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:

www.nalc.org

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Let’s Get Cooking!

Just grillin'

Just grillin'

One of the many benefits of shopping at places like Goodwill, besides the obvious price-point issue, is that many times you can update your kitchen and literally feed your inner Rachael Ray just by paying close attention to the cookware aisle.

Check out this pan. It’s an All Clad 12-inch grill.  Borrowing directly from the Amazon.com website, the description says it’s a “high-performance grill designed with a heavy gauge, hard-coat anodized aluminum exterior for efficient, balanced heat conductivity and long wear. Quantum-coated nonstick interior. Solid-cast stainless steel handle. Carries the All-Clad limited lifetime warranty.” 

Sounds great doesn’t it?  If you only had the $49.99 in your pocket, plus shipping!  And that’s a bargain, compared to other sites, which list it as high as $89 and above! 

Now most of us these days can’t shell out this kind of cash for such a fine piece of cookware.  But as this lucky Goodwill shopper found out, with a little perseverence, occasionally these gems can be unearthed beneath the stacks of plasticware and mismatched cutlery.  What did I pay for this fabulous All Clad grill?

Three dollars.  Yes, you head that right.   For a whopping three George Washingtons, less than a footlong sub at a famous restaurant, I whipped that bad boy into my cart and home faster than you could say panini sandwich! And was this beautiful grill in a sad state of affairs to find itself wedged in between an old turkey roasting pan and a juice extractor?  Nope!  Probably because it was an All Clad, it was sturdier than its less-expensive counterparts and able to withstand the trip to Goodwill most likely jumbled in a large donation box.

See, thrifting is not what you think.  With a little patience, knowlege of product value, and luck, sometimes the most amazing things can come into your life that up to now may have been cost prohibitive.  Sure, we’d all like to be able to trek to the local gourmet cooking store and walk out with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise, but as I see it, that trend is morphing into one of a simpler outlook.  Now even those on the most modest budgets sometimes can come away with items of superior value, intrinsic or otherwise. 

So next time when you’re in the market for a new frying pan, swing by your local Goodwill.  You just might be amazed at what you find.

Bon appetit!

Thrift Store Divas Unite!

Where all true divas shop

Where all true divas shop

Divas unite!  Budgets notwithstanding, we can all look great.

Check out this cool article….

http://tinyurl.com/thriftdiva

Patriotism In the Dump Bin

 

American Flag

American Flag

Patriotism in the Dump Bin Twin City winter living is a dichotomy of natural beauty and dodging that beauty when the mercury dips beyond 20 below zero. It’s visually breathtaking taking in the aftermath of an ice storm yet one’s breath is literally sucked out by the frigid air. You spend much of your time dashing from car to office, from car to supermarket, from parking lot to home, all in a quest to keep your various appendages from developing frostbite along the way. The residents either fall into one of two categories: Those who are undaunted by the arctic blasts and those who venture out only when absolutely necessary.

The former types, most likely native born, seem to possess an extra layer of toughness that enables them to carry out their daily routines in temperatures that would make a polar bear pause. I’ve seen bundled-up citizens of St. Paul gamely trudging, albeit gingerly, on the ice-covered sidewalks, sidling up to igloo-like bus stops, shopping bags clutched in mitten-clad hands, steam pouring from below their icicle-laden scarves. There’s camaraderie of sorts in the true Minnesotans, for whom a drastic dip in degrees only serves as a challenge.

As a transplanted Canadian via California and most recently the balmy climes of Atlanta, it was in this setting one afternoon that I found myself in conversation with a kindred soul.

Admiring my bus shelter companion’s wooly boots, I commented that as a newcomer to the Twin Cities, I’d need some warm footgear soon or I’d probably have to donate my toes to science. Laughing, she said, “Well you could spend a pretty penny on boots around here but if you’d like to be in on a little secret…I got these at the Salvation Army just down on University.”

Now she was speaking my language.

“Oh, really?” I exclaimed. “There’s one so close by?”

Now being the typical Minnesota-nice lady that she was, Kirsten, as her name turned out to be, promptly dug in her purse and produced a local map. Circling the street and scrawling an arrow, she said, “You can’t miss it, dearie. It’s three stories high and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be shopping there all day!”

