How your bookcase is more revealing than a thong. Plus why you shouldn’t email someone you haven’t seen for 40 years about a human skull.



A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to the new and improved version of my bookcase which is suspiciously similar to the old and haggard version of my bookcase.  Sometimes things around your house just start to look unappealing to your eye because you’re just plain sick of looking at them.  Your eye gets bored of them.

Like your husband or your wife.  You still love them, they haven’t changed or done anything wrong really but sometimes … you’re just sick of lookin’ at em. Women deal with this by buying their husband a new, sassy sweater or a gym membership.  Men deal with this buy buying themselves a new sassy sweater or a gym membership, and a car and a motorcycle and new jeans and a subscription.

So let’s look at the new bookcase and study it a bit.  This is the left side of it.




All of the things in there are things that I have bought, read or stolen.  Which makes this bookcase unique to me.  Sometimes you open up a magazine or flyer and you see a perfect bookcase.  Maybe it’s filled with all white vases. Or only blue and purple books.  They’re filled with lots of stuff but it looks like all of the stuff was bought to look perfect in the bookcase.

I spit on perfect bookcases.

To me the whole point of a bookcase is to fill it with stuff you love.  Your stuff.  Stuff you don’t have anywhere else to put.  Stuff you want to look at all the time.  NOT stuff you picked out just because it would look good on a bookshelf.  Too many magazines show perfect.  Too many blogs show perfect (totally excluding The Nester whose motto is actually It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful).

When I look at my bookcase I see my life. I see memories. I see dust.  I see ME.  And I like it that way.  Judging by how many of you inspect my bookcase every time I show a photo of it, you like it that way too.

Let’s take a moment shall we, you and I, to learn a bit about me through the stuff in my bookcase.




1. Rubber stamp with Art of Doing Stuff Logo.  Handy. Right near the front door so I can stamp people’s foreheads when they come in.

2. Antique Camel milking bowl that my sister brought back for me from Saudi Arabia. She was there decorating the house of a Saudi Princess. House is probably the wrong word.  Let’s go with compound instead.

3, 4 & 5.  Antique(ish) Dentistry books that belonged to Betty’s father, the dentist.

6.  A Horse of Your Own book.  From when I had a horse of my own.  I rode and competed from around grade 8 to the end of high school in hunter, eventing and dressage.  That’s jumping and the fancy stuff where the horse looks like it’s prancing for those of you non-horse type people.

7. I inherited a whole set of vintage decorating books from my friend Karen YEARS ago. They were vintage then, they’re even more vintage now but I still go through them and still get great ideas.  Which I promptly forget.

8. Pattern Making for Fashion Design.  My mom is a sewer.  Like … a sewer-sewer.  Not a pillow making sewer. I can’t remember if this is her book or my book but I know I used it when I was in highschool to make a custom pattern for a pair of suede pants with fringes all down the sides.  If I can still find them and if they still fit I’ll take a shot of me in them in the future and then never ever show you.

9.  I got this wood folk art doll at a local flea market. It’s not old. It just looks it.  Like Lindsay Lohan.

10. One winter I spent the entire season, every single night, going through boxes and boxes of family photos dating back to the early 1900’s and putting them in albums.  These are those albums.



And the bottom of the bookcase …

10. (again … I accidentally used #10 twice but who cares … am I right?)  These are all the magazines that either my home or I have been featured in over the past 15 years.  First as a television host, then as a writer, then as a blogger.

11.  Wood Foo Dog.  It’s part of a pair, the other one is on the other side of the bookcase.  They’re not mine. They’re the fella’s.  He didn’t take them with him when he made his hasty escape.  He got them at a garage sale I dragged him to for about $5.

12. Antique Monk’s Begging bowl that I got on a trip to Thailand with Betty and my sisters.

13. One of my many David Sedaris books.  Love him.  Love David Sedaris. He’s a homosexual which are my favourite type of sexuals.

14. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.  Got this sent to me by the publisher when I was an entertainment reporter at MuchMoreMusic.

15. My stack of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Books.  LOVE these books for an easy, relaxing read.  Just me and Ma Romatswe hanging out in Botswana.

16. This is my How-To section.  Gardening, decorating, fixing and general repair.  Like Brick Laying.  Everyone needs a good brick laying book.

17. My box o’ Dollar Store crap.  It’s filled with different little crafty things like sparkles and magic wands.




The centre of the bookcase holds one of my most favourite things.  A deer skull/antlers.




