Sharing the Wealth

One man's trash...

One man's trash...

I just read an amazing story about a postal worker from New Jersey who took the time to visit his local thrift store and procure items for his relations back in Ghana.  He was just honored by the National Association of Letter Carriers for this wonderful deed….

….On the Chicago Tribune website, from AP-  “National Humanitarian of the Year, Emmanuel Anim-Sackey, 50, of West Orange, N. J., who sifts through northern New Jersey thrift stores and yard sales to find used clothes, shoes and school supplies to send back to impoverished families in Abetifi-Kwahu, a village in his native Ghana.”

What a beautiful, yet so simple thing to do.  His time, money, and efforts may have won him some acclaim here but I’d hazard a guess that he’s even more of a hero back in his native country.  See, this gentleman took a look around him, realized that we as a country are truly rich by most of the world’s criteria, and decided to share the wealth. 

Now that phrase, “share the wealth,” was bandied about for a while back during the presidential campaign last  year.  But for all the outcry and debate, truly what is wrong with helping our fellow man; to give from those of us who have so much to those for whom clean water is a luxury rather than a common happenstance?  Isn’t what we all learn as children?  Sharing, cooperating, caring, having empathy, compassion, and love are all values instilled early and hopefully traits we carry over into our adulthood.  Whether it’s lending a neighbor a hand with felling a dead tree, bringing a casserole to a new widower, or even shipping a box of clothes to distant lands, it’s this spirit of altruism that connects and binds us all as a society, a race, a community, an amalgam of all things human. 

In these hard times, we’ve all tightened our belts, cut back on luxuries like vacations (preferring the new-cool “staycation”), and some of us have even learned from our grandparents to grow a Victory garden to supply us with food from our own toils.  Giving to others may seem impossible right now, as we are faced with dental bills, threats of layoffs, rising costs of living, and worries about our own circle of friends and family.  All the charities are taking a hit these days as donations are down.

But taking a cue from Mr.  Anim-Sackey, the time to consider the welfare of others even as we pray for our own salvation may be, curiously, the best time to share the wealth.  It doesn’t have to be in the form of a huge monetary donation.  We usually always have a half-hour a month to set aside in the service of others; be that serving food to the homeless, tutoring a struggling student, or collecting clothes to clad our far-flung relatives. 

Anne Frank may have put it best with her simple reminder, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Sharing the wealth may ultimately reap riches on us all.

To learn more about the other inspirational folks delivering our mail:


What’s Brewing?

 The nectar of the gods, java, cafe, morning joe, espresso, capuccino, latte, mocha….call it what you want, it’s one of the most addictive substances on the planet, yet completely legal and more often than not in our society, a necessity.  I know for myself personally I can’t even face my day without a sip of the stuff.  Almost ritual-like, it’s part-and-parcel of my very existence in the morning and without it I might as well go back to bed.  And that leads me to my next thought on the subject, purely random, I know,  yet quite valid…….how many coffee cups are in my cupboard yet how many do I actually use?  It’s  no lie to say that I’ve probably collected almost 50 vessels for my beverage of choice, and that’s not even starting to count the probably hundreds that have passed through my life up to this point.  I’ve got enough mugs on hand to host a coffee klatch of which any self-respecting hostess would be jealous. 
What level are you?

What level are you?

I’ve got the obligatory hand-me-down 1970s mugs from my parents’ house (yes I still have them all these years later), cute cat images on bone china, a mug I won by writing a winning essay on a website, various cups documenting my interests (from living in San Diego to having pet rats), the obligatory collection of employment-anniversary mugs (together my husband and I have five), one huge “cup” that could double as a soup tureen, and my latest acquisition, the Coffee Hound mug I just got from Goodwill a month ago.  Check it out…

Coffee Hound Mug Coffee Hound Mug

What attracted me to this mug is not the outside (which is cute enough) but rather the amusing graduated-line demarcation inside.  Depending on how much coffee you pour into this mug, you apparently are designated anywhere from “Kid Stuff” to the more likely “Coffee Hound” level I start off with each morning. 

Now this mug, according to some websites dealing in antiques, apparently dates anywhere from the 1950s to 1960s.  What I liked about it was its whimsy; the suggestion that ones personality somehow dictated what volume of the brew ended up inside.  Clearly even 40 to 50 years ago, the addiction to this magical beverage apparently warranted the making of this cup.  Now while most coffee back then was made at home in percolators and sipped at the Formica kitchen table before dear old Dad went off to work, it seems we’ve come full circle. 

