Tuesday, December 30, 2008

10,000 Visitors--and a Miniature Bear Giveaway!

The Queen of Fifty Cents reached a milestone yesterday--our 10,000th visitor stopped by! When I started this adventure back at the end of March I had no idea if anyone would ever read it. Receiving your comments and visiting your blogs has been so much fun, and I love knowing there is a world-wide community of folks who appreciate the quirky wonder of second-hand shopping. My statistics program includes a world map showing where you have visited from, and I've been amazed at how far my words have reached--and how near. Thank you all.

I've been planning to do a series of giveaways in the new year, and this seems like the perfect place to start. The prize? This 3.5" teddy (dated 1986) made by Geri's Bears.

Yes, of course I found it at a yard sale!

What do you have to do to win? As you know, this blog is all about stories, and that's what I want from you! See the tiny gold wishbone charm on Bear's chest?

Leave a comment saying what you think this bear is wishing for. Bear and I will confer and choose our favorite. Deadline: this Sunday, January 4, 1 pm PST. We can't wait to see what wishes you come up with!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I've been having some fun looking back over the year’s thrifty purchases. Yes, I keep records, which may strike some as obsessive, but I like knowing how I've spent my money. Thanks to spreadsheets it takes very little time. When I get home from garaging on Saturday morning I spend a few minutes entering data—what I bought, how much I paid and how much it would have cost if I'd bought it in a store. I include a category, like clothing or door prizes for work, and any notes about the item. Later I may go back and add information, such as an item being donated to the thrift store if I decide not to keep it. By the end of the year I have a complete picture of my Saturday activities.

I started doing this about four years ago when I started reselling on eBay. I knew I'd need to keep records for tax purposes. You know, I've seen discussions on other people’s blogs questioning the morality of reselling, that somehow it's wrong to make a profit on something bought at a yard sale or thrift store. I don’t see it that way. I figure other people have the same opportunity to sell stuff as I do. There’s nothing so difficult about selling online that an average person with a computer and a digital camera can’t learn to do it. Yes, I make a profit on what I resell, but I also spend my time and resources finding stock, taking the pictures, writing the ads, and paying for the auctions. Besides, isn’t the basic advice for making money to buy low and sell high? That’s not just for the stock market!

Anyway, if you’re curious, here’s how a dedicated garager spent her money this year.

I bought 29 pieces of clothing, two for my husband and the rest for me. Eight ended up being donated. Total expenditure: $17.35. Included were 5 sweaters, 4 shirts, 2 skirts, 3 slacks, and a bathing suit. Best deals:
• Land’s End cashmere sweater for my husband—a $130 value for 25 cents
• My Pendleton wool bathrobe—you can buy one like it on their website for $198 plus tax and shipping. I paid a buck
• A beautiful Jones New York silk skirt that would be about $110 at Macy’s. Another one dollar deal.

The only clothing we’ve bought in stores this year were shoes and a new billfold for my husband when his was stolen. I haven’t bought myself anything in a store since August of 2007, and that was undies and shoes, which I admit are hard to find on driveways.

It was a good year for accessories too. I bought 29 items for $20.45, including 2 hats, a watch, 2 vintage purses, 9 pairs of earrings, 7 pins, 3 scarves and a new billfold. One of the scarves is a silk Ralph Lauren thing that retails for about $80.

I hadn't done anything crafty for a long time, and I threw myself into it this year. It's been fun, I've learned some stuff, but I may be over the fever now. I bought 54 items for $24.60, but ended up donating 18. So I had a year’s worth of fun for 25 bucks and made the Goodwill store happy too. Included in the stash:
• Many, many buttons—huge bag, plus carded buttons @ two other sales
• 5 pieces of yardage, including entire roll of Schumacher drapery fabric and 7 yards of vintage paisley
• 22 clothing items for fabric
• 11 sweaters for felting
• Supplies, including tiny ceramic clothes pins, inkjet transfer paper, box of imported threads, jewelry findings, & picture matting cutter
Best deals: Schumacher fabric, approx. 20 yards for $2
Red cashmere sweater vest, $0.50; made at least 6 roses for gifts
The felted sweaters have been the most fun. I've used them to make shoes and slippers, flowers, and fingerless gloves. And yesterday I created this patchwork cover for an old wool-stuffed bed pillow we were going to throw away. I think it looks wonderful in the huge basket I paid a dollar for a couple of years ago, and I'm hoping it will become a favorite sleeping spot for Noll Baxter and Mrs. Wilberforce.