18.  This is one of two skulls I’ve owned in my lifetime.  Both came from my Grandfather (Betty’s dad).  This is the top portion of a deer skull.  The other skull was an actual human skull.  I’m not sure why my grandfather had a human skull but I can tell you it was not the most alarming thing he owned. I’m also not sure why I liked it so much, but so did Tom Crossley.  He told me so when I brought the brown, crumbling, human skull in for show and tell in grade 3.  I suspected Tom Crossley would be interested in my new deer skull so I Googled him.  And then I sent him an email.

Hi Tom,

This is Karen Bertelsen from Pleasant Valley School. I’m not entirely sure if you’re the Tom Crossley I went to school with 40 years ago or not but I hope so because I have some information you’ll probably be very interested in.
I got a new skull a few years ago.  Not like a transplant or anything, I mean a deer skull with antlers.
Anyhow, I thought you’d be interested because I remember in grade 4 you were quite impressed with the human skull I brought in for show and tell.  
If you’re interested I can send you a picture.  Sorry it took so long to let you know about this new addition to my collection.
I hope you’re doing well!
Karen Bertelsen

If Google is accurate then Tom’s now a professor of Economics at the University of Essex in England.  Tom never emailed me back.

19.  Geek Love.  One of my favourite books.  NOT for everyone what with the circus people intentionally screwing up their pregnancies in the hopes of birthing a money making Geek.

20. There’s that other Foo Dog, sitting on top of my other favourite relaxing reads … Janet Evanovich.




Which leaves us with the right side of the bookcase. In case you don’t know enough about me and what I’m like.  At this point you’ve learned I’m a horseback riding television host, descended from a skull hoarding freakshow of a grandfather. I also do a lot of Dollar Store crafts in Thailand in between brick laying and stamping people’s heads.

Moving on.




21. This is that black vase I was looking for the other day.

22. This is newspaper vase I picked up at Chapters years ago in the Wu Lou gourd shape.

23.  Cheap white ceramic rose sitting on cheap white vase.

24.  More of those photo albums.




25.  The second I saw this little oil painting I loved it.  Just a little farm/field scene with sheep. I debated and debated over whether to buy it or not but I finally gave in and shelled out the $2.   I remember when you didn’t have to pay more than 50 cents for anything at a garage sale.

26. Dave Barry.  As a teenager I somehow came across Dave Barry; probably in my local newspaper.  Definitely not in the school cafeteria, although if he was in there I wouldn’t have noticed him over my daily mountain of french fries and gravy.  I don’t eat nearly enough french fries and gravy anymore.  Anyhow,  I couldn’t believe what this guy was doing. He was just talking.  His job was to sit at home and write a funny little column.

I knew everyone thought this was a pretty easy job as long they had an entertaining enough family and a six pack handy.  I had neither so I figured my life’s work would involve something that required I wear business suits with shoulder pads.  A tycoon maybe.  Something more realistic than a writer.

I made it through highschool (again I’m insisting everyone write highschool as one word so we can once and for all make sense of the English language) and went on to University getting a degree in Sociology and some sort of minors in Philosophy and Religious Studies and maybe even the history of the corn dog.  You know.  The real moneymakers.

I guess you all know how this story ends.

With me eating a plate of french fries and gravy.



  1. Jan says:

    Oh, Man!!!! I’d forgotten about Dave Barry. I LOVE him. What a hoot. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Mary W says:

    Agree that bookshelves should be a place to store your stuff. Mine are filled to overflowing with handmade mini books stuffed with memories and pictures and journaling. To me it is the most beautiful sight. I’m sure to those that collect stuff to display, they are just a horror of dust and mismatched stuff. To each his own. Snooping into someones bookshelves are so much more entertaining that looking through their medicine cabinets and I understand lots of people snoop there. Great post today.

  3. I notice a disturbing absence of dust. I will forgive it, since you were taking pictures to show the world. But it does disturb me, as in, making me feel guilty for not having dusted my bookshelves in about ten years.

    Since I totally missed out on the organizing gene, would you give more details on how you night after night turned a box of pictures into albums?? I have some boxes like that, and just throw up my hands in despair.

  4. Michelle says:

    Hey, where did you get the bookshelves? Are they Ikea also? Because I can stop what I’m doing and run up there right now. I’d like to “install” some bookshelves without having to learn carpentry skills that might take all of my concentration to complete.
    I also keep David Sedaris books and have you read Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling’s books? They’re keepers.

  5. Kelly says:

    “To me the whole point of a bookcase is to fill it with stuff you love…When I look at my bookcase I see my life. I see memories. I see dust. I see ME. And I like it that way.” This is honestly one of my favorite posts of yours. I want my whole house to show my life, memories, dust and stuff I love. Thank you so much for sharing the details of you bookshelf!

