Thursday, June 24, 2010

Treasure hunting: the thrill of the chase

I recently upgraded my cable from Peasantvision to Lower-Middle-Classvision. The upgrade was necessary, because our Comcastic cable company eliminated a few of the stations we actually watch, and the upgrade, which is costing just a dollar a month more, means we now have a few additional stations! So now we have Comedy Central, the Food Network, and the History Channel.

I watched American Pickers the other day on the History Channel. If you have yet to see this show, it features two men who travel across the country in a huge vehicle looking for thrifting treasures.

The men are in daily communication with a woman who seems to be one of the men's woman. The woman digs up tips about thrifters and hoarders and collectors who may want to sell some of their treasures.

I'm not sure how this woman gets her tips, but she does seem to locate folks with crap-tons of antiques and oddities stored away in crowded old barns and garages.

The men pick through the items, and the taller, lankier of the two men invariably falls hopelessly in love with one particular item that the owner doesn't want to part with, therein creating the episode's drama.

The end of the show culminates with a wrap-up of how much the men paid for each item and what it's actually worth.

This last part of the show is so interesting. Generally, the men pay more than they should, and their treasures are actually worth less than you'd think. I'm left feeling like I'd feel if I'd watched a show that spent a half an hour getting me all psyched about the Best Singer in the World only to find they're somewhat tone deaf during the big musical finale.

Then you have to factor in how much is costs these guys to roam around the country in an SUV. And we have to assume the gal back at the ranch is getting paid. And they have to cart their crap back to Home Base and find a seller.

I understand these men are probably more focused on generating good tee vee than their profit and loss. Both gentlemen seem genuinely attached to the items they find, and they do have a nice store of knowledge when they're treasure hunting all across this great land. On a smaller scale, their enthusiam completely resonates.

I've been actively chasing my brand of thrifting thrill for a few years now, and I know all about the thrill of the chase. I love walking into a store, an estate sale or garage sale armed with a growing knowledge of Old Stuff, knowing that it's highly likely I'll find a diamond in the rough.

Sometimes I feel like I'm stealing when someone willingly sells me something valuable for almost nothing. Sometimes I get attached to something I really really love, and I Must Have It. Sometimes I'm duped, I spend too much and don't realize the ROI I expected.

Treasure hunting is just like life, really.

And, hopefully just like life, I've learned a lot during my treasure hunts. I've become fairly skilled in a few choice thrifty specialties, and it's an education I've truly enjoyed pursuing. The thrills I've experienced during my chasing are too numerous to mention. And in my pursuit of bits of history, unrecognized worth or a prurient desire to score an odd little find, I've realized there's a quiet underground army of people just like me.

One such person is the brother of a friend of mine, and I recently asked him if he'd give me a glimpse of his treasure hunting map. This man is a very successful hunter, and he's skilled in niches I wish I knew more about. Here's part of an email he recently sent me that got me much more excited about the chase than any episode of American Pickers:

If there's anything I like more than treasure hunting, it's reading about other people's adventures doing the same!
The key thing for me is knowledge. The more you know the more things turn up, because you are seeing the value in things, or know they have value, even though they might look like junk. Knowledge is like a pair of magic glasses that allow you to see money where other people don't!

I have too many stories, but this past weekend I went to a couple of library book sales. One sale was in its second day, which is usually the kiss of death, as several hundred people had already scoured the room for good books, but I found an old "Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam" hardcover, illustrated by a woman illustrator I am familiar with, in a great art deco fashion.  Why no one picked this up for $1.50, I have no idea, but I sent an email to a customer and promptly sold it for $200. I also sold a Frank Lloyd Wright book for $50 (cost $3) and still have two boxes of great books to sell, including an 1877 Lewis Carroll "Through the Looking Glass ($4) and an 1862 Civil War book ($4), all from one library sale.

