Sunday, October 26, 2008


I do love overheard conversations. I walked up to my first yard sale this Saturday, which turned out to be all kid stuff—two young couples selling off what their babies had outgrown. One of the women was saying, “Did you know you can freeze breast milk for up to two weeks?”

I glanced at one of the husbands, who looked a little green. But the other guy jumped right in. “No, but I heard on the radio the other day that some guy in England is marketing ice cream made from human breast milk.” Several people—including me—made ewwww sounds. “They said he offered the recipe to Ben and Jerry but they didn’t want it.” Sighs of relief from the rest of us at knowing we won’t be seeing this product in our freezer cases, then the other husband said, “I'm just surprised Ben and Jerry turned it down.”

Maybe he knows Ben and Jerry better than I do, but it's hard for me to believe that the purveyors of Cherry Garcia would consider anything so icky.

I finished at one place and spotted a piano on the driveway across the street, so I wandered over. I don’t have room for a piano and no way to get one home if I did (antique uprights definitely don’t fit in the back seat of my car) but I'm always drawn to musical instruments. (Should there ever be a set of kettle drums on someone’s driveway, all bets are off—I've always harbored a longing for some. Never played them and would not be able to do anything more than accompany CDs but that would be okay. After all, I play along with a lot of classical music on my kazoo. Usually in the car.)

The lady selling the piano was very friendly. In short order I learned this was not even her driveway, but rather a friend’s. She recently downsized from a four bedroom house to a townhouse, and had no room for the big pieces she was selling. Her parents bought the piano for her when she was twelve, and she said it dated from the 1880s. I could well believe it of the piano, but not of the little bench near it. “The bench looks more like the Twenties to me,” I said. She agreed, then added, “I should probably just throw the bench away.”

My ears pricked up. To a thrifter, this is code for “offer a couple of bucks, maybe she’ll take it.” But wait, said the angel over my right shoulder, you don’t have room for more furniture. Remember the desk you didn’t buy? And you’d have to fix this up. But this is smaller than the desk, said the devil over my left shoulder, and it would be really cute with just a little bit of effort, and it would be such a sha-a-a-m-e for a nice little piece to go to the dump. Save the bench, said that little devil, and save the planet.

Well, we all need to help save the planet, right? So I offered her two dollars, and she agreed. “My butt spent many musical hours there,” she said. “I used to practice the piano with my parrot on my shoulder.” Your parrot? I prompted. “He was a red-headed conure named Shorty. Great name, huh, I don’t know where we got that. He loved music, and always sat on my shoulder or on the earpiece of my glasses while I played.” This was back in the day of sturdier glasses than we wear now. I asked if he sang along. “No, but he would dance from one foot to the other.” By now I had a vivid picture of a bespectacled teenage girl playing the piano for hours with a parrot on her shoulder swaying in time to the music.
(Picture borrowed from the Internet…)

She told me Shorty was re-homed when she went off to college and her parents moved to a smaller house. She has gone on being an animal lover, and currently has a blind boxer. (We used to have a blind dog, so I'm always up for a blind dog story.) She got him from the boxer rescue people, he was the one dog they had that her other boxer liked, and only after she’d chosen him did they mention that oh, by the way, he’s blind. The really amazing thing is that this blind dog had been living on the street, picked up by animal control. We both agreed that he deserved a good home, and I'd say he’s found it.

At another sale, as I chatted with the lady, I noticed a large display case in the garage with some kind of colorful display. I couldn’t figure out what was in the case. “Oh, that’s my husband and son’s Pez collection,” she said. We walked into the garage so I could take a closer look. It was absolutely amazing. Her husband is a woodworker who built the floor-to-ceiling glass and wood cases; more are planned as the collection grows. The pieces were in thematic groups, row after row. If this were my collection, it sure wouldn’t be in the garage!

I was heading home—or rather to the grocery store—when I happened on another neighborhood sale. One house had some pots in front, so I stopped. I noticed they had one of my favorite ornamental grasses, stipa tenuissima, in a couple of the flower beds, and they were clumpy with seeds. “You can take a stiff rake and comb out these seeds,” I told them, “and your grasses will be pretty again.” You’ve never seen such excitement. The young husband grabbed a little hand cultivator that was laying there and tried it, pulling out a big clump of seeds. “Hey, look at that!” he crowed. His wife ran and got her dad; evidently this was his house and he’d been the one who’d planted the stipas. I explained again about raking out the seeds, and now he was all excited. His wife said she had never liked these grasses, but she was going to go buy a rake that very day. Maybe there was something to them after all. I hope she does—this is a beautiful, low water plant that only needs a little grooming to be a show stopper. (Picture borrowed from Flickr.)

