Treasures and memories: why yard sales are the best

T.P.T. ashtrayOkay, people, here is my latest yard-sale treasure. Put up your hand, right now, if you remember the T.P.T. (Toronto-Peterborough Transport Company Limited) freight line! Remember the big tractor-trailers with T.P.T. painted on the side, heading east or west on the 401 and many other smaller south/central/eastern Ontario highways besides? Why, I believe that I even remember a T.P.T. truck passing once (maybe more than once?) on the small country road on which my elementary school, Madoc Township Public School, was (and is) located. “It’s the T.P.T.!” a boy shouted; and we all caught the reference and recognized the logo on the side of the big truck.

Now, a brief search on the internet has landed me precisely zero information about the no-longer-extant Toronto-Peterborough Transport Company Limited. It was certainly a going concern, with lots of trucks and staff and whatnot, back in my youth here at the Manse in Queensborough. (Queensborough being just a little more than an hour’s drive away from one of the T.P.T.’s termini, Peterborough. Or “Peterboro,” as people used to sometimes spell it back in those days – when Queensborough was often “Queensboro.”) Doubtless that relatively small company was swallowed up by a much bigger one, as so often happens. And so the T.P.T. lives on only in some people’s memory.

Well – in some people’s memory, and also in the old-fashioned heavy-duty ashtray that I was thrilled to find at a yard sale last weekend! It was a tremendous yard sale, put on by the good folks at St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Madoc. (Possibly the only Presbyterian church in the whole world named after the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, but that’s a whole other story.)

Raymond and I hadn’t known in advance about the giant St. Peter’s yard sale, but were lucky enough to spot a poster for it at the One Stop Butcher Shop (best burgers ever) in downtown Madoc a mere half-hour before it was due to end at 2 p.m. You faithful readers all know (thanks to many posts, like those here and here and here and here) how much we love yard sales, and so you can surely imagine how speedily we zipped up St. Lawrence Street West in our little Toyota, hoping to find some treasures before the whole shebang shut down.

And we did! The T.P.T. ashtray being decidedly the best, if you ask me – even though the Manse is decidedly a non-smoking household. Just to see that old logo again, after all these years! And to think about the smoky 1960s/’70s trucking-company offices where that ashtray might have lived, and probably been overflowing with butts… And yes, I know I am one of the few people you can think of who gets nostalgic about overflowing 1960s ashtrays, but what can I say? Those days were golden, “toasted” Lucky Strikes and all. (Would the Canadian equivalent of Luckies be Sweet Caps, I wonder?)

What else did we find at the St. Peter’s yard sale? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Here is a photo showing most of the loot, though I should note that behind the Password game you see is yet another Password game (bonus!):

St. Peter's yard sale finds

(Oh, and there’s also this: the price tag on one of the two Password games. Apparently it was purchased for $1.99 at a store called Sayvette. Does anyone remember Sayvette? I have to say I do not; what do you know about it, readers?)


And here is a delightful find. Do you remember these? Of course you do! Every kitchen had one, for the bills and letters and postcards and shopping lists and whatnot. And now the Manse does too:

That thing for bills

All right, then. So much for last weekend’s yard-sale excitement. Now on to this weekend’s yard-sale excitement, which takes place in (you will probably not be surprised to know) – Queensborough!

QCC yard sale

Yes, this Saturday, June 13, the Queensborough Community Centre (our hamlet’s historic former one-room schoolhouse) is the place to be for a giant yard sale and barbecue. As you peruse all the wondrous items for sale, you will enjoy the aroma of peameal bacon and hamburgers (with fried onions, yum!) and hot dogs being barbecued by master chefs Raymond Brassard and Chris Whalen. You can also partake in homemade sweets and coffee. And you can enjoy just hanging out at a fun community event in beautiful downtown Queensborough!

And who knows? Perhaps you will find something as wonderfully nostalgic for you as was that T.P.T. ashtray for me. Finds like that, people, are what I call good stuff.

Old sewing patterns can be pretty darn cool.

