Tell Me a Story about … Knickknacks!

Do people still use this term to identify those odds and ends of figurines and such which decorate our homes? Or maybe I should have said, “… that FILL our homes!” Well, at least for some of us (like me!)

What do your knickknacks say about you? About your family? Your lifestyle?

Are they collectibles? Antiques? Souvenirs from trips? Heirlooms? Pieces from bubblegum machines?

Do they sit on end tables or bedroom dressers? In curio cabinets away from tiny fingers and/or paws? Or do they fill every nook and cranny of available space to set them (like mine!): in front of books, on top of the microwave, on the windowsills?

When I think of the knickknacks which literally fill my home, I see trips to souvenir shops with my parents and then our own daughters. My favorites were and still are the cedar boxes to hold treasures untold. I also collected the tiny bone-china animal sets, the ones with the itty-bitty chains sometimes connecting a mother and two babies.

And when I think of those bone-china sets, I recall a wall shelf I had when we first got married. It was white with plastic gilt cornices, a mirror in the back, and little shelf areas on which to place my tiniest knickknacks. Several sets of bone-china animals sat there beside porcelain horses, many from my mother’s horse collection. It also held several ceramic animals, such as the cutest cocker spaniel puppy with long black ears.

And when I think of those ceramics, I remember the years my mom had a ceramic kiln in our basement. First, she poured the “slip” (the gray-beige liquid that turns into ceramics) into the molds. After the hardening process, she unmolded the delicate “greenware,” which we wiped with sponges and used a tool to scrape off the line from the mold. These were then fired in the kiln, a long wait for those of us anxious to begin painting!

And when I think of painting, I consider the plethora of paint types. If stains, the colors showed up right away: red was red, blue was blue. And they didn’t need fired again, just sprayed with a clear acrylic coat. If glazes, the colors could be confusing. Gray could turn white or blue when fired; pink could turn red or purple. The choices included pearls, crackle-tones, milk glass, and more. Those ceramic pieces made their way into the knickknack world as gifts for family and friends or on our own special shelving.

And when I think of that shelving, I remember the discarded displays my dad brought home from his job. Several of these shelves still sit in my home, filled with books. One brings a nostalgic sigh of wishing I still had it. It resembled an open hutch: two bottom shelves about four feet long and eighteen inches between, a shelf with the top piece sitting on it, and the top piece with multiple smaller shelves jutting towards the center from both sides. I created seasonal displays with my knickknacks on that top shelf.

And when I think of those displays, I think of how I recreated them on the sills of the bay windows in our current home. I place my animal knickknacks—such as a heavy plaster bear, plastic and porcelain deer, a bone-china skunk set from my youth, and porcelain ducks with bottoms intended for use as clothes brushes—amidst pieces of driftwood, pinecones, and silk flowers. A forest scene appears. Or maybe I choose the ceramic dogs and cats, Breyer horses and ponies, a couple fur-covered critters. A petting zoo style scene covers the sill.

Ah, knickknacks! Where else can I put them? Where can I tuck that black stallion figurine from Mom’s collection or that sweet resin cardinal I bought last year? And don’t even get me started on my Christmas knickknacks!

How about your house? Does it abound with knickknacks? Or do you follow the current trend to minimalism? Tell us a story about your favorite knickknack, past or present. Oh, my favorite? Too many to choose from, but this one says it all: a tiny stand-alone plaque with a bird and the words: “Home is where your story begins.”

Tell Me a Story about … Toads!

Remember the classic children’s stories about Frog and Toad, two amphibians made immortal by Arnold Lobel? Well, the stories I have to tell don’t deal with the sometimes-slimy frogs, such as the bullfrog who belches in our creek or the leopard frogs my husband tries not to squish with his lawnmower. Nope, these stories tell the tales of toads, the lumpy-bumpy amphibian friend of Frog.

My first memories come from our times at the hunting cabin in Potter County. Hazy summer afternoons often found relief from the heat through a thunderstorm. Though I hated the sound of the thunder reverberating through the mountain and the thought of the lightning maybe striking one of the trees and toppling it onto the cabin, squashing us like bugs, I loved the aftermath—toad hunting!

As soon as darkness fell, young and old gathered buckets and piled into the station wagon. Dad drove to deserted dirt roads and slowed to about 5 m.p.h. He and Mom watched the headlight-lit road, while my two brothers and I waited on the backseat for our turn to jump out and capture the toads which hopped about the roads after rainstorms. Of course, frogs also made their appearances, but being quicker and slipperier than their amphibian counterparts, we didn’t catch many of those. Soon, our buckets resounded with the croaks and garumps of tiny to giant, meatball-sized toads.

One year, Dad let my brother bring a bucketful of these creatures home to put in our terrarium. Unknown to my father, my brother hadn’t followed the rule to keep the bucket’s lid closed on the trip. Somewhere along Route 15, my dad hollered, pulled over to the side of the highway, leaped out of the car, and began jumping around on the roadside! Apparently, some tiny amphibians had decided to leave their metal domicile and hide in my dad’s pants! What a hullabaloo that was! I believe from then on, any livestock were kept in the back of the station wagon.

Another time, when our daughters were young, we forgot to bring a bucket with us when we hopped in the car to go toad-hunting. My sister-in-law, not to be denied the fun, found an empty Pringles® potato chip can in their car. Unfortunately, fleshy toads plopped on top of each other in a 2-inch diameter can don’t enjoy the comfort … and air … of a well-ventilated bucket. We won’t go into what we found when we returned to the cabin, but the memory of my sister-in-law, who probably had never touched a toad in her youth, stopping the car and insisting to be the one to jump out and capture all the toads herself will forever be cherished.

One final story, a more recent one … as in just last year! Our daughter, the one who sometimes admits to being the mother of our two grandsons (ages 5 and 3 at this writing), invited me to her home to make “toad abodes.” The boys wanted to make homes for the toads they kept seeing at their house. Sarah had gotten some old pottery planters, gathered paints and other supplies, and took everything outside. The boys, Sarah, and I painted the planters and glued glass baubles and beads, pinecones, acorns, bits of bark, burlap, and more to the dry pottery. We even added a few locust shells we found on their trees.

With more paint on the boys than their pots and pinecones glued to their fingers, we finished the project, and I took my “toad abode” home to place it on the stoop to our front yard. Alas, no toads thought this a fitting home. Not even a good place to take a nap. One day, months later, my husband found a toad, forced it inside the “toad abode,” and took a photo to send to our grandsons. They were delighted … even if the toad was not!

Do you have any toad stories from your childhood or more recent years? Live toads, book toads, figurine toads, jewelry toads … doesn’t matter what kind! Share your toad story with us! Blessings!