And, More on Hard Wood

The particulars of the flooring salvage on a technical level were this: We ripped off any remaining carpet that has been laid on the floors and then pried up the tack strip. That’s a bear. It breaks a lot and has all those sharp tacks sticking up everywhere. Then we took off the molding, doors and other things that get in the way.

There is a bunch of loss at the 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 Russ used it properly, but these wrecking bars were consistently not up to the job.

When pulling the wood up, it helps to slide the bar in near a 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 unexpected problems. We expected to get the house that we were putting the floors in sooner than we did, but the seller had issues. When closing didn’t happen on time, we started looking at back up houses, and stored salvage wood from the first demo house on pallets in the driveway where our old house had been. We rented a second garage at our apartment to store the flooring from the second demo .

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 Pollyanna, 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, possibly all three. 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 kitchen trash sized bag of paintbrushes that we found at a thrift store. 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 more than once. Our plan was to organize early and stay organized, but with the delays in getting the house, 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. 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 as if we had done them ourselves.

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, there is the telling question. “Would you do it again?” I don’t know. I recommend it for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. If for no other reason there is a right of passage aspect, or maybe one does it 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 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.


We read a few suggestions on order of operations before starting our home renovations. I liked the one that started with painting the ceilings, then walls and finally addressing the floors. Part of the appeal was never needing to worry too much about where paint fell. I’m a messy painter. That didn’t turn out to be our method though. The floors were an ever blooming cacophony of pet smells, so we were required to start there, and stay there for a while.

Here’s what we did to the floors. First, we found a recycler and took the carpet and padding in. I say “we”, but that mostly means Russ, ’cause he’s the one man wrecking crew with the muscle. I was in charge of getting out the tack strip and all the staples because that was slower more detailed work. I took the tack strip out with a carpenter’s crow bar (Wonderbar, wrecking bar) and started on the staples that held the padding down (it’s okay to laugh) with an office style staple remover. I lasted a surprising amount of time with that little technique, but the remaining chunks of padding jammed it every time and eventually I got over my dislike for wrecking my wrecking bar with little dings and started shoving it at the staples till they came out. It roughed up my tool, but at minimum wage I could have bought several with the money I saved in time.

Russ ripped the floor out of the laundry/mud room. Even though it was vinyl, the room smelled and it had cement board sub-flooring as for tile. It was a real jewel to get it out. I came along after and pulled out the ring shank nails or hammered in the ones that lost their heads. There is a knack to it. As I went along, I figured out that if you are careful to make sure the nail goes all the way in the claw of the hammer as far as it can before yanking, the heads stay on better, and over time more nails were pulled and fewer were hammered in.

With now bare sub-floors, cleaning started. I don’t know if you know this, but, unless you hang around ready with the vacuum, those guys that lay carpet go straight from ripping out to putting the new stuff in with no regard to what’s on the floor. Ever since I learned that, I’ve made sure anyone who lays carpet for me knows that they will need to take a short break ’cause I’ll be there with the vacuum to make a speedy round in the middle. So, it wasn’t a complete surprise, knowing that the previous owner had 3 cats, to find kitty litter clay ground into the sub-flooring. I took a big stiff bristled scrub broom and scrubbed it out. I was a bit surprised to find kitty litter in places like the dining room though. It was everywhere. I can only guess that the kitty litter changed homes from room to room over time.

Russ wasn’t happy to find dozens of razor blades left under the carpet, primarily along the edge where they could cause more problems. Sandy dirt tracks from the dogs had worked through carpet and the padding making their favorite paths obvious. The combination of skin piercing implements with habitat wasn’t the greatest. I had updated my overdue tetanus when I got some deep splinters salvaging floors in Avondale Estates, so new scrapes and piercings were lower risk, but still, quantities of razorblades are a hazard to leave behind for the person who rips the carpet.

After a good scrub and a bunch of research we used some stuff called Odorzyne that we ordered straight from the manufacturer in concentrated form. It was supposed to convert uric acid to something not uric acid. Maybe it does. It was almost miraculous. I applied it with a back pack sprayer like those that landscapers use. It had a perfume that smelled a lot like Odoban and when the perfume faded the pet smells were mostly gone and the big spots on the sub-floor were gone or faded. Before Odorzyme, there were places like the coat closet that seemed to be odor free. But after the application, it became apparent that the “odor free” places were really just lower odor than the places that had been knocking us over. The instructions said to use two applications in tough places and the whole house got two coats. Some painters had suggested going up the walls with primer because of some pet habits. With 3 cats and two dogs it seemed likely that one of them might have had a wall habit, so I made sure to go up several inches. Russ pulled the molding because we’re going to install hardwood floors anyway, so we were able to get that area really well. Afterward we were so happy with the results that it was tempting not to prime. But, knowing that things like that could eek out over time, we were afraid not to. Once the hardwoods were down there would only be regret if we hadn’t taken care of the problem properly.

