Monday, May 30, 2011

Finding What I'm Looking For

My garage saling partner and I headed out Saturday morning in the search of treasures.  It was an interesting day!

Autumn has a 16" 2 wheel bike that I bought her last year at a garage sale for $3.  It works well.  Sami has a 12" princess bike with training wheels.  My husband and I talked and knew she'd need a new bike by the fall.  Eli is in the same situation.  We bought him a cars tricycle (which much to my husband's chagrin has plastic, nonreplaceable wheels) for his birthday in April.  It was $60.  We both realized that he has taken to riding a bike far more quickly than the girls and would need a 12" bike by the fall.  As parents we all have things that we would like to get for our kids as "new" items, but sometimes our budget doesn't allow for that.  Bikes are one of those things for my husband.  The first time I brought home a used bike for our kids, he was very sad and disappointed.  Then I brought home another for Sami, a $1 Big Wheel for Eli, and Autumn's $3 16" bike.

Last weekend, we bought new helmets for the kids which cost $15 each.  With 3 kids, it adds up fast!  But, I didn't want to buy used helmets for several reasons.  1) I wouldn't know how many times the helmet had been dropped.  2) I wouldn't know how the child who wore the helmet took care of their hair.  So, new helmets are justifiable to me.

But, pondering two new bikes at $60 each was daunting to me.  So, these two items went to the top of my garage saling priority list.  At the first sale on Saturday, we found this bike for Eli in like new condition.  I checked the tires to make sure they had air in them and gave it a quick once over before I bought it.  I could tell from the treads that the bike had been ridden only a little.  The gal wanted $15 for it, but agreed to $10.  I was very thankful.  It retails for $60 new, so my 10% rule almost worked.

We went to another garage sale down the street and I found a purse for me for $2.  I find that as a mom I need a practical purse, so it was a huge treat to find a nonpractical purse for special occasions for me.

We moved on and I found a huge plastic bucket of legos.  What I didn't realize at the time was that this bucket was going to require a lot of sifting on my part.  With most things from garage sales, I do expect some fixing or pruning to be involved.  I spent this morning pruning the bucket and discovered that about half of them were legos.  The other half was mega blocks or random toy figurines.  But, since I only paid $8, that's okay with me.

We headed from that garage sale to a community of houses nearby that was having a sale.  Early on, we turned down one culdesac and found a bike for Sami.  The bike was in like new condition, but it was a 16" bike (bike with 16" wheels) and it had no kickstand or training wheels.  It was also missing one of the handlebar grips.  I knew that though the bike was in like new condition, it was missing all of these things.  The fellow asked me for $10 and I offered $5 since I'd have to buy all the other parts.  Little did I know how much those other parts would cost!  Later that day, I went to Walmart and bought a kickstand, training wheels, and grips.  Altogether, the parts cost $26!  That brought the bike's cost to $31!  But, for a like new bike, it was still saved me at least $30.  A new 16" bike starts at $60.

The lesson I learned on Saturday is to know the cost of replacement, or missing, parts if I can!

My friend found this toddler bed for $10 for her grandson, which was what she needed to find.  So, it was a good day.  I'm thankful for how the Lord provided for us.

When I came home, I thought about the desire to buy something new for our children.  It's tempting to think that we should do that.  But, I read an essay by Wendell Berry today on Waste, at the request of my husband.  One reason I like to hand down our toys and clothes to friends and also why I like to garage sale is that I'm not contributing more to the waste of our society.  I don't feel very extreme about this, but I do value the idea of minimizing my family's consumption of natural resources.  I don't want to be wasteful.  So, at the end of the day, though new bikes would have been beautiful in my children's eyes, I think that their "gently used" and refurbished bikes have much greater value--to me and to them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Garage Saling Etiquette aka Garage Saling Manners

I had been looking forward to this past Saturday's garage sales for several weeks.  There is a big one in our area and over the past few years it has grown bigger and bigger.  With that growth, though, there have been problems.  My garage saling partner and dear friend and I had a horrible experience on Saturday.  I have a wonderful garage saling partner that makes it possible for It made me realize some of the lessons we've learned over the past four years of garage saling together.  