So you know how the other night the issue of the colour of a dress – was it blue and black, or gold and white? – broke the internet? (You don’t? Ah, well – here’s a summary of that whole thing.) Anyway, today the internet seems to be focusing (albeit with not quite the same intensity) on vintage sewing patterns. Specifically, a vintage sewing pattern that dances, the one you see at the top of this post and that you are probably mesmerized by even as you read my deathless prose.

I had to laugh when I saw this viral GIF, not just because it’s funny – I mean, get a load of the gal in the grey pantsuit in the rear, bobbing her head as her friend (or is it her secret enemy?) rocks out – but because I have a quiet fondness for vintage sewing patterns.

Why? Who knows? I’ve never done any sewing, except when I absolutely had to because of being in Mrs. Meraw’s home-ec class at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc, back in the days when I was a young teenager here at the Manse in Queensborough; or being in Isabella Sager‘s 4-H sewing club in those same years of my youth. (And I should add, by the way, that I was terrible at it.)

I think, though, that I like those vintage colourful illustrated envelopes containing the patterns for making your own clothes because they remind me of those days of my youth, and of going to Stickwood’s dry-goods store in Madoc – upstairs, where the fabric and the notions and the pattern books were. You’d look through the huge, glossy pattern books and see all kinds of fashionable things worn by svelte models, and then you’d buy your pattern in an envelope, and you’d take it home, and if you were me, you’d make something that looked nothing like the glossy photo that had first attracted your attention. But what the heck.

Since Raymond and I bought the Manse and started visiting local auctions and yard sales and thrift shops in search of vintage treasures, I’ve picked up a few of those old pattern packets; here’s one of them, which I think is particularly classic because of the barbecue theme. Imagine: sewing all your own barbecue aprons, for both the gals and the guys!

Simplicity barbecue

And given my fondness for these old patterns from Simplicity and Butterick and McCall’s and Vogue (those last being the supremely fancy ones, of course), you can imagine how tickled I was to find the dancing pattern all over the internet today.

And doubly tickled to come across something brilliant called Pattern Behavior on tumblr (if you don’t know what tumblr is, don’t worry; it doesn’t matter a bit) featuring not only vintage patterns but hilarious captions beneath each one. A few examples:

Pattern Behavior 1 Pattern Behavior 2 Pattern Behavior 3 Pattern Behavior 4 Pattern Behavior 5

Really, I think it’s quite splendid that the internet has discovered the joy of vintage patterns. And on that note, let me leave you with another dancing one, straight out of the early 1980s, I would say. Take it away, ladies:


For a little place, there’s a lot going on

Potluck Supper flyer“I am so tired of the snow!” my mum, Lorna, exclaimed when I called her tonight. In that I believe she was echoing the sentiments of approximately 100 per cent of the people I know.

I am pleased to report, however, that the good folks at the Queensborough Community Centre committee have come up with a way to break up the long cold dreariness of this winter (and in particular this February): the annual community potluck supper is taking place this coming Sunday. If you’re in the Queensborough area, or are of a mind to visit, you should just whip up your favourite dish to share and come on over to the community centre, our historic one-room schoolhouse. There’ll be lots of excellent food, the aforementioned historic surroundings to admire (including a nice old-fashioned portrait of the Queen, such as all one-room schoolhouses used to sport), and a chance to share the local news and bemoan the frigid weather with people you know and perhaps some you don’t – yet.

Now, Raymond and I are members of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, wholehearted supporters of community get-togethers, and very appreciative eaters of the food that is served at Queensborough events. Unfortunately, however, because of a prior commitment, we won’t be able to take in this Sunday’s event. The good news, though, for us and for you, is that there are lots of other community events coming up in Queensborough in the next few months.

I know this not only because I’m a member of the QCC committee, but because I helped put together the latest edition of its newsletter that went out to local households the other day, along with the flyer about the potluck supper. As I was finishing the final formatting, and proofreading it one last time, the thought struck me: “My goodness but there’s a lot going on in Queensborough!” Here, I’ll show you:

QCC Newsletter February 2015

And that’s only a little over the first half of the year!

Pancake Breakfasters in Queensborough

Last year’s pancake breakfast at our old one-room schoolhouse – it’s always a very popular event.

