Sunday, November 30, 2008


In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, the universe arranged to give me everything I'm most grateful for on a Saturday morning: unusual, thrifty finds and good stories. And there was no messing around—it started at the very first sale.

There was a lot of stuff on multiple tables on the driveway, more strewn down the sidewalk on tables and garment racks. The first thing I spotted was a plastic bag with an odd metal object in a basket of craft items. Luckily the original packaging was in the bag or I would never have known what it was:

A mat cutter, for picture frame matting. Woo hoo! And only a buck! If you’ve had anything framed recently you know how obscenely expensive it can be. We have a framed textile I bought last year (a whole saga in itself, which I will save for a later entry) that needed to be rematted, and just for the mat they quoted us a price of $50 at Michaels. Sometimes it makes sense to spend more fixing something up than you paid for it, but not fifty bucks for a piece of cardboard with a hole cut in it. So now we’ll be able to cut our own holes, and my new dream is to come across a yard sale with sheets and sheets of mat board for next to nothing. Hey, it could happen.

I met a couple of other Saturday morning regulars there, one after the other. The second, a lovely lady named Linda, endeared herself to me by saying how much she enjoys my blog. (Thank you, Linda, you really did make my day!) She’s part of an award winning singing group (you can listen to some snippets of their music here) and teaches music, which is no doubt why, when she saw this cool wrap I bought she said it looks like music notes.

I never would have thought of that! And it was Linda who spotted something colorful on top of the garment rack. She grabbed the purple objects and we began to giggle. One of the ladies having the sale came over to giggle with us. I assured her I wasn’t going to buy them, but had to get a picture, and since she had a matching purple thing on her head, she had to be in the picture too.

She said these are the perfect shoes for walking your dog. I said my husband is the dog walker in our house, and she said send him on over so he could try them on. And truth be told, he does actually wear high top basketball shoes and could probably negotiate these spikes better than I could! These had been great conversation starters all during their 2-day sale but she figured she’d actually keep them. Ooooh, I know, plant something in them, I said. Linda jumped in and showed her how to open the laces a bit and turn down a cuff. We all liked this idea, and I said if it were me I'd plant a single stipa tenuissima, one of my favorite grasses.

Then Linda spotted a little purse printed with Dorothy and company from the Wizard of Oz. The seller began to laugh anew. “I had a brain injury,” she said, “and my boss gave me that. He used to sing ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ too.” This was all the cue we needed. Linda and I launched into, “I would not be just a nuffin’, my head all full of stuffin’…” and by the end of the verse several people joined in. Then our purple lady showed us her necklace. “This is my Brain on a Chain,” she said, and sure enough she was wearing a sterling silver charm of a brain.

She told us she took a 35 foot fall last year. We assured her this is never a good idea. She agreed. She said she was out of work for seven months and was still dealing with memory problems, but she knew could have come out of it a quadriplegic. I went away awed at her cheerfulness, you couldn’t find anyone more upbeat. She’s a poster child for the truism that it's not what happens to us but how we take it that matters.

That was probably enough good deals and stories for one day, but the morning was still young. And at the very next sale I heard the seller reply to a question about price, “I have been looking for that for six months, and now here it is in your hand. I wonder what else my daughter has brought out here.” She went on to quote a price and sell whatever it was, so I guess she wasn’t too attached. Then a moment later she said, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” I said I hoped she hadn't sold them, and she laughed. “Could have, it's been that kind of day.” When I left I noticed a lady sitting on a chair at the end of the driveway and asked if she was demonstrating the merchandise. “I’m just watching that people don’t steal anything else,” she said. “It’s not even my sale, my daughter is over there looking at stuff, but they told me that several things were stolen already so I just thought I'd help keep an eye on things.” I suppose this could have been creepy, but it wasn’t. She was just being helpful. I agreed that stealing from a yard sale is pretty low, and told her that people also steal from libraries, where everything is free to use anyway, and how trashy is that.

Down the road I came across two sales next door to each other. At the first a young man was hanging up a long chiffon dress, and I told him he really should keep it, it was a good color for him. He laughed and said yeah, he’d worn it a couple of times but now he was tired of it. Then next door I met a lovely middle aged boxer dog named Ginger, who was quite agreeable to being petted. They said they got Ginger from boxer rescue several years ago, and she makes some little noises, but she has never barked.
Great tongue, huh?!

I was almost home when I spotted one more sale, and decided to turn around and check it out. A lucky decision, as it turned out. There was a Peter Rabbit puppet. A dollar, the seller said.

