What's in this magpie's nest?




I have been collecting stuff since I was four (picking up rocks on Lake Superior). Some collections are in drawers, some in boxes, some on the walls, some in the garden, some on shelves. My husband is baffled and amused by my incessant collecting. One day, all excited, I brought home a little glass perfume stopper saying to him, "Look what I found." He looked at me and said, "Marilynn... you are such a magpie."

When I was discussing with friends what cool online nickname I could adopt, I finally realized I already had one... one I had earned: Magpie.

Here's some of what I collect (or have collected)

rocks - I have bowls of rocks in a few locations plus rocks just sitting on a table here and there. We also have rocks throughout our garden, both on the ground or perched one atop another or on old wrought iron candle holders. Plus there are untold numbers just squirreled away in drawers or buckets. I go almost completely for natural, water smoothed stones but I do have a polished Petoskey stone. It sat on the landing of our stairs with a few African figures and some arrow heads.

feathers - I have a vase of mostly crows feathers in my kitchen window. Plus a tiny little blue jay feather stuck in a salt shaker vase. Plus boxes of them for craft items.

bark - I pick up driftwood bark, or interesting bark on the ground, or peel birchbark off fire wood purchased at campground. These mostly get stuck in various places for interest.

grapevine tendrils - I used these extensively when I was making small flower fairies. I would create small acorn lanterns and hang them from the curly parts or make a staff with a curly part at the top, or use a small curly part to put at the top of a jester's bauble's hat, or just arrange them around the base of the figure with other natural items.

shells - I have a very small saucer full of these really tiny bits of shells, beach glass and sea urchin shells/spines that I found at Leo Carrillo beach in California.

seed pods / pine cones - get picked up at various places and used to fill bowls or whatever.

acorns - I use the caps to make hats for my fairies. I especially like the shag oak ones. I also have made tiny lanterns by hand cutting little windows and making little candles to put in them. Plus bowls of tiny ones sit around at various times.

Viewmaster slides and old Viewmasters - I had these as a kid and thought they were cool. I have a fairly nice collection for someone who only buys at thrift stores.

advertising fans from the Minnesota State Fair - my friend and I joked about the protocol for collecting these. You go up, show interest in the subject (museum, school, water softener, radio station, etc.), smile and nod at the person, pick up a fan, try it out, walk away using it until you're far enough away to stick it in your bag and find the next one. On a good day, I can probably collect a dozen or more. (I have to report that, in an effort to make room... this collection has left the house.)

wooden handled kitchen tools - these hang in my kitchen. We have this faux brick that is really corkboard so my kitchen is one big cork board.

rooster kitchen ware - dishes, wall plaques, figures, glasses, etc.

weather items - a few old barometers, thermometers and weather predictors. It was really cool when they sat under the thermostat. (an older arrangement)

pine needle and birch bark baskets - I made one pine needle basket. Another one was purchased at a thrift store. All the baskets were purchased at a thrift store and are Native American except for one that was purchased new and some given as gifts that are Russian.

folk dolls, mostly small ones - wooden, ethnic, and/or handmade - These are mostly crammed into my corner hutch although a few made it into a small set of shelves with a swing windowed door that hang on the wall. Some sit in my computer room. All were purchased at thrift, garage or tag sales except for a small Lakota figure from the Black Hills or were gifts from friends. It's a very eclectic assortment.

game pieces - from various games old and contemporary. These sit in shadow boxes

paper ephemera - bridge tallies, gummed labels, old postcards and greeting cards - I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these but I'm convinced it will be exciting. I have a fairly good sized vintage Valentine collection but I'm just as happy with the other items that are more mundane. I like the boxes that things come in.

Little Golden Books - nostalgia from my childhood.

buttons - these are either in tins or in boxes or sewn onto swaths of fabric and 'framed' in embroidery hoops or picture frames from when I worked with kids.

joker cards - I have some framed in a few spots in the house and the rest are waiting for a home.

small glass salt shakers - the first batch sits in a on spice rack that is above my kitchen sink. In the spring, I might get them down and fill them with small spring flowers. I just bought a whole bunch more so I could take lily of the valley into work and give them to people and I wouldn't have to worry about getting the vases back.

tins - I had lots and lots of these. Some pretty old (vintage.. probably not valuable). I've culled them down quite a bit since they're hard to display. I also have a decent collection of interesting wood boxes... anything from jewelry to old food boxes to cigar boxes.

