Sunday, February 24, 2019

Surviving February

One of the things I love about Oregon is our four-season climate. Even winter. Though the days are short, we have relatively little severe weather, and there is still a lot of green in the landscape. Yes, we have a lot of rain in the Willamette Valley, but even rainy days often have a break in the clouds at the end of the day when we get to see some rays of the setting sun. This has been a fairly open winter with lots of sunny days. So I'm okay with winter…until February.

Some years it's early in the month, sometimes late, I get to a point where I've had enough. Suddenly I really need Spring. I need trees to bud, and daffodils and tulips and irises to bloom. And I need garage sales! The pickings get awfully slim this time of year – the occasional estate sale, a desperate moving sale or two. This past weekend I just stayed home; nothing in the two or three ads on Craigslist tempted me in the slightest. If I could I would run away to some warm climate for the rest of the month.

I decided to look over my garaging spreadsheet to see if February is always so dismal on the thrifting front. Good heavens – I brought home 52 items last February! There were several memorable estate sales, and I found sewing stuff and linens (including the set of French napkins, one of which I mended last week), and my fortune telling sticks that I thought were fancy fireplace matches. 

And be still my heart. Two years ago in February was that amazing estate sale that I went to about 4 times and bought cashmere, cashmere, cashmere (among much else) that I wear every day all winter. I own cashmere ponchos. I have a pair of black cashmere slacks. I wear cashmere sweaters when I garden; I sleep in cashmere. Clothing was priced at $1 each the first weekend, and half price the next. All told I spent $158 garaging in February 2017 – and my estimate of the retail value was over $10,000!

I'm starting to see why this year seems particularly dismal, even though I know that was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For fun, I went to the oldest page on my spreadsheet: 2005. Yes, I've kept a record of all the things I've thrifted since 2005! I find it fascinating to see all the things that have come into my life in those years, and how many of them left again. Of course my life has changed considerably in that time, but I found two items that I still have and enjoy.

One is this metal bird silhouette, which currently resides on the chalkboard I use for my grocery list. 

It was originally attached to a hideously ugly pink picture frame. I paid fifty cents for it and removed it from the frame, which I happily tossed. I still love it. The second item was this reproduction Frank Lloyd Wright frame that was the perfect size for a tiny piece of art a friend had given me. 

This set me back a whopping thirty cents! I think it's interesting that I chide myself at times for buying décor, but the only two items that I've cherished since this time of year, fourteen years ago, are just that. 

Go figure. 

Long live art.

We’re nearly through another February, and I'm certainly looking forward to longer, warmer days ahead. But a month that can bring art that you keep forever, and so much cashmere you can use it for pajamas, can't be all bad!

Monday, February 11, 2019

This is Why We Are Thrifty

I've long been aware that one of the best reasons to shop on driveways is to save money. I mean actually save it, as in put it in a savings account and watch it earn interest and grow. So that when those big ticket items come along we can handle them without fear or (horrors!) debt. Not that debt doesn’t have its place, but earning interest just feels SO much better than paying it.

One of the biggies is buying a car. Not in the same category as house buying but adrenaline-producing enough. My beloved green convertible was purchased almost 17 years ago, so it's been a very long time since I participated in this sport, but the time had come. I tried, but just couldn’t make a sport car work for hauling a couple of dogs every day. So for several months, waiting for the divorce to be final, I've been monitoring car ads in our local Craigslist and figuring out what I wanted to buy – and how much it would cost.

It's the first time I've bought a car all by myself. There’s an old saying, I believe from WWII, that “time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted.” It certainly felt true in this case; by the time I was ready to test drive I was familiar with prices and pros and cons of various makes. I ended up test driving only two cars, and would have been happy with either, and I discovered a car-buying option that worked well for me – the used rental car. No salesmen! The downside was I could only see one car a day; you book a test drive, and if you decide you want that car you make all the arrangements over the phone.

The place was in Portland, so my lovely assistant was my SIL Linda, who knows the city like the back of her hand. While we were out in the first car, she told me the story of how she and her friends as teenagers would blindfold one of the group, drive around to some unfamiliar spot, then take off the blindfold – and that person had to find their way home! She could hire herself out taking people on test drives. We found hills, curves, freeways; she even knows where the worst railroad crossings are to test the suspension.

So this is what I bought: a 2017 Nissan Rogue. Yes, I have joined the ranks of SUV drivers, and I love it.