How about fifty cents, it's for a children’s librarian, I countered. (I know, I know, I can never resist.) She beamed. Just take it, we love libraries. I found some craft foam, and again she said if it's for the library, just take it. Then the two ladies having the sale looked at each other. “In fact, if there’s any more craft stuff you want for the library, you can have it.” Before I knew it they were gleefully filling bags and telling me which library they use. (Virginia, it was yours—you have some lovely patrons!) I can hardly wait for my next meeting so I can spread this largesse around.

My other purchases during the morning were a new package of sticky stuff for putting up posters or keeping candles upright; a cute little pin; and a book for my husband’s frog collection.

Not a huge haul, but I spent a total of $3.50 so not a huge outlay. And the stories? That’s right—priceless. And just for you, one more great quote: “Well, we managed to get the picnic table in the car, but my husband had to leave me and my daughter behind.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008


It's a classic scenario among thrifters. We went to the thrift store on Friday to drop off stuff we’ve recently decluttered, and of course we had to take a moment to look around. So much for decluttering. But my husband needs some jeans for working around the house, and getting them at a thrift store would be, well, thrifty. This was a very large Goodwill store, nice, clean, the music is not obnoxious, polite staff, tons of clothing. But their decision to sort clothing by color is absolutely nuts. There were hundreds of pairs of jeans, and they don’t even separate men’s from women’s. I cannot imagine how you’d ever find something in your size. I knew Steven’s patience wouldn’t last long, so I skittered back to the housewares for a quick look. And the first thing I saw was this little beauty.

Grabbed my husband. Look, isn’t this great? I said. His response was, “Um, where would you put it?” Every couple has code phrases. In our house “Where would you put it” translates as “No, don’t buy that thing!” Fortunately after 36 years of marriage you know when to ignore a code phrase. There was of course no price. Everything in the place is clearly marked except for any item I think is interesting. The price turned out to be $5.99 and I REALLY like it. Did a little cleanup on it, and now I have a new/old bedside table.
Before: After:

See, I did find a place to put it!

My friend Marcia went garaging with me Saturday. We planned both to look for yard sales and to attend the annual warehouse sale of a local designer/importer/whatever of Christmas goods. Their warehouse is next to our office, so we go to this sale every year.

This being the weekend before Thanksgiving I had low expectations of finding anything on people’s driveways, and the first sale reinforced my feeling. The sellers were pleasant, but the only thing that looked at all interesting was a box of bulletin board borders—lightweight corrugated paper thingies with a wavy edge to finish off your bulletin board. Figured they might make a door prize for a children’s librarian, but the price was five bucks. And the borders weren’t even new. As Marcia sometimes says, they were a little too proud of their stuff!

But the next sale had a couple of DVDs for my collection

and I noticed a cool car in the open garage.

Is that not fabbo? That beautiful leather interior is original. The guy having the sale told us it belongs to his buddy who is out of the country, so he keeps it for him and gets to drive it. Then he said we might like his motorcycle too.

He said his Labrador, Colby, rides in the sidecar and showed us Colby’s helmet and goggles.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to meet Colby himself, but here he is on

Next we headed up into the hills into a quite posh neighborhood. In my experience, rich people tend not to have very good sales—they either have the most pathetic crap you have ever seen and cannot believe would come out of a house like that, or they think they are running an antique store and have prices to match. But the ad on Craigslist looked interesting, and to my delighted surprise I ended up with several bargains:

More wine glasses for the Christmas party

Two pairs of earrings and a cute pin, which I quite like on my camera case

A shadow box frame. For a quarter, I can do surely something interesting with this…
Twenty new-to-me magazines (for free, woo hoo!)

And the real scores—a gorgeous 5’ x 8’ wool rug, and coordinating fabric by F. Schumacher, which evidently sells only to the decorating trade.

I haven’t measured the fabric yet, but it appears to be an ENTIRE roll. I'm guessing 15 to 20 yards. Let’s see…wool rugs this size at Pottery Barn are about $500 (and given the house this came out of, it’s probably from a higher end store originally). And drapery fabric can easily retail at $30 a yard or more, times 20 yards…goodness me!

My total outlay for the morning? $14.75. All that for less than the cover price on three of those free magazines—and a motorcycle riding dog to boot.

Ah, but the morning was not yet over. We still had the warehouse sale. The first year they had this sale I scored some really great deals, including this little vintage-looking box which still makes me smile every time I see him.

The second year I bought a couple of ornaments and last year only this funny little candle—or miniature teddy—holder.