tiny toys/figures - some are quite contemporary: little troll dolls, small figures from the Disney Hunchback movie, Lemony Snicket, Ninja Turtles, small Star Wars figures, Cracker Jack toys, Power Rangers, Teletubbies. The guideline is they have to be small.

larger movie/tv/etc figures- besides my LOTR figures, I have a shelf of odds and ends mostly found at thrift stores and garage sales that include: ET; Underdog/Shoeshine Boy; Hellboy; Chana (Farscape); Spock, Picard, Borg, Sisko and Urban's Dr. McCoy (Star Trek); Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Tin Man; Muldar (X Files); Neo and Morpheus (Matrix); Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park); Dalek (Doctor Who); large size Hagrid, bobble-head Dobby, and small sized Harry (Harry Potter); Pirates of the Caribbean figures (asst); and the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey with zero points of articulation. I also have small Star Wars figures.

thimbles - cheap plastic ones with advertising on them

marbles - a lot are in big glasses, vases or jars. I even removed the clock works from an interesting wood clock and filled the void with marbles and put it in my window sill.

vintage sewing supplies - paper needle packets and various implements

bird figurines - ceramic and a few hanging ornaments. I also have a lot of bird jewelry pins.

old celluloid fountain pens

bits of broken jewelry and beads

mismatched china, glasses, and cups - pretty or interesting individual china dishes or glasses with designs on them (from the 50s and 60s) - I use these for tea parties, celebrations, etc.

Garden art - besides rocks we find old candle holders, ceramic or metal figures, baskets, or nature related plaques to put around the garden. We have a tall wooden fence bordering our yard and it works like a wall for hanging items. I have a number of glass 'ornaments' that are hung from the branches of our redbud tree.

Children's picture books - I have a substantial collection of children's picture books including ones in the categories of: May Day, dancing, English and Celtic folklore, mythical and fantasy creatures (dragons, trolls, fairies, etc), Cinderella variants, asst. cultural folklore and myths, and vintage books. I did just recently cull through these. I figure that I've sold, donated, or given away close to 500 children's picture books over the last 10 years. Maybe I have 500 left?

Tolkien related - this would need its own page. I have a good number of books, toys, games, etc connected with Tolkien in both a movie or non-movie manner.

OAQs (Occasionally Asked Questions):

Do you have an obsession or merely a mild interest?
I don't know if I'd call it obsession. It is a persistent behavior that factors into my life on a weekly, if not daily basis. I do not seek out items at antique stores (in fact, when I visit them in small towns while traveling, they annoy me with what they try to pass off as collectible and with what they want to charge). I don't shop online for any of these items.

How do you keep your collectables?
In drawers. I have two big dressers on the front porch. On shelves, in baskets, boxes, tins and buckets on the front porch. Around the house in various odd places. Hanging on the wall. Under my night stand. In old suitcases and picnic sandwich boxes. In corner cupboards. On top of the milk safe in my mudroom. In the garden.

Does your collecting irritate, amuse, or benefit your family?
I think it amuses them more than irritates them. My husband gave me the name Magpie. My son brought his friends in to see my Tolkien collection. My husband collects his own 'stuff'.. mostly Corvairs. My sons have grown up with an appreciation of used and second hand items. They are thrilled as I am with thrift store finds. One son digs items out of the trash to repurpose them. Many gifts have been repurposed trash. They often come to me asking for a certain something they need for a project and I often have it somewhere.


A song I always liked was Tom Chapin's, "Neat Mess"


I like my toys . . . when they're nice and neat
But I like 'em even more all over the floor and underneath my feet
A messy room . . . is happiness
Happiness is living in a neat mess!

But then Mom looks in . . . and goes into shock
With a voice of doom says, "Look at this room. Clean up this pig-pen!"

Then Mom goes out . . . to an auction sale
Buys a butter churn and a broken scale and a Grecian urn and
a suit of armor and antique veil
She's just like me . . . but won't confess
Happiness is living in a neat mess!

Then Dad shows up . . . with his puzzled look
And says once more what we've heard before, "I see you bought the junk yard!"

Then Dad goes down . . . to his basement shop
Where he keeps a stack of 30 years of National Geographic and
a bumper from the Chevy not to mention every album of the Boston Pops
It's a natural urge . . . he can't repress
Happiness is living in a neat mess!

Now baby in the high chair . . . stuffing his face
Spinach in his hair, in his eye, on the chair, and all over the place
He tried the spoon . . . with no success
But he's allowed . . . to make a mess
He's living proof . . . in happiness
Happiness is living in a neat mess!
Happiness is living in a neat mess!

On Tom Chapin's recording "Moonboat"