Month: February 2015

Estate Sale Treasures


My husband and I went to an estate sale this weekend. We arrived during the last hour of the sale when everything was marked down to half price. There wasn’t much left but I still managed to find a red table cloth for $1.70.

I walked around the rather empty house, trying to avoid a surprising number of people still looking for something to buy. I paged through a stack of prints of lions, tigers and elephants. Then I noticed several small wooden carvings of animals and knew the previous owners had taken a trip to Africa. In another room, I found a stack of books on sewing and surmised that someone had enjoyed sewing. When my husband approached me with a hand sewing contraption still in the original package, I talked him out of it because I knew it would suffer the same fate in our house. Or, even worse, we would open it, find it unusable and it would end up in the garbage.

We’ve been going to estate sales since we moved to Florida in 2001. Our excursions have been part entertainment and part bargain hunting. I have to admit that, when the doors to the house are opened at 9:00 am and the ragtag line of antique dealers and bargain hunters is admitted, my heart races and my body tingles in anticipation of the possibilities inside.

The sales have been in houses ranging from multi-million dollar homes on the water, modest homes in middle class neighborhoods to mobile homes in mobile parks. But I’ve learned the size of the house has nothing to do with the furnishings. One of the most interesting estate sales was in a double-wide mobile home that was loaded with a variety of collections: cups and saucers, frog statues, spoons, Japanese art, candle sticks and more. On the other hand, a large new home on Long Boat Key was furnished with expensive, but bland furnishings that appeared to be right off the showroom floor.

Once, we arrived at an estate sale in Sarasota in the middle of the afternoon. As soon as I walked in, I was drawn to a small peacock statue on a side table. An original bill-of-sale under it said it was made of jade. I knew immediately that I wanted to take it home. But in one hour, everything left in the house would be marked down to half price. Did I dare wait until then? What if someone bought it before then? I took the chance and waited outside in a line until the doors were reopened for half-price sales; then headed right for my jade peacock. And there he was, waiting for me! He still has a special place in our living room.IMG_0163

One Saturday morning, my friend, Pat (who is the same size as me) called me. “Jeannie,” she said. “I’m at an estate sale and you’ve got to come. The bedroom is filled with petite clothes in our size. And many of them still have the price tag on them.” I was out the door and at the sale in half-an-hour.

Pat was not exaggerating! Racks and racks of clothes in our size filled the master bedroom. I couldn’t believe it. There was no place to try things on so we had to hold the clothes up and make a good guess. I was about to leave the room when I looked in the closet. It was filled with women’s shoes, all in my size. By the time I left the house, I had four pairs of shoes and a huge bag of clothes for the grand sum of $30.

At home, I headed right for the bedroom to try on the clothes. Then I decided to rearrange the closet to hold my new treasures. Just as I hung the last blouse on the clothes bar, it pulled away from the wall and collapsed, taking ten feet of clothes with it. Since this was an old closet, the only sensible way to repair it was to call in a closet organizer and redesign the entire room. The final bill for my estate sale bargains was $600. And most of the clothes I bought at the sale never looked quite right on me – they ended up at Good Will.

We went to an estate sale at a charming cottage on Anna Maria Island that, we heard, belonged to a woman known as the “Teddy Bear Lady”. That was not an exaggeration. Teddy bears were everywhere; in fact, the second floor of the house was dedicated to them. We bought teddy bears for a friend’s grandsons and several for our granddaughter. We also bought an adorable small wooden wagon that has “The Teddy Express” painted across the side. It’s on display in a high shelf in the kitchen.

Most of the time, a notice about an estate sale comes by e mail accompanied by photos of the household items that will be sold. It’s fun to look at the pictures and see if there’s anything we truly cannot live without. Once, I fell in love with a watercolor painting of wash drying on a line in a tropical setting and was determined to try and buy it at the estate sale. We arrived early but were still pretty far back in the line of people waiting to get in the house at the nine o’clock starting bell. It was a big house so I was hopeful that they’d let us all in at once.

The doors opened and I took off, leaving my husband behind. I hit the living room first, the dining room and the bedrooms. Nothing. Finally, I reached the laundry room and there it was – of course! It was laundry on that line, after all. I drew close. It was even more colorful and lively than the photo. Then I saw the small post-it note in the corner. Sold!

