Anniversaries

Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the house burned. (As it happened, it’s also the anniversary of wedding my ex). So, I’m going to take some time for looking back on what I did right and what I did wrong. And, take time to make time to get back to writing. But I’m only looking back two years to the fire. I’m just writing a post, not a book.

The most important thing I did right was when I decided to settle with the insurance company. I didn’t want a false incentive to rebuild my life “cookie cutter” style, nor to work hard at digging deep for proof of all that I owned. “Cookie cutter” was the adjuster’s phrase. If you choose the “build your house back” option, cost overruns are only covered if you build back exactly as it was. Meaning that if you upgrade to stone counter tops or move a wall, any completely unrelated cost over runs in the basement or drive way are not covered. When you live in a house 23 years, you can’t help but see some things you’d change. I had one of the more modern floor plans for my neighborhood, but the house was more than 30 years old and trends change. It was still not what you would build from scratch for the next 50 years. I moved on and sold the lot. A builder put a spec home there. He did a nice job of building a current home that fit well in an older neighborhood and it sold for a top price. I thought the clean slate was a good result for the neighborhood that I called home longer than any other and I felt good about that.

There are drawbacks to a clean slate though. When you are building back cookie cutter, there are few decisions to make because you already made them. “Same” is the answer to everything and you just watch the contractor to be sure it’s done right. When you do that, moving on in ways unrelated to dwelling and contents moves up in the queue. When everything is a new choice, the layers of choices past aren’t there building the foundation of quick new decisions. A conscious choice to start from scratch is not for the weak at heart. Those decades of layered choices are how you ended up with the life you had, and even though stuff is just stuff, it’s the stuff you use for your life and insurance isn’t designed to improve your life, only to keep you from suffering if the worst happens. The mistakes you make while remaking your home are at your own cost, just like the original ones were. The more unknowns, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.

The biggest surprise was how long things took. I thought there would be more Amazon.com involved in my rebuild, but things didn’t fall neatly together. There was the unexpected news that we had a seller’s market going on big time. I knew that neighbors weren’t having any trouble selling in my great school district, but I didn’t know just how hard it was to buy. We even went to a neighboring area where the school scores were a couple of percent lower, but finding a home was really tough, a big time sink. I was in that price range that has the most people in it, so well-priced houses were snapped up quickly. Now, I’m driving past houses we looked at nearly daily. I’m glad we didn’t end up in any of them and Russ says the same thing. But, there were complications and delays. We were still looking at back up houses the week before closing in case the deal fell through. I hated to ask to see a house when I had one under contract, closing in a few days, but I really didn’t have confidence in closing and I really didn’t have time to fail. If it hadn’t been for my allergies and that little hint of dog smell left in the carpet I might have jumped ship and be living in the last other house we looked at instead. Of course the irony there is that the house we bought had knock your socks off pet odors, but for that house the cure was to rip out everything and seal it with Zinsser.

The biggest mistake I made might have been having the urge to get on with things and buying before I had a permanent place to be. We had the goal to replace as much as possible through thrift stores and estate sales. It was the only way to get some semblance of the quantity and quality of what we had back. When you appreciate the quality, weight and feel of an antique tool, flimsy short term pressed sheet metal doesn’t cut mustard. We had to buy things when we could find them. They might not be available again. So, in some respects, it wasn’t a mistake to do it that way. And that may just be how it is when replacing a household, but it was definitely the hot spot. The place where it hurt was in the mix. Getting the right house meant getting a fixer because of the market, ours came with delays. We piled stuff on top of stuff inside of stuff and then rearranged stuff so that we could fit in more stuff. The irony being that 5 years from now we might have bought an Airstream (or a Spartan) and chosen not to even have a stationary home. It wasn’t 5 years from now though, it was two years ago. I replaced a lot of hobbies and do it yourself tools, household items and just plain stuff. The pile of stuff FOR the house gets in the way OF the house while we’re working on it, and it gets covered in saw dust too. My son downsized and wanted to fill my basement the day we closed. Life doesn’t stop going on just because we are still really, really disorganized and stressed. Moving stuff to do stuff. Moving stuff to clean it or clean behind it, or to keep from having to clean it. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSd6-EvBgN4 We thought after things settled, we might take a long overdue vacation. One where we don’t carry our food and bed on our backs. One where we walk on the beach and sleep in a bed. Russ had an injury in the spring that lasted through the summer. There’s no telling how over due that’s gonna get!

