Goodwill and the Economy Co-Evolve

by Karen

Thomasville, GA Television Display

Thomasville, GA Television Display

As a long-time supporter of Goodwill, both as a donor and as a customer, I was glad to see some of the savvy marketing and new technology that they are using. I was shopping Goodwill and other thrift stores long before Shabby Chic was chic. Back when the economy was growing and conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while also recycling unwanted household items for that same good cause. The deals were better for a shopper when I was not in the majority and the demand was lower, but they are still good now, and given the same deal at Goodwill and an overstock store, I will give the business to Goodwill or another non-profit when I can.

Russ and I have been on a big Goodwill kick lately. We have opened an account with Etsy for some of our current crafts and plan to expand with time. We have seen a few crafts that are “green” using recycled items from thrift stores to become something else. We are looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less.

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

It has been a blast so far. We sought out the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find there in the Secret City? It was a nice store and there was a much larger Science Fiction book section than I have ever seen at any other Goodwill Otherwise there was not too terribly much to distinguish it from other locations.

We did find interesting differences in other Tennessee towns. We found some with new stock as well as the regular recycled donations. I asked if new stock was becoming typical and the storekeeper told me that all Goodwill stores in her district carried new stock, that employees went on buying trips and that some merchandise had come from “the shopping network.” This was news to me, though I did not find anything at this location that moved me to the point of purchase. There are a lot of shifts taking place in charity and overstock outlets as the current economic conditions have a larger segment of the population looking for discounts, bargains and other forms of frugal spending options. These shifts have some charity organizations scrambling to replace good that were once donated as seconds, but now have a market in discount stores. At the same time, the price gap in second hand and second quality stores closes in to reflect the greater demand. New marketing techniques in Goodwill are well timed to fit in this shifting marketplace.

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

The best store set up that I have seen since this renewed purpose to my old passion has taken hold was in Thomasville, Georgia, a part of the Big Bend (Florida) district. Shelves were custom made here to fit above the clothing racks so that while shopping for clothing, household items and nick knacks were right there calling for attention. In electronics, the televisions sets were running just as they would be in a retail outlet allowing comparison. The aisles all had end-caps with merchandise, just like a regular retail outlet. The video, music and other media had shelves custom fit to their size so that the display was easier to process visually and took less space than it would otherwise. I bought a white ceramic owl container because it reminded me a little bit of Woodsy Owl. When I went to the checkout and complimented the college student clerk on the set up as the best lay out I had ever seen at a Goodwill (or any other thrift store) he was really psyched. He spoke enthusiastically about the manager responsible for the set up. Apparently he puts these features in all of his Big Bend locations. The part I couldn’t tell just by looking is that this manager keeps track of what is selling and makes sure that there is a proportionate amount of display space dedicated to those items. I was already impressed before the clerk talking!

After returning home, I found some other interesting Goodwill news. I saw an internet link to some items that had been donated by the newest owner of a cabin that had once belonged to June and Johnny Cash. The claim to fame caught my attention, but it was also clear that there was no claim that the items had been owned by the Cash family. I followed the link until I saw a site with a set up that looked very much like ebay. There were categorized items with photographs. I did not know that I could shop at Goodwill on the internet! Fantastic!

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke is to soft drinks. That is, people often use those brand names as generic, even when they mean to refer to other brands. At seven years into their second century, they seem to be looking forward very well, maximizing their market niche and continuing to do good works. In an ever changing marketplace this is no small task. As fads come and go some things are worth keeping. I hope that after Shabby Chic and “Green” have peaked there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop at economical places where they can recycle while at the same time support a worthy cause. It just makes good sense to support institutions that meet multiple goals and needs the way that Goodwill and other thrift stores do… and when we figure out that amazing new art form, you’ll be sure to find out about it right here!

Shiny Blue Water

by Russ

When Karen realized that NASA had scheduled another night launch for Tuesday (August 25) morning, she called me at work to see if I could get off for it.  I was fortunate enough not to even have to ask.  Boss man just said,”I won’t need you until Wednesday,” as we were leaving work on Friday.  We spent Saturday getting ready so we could leave Sunday morning.  Part of the preparations included getting reservations for a ferry ride to, and a camp site on, Cumberland
Island.  This resulted in the unfortunate definition of ‘leave Sunday morning’ as ‘be out the door by five o’clock’.  We made it out on time and got to the ferry with a half hour to spare.  Had a nice afternoon and night on the island, then headed out on the first ferry to resume our trip to Merritt Island to watch the launch.

Launch Pad to Right of Russ

Launch Pad to Right of Russ

We were to watch the launch from kayaks at the intersection of Haulover Canal and Mosquito Lagoon (If you look at the map here, you can see the viewing point at the green arrow, and the white circles down and right are the launch pads.  Eleven miles away, with nothing to obscure the view)  Karen discovered A Day Away Kayak Tours a few years ago(review here), and I had gone out with them once to see the manatees (Karen’s post on it).  We had plenty of time to get there, so we messed around in Daytona, New Smyrna Beach, and Edgewater, but I was so excited by the prospect of seeing the Shuttle launch that the only parts I can remember are when we stopped in to the library to check the weather and when we bought a dry bag at the local Ace Hardware and a friendly associate let us check the weather and launch status on the internet there (file under,”Things that don’t happen at Home Depot”).