Here are a few of them:

1)  Take an extra measure of patience with you.  Whether you need to be patient with other people, cars, or wrong directions, it is important to be patient.

2)  Be polite.  Wait your turn when driving down skinny streets and always choose safety over time.  When someone bumps into you, be gracious and don't snap at them.  When someone reaches for something you are looking at, let it go.  It's just a thing.

3) Look for what you need first, then what you want.  Buyers remorse works with garage saling just as it does at retail stores except that you can't return anything.  If you buy something that is broken, don't dwell on it too much.  Check out what you can before you buy since all sales are final after all.  But, some things you won't foresee.

4) Offer to pay what you can afford and feel is reasonable.  If the host of the garage sale isn't agreeable to the price, that is okay.  If someone refuses your offer, then very politely set it down, smile, and wish them good luck with their garage sale.

Some folks having garage sales feel that their things are worth a lot of money and aren't willing to part with it for less.  Others are interested in getting rid of stuff they no longer use.  The reality is that almost all the time whatever you are buying is used.  And often it is much used--so the original purchaser has often gotten a lot of  value for their purchase already.  

If you do need a certain amount of money for items, they are in like new condition, and you are considering having a garage sale, I would recommend instead consigning the items.  You are going to get more money for your children's clothes and other items than you would at a garage sale.  At a consignment store, if an item is sold at 50% of the retail price, you will receive between 20-25% of the price.  If it is sold for less, then I believe you will receive less.  Some consignment stores will require you to bring clothes in clean and pressed.  

This is something I keep in mind.  My rule of thumb is generally 10% of the retail price.  But, all of that goes straight to the person I'm buying from and they didn't have to transport their goods.  Sometimes people will tell me that they can get more on ebay or craigslist and I wish them luck.  Again that is more work on the part of the seller and something they have to be willing to do.  

If you simply want to get rid of things, having a garage sale is a great way to go, but if you want to receive a certain amount of money in exchange for your things and you are willing to put in the work and take any associated risks, then Craigslist, ebay, and consignment stores or sales are a wiser activity to pursue.  

Sometimes there is a need on the part of the garage sale host to make money to pay a bill or raise funds for a charity, but most of the time, I've found when I or friends of mine have garage sales that the money is simply to buy other "wants".  If you do need to make a certain amount of money from something, the other avenues I mentioned earlier, might be wiser choices.

One thing I've noticed is that in the many blessings we have in this country, we can begin to hold onto them.  They can become a "lesser idol".  But, they are just things.  Sometimes there is a sentimental value that we ascribe to them, but most of the time I find we get caught in the thinking that we need to make the most money from what we have.  It is a value of capitalism.  But, it is not biblical.  I've never found a spot in the Bible that says make the most money from what you have.  The parable of the landowner and three servants does advise not wasting what is given to you, but we are warned repeatedly in other places in the Word to keep ourselves form the love of money.  When we hold onto "things", we are tempted to love money.  We have to be careful and guard are hearts.  

My way of guarding my heart has been to simply give things away.  Once in a while I am tempted to want a certain amount of money for something, but then I remind myself of how God has taken care of us.  It is work actually at times to find someone who wants something I need a new home for, but when I find that new home it is so satisfying!

But, I am thankful for all the people who have garage sales, since I enjoy meeting folks and shopping at their garage sales!  

5) Don't Cuss.  Be Careful about what you say.  This one may seem very obvious, but you'd be surprised at some of the things I've heard and overheard.  There are usually little ears around too listening to what others are saying.  

6) Enjoy the unexpected.  Some days we find huge treasures and others not.  You never know what you are going to find.  It is a bit like a treasure hunt.  Last Saturday, I didn't find any big treasures, but I did find what I needed!  I bought 4 pairs of shorts for $1 for Eli, 4 brand new short sleeve shirts for the girls for $2, a plastic bucket for $1 for my kitchen compost scraps, a backpack for Sami for $2, 4 books for a birthday gift for $1, and a baby monitor for a friend for $5.  