Consider this statistic.  In the last quarter of 2008, Starbucks sales went down 97%.  It seems that as the economy took a tumble, so too did the extravagance of sidling up to the local barista for a daily latte.  According to the National Coffee Association, home brewing went up 5% at the same time, as folks revisited the joys of sitting with their spouses and kids prior to leaving for the office.  The benefits of home brewing, aside from the purely economical, also seem to expand into physical well-being.  Coffee can even be good for you.

On the WebMD website, it’s mentioned that “at least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson’s, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.” 

I’ll drink to that.  In my Coffee Hound mug, of course.  Topped off at the Hound level, thank you very much.

Goodwill Hunting

It's affecting us all

It's affecting us all

This economy has taken its toll on all of us, some more than others.  People are taking notice and at 9.7 percent unemployment, more people should take a second look at an area heretofore left to the “fringes” of society….thrift stores. 

Seems that people are having to cut corners everywhere in ways that even six months ago perhaps they would not have imagined.  One contributor to the “Speak up!” section on says that she’s having to learn how to use her microwave a lot more.  Others must get creative in different ways in order to cope with the widespread financial mess that pervades our society these days. 

Even those of us fortunate enough to still be employed are seeing the proverbial forest for the trees and resorting to venues up to now not considered for our budgets.  In my trips to my local Goodwill, for example, it’s been in the past year or so that I have noticed many different customers coming through the doors for the first time; some out of curiosity and some more of necessity.  Bad economy or not, employment status questionable, it’s still a fact that kids need school clothes and that coffee won’t brew itself in thin air.  Gone is the heyday of cruising the malls and parting with hundreds of dollars on life’s essentials.  Now we’re all having to trim the fat and until this situation improves, I foresee many more folks coming to this previously dark corner of commerce. 

There’s no stigma in saving money; in fact one could say that it is wise to bargain hunt when possible as while there may be some leeway in clothing allowances, the gas bill or the car insurance won’t likely go down anytime soon.  Something’s gotta give.

Check out this interesting article from Goodwill Industries and perhaps you can contribute a story or two of your own.  It’s the only way we’re going to make it these days….by working together and sharing our life experiences.

Come along and try your luck at Goodwill Hunting one day!

Published in: on 2009/08/14 at 5:48 pm  Comments (4)  
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Back from Souvenir Land

Where's my bobblehead?

Where's my bobblehead?

I’ve just returned from Washington DC.  A fabulous place for all ages.  Before going somebody told me this was Disney for adults, and now I know why.  I lost count how many times I gasped in wonder at each successive vista and artifact or monument.  My son, however, had the best time.  In true ten-year-old style, he said the best part of his trip was all the souvenir shops!  I have to admit, there were almost more collections of made-in-China pencils and kitsch than paintings in the museums but after wading through the usual complement of snow globes, plates, and magnets, there were a few real trinkets worth buying to commemorate our trip.  The best one, I think, is the Barack Obama mousepad now upon which all my future chapters will be written.  It was truly Obamaland there and I, for one, was thrilled.  I’d go back in a heartbeat, and were I to have about another grand or two in my wallet, my kid would make a beeline for the roadside T-shirt stands. 


What a country!

You Can’t Take It With You


Is my old crockpot in here?

Is my old crockpot in here?

The transiency of life cannot be better expressed than when one visits a secondhand store or garage sale. Items that may have been vitally important to the current owner now lay scattered amongst other bric a brac of a life’s journey, some more curious than others. The nondescript Bundt cake pan, once used for many a family party, now sits next to a knitted potholder, a long-ago gift from an ancient relative now long past. Both have outlived their usefulness to the seller and await new hands to breathe life into them once more. Baby buggies that once carted little ones to the park in days gone by now hold slightly ragged, overly loved stuffed animals; their purposes outgrown and their appeal long gone.

Such is life. When we finally leave this Earth, it is starkly true; you can’t take it with you. We return to dust without all the stuff that up to now has defined us and we meet our maker (or whatever destination) with only our essence intact.

Published in: on 2009/04/30 at 3:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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Garage Sale Nation

9-9-2006-261We have become a Garage Sale nation. Each year, homeowners (and others without garages – read “Yard Sale” in this case), across the United States begin a ritual of summarily decluttering their homes, attics, basements, etc., in a frenzy of spring cleaning. It’s as predictable as the customary harbinger of spring; the robin’s return to the garden in search of hidden wormy treasures, and like the red-breasted avian, thousands of us dive into our accumulated stuff, seeking to whisk away the cobwebs of winter and start anew. No sooner does the last frost coat the budding trees than we as a nation seem to emerge from a long, drawn-out winter solstice, eager to divest ourselves of last year’s dust and face the sun, in some areas a deeply missed friend.