The time was getting close, and things were looking good.  The only problem was one storm sitting in the vicinity, and the experts expected it to break up or move off.  We headed down to the put-in.  The official report still looked good, so we got our equipment, safety lectures and boats, then headed out.  For logistical reasons, everyone who could be placed in a two-person kayak was.  Karen and I have done well in a canoe together, but the kayak is a whole other story.  We eventually got it worked out, mostly, and I was really glad I had a partner by the end of the trip.  As we got closer to the viewing area, we became more exposed to the effects of the storm still hovering out past the pad.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary was at the end on the canal warning us not to go out of the canal because of heavy chop.  Our guide explained that we were just going to wrap around the point and pull up on a beach to watch.  We did just that, although we were exposed to the chop long enough for it to feel adventurous.  We waited in the beach/lagoon for a while, and NASA scratched the launch shortly thereafter because that storm didn’t look like it was going anywhere.  We were offered the choice of going back or turning it into a bio-luminescent trip.  I was all set to go back because my  shoulder was starting to bother me and the guides statement that we were going to chase fish made no sense to me.

Backtrack- We were not officially on a bio-luminescent tour at the start, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.  The dinoflagellates tend to put on a strong showing in this area- the water is right and there is very little light pollution.  According to our guides, it didn’t get any better than what we were seeing that night.  It was very strong, and for some reason it was bluish, as opposed the the usual green.  Every paddle stroke and the wake of all the boats were shown in a beautiful blue glow.  I can’t begin to describe how cool it was, and I had no idea how cool it would get. -end backtrack

Karen left the decision up to me, as she had been before.  She told me it was really neat, and I didn’t think my shoulder wasn’t going to die from a little more kayaking, so I decided to go on.  We went on around the point into a more sheltered part of Mosquito Lagoon to ‘chase fish’ and stuff.  On the way in I got some glimpses of what was to come, when the odd fish darted out of our way, leaving a glowing wake underwater, or a mullet jumped in the distance, making a bright blue splash.  I thought we were chasing fish, but we were just running in to them.   Mullet,  as it turns out, like to lay up in the shallows at night.  It’s harder for predators to maneuver in the shallow water so the mullet feel more secure.  We went to an area where it was only a couple of feet deep, and started herding schools of mullet.  It was amazing.  It was like some submarine was firing dozens of glowing torpedoes.  Mullet are prone jumping anyway, and these fish were scared for their lives.  With no way to escape down, many tried to escape up.  So the subs started firing missiles, as well as torpedoes, blue glowing water arcing in to the air and bright blue splash-downs.  We ended up chasing a few schools of fish, and almost everybody had a mullet in their boat at some point.  It was a wonderful experience and I recommend it to anyone who can paddle a boat (no experience necessary, but you have to be able to paddle.)

On the way back in, our guide mentioned that if you dipped your hand in the water, it would luminesce as it ran down your arm.  He did not mention just how much your arm looks like a Gatorade commercial, but the resemblance is uncanny.

We didn’t get to see the Shuttle launch, but we did see the Shuttle on the pad from the kayak.  The Shuttle was noticeably larger from this vantage point than from the best viewing spots pointed out to us by the Titusville locals,  so if you go to watch a launch, I’ll tell you that you can’t get a better view without being in the inside.  If you’re not down with the paddling, though, try Space View Park.  It’s dry, free, and they have live audio of the launch sequence.

The Coconut Adventure

A coconut drupe!

A coconut drupe!

While visiting a friend in Florida we saw a coconut palm with a ripe fruit (called a drupe). We were about to see Russ’ nieces in Disney World and thought they might get a kick out of seeing what a green coconut with the husk looks like, so we asked, and when it dropped we picked it up. We didn’t have any tools though, so while we had an interesting artifact, that’s all it was. We kept thinking about ways to get into it, but without the proper tools we also kept imagining lost fingers. By the the time we got home, the husk was dry and brown.

For your viewing pleasure.

For your viewing pleasure.

Deciding what to do with it was a bit more difficult. I had seen an entire production in Hawaii with an immature green coconut and a machete. We were driving around the Big Island on one of those roads with the warning signs about the potential for unexpected floods and wondering if there was a surprise waiting in the roadway ahead. There was, but it was the Coconut King. He had long dreads bouncing off his shirtless shoulders, a Jamaican accent, a song and a machete. It was quite a production and there was no way to watch it all and then choose not to buy the coconut from him. The milk was sweet and the entertainment was a treat.

If you don’t have the benefit of meeting the Coconut King, there are plenty of instructions for a green coconut, even video on the internet. There are also a lot of instructions for how to open a brown coconut that has had the husk removed, but everything useful for what we had, a brown coconut with the thick brown husk still intact required the strong and skilful use of a machete.

