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.

And, More on Hard Wood

So, the particulars of the flooring salvage on a technical level were this: You rip off any remaining carpet that has been laid on the floors and then you take off the molding, doors and other things that get in the way. You loose a bunch where you start. You have to rip into the tongue and groove somewhere and that’s where you loose a couple, or more likely several rows. Russ got pretty good at minimal loss. He used a big yellow four-foot heavy-duty wrecking bar. He actually used four of them because the first three bent. Manufacturers have made a fine science of using the minimum resources required in production. With this tool, Stanley missed the mark. It was made for our purpose and he used it properly, but they were consistently not up to the job.

When pulling the wood up, it helps to slide the bar in near the nail if it’s not too tight, and to move down with a gentle sliding motion. The trick is not to pull too high, hard or fast. The mighty oak breaks, and then it’s not such a great salvage product. Russ turned out to be great at it and improved with practice. I pulled nails and moved wood.

In a project like this there are always the unexpected problems. We expected to get the house that we were putting the floors in sooner than we did and when that didn’t happen we stored salvage wood from the first demo house on palates at the lot where our old house had been and wood from the second demo house in a garage at the apartment.

Planning is always a cost saver, regardless of whether you are talking monetary costs or any other kind. With demo houses that were on the block and a reno house that had an unpredictable, even questionable closing date, planning was nigh impossible. I had my hands on each board a minimum of 7 times, so anytime we had to move them again from one place to another, I was thinking and talking about efficiency. I’m pretty sure Russ didn’t want to hear that nearly as often as I brought it up. My natural state is pretty Polyanna, but when I’m stressed my strong analytical side can stick like a thorn.

I mentioned the job being bigger than both of us in the last post, and then left it hanging for six weeks before posting this. The truth is, that for most of the second demo house I was certain that the end result would not be worth the hardship we experienced. Russ got sick working in the house, I don’t know if it was heat, stress, or viral. My uncle was nearing the end of his life, and one thing I had usually been able to do in the past was to spend enough time being around for people I care about at important times. No matter where I was I felt like I should be somewhere else.

The choice to do the floors the way we did wasn’t really unusual for us, so it wasn’t just that we were trying to economize after loosing so much in the fire. We are always frugal, always trying to make something beautiful out of nothing and always trying to make environmentally friendly choices. Respecting the resource and salvaging the mass and energy it represents felt good on a fundamental level, but I wouldn’t be fully forthcoming if I didn’t admit cursing that we made those choices more than once during this project.

Many of the things we bought for the future house at a bargain were not reachable because we had amassed quite a store with precious little space to hold it. Things were stacked on top of things, not always by the same person and not labeled, as they would have been if we had the crystal ball that would have let us know that nothing would happen quickly. We had to buy some things again in a rush and at full price. There was a huge bag of paintbrushes that we found at a thrift store and I believe they were stolen out of our garage one day when we failed to notice that the safety tripped and the door didn’t close. It seems such an odd choice of things to take that I wonder if we lost other things that we haven’t missed yet. The lack of organization brought me to my knees on more than one day. Our plan was to organize early and stay organized, but with the delays in getting the house in the first place, then the delays with cleaning and treating the mess left by the owner, we never were able to get out in front of things.

As soon as we got the sealing and prep done, we installed the flooring on the first floor just as we had acquired it, one piece at a time. We’ll do some “how to” articles to, hopefully, save any readers from our mistakes. Russ rented the sander and we didn’t use it. It was not made for someone his height and we were afraid of failing to get it right while at the same time actually damaging his back. We ended up hiring someone to sand and finish the floors. We were glad that we did. We needed the breather and they turned out beautifully. They even ended up being completed on the same time frame.

I like these floors much better than I would like carpet. I can keep them cleaner. I like to look at them better. I appreciate them. As I accumulate new antiques, they will look like they belong on hard wood floors. A fine antique sitting on wall-to-wall carpet really bothers my eye as being out of place. We couldn’t have made a hardwood choice without the salvage component. It’s just too expensive, and we wouldn’t have been preserving a resource. We wouldn’t have gotten the long 12, 16 and 19 foot boards with new materials either. Those long boards are a nice feature that we really enjoy.