And in that sunlight we emerge, cardboard boxes in hand, bringing forth the unwanted Christmas presents, the too-tight pants, the slightly broken toys, the lonely gym equipment, all aimed for one final destination known as……

The Garage Sale.

Call it what you want: Yard Sale, Rummage Sale, Moving Sale, Estate Sale, or the perennial biggie, Garage Sale, it’s all the same: It’s us shamelessly displaying all our unwanted junk over driveways and on lawns, on tables and under awnings, all in an effort to clean house maybe make a small profit along the way.

We plan for these things months in advance, simultaneously watching the calendar, the weather reports, and gauging the competition’s ads in the paper.

 There are detailed plans to draw up in the process. We have signs to make, advertisements to write, price tag labels to be made, change to be stocked, and neighbors to survey to see if they’d like to contribute some of their junk in the off chance that we don’t have enough stuff to set out on sale day. Prior to this, of course, the stuff for sale has to be acquired, dusted off, fixed if necessary (or labeled “make offer” if not), washed, sized, and assessed for sale-worthiness. It’s almost a job in and of itself.

Some are better at this than others; I’ve been to garage sales guided by beautifully crafted signs, having read extremely detailed advertisements, and seen wares set out the likes of which Sam Walton would have been impressed. Boxes and boxes of carefully set up records arranged in alphabetical order greeted the customers at one such sale.

Another lady, clearly a garage sale expert, had racks and racks of clothes, all categorized by size, gender, color, and price, complete with stern instructions on how to properly try on said clothing and reminders to take the items off the hangers. Someone who clearly had a lot of time on their hands had individually labeled tiny glass Christmas ornaments with dates of manufacture, quality, comparable prices, and relative value on auction sites such as eBay. Another mother, clearly proud of her organizational skills with six children, had each toy lovingly set in category order, some still in boxes, some still with instructions, and even had a testing station complete with batteries.

Sometimes the items for sale are there under difficult circumstances, and parting is bittersweet. One older gentleman, having apparently amassed a sizeable collection of tools over the years, had on display wrenches, screwdrivers drill bits, hammers, sockets, and other gadgets known only to the serious handyman. He had these separated by brand, quality, price, and category, and had gone so far as to polish the tools so they shone in the morning sun. He was so proud of these tools on display that I wondered why they were even for sale, until I noticed the slight tremor in his scarred hands.

Perhaps it was time to pass these relics on to a younger generation. Perhaps retirement had proven inauspicious for hours spent in the garage or maybe his wife worried for his safety. All I can say is that when the first hammer exchanged hands and was carted off, those tremulous hands seemed to have difficulty in pocketing the dollar they earned.

There are different genres of garage sales too. You’ve got your run-of-the mill junk sale with the usual suspects of Tupperware, Christmas ornaments, and trinkets. There are the kid’s clothes sales, and those sometimes even sub-categorized into age group; I’ve seen ads in the paper saying “baby items,” versus others saying “cool teen gear.” I personally appreciate the specifics of a good garage sale advertisement so as to attend only those with stuff I really want.

There are the “antique” sales with local ephemera and remnants of local county fairs of years gone by, newspapers documenting famous events, and rarely seen, ancient toys (read: no batteries required). This latter type of sale usually is geared towards the prospective buyer’s nostalgia and a yearning to return to simpler, familiar times.

Then there’s the sale, which I personally have had difficulty in comprehending, based on the amount of work that goes into putting together such an event: The Perpetual Garage Sale.

These savvy sellers, seemingly with a never-ending supply of castoffs, put on virtually weekly sales, turning their driveways into mini-malls. Each time the sale is presented the same: The same advertisement appears in the local paper practically word-for-word a copy of the previous incarnation; the same items appear in the same spots on the driveway or within the garage on tables; the trusty cashbox is set up; and the same signs appear stapled to telephone poles or pounded into the ground all over town.

Having hosted a meager two garage sales during the entire time these sellers have put on easily ten times the amount, my hat’s off to these intrepid folks; clearly they possess greater degrees of patience or they make a living from this form of commerce.

But for me, between the setup, anticipation, fear of a rainout, and the inevitable junk-run to the local thrift shop of the leftovers, the novelty has worn off at least in the hosting department. I wish my more tenacious competitors all the best – they’ve got the spunk and strength of character to plod on beyond the initial sale and as a result they probably make more money than I’d ever see in one weekend sale!

I’ll stick to carting my kid from sale to sale each weekend, pay my respects to my tough neighbors, and hopefully find a bargain along the way.

From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards