Monday, June 30, 2008

Button, Button…I've Got the Button!

The sound of sobbing floated out from the garage. I paused, not sure if I was really hearing someone crying, if I should quietly leave their yard sale, if there was any help I could offer. The two women in the garage noticed me just then.

“Oh, sorry,” one said, wiping her eyes. “Our mom died four months ago and we’re just having a little breakdown.”

The next thing I knew I was giving them hugs. The second woman waved her hand around and sniffled. “It was just…there was a family here a few minutes ago, and they reminded me of our family…” Her voice trailed off and she sniffed again, then said, “Actually, my sinuses have been acting up and this is making them feel much better.” In another minute we were talking about the movie Steel Magnolias and one of the sister’s business as a custom seamstress. I love the resilience of women.

I keep telling you, you never know what you’ll find while you’re out garaging on Saturday morning.

This scene was in total contrast to an earlier one. That sale was a fundraiser by a women’s organization called the Blue Thong Society, and these ladies were a hoot. The repartee was so fast and snappy that I was desolate not to have a tape recorder on me. When I arrived one of the organizers was looking at some plates someone else had donated. “You ought to give me these. After all I found you your dog and you haven’t even paid me yet. These are cute plates. How much are they?” Another of the group told her they were a dollar, but for her they’d make that ten dollars. And they were off. I was laughing out loud as I rummaged through the tables of donations, spotting a couple of pieces of clothing that looked interesting. By the time I paid up my dollar we were all talking, and I asked about the dog the one had found for the other. (You know me and dogs.)

Turns out it wasn’t a dog. She’d said job. “When you recommend someone who gets hired, you get a bonus when they’ve worked there sixty days.” How much longer is that, I asked the hiree. “Fifteen more days.” I said that ought to be a piece of cake. “Yeah,” said the first one, “especially since we’re closed all next week!”

Apparently the Blue Thong Society is something like the Red Hat ladies, only sassier and there’s no age limit. If they’re all like this group, I'd say you’ll have a good time if you join!

My favorite quote of the day was from a sale where a young man was inspecting a wet suit. From across the driveway came an indignant woman’s voice: “Hey, that better not be my wet suit you’re selling!” No, replied her significant other, you have two. She seemed mollified, but it sure sounded to me like he was selling her wet suit!

I spent $8.25, which got me:
A book I'm looking forward to rereading, and three movies.

At one of these sales, I noticed a book in the pile with labeling that looked familiar. Sure enough, it belonged to the library system I work for, and there were no discard stamps on it. As I paid for the movie I was buying I told them I work for the county library, and that this book belonged there, and I would be returning it. They said they’d never seen that book before, had no idea how it got into their stuff they were selling. Uh huh. Not the first library book I've seen at a yard sale, won’t be the last. I kind of enjoyed being the library cop though.

Two vintage rhinestone pins. One is marked 20 ½ KT GF on the back, with CA and an arrow through it.
(New camera coming this week…pictures will get better…)

A small backpack to replace the one that I spilled salad in at Disneyland the other day. Backpacks do not smell good when they’ve been salad dressinged.

A cute batik jacket for me…

…and a hand-embroidered raw silk robe (these were the Blue Thong buys). The robe looked great on my friend Heather, who was staying with us while she attended the American Library Association convention over the weekend, so it went home with her.

Another vintage embroidered tablecloth. I think the stains will come out with a good oxy soak (that stuff is amazing, it even took red ballpoint ink out of a linen shirt). And if they don’t, I'm out a whole quarter.

A set of eleven antique partially-completed crazy quilt squares.

There’s a whole quilt-history lesson here; it's fascinating to see blocks in progress. The fabrics appear to all be silk. Some have suffered the ravages of time, but most are still in good condition. Crazy quilts flourished from 1876 to about 1910, and these puppies do feel old.

At the same sale I saw a big ziplock baggie full of buttons. They were fifty cents. I snatched them up. I took them home. I dumped them onto the dining room table just to take a little peek. I felt ridiculously happy looking at them. I started sorting them into ordinary buttons and cool buttons. Then I started making piles by color. Then…at some point friend Heather and my husband dragged me away from my buttons so we could have dinner. Two days later they are still on the dining room table, and all I have to do is go in there to feel happy.

Part of me thinks it's absurd to be made so glad by something as insignificant as buttons. But that’s the thing. Buttons may be small, they may be commonplace, they often go unnoticed. But practicality aside (and I'm a person who appreciates the practical), buttons can be tiny works of art. Over and over as I sorted through this stash, I'd pick up a plain button, turn it over—and be amazed at the other side. (I swear every single cool button landed cool-side down.) There are ten black faceted buttons made of glass. When I grouped them I found that there are seven different patterns of faceting among them.

There are fifteen of these terrific brown buttons.

There are buttons on cards that are themselves wonderful, including several from “Starlet Buttons…Styled in Hollywood.”

One little white button that I thought was just a regular shirt button has two perfectly placed parallel lines on the other side, a work of art half an inch wide.

Buttons. If buttons can be so amazing when you turn them over, just think how much lies unseen among all the people you encounter, and what you might discover when you look at the other side.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This Made MY Day!

I am absolutely chuffed. Catherine, whose blog is Catherine’s Vintage Style, has name me one of her winners of the “Five Blogs that Make My Day Award.” Woo hoo! Thanks, Catherine!

Apparently the guidelines are
(1)You must acknowledge five blogs that make your day or inspire you.
(2)You must acknowledge the post of the award giver.
(3)Tell the award winners they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news.

So it's my turn to nominate new winners.

Now, I did have to pause for a moment, because passing along this award felt just a teensy bit like, gulp, a chain letter.

I don’t do chain letters.

I have never done chain letters. I remember vividly the first one I got. I was in 5th grade, and my best friend Chrissy gave me this thing written on lined notebook paper, and I was supposed to copy it a whole bunch o’ times and give it to a whole bunch o’ people. It claimed to have been around the world seventy three times, and if I broke the chain something terrible would happen to me. It felt like a huge weight on my back, a ton of guilt inexplicably given to me by my very best friend. I didn’t want anything bad to happen. But I didn’t copy it and pass it along. I felt an utter failure. I wish I'd had the brains and the confidence to tell Chrissy not ever to do anything like that to me again. But to this day I've never sent a chain letter, and that includes the humorous emails that we’re all supposed to pass along to everyone in our address book.

But—here’s the crucial difference—chain letters make me feel bad. Being told I’ve made somebody’s day made me feel absolutely wonderful (more thanks, Catherine!). And that is something I'm glad to pass along.

So here are five blogs I enjoy. One is written by someone I know, another by someone in my profession, and the others I've found while tootling around the Internet. Thanks to all five of you!

The Feel-Good Librarian seems to be taking a vacation from her blog, but I love her take on “why we do this.” After all, librarians are all about the backlist, right?

The work shown on 365 Masks is fascinating. You never know what kind of mask she’ll make next!

Gemini Moon is a great place to find something nifty to read. Kids’ books are not just for kids!

Dawn Luckham makes historic costumes—absolute beauties. She doesn’t post often, but each entry is a treasure. Don’t miss what she did with a “boring tailored jacket.” And she has a very cute dog!

And Vintage, Pretty & Shabby takes scrounged and thrifted items and gives them new life, just as she does with the chickens she rescues.

So my thanks to the five of you for giving me the pleasure of reading and seeing your work. Feel free to pass along the award if you like, but not to worry if you don’t. Just keep blogging and making my day!

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Pleasure Doubled

I go online every Saturday morning to check for garage sale listings in the local paper, the Penny Saver, and on Craigslist. Then I spend a few minutes doing a week’s worth of cryptoquotes from the “Life” section of the paper. The Life section includes games & puzzles, pets, home & garden, health & fitness, horoscopes…you know, life. The stuff they used to call the women’s section before guys wised up and realized all the interesting stuff was here. When solved, the quote for Saturday turned out to be “Whatever we possess becomes of double value when we have the opportunity to share it with others.”

So there it is—the rationale for my blog! It’s fun to go out and find cool stuff, and even more fun to share it with someone. So thanks for coming along and letting me share with you.