I mean really: a potluck supper; an old-fashioned church supper at St. Andrew’s United Church; an always-popular pancake breakfast (we take our food seriously in Queensborough – can you tell?); the annual celebration of spring in which kayakers come down the Black River and over the falls in our village – and we of course sell them food, in the form of hamburgers, hot dogs and homemade pies; the annual summer drop-in program for kids that is always a big success with young families; and the one that is maybe most exciting of all for me (because I love yard sales): a giant community yard sale! Oh, and of course there’s more food in August, with a community corn roast. (Did I mention that good food is important to us here in Queensborough?)

And here’s the thing: this newsletter, dashed off in time for this week’s distribution, doesn’t even tell you everything that’s going on or coming up. The QCC committee is talking about one or two other special events, including maybe a community cleanup in which volunteers from throughout the village and surrounding areas would spend a day picking up roadside trash and generally sprucing things up; I expect there would also be food involved, because – well, you know.

Our Backyard street signs photo

New street signs, a project of the Queensborough Beautification Committee.

And in addition to all this, the hard-working volunteers at another community group, the Queensborough Beautification Committee, will doubtless have other plans and projects on the go for this year. They’re the folks who previously have brought the community beautiful planters for the entrance signs to the village and the historic sign in the centre of it, and, last year, new designed-and-made-in-Queensborough street signs, complete with hanging baskets of flowers.

I really was struck, as I was putting that quick newsletter together, at what a busy little place our community is. For such a small population, we do a pretty great job when it comes to putting together events and gatherings and chances to share fun and food with our neighbours and friends.

Community spirit is evidently alive and well in Queensborough. And here’s the thing: visitors are always welcome to come see our pretty little neck of the woods and take part in our special events and gatherings. Please do!

I promise you’ll be well-fed.

All it took was a Spirograph to make my day

Super SpirographOh boy, dear readers, did I ever make a yard-sale find this past weekend. The yard sale in question was on Cooper Road, just a few miles northwest of Queensborough, and I popped in on a whim. It was fairly late on in the day (in yard-sale terms) and I figured there wouldn’t be much left. But I struck pure gold! For just $1, I purchased a vintage Spirograph set!

Oh, and not just any Spirograph set. This is Super Spirograph. Which means it has more plastic circles and wheels and rectangles and whatnot than the regular edition does, with which to draw those wacky psychedelic patterns.

Now granted, a few of the parts are missing:

Inside the Spirograph box

As is the collection of coloured pens one needs to create the designs – though I suppose one could rustle up some replacements.

But truth be told I don’t have all that much interest in actually using the set. I am just thrilled to have this classic boxed pastime from the era of my childhood at the Manse, to add to our growing collection of vintage toys and games. It makes me happy just looking at it.

But you know what makes me happiest? Why, this – the original price tag:

Beamish price tag

And why does it makes me happy? Ah, I know longtime Madoc residents will know. Because it’s a price tag from the Beamish, the long-ago store on Madoc’s main street that sold all manner of wonders, from toys and games to candy and nail polish and clothes and whatever. (The building where it was located now houses a large dollar store, which I suppose is kind of the same idea as the Beamish – but the Beamish’s goods were, while not fancy by any means, considerably more mainstream and upscale than is dollar-store merchandise.)

I am just tickled to death to be reminded of that wonderful long-ago store. Where once upon a time (early ’70s, I’d guess) someone purchased a Super Spirograph set that was, many years later, to end up in my delighted possession. And bless that person’s heart for leaving the price tag on!

The way church-basement tea ought to be served

Fire-King cup and saucerI picked up this cup and saucer today at a yard sale in the nearby-to-Queensborough hamlet of Actinolite. I got it for 50 cents, and truth be told I wouldn’t have paid any more than that for it, because I don’t really like the style, even though it is a member of the highly collectible Fire-King family. But I bought it not because it’s Fire-King (though that doesn’t hurt), but because it’s exactly the cup and saucer that all of us of a certain age have drunk tea from at church-basement luncheons and suppers from here to eternity – or Kaladar, whichever comes first. Open the cupboards in any still-active rural-Ontario church kitchen and chances are good that you’ll fine dozens and dozens of these white-with-gold-trim Fire-King cups and saucers. They are just waiting to be filled with high-test church-basement tea (the stuff that’s so strong and dark that you can’t tell till you taste it whether it’s tea or coffee) to be enjoyed as the accompanying beverage while one consumes a ham supper or turkey supper or those wonderful, wonderful church-basement sandwiches that I can never get enough of.

