Tea Boxes

Book Boxes

It’s July.

Parties. Birthdays. Trips.

We met already about last month’s sales. All 3 stores were UP over June 2023!


The stores continue their renaissance.

It’s 69 degrees. Dry. Cloudy.

The phone forecast I wrote about last week lied again. How can it be so wrong?

Last week was hot. HOT.


Sunday, yesterday, I was lying in a little extra, writing in my journal and resting when my phone started getting texts in the other room. It was in the charger, but I also keep temptation away by storing it beyond arm’s reach overnight.

A tree had blown over in the surreal electrical storm on Saturday night. It was blocking our lane. The last thing I wanted to do was go down the mountain and cut wood on a Sunday morning. But the neighbors up here pull together for these kinds of things, and so I dragged myself up and put on sweats. I had to empty 2 dozen bags of compost from the truck in case I was called on to haul wood. (Yep. I’m putting in another garden bed.) Gassed and chained oiled two saws. You always want two saws mostly in case one isn’t working, but if one saw gets stuck—pinched by a branch or trunk that closed on itself rather than falling apart—you need a second saw to cut out the first.

I stepped outside and was hit by a wall of heat and humidity. I started sweating immediately getting the truck and saws ready.

By the time I got down the mountain, 5 neighbors had most of the tree cut up and stacked. I got my saw going and cut my way into a huge shrub that had been knocked over. You have to be careful when green wood is under stress. I had a good friend who got hit by a snap back. It knocked his teeth out. Better safe than sorry.

The lane was swept off, and the 6 of us—all dripping wet—chatted about the weather and when the rest of the dead trees along the lane would blow over. One said that El Nino switched to El Nina, and we’d be in for more storms and a hot summer. I don’t trust the weather. It is always changing.

They asked if I wanted the wood. They all had plenty. I guess I’m known as the firewood scavenger in our tiny community.


I’ve got enough in to barn to take me into the fall of 2026.

But I like the work. And the workout is good for me, I think.

I drove the truck back up the mountain. Sawdust was shaken from my sweat-wet clothing, which was then draped over a porch rail to dry. Showered. Dressed. Back down the mountain and across the valley to the warehouse to confront the books. I’d made good progress on Saturday. A large modern fiction collection had been carted up for me.

Modern Fiction Collection

About half were signed or had signed bookplates laid in. They were all first editions in great condition. Those with jackets were Brodarted. Those that weren’t had heavier clear plastic covers wrapped round them to dress them up. Most were modern—midcentury and later. But there were some older authors like Hilaire Belloc. You don’t come across his works that often. Those wouldn’t go to Books by the Foot. But Irwin Shaw, Arthur Hailey, Dale Brown, Ludlum, Allen Drury… so many others… they’d never sell online or in the stores (or we already have plenty.) Nicholas Monserrat… I’ve never ever been able to sell his books, even though the titles and bindings are impressive. What was his audience? Before my time.

Other authors made the cut for the stores or online. Colette, Peter Beagle—authors who have a shot at being “adopted.”

A few carts of the signed books were pushing into data entry.

Signed Books

A lot of boxes of first editions will go on display in the front of all three stores.

Signed First Editions

The long shelf of signed Margaret Atwood?

Signed Margaret Atwood

Those will need a closer look for evaluation.

I made it through some of the aging carts—loaded with problems. Dusty. Confusing. Torturous.

Boxes of ephemera and other smaller fragile things were made. They’ll be bagged and hung in the stores in hopes that they’ll attract a buyer.

I was satisfied late Sunday afternoon when it came time to label all my work and tidy up loose ends.


Andrew and I are on our way back to Frederick from Gaithersburg. I did more culling for Books by the Foot. I focused on Europe—a favorite subject for me. But I’ve determined it is just too big for the sales it generates. So, reluctantly, I’m downsizing Germany, the British Isles, Western Europe…

We will gain a whole small row of bookcases. Now the debate is what category to move and enlarge there?

A stagnant bookstore is a boring bookstore. It is also a doomed bookstore.


The first bird sang just after 5. The windows were open, so its whistling trill pierced my happy dream and comfortable sleep and I was reluctantly awake. I pressed a mushy feather pillow against my head and that kept further songs out, but to no avail. I could not return. Lethe’s potions had worn off, and there would be no more rest until tonight. Giles, the big white and black (mostly white) floppy dog, is unaffected. He is as flat as he can be. His torso rises and falls gently a few feet away, on the bed, between me and the window. I think he has some wolfhound in him. He is skinny, long legged, lanky and has the gait of those creatures. He awoke me twice last night again. Odd. Soft whines and panting that would escalate if I didn’t rise and let him out into the black night.

