Thursday, July 31, 2008

One More...

Ok, I forgot about these. Here is a collection of leatherette jewelry boxes ranging from 50 cents to $5.00. I like them even more than the $100 ones in the PB Catalog.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Man's Trash...

Having spent $1200 in the last 2 days on car repairs, I feel pretty bummed. So, in an effort to make myself feel better, I'd like to share a few of my recent thrifty finds with you. I don't think they add up to $1200 in savings, but who knows? Humor me!

Here's a cute little side table/plant stand I snagged out of a neighbor's trash. In broad daylight.

...And a $1.99 vintage bamboo magazine rack from the thrift store. The red spray paint cost $3.00. I'm thinking of painting it another color to match the tan family room.

Here's an old sideboard I thrifted for $24.00. I think it looks great painted white against my new "mocha" walls. What do you think?

Also, this $4.99 mirror from the 1940's was painted gold. I fixed some broken spots with putty. Spray painting it white cost $3.00. I'm hoping it adds some light to my now dark room.

This mirror was a fun find, also at the thrift store. I had been looking at star burst mirrors for $100 and up for above the bed. It may be a tad small, but at $1.28, who cares? It really completes our room.

The newly painted family room needed an entertainment center. I found this in the trash. Very ugly, very dark, very heavy. One coat of off-white spray paint, and I think it looks pretty good. It's just waiting for a flat panel tv, don't you think?I'll probably sell our $900 armoire on Craigslist to justify keeping this little freebie.

And last, but not least, I snagged these film canisters curbside WITH THE KIDS IN THE CAR. I thought they'd be fun. One says "Warner Brothers, 1968" on it. Okay, so I have absolutely no background in film production, but I thought they were cool. The kids did, too.

Soooo, with that, I think I'll call it a day. To those of you who leave stuff by the curb, or donate it to thrift shops rather than just carting it off to the dump, I thank you!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hold the Pickle, Hold the Lettuce

Let me start by saying I have never, ever, ordered anything on the side. When I’m at a restaurant, I read what’s listed, make a decisive order, and am generally pleased with how things turn out. I trust a chef to have put together adequate combinations. I am in no way a demanding or picky eater.

So, you can imagine how baffling it seems to me that I cater so much my kids’ picky eating. Yes, I know there are those of you out there who have sushi-eating kids, but I don’t want to hear about it. My kids subsist on air and cheese. My husband and I actually cheered last week when our son ate marinara sauce on his pasta for the first time. This, after almost a decade of noodles with parmesan and butter.

I am not going to bore you with all the details of my kids’ eating, or lack thereof, but I will admit I go to lengths to accommodate the pickiness that my parents would never have stood for. I was at my favorite frozen custard/ sub shop the other day and I found myself paying almost $6 for one sub roll covered with cream cheese for my kids to share.

This stemmed from a tradition that started when they were toddlers. The understanding assistant manager would see us coming, start to slather up a roll for them, and charge me about $1.25. This allowed me to eat my turkey and avocado sub in peace and feel less mortified when I turned around 10 minutes later and ordered them frozen custard as a treat. Anyway, last week I took the kids in for the first time in a very long time. The familiar face behind the counter was gone, and when I requested my unusual “usual,” his replacement looked at me like I had 3 heads. Others were consulted. A crowd gathered. In shame, I plunked down large sums of money. I wondered why I was going to such lengths for these two, when other kids around us were happily chowing down on fries and chicken fingers. A request that seemed cute and semi-reasonable at ages 1 and 3 seemed much less so at 7 and 9. Aargh.

It kind of reminded me of Filet-O-Fish. You see, my dear mom knew I hated ketchup (still do!), but she also knew that as a mom with 3 kids in less than 4 years, she had a lot on her plate. She had an agenda to get us where we needed to go. There were a lot of fast food meals, but absolutely no whining and no substitutions. I was well informed that Burger King’s Slogan “Have it YOUR way, Have it your WAY” meant nothing at McDonalds. My mom simply would not let me order a burger without the ketchup and those tiny little onion chunks. No way. Not an option.

So, for 15 years I ordered the Filet-O-Fish and I didn’t whine about it. I am not sure what she figured would happen had we waited a few extra minutes for a ketchup-less burger, but we never found out. I still do not know.

Now, I’ll probably cheer the first time one of my kids eats a fast food burger. With or without ketchup. With or without a bun. Who knows when that time will come?

I am tired of beating myself up about the way they eat. I think I just need to be patient. I know from patience. When I was 16 McDonalds finally came out with Chicken McNuggets.