Will I ever use my newly purchased vintage cup and saucer here at the Manse? Probably not. But I’m glad I have it, as a reminder of that church-basement tea that tastes extra good in those white Fire-King cups and saucers.

I have met my match in thrift-shop sleuthing

KayteeJane's cart with wheels

Ah, the things the internet can find! This cart, now proudly owned by my fellow blogger (and lover of vintage) KayteeJane, is exactly the same as one that graced the Manse’s pantry once upon a time. (Photo courtesy of KayteeJane’s House)

You might recall that in last night’s post – in which I was wondering aloud (okay, through my fingertips as I typed) about the original layout of the Manse’s ground floor – I made mention of the small pantry off the kitchen. It wasn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the pantry, of course; there’s a post devoted to it here, for instance, and it’s showed up numerous other times.

It is a funny little room, especially considering that in the current ground-floor layout (which is the same as when I was growing up in the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s), it is the sole place for food preparation, i.e. chopping and mixing and cooking and also washing the dishes (by hand). When I think of all the meals for family and “company” that came out of that cramped little space back when my mum was doing the cooking I am thoroughly amazed. (And it makes me feel a little less grumpy about how crowded it is now, when Raymond and I are both working in it. Really, compared with what my mum had to deal with when cooking for her family and all those guests, we have nothing to complain about.)

Anyway. I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while about a fun blog I’ve found by a young woman who – I can hardly believe I’m saying this – seems to get more enjoyment out of seeking thrift-store finds and treasures than even I do. Her name is KayteeJane, she lives Stateside, and here’s what she says in introducing herself: “I have a passion for vintage! My favorite thing to do is hunt for treasures at thrift stores, estate sales and yard sales.” Sound familiar? (If not, check out my yard-sale/auction-sale/thrift-shop posts here and here and here and here and here and – well, you get the picture.) While KayteeJane’s particular weakness is vintage Pyrex and mine is vintage Fire-King, we are two women cut from the same cloth. I hate to think what might happen if she and I were let loose on the same yard sale or thrift shop.

(There is one major difference, however: KayteeJane is into crafts, and is handy that way; I get hives when I have to do so much as tie a ribbon on a gift I’m wrapping, which is close enough to arts and crafts for me.)

I discovered her blog by accident, when I was looking online for a photo of – yes, this is coming back to the pantry at the Manse – a metal stand my family used to have in said pantry as a place to put the two buckets of drinking water that were always on hand, carried from the pump up at the old village schoolhouse. (I wrote here about the lack of potable water at the Manse in all the years we lived here.) In a post here, listing her most recent finds as of July 2013, KayteeJane included what I’m sure is the very same cart, which she purchased for a mere $2 and planned to “paint … a cute color [I told you she was into arts and crafts] and then either use … as a bar cart or craft cart.”

KayteeJane very kindly gave me permission to use the photo, and now seems to be just the time to do so. Especially since her most recent post, as of this writing, is a delightful one – it’s here – about the joy of finding something she had been looking for for years, and “do[ing] the happy dance in the car on the way home.” Man, can I relate to that! And if you too love yard-sale and thrift-shop finds, I think you’ll enjoy it too.

So KayteeJane, thanks for the metal-cart photo and your unflagging enthusiasm for finding vintage treasures at bargain prices. Thanks to you, I know I am not alone!

A Blue Mountain ashtray and what it tells us about the past

Blue Mountain Pottery ashtray

Whether you’re a smoker or not (and of course most of us aren’t), you kind of have to admire the design of this four-smokers-at-a-time Blue Mountain ashtray. At least I do.

