brass Serving Tray

Now here is a PERFECT Antiques Roadshow item.  It is old, has been in the family for at least four generations, and is marked with a maker's mark, and a date.  And the thing is damn heavy!  Cara flew back with it from NY just to bring it to the roadshow, and did the obligatory research ahead of time.  It was made in 1885 by Nicholas Muller Sons NY.  The magic of google turned up a few pieces (a clock and such) from the same company, but nothing even vaguely similar.

The Appraisal: Act II

BLASÉ APPRAISER: (lowering his glasses and looking slightly interested) Well, what do you have here?

CARA: Well, I don't know much about it except that my Great Grandmother bought it at an antique store in New York.  It's been in my family ever since, and no one really likes it, but we've held onto in because it's really old.

BA: (searches on his computer under the name Nicholas Muller) Well, this name isn't coming up.  Nicholas Muller is likely the company that made this-- you don't know the artist?

C: No.

BA: (clearly losing interest) Well, that's about all I can tell you then.  It's brass.  And this scene on the front is a mystery.  Maybe it's biblical?  As far as worth, as a decorative piece, it might be worth a few hundred dollars.

C:  So you don't know anything more about this company?

BA:  No, but you could try google.

C:  I did. A few clocks came up under this name, but nothing like this tray.

BA:  Really.  Well, it's brass, and it's not in great condition.  It has lost its patina.  Someone tried to clean it.

C:  Yeah.  Thanks.


THE VERDICT:  Google: 1  -  ARS Appraiser: 0

ARS ITEM No. 3: The Not-So-Danish Rocking Chair

[NOTE - This post is part 3 of a series chronicling a trip to the ARS.]

ITEM No. 3: The Danish Rocking Chair

The whole reason they wanted to attend Antiques Roadshow in the first place.  This rocking chair is absolutely splendid.  Purchased when first pregnant with Wee Zoe, the idea was that anyone with a baby needs a good rocking chair.  Cara and Tommy are picky about their furniture, and very specific about what they like.  Particle board is right out, and those momma gliders are hella comfortable, but have no place in their house.  So to craigslist it was, with both searching high and low for months in the hopes of finding the perfect rocker.

Cara won.  After lusting after several expensive chairs on eBay, and with a due date rapidly approaching, she found precisely what they had been looking for.  The ad was simple: "Wood Rocking Chair, one piece broken, $100." There was a blurry cell phone picture, but the lines looked great.  And it was located way out in the middle of nowhere.  A long dark drive into farm country, a u-turn, two lovable dogs, and an interesting storie of church-sale flipping later, Cara and Tommy were headed home with a great new rocker.

Tommy knew, without a doubt that it was danish.  The lines, the craftsmanship, and the wood made that absolutely certain.  Cara knew that she loved the chair and that it had a great rock.  One splat on the back was broken clean off, and another had heinously been repaired with Gorilla Glue.  Other than that, it was in fine shape.  Due to the damage, the chair went into the basement, until Tommy could come up with a fix.

Well over a year later, and fueled by the freedom that occasional neighborly daycare provided him, Tommy took the chair out of the basement.  He put it on his head and walked it around the corner to a small chop called Chair Restorations by Aleph.  He knew that he didn't have the know-how to repair the broken splat properly, and it seemed like a chair that deserved a proper fix. Immediately as Tommy walked in the door of the tiny shop, Aleph put his tools down, and said: "Let me see it."  He pulled and twisted and so thoroughly inspected the chair that Tommy feared it might fall apart.  And then, the verdict:

"This is a very special chair."  said Aleph.  "I know - we really like it." Tommy replied.   "No." responded Aleph "I don't think you understand - this is a really special chair."   And so the conversation went.  Aleph didn't know anything about the chair, but after doing nothing but repairing chairs for the past 30 years, he knew that this one was special.  He agreed that it was Danish, and said he'd be honored to fix it.  Two weeks later, Tommy gave the fixed chair to Cara as a Mother's Day present.

It is striking, it is beautiful, and it rests perfectly when unladen.  When you sit in it the splats conform to your back and the chair balances just right, and the rock is entirely effortless and even.  And it's well made.  There is no metal in the chair - every joint is pegged.  So Cara and Tommy and Zoe and all of their house guests have been using it, and it owns a prominent corner of their home.  And then came Antiques Roadshow tickets...

There's no doubt that the chair is well made, but by whom?  There is a round void on the bottom where there was, presumably, once a maker's mark.  Somehow it's gone, and has been since the purchase.  Tommy has literally gone through hundreds of google image searches, and never seen anything even remotely like it.   It's too perfect to be a one-off, so what's the story?  There were even debated about the wood - is it a seasoned walnut or a light teak?  Antiques Roadshow couldn't come soon enough!