A few blocks away I stopped at one more sale. The pre-teen daughter had their tiny dog on her lap, which forgot it was tiny when a neighbor walked by. It started barking and growling. The neighbor held a leash attached to a dog collar, but no dog. “Invisible dog?” I asked. She laughed and said she’d just dropped Frosty off at the groomers (I had noticed a grooming place a few blocks away). But the tiny dog didn’t seem convinced there was no other dog there—or maybe, given its size, it saw this as the opportunity it had always been waiting for to intimidate. (At the opposite end of the bravery scale was this 6 month old Great Dane I saw earlier, which spent the entire morning leaning against his person and shivering.)

I chatted for a few minutes with the mom here about decluttering and mentioned I'd been in Oklahoma recently helping with my mother’s sale. She perked up. “Where in Oklahoma?” Turns out that her father in law recently died and left them a piece of property outside Crescent, about 40 miles north of OKC—160 acres that was originally a claim in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. If I remember my Oklahoma history from 8th grade, 160 acres was the amount of land you could claim in the run, and then you had to ‘prove it up’ in order to keep it. So the land this family now owns is probably intact from April morning, almost 110 years ago. She told me there’s no house there now, and when it rains the mud on the road in is a foot deep, but they’re going to keep the place and maybe retire there someday. I recommended that they read one of my favorite books, Miss Charity Comes to Stay by Alberta Wilson Constant, about a family that took part in the Run. The story is told by 12 year old Betsy and she is a hoot. If you liked the Little House books this is even better, so go check it out at your library, and if they no longer have a copy ask them to interlibrary loan it for you. You’ll love it!

I spent $7.75 and brought home:

A Disney lithograph of Oliver and Co. No, I did not buy this. The lady felt bad because the book I wanted to buy, a punch-out-&-assemble diorama of Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, was missing all the pieces when I opened it up. She gave me the Disney piece instead. Hmm, anybody want it? Leave a comment and I’ll do a random selection. Deadline…next Thursday, October 31. Woo hoo, my first blog giveaway!

DVD of High School Musical from the Cub Scout yard sale. Had never seen it, but we gave it a whirl on Saturday afternoon and it was totally a hoot. If we put in the second disc, we can learn to do the big finale dance. Gee, can't wait.

Very cute nursery rhyme picture frame.

Another leather jacket (not as spiffy as last week’s!). This one I really will cut up for craft projects, for though the label is Pierre Cardin, it's not in perfect condition—and it cost twenty five cents. I can cut up a leather coat that cost a quarter with no qualms.

A nice vase, not too big, and a sleek silver magazine holder for my growing collection of Fine Gardening. Most magazines I read and pass along, but FG stays forever.

A tiny wooden duck, a gift for the children’s librarian who has burnt her fingers numerous times with hot glue making activity mitts for me with little ducks on the fingers. Wouldn’t want her ever to forget those good times!

Some great pots from the folks with the stipa grasses. The glazed one was fifty cents, and the taller clay ones with the inset tiles were a buck apiece—woo hoo! I keep seeing something tall like a rose standard in those, but I don’t do roses. I'll think of something.

Lizzie takes her modeling duties seriously, doesn’t she?

And this is the vintage bench that came with the parrot story, in its ‘before’ state. I hope to have an ‘after’ picture before too long!

Oooh, I had a brainstorm while I was taking its picture…I can use it at my sewing machine!

Don’t forget to leave a comment by Hallowe'en if you’re interested in entering the drawing for the Disney drawing!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


There’s an old saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince—which is what this Saturday’s excursion was like. For most of the morning I was afraid I would have to report that I found absolutely nothing to purchase on anyone’s driveway in all of Orange County. (Not that one can cover all of OC in a single expedition, but what would life be without a bit of hyperbole?) I kept driving, spotting signs, finding sales, greeting sellers, looking at stuff…and most of it was the most depressing collections of junk imaginable. The kind of sales that novices stop at, look around, and vow never to go to another yard sale for the rest of their lives.

Frog sales.

But experienced thrifters know to keep kissing those frogs. I stopped at a sale that was pretty sparse, and when I walked up the seller broke off her conversation with her friend to tell me that all of the clothes were a dollar. I noticed a black leather jacket and picked it up; I've been wanting more leather for making Mary Janes and slippers. “Is this a dollar too?” I asked. She frowned a little. “Oh, that was really expensive…how about five?” I glanced down at the jacket in my hands. There were some spots of white on the black leather, possibly paint. I told her I was just looking for some leather to use for a project and offered two dollars. She nodded. “Sure,” she said, “that’s fine.” Then she added a line that still has me bemused: “I know what it is to want.”