It is Wednesday, July 3rd. The week has already been a full one.

Katharine Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Fairies is in bed with me. “Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures.” Pantheon. 1976. 481 pages. It is a delight to dip into. Already there are a dozen or so slips torn off a white legal pad marking interesting entries.

I have 8 or 10 horseshoes around the house. They’ve come into Wonder Book over the years… somehow. I’ve set them on windowsills—mostly outside with the open ends up. That’s to catch the luck, I was told. Horseshoes are lucky charms. But Briggs writes, “A horseshoe hung up above a stable or house prevented the entrance of FAIRIES and witches, and hence constituted a PROTECTION AGAINST FAIRIES.” (Words in all caps mean there’s another entry in the book under that heading. So, it is easy to find yourself chasing fairies down rabbit holes, flipping from one alphabetical entry to another.)

Without being too wacky, I can say I’ve felt the presence of forest spirits up here on the lonely mountain often. I’ve had no close encounters, but there have been times… movement of things out of the corner of my eye, things moving on two legs not four. Faint songs on a soft wind coming from deeper in the woods where no humans venture. Odd lights flickering in the forest where there could be no human presence. Thankfully, I’ve experienced no evil things. But perhaps some pranksters—when everything seems to have metaphorical or physical stumbling blocks before it.

And there are occasional creepy feelings—when something makes me shudder and hurry inside to light and warmth.

But I love the experiences up here—natural and perhaps sometimes supernatural.

Yesterday, Tuesday, evolved into a hectic day. The night before an email came in that an ABAA bookseller was planning on visiting the Gaithersburg store to buy a large quantity of stock at wholesale. I had to advise the manager of that so they’d be ready with plenty of empty boxes and staff. Another ABAA friend was coming down from Pennsylvania with a couple thousand unwanted antiquarian books to wholesale to me in Frederick. On my way, the banker called and my Ford Explorer took the call on its radio speaker. It was a courtesy call that one of our accounts was overdrawn. That put me in a bad mood as I finished my morning ride in after picking up an extra large 7-11 decaf coffee.

“Do you want me to call your office?”

“Yes please. I’ll be in soon.”

That never happens. Never. But now we have seven or eight checking accounts with them, and we have not caught up with the complex accounting. There’s plenty of money. It’s just in the wrong places right now.

So, I was frazzled as I swiped the keycard to open the door.

All the stores had full vans that needed to be swapped out. I headed to the Frederick store, stopping at the bank on the way, and met Ernest there. Books by the Foot needed coffeetable, nature, science, lit, romance… I spent a couple of hours filling big plastic tubs to go back to the warehouse. Ernest did as well.

We filled the van he brought, so another van was summoned to help take the two full vans away. I helped a number of customers. When someone wanted to look in an aisle where I was working, I cleared out of their way and went to work on another aisle that needed attention.

I’d asked the store staff to try to keep up with us—getting the full tubs out to the sidewalk. The tubs partially block the aisles as well as being unsightly.

I’m proud to have invented this novel synergistic relationship between the stores and bulk sales. It is a win-win for the stores and the books.

The stores are looking much better after the purging/pruning of dead stock.

The contractor walked in unexpectedly, but my son had arrived and knew what the plans were.

Then it was time to go back to the warehouse.

Tea and Boxes

Boxes can be built to protect better books. The “clamshell” cases will shield books from sun damage, spills, misadventure. They will also showcase the book impressively (and hide it if it doesn’t have a pretty spine.)

The problem is getting them built. Most binders want you to send them the book so they can custom make the box. That is a little risky. Anytime you ship a book, you take a chance. Loss, theft, misadventure—we’re had occasions for all three over recent years. Another issue is that most binders are very busy and therefore behind in their work. If you send the book, it might take months to get it back.

I now have a lot of books that would benefit from this showcase/protection.

So, I went looking and asking.

One company in Canada offers pre-fabricated boxes for popular collectibles (think Gatsby.) They were well over $200 each.

I’m trying to help a young artisan bookbinder get started locally. But $400+ per box—though they are beautiful—is more than I’d like to go through if I’m going to box up a few scorebooks.

Then I was referred to another box maker in the midwest. We had an email dialog, and I negotiated a few boxes just by sending the books’ measurements.

“I’ll take the blame if any don’t fit.”

The risk wasn’t terrible as the cost is $140.