Personally, I think she looks like something a soccer mom in a mafia clan would drive, being shiny and black, but she’s perfect for an old lady. And I have a shiny black dog and cat as well, guess it's my look. 

I have a tendency to name everything (I'll tell you all about Adelaide, my left knee one of these days), and what popped into my head for my new car is Nelly. Which I quickly realized was harking back to an icon of my early childhood – the jeep Nellybelle on the old Roy Rogers TV show. So now me and Zoë and Fannie and Millie can drive around in Nelly; guess we’ll all need to squeal “Eeeeeee!!!” from time to time, just because that’s who we are.

One major expenditure should last me for quite a while; I've already returned to frugality with more mending. I believe I've mentioned before that Zoë has a thing for cloth napkins; ripping them up is one of her favorite activities. Though maybe she just feels the need for a new outfit from time to time.

She had her way with one of my favorite napkins the other day, hand block-printed cotton from France (I even have the matching tablecloth). 

Spent an enjoyable twenty minutes or so patching it. It's funny, but my patched napkins are the ones I reach for first.

I also mended – make that re-mended – the slipcover on this chair. The fabric around an earlier patching had worn through, so I patched the patch. I was going to take a picture of the work, but there was Zoë ensconced upon her favorite chair, and I wasn’t going to disturb her.

After all, that might have inspired her to go looking for another napkin to ravish!

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Year of Mend

Do you participate in this business of selecting a personal word for the year, as a focus? It seems to be the offspring of making New Year’s resolutions, which never resonated with me. But a word is something I can get behind. Several friends and I chose ‘mindful’ last year; it was nice to have folks to check in with from time to time. This year we all seem to have found an individual word to focus on. One friend selected ‘purge’; another is seeking that Danish concept ‘hygge’.

My word is ‘mend.’

When I came across it on a quilt artist’s blog (it was her word a couple of years ago) I knew immediately this was my focus. After last year and all the changes it brought, mending feels like exactly what I need, both for myself and plenty of objects in my life. 

I started thinking about the difference between mending and healing; healing feels like something that just happens (if you’re lucky), but mending is something that you do. You take something into your hands – a hand knit sock with a hole, a fifty-cent music box that no longer plays, your heart – and you make it better. It's an act of will rather than patience.

I want to mend.

For fun, and to keep the word in front of me, I made a little banner and hung it in my studio.

A month into the new year, and I've already had plenty of opportunity to practice my word! The socks with holes are getting darned, my bare yard is getting planted with a backbone of substantial shrubs. My arthritic knee is undergoing a series of injections to see if we can postpone replacement surgery for a year or two. I'm interested to see just where this word takes me. I've also decided to keep an eye out for examples of my word, and by golly they are out there. I was at the humane society thrift store the other day and noticed this long vintage nightie, probably homemade. 

It must have been a beloved piece, because one underarm has been patched with a gusset and then also finished by hand on the inside.

There was little in the way of garaging this weekend; on Friday the one sale I found yielded only a stack of magazines (Bon Appetit, Better Home  & Gardens) from the free box. On Saturday I went by an estate sale that had started on Thursday; I was going to skip it but someone told me there was sewing stuff there. I was bemused to find this among the varied collection of yarn.

Prices were by my standards quite high, but as the lady running the sale said to me when we chatted, her job is to make the most she can for the client, who in this case is in a nursing home. I can respect that…but it appeared that she would have quite a bit unsold at the end. It must be difficult sometimes to decide how to price things.

I ended up spending ten bucks, which included a bag of assorted yarn, 

about half a yard of lovely cotton fabric, 

and a small zippered purse for my garaging cash. 

I plucked this cut-paper mermaid off a wall, liking the color and slight iridescence; 

turns out it was a Hallmark card but I still like her. I've hung her up in my bathroom.

I was about to pay up and leave when I spotted a framed piece I liked. I may have mentioned that I now live by a creek, which is frequented by Canadian geese. One of my favorite memories of this house will always be the spring day a pair of geese brought their babies by for us to see.  Papa Goose swam protectively around Mama and the babies as they foraged a few feet away. (And I cannot share the picture with you because it's among all the pictures I lost with my faulty hard drive.)

So I brought home these handsome geese, 

and as I came into the house juggling several things I dropped the bag holding my finds. It made a really loud crash on the floor, and sure enough, the glass was broken. Dang it.

