Archive for April, 2014

Tripping Thrift

Those thrift stores, they’re a new store every day right? That same river you can’t step in twice? Yet, like that river they’re constantly the same and still changing. There’s always the promise of adventure. You never know what you’ll see, from something exactly like what your grandfather had to something you can’t even imagine what is. I bought some tools once from a Canadian Hardware store, just because it was so odd for me, the original curiosity queen not to be able to find or figure out what they were. I thought I’d eventually find something about them. Now I have a good source in a new FB group, but the tools are gone and I’m not sure if I ever took a photo. I’m not the only one who will buy a mystery item. I asked a shopper leaving with a thing in her hand what it was one day. She said “I have no idea.” I asked her what she was going to do with it. She was going to use it to display jewelry that she made. I could clearly see that was perfect for that.

Shoppers are from all corners too. From artists to those barely getting by, from hoarders to historians, from the wealthy to the wonderers. Some shoppers are talkative and some are afraid to even acknowledge you if you speak to them. Some are proud to recycle and explore. Others are embarrassed to be shopping second hand. Some people carry as much baggage into the store as the bags of stuff that they carry out.

On one recent visit I was making my rounds and finding a few things when I looked down on the bottom shelf and laughed. There hiding in a low corner was a food sculpture with a fork suspended in the air by a tower of spaghetti shooting up from a plate like Old Faithful. Then I heard “What’s Funny” asked from behind me. I picked up the plate and showed it. We both laughed.

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My new friend of the moment said “That’s great… Well you would appreciate this”. Reaching for a wax figure, she held it up and said “I saw this and thought ‘It’s missing its eyes’

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“Then I turned it around and it’s a wizard. It’s like life. You never know what you’re looking at.”

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I laughed again. That was awesome, profound and adorable. We talked a few minutes. She was a retired science teacher and an artist and I told her about my blog, how I was seeing how much of my life I could rebuild in thrift stores and the about the Etsy store. She asked me if I was an artist, I mumbled a bit and said well I don’t really call myself an artist. She said. “That’s okay, Leonardo DaVinci didn’t either.” my new friend is Brenda Segal, a retired teacher and artist and she posed for my post with her find of the day.

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Sometimes the treasure you find in Goodwill isn’t on the shelf.

If your search is for the tangible, you can find this awesome sculpture and other treasures, at least for today, at my booth at the
Queen in Marietta.

Thrifting Update

Thrifting Update, how’s that for a mundane title? Well, it’s been a while since my post Thrifting for a Day, and it seems like time for an update on how the shopping for stuff is going, so that’s what I’ve got for a title.

I/we have had quite a few unproductive and low productive days lately. Thrift stores are the most conditionally responsive places of business on the planet. If the donations are low, or the prices that people will pay rises, they adjust with lightening alacrity. So, shopping conditions change just as quickly. One of the thrift chains advertises that it’s a new store every day because of the thousands of items they put out daily. Thrifts are also new every day because they are constantly testing price increases to see what today’s market will bear. The only signal we as shoppers have is to leave things on the shelf. That’s pretty easy on those occasions when we recognize prices that are equal to or higher than normal retail, but smaller increases aren’t always so clear and they want to know what we will pay today.

The prices I’m willing to pay are also pretty varied, depending on my purpose. I’ll pay more for the right gift, much more, because I was going to spend a certain amount anyway. I’ll also pay more for things that I was going to purchase regardless, and things I’m in a hurry to replace. But there are other things that have no particular time pressure. I’ll wait for things to show up at the bottom of their price range if I can wait. I’ve been doing some waiting lately. The number of times I’ve paid more than I really wanted, or left a store without even a “gas money” purchase has been higher.

Last weekend we had a good board game weekend though. Board games are good for crafting supplies, but often the pieces are missing. If it’s Scrabble, a missing piece or two is no big deal and I don’t count, I just check condition. If it’s Monopoly, you want most or all of those pewter pieces to be there. Thrift stores tend to tape up the boxes to prevent people from loosing or stealing pieces, but usually if you ask up by the register, they don’t mind if you open the box to check. I have been refused once (by a new employee that I didn’t see on subsequent visits). I bought more board games last week than I have in the last 6 months, most of them at weekend yard sales. When we get into the house and I start back into my Etsy world, I’ll be in good shape on board games, not as many as I had before the fire, but an impressive collection all the same.