I climbed aboard my bus that afternoon, sneaking glances at Kirsten’s boots from time to time, wondering what else I would uncover at my newest shopping venue. Meeting my new husband, Alex, at the bus stop, I plunked myself into the careworn bucket seat of our vintage Toyota and eagerly told him my news.

A recent convert to thrift store shopping, Alex smiled, “Do you think they’d have some nice pants for me there?”

That Saturday morning found us parked outside the most monstrous thrift store I had yet witnessed. As Kirsten had proclaimed, it was indeed a three-story brick building nestled underneath a highway overpass, its Salvation Army insignia on the 30 foot sign proclaiming its domination for miles around.

This was going to be good.

I darted across the small parking lot, dodging upended shopping carts and scattered sheets of ice, Alex in tow. Marching through the glass doors, my eyes took in the wonders before me.

An enormous room, clearly a converted warehouse, chock full of seemingly endless racks of clothing, invited me to browse. The soaring walls, covered with latent velvet art and various posters of bygone days, led the eye to a second level where a sign pointed out “Books, Records, Tapes, Baby.” To the left I noticed, amid bent orange racks of every type of plastic ware imaginable, haphazard stacks of coffee cups. One caught my eye. Along its pink side declared the words, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” Amen.

We decided to try the book section first, being avid readers and having discovered that paying full price for books on our newlywed budget was not feasible. Alex and I had already found hole-in-the-wall secondhand bookstores and were happy to come across another source of books. Noting a lack of elevators, we climbed the linoleum-clad stairs two at a time, eager to see what tomes awaited us on the dusty shelves.

Splitting up, Alex as usual headed for the magazine section, looking for those pertaining to his favorite topics of pop culture, history, and cars. We already had amassed a considerable collection of National Geographic magazines, and enjoyed looking at the vintage advertisements and laughing over the archaic lingo. We agreed to meet downstairs in half an hour in front of the shoes.

I perused the riveted shelves for a while, finding a copy of Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, a favorite from my childhood. Clutching it to my chest, I gazed down the mismatched collection, ranging from diet books, to coffee table books, to obscure computer-programming manuals. Finding nothing else compelling, I decided to return downstairs and look at shoes while I waited for Alex.

Passing a young man in dreadlocks, I had to smile. His T-shirt, clearly a joke, read “Outrageous Granny.” Meeting my smirking gaze he shrugged, as if to say, “It was cheap!”

At the bottom of the stairs, before turning right towards the rows of shoes, I noticed another sign. This one, scrawled in Magic Marker on a dingy piece of cardboard, said, “Bargain Basement Below.” The hand-drawn arrow drew my eyes down another flight of stairs to what seemed like a cavern.

Not wanting to lose sight of Alex, I waited for what seemed an eternity amid the shoes. Almost tripping over a pair of glittering gold-lame high heels, I finally spied him and waved him over.

“Hey, it says ‘Bargain Basement Below’, let’s go!” I could barely contain my excitement. A bargain basement in a thrift store was an added bonus. Peering over his shoulder at the sign, Alex took my hand and we descended into the depths.

What met our eyes next still reverberates in my mind today. Reaching the basement floor, spread out before us lay the largest collection of junk I had ever seen, haphazardly strewn on white tables, bric-a- brac aplenty jutting out at every angle. It resembled a tornado only with the debris field contained in one room. For what seemed like miles lay the remnants of society, tossed aside by one to be considered yet again by another. The fluorescent lights, intermittently blinking on and off, cast an eerie glow over the entire room. Children darted around and underneath the tables, mothers scolded while holding onto half-mended shirts, grunge kids crowded around a pile of LPs, and seasoned thrift store veterans established themselves at stations at various sites, carefully examining each careworn item in turn, seeking the value in the vastness.

I was in heaven.

Splitting up again, I left Alex to mingle with the grunge kids while I made my way toward a likely looking first table. The only other patron there, a wizened man in too-short overalls and red flannel shirt glanced up from his inspection of a CB radio microphone to smile at me.