But…easy to mend! The size turned out to be a standard 8 x 10”, so I scooted down to the thrift store this afternoon and checked the aisle of donated art and frames. Sure enough there was a never-used frame the right size marked $2 on a tag that was the half price color, so I got my replacement glass for a buck. (The frame itself will be re-donated.) Even better, I managed to change out the glass without injuring myself on the broken glass.

See, mending is way better than healing!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Old Year and the New

If you read novels, maybe you too have noticed this in recent years: seems like the description for just about every book includes the phrase “it changed her/his/its life forever.” Completing the unfinished sweater mom left behind, exposing a long-held secret, marrying Genghis Khan, traveling through the jungle on the back of an anaconda …you name it, your life is changed forever. Am I the only who thinks, well duh, of course it does. Every time we turn right instead of left, we change our life (who knows what was around that other corner?).

But yes, sometimes your life does change forever, and 2018 brought a wagonful of changes for me. Divorce, selling the house, moving to a much smaller house – sometimes it seemed as though my head was spinning. Through it all, thrifting remained a soothing constant, something I could count on most weeks for frugal fun. The other constant is the dog park every morning, rain or shine – an hour there and I have dogs that sleep through the day, no park and they are fidgety as jumping beans. Just like me when I don’t get to go garaging on the weekend!

Another through line has been continuing to maintain my garaging spreadsheet; I still love recording what I find, what I paid, its probable retail cost. And I'm extra glad to be able to share the year’s statistics, because one of the ‘changed my life forever’ things that happened recently was having my computer’s external hard drive die. And with it probably 85% of my files from the past umpty years. I hang my head in shame to admit I was careless about saving everything in more than one place, so I really can only blame myself (and also the hard drive, but it doesn’t care if I'm mad at it). Some pieces of writing I treasured, years of pictures – well, you know what you have in your files. But life goes on. I've decided that the drive was burned up in a fire or fell off the back of my Conestoga wagons as I crossed the prairies. As Judy so wisely put it, nobody died. I have a new life now, and my computer life is starting fresh too.

But – hooray! – I do still have my personal journals for the past 20+ years, and my garaging spreadsheet remains. So here is how the past year shaped up as far as garaging went.

First category is Accessories: bought 28 for about $37, retail would have been about $515.

Clothes: 45 for $42; retail would have been about $2500. Now you know why everything in my closet was bought secondhand!

Crafting/makery supplies: 72 items for $59; value about $900.

Décor: 45 items for $152; value about $2365. (45 pieces of décor…sheesh! But most pieces are small as in ornaments, and there was all the original art I've so enjoyed.)

Entertainment: bought 52 for $110, value of $1200. Mostly DVDs, books, CDs; the big splurge was my bike – but $60 for a $500 bike is a pretty thrifty splurge.

Furniture: only 4 pieces for $128, value around $700. The mattress & springs for $100 was spendy for me, but a great deal. And man, is that one comfy bed. 

Possibly the deal of the year was in this category – the dining table purchased for one buck from the Goodwill bins.

Gifts: 16 for $12, value about $220. Most satisfying were the things I found for my friend Jeff, including that vintage Mickey Mouse backscratcher!

Household: had to be a biggie what with moving! Bought 65 pieces for just under $170, with a value of about $3500. This category included the vintage Gaetano Sciolari brass chandelier that was free and is worth about $1800, as well as the vintage fixture I put in my new bathroom. The category also includes all kinds of practical stuff, a package of nails, sheets and towels, clothespins, a spare toothbrush…

Kitchen: 62 in this category for $105, value about $835. Although we had doubles of many items to divide, inevitably there were gaps in my kitchen equipment. A set of dishes here, a pan there, the perfect paring knife, some lovely vintage linen dish towels. (I confess I had no idea there were 62 though!)

Pets: only 7 items for them, for $6.10, value $145.

Garden: 29 items for $105, value $905. This is going to continue to be an important category, since my new place has a double lot that is…in need of complete landscaping. So far I focus more on the beautiful creek that runs about 10 feet from the back of my house rather that all that needs doing in the yard! (Have I mentioned that along with ducks and geese and a kingfisher and a zillion squirrels that there is an otter living outside my back door?)