We pulled out the big guns to be really sure. After more research it turned out to be Zinnser BIN that seemed to be what most remediation professionals use to seal in odors from disasters like flood or fire. It’s some pretty heavy duty stuff. Russ read all the warnings, from comments like “Be sure to use a respirator.” To “A could just feel my brain cells dying with every breath.” The BIN deserves its own article though…

On some levels, I’m a little bit glad that the heavy perfume and overpowering pet smells didn’t signal the red flags they should have for me. I mean I saw the flags, but I just didn’t realize they filled the sky completely. I think I never would have bought the house if I had known how hard it was going to be just to get past the smell of it, and that once we did, there would still be so much work. I do think we’ll be happy with it when all the work is done though, and the pace of repairs will slow sometime… I hope so anyway.


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.

Closing a Door and Opening a Window

IMG_20140604_202753The first attempt to close on our house was put off for around a month while the seller got her paperwork in order. The second attempt was delayed because the seller’s moving van arrived just after we did for the final walk through appointment and the movers in it were greeted with “We don’t have enough boxes”. There were signs of packing since before we wrote the offer, but somehow that didn’t translate into finishing the job before either closing date. We gave her another three free days and took off for Memorial Day weekend. We had a nice but brief interlude with a night of primitive camping at a national seashore, a get together with one side of the family and a Memorial Day cookout with the other side. Refreshed and ready, (sort of) Tuesday it was time for the third attempt at closing. Would it be the charm or the strike out?

It was both. We did close, but it was not a happy day for me. The extent of the pet problem had been softened in my mind by the potential of the property and now I had to face the realities that the seller had not. A friend brought congratulatory flowers and surprisingly, they did not wilt on exposure to the house.

Tax records indicate that the seller bought the house as a foreclosure at a steal of a price, but I paid generously considering the condition and the contract said it was to be turned over clean. I didn’t expect spotless, there were too many renovations needed. But, I had mentioned my allergies to her agent in reference to the requirement since she was over the max HOA allowed number of pets and dozens of perfumed odor masking products were not equal to the task of making the place breathable. I break out in varying degrees of bright red welts on contact, so it’s not a euphemism or a cover for repulsion, comparatively small exposures have been known leave me swollen and tearful. We had plenty of cause to re-negotiate at both contract extensions, but I was tired of being unsettled and she (actually, her agent) knew it. I didn’t want to start over and wasn’t sure I had time to. We closed the deal, changed the locks and started to clean up the mess.

The problems were not small though. After leaving the house on the first day (when all we did was move trash off the carpet) I decided to wipe down my phone that had been sitting on the counter and hair came off in sheets like tissue paper.

During the actual final walk through I gave some clearly sentimental items to the agent for her seller and we put a 4-foot cat tree and some other things on the street and let her know they would stay till they were picked up, or till trash day. The seller never seemed to recognize the existence nor extent of her transgressions and she hasn’t stopped calling to ask for things that she didn’t actually leave behind.

The house wasn’t just covered with hair, dander, urine and even some dog food and cat litter, the seller unscrewed things like the bathroom mirror (an appurtenance, i.e. part of the house) while leaving things like a large box of spices. Things were strewn carelessly all over the house, mostly trash. She took appliances that were supposed to stay, even to the point of detaching those that were wired in under the kitchen cabinets, leaving the bare wires hanging. At the same time she left sacks of expensive toiletries. The consistency with which she took things that should have been left and left things that would cost her much more to replace (while costing us to dispose of) was pretty complete.