The uncomfortable irony happened when we learned from neighbors that lightening had struck several times in the new neighborhood. So far, it’s been mostly tree damage. The old neighborhood was in a dip and I never worried about tornados. The new neighborhood had several new roofs due to storm damage. I noticed before we bought that several homes had new roofs, but I had guessed it was just the age of the neighborhood. Later a nearby house burned. I was coming home and saw the dreadful black plume. Every turn brought me closer to a home I’d been in for only a short time, and every turn I was unable to tell that the plume was coming from somewhere other than my home. I don’t wish loss on anyone else, but another fire before recovering from the first? I really hoped it wasn’t me. At the same time, I started going through emergency choices in my mind. I listed settling as the best choice I made, but that double edged sword also makes me wonder if it was the worst. The whole thrift replacement idea got me some cool finds, but all that time and gas… there is no reimbursement for that, and I was only able to do it because of my employment gap. I believe that if it ever happened again (please, NO!), I’d go the other route. Rent close by and rebuild. At least if you know where you’re gong to live, it is possible to know if you’re renting nearby when you sign the lease. This time no corporate apartment in an inconvenient area. Get a nearby rental house this time, and rebuild this time. Make it as fast, painless and finished as possible. I’m not sure I regret how I made my lemonade over the past two years, but the litmus test for any choice is “Would you do it again?” Right there in that moment, drawing closer and closer to a plume that could turn out to be my own? The road was long. The answer was “no.” For that house at that time, maybe my decision was right, but I hope I never find out what it would be if it happened again, and I hope you, dear reader, never have more than a passing interest in what your decision might be either.

Tripod

Do you remember the movie with the three-legged dog named tripod? It’s my kind of humor that just goes ahead and calls out any possible elephants in the room to get them out of the way, and you can’t name a dog tripod unless you really love him just the way he is.

I had an experience with the fire that was like the ghost leg that the amputee feels. I was missing my tripod, the photographic kind. I really liked my tripod. It was an old style aluminum tripod that extended to nine feet high, and while it was aluminum, it was made before they started offering titanium alloys and thin walled aluminum tripods, so it was a little on the heavy, clunky side. I could set that baby down and it wasn’t going to tip over. I bought it second hand so long ago that I don’t really remember where, when, or even where I lived at the time, just that it fit me. It was nice and comfortable, like Linus’ blanket.

When everything goes, you think about the things that you really enjoyed having. I missed my tripod. I didn’t think about that I didn’t have any cameras anymore either, though they were much more valuable. I thought about the thing that would be harder to replace because that’s what you want to get back.

I was thinking about it every now and then. It seemed like I should have it, like maybe there was some reason it got saved, but I couldn’t really decide why I felt that way.I chalked it up to irrational feelings and bought another tripod in Goodwill to close the open thought loop. It was nice, but not the good fit I had before. At least it got the thing off my mind.

Some months after I bought my new-old tripod, I was talking to my son. He had borrowed my tripod, the favorite loved tripod that I thought I had lost. He feels the same way about that old thing that I do. If I hadn’t let him use it, it would be gone now. Generosity always pays off because it feels good, but I love it when it pays off in triplicate. I told him to bring it back next time we got together. He gave me a little fake pout and said “All right”.

Before I saw him again, the light bulb that had been dim for maybe six months now, came on. The Nikon, the Sony, the 3 Canons, several Kodaks, both Olympus, the underwater equipment and all the macro and micro lenses and filters and cases were no more. I called my son and said “Hey you know what? I don’t have a camera, so what need do I have for a tripod?” I told him he could keep it until such time as I did have a need.

It’s funny how feelings, like loss, can help you to miss the obvious. I’m looking forward to the time when I move into camera mode. It will be one of the clues that life is getting back to normal, when I can feel the luxury of being able to attend to what kind of camera would best suit my future uses. And when I do, I’ll trade my newer used tripod with my son and get Old Faithful back.

A Rollercoaster Named Overwhelmed

My writing has drifted out to sea in the rush to get the house ready for move in. For over a month, the floors have been a plague and we’ve had to go out of town twice for family funerals, one on each side of the family. We’ve also made other trips for other family obligations. “Hurry up and wait” has gone and any sense of order is just a lofty aspiration. Things bought for the house, the booth or the Etsy stores are scattered about the house like sprinkles poured on heavy by a child. As I am writing, I am thinking of the list of the things that we’ve done over the last month and I’m not really sure how we fit it all in, but I am sure why people are telling both of us we look a little short on sleep. This has been the year when people stopped telling me that I couldn’t possibly have children and a grandchild the ages of mine, and started asking if I qualified for the discount.

