Archive for January, 2014

Gone Man, Solid Gone

There’s this frozen instant in time when almost everything in the house is gone, sucked away. What exists afterward depends on what we were doing where it was happening, and inches apparently matter.

The cast iron pans that Russ was restoring in a lye bath outside were safe and orchids from the back deck survived, but the smoker beside them didn’t because it was too heavy and risky to move before it bent when the house fell. Two sterling silver Revere bowls in an upstairs closet were charred and misshapen. There was no apparent trace of whole categories of possessions, perhaps they were unrecognizable in the rubble. A miniature stained glass church I bought in an after Christmas clearance sale survived, perfectly preserved by a form fitting Styrofoam box that showed no signs of heat damage. It was stored near the part of the house that was apparently the hottest and it was among the least sentimental of those things it was stored with. The fire investigator told me there would be some things that would survive, but they wouldn’t be the things I wanted. He knew.

I have a firm grip on the importance of people and the comparative lack of importance of stuff, so getting through this with grace is at least in my ballpark. But still, I loved my stuff and I feel an affinity with Bernadette Peters in “The Jerk” when she finds out she has suddenly gone from unimaginably wealthy to bankrupt. She whines with a pouty face “It’s not the money, it’s the Stuuuuf”. I had good stuff. I’ve been collecting it for a long time, waiting for a good price, getting the stuff that is well made, the stuff that is built to last… under normal conditions that is.

Just before the fire, one of those great truisms showed up on my Facebook feed. It said “You can’t control what happens to you, just how you respond to it.” I hope to take that to heart.

One of the things about our thrifting experiment, sometimes in the second hand places you can find that solid stuff built well and made sturdy, that stuff I admire and respect. Our little experiment will be very time intensive, but given that money and time are both limited resources, it seems that splitting them up and using balanced amounts of each is the most likely way to rebuild well on a budget.

We have decided on rules for our thrifty rebuild. We want to get as much as we can from thrift and estate sales, but there are some things that we want to purchase new.

We have a list of things that we will buy new. We may buy other things new as well. For instance, the mixer I had nor the mixer I wanted was on the second hand prohibited list, but we didn’t find one in the time frame we wanted. Here is our list of things that we will buy new, not second hand.

Mattresses

Upholstered Furniture (unless we think re-upholstering is practical)

Any other difficult-to-clean thing that could have animal dander, mites or bedbugs

Plastic Food Storage Containers (Chemicals can bond and we don’t know how they might have been used)

Plastic or Wood Food Utensils (same)

Undergarments

Shoes

The list is based on cleanliness and the ability to transfer anything harmful. There’s also a bit of the personal ick factor. Undergarments could be cleaned, I just don’t want any second hand. Fungicide can be applied to shoes, I just don’t want to use or trust it. The list may grow or have exceptions, but they will remain based on known ability to transfer harm or what ever we personally find unappealing.

Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.

Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

North on 65, Unexpectedly

KMNB Flag

Around 2AM Eastern Time on the 29th of September Russ, my significant sweetie, started trying to call me. He was at home and I was in south Alabama to help my Mom recoup after a minor surgery. I thought I had set my phone to charge at my laptop, but had turned the laptop off, so it didn’t charge. Mom came running in to tell me Russ called on her landline. I started connecting through the wall charger behind the headboard and was leaning in to it awkwardly to get my head next to the phone. Mom thought I was going to try to use the land line and was yelling at me to come into the next room and call him back. If it hadn’t clearly been an emergency, I’m sure we’d have been laughing at ourselves. Russ and I eventually talked and he told me that the house was burning. When we hung up, what I thought was “I guess I should wait to hear more.” What I did was to start packing. I packed badly. I took Mom at her word when she said she’d be fine and I left, thinking I’d be right back.

I got home not long after daybreak. The fire department was changing shifts. The fire marshal spoke to me before he left. He told me that the floors and rafters were gone, the shell of the roof was sitting on bowed bricks and the three stories of bricks had no support. The bricks were at risk of falling without warning. The Salvation Army gave me some heavily perfumed soap and told me to call my insurance company. After a little while, I noticed that the fire crew had saved the flags from the basement and stuck one in the ground at the end of my drive. I had bought the flags from the September 11 Field of Flags at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and they were among very few things that were saved from inside the house.

How did the fire happen? We don’t know. The bricks were bowing slightly more every day. An investigation wasn’t safe. No one wants to loose everything and the human response for people is to find out how such a terrible thing could befall someone and to avoid it. Some people eventually admitted going in and probably even more actually did. I am going to be content with gratitude that no one was hurt for their curiosity, or what ever other motive they may have had.

One of our neighbors said “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I can’t imagine what it would be like. I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me!” He was being a little bit playful, but also a little bit honest. And, frankly his sense of humor was a relief. While dealing with the loss, knowing what to say to people who feel so very badly for you is also difficult. It had been a week or more and the opportunity to laugh had been our first.

I lost my home and everything in it. My daughter lost the apartment’s worth of stuff she brought when she moved back home. My sweetie, Russ, lost the bigger apartment’s worth of stuff that he moved in with and everything he bought afterward. My son lost the things he left behind after his last tour at Mom’s boarding house. Russ and I both lost the stock, tools and supplies for our vintage and hand crafted Etsy.com store, Six Degrees, and we had stocked up preparing for a good holiday season. We lost tools hobbies and mementos that we had collected and inherited over decades from generations of talented hands. They carried it away in 14 large roll off and dump truck loads.

We were told it was probably something electrical in the drop ceiling in the basement, allowing the smoke to accumulate in the empty space while the fire grew stronger and that delayed the life saving shriek from the smoke alarm that sent Russ into the front yard barefoot at 2AM. I will never again take the value of a smoke detector for granted because ours saved Russ’ life and I’m feeling pretty good about having pushed my mother to replace hers this past summer.

It is a big lump to swallow. I’ve dragged my grandmothers’ stuff and their grandmothers’ stuff from California to Connecticut and back south again, never trusting it to the movers, but packing and carrying it myself, because I really can do that without breakage.

I had a personal sewing machine and a serger for my own use as well as 14 other sewing machines for teaching sewing and to give to people whom they might empower. I know that seems excessive, but this is what I would do if I got the chance. I had amazing sewing embellishments, English smocking and French handsewing supplies and other textiles gathered over a lifetime and thousands of yards of goods gathered from all over the world.

Textile arts was just one of many pursuits and “had” is the word I keep forgetting. My “I have.” Followed by Russ’ “No, you don’t” has become a bit of a joke, and I’m told by people who have been through this that it will happen ten or more years down the road.

Looking back, regrets and loss are not, however, what this blog is about.

This blog is now about picking up the pieces and using this opportunity to try an experiment. The look and posts will gradually change to reflect our new focus.