Book Boxes

Here are the results.

Book Boxes

What do you think?

In one of the Paris stories, I wrote that I’d stumbled upon a tiny Mariage Freres teashop next to the La Madeline church. I picked out three varieties.

Mariage Freres Teas

The third is apparently “notorious.” (I’m not making fun—my French is much worse.)

Mariage Freres Teas

I opened them up and split them three ways. Me. My daughter-in-law. A book friend up in New England. I included a box as well.

Mariage Freres Teas

It is Thursday. The Fourth of July. When I sort of awoke from crazy dreams, I had no idea what time it was. 2? 3? I considered rolling over and going back to sleep. But my stirring got Giles’ attention, and he was making soft whining sounds. He needed to go out. I kind of needed to go out as well. I reached over in the dark, and muscle memory had my hand atop the little Honeywell “Atomic” clock. It is 15 or more years old now. The clock is somehow connected through the ether to THE atomic clock, so its time is precise. 4:55. Neither early nor late. In between somewhere.

I rose, and Giles thumped off the bed, and we both went out into the dark. I came back in and put the water on for tea.

Weighing on my mind were the pressures that this day will bring. Sometime between 9 and 1, the new kitchen appliances will be delivered.

That process has been in the works since 2017. It was so stressful. They (stove, fridge, microwave, dishwasher) are all “built-in” to custom oak cabinets. The cabinets were built by the guy who built the house. He is (was?) a master carpenter. I had my contractor do the measurements for each—concerned I might screw up. Armed with those, I went to the boutiquey appliance specialist and presented my measurements to a salesperson, one of a half dozen hanging out waiting for the next customer. We walked through the store looking at the floor samples. I made a choice. We sat at her desk, and she began printing out rebate forms and disclaimers and contracts…

Let me go back a bit. This company advertises constantly. “Don’t go to the big box stores. You’ll get better service and better prices here…” And maybe you will. I was nervous and stressed. The appliances HAD to fit. There was no leeway. I was concerned that one of the big warehouse hardware stores might not have an experienced person, and I’d end up with something too big or too small.

Did I say I was very stressed and nervous about it?

Well, we went through all the rebate forms and haulaway forms and wiring and plumbing forms… (There must have been a half dozen rebates that I was supposed to fill out and submit with documentation. I HATE doing those kinds of exercises and don’t understand the point except that a certain percentage of people won’t do it or won’t do it correctly, and so the manufacturer won’t have to pay up.)

We got to the point where it was time to sign all the various forms. Something made me look once again at the styles I’d picked out. They were stylish and a good brand.

“Wait. This refrigerator won’t fit into the cabinets,” I said, pointing at my handwritten measurements and her printouts.

She looked at one and then the other.

“Well, you can get a handyman in to cut the cabinets.”


I didn’t blow up. When I was younger, I might have made a bit of a scene. I just picked up my folder of printouts and said, “I’ll think about it,” and left.

The folder has sat on or near the couch in my office ever since.

Flash forward to 2023. COVID and inertia and stress and nervousness kept me from pursuing the project. I just stopped using the leaky dishwasher. I ignored the occasional death rattles of the fridge. The stove and microwave worked fine, but all of them were showing their age. I’m pretty sure they were put in when the house was built in 1995. The ads from that company played like a leitmotif all those years, reminding me of the upgrade I really wanted to do but didn’t want to go through the stress process to get.

So I picked up the packet from my office and headed back to the same place. I handed the packet to a salesman and said I’d like to try again. He said the same person was still there and would I like to work with her. In that moment, I didn’t recall what had happened in 2017, so I agreed. I handed her the packet and pointed out the measurements. She was very nice and professional, and we picked out a new set. Rebate forms spit out of the printer, and I was ready to sign.

“Wait. The fridge won’t fit,” I told her.

I just got up and walked out. Another couple hours of my life gone forever.

Flash forward to this week. Something gave me the courage to go and face my appliance demons at Lowe’s whose ads have also played like a leitmotif over the years. The old guy was very nice. We discussed some things, and then I thought and said, “Maybe we ought to start with the refrigerator and build from there.”

That turned out to be an issue. With all the brands they carry, there was only one name brand that had the size I needed in a style that would include matching appliances.

It took about an hour. The printout was one sheet. Any discounts—4th of July—were built into the price.

“I want to think about it. Let’s look at the measurements for the fridge one more time.”

I wrote them down and went home. I measured the fridge. Top to bottom. Side to side. Back to front. I pulled the fridge from the cabinet. I measured the opening. The new fridge was a little deeper than the existing one. It would stick out an inch further, but I didn’t think that would be an issue. It could slide into the void and nothing would need to be cut.