If you’ve read my annual roundup before, you know that there’s one more category on my spreadsheet: Donations. Sometimes I bring things home and then change my mind (hangs head in chagrin), and I always vow to do better, and it's always an uphill battle. But this year, because of the extreme downsizing necessary when your accommodations shrink by two-thirds, I had to let go of a lot of stuff. Some from this year, most from previous. We held two moving sales, one at the old house and one here after the dust settled and I saw what I could actually live with instead of what I hoped would fit. Some of the decision-making was rather hard; I parted with things I still loved (remember the Steiff animals from last year?). 

But it was satisfying that everything seemed to go to the right person, so they are still loved, and honestly I can't think of anything I actually miss.

So – donations: spent $120 on the 98 items I did not keep. I'm sure a new record! But a good wake up call. My income and my space have both been drastically reduced, and I've been thinking about how I can keep enjoying thrifting without making foolish buys. 

Being more mindful must be part of it, and I've also decided to put a certain amount of cash into a special billfold that’s just for garaging. What’s there now is for the first four months of the year. If any is left, I’ll add it to the next four months’ worth, and so on. We’ll see how it works!

The bottom line? Spent $931 for the year, with a retail value of about $13,820. Even with all those donations, you can't complain about my return on investment!

And so we head into a new garaging year, which so far has been about what you would expect in the middle of winter! KK and I went to the bins the other day, where I spent four bucks on a cashmere sweater and one of these Copco 3-tier pantry organizers. It inspired me to purge and straighten my pantry – big improvement!

And we found one estate sale, where I bought a couple of pretty linen dish towels. (Okay, they ARE a weakness!) 

When I got home I realized they had not been hemmed, 

but that was an easy job, and I got to play with some of the fancy stitches on my sewing machine. 

Probably no one will ever notice the stars, but I know they’re there.

Friday, December 28, 2018

One More

Hooray! One last sale to go to in 2018!

Okay, it wasn’t actually much of an estate sale. I overheard one of the family running it tell someone it was the fourth sale they had held, which explained the largely empty rooms. I offered them three bucks for the three items I found which they took so fast I wished I had offered two!

I started upstairs, where I had to use the flashlight on my phone to get around. There must not have been a light bulb stronger than 20 watts anywhere in the house. My first find was just a whim.

I love the design of the embroidered patch, and for something with a date of 1954 it looks brand new. Half the fun of bringing stuff like this home is what you find out afterwards. Camp Pioneer, a Boy Scout camp about 2½ hours east of Salem, was founded in 1936 – and it's still there!

At first I thought this was a triangular head scarf, but now I realize it must have been a neckerchief.

There were any number of wool scarves in the various rooms; I think at least some of them were Pendletons, though none had a label. I resisted all (my scarf collection has gotten prodigious) until I came across this lined wool stole. 

It's about 7 feet long and possibly homemade; the side seams are machine sewn but both ends are hand stitched. I think what really got me to bring it home is the hand-knotted fringe. I'm always a sucker for a good detail.

Back downstairs, I came across what I assumed is a twin-size bedspread. I fell hard for the fabric.

When I tried it on a twin bed at home, I saw it's really an odd size. Very long, but not wide enough to hang over the sides very far. But in perfect condition. Maybe I'll drape it over the sofa or something. Or just hang it on a wall as art. And both sides are nice!

I met up with my buddy Judy while I was there, and we went out for a bit of breakfast afterward. We had a good chat (haven’t seen each other for a few weeks, those pesky holidays got in the way) and as we headed to our cars she remarked that it had made her feel so much better to have a sale to go to. We had to laugh at ourselves, because it's so true. We really don’t care if we find anything to buy (though it's great when we do). It's that lovely anticipation when you start out, having no idea what the day will bring.

I am wondering why I don’t bring that same anticipation to every day. After all, we never know what will come down the pike on any given day. We think we know, and of course lots of days go as expected. But certainly not all.

Ah, but here’s the difference. Going to all these sales rarely includes anything really negative. About the worst that happens is you encounter someone who is rude or unpleasant, or you buy something you regret. But you’re unlikely to have to deal with that unpleasant person ever again, and you probably spent so little on that unneeded item that your regret is minimal. And the good encounters and fabulous deals far outweigh the bad.

So maybe I should bring that attitude more into everyday life – view the unpleasant parts as not very important, and focus on the good parts. A good plan for a new year.

Or – maybe I should go thrifting every day?

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