These are the times when I really question myself about how it is that I choose to do things, as in- never the easy way, but this time going about things the hard way wasn’t all in choice. A lot of the things that I thought would be the easy, low stress or expedient choices weren’t. It seemed reasonable to expect that buying a house would be less complicated, lower stress and a faster recovery than rebuilding the house we lost, but the housing market in our area is so strange now that it didn’t turn out that way.

There’s enough of a recovery going to keep prices fairly high. The recovery isn’t complete though and people have trouble qualifying for higher end houses they might have bought easily not long ago. That brings them down to my price range. My price range was always where I fit, but right now it’s also a fit for far too many other people. Since the fire, a house in my old neighborhood sold in week and another sold in days.

Almost everything has been just like that, longer, harder, more complicated…it’s really just a fairly standard renovation, with overdue maintenance and an unusually bad pet problem. The trips out of town have even actually helped. We have had time to assess how bad the problem is, how well different treatments have worked, do additional research and get some additional advice. If we had been left to do nothing but work on the house, we wouldn’t have done things as well as we have been able to. But, taking it all on at once has been pretty hard to swallow. It’s that we are trying to do as many things ourselves as we can combined with our little thrifty experiment.

Buying things second hand means getting them when you find them and storing them where you can. We are taking things over in small loads when we go to ease the moving burden, both in gas and in workload. Much of the stuff we have bought is “project” quality. We plan to transform it in some way before we use it. I’m pretty sure our new neighbors may be coming to think of us as the Clampett’s of Beverly Hills. First impressions being what they are… I’m joking of course. We’ve done a lot of yard work and they can tell that we are trying to take the worst house in the neighborhood and transform it into something better.

So there’s another day in the life… My goal for July: A house that we can move into, a writing schedule that’s regular, and enough aerobic exercise to keep my energy levels high and my stress levels low.

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 one your grandfather had to something you can’t even begin to imagine. 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. One day a shopper was leaving a store with a thing in her hand. I asked her what is was. 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 jewelry display.

Shoppers are from all corners too. From artists to those barely getting by, from hoarders to historians, from the wealthy to the wonderers and wanderers. 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.

Our 80% Bernina Bookcase

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I headed off in pursuit of a Bernina (sewing machine) advertised on Craigslist in an attempt to replace my long lost love. It was just one more small step in the whole distressing sewing machine saga (expletives expunged). The navigator on my phone was sketchy, and the quest took longer than I expected (though I would have gone further for my preciousssss). The advertisement said McDonough, but the first road off the interstate kept on and on eastward before I reached my first turn. It was longer than the hour’s drive I anticipated. The landscape was inviting and it reminded me that if my life could be down here, I could have twice the home and land with a large victory garden and space for much less money.

I arrived at a beautiful house, but the machine was not my precious. I was newish to my search and didn’t know the Bernina model numbers well. To complicate things, Bernina repeats model numbers. I knew before I went that this was not the exact machine I was looking for, but I didn’t know if it was close enough to do for a while. The seller and I both wanted the sale to make and we were both disappointed that it didn’t.

As I left through her garage, there was the pile of garage sale leftovers. You know the pile, the one that’s about to be donated to the closest cause. I asked about the wooden bookcase in the middle of it. It had been painted poorly. The entire bottom of one shelf was bare wood, but the other bottoms were painted. It needed re-painting, but it was solid pine construction and in sound structural condition. She asked more than I wanted to pay (the all time biggest cause of garage sale leftovers). But, occasionally I will buy something that can get my gas money back, because, hey, the search costs, whether you cover it or not. I think we were both disappointed on the bookcase as well, but we did make that deal.

The bookcase didn’t fit in the car, but somehow I managed to get it in anyway and avoided being licked to death by her dog at the same time. When I bought it, I had a few ideas and knew that it would be a great for displaying items in our short lived booth at Queen .

I stopped at every thrift store I could find on the way home, another attempt to get the most from my gas money and potentially find new places to hunt for treasures. Still, at the end of a long day, what I had to show for my time was one bookcase that I almost didn’t buy.

The bookcase wintered in storage because we don’t have a good place to paint in the apartment or the temperatures that the paint requires to set properly, but with this recent little burst of spring Russ has given it new life. He painted it and put some of his unique art on it. He made a beautiful save. Russ does what we call doodling, for lack of a better word. And his fresh paint and doodling made all the difference.