Had no idea I'd picked up so many—51 items for $42.42! But I liked what I got, because I only ended up donating four. Included were:
• 4 figurines, 2 vintage
• 6 picture frames
• 8 vintage linens
• 3 toys
• 6 vases
• 7 items for my work office
• 1 vintage quilt
My favorites? The Sunflower quilt, big foot chicken & Thurber dog. They make me smile, every time I look at them.

We subscribe to Netflix, and occasionally go out to a movie (the ones that need to be seen on a big screen, which turned out to be 5 this year). And we splurged on season passes to Disneyland. But I pick up a lot of entertainment on Saturday mornings—124 items for $59.50. This bought me 18 books, 13 CDs, 44 movies—many of them DVDs—and about 70 magazines. No wonder I’m letting subscriptions lapse! We did donate 18 items, but that was mostly books and movies after we read or watched them.

Gift giving is not something I'm especially good at—but neither are a lot of other people, judging by the number of items I see on driveways that were originally received as gifts. I picked up 16 items for $10.48 that I gave to friends and family. Best deal: embroidered raw silk robe for my friend Heather, who happened to be staying with us that weekend. Most fun: pink flamingo skirt for making Christmas gift bags. Reusable!

Good lord, I brought home 101 items! Only spent $58 though, which got me
• Food, including tea, oat bran, and fresh picked fruit & avocados
• 3 pieces of furniture—2 antique benches & glass/rattan patio table
• 25 bars of soap, and 5 other bathroom items
• 19 kitchen items—red tea kettle, candy thermometer, new vacuvin, stainless steel cookie press and more
• 15 dishes—plates, bowls, glasses, teacups, tea pots…
• 13 office items, including photo paper, vintage stapler, fiskars scissors
• 6 x 8’ wool rug
Ended up donating 6 things.
Best deals: the rug, which goes with the $2 roll of fabric
Brand new sweater shaver—works great
Free kumquats—we made a whole bunch of kumquat marmalade!

I lashed out $42 for 62 door prizes, but hey, my children’s librarians are worth every penny! ;o)

Here’s the category with the highest average per item: 28 items for $66.60. But most of that was spent on one deal—an electric lawn mower, hedge trimmer, and 150’ extension cord for $45. We spent about ten more bucks for a new blade, and now have the exact mower we were about to buy for over $200. I also brought home 4 yard art items and 12 pots, many large and expensive. Well, not expensive for me, but for the person who bought them in a store.

Last category: ITEMS FOR RESALE
I was amazed to see I'd picked up 49 items, spending $52.75. I only sold 19, ended up donating 15, and am holding 15 more for future sale. As I've mentioned, sales were really off this year, which was discouraging, but even so I’ve made a 462% profit on the original investment, and if you can show me anything on the stock market doing that well I'd like to buy some! Best return on investment: $15.29 for a 25 cent sweater. Okay, the dollars aren’t big, but that’s over 6000% (I think I'm doing the math right…). And the best part is, the person that bought the sweater got an amazing deal too—a new item that would have been at least $80 in a store. Hooray, we all win!

So that’s my year o’ garaging. Hope yours was as much fun—and as lucrative!—and that we’ll meet up out on the thrifting trail in the new year. I'll be the one in the green convertible!

Monday, December 22, 2008


Sunday was our annual tea-and-cookies (among other things) open house. Everything we serve is homemade, so I didn’t go garaging Saturday. Really, I didn’t. I just took a rather, um, circuitous route to the grocery store to stock up on supplies I'd need for a lot of baking. Not my fault there were signs posted for several sales. I’ve spent too long training my car to turn in response to those signs, and it would be cruel to confuse it by ignoring them, right?

I stopped for at least half a dozen sales, but bought only two items. One was this little loom for one of my staff.
Cathy asked me to keep a lookout for one of those old looms that we used to make potholders with. Can’t think of the name. Jiffy loom? Anyway, she’s an artist and I'm hoping she’ll have fun with this modern version until a vintage one comes along.

She made me this fabulous pin, isn’t it beautiful? It's decoupaged onto her son’s old name badge from a store he worked at. Recycling at its best!