I've diversified over the years as my base of knowledge has increased and now buy in many categories. For example, did you know that old mens' razors like Schick and Gillette (from the 1920s-40s), in the boxes, can sell for $20-$250? Don't ask me why, but they do! You can pick these up anywhere for a buck or or two. I know you are a Goodwill hound, so you must look though the old t-shirts for old rock t-shirts which can sell from $20-300 apiece. 1970s are the best and they don't have to be in great shape. I recently sold a Bob Dylan t-shirt that I picked up for $1 for $90, and it wasn't in great shape..

Thanks and I'll continue to follow your blog!

It's great to find kindred spirits. No need for an SUV, a Base Camp or a History Channel bankroll. Sometimes the greatest treasure is realizing there are other people who share the simple love of the chase.

And note to self: put t-shirts on the list of things to look for....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What's behind Door Number One?

Sometimes counting my pennies sucks.

Those times include, but aren't limited to, wanting to go on vacation, enjoying anything on the menu at an expensive yet tastefully appointed restaurant, and buying something I don't need, just because I want it.

Let's take yesterday. My son Logan and I strolled through an outdoor flea market that was set up in a park. The market was populated with vendors selling antiques.

There was a partial door - very old, partially painted, naturally distressed, with a super-cool white ceramic doorknob. And the doorknob worked.

Of course I didn't need the door. But I wanted it.

Then I heard the voice of reason coming from the face of my 14-year-old son. "That money would be better spent on something we need, and that door's not practical."

Snotty and parental? Maybe. But he was right.

I left without the door, but I wish I could have bought it with impunity.

In the long run, I'm glad I passed on Door Number One. Because frugality, with all its imagery of lack and miserliness, has another name.

Let's call it resourceful abundance.

I don't accept the equation that frugality equates to lack. I see it more as conscious consumerism.

My world doesn't feature the maudlin scent of poverty. It's alive with color that isn't found in a store; it's assuaged with the vibrance of using everything to its fullest potential, of gratefulness for everything and want for nothing.

We're lucky to have found ourselves in this occasionally weed-ridden, often fruitfully generous garden of a planet. And the combination of gently using while consciously replacing seems to be a good idea.

We mandate so much in this crazy country. So many rules have gone from the imposition to the acceptance stage during my lifetime. And I wonder sometimes why we can't impose rules that are designed specifically to benefit the greater good - mandated recycling, hybrid cars, alternate power that would release us from the mess we've created.

I think we'd be on the fast track to large scale resourceful abundance.

Because just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dusting off the welcome mat.

When the kids are in school, our lives are a whirling, twirling series of getting up early, learning stuff, working, then flopping into bed. Socializing takes a back seat to obligations.

Summer's a different story.

Summer needs to be relaxed, and it needs to happen on the cheap.

But I do like a certain level of structure, even during the summer. So I've fashioned special events that take place on Tuesday and Thursday nights. They're among the top three or four of the most highly anticipated evenings of the week.

Both evenings are very social, and totally cheap.

That cheap part is important.

On Tuesday evenings, we have dinner on my back porch with my sister and nephew. After dinner, we have an informal Salon. We pick a word, a thought, a random idea, and we all write about it. No judgment - it can be a poem, a story, an idea, an essay, a haiku, whatever. Nothing's wrong or judged and everything's appreciated, so ideally, there's very little self-editing.

I picked this week's topic. Heat. My Salon contribution will follow....

As for our casual Salon evenings, we're borrowing an idea from Dorothy Parker. Back in the day, Dorothy and her cohorts would convene around their big round table and talk about events of the day, cerebral reflections and other interesting stuff.

I'm no Dorothy Parker, although she's on my Short List of those living or dead people who'd I'd invite to dinner.

Salon, for us, is a time to connect. Our Salons are recently reconstituted. We had weekly Salons a few years ago. Then we all got way too busy and we let it go.

And now, this summer, Salon is back. The kids are older, we're all a bit wiser, and we have a new-found appreciation for our Salon time.