Besides the cryptoquotes, I have a couple of other rituals. I pick up an egg and cheese croissant at a nearby donut shop, run by a couple of ladies who appear to know every customer and what each of us wants. As soon as I walk in the door one of them scurries to the back to make my “number eight.” And they give me my change in singles, so I have small bills to facilitate bargaining. I got a chance this Saturday to send them some new customers when I heard someone at the first sale asking if anyone knew a place to get donuts. Hope they bought lots!

My other regular stop is to buy gas (ouch) at the one station in the area that is consistently less expensive than anywhere else. Lately it's about twenty cents a gallon lower so I'm shelling out maybe a dollar less than I would at another station. But hey, a dollar can get you a bunch of stuff on Saturday morning! There was a gray haired gentleman getting gas at the next pump who said ruefully in a Ukrainian accent, “We work all week, then leave it all here on Saturday.”

At one of early sales, a young man was pumping up a twin-size air bed to show a shopper that it worked. She paid him a dollar for it, threw it in the back of her pickup, and drove away. The seller was ecstatic. “See,” he said to his companion. “A whole dollar!” She looked over at me and said, “I told him not to bother putting it in the sale, that no one would ever buy it. You just never know, do you?”

I'll also never know why the couple I passed with a pair of lovely, full-grown Australian shepherds had one of them in a baby carriage that the husband was pushing. The dog looked quite pleased to be getting a free ride. Wonder if the two dogs take turns being pushed.

As I drove to work this morning, I listened to the Country Fiddling CD from last week. Track 5 was amazing—bluegrass combined with electronic noises, as though the band had added laser guns. Perhaps they have rowdy fans from other planets? It reminded me of the Ozark Trilogy sci-fi novels by Suzette Haden Elgin. Highly recommended when you need novels that feature flying mules.

It was a slow Saturday, shopping wise, too hot for many people to be out either buying or selling. I did manage to spend $7.25:

My first stop netted a couple of freebies,

a little brush Christmas tree and a compact retractable measuring tape, small enough to be part of my garaging equipment. It's from an RV park in Corona. I keep picturing the RV owners carefully measuring to make sure their oversize vehicles will fit into the available space.

At the next stop I spent $1.25 on one wool and two alpaca sweaters for felting. Interestingly, the alpaca sweaters took the treatment completely differently. The one from Peru barely changed texture at all, and the one from Nordstrom became thick, fabulous felt. Now I have to figure out how to use all this felt I've got. I love my felt slippers and will make more, but I need to branch out. Some of this stuff is so sturdy I figure I could sew it together into a yurt cover and be warm and dry inside.
And I may be poor enough after I retire in a few years to need to live in a yurt. You know, this could work out.

Got the Collector’s Edition of the original King Kong. Unfortunately the button you push to hear Kong growl barely emits a purr any more. Guess you have to pay more than fifty cents for a good growl.

We have a set of six brand new placemats and napkins. The red plaid is not my husband’s fave, but they’re clean and sturdy. And, from the price still on the placemats, I saved about $73 on the set over buying them at the store.

Found a box of small spools of thread in a number of colors I don’t have. I hate buying notions at a fabric store, they’re so hideously expensive. Also in the box was a lifetime supply of sewing machine needles, several bobbins that fit my old Singer 201, and some vintage buttons. I've chucked the ugly plastic box, exactly like the one we kept thread in for about thirty years, and decanted the spools into a box I thrifted last summer.

This bowl made my heart go pitty pat. It's made of glass, absolutely gorgeous. Wish my photography skills were up to showing you the details.

My favorite quote this week came from a couple of women having a sale. One held a framed photo in her hand. From the colors and amount of fading it probably dated from the late forties, early fifties. “I should keep this and hang it in my garage,” she commented. As I was wondering about the honor of being hung in a garage, her friend said enthusiastically, “Oh, you should! It's an antique. It's older than you!”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In which I find out I have a following

I picked up this ridiculous pillow, then put it down. I don't do decorative pillows. Picked it up again. Hmmm, silk, hand stitching, in perfect condition. Mere rationalizing. You can't rationalize passion. Okay, it's passion for a ridiculous pillow, but still passion.

How much? I asked. Fifty cents.