What they don't tell you, is that for each item you bring, you'll wait in line for about an hour.  So Cara and Tommy hauled this chair from line to line, all afternoon.  And boy did it attract attention.  Every volunteer and dozens of Roadshow-ers were lured by the lines and asked what the story was...  And here's how it all went down:

The furniture line was quite short, so the wait was only minutes.  XXX XXXXXX met us straighyaway and had only one question:  "Is this a Maloof?"  "No idea." Replied Tommy, and XXX motioned to a staffer "I think we're going to need Peter.  Get me Peter."  To put things into perspective, Sam Maloof was to the rocking chair world what Enzo Ferrari was to sports cars.  Maloof marks the pinnacle of artisan rocking chairs, and some of his chairs are worth more than Cara and Tommy's house.  That said, Tommy knew of Maloof, and this chair didn't look like a Maloof to him...   Let's get Peter indeed.

Peter Loughrey is the founder and director of Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) a high end modern furniture auction house in LA for the past 20 years.  He's also a respected authority on American Modern art and furniture, and -- lucky for us - he moonlights as a featured Antiques Roadshow appraiser.  In short, there are likely few people in the world who know more about modern furniture than he does, so it was a treat that he was summoned for the humble rocker.  He came running over and...

The Appraisal - Act III

PETER LOUGHREY: Wow - what can you tell me about this?

TOMMY: Well, we bought it when Cara got pregnant since everyone said we'd need a rocker, but we know very little about it.

PL: Have you ever heard of Sam Maloof?

T: Yes

PL:  Well, I don' think it's a Sam Maloof.  [goes on to explain in detail why with specific aspects of the rocker, it probably wasn't made by Maloof.]

PL: Have you heard of Vladimir Kagan?

T: I think so. Yes.

PL: Well, I don' think it's him either.  [explains how the joints would be slightly different]  But it's clearly an artist who is familiar with both of them, yet is very much its own style.  [long discussion of the specifics of the chair, the craftsmanship, and it's presence.]  It's definitely American black walnut, and I'd say it was certainly made on the west coast in the late 1960s.  [...]  The maker's seal on the bottom might have fallen off, or a previous owner might've removed it, if the name wasn't recognizable.

T: Really - and all along I'd thought it was Danish?

PL: Definitely not.  It's too well made.  At that time the Danes were masters of high-design that could be broken down and packed.  This chair is entirely pegged and solid, and it's made of American walnut - it would have had to be shipped in a massive crate, which just isn't what the danish were doing. [...]  The maker's seal on the bottom might have fallen off, or a previous owner might've removed it, if the name wasn't recognizable.

T: I've been trying to research it, but have come up dry.  I've looked through hundreds - probably thousands - of pictures online over the past years, but have never seen anything that even comes close.

PL:  This is what I do - I've dealt in thousands of modern rocking chairs through my auction house, and I've never seen a similar one.  It's remarkable.

T: You know - in my research, I've read a lot about people talking about how a rocking chair is to be judged by it's "rock" but I never really bought it.  Until this chair.  We've had a few rocking chairs over the years, but honestly, the way this one rocks is really beyond comparison.

PL: You mind if I try it out?

T: Of course not - that's why we're here!

PL (after sitting and rocking for a time) Wow - you're right.  You know - that was the hallmark of Maloof chairs.  Most of them were bespoke for their owners - he'd take measurements and craft the perfect chair, and for rocking chairs, that's really difficult.  [goes on to detail the specific of how a rocker must sit right with and without a person, and how the rock works, etc. - all while rocking.]  You know, you're right.  This is a fantastic rocker - all those things are right.  It works.  It's a shame the mark isn't on the bottom - we'll likely never know who made it.

[They all chatted a while longer and then parted ways.  The staff noted that it must've been special because the appraisal took so long.  Tommy and Cara carried their chair back out to get in line for the next thing.  It wasn't filmed, and you won't see it on the tv.]

THE VERDICT:  It was a fantastic, legit, Antiques Roadshow experience.  Peter went into great detail about the chair, and Cara and Tommy learned a whole lot.  There's a lot that's still unknown - and will likely always be - but it was put into perspective in a healthy and honest way.  As for value, Peter said the current market is very depressed for such goods, and at auction it might fetch a couple grand.  A few years ago? An easy 5-6 grand.  And if it were a Maloof (which it definitely isn't) it would have a value like a small house in a nice neighborhood.

Perhaps somewhere, someday, someone will see the chair and know who made it.  Because at the end of the day, this chair didn't fall from a factory line.  A hugely skilled artist crafted it, and for some reason, that artist never made a name for him or her self.  But here in Pittsburgh, a couple of asses are appreciating this chair day in and day out.  And it would be thrilling to know what other furniture this person made...