My other yard sale purchase was for myself, a beautiful mug to replace one I broke recently. Alas, I managed to break this one within three seconds of walking into my house with it. Dang!

At the same sale where I bought the mug, I chatted for a few minutes with a woman who bought a lovely piece of vintage crochet, a large doily of variegated pink roses, beautifully made. She said she didn’t know anything about it but just liked it, and I explained a little about crochet. We waved as we parted, and then about half an hour later as I left the 99 Cent Store, a pickup pulled up and paused. “Hey, that’s not a garage sale!” the driver hollered, and it was the lady who’d bought the doily.

The last sale I stopped at had mostly children’s toys, outgrown by their two boys. Isn’t this little stool adorable? Hope somebody bought him.

Another item on the driveway was some windup toy playing music that finally limped to a stop. When it ceased I realized I was still hearing the tune; it was the dad, softly whistling. “You do that better than the toy,” I told him, and he laughed. “I should, I've heard it enough.” I told him that was the kind of toy I think of as the grandparent’s revenge—you give it to the kid and send them home, so you don’t have to listen to it.

I probably will not go out for the next two Saturdays; our oldest friend is coming down from San Francisco next week. But that will be a good time to look back over the year’s finds and stories. And to start the process, I went around the house this morning looking at some of the Christmas decorations I've thrifted:
Two quilts adorn our entry this year. They’re probably imports, but I love their cheerful colors.

Last year I picked up a whole bunch of these glass ornaments, which made great party favors. Wish I'd remembered to take the picture before most of them left for new homes!

Our tree is full of ornaments we’ve collected over the past 35 years, many from yard sales:
A tiny wooden train with paper wheels

A wonderfully silly ram made of wool, with pipe cleaner horns

I have several of these painted metal cardinals—they were a broken set of wind chimes

Handmade cross stitch ornament

Woody enjoys helping to decorate the tree

Elsewhere around the house are more decorations…
The polar bear came from a store about 15 years ago, but his penguin friend is an old Steiff from a yard sale

My little collection of ‘smokers’ from Germany. These are incense burners, designed so that the smoke completes the image.
I bought my dumpling lady in Nuremburg, Germany many years ago; when the incense is lit her dumplings appear to be steaming! Her companions came from people’s driveways, along with a lifetime supply of incense cones that I picked up with the blue mail carrier.

I love the lines of this rusted metal deer.

My dress form wore a beautiful silk dress for the party. This dress fits me quite well, and I hope someday to have some fancy event to wear it to—knowing I’d probably be the only person there wearing a fifty cent dress!

I found both of these pieces this year—the chalkware snowman was still packaged (he’s not vintage, but I love him anyway) and the bottlebrush tree was given to me at a yard sale. The ‘snow’ at the tree’s base is cut from a thrifted white angora sweater that I felted.

Our party on Sunday was fun. I'm not much of a party person, but this was a good mix of colleagues and friends who came and went throughout the afternoon. I meant to take pictures before the party started but I was still prepping at the appointed hour. Thank heavens everyone was fashionably late! Several who came have read my blog and asked to see various items I've written about this year. I had a better time than a sane person should, showing off my Saturday morning treasures. One or two folks might even have been inspired to try driveway shopping themselves. Hope so—it's too much fun not to share!

I hope you have lovely holidays, and that the new year will bring us all good fortune.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I had a comment on last week's post asking how to felt sweaters. I was going to email Miss Lila but Blogger doesn't reveal email addresses. And perhaps others would like to know as well.

The way I make felt is super easy!
1. Go to garage sales and buy wool (or alpaca or cashmere--needs to be all or nearly all natural animal fibers) sweaters for as little money as possible. I rarely spend more than a buck. Keep an eye out for sweaters with a hole in them--people will sell these for practically nothing (or give it to you) and a hole or two won't hurt a thing. You can work around them.

2. Take your sweaters home and throw them in the washing machine with some detergent, and maybe a towel or two for roughage. Wash with hot water on a regular (not gentle) cycle.

3. Throw them in the dryer and dry on hot.

4. Remove from dryer. Voila, you have felt! Once in a while a sweater won't have felted enough and I'll put it through the process again. But it's a pretty reliable system and nearly always works.