As for Thursdays during the summer, we enjoy a Peasants Feast.

We borrowed the idea, just like Salon. Regardless of its bastardized origins, each Thursday this summer will be a unique blend of whoever chooses to show up with a side dish with the intention of doing some summer socializing.

Both Salon and Peasants Feast bring a series of interesting, cheap, conversational bright spots into our week. Both evenings are perfect on so many levels. We get to be all kinds of social, we experience a high level of thrifty tasty cheapness, and it all happens in our own back yard.

I love the thrifty part, but I love the social part even more.

And I did mention I wrote a little something about heat for our Salon tonight?

I chose heat last week, because it was bloody hot last Tuesday, and it was the first word that sprung to my mind.

So here's what I'll be reading tonight. A little something about heat. Interestingly, I thought of the idea for this little story in the shower this morning.

When he looked back on the day, he thought he should have waited to put on the clown suit.

But it was almost noon when he stumbled out of bed, and he was running late. The party started at 2 pm, and he had to travel across town so he could spend his afternoon making inattentive, sugar-laden children believe in a 3-dimensional cartoon man.

So he put the suit on. And the makeup. And the hair.

He felt like a mole squinting at a brightness intended to be avoided when he emerged from his bungalow as his clown self and made his way to his 1972 Chevy Impala. He could tell it was later than he thought when he saw the sun was past its highest point. It was definitely well after 1 pm.

Kids don’t care about time, he thought as he adjusted his big orange wig so it fit in the car without him having to slouch. It’s the grown-ups who are all about time. And it was the grown-ups who paid the happy funny clown. This thought prompted his swift, jerky acceleration out of the driveway as he made his way across town.

Just like the businessman who expects things to work his way as he’s headed to a high-level business meeting, clowns don’t anticipate car trouble.

But traffic was heavier than he anticipated, and the day was steaming hot. He could feel the toothpaste-white makeup he’d applied on his face slowly dripping down his neck into his red ruffled collar.  He could feel his red lips slipping down his chin.

Then the radiator blew.

He did what he could to quickly veer to the widest part of the highway’s edge, but he was driving a 1972 Chevy Impala. Speed and efficiency weren’t part of the design.

But he managed, even during the frightening time when his wig tilted and impaired his field of vision. He almost hit a Prius, but the Impala limped to the side of the road just as the Prius passed, leaving a loud and oddly friendly horn-honking contrail in its wake.

His first order of business was to open the hood, which now was spewing billows of steamy heat. The car’s discharge, once released, reacted madly with his makeup, which turned his clown face into what appeared to be the face of a smeared, colorful, cartoon monster.

That’s when the police car arrived.

Not unlike any emergency, the officer sauntered to the side of the Impala as if he were admiring a colorful bouquet of roses. No urgency, lots of attitude.

The officer quickly assessed that the clown’s radiator needed a bit of a twist. Having been a mechanic before joining law enforcement, the officer sauntered back to his squad car and retrieved a wrench.

The radiator, like the crazy clown man, just needed to relieve some pressure.

The wrench, like the saunter employed to retrieve it, was applied gradually and methodically.

The clown man stood back and watched, not knowing what would happen, but knowing he needed this to work so he could get to work, making the children laugh.

But this was no laughing matter.

The car didn’t exactly explode. It just reacted. Reacted to the heat of the day, the tension of the driver, the misdiagnosis of the officer.

And where once there was a Chevy Impala, there was a plume.

The officer didn’t know what to do once he found his gun and baton in the nearby bushes. So he just watched.

The clown sat back and watched too, knowing he was late.

He drank it all in, processing the consequences of the moment.

All he could do was laugh like a clown.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Here, kitty kitty.

No. This is not my beautiful cat.

My cat won't come out of the basement.

My cat is afraid of the two dogs who live upstairs.

Upstairs is the main living space we humans inhabit. And it's become the biggest dog house ever.