The morning started nicely. I greeted the woman and her 10-year-old son and asked if they were having fun yet (a line generally appreciated by people who have been up since dawn arranging belongings on their driveway). “Sure, now that you’re here. You’re our first customer!”

I'm easy. I was flattered. Bought a summer reading prize (there goes another fifty cents). While I was looking around the woman told her husband he needed to get the bike out there. He raised the garage door and the bike fell out onto the drive.

“That’s one way to get the bike out,” I ventured. The chuckled.

Lovely people.

It was an auspicious start—a good fifty cent buy and friendly folks at the first stop, but I had scant luck this Saturday. Just as well, since I spent so profligately last week. ;o) And even though the pickings were slim, it's the thrill of the chase that matters, that sense of adventure when you start down the road and don’t know what you’ll see. Did you ever read the books about Freddy the Pig by Walter R. Brooks? (If not, please do!) Among many other accomplishments, Freddy is a poet, and I sometimes think of one of his marching songs when I start out on Saturday morning:

Oh, the sailor may sing of his tall, swift ships
Of sailing the deep blue sea,
But the long, white road where adventures wait
Is the better life for me…

My adventures admittedly are mild, as perhaps behooves a middle aged librarian, but they’re mine. And even on a morning where you find nothing you want to take home you may see something you’ve never seen before. This time it was—a bounce house. Yes friends, I could have owned my very own bounce house. Imagine how popular that would have made me with the neighborhood children! Alas, even deflated it would not have fit in my car, so reluctantly (okay, not very) I left it there for someone else.

I spent three dollars this Saturday and brought home:

Two prizes for the staff summer reading program—a cute cache pot, and a white corian terrier cutting board. Evidently it was a souvenir of someone’s trip to Palm Springs, for it has the maker’s name and address on the back.

One more bug-related prize for a children’s librarian, a wooden butterfly puzzle thingie. I think the daylily looks scared, don’t you?

Proof that we have eclectic musical tastes at our house…a music video by Dead Can Dance, Natalie Cole singing standards, and a CD of fiddle tunes.

And the pillow. I simply could not leave it there. I needed it. Perhaps all our searching and buying is simply a way to reveal us to ourselves, to know ourselves better. When I look at this silly Halloween cat, I'm pulled in by the wide, terrified eyes and the grin almost big enough to hide the fear behind. But now he’s with others of his kind, and can relax.

If you go garaging in the same area long enough, you start to recognize the other regulars. If you drive a green convertible, they also recognize you. I was waiting at a red light around the corner from a phantom sale (you know the ones—there’s a sign on the corner, you drive down the street, and there’s no sale…harrumph!) when a car pulled up beside me and honked. I rolled down my window. Two ladies in the car that I've seen at other sales.

“Where were you going?” they asked. I said the signs had lied on that last street. “Well heck,” they said, “we were following you!”

Monday, June 9, 2008


“Richard, come help me with this,” said the woman arranging items to sell on her driveway. I smiled in her direction as I browsed. After a moment she said again, “Richard, give me a hand here!” Then she looked up at me and began to laugh. “I'm sorry, I thought you were my nephew.”

Which was a first; don’t think I've ever been mistaken for a nephew before.

The first Saturday in June is an intense garaging day. The town I live in allows sales on only four weekends a year, and June is your best bet weather-wise compared to March, September, and December. Of course the other towns around, which are all crowded shoulder to shoulder in the 948 square miles of the OC, apparently have no such rules, but this is the prime garaging season. I only got to two neighborhoods, and there were several more tract-wide sales I missed. If any of you garagers/thrifters/junkers are ever planning a visit to this area, this is the time to come. Send the rest of the family off to Disneyland and tell them you’ll join them later. Maybe I should start a new business, leading tours of garage sales for out of towners. If you do come this time of year, you’ll get to see the jacaranda trees blooming, each with their lacy shadow of fallen purple blooms at their feet.

I got in a hurry trying to get to as many sales as possible, so some of the notes I scribbled as I went are completely incomprehensible now. One of them says something like “1st good tree except for those brothers.” Your guess is as good as mine. Another might be “good climbing” or “good dinking.” I do recognize the note about the d├ęcor in front of one place I stopped. All the garden beds where most people would plant flowers were covered with white gravel and planted with a huge collection of plastics trucks, cars, firetrucks etc. It sounds like it would be tacky but there was such variety and exuberance, it was so colorful, that it came across as naively charming. Certainly the little boys arriving with their parents for the garage sale were charmed!