Do you remember Blue Mountain pottery? Of course you do. If you live in Ontario, chances are you might even have a piece or two of it kicking around your house. Once upon a time, everybody did.

Blue Mountain pottery came from Collingwood, Ont., and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, was produced from 1947 to 2004. I am pretty sure that my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough, in the 1960s and early 1970s, was its heyday. The stuff was unavoidable in those days – filling the shelves of every gift shop and every home. It was a staple as shower and wedding gifts. Mostly it was blue-green stuff, but I also remember seeing orangey-red Blue Mountain – and, again according to our friend Wikipiedia, the Blue Mountain factory also cranked out stuff in harvest gold, mocha and pewter, among other colours. (You can see examples on the site of the Blue Mountain Pottery Collectors Club, here.)

So here’s the thing: because Blue Mountain pottery was so ubiquitous in people’s homes (in our part of the world) in the middle part of the 20th century, it is now ubiquitous at the yard sales now being held by the next generation, wanting to clean the old stuff out of those homes.

giant Blue Mountain fish

Don’t you wish you had the giant flat Blue Mountain fish adding to your home decor? A classic. (Photo from

I have to say I was never fond of Blue Mountain stuff, and still don’t find anything aesthetically pleasing about it – but now of course it has a nostalgic attraction for me. Seeing a Blue Mountain vase or mug or cream-and-sugar set or (lord help us) animal figurine (Have you ever seen the enormous flat fish? Now that is a – well, it’s something, that’s for sure) just tugs a little at my heart, reminding me of the days when this stuff was considered beautiful and desirable.Things were simpler then.

So it won’t surprise you to hear that I’ve picked up a few – just a few, mind you! – pieces of Blue Mountain stuff at Hastings County yard sales of late.

Blue Mountain pottery label

The label of authenticity asserting that this is genuine Blue Mountain pottery.

Including the ashtray in the photo at the top of this post, which I picked up at some yard sale or other, probably for a dime or so. I couldn’t resist it, and you know why? It’s not only because it’s Blue Mountain (this photo here at the left shows the label of authenticity on the bottom; heaven forfend that one would end up with fake Blue Mountain stuff!). It’s because of what it tells us about people’s lives and habits once upon a time.

Take another look at that photo of the ashtray at the top. It is an ashtray for four smokers, presumably all sitting around a small square table. A card table, probably. So the ashtray would be parked right in the middle of the card table, and it was designed so that all four smokers/players could easily and ergonomically lay their cigarettes down when they needed two hands to examine and play their euchre hand. Such design! Ingenious!

But in 2013, when a lot fewer people smoke cigarettes (and I assure you that Raymond and I are among the non-smoking crowd, save for Raymond’s occasional cigars), it seems so strange to think how common, and how well-used, this four-person card-party ashtray would have been. It was another time, that’s for sure. Another century.

The way to a husband’s heart, circa 1954

Vintage cooking brochures

Leaflets with handy vintage recipes and cooking tips, scored at a recent yard sale near Madoc. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

I’ve written before (here and here for instance) about what a sucker I am for vintage cookbooks. Not so much because of the recipes – which I will say seem to be pretty much evenly divided between those I would love to try and those I would not touch with a ten-foot pole (these latter tending to have a lot to do with Jell-O and/or marshmallows and/or tinned pineapple – or tinned anything, actually) – but just for the vibe they give off. A lifestyle long gone, shall we say. When women stayed home, which apparently was their place at the time.

Anyway, I struck a big find for 50 cents or so at a Madoc-area yard sale a few weekends ago, and the photographic evidence is above. Not cookbooks, per se, but cooking brochures put out by food companies (Borden’s, the people who brought you condensed milk, whatever that is); and food organizations (the Canadian Canned Tuna Council or some such); and other companies – insurance firms and whatnot – that apparently felt like the best way to get their message into the home (where the wife was, naturally; it was her place, remember?) was to send out a booklet of recipes.

Because we all know that women trapped in the home are just dying to try more recipes.

Anyway, my favourite of this lot is the one containing baking recipes with the title “The Soft Way to Your Husband’s Heart.” Apparently if you baked enough sweet (and soft) things with Maple Leaf Flour, you would have a place in your husband’s heart.