My dogs, Einstein and Dutch, do nothing more than move from bed to couch. They go through the doggie door in order to evacuate in the back yard. They eat food and drink water. And then they find a spot on the couch again.

Very threatening to the cat, all this ominous random dog movement.

Regardless of the innocuous lifestyle of my dogs, if my cat were to be faced with the idea of coming upstairs and integrating its lazy world with the lazy reality my dogs experience daily, this picture would mirror my cat's reaction.

Based on what I've said so far, I think it's been established that I'm a crappy pet owner. Dog or cat, bird or fish - all species of which I've had - it's safe to say that the idea of having a pet is much more compelling than actually having a pet.

I do love my cat and dogs. Don't get me wrong.

It comes down to this: I just have so much love to spread around, for god's sake. And I figure the dogs have each other; the cat has a choice.

The cat can come upstairs. No one's stopping him/her (I have no recollection if my cat's a boy or a girl).

The cat was procured when my youngest son didn't have much in the neck muscle department, and now he's 14. So this cat must be somewhere around 13.5 years old.

Ever since it's been established that the cat has an 'issue' with the dogs, the cat's made his/her home downstairs in the winter, outside in the summer. Each summer I'll leave the garage door open a crack, so the cat can wander outside at whim.

Last summer, I made it a point to check on the cat at dawn's crack. S/he summers in my garage, where I consistently fashion a comfortable kitty bed and food area. Last summer, instead of finding the cat, I found a toddler-sized raccoon slowly backing out of my garage. I'd foiled its devilish plot to retrieve a tasty kitty snack, and the raccoon revelation compelled a protracted OHHHHMY GAWD! sound for neighbors to hear, way before the sun came up.

Thank god I don't hold a lot of stock in what my neighbors think.

I just wanted to make sure my cat was okay.

And s/he was.

Now it's essentially summertime. Despite the recent spate of rain in Colorado, it's getting warm again, and I can tell the cat is experiencing a bit of wanderlust. S/he comes to the top of the stairs, looking at the back door like it's his/her magical portal to freedom and excitement, only to scamper to his/her downstairs lair when s/he hears the dogs taking notice.

So it's time to be the grown-up. I think it's almost time to send the kitty to her little piece of attached garage heaven.

I do love my cat. And I'm of the belief that it's better to live a shorter, happier life than a long, melancholy one.

So I'm almost convinced that soon it will be time to coax the cat to The Light, if only to be happy for one more summer.

I love the pets. The cat must know that it has a special place in my heart, despite me being so very laissez-faire. As for the dogs, they're functional in terms of household security and exceptional when it comes to being consistently excited when I come home.

It sounds like it's all about me, in a passive, loving kind of way.

I think I have my pets right where I want them.

But I think I'm their puppet, those damned mongrels.

Pets have a crazy genius.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Watch your back, Mr. Greenjeans.

This is a glimpse of my garden. Soon these big globs of lettuce will provide the beginnings of a lovely, tasty salad, all from my back yard.

My name is Mary. And I like to garden. So I get asked how my garden's growing a lot this time of year.

As you can see, I have no cockle shells or pretty maids all in a row. But I do have three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, white acorn squash, pumpkins and a few other edibles.

Each year, I plant my seeds with every intention of remembering what I planted where. And this year was no different. I tried jamming the packets and labels on sticks near where I'd planted each type of seed.

It didn't last too long, and about halfway through planting my seeds, I was becoming more accepting of fewer straight rows and more general areas.

Weeds are profuse, but when I was poking around in the garden today, I couldn't really tell if some plants are weeds or potential tasty salad fixins.

Some weeds are obvious, and I've been plucking them.

Other plants are on the fence, so to speak, and I'm leaving them alone.

This gardening stuff is fun, and so very easy. It's amazing how fast a garden grows, especially when it's routinely watered.