Jewelry is also a hit or miss category. I had a good couple of weeks, followed by increased anticipation visiting the jewelry counters without significant results for 2 months and now I’m often just glancing for something that stands out as I zoom by. After my few good finds, I got a gem tester, some sensitive scales and some lighted loupes so that I could list accurate information, like which gem a color stone is and weights for metals. I had two weighty sterling bracelets before the fire that I never listed because I wanted to be able to quote an accurate weight. So, I felt some residual urgency and when I bought the equipment, I was hoping it would pay for itself quickly, but I don’t think what I’ve purchased since will do the trick.

Probably much of what I bought in the months preceding my equipment purchase will do the trick, but I won’t know until I get the stuff listed and see if it sells well. Some of my more valuable finds, the ones that will pay for the equipment, are not the ones I needed the equipment to list well. Simichrome, used to test for Bakelite may be more important.

I’m really looking forward to unpacking all the things I’ve collected over the past six months. I’m sure there will be things I’ve forgotten purchasing. It could even be somewhat like Christmas…and I’ll bet while forgetting things I’ve packed away in my hope chest for tomorrow; there will be things I’ve purchased twice, things that may go right back where they came from. As always, it will be an adventure!

Diligence Due

Well, we’ve made it past due diligence and into the last stages of purchase on a house, but it sure was a coin toss for such an important and long awaited decision. I really appreciate fine workmanship. I respect time and old world craftsmanship, absent in the new standards construction and most other features of the house we’ve chosen. The positives are: a nice layout that’s good for short or long-term purposes, a good neighborhood, the right amount of space in mostly useful places and the right schools. It even has a beautiful (possibly solid mahogany) kitchen bar, but the house is covered in hard coat stucco that has cracks, messy old repairs and mismatched colors that show clearly, even in a low light photo.

There are decorator upgrades of personal taste, but widespread overdue maintenance indicating a total fail in the wise allocation of funds. With heavy pet allergens all the carpet will need to come out, and it won’t be fun for us as heavily committed DIYs. The house has potentially Money Pit qualities and it blew me away when due diligence exposed over 36K in unexpected expenses and repairs (those I didn’t allow for in the price), but the seller wouldn’t consider any price adjustment. I’ve had to consider the money I’d flush on 2 or more years renting to make myself move forward on this purchase.

And then there’s comparison to the home I lost. I like brick. It’s low maintenance (if it’s on all 4 sides) like mine was. That brick was straight and square and solid without any settling cracks. The old house had some irritating contractor short cuts. The original plumber had dropped the kitchen ceiling a foot and put the master bath vanity on a wall adjacent to the architect’s plan. I knew it didn’t belong there, and confirmed it when I stripped the wallpaper and saw the builder notes written on the wall underneath. The original plumber saved maybe $40 in copper pipe with these ugly modifications. I spent $5000.00 just getting a certified master plumber to restore the plumbing so I could then return the ceiling and vanity to the original plan. I despise these self centered short sighted short cuts, but the 1979 short cuts in that house were still less offensive than the newer short cuts that I’ll be fixing in this house.

As much as I want to be in a home that fits as many needs and wants as this new purchase, and to get on with normalizing life for my family, a feather could have changed my mind when the seller didn’t make any allowances for the problems exposed on inspection. None. Nada. Whether the seller already knew, or simply didn’t care, I remembered well why didn’t last in real estate.

I was offended, depressed and wrung out when I let the due diligence run out without the price adjustments that condition warranted. It may be the best decision I could make, given what I have to work with, but I rarely pay the wrong price for something and when I do I feel like I’ve been had. But, I was, I am, weary of the suspension of normal life and over ready to be getting on with things.