True romance indeed.

Croquet, anyone?

vintage croquet game

This could be us and our Queensborough friends, straw boaters and all, playing croquet on the Manse’s lawn! (Photo from, where you can learn the history of croquet and watch a video on how to play it.)

“There’s not a single level spot on this whole lawn,” Raymond remarked one day last spring as we were raking up leaves and winter debris. And he is absolutely right. The Manse’s grounds aren’t hilly or anything, but there are a lot of bumps and slopes and dips.

vintage croquet set

This is just what I need for the Manse, non?

But you know what uneven lawns are good for? Croquet!

And with that in mind I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled at local auctions and yard sales for a vintage croquet set that’s in good shape. No luck yet; I’ve seen several that were in rough shape, but I want one where you can still see the colours on the balls and the mallets. (What’s that I hear you saying? That I could just buy a brand new set? But where’s the thrill of the chase in that?)

Anyway, take a look at a this view of our spacious, if wildly uneven lawn…

croquet lawn 2

and this one…

croquet lawn 1

and you tell me: does this not look like it has the makings of a challenging, perhaps even world-class, croquet court? Don your boater and come on over!

Not-so-timeless etiquette lessons from a yard-sale find

What a find! A 1951 etiquette book from long-ago gossip columnist and professional hostess Elsa Maxwell. Hours of good reading!

What a find! A 1951 etiquette book from long-ago gossip columnist and professional hostess Elsa Maxwell. Hours of good reading!

Those of you who love yard sales know what I’m talking about when I enthuse about the treasures to be found there. As for those of you who are not yard-sale aficionados – well, I feel rather badly for you. You don’t know what you’re missing!

A week from today is a yard sale you won’t want to miss – though sadly, due to other commitments, I probably will have to. It is a Queensborough community yard sale, and it takes place at the Queensborough Community Centre (the former one-room schoolhouse in our little hamlet, one I almost attended – it closed just before I started school – when I was growing up in Queensborough) from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 8. I would give my eye teeth to be there. Queensborough treasures – what could be better!

But since I probably can’t, I shall reflect on treasures acquired at other yard sales in the Queensborough area. I did a post on the subject around this time last year, which featured a photo of the rather amazing amount of stuff that Raymond and I picked up in a single day. And here I wrote about a fantastic very recent yard-sale find, a vintage Fisher-Price garage no less!

But I thought tonight I’d share some pearls of wisdom from another recent find. It’s an etiquette book, of all things: Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book, to be precise. The name Elsa Maxwell was vaguely familiar to me, but I had to look her up to find out who and what she was: a U.S. gossip columnist, professional hostess and author. (She actually had a pretty interesting life, and you can read about it here, and about a recent book about her quite spectacular career here and here.)

Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book was published in 1951, and of course I got it for a song. Who else would want a 1951 etiquette guide from an almost-forgotten gossip columnist? But I love it. And I could probably create a whole other blog using only the tidbits of advice contained in Elsa’s book. But this post will have to do for now.

I love the book because in some ways Elsa has an utterly sensible approach to etiquette. In the introduction she says, “Good manners spring from just one thing – kind impulses. Which means that those of us who meet our fellow-men [I know, the language. But it’s 1951, remember?] with consideration cannot fail to have manners that are irreproachable.”

Now that’s good stuff! But then she goes on in the many pages that follow to get into some pretty arcane (and dated, and wildy sexist) advice. Such as this gem, from the chapter Manners in Public Places, subsection Taxicabs:

When a man and a woman take a taxicab he directs the driver. When only the woman knows their destination she should give her escort the address so he, in turn, can give it to the driver. Your driver will not care a hoot who gives his directions. But your escort’s ego will be pleased if you allow him to retain this masculine prerogative. So – since this is the kind thing to do it is also the proper thing to do. And, need I say, the smart thing to do.

Well! I have to conclude from this that Elsa conflated “kindness” with “stoking the male ego.” Not one and the same, in my books…

Does that make me unkind? (Let’s not ask Raymond.)