My exhilaration was gone; I wasn’t interested in anything else so I went in search of my husband. I found him in the kitchen, checking out an appliance. “I was too late,” I told him. “The painting was sold.”

He smiled and pulled a receipt out of his pocket. “To me,” he said. I hugged him and remembered once again why I loved him. The painting is now hanging in our guest room and I enjoy looking at it every day.

Sometimes the estate sale home owners are moving to a new city or just a new home. But often, I know, the home owners have died or are moving into assisted care facilities. I always wonder about the people who lived there and look for bits and pieces – like the sewing books- that tell me about the things they enjoyed and valued. When I purchase a treasure from an estate sale, I feel as if I’m entrusted with something someone else loved and cared for and it’s now my responsibility to use it kindly and take care of it until, inevitably, our home will be opened for an estate sale. And I can only hope that the next owner of our treasures enjoys them as much as we did.


The World After Cataracts

I thought I was pretty well preserved for my age. A few friends made nice comments about my skin, sometimes new friends were surprised when they learned my age and I felt reasonably good about my image in the mirror. Then I had cataract surgery in my right eye.

When the dilation and fog of surgery cleared after a few days, I gazed at my reflection and my heart sank. I had had the lens corrected for astigmatism and distance and I was seeing a whole new me. In fact, I was seeing a whole new world. When I closed the left eye (cataract and astigmatism still in place), objects were no longer fuzzy; everything had well-defined edges and colors were vibrant. My vision was clear and I could see far into the distance. This also meant I could see every wrinkle. When had those tiny lines on my cheeks appeared? And what about my forehead? The circles under my eyes made me look tired and – there it is – old! I would have to start wearing bangs that came down over my eyes.

Why hadn’t someone warned me about this aspect of cataract removal and vision correction? If they had, I might have gone on until the end of my life, believing I still looked 16. Okay, maybe not 16, but how about 60? I was probably a bit unrealistic. But, oh, how I loved my visual fog. Now I would have to get used to the new “mature” me.

Half-way into the first week with the new eyesight, I turned to the computer. At my last visit to the dermatologist, I had asked the doctor to recommend a face cream for wrinkles. I googled the brand he had mentioned and was immediately rewarded: a dozen sites appeared. When I hit one of them, I found the cream and almost closed the computer. Two ounces of the lotion cost $75! How long would two ounces last? The directions recommended two or three pump-fulls spread over your face every day. Maybe, if I was lucky, it would last a week!

I kept searching, desperate in my new awareness. Finally I found the cream on Amazon for half the price. I ordered two and watched for their arrival, meanwhile avoiding mirrors. When they came, I unwrapped one and carefully pumped out a few drops. Forget three pumps every day; I was going to get along on three drops. These two containers were going to have to last a long time!

My brother, an ophthalmologist, called to see how I was doing. When I told him about my mirror shock, he laughed. After cataract surgery, one of his patients took a good look at the walls in her house and repainted every room. Another bought a new wardrobe and a third complained about how old her husband had become. So I wasn’t alone!

With one eye changed, my glasses are no longer useful. In fact, it’s just the opposite; they cloud my vision. Of course, part of this problem is because they are so scratched. I’m one of those people who take my glasses on and off ten times a day, leaving them between couch cushions, under bed covers and in bathroom drawers. Then I spend 30 minutes searching for them while my husband is waiting for me or when I need to be out the door and on the way to an appointment. Now, with distance vision improved, I can buy inexpensive readers and leave them all over the house! Maybe this will make up for the new wrinkles!

It’s strange to drive the car without wearing glasses. I keep wondering what will happen if I get pulled over and a policeman looks at my license which specifies that I need glasses to drive. Will he or she believe my cataract story? On the other hand, this is Florida and I’m guessing I am one of thousands, if not millions in this predicament. When I made my appointment for the cataract surgery, the eye counselor told me the schedule was very full because this is “cataract season”. This is a new one. I know it is tourist season, but cataract season?

The other thing about cataract surgery is the drops; there are four of them – an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, pain-inflammation and lubricating drops. All of these are given at different times and for different periods of time and different amounts. The office does give you a nice sheet with everything clearly listed so you can actually cross off each drop after you’ve used it. At first I resisted this approach, certain I could keep track of this myself, but as the second eye approaches, I have given up. The check-list and a pen are in place by the little bottles of drops. And tomorrow I return to the eye surgery center for cataract removal, astigmatism and distance correction in the left eye. I’m just wondering how many new wrinkles I’m going to see by the middle of the week!