7) Be aware.  In the basic motorcycle course I took last summer, we were advised to use this acronym as a guide:  
Scout ahead
Evaluate what to do
Execute and act
The most important step is the "S".  Scout and be aware of all that is going on.  When garage saling, I have noticed that many pedestrians and drivers are distracted and not paying attention.  Be a good defensive driver and pedestrian.

8) Be honest and have integrity in your exchanges with people.  This has many implications surprisingly.  But, at garage sales you, whether a buyer or seller, are exchanging money and goods and so you need to be wise and have integrity.  Don't sell something that is broken if you are aware of this.  Don't give someone less money than you've agreed to pay.  Don't agree on a price and then go back on it, whether you are a buyer or seller.

So, here's my story...

I do want to share what happened last Saturday to help you put all of this in context.  My friend and I drove to the BIG garage sale.  As we were driving into the parking lot, a woman walked right in front of my car.  She did not look around her or behind her.  She simply walked.  She blended into my line of sight with her black shirt and tan pants and my friend alarmed me about her appearance close to my car.  I stopped in time and the woman never even noticed.  We were both shaken up.  I saw the woman later and approached her.  I cautioned her to pay attention to where she's walking.  Closure.  But, that was only the beginning.

A bit later we witnessed something fall on someone and the person became very angry and cussed loudly about the incident.  My friend and I were notably shaken up.  I still am actually.  

We did try to go on from there, though.  Another row along in the yard sale, someone accused my daughter of stealing a book I'd bought from another vendor.  I would never think of not paying for something, nor would my friend.  

At that point, we began to quickly find our way through the rest of the vendors.  We wanted to leave.  We had such a bad taste in our mouths from these encounters.  I'm not sure if we'll go back to this yard sale again.  Something seemed to happen and change at this yard sale this year.  With more people came more problems.  Maybe it's that I don't like crowds and I prefer space.  I feel safer with my three kids when I can keep a closer eye on them and not feel so encroached upon.  

I still love to garage sale.  We found many more to go to after the big one.  My treasures actually were mostly found at the small ones, rather than at the big garage sale this Saturday.  We just may not go back to the big one again next year.  We'll see...

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Garden's Progress

My strawberry plants are in full bloom.  Every day we've been collecting a small bowl for lunch this week.  My girls have loved hunting for berries that are ready to be picked and then picking them.  

In my backyard, all my plants are finally in.  

Although after this picture was taken, I added 2 jalapenos and a cherry tomato near the basil.

My strawberries do seem to be surviving after their near death experience with the leafrolling caterpillars.  I did decide to spray them with an organic spray I had been given to sample.  I read on the web that you should simply kill the caterpillars and not spray unless there is a big problem, but since this spray was organic and I needed to see if it works, I thought I might was well try it.  I haven't seen any caterpillars since...but I'm still checking every day.  
Here's a picture of their progress:

What I remember about my strawberries from my front yard is that the first year, the plants produced one or two strawberries and seemed to gain their strength.  It was in the second year and now in the third that they really began to produce berries.  So, my hope for these little strawberry plants this summer is that they will gain their strength.

My bean seeds are beginning to sprout.  They are one of the few seeds that will grow pretty easily outside without being started inside.  I think they grow pretty easily considering that I've only planted them in a small mound of dirt around the trellis.  Last year, I planted them very late (June) so they didn't bear any green beans until late August.  My hope is that they will climb the trellis earlier this year so that we might enjoy the beans longer.  Here is a picture of my yellow wax beans that I've planted beginning to sprout:

When I was a little girl, I did not like our garden.  I think I've shared before how it only meant work and chores to me.  My dad didn't believe in God and so he didn't see the beauty of the garden as God's creation.  As an adult, this is what gives me a sense of joy when I see something beginning to grow.  It is the realization that it is not me that has made this plant grow, though I have planted, watered it, and weeded around it.  It is God who makes these plants grow.  It is He who sends the sun and the rain.  I trust Him to care for these plants just as He does for me.  I am thankful for the innocent joy that I find in my garden and weeding my small beds that seem like so little on one hand, yet just enough to take care of on the other.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The First Bugs of the Season

On Sunday at church, I overheard my friend who gave me some strawberry plants tell another friend about watching for special caterpillars that love strawberry plants.  I heard her explain that if you see a strawberry leave curled together with some webbing then there's a strawberry leafroller caterpillar inside.  I have had strawberry plants in front of my house for several years now and have had none of these.