I was cold this morning working on the computer (we haven't yet turned on any heat and even in SoCal it gets chilly) so I cut the sleeves off one of my stash of felted sweaters. With a slit for the thumb in the right spot, I now have fingerless mittens that took about two minutes to make. Next time I'll cut them longer though (guess that would be next time I have two minutes!).

If you need some inspiration for using your felt, there are fabulous pics over on Flickr. Here's what I got with a search for 'felted sweaters.'


I'm sure some people think the hallmark of living in southern California is being able to go around in your shirt sleeves most of the year, or having plants bloom in the winter (not to mention needing to mow your lawn), or having Disneyland on your doorstep. Yes, all those things are true, but you and I know that the really amazing thing is going to yard sales a week and a half before Christmas!

Most charming moment of the morning: the seven year old girl still in her flannel jammies & slippers singing a Christmas carol. I think it was Hark the Herald (almost typed Harold!) Angel Sings…but it might have been O Little Town of Bethlehem. Let’s put my lack of memory down to excitement over the goodies I came home with rather than a pure senior moment. (My senior moments are beginning to merge into senior days and weeks.)

Most gratifying moment: I paid the good old boy lounging on his wooden chair fifty cents for a small bowl, and he handed me back a quarter. “That's for being nice,” he said. Now, whoever said being nice didn’t pay? Okay, it doesn’t pay much, but still!

Several items came from a sale run by two women. Maybe sisters, couldn’t tell for sure. They had a bunch of new nick nacky things that I liked, and I asked if they had been gifts. Of course they were, so I got to haul out our “If there were no gifts there would be no garage sales” line. Talk about reliable material—that always gets a laugh, often a rueful one. I asked who had given them one of the things I bought. “That was from my ex-boyfriend’s mother.”

Nuff said.

I saw another amazing vehicle parked in a garage where I was perusing goods on the driveway. Not as large as the 1951 Bentley from a few weeks ago, or even the vintage Mustang convertible, but this one gets points both for classiness and creativity.

They started with a regular canvas-covered kid’s bike trailer and rebuilt it, complete with tiki god on the back. I love the contrast of the cute six year old with the pin-up girls on the fabric! Now that the kids in the family are getting too big for the cart, they plan to retool it once more—for the family dog.

I spend $8.75 and brought home:

The last of the wine glasses I need for our open house next weekend. (Next weekend? Sheesh, I'd better get busy!) If there’s enough room in our boxes of Christmas stuff (can’t remember how full they are, they’re still in the attic—told you I needed to get busy!) I think I’ll wrap up and keep all of this year’s party glasses instead of donating them after Christmas.

This cute bowl (from the good old boy who thought I was nice) is Spode—perfect for some small nibbles at the party. He asked me if he was going to see this on Antiques Roadshow and I said no, just on my blog. I checked the price of these puppies when I got home—he sold me a bowl that retails for about $30 for 25 cents. Guess the wages of niceness are better than I thought!

BTW, that’s not a crack on the lower right, just a stray dog hair I didn’t notice until I downloaded the pictures!

A pile of acorns. These appear to be real but have been preserved somehow. I just like acorns.

These four little votives are absolutely gorgeous—deep saturated color on the outside, shiny silver inside. Can't wait to try candles in them.

I figured these picture holders might be fun as tree ornaments. But maybe I'll use them on the table at the open house to hold cards describing some of the food.

Now, this is the perfect example of gift giving run amuck. Candle jewelry. Candle jewelry, for heaven’s sake! Brand new, the Kohl’s price tag is still on the back with the $12.99 price scratched over with a pen. I thought these might be fun tree ornaments too. But when I opened the package I realized they are on posts exactly like earrings without the little back that slides on and heck, I've got plenty of those. My candles will have to fend for themselves. As far as I'm concerned, this is three pairs of festive holiday earrings!

The one thing I really wanted to find was something to wrap a couple of gifts—DVDs and CDs. I’ve heard of using thrifted scarves, so I figured something like that or even a piece of clothing with interesting fabric would be fun. And there it was at the first sale—the pink flamingo skirt.
Further down the road was a sale with lots of bows and ribbons—perfect match!
I think some flamingos in sunglasses will be a welcome relief from all the Santas and reindeer and snowflakes on everyone else’s gifts. I'm kind of hoping there will be a bit left over so I can make a holder for my fuschia pink mp3 player!

Pin It button on image hover