Come over in a month or so and have a salad. I didn't buy any crouton seeds, so we'll have to pick those up at the store.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adult ADD

I work at a hospital, but I have no formal medical training. These facts don't mean that I feel I'm immune from the right to self-diagnose.

I think I have adult ADD. But I'm faced with a bit of a diagnostic conundrum.

I've always been somewhat forgetful, but I most often times meet my obligations. We'll forget about the Passport Fiasco for the time being

I get distracted. And in an attempt to steer my distractions away from whining about how many balls I have to juggle or all the travails I encounter as a single mom, I try to put my deficiencies in a tidy diagnostic box.

My problem is that I can't decide which diagnostic direction to turn. I'm still stumbling through the reality that, at 48, I'm still capable of getting zits. I'm young enough to have another kid, but old enough to be going through the early stages of menopause.

So as for the ADD. Do I have it? Or do I have early onset Alzheimer's? I can't decide.

This could just be an anomalous period of too much to remember and not enough hard drive to support the data. It could be that I'm just giving what I've always been a name, a label. Because labels are comforting.

Or it could be that 10 years from now you'll visit me in an assisted living home and I won't recognize you.

I'm opting for giving this current run the label of Scattered Short Term Memory Loss Occasional Intense Interest In Things That Eventually Lose Their Shine So I Discard Them Where Are My Keys Where Is My Coffee Let's Plan For College When Do I Work Where Are The Passports-itis.

Someone flash me a distraction so I don't have to think about this right now.

Oh! What's that? A butterfly?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Work it.

So I work at a place that's not unlike any other workplace. I'll get more detailed on how we're different in a minute...

As for a bit of backstory, I started at my current company when my youngest kid was two. He's 14 now.

I work at a hospital. And I have a journalism/political science degree. Go figure.

My future in advertising was very bright pre-kids. But I made the choice to put them first.

So in deference to saying goodbye to my career in lieu of being with my lovely boys, I took a job completely out of my ken.

I think I made the right choice.

My hospital vs advertising decision sometimes compels me to question the then vs now reality of things.

It's such a Sophie's Choice conundrum - I could have been a contender had I not had kids, but I feel complete on very tangible levels, having had this beautiful run with these two amazing people who sprung from my loins.

Regardless of having gone through almost every Kubler-Ross stage, however, it's rare that I walk into my job without thinking to myself, 'how did I get here?'

So anger turns into acceptance, and then it eventually finds its way to humor.

I don't think Kubler-Ross had humor on her list of stages, but I'm adding it right now.

Humor is definitely a coping mechanism.

Like any workplace, there's the go along to get along component. There are people who you connect with, and there are people who require a certain level of polite dissociation in order to retain sanity. That's just life.

And like any job, probably more likely in a hospital environment, we have a language all our own that ties us together.

There's the medical technology. There's the scripted patter. There's the high-tech micromanagement.

And there are punctuations in every shift that make it plain how truly odd our environment would seem to anyone else.

I wish I had a dime for every time I've used the word 'diarrhea' in one context or another. I would be so freaking rich.

In any other environment, let's say an interior designer's office, if you were to say, "What color is the stool?" it would mean something completely different than it does at my job.

Because I work at a hospital for children, I hear very age-specific suggestions from our health care professionals. "Stroke his little anus" springs to mind, in reference to a method employed to get a youngster to poop.

All of these odd terms spin about our work world with such regularity, so to speak, that they become normal.

And then there are the names....

Often times, name choice can be reduced to four simple words: Parents Can Be Cruel.

Take, for example, young Onyx Stone and her mother, Opal.

Or siblings Luke Skywalker and lovely Princess Leah.

There's Abcde, pronounced Absedie. Or Female, pronounced Feemahlee.

And one I heard recently; Lily Flower.

All of this job-related humor, ignored due to repetition or highlighted because of oddity, makes what I do interesting.

It's not brain surgery, god knows.

It's not journalism or political science.

But it's what I do for the time being.

There could be worse ways to make a living.