Back at the big box the next day, I dealt with a different salesperson, but he seemed to know what he was doing and wasn’t overly concerned “to make the sale.”

“Let’s look at the measurements online one more time.”

It took about half an hour. He printed out a couple of installation and disclaimer sheets.

“How soon do you want them?”

They could be delivered in two days. That’s today. An automated text told me the “delivery window” is between 9 and 1.

Last evening when I got home from work, the plan was to empty the fridge. There’s a big modern fridge downstairs in the storage hallway. Jar after jar, bottle after bottle, were pulled and put into a box to carry downstairs. I found some surprises in the back. Old surprises. Those were set aside to pour into a garden bed. Jars and bottles that hadn’t been opened were set on a towel off to the side. No need to carry those down. The freezer was filled with mystery foil packages. The only certain ones were triangular flat objects that are certainly pizza slices. Those all went down. The notes and refrigerator magnets were peeled off. Some paper went into recycling. Some magnets will go to be sold at the stores. Some I kept. There were a lot of memories attached to old the black fridge.


I left the magnetic “words” on.

Old Fridge

It would be too tedious to scrape them off, and what would I do with them? The “poems” that they had once spelled out were gone. They were now just random words on a black background.


Then I headed to the vineyard. The neighboring amusement park was having fireworks, and the New Market Plains Vineyard has ringside seats. I’d been invited to their picnic. It was potluck. I brought guacamole—adding some hot sauce and sprinkling some dried chili pepper atop it.

It was like stepping back in time. We used to have big Fourth of July parties in Pennsylvania. The town fireworks are not far from the one-acre back lawn. There’d be over a hundred people most years. Kids. Friends. Neighbors. Acquaintances… I’d smoke a turkey and big brisket overnight. Backyard games… so long ago…

The vineyard had a big crowd. Little kids running hither and yon. A large group of vineyard workers, their families and friends. I brought my goofy nephew, Gerry, and his teen son.

There was a huge spread of food that people brought.

The fireworks were impressive.

And for a few hours, I was away from this time and place and problems.

Back to Thursday morning.

I had to take all the plants and wooden wine-box “plant stands” off the porch so the appliances could be brought in.

My delivery “window” was 9-1. If it was 1, my day would be shot. But I’d been told I’d get a call 30 minutes before arrival, so theoretically I could go to work and rush back when the call came in.

The vehicles had to be moved so the delivery truck could maneuver on the upper driveway.

A clear pathway from the side door to the kitchen had to be made. I moved the wooden “island” and wine holder from the center of the smallish kitchen so they have space. That exposed the big hanging rack loaded with pots and pans. Head bumps. I took most of them down.

A text and a phone call came at 8:30.

“We’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

Frenetic last minute cleanups…

The installation went smoothly. Someone else is coming next week for the microwave and dishwasher.

I hate the new appliances. Maybe I’m just not used to them yet. The fridge… it seems smaller inside. And where it sticks out from the oak enclosure—a few inches of the finish that doesn’t match the stainless steel front is exposed. I’m thinking about how I can cover it. Maybe I’ll need a handyman.

It wasn’t expensive. The Whirlpool group I got was 60% less than what I’d been looking at the “boutique.” So, maybe, if I hate them all, I’ll swap them and this time hire a “designer” rather than trying to do it myself.

It is Friday morning yet again.

The week was physical and stressful.

The kitchen is in upheaval, awaiting the removal and installation of the dishwasher and microwave. There are jars and bottles everywhere.

There were a couple of cooler evenings, and I was able to weed whip and take down some scrub trees that were starting to grow over the house.

Scrub Trees

In a forest, everything struggles for light. These trees were smallish and had to grow toward the house to get exposure. Their removal opened up light and space for the grove of two dozen or more redbuds I planted below the deck.

Deck Redbuds

While I was knocking down weeds, I noticed the fern brakes are flourishing. They’re expanding everywhere. That’s good except where they are moving in on some of the beds. This little patch of variegated Solomon’s seal is being swallowed up.


It’s like a creeping devouring entity in an old scifi movie.

What to do?

I’ve been in the stores almost every day. Mostly culling for Books by the Foot, but I’ve also discovered some improvements that should be made. More heavy-lifting bookselling is in my future.

Most exciting is that I think we will be able to put in another row of glass cases for collectible books! And it won’t negatively affect the already contracting DVD and CD sections.