“Nice day,” he grunted. Agreeing, I carefully set to work a respectful few paces away from him. Grasping the first item that seemed promising, I turned it over. Stuck inside a wad of ages-old corner lint, sat a thimble from Niagara Falls. Only a small chip marred its bottom rim. Dusting the lint on my pants leg, I considered it’s value but then I noticed no price tag. Looking about for a clue to unlock the mysteries of this bargain bazaar, I saw a sign taped to a support post behind my elderly partner.

“All bin items 10 cents CASH only. NO RETURNS. You Broke It you Bought it. Shoplifters will be persecuted.”

Taking this information in, noting the reasonable price and the standard warnings, amusing misspelling notwithstanding, I decided the terms were fair and continued on in my quest.

Regretfully returning the thimble from my home country, mentally noting to acquire a tube of super glue for just such an emergency in the future, I returned to the bin before me. Digging through tangles of telephone wire, pushing aside a half-clothed dolly, her blonde locks shorn to stubs and missing a finger or two, my fingers brushed up against those of my gentleman shopping partner.

“Oops! Sorry about that.” I said. “Didja want that mike over there?” he asked, pointing at another CB radio microphone hiding below a blue plastic Las Vegas visor, its frayed cord patched here and there with electrical tape. “Gosh, no, it’s all yours,” I said, and slid the mike over to his digging burrow. “Oh, good, thanks. I collect these. Remind me of the days on the road.” His blue eyes twinkled with glee as he began unraveling the cord from around a shoelace.

Finding nothing more at this table of particular interest, I waved farewell to my ex-trucker friend and proceeded along the cracked concrete floor towards the back of the basement where a sign read, “Jewlry and watches 50 cents each.” Nimbly jumping over a purple jump rope strewn in my path, I scanned the area for Alex. Still bent over an enormous collection of vinyl, he seemed quite content. I turned my attention back towards the jewelry table when I stopped dead in my tracks.

The stripes poking out beneath a one-eyed doll called to me. Walking over to the table, blissfully unmanned, heart pounding, I hoped that what I thought I saw was indeed the real thing. Setting my book aside on top of a broken wrench, I grasped the fabric’s corner. Pulling it slowly so as not to usurp a chipped teapot, I gathered the fabric into my trembling hands.

The brass grommets gleamed in the fluorescent light. Turning it over, I read the still-intact tag, “Defiance, Reg US Pat Off, 2 ply Moth Proof, Bunting.” Between the grommets, barely discernible, was a name, “Andersen.”

Counting the stars on the field, I found only 48 individually sewn stars, the patina of age only making the flag more intriguing and poignant. The frayed halyard edge, its fibers unraveled only slightly, still bore marks of attachment to a pole. There were no silk-screened stripes here. Only lovely alternating red and white intermingled in the basement’s harsh light. A single tiny moth-eaten hole marred the field, near the topmost left star. I brought it close to my face, touching its fabric to my skin and breathed in the ancient air.

Whose hands had sewn these stars so precisely? What winds had fluttered this beautiful flag? Where had it been before its untimely and unceremonious end here in the dump bin deep in the bowels of the Salvation Army thrift store? What Andersen had seen fit to donate such a memento rather than preserving it for future generations or retiring it properly? And why, as a Canadian citizen, did I seem more touched than the other shoppers around me by this hapless vintage flag?

Drawing it to my breast, I gathered its folds gently and ambled over to Alex, now holding a copy of an obscure jazz musician’s last LP.

“Look at this.” I held out the flag.

His eyes widened at the find. He took it from me, carefully ensuring that it would not touch the floor, unfolding it fully for the first time in probably a decade. Dust entrapped in years-old creases fell at our feet. Alex drew his finger along one carefully handsewn seam and whistled. “Wow,” was all he could say. His eyes caught mine and we knew we had to have this flag, insulting at a cost of 10 cents yet priceless to us.

We brought it to the cashier, along with my book and his record. Ringing us up, the pockmarked boy stopped for a moment upon seeing the flag.

“It’s ripped. Do ya still want it?” He paused over the register, waiting for our response. Silently we nodded, paying our total bill of $2.58 and took our flag home.