  6. Patti H says:

    I LOVE that folk doll. It was the first thing my eyes rested on when I saw your bookcase. I love, love, LOVE it! I have those same on-top-of-the-bookcase lights, too. The bulbs are burned out in mine and this post reminded me to replace them. Thanks!

    My husband and I received a rather unique wedding gift from his brother’s friend. It was a beautifully handmade wooden box lined with deep blue velvet. The box contained a life-size, handmade replica of a human skull made from terracotta clay and with a white glaze. I’m not sure what he was trying to tell us with a gift such as that. Creepy to say the least. The little SOB asked for it back a year or two later and we happily obliged.

  7. Marti says:

    Where did those gorgeous plain black boxes for “stuff” at the bottom of the bookcases come from?
    Are they Ikea? I have Expedit and need some of those to hide my own stuff…. which is far less worthy of discussion than your stuff because I’m currently using those bookcases as chests and I refuse to say what is containing my stuff because after all, this is the internet. :-/

    • Karen says:

      They are indeed Ikea Marti but about a year after I bought them I tried to buy a few more and they were discontinued. Having said that, Ikea does that the odd time, then years later will bring the item back so you should check. ~ karen!

  8. Kat says:

    Hi Karen! First with the “Floor Sweep Reading” and now with the “Book Case Study”. You seem to be doing alot of self analysis lately. This shows signs of either a self growth or your bored with your life and are in need of a drastic change. While I love reading all your posts I am increasingly getting worried about your mental state of mind. Personally I think you are probably getting ready to do another drastic room renovation. That being said with my dry sense of humor I will continue reading your posts even if they are being sent from a far away retreat in a nice home where people all where white… from one of your ever loving readers and concerned fan who is now cackling hysterically for no apparent reason.

  9. Mary says:

    You worked for Much Music eh? A highschool friend worked there too. Did you know with Denise Donlon? I know she moved on a while back to work for the CBC and Sony Canada.

    • Karen says:

      Denise Donlon is who hired me, Mary! So I have a fondness for her. :) A month or so after hiring me she left to become the president of Sony Canada. We stayed in touch for several years. ~ karen!

  10. Janice Mortimer says:

    I thought I was the only one that emailed people I thought might be someone I knew. I am so glad I am normal. Thank you for making me feel like I am not an alien trapped in a female body…I wonder what that surgery would turn out looking like?? Something to ponder.

  11. Tigersmom says:

    The bookcase is wonderfully non-sterilized and beautiful to look at.

    I met David Sedaris at a book signing of his a few years back. He came early and the staff told me he would stay late until everyone got their book/books signed. He was gracious and kind and funny. My favorite of his books is still, ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, but, I’ve tried to make re-reading ‘Holidays on Ice’ a tradition every Christmas season, but I sometimes only have time for my favorites of the holiday themed essays like, Santaland Diaries and Dinah the Christmas Whore.

    I discovered Dave Barry in the newspaper as a teenager and thought he was a riot and had the coolest gig ever. I will never forget one of the lines from his book, Dave Barry Turns 40 (or something like that – I’d said I’d never forget the line). It was part of a list of advice and things he had discovered about/since turning forty. It was simply, “Never trust a fart.” Words to live by.

  12. Su says:

    I’ll give you $5 for that painting…. it’s lovely…

    • Elaine says:

      I found a similar one a month ago at a reuse for $4.99! Everyone who passes it comments on it. I have it on an easel on my kitchen counter.

  13. Lesley Ann says:

    Hi Karen
    A real bookcase in blog land. Crazy! Thanks for always keeping it real. Great post.

    • Karol says:

      “I got this wood folk art doll at a local flea market. It’s not old. It just looks it. Like Lindsay Lohan.” teehee, thanks for my morning spit take. You’d think I’d know better by now than to read your posts and drink at the same time.

    • Mary W says:

      Amen, Sister

  14. Karen Too says:

    I now have my glasses on and a crick in my neck from reading sideways. I too have a little landscape painting and a skull, a beaver skull, on my bookshelf that I took to show and tell in grade 2. Fabulous books and those little wooden dogs are fab. Thanks for this, I love it. – Karen Also

  15. Auntiepatch says:

    My husband won’t let me read Dave Barry in bed. I try to laugh quietly but that only makes the bed shake. And, for some reason, he doesn’t think Dave is as funny as I do. Go figure.

    I love your bookshelf. I can’t understand those people who place their books on a bookshelf by COLOR! How do they find the book they want to read? Insanity I say!

  16. Elaine says:

    Thank you, so much Karen, for being “true to a bookcase” and respecting books!!! By that, I’m meaning it is so refreshing to see that you haven’t ripped off all the covers (like many decor magazines are showing) turning books into creamy white/beige to suit a neutral living room! Also, I see you actually have the spines showing (how daring!) as another decor suggestion is to turn books around the wrong way – to hide the colorful (and despised) book cover.. To me, destroying a book to fit in with the popular neutral living room is deplorable. I can only imagine how an author must feel if he/she saw their work purposely destroyed!