Claw Method

Claw Method

Russ had seen a woman in an apartment complex take a green coconut and beat it on the curb until the husk fell away, so we decided to try that method. It was the safest of all ideas under consideration, but the previously soft green flesh was dried and stringy. You could see the fibers that make planters, door mats and the like very well. Trying to remove it by curb method was slow going. We were reluctant to take the machete route, seeing those tough fibers. The hammer was on hand so Russ turned it around and used the claw side. That was working much better, but still slow going. One of the demonstrations on the internet used a saw, so he cut off a portion of the end with a saw and started again with the claw hammer.

Saw on Tailgate

Saw on Tailgate

At one point, he was afraid that he pierced the shell and would loose the milk. The eyes appeared to be exposed, so he jumped ahead to the place where you pierce the eyes with a nail and about a cup of milk came out.

Removing the milk

Removing the milk

Then he continued with the claw hammer. Soon much of the nut was exposed and it seemed that breaking it apart and removing it from the husk rather than removing the husk from the nut was the route to take. We also got about a cup of coconut meat from this. The meat was very soft and tender, the softest I’ve ever encountered, with a more delicate flavour than dried coconut.
Russ’ Grandmother reportedly has the best coconut recipe on the planet and fresh coconut is supposed to be one of her tricks, so we will give it a try and see how it turns out.

Meat removed from half husk

Meat removed from half husk

In the mean time, a friend shared this adult recipe with me. Now this is purely for the purpose of education and by no means a recommendation. Insert all the usual “Don’t try this at home disclaimers” here. Here goes… Apparently torpedo juice (fuel for torpedos) is (or was) very like the Everclear 190 proof beverage that you can get in the liquor store, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. A popular coconut treatment when torpedos and coconuts shared the Pacific Theater was to pierce the eyes on a coconut with an ice pick, then fill the coconut with the 190 proof torpedo or human fuel. Then you fill the icepick holes with toothpicks and set it aside. When the toothpicks shoot out of the coconut, your treat is ready. Something tells me that there’s another story here! My imagination runs with all kinds of catastrophe that might befall the person who attempts this with the flying toothpicks and strong alcohol involved. But when “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” is the prevailing mood, I can see how the risk/benefit trade-off gains a different perspective from the every day life that most of us know.

A Day Away, Space Shuttle Launch…manatees!

I went on my first tour with A Day Away Kayak Tours almost three years ago. It was the bioluminescent tour review here and it was wonderful. This time Russ was coming and the plan was to take the Space Shuttle Tour around dawn. The route is the same as the bioluminescant tour, only the focus is on getting there to watch the space shuttle take off so we linger at the best vantage point. Neither of us had done something crazy like drive all night for anything in a very long time. Launches are notorious for being postponed or canceled. That made it even more questionable, but we already had plans to go to Disney World and there was a lift-off on the schedule, so we gave it a try.

I went to the library and checked out Rocket Boys an audiobook of the memoir that the movie October Sky was based on, so as soon as Russ finished work we started feeding the CD player and settled in for the entertainment while trading off driving. We calculated the time in Google Maps and had a time buffer of about two hours, but it was a long trip and we were nervous about whether Google Maps got the time right or whether something might go wrong. Leaving Atlanta didn’t help. There were some fairly intense thunder storms that hit as we left town. Traffic was very slow. We compensated a little in the rest of the trip and managed to arrive pretty much when Google said we would, around 3:45 AM.

Driving up to the landing in the dark was a little special. I was having trouble remembering the landing exactly. I said I thought it was somewhere near the sign in the distance. That was correct, but the sign was not a road sign, it was a “No Wake” sign and it was maybe 20 yards out in the water. Flat sand, flat water, glad we were driving slow enough for plenty of reaction time.

We had just reclined the car seats for as much of a nap as we could manage when the phone rang. The mission had been scrubbed and so had the tour, but we could go at 9:00 AM for a manatee encounter or in the evening for a bioluminescent tour. Russ wanted the manatees! This trip is the same route as the other tours, but you linger in a place where the manatees like to hang out. Manatees are protected by law, once on the Endangered Species list, they are now upgraded to the Threatened Species list, these rules apply. Because it is spring the manatees were particularly frolicsome. Manatees came up beside most kayaks at one time or another, awesome! It tended to be a little bit private when it happened in spite of the crowd because none of the paddlers would call out to neighbors for fear of startling the manatees.

At one point we paddled up to a flat shoreline and took a break from the Kayaks. One person picked up hermit crabs to look and show them around, then set them down beside each other. There was a fight between the two crabs. I’ve never seen this before. We guessed that the one crab wanted to trade up to the shell of the other and someone joked about “illegal hermit crab fighting”. We all laughed, but then someone took pity and decided to separate them.

If it hadn’t been for the scheduled launch we never would have timed the trip in a way that forced us to drive all night, but the manatees were worth a trip in their own right. We were tired, and still wanted to see the launch, but not disappointed. It was enough fun to turn around and go right back so we kept watching the schedule to see if things would work out for another attempt. The launch was rescheduled for a couple of days later. It would have been a pre-dawn launch this time and we were looking forward to what would amount to a night paddle and a spectacular launch in the dark, but this launch was also canceled. There are a few more launches scheduled before the Space Shuttle program is cancelled, who knows, maybe we’ll get another chance to visit Florida.