But, there's always a first time.

Today I looked at the plants in my backyard (the ones from my friend) and found 3 leaves rolled up with the said caterpillars inside.  

I have to admit that I transferred one caterpillar to a tree and killed two of them.  I also think I lost another one in the dirt so I'm going to be on the lookout tomorrow for another rolled leaf.

I think I've come to a conclusion about bugs.  They're different from place to place--even if those places are a 30 minute drive a part.  I wonder if the caterpillars came with the plants (as tiny eggs).  I'm not exactly sure.  I did read in one article that they winter as pupae.  Perhaps they like the type of strawberry in the backyard better than the ones I have in the front.  But, for whatever reason they're here and now I need to deal with them.  After reading two articles on the web, I gather that there isn't a lot I can do except remove them and keep an eye on them.  So, that's what I'll do!  

The past few days I've been trying to do one thing each day to my garden.  Yesterday, we planted chives and morning glories in the two pots I had out front.  Today, I planted green onions, red and yellow onions (though a quite late in the season), and some garlic.  But, I hadn't looked at my strawberries closely in several days.  That was my mistake.

My lesson for myself in this is to keep my eyes and my ears open even if I don't think there will be a problem!  Because I just may!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cookie Press Trials and Triumphs

When I was little, my great grandmother used to make Spritz cookies.  She was a great cookie baker.  My grandmother was too and so is my aunt.  My mom picked up cookie baking from them (and from her mom) and I from all of these women in my family.    I didn't realize it at the time, but I spent my mother's day doing what I learned from my family--making cookies, using my great-grandmother's recipe.

I have a cookie press that I think was my great grandmother's.  I actually don't know why I think that, but I've always thought that, so I hope that it is.  It is an old aluminum one with a copper top.  It has a few plates and you screw down the top to make the cookies.  My great grandmother always made bars.  She didn't make the shape cookie that people commonly think of.    So, that's what I've always made as well.  I was never shown how to make the shape cookies and never took the time to figure them out--until yesterday.  

For Mother's Day, my children gave me a Pampered Chef cookie press.  It came with 16 different plates.  I was curious to see if I could successfully make some shaped cookie.  I started off with a recipe from King Arthur's Cookie Book (which I've had great success with).  I decided to also make my great-grandmother's recipe and compare the two.  
I made the first dough and put it in the press.  I tried to squeeze it once.  Then I squeezed it twice.  I couldn't get the cookies to come off the press.  So, of course I went to the web to search for tips.  I got clues, but not tips.  I had to find my own way from there.  I was discouraged that people pretty much hate this press.  It gets horrible reviews.  But, I felt determined yesterday to try and be successful with it.

After tinkering and trying, this is what I discovered works.  
1) Some plates/designs work better than others.
2) Use cold cookie sheets.  No parchment.  If you've used a cookie sheet once, run it under cold water for a bit until it cools down and then dry it off.  The cookies won't stick unless it's cool.
3) Use a yummy dough.  I'm including my great-grandmother's recipe here which I got rave reviews about last night at our Bible study.
4) With the Pampered Chef press, you need to do one click (make sure it pops out), and squeeze almost until a 2nd click is made.  
5) Tinker with how you come off the press.  I found it worked well to take it off at an angle--like an arching motion with my hand.
6) Let the dough sit for 5 minutes to soften up if you think the dough is too stiff to press out.

I was able to successfully (after 2 cookie sheets) make spritz cookies.  Some plates did work more easily than others.  

Here is my great-grandmother's recipe.  It does have leavening agents (though some would say spritz cookies shouldn't) and they taste lighter than the dense butter only cookies that you get with many other recipes.

Spritz Cookies 

Cream 1 c. butter with sugars until you have fine lumps.

3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar

Add and mix well:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose white flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt

Add 1 egg and 1 tsp. vanilla.
Beat well until there are no lumps.

Use cookie press.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.