Let’s Compromise

Okay, I’m going to come clean. I’m a liberal. (Actually, I like the word progressive better) In fact, I’m so far gone, I support Elizabeth Warren for president. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know I rescue bugs, fish and animals. So you must know that this impulse extends to any living thing, especially humans. I always want to empty my wallet into a beggar’s hat, to bring homeless families back to my house, and adopt every child in need – especially those who arrive at school with empty stomachs, live in shelters and on the street, or are barely surviving in countries where the ruling elite are bombing their own people.

I know, I know. I can hear you saying, “You can’t rescue the world.” You’re absolutely right but why can’t we at least try to do a better job in our own country? Shouldn’t we be doing something to help the families who are struggling right here In America?

These musings began when I attended a lecture on income inequality given by a PhD in Economics. As most of you already know, income inequality in this country is at an all-time high. In fact, we are close to the numbers of people either at or below the poverty level that France was in 1792 and you know what happened then. I hope nobody in this country loses his or her head but we must recognize that, even though we don’t have a king, queen or royalty, we do have an elite class. They are the one percent who run the country and make 99 percent of the money. And unless they are willing to surrender more of their assets to taxes and support some changes in our economic system, we are probably headed for trouble. What’s that old adage? “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.” So if you’re in the top one percent, better hang on to your head!

The speaker didn’t just lay out the problems; he had suggestions for change. The first suggestion was simple; Access to Education. This means reinvesting in early childhood education, making college or trade schools more accessible for low-income individuals and relieving college loan debt. I was lucky; my parents didn’t go to college but they were determined to send their children. In my home, graduating from high school was a given; it was the college diploma that really meant something. And both my brother and I fulfilled their dream; then passed it on to our children. We need to instill this dream in homes where it doesn’t exist and then help make it a reality. That’s how you change a cycle of poverty.

The second change the speaker suggested was to make certain everyone had a reliable retirement program. This means providing secure retirement savings programs for people who are working in low-end jobs, such as waitressing, cleaning homes, day labor, etc. Many people work very hard all their lives at jobs that provide no benefits. They deserve to have a safety net that provides them with the basic necessities of life when they can no longer work.

Tax reform was the third suggestion. The very rich now pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than the middle and lower classes. If the rich paid their fair share, we (Americans) would be able to establish a stronger safety net to help people who fall into the abyss when they lose their jobs, develop a chronic illness or have an accident and are unable to work due to an injury. Or they may have a family member who falls into one of these categories. Not everyone can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Some of us are more able, luckier, or smarter than others. We are not all create equal and I believe we have an obligation to help those who can’t help themselves.

The speaker talked about reining in the influence of money in politics, strengthening worker’s rights and raising wages. He also mentioned strengthening the implantation of the Affordable Care Act. If we are living in a country as wealthy as America and we cannot provide basic health care to our citizens, then something is terribly wrong!
I retired at age 62 so I had three years before I would be eligible for health care. The only insurance I could get cost $700 a month. And every six months, I would get a notice that the payments were going up. My husband and I were lucky; we could pay those premiums. But how many people can? One accident, one major (or even minor) illness and you are wiped out.

Okay, I’ve been on a diatribe; sorry. But I do get emotional about these problems. I feel strongly that people shouldn’t suffer because they’ve been dealt a lesser hand than I have. Many of us do extend a helping hand, either through volunteer work, through contributions to worthy causes and through acts of charity sponsored by our churches, synagogues or mosques. But just giving a family a turkey for Christmas day feeds them for that day and probably a few more (if it’s a big turkey). What happens after that? Should they wait to eat until next Christmas when we give them another turkey? We need to give individuals and families-in-need a gift that will help them buy their own turkey. That means prodding our government and our one percent to dig deep in our collective pockets and really make this the greatest country in the world. If this means compromise between progressives and conservatives, I’m all for it. In fact, I’m always in favor of compromise; it’s a much better solution than doing nothing! So this is a call out for people from all sides (or anyone that reads my blog!). Let’s make a difference.

Thanks for listening!