With My Own Two Eyes

I had Lasik last year and it didn’t go very well. My vision is at its worst when I am trying to read anything, near or far. Since the surgery, I’ve had quite a few mix-ups while scanning the morning paper. I’ll be up in arms about what I think is an outrageous headline, then I’ll discover I’ve read one word wrong, and the article is a lot tamer than I’d anticipated. “Gays Prices Go Up Again” is really “Gas Prices Go Up Again.” “Town Council Debates Feces” is actually “Town Council Debates Fences.”

This morning I came across “Buried Foot Baffles Authorities.” Grossed out that they would have the audacity to include a photo of a severed limb, I quickly covered the accompanying picture with my hand and began to read the article. After I started reading I realized it said “Buried LOOT Baffles Authorities.” Oh well. The fact that the Laser center I used for my eyes is now shuttered with a “For Lease” sign in the window does not surprise me at all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Chocolate Lab Experiment

Someone who lives in my house, whose name may or may not start with an “A,” took a full pan of brownies to a Girl Scout function tonight, even though her dog, whose name may or may not start with “S,” stuck her entire face in the pan prior to it going in the oven. In this woman’s defense, it WAS her daughter’s 7th birthday and she had a lot going on. There was the American Girl Movie to see at the mall (great flick…or so I’ve heard), there were 7 neighborhood kids running through the house on a girl against boy rampage, her husband was working from home, her son’s Lego masterpiece got destroyed for the second time in a week during said rampage, and she was packing for her family’s beach vacation. Her daughter doesn’t like cake, so the brownies were the official birthday dessert—get it? Brownies for the Brownie meeting? A 350 degree oven will kill anything, right?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Return to Sender?

Somehow, recent catalog and online ordering on my part has yielded a catalog heretofore unknown to me: The Vermont Country Store: Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find. I am not sure what I did that prompted them to target me as a customer, but boy does it make me feel old. Who knew so many caftans were available in one place?

This catalog operates on nostalgia, and I must admit that some of the items do take me back. Classic Tretorn sneakers remind me of my dad. The Lanz of Salzburg nightgowns that my mom, sister and I all wore, and Charles Chips Potato Chips in the big yellow cans transport me back to simpler times.

I hate to admit, however, that callus scrapers and “Tired Old Ass Cream” might be relevant to me at not quite 40 years old. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you I did have to wear the surgical support hose on page 23 for my entire second pregnancy! What an experience that was-- chasing a toddler in the sandbox and at the pool in the heat of July wearing granny stockings.

If you read my earlier post on perfumes from the past, you’ll be happy to know you can still buy Love’s Baby Soft, White Shoulders (a personal fave!) and even GeeYour Hair Smells Terrific Shampoo.

What surprised me the most were the pages labeled, “Intimate Solutions for the Next Stage of Your Life.” Oh my goodness. I would NOT want to have to explain these items to Jake or Molly. It’s nice to know the caftan crowd still knows how to have a good time.

I hesitate (ok, for about a millisecond) to even make fun of this catalog because more and more items seem useful to me the longer I peruse the pages. I’ve actually been looking for a cooling bandana for Shadow to wear on our walks and there’s a very reasonably priced one. We could even get a matching set-- one for her and one for me.

My mouth did start watering when I saw the Bit-O-Honey and Chiclets. I may be able to resist those, but on page 105 is something I’ve dreamed about since 1979. It was on many an unfulfilled birthday list of mine, along with a Chia Pet and the craft kit that made shrunken heads out of apples. There it is in all its glory: The Original Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. For only $19.95!

Aargh. I cannot tell you how badly I crave it, but I’m afraid if I place an order, I’ll be put on the AARP mailing list before my time.

Regrets and Remembrances

It’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve been thinking of a former student, Alex. Head bent over his desk, never making eye contact, rarely saying a word in class, he would turn in flawlessly written essays that blew the rest of the class’s work away. To me, the way he folded himself down inside his body, and tried to fade into the background was a sign of severe social anxiety. I thought of various medications and wondered if something could free this handsome, brilliant young man from whatever prison he was in.

Partway into the year, in a journal entry, Alex mentioned losing his mom to cancer. I thought it had happened long before, and I jotted in the margin that I, too, had lost my mom and still struggled with it if he ever wanted to talk. I didn’t know the wound was raw and fresh. His counselor had never told his teachers about the loss, just a few short months before.

If I had known how fresh his pain was, would I have done a better job reaching out? In my imagination, I take Alex under my wing, mentor him, and help him break down the walls he had built up around himself. In my imagination, I go on to see him with a cute but shy girlfriend and a small circle of friends, slowly coming out of his shell. But that’s not reality.

In those early years of teaching, some of my male students accused me of being a man hater. They thought I favored the female students who would gather in my classroom for lunch and eagerly soak up my fashion sense and advice about life. I was never a man hater, but as a teacher in my mid-twenties, I was concerned with propriety and my reputation in dealing with male high school students. I think I kept them at arm’s length.