Now, I understand that taste is a very personal thing. Certainly not everyone in my life has responded positively to my bunny in his carrot canoe. But I have to admit that the reason we keep returning to this sale every year is the chance to giggle over some of the awfullest stuff I've ever seen in my life. And to watch people snatching up carloads of it and standing in line for forty five minutes to pay for it. Every year the prices have gone up and up. Absolutely nothing tempted us this time, but here are some of my favorite awfulnesses:

Little doggies erupting from boxes…
Baby Jesus in the crèche being watched over by malevolent goats covered in green glitter…

Rather creepy decorated trees with Santa heads and wooden arms…
Santa display piece that looks like he has a ventriloquist elf on his knee…

And this ornament of a dressed up deer head sporting an absolutely disgusted expression.
There were hundreds and hundreds of pieces of this stuff. I couldn’t even bring myself to take pictures of most of it, especially the African American Pumpkin Fairy Figurine with Certificate of Registration and Authenticity. Whew. You sure wouldn’t want a fake one, would you?

I've been making use of my stash of felted sweaters this week. Made myself a new pair of slippers. Yes, I was cutting my slippers to fit my cloth, to paraphrase an old saying. Every time I look down at them I have to smile. Smiling at your feet is always a good thing.

Then I got on a roll and started making roses. Thanks to Betz White for the how-to! The dark red one is cashmere, mmmmm.

I'm planning to try
this flower too, to use some of my wonderful buttons on. Old sweaters and old buttons into new flowers…sweet!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Saturday morning was hot—in the literal sense. Even though I've been in southern California for over seven years now, it still seems weird to drive around in mid November in short sleeves. And before I got home I noticed an ominous gray pall to the northwest, which I knew had to be smoke. If you’ve been watching the news you know the OC is battling some awful fires, though I suspect some teens are not as sad as they should be that their high school burned. The fires are miles from our house and we seem to be safe, but I have to admit I was nervous enough to get both cat carriers don from the attic and jot down a list of what I would grab if I had to evacuate. My theory is that the stuff you plan for usually doesn’t happen, so I felt much safer!

One of this week’s yard sales involved a number of family members who had all brought stuff. As is usual in these parts, no prices were marked on anything, and the sellers were all asking each other how much they wanted for an item. The matriarch of the clan had a lot of items on the driveway, but she wasn’t there to answer price questions, and one of the others asked where she was. “Oh, she’s in the bathroom,” was the reply. So they started going to the kitchen door and hollering to mom in the bathroom “How much is such and such?”

Further down the road I passed a young man pouring gas from a can into his van by the side of the road. Bummer, I thought, then noticed the skateboard by his feet. He must have resorted to this mode of transportation when he ran out of gas. Plucky!

At another sale a woman asked if there was any Pyrex for sale. There was a Pyrex pie plate on the table in front of me, so I held it up. “That’s where that is!” the seller exclaimed. “That’s not supposed to be out here, I told my daughter I had an extra one for her and then I couldn’t find it.” Her sale apparently was an estate sale of her father’s things. I unearthed a stash of shoe horns, and she told me he must have picked up a new one nearly every time he bought more shoes. If he bought one of something, she said, he bought six. Her sale had started on Tuesday and there was still a lot of stuff in her yard. A strong argument for decluttering as we go through life!

At the last sale of the morning I got into a conversation about selling on eBay. Like a lot of other folks I'm not real excited about what’s going on over there, all the new rules, and combined with low sales because of the economy I'm pretty much giving it up for a while. This guy told me he sells antique books about fishing. Talk about a niche market! He said it’s just a little sideline, he only makes about nine thousand a year. Nine thousand! This must be a new definition of little, if you ask me. We both agreed that sales have been awful, that items that would have sold in a heartbeat a year ago get no bids. Then he said that his real concern is his portfolio, and started talking about his GM stock and T bills, and I'm standing there nodding my head wisely like I know the slightest thing about any of this (well, maybe the slightest but not a heck of a lot more). As I headed back to the car I was thinking, weird—I don’t think anyone has ever spontaneously started talking about their portfolio to me before. I mean, the year I worked in a business specialty library it would come up, but not on a driveway on Saturday morning. Then I got a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror and realized I was wearing the sun visor with the Adams Golf logo that I picked up for fifty cents a couple of weeks ago.

People who golf and people who have portfolios often overlap. If it happens again maybe I should dangle a tag from it like Minnie Pearl always had on her hats, with a disclaimer “I bought this at a yard sale and have never touched a golf club in my life.” Or maybe I could just start giving investment advice—like “shop at yard sales, you can't go wrong.”