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There is this thing called the 80/20 rule that applies to our bookshelf. There are a lot of 80/20 rules actually. Most derive in some way from the Pareto Principle, 80% of the effects come from 20% of causes. Productivity coaches often use some version of the principle to teach clients to focus on the most productive activities so they can boost business to the place where the mundane 80% time sink can be hired out. In our case the 80% is in the treasure hunt and it could never be hired out. And yes, that’s a great big limiting factor.

This bookcase is a great example good teamwork though and I hope a harbinger of things to come.

Maaavelous Magnajector

I first saw a Magnajector as a child. It is a branded opaque projector, a black plastic device with an angled mirror to reflect an image and a lens to amplify it. It is a kindred spirit. Early ones were made of bakelite and the earliest opaque projectors, those before electricity were illuminated by lime light. My mother used hers to project small printed things like photographs or print type onto a surface like a wall for some of her art projects. This was before people had such excellent access to countless fonts and print types or digital manipulation of megapixels in nanoseconds. It was my first lesson in lenses and mirrors and I got a kick out of having to put the image in upside down in order to get an image projected right side up.

Mom’s came in a box that looked like this:

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Years ago, when my first child was a baby, I saw one by mail order. The box hadn’t changed much. I think I found it in the back of Southern Living, but I’m not certain. I got a lot of years of sporadic, but appreciative use from the thing and my daughter had been the last one to use it. That’s three generations of Magnajector users if you didn’t notice.

When you loose your stuff, the Magnajector is the kind of a thing that feels like a splinter. Loosing it delivers the maximum amount of annoyance that something can without truly being serious. I didn’t use it often, in fact rarely, but when I wanted to take a pattern from a costuming book and blow it up on the wall to trace it full size on paper, this simple, inexpensive, old technology is so much faster than the instructions in the book for increasing the size and it allows you to adjust experimentally on the wall, rather than repeatedly on paper or fabric. It’s so much less expensive than taking it to a print shop with a plotter. Sometimes having the right tool, even if it is simple and dated, makes all the difference in how a project turns out, how long it takes and even whether or not the project is tackled in the first place.

So, today in the thrift store I found it, sitting on its side in a pile of other things, no box, no markings, unrecognized and unappreciated by anyone else, another Magnajector in shining, like new condition. It appeared to be unused, and for the bargain price of a measly $5 it was mine. If I ever find one in Bakelite, that would be really cool, but for now I’m totally happy and the difference between the price I paid and the $30-60 I would have paid to get it elsewhere does three things. It makes me feel good about replacing something I seldom use, it helps make up for all of the gas and time I spend while hunting treasure and it recycles well functioning tools. All I had to do to get it was to keep having the faith that if I showed up and searched, good things would happen.

Charlie Brown’s Field Goal

I’m feeling really down today. It’s been a tough week. A real estate agent called and asked me to re-make an offer that I made back when her listing was new. I had an appointment to view the property to see if the condition had changed. I was all set to write the offer, close quickly, have the home search behind me and dig into the hefty renovations ahead. The agent called as I was heading out the door and told me that the seller had cancelled the appointment and raised her expectations. This was the second time I had let myself become invested in that particular home, only to have my hopes dashed, this time it was at the last minute. I felt like Charlie Brown when Lucy yanks the football away and he falls flat on his back.

I threw myself into looking anew and even made an appointment to see another home in the afternoon. I’ve stayed up till the wee hours trying to figure out what to do. Because I need a certain size, a certain location and have a fixed budget, I’m looking at a lot of homes that need work. That’s fine. I’d rather work on a bargain and make it my own castle with that little increase in equity that everyone wants as a reward for the hard work. The problem is that there aren’t any bargains. Sellers are hanging on and flippers are snapping up the foreclosures and doing shameful rehabs. You know, it just doesn’t take much time or money to take a few screws and secure the floor before you lay that $10/square yard contractor grade carpet and call it golden. I see so many disrespectful “rehab” choices that had to have been made with contempt that it makes me want to scream. Bad work doesn’t increase value, but it does increase the price.

So I’m going to talk about last weekend instead.

Last weekend was great. We went for a drive to pick up a dresser being given away by someone on Craigslist. When I saw the photo, I thought we might keep it, but when we got there… Well, it was a good solid dresser, but photos can be very deceiving. I think this dresser will end up in the booth because the feet that didn’t show up in the photo totally changed the look and period. It’s a good dresser, but not my style (Russ was a little disappointed to hear this) and there were no matching pieces either. I’d like my bedroom to match. Before it had two full and separate sets with extra pieces. I think some downsizing may be in order here.