    I was recently told that a certain store sells books with covers ripped off, the paper inside actually glued together (!!) and then tied into bundles (of 3 or 5, I’m sure) – again in the name of decor. I love decorating as much as anybody but I think this is plain crazy and looks terribly pretentious. I wonder if anybody else out there feels the same way. There’s nothing nicer than scanning someone’s book titles; it says so much about a person and their interests.

  17. Cynthia Jones says:

    I can’t believe you have dhGate on your blog. That is MY very favourite source of all things weird and useful.

    I have bought great rugs from them, including these. I have them in red and pink and stand on them to wash my dishes.|1612351508

    I want those fluffy cushions. Cough up, where did you get them?

    I really do need to get my own blog and stop hijacking yours.

    I love how you contacted that guy out of the blue. They just can’t handle it. Did you check to see if he saw the message? You can do that. You can’t let these normals get away with stuff.

  18. Grammy says:

    David Sedaris, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, and Dave Barry. Bricklaying. Pattern making. Old animal skull. Small yard sale landscape painting that you love. All of those are mine, too. I think a few years ago I said in a comment, “I used to be you,” and then I thought that sounded arrogant, but now I find it’s just creepy. Not that you’re creepy. Only that you are pretty much the way I was in the ’60s and ’70s in the DIY department, and that we share a fondness for so many of the exact same things.

    You’re younger, and cuter, and funnier, and more well-travelled, and more experienced than I at many things (although I am more experienced at others), but other than that we are practically twins. I hope you aren’t sorry you showed me your bookcase.

    And, just for the record, I think decorators who just buy stacks of books in bargain bins to make clients appear as though they read are fools. Anyone who knows those clients will know they have not read any of them. But they’re not the worst — the ones who cover all books in pristine color-coordinated paper or fabric in order to make the bookcase tidy and dramatic, and the ones who turn all the books spine-to-the-wall so they don’t clutter up the bookcase are the worst. Advertising to the world that you have absolutely no interests and don’t value books except to stand for knick-knacks is pitiful.

    Oh, and your grandfather most likely had a human skull because he thought it was cool and he could get one. Being a dentist, he had the perfect excuse in case anyone thought it was weird — he could always say he used it for studying the anatomy of the mouth and jaw. He might have even done that, but it doesn’t matter. You’re the only 4th grader I know of that got to take a real human skull to show-and-tell.

    • Elaine says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’m appalled at these bloggers and decorators who tear the covers off books!! Would they like that done if they were the author, I wonder?

      There are other bloggers who are covering books in burlap so the color of the book cover is more neutral! What the heck?? They look like idiots. The color range of old books – with their worn spines and gilt lettering – is so beautiful! There … I’ve said my piece!!

  19. Amber says:

    I had a hard moment with no. 18. I thought maybe grandpa was born with two heads and had one surgically removed but kept it as a souvenir and passed it on. I had no problem with him bequeathing you his own head. Just couldn’t figure out why he gave them at separate times…

  20. Kathleen says:

    I seriously have to organise my bookshelf. And then my daughter-in-law’s too.

    It’s really interesting to read about the origins of your much loved “stuff”.

    Have a wonderful day, Karen.

  21. Nancy Wilder says:

    How very cool. I have that patternmaking book, used it in college. Thanks for the reminder as to why I keep a cupboard full of those old things I love, and for sharing!

  22. Jan says:

    GEEK LOVE. Wow! one of my all time favs too!

  23. Kylee Baumle says:

    I love this. All of it. But something’s missing and I’m quite disappointed not to find it there. My book. It’s called “Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants.” (Look it up on Amazon and you’ll see I’m not making this up.) I know you’d love it and you know what? I’ve loved your blog ever since I discovered it who-knows-how-long-ago but the fella was still hanging around choosing the winners of your giveaways. So because you keep me entertained and smiling, I want to send a copy to you. For free. I won’t even charge you shipping. (Aren’t I nice?) And THEN your bookshelves will be complete. You’ll see. You won’t know how on earth you or your bookshelves ever lived without it.

    Oh…I do need an address though, so let me know where I should send it. I’m on Facebook so you could PM me there or I think you have my email with this comment. Either way. I’m telling ya – you NEED this book.

  24. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Hmmmm…did ya ever wonder why Tom didn’t answer your e-mail…also Dave Barry rocks….

  25. Luanne says:

    Thank you!! I’ve been wondering about that doll! All the rest was gravy.

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