Friday night between midnight (when the due diligence ran out) and 3am or so when I finally made it to sleep, I was upset enough that I didn’t even want to sit across a closing table from the seller and I didn’t want to move our maple tree to the new yard. There’s a beautiful Tamukeyama weeping red maple that Russ planted in the old yard when we were dating. We’ve talked about moving it. He said it might take an entire weekend, given our equipment and making sure that it would live. It seems a lot of work to move a tree that’s been in the ground for 12 years, but I wanted the tree to move with us because Russ is the person who made me want to grow things again.

The part of this move that I’m struggling to get over is not that it unexpectedly became a seller’s market in my area just before I unexpectedly needed to buy. Life is a crap shoot and you take it as it comes. It’s not that I’m buying a fixer either. I wanted to restore something (if I can actually afford to restore this). I prefer to restore something old, solid and filled with grace. Not something that’s pretty new and only needs restoration because it’s been abused.

What’s bothering me is precisely that I’m tired of people getting away with having others clean up their mess. This seller bought a foreclosure at a fraction of market value, lived in it for over a decade (the decade that included the largest real estate meltdown in history), maintained it poorly and wanted sell for over 2.5 times the original purchase price. Neat trick if you can accomplish it right? Why shouldn’t anyone be happy about the same result?

But, consider this. If I am unable to make the purchase and repairs within the limits of a current market price, then the house isn’t worth what it costs me. If I pay more, I’m giving up future appreciation (that may or may not accrue). I’m giving my future to the seller, a seller who wants the big pay off regardless of having made decisions that don’t lead to that result, and regardless of who’s pocket it comes from. People who want others to pay their tab have always existed, but I think it is a disease, an epidemic drag on the economy and on our spirits that is reaching scarier heights with each passing day.

It’s the disease that killed my marriage. More importantly, it’s a disease that’s killing our country and I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here. From building contractors to big banking, taxes to TV, environmental waste to drinking water, NIMBY’s to Pork Barrel Politics, people are maximizing small amounts of personal gain at a heavy and sometimes extreme cost to others, the exact opposite of Spock’s Law, rather than “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”, the accepted value sometimes seems to be “The wants of the one justify what ever you can get away with”.

It really seems like big business, big politics, big government and their marketing/campaign/”media”/”news” departments have been honing in on and amplifying the lowest common denominator in humanity for long enough to contribute significantly to debasing our society. The evolutionary brain’s survival technique of attempting to minimize effort while maximizing gain was pretty important when the challenge was to get enough calories to last the winter. Granted, it’s still pretty important now that we are living much higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but it needs to be channeled and enlightened. It is hard to overcome our baser selves when there are so many signals aimed at getting us to buy on impulse and maximize the rush, borrowing from tomorrow. When tomorrow comes the dopamine is depleted and it’s harder to get satisfaction.

Business, politicians and other entities constantly appeal to self-interest, they’re tapped in to the brain’s reward system and they use competition, salaciousness and tribalism to inflate the response of baser instincts. That makes us short sighted and easy to manipulate when we need take a long view and act with independent, conscientious thought. We need to be evolving in a changed world on crowded globe. Most of us, especially in the United States aren’t trying simply to survive anymore. We can afford ethics and balance, but too many of us have been worrying about how to get the next fix, anything from the newest cell phone, shoes, 3D TV, junk food, Facebook likes, extreme vacation or actual chemical drugs.

I’ve had a week to let my feelings about my new house and this national shedding of responsibility settle. The bigger, chronic problem is more troubling to me than my own personal run in with the latest reminder of the sickness, or even the one before that. I’ve been busy, so it’s been mulling around in the background, thankfully. Thinking about my own personal response to it all.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work on how I feel about the closing. I’m going to commit to this house. I’m going to make it the best I can with the resources I have and while it’s mine it will be maintained properly. I’m going to ask Russ to take that whole weekend and move that tree, out of the back from my old yard and into the front of my new yard. I’m going to combat the disease in my own way, in my own little space. And, if the time comes when I sell this house, I’m going to do my best to make sure it is a value.