My personal investments totaled $5 this week; my return on that investment:

Two DVDs, a replacement for a video tape and one I didn’t own. I think it's interesting how fast DVDs have reached the yard sale price level of about a dollar apiece. Evidently people equate them with paperback books—use once and get rid of. And given the price of new paperbacks these days, that makes sense.

A puppet for some lucky children’s librarian.

Another wallet for a gift. A friend saw the one I bought recently and said it was exactly the style she was looking for. So Marcia, I found you one!
Five wine glasses for our annual Christmas open house. I abhor wine from plastic glasses and hate to throw away unnecessary plastic, so I start buying yard sale wine glasses this time of year, use them at the party, then donate them to the thrift store in January. Last year I managed to break about 6 of them on the way home, so I'm being much more careful this time around!

On one street, two sales were across the street from each other. I went to the one that I parked by first, even though there was loud laughter coming from the other. There was nothing to buy, but I noticed this poster, and it looked as though they were really enjoying the woman at the other sale who was laughing so loudly.
I commented that the Rat Pack looked like they were having a good time, and the seller said, “Yeah, that’s how I want to live my life.”

Amen, sister!

And speaking of sisters, I want to say thanks to my sister Marilyn for the fabbo QOFC picture she sent me. I made the logo for her site and now she has returned the favor!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Since you are reading this, you’re probably someone who, like me, not only enjoys second-hand stuff, but even loves second-hand stuff second hand. Don’t you drool over pictures of other folks’ wonderful finds, marvel at their deals, and sometimes covet their good fortune? Part of the fun of thrifting is sharing through our blogs and photos.

Many of you are familiar with RSS feeds, but since not everyone knows about them yet, I wanted to share a couple of tips that have helped me find so many wonderful blogs written by thrifty people. An RSS feed (which stands for something like Really Simple Syndication) is a way to subscribe to a web site. Whenever anything changes on the site (like a new blog post) you get notified. How? You use a ‘feed reader’ which organizes your subscriptions and lets you know when there’s something new.

There are a number of feed readers out there; I use the one provided by Google. I have various categories set up (hey, I'm a librarian, we like to organize things!) and when I subscribe to a new site it only takes an extra click to put it in a category. To subscribe, I copy the web address of a site into the ‘Add Subscription’ box on Google Reader and tell it to add the site. Every once in a while I’ll try to add something and get a message that there’s no feed available for that site, but that’s rare. Whenever you see this symbol

you should be able to subscribe.

But how do you run across blogs where the writer is talking about thrifting? (Or beehives or vintage Corvettes or whatever you are interested in.) After all, there are so many out there! Let me introduce you to Google’s blog search. I'm sure you’ve used Google to look something up (and I’m sure you know that not all the results you get will give you reliable information—part of your job when you’re searching is to figure out if the source is a good one. Okay, librarian lecture over!).

When you go to Google, up at the top of the page you’ll see a variety of things you can search: Web, Images, Maps, News, Shopping, Gmail, & More. Click on More, and you’ll get a drop-down list where one of the choices is Blogs. This takes you to a search page where the only thing you’ll be searching is blogs. Hundreds of blogs, thousands of blogs, millions and billions and trillions of blogs! Put in your search term and see what you get.

I tried the terms ‘garage sale’ and ‘yard sale’ since that’s my main mode of thrifting, but got too many hits that were announcements of sales from Portland to Peoria. I've had the best results from the term ‘thrifting.’

The next step, once you’ve found a term that brings good results, is to subscribe to your search. I just copied the URL of the search results page, went to Google Reader and clicked Add New Subscription, and pasted. Now I have a new subscription on my page.

And of course it's not just blogs you can subscribe to. Your public library may let you subscribe to a search on their catalog, so when a new book is added on your favorite subject, you’ll be notified. (Not all libraries can do this yet, but it's coming.) If you like to laugh (and I know you do) you can subscribe to I Can Has Cheezburger (funny cat pictures) or I Has a Hotdog (ditto for dogs).

I’ve even subscribed to a search on a realtor’s website so I can fantasize about my retirement home.

One more fun search tool you might like to try is called Banana Slug. Banana Slug adds a random word (you choose a category, it chooses the word) to your search term, which gets you away from the usual results if you just Google something. I’ve found lots of great blog entries this way (again, thrifting is a productive search term).

Have fun with your searching and syndicating! There's so much on the Internet now that is just for the fun of it--Web 2.0 is all about ordinary people creating out of our extraordinary lives. Of course, the best way for you to practice your new skills will be to immediately subscribe to the Queen of Fifty Cents blog!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you may remember these spiffy vintage dishes I picked up a few weeks ago.