That is exciting—more beautiful books on public display for our customers.

A friend posted this for sale online on the Fourth.

Dolly Madison Note

A note signed by Dolly Madison recalling an 18th century Fourth of July toast by James Madison—with a tipped on signature by the Founding Father.

I texted Gerry Stodolski to see if it was still available…

For all the 21st century problems and historical revisionism and wokeness and… a tangible link to the beginnings of this Great Experiment is pretty amazing.

I thought I was seeing double this week. This signed James Baldwin appeared in the warehouse. We look through almost every book here—mostly looking for hidden problems that would disappoint our online customers, but we also discover a lot of positive surprises. Oddly, Baldwin inscribes this on the dedication page, so it is extra lucky it got discovered in that remote location.

When I went to the Frederick store later that day, I saw the same book being prepped to go in the glass case.


Baldwin's Above My Head

Two copies of a great autographed book in a week! What luck!

(And hard work.)

I think I failed to include one Parisian day. Saturday, June 15th.

I’ll be quick.

Where hadn’t I walked this trip?

West! Through classic neighborhoods of stunning homes.

Eventually to the Champs-Élysées. There’s a huge Louis Vuitton department store there in the shape of a metal suitcase.

Louis Vuitton Store

No interest in crossing the street to go inside. Up to the Arc de Triomphe. My museum pass got me in “free.” I thought there’d be an elevator.

Nope. Steps. Lots of steps. Beautiful down tree-lined boulevards.

South toward the Seine. The Museum of Modern Art, which is only mildly interesting, except for two room-size murals. One by Dufy. One Chagall.

Across the Seine yet again. Under the Eiffel Tower where there were at least five shell games going on. The shills guessing correctly and being handed cash. The dupes putting money down and being amazed that there’s nothing under the cup they chose.

Where next?

Where next?

Montparnasse. Too long a walk only to walk back. I took a cab. A cold wind was coming up and rain spitting when the cabbie dropped me off at the cemetery. He gave me a dubious look.

There was a map just inside the gate. I took a picture and began searching.

The first find was Baudelaire.


Someone had smooched lipstick all over his marker.


Man Ray.

Man Ray

Beckett. Some others. But it got too cold and windy. I was concerned the spitting raindrops would become a storm. I fled the graveyard and took shelter in a bistro named Le Lithographe. I sipped a beer.

When things calmed down, I headed back toward the Seine.

The Pantheon was next. (“Free” with my pass.) Foucault’s Pendulum.

The tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Josephine Baker, Marie Curie, Braille, Victor Hugo, Dumas…

Then downhill to the Seine.

There was a line to get into Shakespeare and Company. (And it’s not even Sylvia Beach’s original location.) But I guess a main reason to enter the average book collection is to get the “Paris-Kilometer Zero” rubberstamp on your purchase.

Across the Seine again and working my way back west through a brewpub named “Frog” and some other sights.

It had been a long walk. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with a new restaurant. I stopped in a small grocery and picked up some very inexpensive champagne, fancy cheeses and biscottes (like hand-toasted bread.) Back in my room, I feasted while watching soccer.

Though I wrote the “last” Round and Round story a couple of weeks ago, I did comment that there might be more prequels. There are several in the works…

It had been a long time since I’d looked back at the first one—now 6 years old.


I think some of them are pretty good. A reader has suggested I should publish some of these things. I know books, but I don’t know nothin’ bout making books…

6 Comments on Article

  1. Dale Steffey commented on

    Glad to see that you got some boxes from Mike. Hope you are happy with them and the cost. Nice books that went into them ! Dale

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      They turned out great Dale!
      I’m going to order abunchmore and THEN tell people the business name – in case he gets swamped.
      Thank you so much for reading and writing

  2. Edward Thompson commented on

    Stairs. Always the stairs.
    Loved the president’s quote.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Edward
      284 steps ( I just looked it up)
      Spiral and enclosed – round and round – dizzying.
      Thank you so much for writing!

  3. Gregory commented on

    I am not a big fan of Earl Grey tea. It often uses low quality black tea as its base, and the bergamot is often overdone. But someone gave me a Mariage Frères box of Earl Grey as a gift, so I figured I had to try it. Man was it good! I really enjoyed it and was sorry when the box was gone. So enjoy your tea while it lasts.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great to hear from you Gregory!
      The three varieties I bought are great. And the small opening the boxes is awesome.
      I’m sure you can order online – but I’m bad at that and the serendipity of that Frere shop was very special.
      Thanks for writing!

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