At another sale I saw wheels of another sort. A little girl about three years old had brand new pink plastic roller skates, and her mother was bent over, supporting her on her maiden voyage down the sidewalk. “You’re going to have a lot of fun with those,” I assured her, remembering my own roller skating days. Her mom smiled at me ruefully. “And my back is going to pay for this.”

The prize for the most California attitude goes to the dad I was chatting with about decluttering. He said how much he was looking forward to parking inside the garage. I noted it was carpeted and opined he might not want to park on that. “That’s okay,” he said. “Cars are part of the family too.”

I spent—gulp!—a whopping $14.50 on Saturday on:
Some door prizes for children’s librarians…a string of fun lights and a pair of board books

Prizes for the summer reading program I run for staff..a couple of these bookmarks that you can insert a photo into. A picture of your favorite author? Yourself to identify the bookmark as yours? Your cat?

Two lovely purple pillar candles

A handmade throw pillow cover from Hawaii

For myself I picked up a red visor (tennis visors are perfect to wear in a convertible, shading your eyes without giving you hat-hair)

A string of glass and turquoise beads (they need a new clasp, but for fifty cents I figured I could work something out) and a couple pairs of dangly earrings

A fun wire basket, looks pretty old. The ribbon has got to go! Should I line it with vintage fabric and use it in my office, or moss and plant something in it?

A trio of picture frames

A couple of items for my office at work…this pretty cache pot for a plant and a Maisy pull toy for the children’s literature toy collection

A pair of boots to sell. Got fooled on these—they’re in a Tony Lama box, but the boots turned out to be Justins instead. My bad for not looking more closely, but I'm only out a buck, so if they don’t sell they’ll be off to the thrift store.

And the piece de resistance,

a vintage Saks Fifth Avenue bag, navy leather with Lucite handle and clasp. It's absolutely delicious. I think the Coach bag I've been using needs to take a little vacation.

And speaking of little vacations…I had an email from my sister the other day. She and her husband were going to celebrate their anniversary this past weekend by going to Kansas City (they live near Tulsa). Partly, she said, to do a little gambling on the riverboat, but mostly because it was KC’s city-wide garage sale weekend.

This garaging thing must be genetic!

Monday, June 2, 2008


We’re back from our jaunt to Oregon, where we plan to live after I retire in a few years. Yes, I went garaging! It's been a long, long time since I did any garaging in a small town, and it made me realize how smug I had become about it. I suppose that with anything plentiful you begin to take it for granted, to feel entitled to it, and you forget that there are others who don’t have the same access to it. Gasoline. Food. Water. Jobs.

Garage sales.

I found three sales in the southern Oregon town where we spent the weekend with friends. Three. (There may have been others, but I didn’t find them, and no longer know the place well enough to drive around looking. I'm notorious for getting lost.) I've never counted the number of sales I hit in a morning in Orange County, but I went to three in the first ten minutes I was out. So I am trying to remember to hold a feeling of thankfulness for the abundance I have in my life. Garage sales are as good a symbol of that abundance as anything. I have enough to eat, I have a wonderful job that pays the bills and is fun to boot, I turn on a tap and water flows. And I can go out just about any Saturday in the year and find stuff I love on people’s driveways.

The first of the Oregon sales didn’t have anything I wanted, and the lady having it was grumpy to boot. At the second sale I picked up a CD of French horn music, and a DVD of the first season of My Name is Earl. Jason Lee is a stitch, and our friends had not seen the show, so we watched a couple of episodes. They were hooked. We left the DVD with them, telling them to watch it all and then send it on down to us. However, it's going to be making a detour to Alaska first so their son can watch too. That’s a lot of laughs out of a two buck purchase!

