Today is the Friday before Christmas. It is also the Friday before we celebrate my older sister's 50th birthday. I picked up a cake from Piece of Cake in Sellwood. I had ordered it two weeks before in a three day investigation into the question of, "Can Portland make a doberge cake?"
For those of you not familiar with doberge cake, you can google it but that's no fun. You'll find doberge cakes only available from Gambino's bakery in Louisiana. It is not made of anything unique like the famous Mardi Gras King Cake but it was still hard to find someone on the phone who even knew what doberge meant.
As for king cakes, if you've had a piece, you've likely been warned by your friends-in-the-know to not choke on the baby. Yes, I said baby.
If you weren't warned by anyone, yet still found yourself ever biting into a king cake, find new friends.
Bakers slide a whole baby into the cake as it is cooling down. There are various interpretations of what it means if you are the person who bit into the slice of king cake with the baby. These include:
- You're ovulating
- Your wife is ovulating
- Someone's wife is ovulating
- Someone is ovulating
It has been proven scientifically that king cakes never lie. One of those four situations is always true. There's a reason why some of these customs stick around and pass the test of time. It is because they shed some light on some core fundamentals of being human.
Namely, sugar is addictive and babies come from sex. Who hasn't had a late night of donuts and ice cream then woken up with a stranger wondering if you frosted their cake? You know that old saying about crumbs in the bed? Is this all starting to make sense now? Food, sex, babies...they are INTERTWINED. Just make sure they are intertwined in your life in the proper sequence so that you avoid jail time.
Doberge cakes aren't difficult to describe. It is made of multiple thin layers of cake alternating with dessert pudding. Traditionally it is half lemon and half chocolate. Although I described it to the baker as being half and half as you look down on the cake from above, I'm pretty sure we're going to cut into the cake and find every other layer (vertically) lemon then chocolate. I had to reiterate the topographical theory of doberge multiple times over the phone because she kept wanting to go back to the geological interpretation. We shall see.
On the drive to the bakery I saw the sign for Old Portland Hardware & Architectural - a soon to be favorite stop of mine. I had never heard of it and wanted to find something unique for a someone I still hadn't gotten a gift for. Ten years ago, it may be Christmas Eve and I still need to get EVERYTHING, but I've grown up since then and shop throughout the year, always looking for something unique.
I wasn't disappointed.
OPH&A is not your typical antique hardware. They took their time laying it out so that it doesn't seem cluttered like most of their other cousin stores seem. Curiosities were generally gathered with similar themed items and it was clean. They had an area where they did some finishing or cleaning of some of the items and had many things displayed in unique and inviting fashion throughout their space.
I'm no expert in pricing but I felt it was very temperate. Not too expensive to be out of reach to your average person and not so cheap that it felt like a garage sale. It was just right. I really only was shopping for one specific person. I ended up buying 7 or 8 items and doubled up on some people I'd already shopped for. And these gifts were cool and unique.
I ended up talking to each of the three people working in the space at various times. I asked two of them what their favorite pieces were and was told a little bit about two very interesting pieces. I was there for two hours. In the past, I couldn't stay patient or intrigued in a store like this. In the past, it didn't hold much magic for me. But I have been in a different space since embarking on this journey and things have been presenting themselves differently than before.
I've always been interested in stories and Americana and antiques are history. They come with stories, ready to be shared if only they could talk. Sadly, those that can talk turn to ash eventually and if the story hasn't been passed on it is lost. Just imagine time before technology. All we had as a people were stories. No books and certainly no computers.
To look at something that someone created from their imagination is to look at something that must have a story attached. Why else was it created? This is the little piece I had been glossing over. I hadn't connected to the stories of these things. In a little video the owner of the place put together on their website, he spoke of the disposable nature of society today. We are taught to treat things as disposable.
This makes sense in the hunter gatherer society because those things were biodegradable and there were so few of us. Now with billions of us and chemical monstrosities like many plastics, we are facing some tough decisions. It is time for more people to be more responsible with more of their choices. What can we each do to help our mother earth? Reclaiming bits of history is one way!