I, we, like everything about having the floors. But then there is the telling question. “Would you do it again?” I don’t know. I highly recommend it for others for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but also, if for no other reason than as a right of passage, or maybe just to truly understand how hard some people work. You know, walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.

Our experience was mostly good. We were really getting into the first demo house, but the second one was just plain “grin and bear it” work. Doing it gave us enough wood to probably do our upstairs and I’m not at all sure we could have finished the full first floor if we hadn’t done it, but that second house weighed heavily on us. I’m going to love having these floors and I’m going to be glad we did it. The pleasure of living with the floors that we wanted will last and the memories of the unpleasant parts will fade, but to do it again, I’d probably want a much more controllable situation with less uncertainty and less deadline pressure. I’d want an organized base of operation and I it’s likely that I’d be more comfortable downsizing so the project would be smaller. But then I wanted those things for this project too, so for now, I’m just going to take a deep breath and move on to the next project.

Hard Wood

I was cruising Craigslist one day thinking about the thick 1950s knotty pine paneling that a friend of mine ripped out of a flip several years back. I gasped when she told me she threw it away. I thought there might some other renovator out there who had the wherewithal to keep theirs out of the landfill. That’s when I found the Savvy Salvager in Avondale Estates. She was working with a builder who was about to tear down some mid century ranch houses and put up newer ones, connecting people like me with the resources we wanted to rescue/salvage. There was knotty pine AND there were hard wood floors. I had been thinking of installing bamboo floors in the new house to get a look similar to hardwoods without the cost. There is also the fast growth rate of bamboo, making it a quickly renewable resource. Re-use trumps quickly renewable resources though and there’s the lasting beauty of wood. If we ripped it out ourselves, actual vintage hardwood was also the least expensive option. We made an appointment and went down to see the house.

I was definitely willing to do the work to get the knotty pine, so Russ and I talked about the floors. The purchase price for access to the materials was attractive, but the success of our outcome was an unknown, so it was a risk. The closing on the house had become uncertain as well, so there was risk on top of risk. We do a lot of things, but we had never demoed something on this scale, or for re-use. Taking it out carefully so it is both pretty and functional was the newbie challenge.

I thought the floors would be a “Russ” job. I said that I would support him however I could, but that I realized it had to be his decision because he’d be doing the work. Russ took the leap of faith, but the job turned out to be bigger than both of us.

Working in Avondale Estates and with the Savvy Salvager was the fun part. I loved her job and would still like to find someone on my side of town to work with in the same way that she does in her area. There is a small neighborhood radio station “AM 1690 Voice of the Arts”. We bought a battery-operated radio because the power is always turned off in a demo house. We listened to 1690 exclusively and really got into our sense of place. It’s the only station I know that periodically plays a bird call (or a whale call). Travel is one of the great joys in life, and sometimes the best trips are not geographically distant.

Avondale Estates is also the home of Waffle House. Our favorite restaurant in town wasn’t Waffle House though. It was not a franchise, Palookaville, home of the world’s best Corn Dogs and adult only milkshakes. Before my first visit I didn’t even like the idea of a corn dog and I couldn’t imagine a milkshake with alcohol, but we knew we’d eat there often and having a reason to be nearby certainly didn’t dissuade us in our decision to move forward. It turned out to be the only place we ate, our exclusive after demo respite. They are famous for the dogs, but the Cobb Salad with Pine Street Market bacon was pretty sweet. The sandwiches are good too and there’s a thrift store on the other side of the parking lot that had some of the best potential I’ve found to replace some of my lost treasures, or to find replacement home goods that remind me of things lost and the people they once belonged to.

I had more trouble with the paneling than I expected. I had to call Russ in when I didn’t have the strength. It was the survival factor. Anyone can sling a sledge hard enough to break something, but it takes superior controlled strength to disassemble with a carpenter’s crowbar. Most of the paneling came out well, but a few pieces broke. I took the picture below when I came to the place where the bathroom medicine cabinet had been up against the paneling. Have you ever noticed the disposal slit for the old fashioned razors? Well here’s what happens.