I handed over the two dollars and left, pondering. What the heck did that mean? Did I look particularly needy? She didn’t seem to have taken offense at my low-ball offer, and I hadn't detected any hint of humor in her voice. Her house, car and clothing indicated that she is not currently in material need herself. Her remark will remain one of the many mysteries in life that I will never resolve.

But the story doesn’t end there. When I got home and toted my purchases inside, the jacket fell open, revealing the label. Ralph Lauren Polo.

Hmmm, I thought, pricey brand. I looked closer at the white smudges, grabbed a rag and damped a corner, and darned if all those smudges didn’t come right off.

Then I went to the computer and pulled up eBay, and what do you know. These puppies are selling like hotcakes, with prices ranging from $50 - $150, and cost about $600 new. So I might have to keep looking for some other leather for slipper soles.

Once that first purchase was made, more princely frogs appeared, and I managed to spend $8.25 before the morning was done.

I found a black velvet dress that I plan to cut up, because I have an idea for making this vintage coat I bought a few months ago fit me.
Keep your fingers crossed that my plan works. And if it doesn’t, well, the coat is not such a rare piece that experimenting would be vandalism. And it cost fifty cents.

Here is Noll making sure the velvet dress doesn’t fly away.

He’s been ever such a helpful boy lately—I did some rearranging and decluttering in my home office a few days ago, and he assisted with that as well.

The same sale netted a DVD of Chicken Run and a bag of kitty litter.

The label on the bag says it's ten week’s worth, which would just about put it in the same category as the bowl in the fairy tale with the unending supply of food. But even if it lasts only a week, it was a good deal—and it's all natural!

In another tract I pulled up in front of two side-by-side sales. “I know you,” said the complete stranger at the one on the right. Turns out he didn’t actually recognize me at all, but rather my car. He used to work at the dealership where we bought it almost seven years ago. They had to look all over Southern California for one with a black top rather than the brown all the others had, so I guess mine is a bit different. We agreed on what a great car it is.

The last thing I bought was a visor, which I wear in said car to keep the sun out of my eyes. (Definitely not to play golf!)

At this sale I encountered the papier mache artist I often see on Saturday mornings with her mother, who never gets out of the car. (The mother says I look exactly like her friend Alice, so I suggested she could call me Not-Alice.) I went over to the car to chat. “I'm having one of those days,” the mother told me. “I've lost my keys. I always put them right here in my purse and they’re not there. Doesn’t that just drive you crazy?” I agreed that I have absolutely no memory any more, but that I've decided just to embrace my geezerhood. And it's probably a good thing, having no memory to speak of. If I retain anything, it's the princes I've found, and I manage to forget all the frogs I had to kiss along the way.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Be strong, I told myself. You can do it. Remember: No. More. Furniture.

It was a desk. Midcentury, teak, modern rolltop design. Probably would have fit into the back seat of the car.

No. More. Furniture.

I love desks. The first piece of furniture my husband and I bought after we married was the Eastlake desk that still graces the living room. We were at the bank to get checks printed and saw it in the window of the antique store next door. Love at first sight.

(That clump of dog hair by the leg of the desk is fresh—I really did vacuum yesterday!)

Expensive—a whole $50. I know, doesn’t sound like much now. You can easily spend that on dinner for two at a semi-decent restaurant (or dinner for four at McDonald’s), but this was in 1972. We dithered a bit over spending that much, then the store offered to deliver it, so when we picked up our new checks we wrote the first one for $50. One of these days we need to get the leather top replaced, which will probably cost more than the original price unless I can figure out how to do it myself. Hmmm, note to self—keep an eye out on Saturday mornings for a large piece of very thin brown leather…)

But: No. More. Furniture. I was brave and strong. I got in the car and drove away. Yes, I was the person in the green convertible chanting out loud as she drove: No more furniture. No more furniture. No more furniture.

After dealing with hundreds of pieces of stuff at the sale we did last weekend for my mother, I am determined to bring home only things I can actually use. In that spirit I made a little Halloween display in the living room yesterday with yard sale purchases (all except for the nose mask on the cat pillow—I made that about 25 years ago—a story for another time!)

This restraint will be good for my character development, right? And even though there was a huge neighborhood sale and I made dozens of stops, there was very little that actually tempted me. It was enough to drive around on an absolutely beautiful fall day, eavesdropping on conversations and chatting with people, petting the occasional dog.