At the last sale they were still setting up when I arrived. People were lined up at the end of the drive, waiting. You see this with estate sales sometimes, but rarely with a regular garage sale. But I was in no hurry, so I attached myself to the group. Turns out there were garage-sale factions. The group I was standing nearest was muttering about the others at the far side of the drive, telling me that ‘those people’ were absolutely ruthless and not to get in their way or they’d probably knock me down. I suppose with only three sales in town people might get desperate for deals! But when the sellers said they were ready, there was no mayhem at all; in fact it was a tad anticlimactic. I was hoping for at least some jostling, if not a fistfight or two. We all just started looking at the merchandise and making our selections
. I picked up a pair of Fiskars scissors (I keep scissors in almost every room in the house, and recently lost a pair somewhere in the yard). Passed up a baggie full of vintage thread on wooden spools, and the lady who got them was thrilled with her find. I did grab the little card with a sweet little holder for the two tiny handmade candles, and a pin with a couple of cats who remind me of our two (Noll Baxter and Mrs. Wilberforce).

Mrs. W Noll

We got home from Oregon this past Friday night, so Saturday I was out on the trail. It was a good day—not too hot, friendly people, good finds. I spent $7.75 and came home with:

A hand-knit ribbon shawl, just right for when you need a little something around your shoulders. It was twenty five cents. “I just got a divorce,” the lady said, “and this was made by my mother in law.” Nuff said.

A wonderful vintage Carole Little dress. How I wish this fit me! But it's destined for resale. There are a couple of tiny holes in the shoulders, but I think a little black thread will fix that right up.

Three very nice men’s sweaters. When I walked up there were three ladies chatting, and one of them told me that they had decided to call it a day, so if there was anything I wanted to just take it. I picked out one of the sweaters and she said, “That’s my husband’s favorite.” This struck me as a little odd. “Are you mad at him?” I asked. She laughed and said no, he was just ready to clean out his closet of stuff he wasn’t wearing any more. I told her about the trick I read somewhere: hang all your clothes hangers backwards in the closet, and when you wear an item you turn the hanger around. In a few weeks you can tell exactly what you really wear and what you can let go of. She loved it—turns out she’s an image consultant, and one of the things she does is work with clients on their wardrobes. So she said the information was a fair trade for the sweaters.

There was a neighborhood sale at another of the townhome developments, but this one was claustrophobically crowded. The first guy I talked to didn’t have anything I wanted, but we chatted about the two Boston terriers at his screen door. He’d adopted one of them only a month ago from an ad on Craigslist. Apparently the poor thing had been abused; he said it’s afraid of women, and if a woman’s voice on TV gets too loud it goes ballistic. But he seemed determined to hang in and give the pup a good forever home. I love dog rescuers.

The only thing I bought in this neighborhood was this Harley sign.

My brother in law is going to get sick of all this Harley stuff I keep finding. I offered the seller less than he was asking and said I'd give it a good home (a line that rarely fails me). He agreed, then said, “I just wish I'd find a good home for all those Barbie heads.” Okay, maybe he said dolls or clothes, but it sure sounded like heads to me!

Then I moved into the vintage part of the morning. First there was a sale where I picked up a pair of little crocheted hats. From their size I think they must have been intended for dolls, though one of the ladies running the sale said she thought they were for babies. “Babies’ heads used to be smaller,” she assured me. Well, maybe.

I was heading home when I stopped at one more sale and hit the motherlode. I wish I could have spent more time looking, but they were starting to close down, moving boxes into the garage around me as I perused. Still, I managed to come away with these vintage handmade linens (at twenty-five cents each!):

Silk-lined cross stitch mat

Heavy linen cloth with redwork

Cross stitch cloth makes a great Cuisinart cover

Hand stitched wall hanging, about 4 feet long

Small cloth with amazingly tiny cross stitch, and funky vintage cotton for the backing

A lovely old runner

The cloth is frayed, but the ends are beautiful, and I couldn’t leave it there for some ignorant person to trash. Someone gave hours of her life to create this. It deserves some love!

The embroidered nasturtiums on this piece are incredible!

A couple of fabulous jackets to sell

The flowers on the fabric appear to be hand embroidered, and catch that sleeve detail!

The borders on this jacket are mirrors!

A Noritake cup and saucer

And this great little plate from the Twenties or Thirties. English china with a design that includes two auks and some Japanese-influenced flowers.

After a morning like that, you just have to go home and feel grateful!

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