You may also remember the lady I bought the cute little vintage bench from—the one who practiced piano in her youth with her parrot Shorty on her shoulder.

I happened to mention my blog to her when we were chatting at her sale, and she looked it up, and sent me a message that she owns a service for twelve in that same vintage china!

In fact, she’s always on the lookout for replacements, so I kept the few pieces I wanted and sold her the rest. We met for bagels Saturday morning before I started out on the garaging trail and yakked for over an hour. Her name is Sara and she’s quite delightful. She’s as much a morning person as I am so I hope we’ll be meeting again. I so enjoyed hearing about her three daughters and more about her blind boxer, whose picture on the cell phone was adorable.

When we finally left the bagel place so we could transfer the dishes, she looked at my car and said, “Hey, you’re not wearing your car bra!” Well, actually, I was wearing my car bra but the car wasn’t wearing its! Sheesh, she really did read my blog.

It turned out to be a good thing we talked so long and I got a little later start than usual. Some people were just putting up a sign as I drove by, and that turned out to be the only sale at which I bought this week. And a couple of hours later, in a nice moment of symmetry, as I started to make the turn for one of the last sales a guy came and started taking the sign down!

On one driveway I got to talking with a young woman who moved here a while back from Florida. She was talking about all the stuff her mom had sent her from home that she never used again, and now was trying to sell. “She must have sent two dozen boxes by UPS over a couple of months. Wow, that must have cost a lot,” she told me. I said her mother must either really love her or been terribly glad she’d left and didn’t want to give her any reason to come back. (Yes, I did say it in a joking manner!) She looked thoughtful and said, “I think initially it was the latter, but now she’s starting to miss me.” I wanted to adopt this young woman on the spot—do you know how rare it is to hear someone actually use the word latter, and correctly? As I left I told her there’s an old saying: How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

One street had two sales about four houses apart, so I walked from one to the other. In between I saw a driveway with three little girls playing. At least it looked like they were playing. As I got closer, I saw the one with the big chunks of sidewalk chalk was writing over and over “Don’t Park Here!” Her sister on the scooter was riding back and forth chanting, “Don’t park here! Don’t park here!” They struck me as possibly the two most anal retentive children I have ever seen. But the third little girl was sitting back just watching the other two with what I liked to interpret as an expression of disbelief on her face. I wanted to adopt her too.

At the second sale on that block was an item I should have taken a picture of, but I could not bring myself to do it. Folks, there just are some crafts that should not be committed. Among a stack of framed pictures was one that from a distance looked like it might be embroidered. When I got closer I saw that it was (I’m guessing) a design of white pussy willows on black fabric…and the pussy willows were made from cut up Q tips. Mere words cannot convey its awfulness. If you are a person who makes crafts from cotton swabs, I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings, but I beg you to stop. ;o)

On the way back to my car I passed the three little girls again—still writing on the sidewalk and chanting. I wanted to suggest they switch to “No more Q tip crafts, no more Q tip crafts!” But I restrained myself. Hmmm, maybe the third child could have bought into that one.

I spent a whopping $1.75 at the one sale and brought home:


… a door prize for a children’s librarian…

…and a piece of vintage California pottery.

The lady said this had been her dad’s, and he always put his watch and jewelry in it at night when he got ready for bed. I hoped of course that it would turn out to be incredibly valuable. I've been reading about vintage California pottery; a lot of it is quite amazing. Did you know Walt Disney designed some? You forget he was an artist first. Alas, evidently my alligator is not going to make my fortune, so I think I will take him to work to hold rubber bands and paper clips.

You may recall that last week I scored a new billfold, which turned out to fit nicely in the vintage Saks Fifth Avenue purse I bought back in June. (The former owner was the grandmother who had switched from making unwanted fake-flower arrangements to playing bingo, much to the relief of her family.) I put away my garage-sale Coach bag to carry this one for a while. It’s small, and I feel like I'm carrying a little toy bag around, which has been fun.

One last encounter: I may have mentioned before that a useful conversation starter when I first arrive at a sale is to ask, “So, are you having fun yet?” Nearly everyone thinks this is hilarious, since they’ve been up since dawn and are usually ready to have this thing over with. When I tried it out at one place in Huntington Beach this Saturday, the guy sitting in the garage just laughed. But the lady (probably his mom) sitting outside gave me a big smile and said, “If I'm sitting down in the shade and there’s a nice breeze blowing, you can just bet I'm having fun.”
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