All that was distressing and I was uncharacteristically overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start and wanted to just leave, but I didn’t. I started to go through things and seek order. That’s when I found it, the thing that distressed me more than all the rest. It was basically a Molotov cocktail. What you see in the picture below is a 5-quart Pennziol jug full of oil (likely used, of unknown vintage) with a paper towel stuffed in the top, not happiness to find for a person who lost her last house to a fire. I took it out to the truck as soon as I photographed it and dropped it at Jiffy lube (the nearest oil change place) on the way home.
I wonder at the risks and carelessness people carry through their lives and how they never seem to have the self awareness to realize that the consequences they experience (if any) were their own making. Made clear by looking at her trash, the seller had plenty of money for expensive luxuries, but she failed to protect her biggest assets. She “couldn’t afford” to treat for termites to avoid potential damage, even when I offered reimbursement for that treatment at closing. Still, as I sat across from her at the closing table, what she talked about most was wanting to visit to the Ritz-Carlton. She liked to tell hoteliers that it was her honeymoon to get free stuff. I’m sure she wanted to escape her mess (and it’s not lost on me where she’s getting the funds to make this potential escape), but her desires and her ethics heightened my frustration having just bought that same mess. Still, I didn’t have the expected difficulty sitting across from her at closing. I giess there were too many new frustrations to replace the old ones. I had a vision of some lower amoeba like form of life that indiscriminately consumes without thought or consideration. She called just now asking for something she thought was in an empty closet, after failing to come get any of the things that were left out for her. I didn’t share my thoughts and I’ll try not to think too much about her overstepping, inconsistencies and lack of manners as I clean her filthy house and catch up on her overdue maintenance. Thankful to be finally moving forward, I’m getting ready to wash the inside, from ceiling to basement and seal it with a fresh coat of clean.

Salvage Value

I’ve done a lot of renovation, but never by the IKEA method. IKEA designs by choosing the end price and making the features of the product fit inside. I’m pretty confident that I can get a good price and do things economically and well, but it’s a challenge to start with the end cost. I start with the finished product. Maybe not the entire product, but I start at the other end, none-the-less, and work on getting the best cost for the finished good. I think I’d be good at rehabbing properties well, but I wouldn’t cut cost corners and unfortunately most buyers don’t recognize that. So, while I’m sure that restoration could be my vocation, I’m not so sure that I could ever make a living at it.

With all this in mind, we took a big leap on closing day. I should say intended closing day, because the leap wasn’t in signing over the future for a house. There were paperwork problems that need to be overcome. We recouped some of our lost productivity for the day in deciding to salvage some knotty pine paneling and hardwood flooring from a house that will be demolished in Avondale Estates.

These salvage items will bring warm reminders of my grandparents back to my surroundings. My father’s parents had a beach cabin on an island near Alabama Point. It had thick old knotty pine paneling. The kitchen was separated from the living room by a bead curtain that I loved to walk through and beside it was a fish net on the wall filled with seashells. Some of the shells were exotic and they fascinated me. This is where I spent the lost summer of my youth. While I won’t be adding the beads and the island décor, it will be nice to have a comfortable reminder.

My mother’s parents had the antebellum home with the twelve-foot ceilings, French doors leading to the dining and living rooms, a long stately staircase and hardwood halls long enough to run through. That house means Christmas to me. Waking up cold to light the gas heaters that retrofitted all the bedroom fireplaces was a part of the winter morning ritual (Of course, my grandfather saved me from having to leave the bed covers cold by coming in early to light mine minutes before I got up. I still hope that someday I will have a home with solid wood doors and glass doorknobs.

How much of the past can we salvage to bring forward to warm our family future? We will see where this demo decision gets us. The cost of materials is very good, but it’ll be haul. Cost of tools, not just specialty tools but also ordinary tools lost in the fire, rental equipment, gas, time and meals that would have otherwise been eaten at home, all of these things factor in. Working after hours and on weekends takes its toll. I know that we will regret the decision before we like it. I don’t know how much regret or how much like there will be. At the very least, it’s better than wasting in front of TV and getting overheated while stacking some of this flooring has caused me to re-commit to loosing some much needed weight and getting back into better condition and I was able to identify some heart pine floors that were eventually saved because I knew what they were.

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

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 while 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, branded 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 said was going to use it to display jewelry that she made, and I could clearly see that it was perfect for jewelry display. In fact, I kind of wished there was another inside for me.

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.


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’


“Then I turned it around and it’s a wizard. It’s like life. You never know what you’re looking at.”


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.


Sometimes the treasure you find in Goodwill isn’t on the shelf.

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, so there we go.

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, you know the one, right?. 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. 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 “earn my 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. Some days the bear eats you…