Later research led us to discover that this flag dated somewhere between July 4, 1912 when the State of Arizona was admitted to the Union and July 4, 1959 when Alaska joined the United States. This beautiful old girl had flown during the presidencies of eight men from Taft to Eisenhower. The history she had seen from her vantage point atop a pole resonated in our minds.

The Andersen flag, or as we came to call it, “Salvation Army” flag once again flew proudly at each of our homes until this past winter when a sudden ice storm ripped it in two. Heartbroken we gave it a proper sendoff. We brought it to the American Legion and we participated in a flag retirement ceremony.

And as the flames transformed our flag to smoke, no one was prouder than I was.

Rules of the Road for Dump Bin Items: Never be afraid to get your hands dirty.
 
From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards 
 
 

 

 

Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road

Window to the world

Window to the world

I am in the process of marketing my book, Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road.  In my humble opinion, it is a one-of-a-kind, poignant, sometimes humorous, extremely timely collection of essays documenting my forays into the world of all things secondhand.

Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your boss, tell the mailman, tell anybody who’ll listen….it’s the quintessential companion to all of those remanded to the aisles of thrift stores as we all face our unique travails in this brave new economic world!

Come read some excerpts and let me know what you think!  Be honest!

Thrift Store Etiquette

Thrift Store Sign

Thrift Store Sign

 

Steering my wobbly wheeled shopping cart down an overcrowded aisle one Saturday morning, I abruptly came upon a thrift shop employee putting items onto a shelf.

Maneuvering around her, barely avoided beheading a chicken kitchen decoration, she barked, “No picking off the cart!”

I turned around to offer a wan smile to the clearly frazzled woman who guarded her wares as jealously as a miser oversees his gold. I wasn’t sure whether the remark was aimed at me in particular but muttered some halfhearted apology anyway. I hurried off down the aisle towards a display of Halloween costumes, but not before I noticed a small hand had snaked its way towards the battered green plastic container, a dinosaur toy jutting just beyond reach in the cart.

Just as the T-Rex was about emerge from the mass of merchandise, a voice bellowed, “Luis! Leave the cart alone until she’s done!” The little boy snatched his hand back as if from a hot stove, stung by the rebuke, eyes brimming with tears. Luis had learned the painful Rule Number One of thrift store shopping: Etiquette is Everything.

As Luis learned, there are rules to this thrift shop business. First and foremost of them is the often unwritten but widely understood “Rule for Picking Off the New Stuff Cart.” Some thrift shops post this rule, others don’t, but it doesn’t take long for a shopper in one of these establishments to learn it hard and fast.

Even with the great social leveling that thrift shops provide, some basic niceties and rules apply to those perusing secondhand stuff. Lessons that Emily Post herself could have written loom over the shoppers, young and old alike and the sooner the lessons are learned, the better.

One cardinal rule is this: If you don’t want to aggravate the nice thrift shop employees, don’t under any circumstances pick stuff from the cart of things they have wheeled out From “The Back.”

The Back is the Aladdin’s cave of thrift shops, usually a large room designated for sorting and pricing new donations. Several times a day, employees will bring out new items from this mysterious place and put them in their proper areas in the store.

At most thrift stores, you’ll find the Regulars situating themselves at the swinging doors of The Back. They wait like lions at the Colosseum for their next great find. Whatever is in The Back compels the Regulars in a way that vastly overshadows anything already on the shelves. The emerging stuff on the rolling carts appeals to the hard core Regulars as a jackpot in a casino.

Most stores have discovered that this enthusiasm for stuff emerging from The Back can translate into a feeding frenzy, with the poor employees practically diving for cover as the Regulars descend upon the new stuff on the carts like a pack of wolves.

Apparently in an attempt to protect the employees, not to mention the new cache from the lair in The Back, the rule has been established that nothing is to be pinched off the cart until it has been put on its proper shelf. The Goodwill I most frequent has this rule, and it is clearly posted on signs on the shelves, walls, and even on the rolling carts themselves. Woe to the soul who dares touch anything prior to it leaving the cart!