When I finished the paneling, I became Russ’ helper. I started taking out nails. They were cut nails, big sturdy nails that look a lot like a horseshoe nail. I hammered them backwards and a few would fall out, but I had to grab most and pull with the claw or pliers. One person told me they used a saws all and left the heads in the boards, but I have the slow cooked mindset of someone who will put thousands of hours in a textile project. Sometimes I think I have a finer sensibility and sometimes I think I should value my time more like other people.

My job expanded. Russ, Avondale Estates, the project, the opportunity to thrift in a different direction on the way, my center of gravity was there. I’m not really sure how much help I was. My skill set and my physical strength were growing, but not nearly fast enough and it wasn’t cost free. I was working at the edge of my capacity, both physically and emotionally. There is no air conditioner in a house without power, no fan either, just stale abandoned house smell…at best. In the original scenario Russ was coming over alone after work most days, but it turned out that I went over while he was at work and we were there together after. It was my choice to expand my role, but the work was hard enough that I still felt like a failure. I did more and felt worse about it. Before it was all over, it morphed into Karen does whatever she feels like she can handle and Russ does all the other stuff. To the outsider it may have looked like I was in charge, but really what happened is that Russ let me do the parts I thought I could handle and then he made sure it all worked.

Our uncertainty about, and our commitment to the project intensified with every drop of sweat, every thick heavy cut nail. We still weren’t sure we would get the house we planned to put these boards in, or how many we needed if we did. The seller shut down access after due diligence. We expected a quick closing, so we hadn’t measured and assessed things the way we would have if we had known we were going to try to make decisions ahead of access. So, with all the unknowns and a need to be working toward something, we took another leap of faith and bit on the floors in a second demo house. The price was higher per square foot on this one though. The wood wasn’t quite as nice either and the demo date was more likely to be an issue. Our Savvy Salvager had been clear at the beginning that demo would not be held up if we didn’t finish, so the stress was on. The weather was warmer for this house and we couldn’t open the key door and windows that would have allowed for the best breeze. Russ and I each experienced a death in the family over this time period and moving forward was an act of unfocused determination, a half minded, single minded one foot in front of the other kind of march.

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.

Antici PAshun

This week we’re right there at almost there, or we hope we are. I went for a bike ride that was just over twenty miles, my longest ride since the house burned, but it was only a new high for now. A year ago an average ride was 40 to 60 miles and the 80s would have been a fairly comfortable high. 20 miles would have been in the home stretch for old normal and I’m only getting out once a week these days.

I deal with stress by riding my bike longer and harder, which has its health benefits, but last time I had a “training level event” I think I overdid it, and that has side effects instead. This time I buried myself in a stress cloud focused on the computer screen and set myself at finding a home. A couple of real estate agents wanted to be my buyer’s agent; little did they know that they really didn’t. I never anticipated finding our next home would be such a challenge, and several times questioned my decision not to rebuild in place. After I started looking, a couple of potential homes went away fast and before I knew it I was afraid I wouldn’t find something within what previously seemed like a generous time frame. It wasn’t going to let that lesson on what the current market was doing go wasted. I was searching for updates so often that I was finding them ahead of the auto updates generated by the listing companies. Getting back to a new normal was/is my job du jour, and I intend(ed) to do it to the best of my ability.

The big deal this week was supposed to be closing on the house. It was scheduled for Wednesday, but there was an error in some previous paperwork and it may be next week. I eased up, but never stopped watching new listings. This closing seemed like it had the potential to go that way and I never consider a deal done till it’s over.

The thrifting is still constant but becoming a real drag, we’re almost as afraid of finding that perfect thing as we are of not finding it. We’ve passed on several good deals because there’s just no place left to stash anything at all. I missed out on a great 6 foot cast iron and porcelain vintage farm sink on a metal cabinet in near perfect condition. At first I envisioned painting it red and putting on a Coca Cola logo that would remind me of my grandfather’s wholesale grocery store where I grew up playing on feed sacks, but it didn’t really need painting. It was in pristine condition. It would have been perfect for my basement cleaning station and mini kitchen in the planned in-law suite, but the price was unbelievably awesome and it sold right away. We still keep looking though, because great things come in small packages too and those are not as hard to store and move extra times. There’s that three day float too when you don’t have to pick up things,but I won’t know when I’m three days from closing until I’m there.