I was about to leave the first sale when an older lady walked up with her cute little blonde dog, which promptly jumped on the little boy who was helping with the sale. “Don’t worry,” she said, “she won’t bite you.” Luckily for her the boy liked dogs and had a relaxed mother, so I won’t be called as a witness in their lawsuit. (Hey, this is California. Everyone sues everyone here.) I asked if the dog was part doxie, and she said yes, and cocker spaniel. “She’s the color that’s hard to train. Three different people have told me that color of cocker is extra hard to train.” I bit my tongue and did not say what I was thinking, namely that this was approximately the silliest thing I have ever heard about dog training. (I am willing to change my mind if you can cite me some studies.) I suspect the dachshund part might contribute to the training challenge; aren’t hounds less willing than, say, golden retrievers to see the human point of view? No matter though. The little boy thoroughly enjoyed the doggie kisses.

A couple of stops later, I recognized a cat as I got out of the car. “Did you have a sale earlier this year?” I asked the woman by the cash box. “I think I recognize your cat.” She said it was her sister’s house, and she was just helping out with the sale. Which explains why I would recognize the cat and not her—though I do have a far better memory for pets than people! She told me her sister had left her to mind the sale while she went to check out a couple of others in the neighborhood. “And that was an hour and a half ago!” I just hope her sister didn’t finally return with a fabulous midcentury teapot, like some sisters do! ;o)

The recognition shoe was on the other foot later when I got out of my car and the seller immediately said, “I remember you!” That always makes me nervous. Did I talk their leg off the last time? “Um, did I behave myself?” I asked. “Sometimes I get rowdy.”

“No, I remember your green car,” she said. Whew. We chatted while I perused her goods (nothing I needed). On one table lay an odd little hammer with a slender wooden handle. “That’s a jeweler’s hammer,” she said. “We were just talking about that. My friend brought it over to sell but I think I really like it.”

“Here,” I said, carrying it to her. “A gift from me to you.” She thought that was funny. I suppose next year she’ll remember my green car and that I gave her a present, sort of.

The oddest sight of the morning was not at a sale, but behind a house—a bicycle being ridden in the sky. At least that was the illusion. Turned out there was a retaining wall behind this row of houses with a bike path on top, but the landscaping hid the wall until I got closer. For a moment there I was thinking it might be time to head home and lie down quietly for a while.

There were so many sales in this large neighborhood that they all started to look alike, and I wasn’t sure if I'd been down some streets or not. I mentioned this at one place, and the young woman promptly said, “No, you haven’t been here. We’d tell you if you had.”

All those sales, and I spent a total of $2.25! But I like to think I spent wisely:

DVD of The Princess Bride (upgrade from the VHS tape, which will be available at a local thrift store soon!)

A lidded porcelain mug for my office. I'm tired of the oversize purple one I've been using, and the lid should help keep my tea hot.

And a set of fancy tea.

Have you seen these things? Little silk pyramids with a leaf handle, which according to the company’s web site are “individually hand crafted” and “provide the world's finest method to brew a cup of tea.” Fancy that. You can picture me in my office next week taking a little break for a “feast for all the senses, Tea Forte is quite possibly the finest, most elegant cup of tea of all time.” These puppies are normally a couple of bucks per tea bag, excuse me, pyramid. I got the box of six for a buck, which increases my personal enjoyment exponentially!

(Picture from the company website.)

My last thrifty act on Saturday took place not on someone’s driveway but at our vet’s office. Our cats Noll Baxter and Mrs. Wilberforce both need prescription cat food to keep ailments in check. Two different kinds of prescription cat food. (This is one of the reasons I keep my other expenses low via garaging!) Earlier in the week the office called and said their office cat had sneaked into the storeroom and chewed his way into a big bag of the food Mrs. Wilberforce uses. Would we like to have the damaged bag of food? Hmmm, let’s see—pay $44 or get for free…easy decision! We arranged that I would pick it up on Saturday. On Friday my husband noticed that Noll’s food supply was getting low, so he called and ordered a bag. They promised to have both ready for me. The phone rang about ten minutes later. It seems the office cat had once again sneaked into the store room and tackled a bag of food, Noll’s kind. So that bag would be free as well. It was the smaller size this time, but that’s another $22. Definitely the best deal of the day!

I have got to do something nice for their office cat one of these days…

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Back from Oklahoma, back from sitting behind the selling table, and I am filled with sincere gratitude to all the people who have those yard sales I enjoy so much. This past weekend has reminded me of just how much work it is to put on a sale. I'm grateful as well to all the thrift stores across the land that accept donations of what’s left over. If my mother’s sale is any indication, we’d have filled up all the landfills decades ago if we didn’t have the thrift stores filling this ecological niche.