Instead, the Regulars and not-so-regulars must patiently linger until each and every last commemorative coffee mug, dinged telephone, or half-filled package of tennis balls makes it onto the shelves. Then it’s fair game, and it’s often not unusual for a shopper, Regular or not, to follow the hapless thrift shop employee about the store, stalking the cart like a famished cheetah.

I’ve seen people scurry off, clutching the new merchandise close to their chests, victorious smiles upon their faces, as they finally catch their prey. Their patience paid off, they skulk to a side area away from the cart and savor their victory. They’ve learned the hard way: Picking off the cart prematurely leads to nothing but reproach and oftentimes an invitation to leave the store from a frazzled employee. But to the victor goes the thrift store spoils.

This is the tip of the iceberg with regards to Thrift Store Etiquette. Other rules, expressed or implied, include:

No taking other people’s stuff out of their shopping carts while they are indisposed in the restroom or otherwise not smart enough to guard their things at all times. This will lead to consternation on the part of the hapless person returning to their cart only to discover that their copy of the Best of Bread is now in somebody else’s possession.

While this would probably never occur in a “normal” store, I have seen people gazing longingly at someone else’s items piled high in their carts and more than once the temptation has been too great to bear. Before the unsuspecting shopper returns, his cache has been raided and someone else has stashed his or her ill-gotten gain below a pile of other junk. This probably stems from the one-of-a-kind nature of thrift stores. Each item is unique and there are not 10 more copies of it in The Back.

This leads to another cardinal rule of thrifting. If the ticket for a large item has been removed, then that thing has been sold, and even though you may really really want that 1972 Schwinn Breeze with the awesome green handlebar covers, if that ticket is missing, you cannot claim it.

This ties in with another hard and fast rule of thrift stores. If you do buy that 1972 Schwinn Breeze with the awesome green handlebar covers, you’d better bring it Up Front and remove it immediately from the store or it is fair game to be sold again.

I recall one day practically frothing at the mouth, gazing at a lovely, albeit battered, dresser complete with dovetail joints, sad to discover that Mrs. Johnson has not answered her page that “the lower half of the yellow ticket for the $10 dresser is missing and if the owner of that ticket does not appear at lane #2 in the next five minutes, it will be sold.” So close and yet so far.

I have waited for what seems like an eternity for Mrs. Johnson to return to pick up her dresser, (or perhaps a burly young thrift store gentleman with a hand truck), only to then learn that she’s left the store with the lower half of the yellow ticket and now the item can’t be sold until they take the dresser to The Back to be reticketed. In most stores, this usually means a long wait; the Back is a solemn place not to be messed with.

(For what it’s worth, in retrospect, I am glad that nice Mrs. Johnson remembered her dresser ticket and ran back in all a flutter, as I noticed while patiently leaning on said dresser, that there was a quite pungent cat pee smell and I had considered myself lucky to have lost the opportunity).
This leads to another Rule of Thrifting. I call it the Rule of Transient Ownership. It goes like this: If somebody with much quicker reflexes has just grabbed that incredibly low priced and barely chipped Corningware set and chooses to stand in the too-narrow aisle, blocking your way, turning the item over and over in their hands while you silently curse them to eternal thrift store darkness, you MUST wait until they are absolutely, positively, unquestionably not going to buy that item and return said item to the shelf.

Then and only then can you be at liberty to snatch it up yourself for your own inspection and possible purchase, most likely aggravating the next potential buyer not two steps behind you, who has most likely cursed you for your incredible luck in grabbing that Corningware set. There are no double grabbings allowed of things. You can’t ask somebody, “Hey, do you REALLY want that?” That’s just not done. Here it’s all about patience and reserve.

Thrifting is a complicated process. It doesn’t involve just showing up one day and taking anything willy-nilly off a shelf and thinking you can just buy whatever you want whenever you feel like it. It’s a delicate dance of give and take, steadfastness, perseverance, and restraint.

These same rules apply to garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, and rummage sales. Those nice church ladies expect and deserve respect. The Rules apply to the rich and poor, old and young, seasoned shoppers or newbies. Luis learned them; you’d best learn them too.

 Rules of the Road for Thrift Stores:  Don’t assume it’s yours until you’ve got it home.

 

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