We loaded the dresser and took off, ready to yard sale home. The first sale had a couple of antique sewing machines. I didn’t intend to buy these. I had been given quite a few sewing machines before the fire because I teach. No treadles though. I’ve wanted a working treadle machine for a while. There’s just a touch of old fashioned comfort and maybe a little bit of prepper independence in knowing you don’t actually need electricity, but the cabinet on this one wasn’t the pretty Victorian style that most people think of. It was also delaminating and the home of a dirt dauber nest. It wasn’t time to buy something like that either. My stuff level is becoming unmanageable for my situation. I really only asked the price in curiosity, but the preservationist in me came out and made the purchase when a neighbor told her to scrap the machines.

These machines did have some accessories that many thrift stores separate and sell off in parts. Once these things get separated, it is practically impossible to ever get a full compliment. That adds a lot to the value for anyone with even slightly functional interests. When people buy old machines, some are buying a tool or a part, some are buying a lamp base and some are buying craft parts for a steampunk project. For me it always has to go to the highest and best use, preserving functionality if there is any or supplying a part to restore usability to another machine comes first. Craft and art projects come last. As I was leaving the seller asked me if I had been to the estate sale nearby and gave me directions.

The estate sale was our jackpot for the weekend. There had been a seamstress in that house as well. I picked up a box and saw some magnetic pincushions and scissors. Magnetic pincusions are da bomb. No spilled pins, ever, and if you ever drop one, just wave the pin cushion over it and the pin jumps for the powerful attraction. When it’s time to dust the serger fuzz from your work space you just hold the whole thing under a faucet and the dust goes while the pins stay. I asked what she wanted for the box and she said $5. I saw enough things I wanted for that price that I didn’t look at it too carefully, I just said yes. There were another three boxes on the garage floor. She wanted another five for those combined. Russ said I couldn’t buy anything else. I laughed. He said “No, literally, it won’t fit”. The boxes were small, but we hadn’t started our day with an empty truck. He was both serious and correct.

Sometimes I’ll negotiate, but I clearly saw the value in the boxes, and when I started going through them at home, I’d have been embarrassed if I had asked for a lower price. There was an assortment of tools and supplies. The kind of thing that every seamstress has on hand, but they cost a lot to accumulate. I tossed out some things, but kept others. There was a tin of presser feet, those accessories that get separated, never again to be reunited with the mother ship. Who ever bought the sewing machine that was no longer at the estate sale would have loved to have them, and the kindred spirit in me would just hand them over if the opportunity had been possible.

There were more scissors than I have ever owned. Good sharp dressmaker shears, cheep paper scissors, quality pinking shears and some that were too dull for fabric. I can use them for paper. I’ve never had a pair of pinks that I would use on paper because it dulls the blades. This is the kind of assortment that is most useful to someone in my situation. Normally a person only needs one or two pairs of scissors because they already have some, but I can use the whole assortment. I bought sewing machine oil to use liberally in all the spots it might be needed, from scissor hinges to machine parts. It took me several hours to separate the treasure, clean, sort and dispose. All the small parts take time and I clean it all thoroughly. I’m still not quite finished and a new weekend is here already.

You know what I love? Old fashioned pipe cleaners for crafts. The kind they don’t make any more, fuzzy and thick, the ones that hold their shape with a heavier gauge wire than modern pipe cleaners have. You have no idea how excited I can get over a dozen good pipe cleaners. Having them in a drawer waiting to be used represents the kind of opportunity that filled my house before the fire and will fill my home once again in time.

For the furniture, we had to invent new ways to stack and store, and we’ll need to be in a house before we can actually restore the machines and find out if they can be made to work. I bought another large piece of furniture on Monday, a beautiful teak Danish piece advertised as a “china cabinet”, but I’m planning on having it in the study (assuming that we have a study in our next home). It’s more of a credenza with bookcase than china cabinet. It has to be refinished and those wonderful guys who loaded it left it with some damage that wasn’t there when I made the decision to buy. Three days of purchases completely consumed all of the space we freed when we got creative stacking stuff.

And so now I’m full circle, finished with all the positive stuff and thinking again how much I’m ready for a home ’cause it doesn’t do much good to accumulate opportunities if you can’t restore, reach or even find them. The problem with this rebuilding plan of mine is that rebuilding a life in thrift stores and estate sales is so hard to plan. You have to buy things when you get the chance and find a way to keep them without loosing your sanity until you have a place to put them.

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.