My biggest dollop of gratitude goes to my sister, who did 98% of the work before I got there. What a trooper! And her work’s not done—there’s still a bunch o’ stuff that didn’t sell, and it was all we could do by Saturday evening to turn the lock on the door and stumble to our cars. If anyone had turned up Saturday afternoon with a mask on and a t-shirt that said “I'm a thief” we’d have handed them a box and told them to be sure to check all the rooms.

The sale was scheduled for 8 to 4 on Friday and Saturday, but I confess we made the first sale on Thursday. We stopped at Walmart for colored dots to indicate prices on items, and I walked across the store to find them while my 87 year old mother waited with the greeter. When I returned, Shirley the Walmart lady had heard all about the sale, and in fact hoped to get by to look at the bedroom set. Heck, I said, if you want you can come on over today and take a look. She stopped in during her lunch break, decided she liked the set, handed over a hundred dollar bill, and returned in the evening in her giant red pickup truck with her granddaughter to pick up her purchase. Shirley was a hoot. By the time she left she had an envelope full of dried seeds from the brown-eyed Susans in the front yard, the last two blossoms stuck jauntily into her short, curly white hair that would have been equally at home on a Bedlington terrier.

We used Shirley’s big bill to get change for the sale, and my sis and I arrived at 6 a.m. on Saturday. We’d told mom the night before that she wasn’t coming. Just too hard to see your treasures being sold. Before you get out the violin, let me assure you that her new assisted-living apartment has plenty of knickknacks that she’s been taking over for the past couple of months and she is by no means bereft of stuff to dust! It didn’t take long to find out one of the differences between California sales and Oklahoma sales: in Oklahoma people pay attention when you say ‘no early birds’ in your ad. With the exception of one dealer who was looking for gold and silver (heck, who isn’t?) no one showed up before the stated time on either day.

Once we got rolling it was pretty fun. Lots of characters walking through. I didn’t have time to make many notes (and I have few memory cells left), but the black walnut man does come to mind. He rolled up on a three wheeled bike with the wire basket full of plastic wrapped bundles. Told us he’d been down by the lake picking up black walnuts. We chatted a while about nuts (apparently this is a good year for the black walnuts but an off year for pecans) and ended up trading a couple of partial rolls of duct tape for a bag of walnuts. Now, these are freshly dropped nuts that need to be spread out to dry and then cracked and picked. I couldn’t really see popping them into my suitcase to bring home (besides, there wasn’t room after I dug up a bunch of my mother’s day lilies and packed them back!). After he left my sister broke it to me that she not only has a prolific black walnut tree of her own, but she hates the taste of black walnuts. So I picked up the magic marker and wrote “Fresh picked black walnuts, 50 cents” on the bag. Sorry to report that they did not sell!

A while later a forty-ish couple wandered in. The husband was wearing a Green Eggs & Ham t-shirt. What children’s librarian could resist? “I do not like them, Sam-I-am, I do not like green eggs and ham,” I intoned. The guy grinned. “I would not like them with a fox, I would not like them in a box--”

“She’s a children’s librarian,” my sister interrupted. That seemed to be enough explanation for everyone. Actually, I'm glad she butted in. I was about to the end of what I remember of Green Eggs and Ham!

One of the things we sold was a silly thing from dad’s corner of the garage. A handful of pebbles with faces drawn on them were glued onto a base, with a sign that said “Rock Concert.” Several people chuckled at it, but one young woman was determined that it was the very gift for her father in law. “Oh, come on,” she said to her cute young husband. “He’ll love it.” Hubby looked skeptical. “Now you know you have twenty five cents to spend on your dad,” she insisted. He finally relented, pulled out that quarter, and off they went. Man, I thought I was frugal!

Perhaps my favorite sale was the long peach dress with a lace bodice that my mother made for some dinner event a few years ago. A little girl found it and thought it was the most beauteous thing she’d ever seen. I told her it was fifty cents, and she lit up. She was in fourth grade; I asked her if she’d be wearing this number to the prom, and she grinned and said she would. When she and her mother and sister were finished looking, she paid for her dress with her very own quarters and carried off her prize.

Speaking of prizes…

A couple of folks mentioned to us that there was another estate sale a few blocks away, and I heard someone say something about teapots. My sister and I both like them, so at a slow point on Friday I said to Marilyn, you go on over there and take a look. I had to talk her into it, but off she went. Came back after a while with a cat-and-canary grin. “Look what I found,” she said, and pulled out a fabbo midcentury teapot, then showed me the $1 sticker on the lid.

I was seized with jealousy. “I'll give you two dollars for it,” I offered. No dice. Three? Nope. I suppose since she did work on mom’s sale for about three months that she actually does deserve this spiffy teapot, but dang!

Oh well, the next one’s mine!
Pin It button on image hover