So, instead of saving Alex, I praised his flawless essays, tried to encourage him, and sent him on his way at the end of the year. I followed his progress from afar, calling out to him as I saw him walking down the hallway, always alone. I defended him when his 12th grade English teacher came into the lounge griping, “This Alex So and So is the surliest boy I’ve ever met! He sits and glowers at me all day.” I told my colleague that that the glowering wasn’t for the teacher, but was for Alex himself. Even in my defense of Alex, I was off-base. What I took as poor social skills and teenage self-loathing was really grief, a grief that was killing him.

I think of a home without a mother. Alex’s siblings loved their mom just as much as he did, but they somehow managed to cope. I don’t know whether a more sensitive school counselor would have made a difference, or whether if he had sat in class crying rather than scowling he would have gotten more help.

I know that his father tried. His family continued to stay involved in church and Alex accepted Jesus. His father tried to get Alex involved in soccer, but the joking, crass language, and lack of sportsmanship rubbed Alex the wrong way. It didn’t fit into the structured way Alex thought the world should be. Alex’s dad tried. But a father is not a mother, and a mother is what Alex needed most.

I didn’t see Alex much his final two years in high school When he was accepted to one of the most prestigious schools in the country, I thought that would be his time to blossom. The next time I heard his name, however, what when I found out he had killed himself. I still don’t know how he did it, and I’ve never asked. That is not an image I want in my mind.

I pulled up outside his house to talk to his dad, my two toddlers strapped in their car seats, chattering away. He thanked me for looking out for his son, and I felt worse than ever. We talked about a brilliant boy who felt too deeply. Who silently held people to a certain standard that they couldn’t live up to. Who felt let down by life.

I know I would be a different teacher if I went back today. I would be more willing to reach out and get involved in the messiness of kids’ lives. I hope my kids encounter adults who are willing to reach out to them and care about them.

I think about my own son and I see a quiet boy who takes life very, very seriously. A friend of mine today called him an “old soul.” I see high test scores and good grades and I think-- “brilliant.” Now brilliant is good, but I wonder how one breeds resilience. For surely life is hard, and I can’t protect my kids from hardship. I can just pray they will be resilient enough to keep going in the face of it.

Every few months a guest orchestra plays at our church. The violin player looks just like Alex. I stare at him and imagine he’s still alive, making beautiful music. I imagine he is an overcomer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's All in My Head

At my favorite thrift store this week I saw yet another personalized wedding gift languishing on the shelves. I doubt another John and Amber, who just happened to get married on June 20, 1994, will be searching the knick-knack aisles for just such an item.

As a result, on my weekly shopping forays I’ll be subjected to their personalized vase and my mind will weave a story about its unfortunate landing on this dusty shelf. Sure, it may have just not fit in with the decor of the happy couple, but my good sense tells me that John and Amber are now in Splitsville: broken dreams, broken promises, broken home.

I think of the future they once had, dashed. I wonder about the children, the mortgage, the house with the 2-car garage. I am protective and feel like buying it, just to get it off of the shelves and away from prying eyes.

My thrift store habit already borders on the obsessive, so if I start bringing home other people’s personalized stuff, I’ll be certifiable. But what about the plain plastic frame over there with a middle-aged couple walking down the aisle—probably a second wedding? Couldn’t whoever donated it have taken the photo out first so I wouldn’t have to wonder, all day, how neither party, no matter how badly burned by love the 2nd time around, would want to keep the picture?

I have a friend who recently bought a vintage scrapbook from a junk shop. It is probably about 60 or so years old. After extensive Internet research, she managed to track down the daughter of the family in the scrapbook. She wants to reunite her with the family album and has placed a phone call, yet unanswered, to the daughter. This friend, like me, savors the story, and sees stuff as more than stuff.

Savoring (or, in my case, imagining) the story can be a burden. It makes me think of John and Amber when I should be thinking of great thrift shop deals I can score for my family. It makes me wonder which photos, dishes and furniture I should save since I serve as my family’s unofficial historian. I want my kids to be interested in, but not bogged down by, memories of the past. Our kitchen wall is decorated with the words, “The best things in life aren’t things,”and I want to exemplify that to them.

So instead of worrying about John and Amber, and the winners of countless sports trophies and tacky business awards (“Bob Parker—January’s Top Salesman!”) that line the thrift store shelves, I will try to move on. I’ll try to remember the relief these people most likely felt from cleaning up and clearing out—and that sometimes stuff is just stuff. And, when I do finally donate some of the more sentimental “treasures” I have, I’ll try not to imagine a phone call reuniting me with my stuff a few years later.