There was a traveling salesman's product case complete with tiny vials of various elixirs (or their vapors). What magic did he have to recreate to his prospects to instill in them a story that led them to buy his snake oil?
There were old tools that looked to have been made in someone's garage, not in a factory. What pressing need presented itself on the farm or in the home to warrant someone spending their Saturday afternoon creating this tool? Was a long winter on its way? Was a wedding around the corner?
This was all flowing through me as I was looking.
As I checked out, I shared the concept behind my blog with Anne who had been helping me and was processing my purchase. She showed interest and we were chatting when Bret, the owner came in out of his workshop right behind the counter and asked me about the blog. He must have heard something and become curious.
I told him that I believed the world is a better place the more we work at eliminating strangeness. I was doing so by getting to know previous strangers - asking them about two things they find important that, if the world were to practice it too, would create a better world.
I didn't know Bret was the owner. Through working with Anne I knew that the owner (whoever he was) was the only buyer in the group and had his process for finding these items. I had been curious of the process. I saw the beauty of the space and knew the person or people behind this had passion.
Like many I've asked before him, Bret quieted and put his mind to work to find his answer. I smiled and told him I was happy he was looking because that usually brought about better answers.
Bret said, "People that answer this kind of question quickly are either regurgitating some pat answer or are not truly giving it consideration."
"Yes," I said, "and we all change day to day anyway, so to know the answer yesterday does not mean we know the answer today, right?" He nodded in agreement and thought some more.
"I would say be open to change. That is a good quality to have," he shared. It was clear that this was a truth for Bret.
We talked a bit about how flexibility allows people to get along and understand one another and understanding leads to higher levels of relationship and appreciation, eliminating fear and separation. I don't remember how it came up but he shared a story of getting calls from television producers at various times. They wanted to do some kind of reality show about his store and his process. With each one of them, he said, "I'm open to that but I have one condition and you will not call me back after I share it with you."
His one condition was that the show not ever mention the dollar amount of the items found. He wanted to focus on the story behind the item. When and by whom the item was created. Who owned it. What they used it for. What sentimental value it may have had. What purpose it served.....its story. He was willing to share some of the story of finding the item but he wanted to focus more on the story of its past. How it got here.
He never got a call back.
Bret wanted to be an archaeologist growing up. What is a core feature of an archaeologist? - to tell a story of the past based on only those findings in the present that are actually found. I say he's doing just that.
His second important thing was looking for value in something outside the man-made. Specifically, he thinks it is important to avoid putting dollar signs on things. Instead, he advocates finding one's personal value in something.
Money was created to solve a need in an emerging society - one of which was a need for a currency of exchange. If all you have is chickens and you want chicken feed to feed them but the feed owner only accepts pigs, your chickens will starve. Money helps with that.
But, it is man-made. Most money has no implicit value in our day to day lives on a physical level. On a psychological level, humans can easily tie money to happiness. But it NEVER actually produces the happiness. That happiness is produced through chemical triggers in our brain. Money makes the transactions necessary to live (food, shelter) easier so we don't spend a lot of time managing this. Along the way it can be tied to many dysfunctional beliefs based on the chemistry of our brains and the behavior patterns we rely on to make life less difficult.
The very mechanism that creates good habits creates bad habits too. So stay aware people!
Bret saying "no" to the producers around the message of money didn't fly. But that's ok. He's still loving life and living it his way and if you visit him in his store, you'll see that. I encourage you to do so.
I planted a seed before I left. Although I haven't created any sort of following are shown a level of expertise around marketing, I think I'm a decent story teller. Bret still wants to tell those stories that the television producers don't. I thought maybe he and I could tell them using his website.
A funny little thing called a blog.....hmmmmmm.....
I would love to hear from you. You can follow the Contact link at the bottom of the page or reach out to me on Instagram at @twoimportantthingsofficial.
Namaste and all that good stuff