There’s plenty to do, things that really need doing, but what I want to be doing is digging into the house renovation and moving forward. That makes it all the more hard to concentrate on overdue paperwork. I should be using this time to get all that done so that when we do get the house it will make more time to focus on my goal. Sometimes it’s hard to make the heart obey the head.

Things I feel free to purchase at the thrifts are more like Monopoly games that I can find a corner to stash. Things I’m passing on are more like really great furniture. Not in line with our priorities, but dictated by our practicalities. I’m already storing the bike inside the apartment. I also found a great deal on a bike I could leave at my mother’s house so that I don’t have to take mine back and forth every visit, but I haven’t visited since I bought it, so it’s outside on the deck. Before the closing was put off, I was literally counting days. If I buy this now, can I wait to pick it up after closing? Deals in the thrift store are here today, gone tomorrow. So, that’s where we are right now. ready and waiting.

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!

Thrifting for a Day

One never knows what the day will bring when setting out in search of treasure. Many people look at fishing as a similar venture. My father was an extraordinary fisherman. People who went at it with less seriousness saw him as lucky, but I knew better. He had put in the time and effort to take luck out of the equation. When he was young he kept meticulous notebooks recording places time, weather, water quality, bait/lures and other things, and for the rest of his life he did mental editing. He knew when, where, with which tools and under what conditions the fish would bite. Like the younger brother who was described in “A River Runs Through It” my father on the other end of a fishing rod was an artist. He got there with practice, attention and perseverance.

In thrifting it’s the careful attention and plodding perseverance that are most useful. I’d like to think my good results can somehow be attributed to skill, and it is important to know your stuff, but a lot of it is just putting in the time. Some stores will have habits and knowing them is useful. But, they don’t always stick to their own habits, and they are dependent on sometimes unpredictable things, so going back again and again is the only way. It also works in their interest to make sure you have to set foot in the door, to be in impulse purchase mode, to find out if they have the thing you really want. We who love to thrift are particularly susceptible to impulse purchases. That’s how some of us become hoarders, and how others of us end up donating our purchases back to the place where we bought them to be resold again.

Wednesday, I made a big loop. It was about 15 stores, a tank of gas, a whole day and two meals out. So, maybe $300.00, nine hours and 100 or so miles were what it took to bring in my treasures of the day.

Here are some highlights.

Handmade Oak Craftsman floor lamp, needed a harp and a finial. Retails at $435 The harp and final requires a trip to a lamp store for a sturdy harp and a finial worthy of its lamp. That was an extra 2 hours and $20.00 cost added to acquisition. I gave the lamp to Russ for his Valentine’s present.

9 shortbread molds, sometimes I’ll go months without finding any of these at a price I’m willing to pay. These had sold prices on Ebay from $9-200. The more expensive ones had papers, and I’ve been throwing out my papers because I plan to use these in a bakery offering on Etsy. The larger one is still in the dishwasher. $120

A stainless steel double boiler style steamer for personal use. $15

A large heavy duty restaurant sifter well made $10

A Paula Deen ceramic tube pan retails for $40.

A handmade lazy Susan that the maker still sells for $70 needed a bit of steel wool and some new oil, or $5 more dollars and 30 min.

An assortment of vintage goodies that I will sell in my Etsy store or one of my booths. $150.00

So, I had a very good day. I built my household, my Etsy business and my local business, The gain was around $500, but there’s always a but. Only around $150 is in salable merchandise and there will be percentages as well as overhead (like booth rent) taken from that. Most of today’s finds will go toward the “How much of our household can we replace through thrifting” part of the equation. We got a really nice floor lamp that retails for about 4 times what we would have paid if we were buying a new household item and it was the showcase item of the day. I’m very happy with it and Russ is too. However, it is important to note that a large part of my gain comes from attributing retail value to that lamp, rather than valuing it at what I could ask for it if I were to sell it second hand. Much of my gain for the day is in having something nicer in my home than I could otherwise afford to buy.

Another big part of my success lies in the fact that I had several goals. That allows me to find more things that fit. If you’re looking for 20 different kinds of things it is more likely that you’ll find one of them when you go out.

Photos of some things will follow, but it’s time to publish, my technology is not playing nice today and I have appointments to keep.

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.