The Three R’s, Environmentally Speaking

30 04 2010


So much junk in our homes!  Our lives get overly complicated trying to acquire, clean, display, and store all the stuff.  How much of it really provides us with enough pleasure to earn its keep?

My theory on how to attack this problem: stay out of stores!   Also, toss the ads from the Sunday newspaper (in the recycle bin, of course).  These things have a remarkable ability to confuse us about what’s a “want” and what’s a “need.”


Just because a person is done with something doesn’t mean it’s ready for the landfill.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and all that jazz.  (Actually, the exception to this is the stuff at my house, where, alas, the vast majority of junk really is just junk.)


“Hey, honey!  I found another can in with the regular trash and since you and I are the only ones living here I know it was you who threw it in there.  What kind of planet are you leaving for our children?”


Ah, but here’s the problem.  Sometimes (translation:often) when I’m volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity Restore (thrift shop) in support of #2 above, I find something that I would really like to have, which flies in the face of #1 above.  Mental turmoil ensues.

Yesterday we had a beautiful Persian rug that, due to, ahem, a “screwup”, was sold for $65.  One customer (after the fact) said it would retail around $4000.  While that may have been an exaggeration, clearly, we should have sold it for more, which would have meant more money to put toward building the houses.

Do I need a rug? No.  But if someone had offered me that rug for that price I probably would have taken it.  Am I feeling angst that I didn’t get the chance ?  I’ll get over it.

But also yesterday we had a little flat cheese grater, maybe six inches by two inches.  I thought it was cute, but didn’t dwell on it.  Until last night when I was making a tossed salad for my husband and me, and decided to add some cheese.  As I was hauling out our big, four-sided grater it occurred to me that the smaller one would have been perfect for the occasion, and much easier to clean up.

Now I’m afraid that every time I get out the big grater I’m going to kick myself for letting that little $1 beauty slip through my fingers.


The Gremlins Are Busy

4 12 2009

There’s always variety at the Habitat for Humanity Restore where I volunteer weekly.  That’s because

  1. The merchandise is continually changing. A sizeable shipment of chandeliers one week, a hundred hotel sleep sofas the next.
  2. While we have a group of hardcore volunteers, we also get fly-by-night helpers who drift in and out and who tend to be interesting characters.
  3. Our clientele runs the gamut. At one end we have the person who would have to do without a fridge if he couldn’t get a cheap one from us. At the other end, a wealthy shopaholic who burst into tears when we wouldn’t knock a dollar off a four-dollar lamp which she needed like she needed a hole in her head.  And every kind of person in between.

Still, some weeks are particularly lively.  Case in point…

It started when the guys arrived to hang signs labeling various departments—lighting, plumbing, hardware, cashier.  The store has a super high ceiling, like a Home Depot.  So the guys had a platform that expanded like an accordion to lift them way up to the top.  They planted the contraption right in front of the entrance to the cashier station.  We had to climb over the counter to get in and out.  (We don’t just sit around at the cash register when no one is checking out.  We’re out on the floor cleaning the clutter, tracking down prices, checking out the merchandise, running our mouths.)  It was an intriguing inconvenience having to clamber back and forth over the counter.

My partner and I both were at the register when the  CASHIER sign, printed on corrugated plastic to be suspended with plastic strapping, was being hung.  We weren’t actually looking up at the guy, but we saw a look of horror on the customers’ faces as they watched the proceedings.  At which point we looked up and saw the sign dropping through the space, heading right for us.  It could have been a bit nasty if it had sliced into either of us, but we were both unscathed.  But pity the poor guy hanging the sign.  He stood up there at the ceiling looking horrified.  His face turned ghostly white.  The plastic that had been sufficient to hold the other signs was not up to the task for this particular one.

A while later I happened to look down and saw a generous wad of cash on the floor.  I picked it up and wondered what the heck to do with it.  A lady ran up, obviously in a panic, frantic because she had dropped all her money somewhere.  I presume we got the money back in the right hands as nobody else approached us about missing money.

Still later a guy brought a storm door up to the cash register.  As he stood there pulling out his wallet he must have jarred the door in just the wrong way.  A small crack appeared.  It expanded into a bunch more cracks, like spider veins.  Tiny pieces of glass started dropping out.  The process seemed to do in slow motion, more cracks, more glass falling.  After thirty seconds or so, the floor at the front of the store was covered with infinitely many tiny glass pieces.  And the shopper was standing there with an empty metal framework.  Looking very sheepish.

The slogan for the store is “Miss a Day…Miss a Deal.”  Perhaps it should say “Miss a Day…Miss the Drama.”

Small Thoughts About Small Things

12 10 2009

Maybe my  petiteness explains my fascination with small stuff.  I like things that are diminutive by definition (cookie cutters, refrigerator magnets, game pieces, Christmas ornaments).  And things that are miniature models of bigger things.

Combine that with the pack rat gene I inherited from my Dad, and the result is a house with lots of itty-bitty odds and ends squirreled away in various nooks and crannies.

When my husband rescued an old wooden Coke bottle crate from his parents’ basement, I liked it because of its age and its authenticity (as I recall, the slogan said “Coke: It’s the Real Thing”) but I didn’t see any real application for it, so it languished in our basement for a while.

Last Christmas I realized I could fill the compartments with some of our smaller ornaments.  That would save them from getting lost on the tree.  Also I liked the ease of just sticking them in the partitions as opposed to messing with all the hooks.  To quote Martha Stewart, it was a good thing.

When Christmas was over I gradually transformed the box from a Christmas display to a more generic display, with a slight emphasis on kids’ playthings.  So this is how it looks today:

Coke_crateLast week at the thrift shop I hit the mother lode.  One of those old wooden printer’s block trays that once held letters, etc.  I snatched it up and have been scouring the recesses of my house to locate appropriate items to fill the spaces.  It’s a work in progress.  This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Printer_trayIncluded in the mix is:

An old pencil from one of my sons.  He used to pride himself on using his pencils till they were VERY SHORT, and saving all the stubs.  I would venture to guess that he, like me, inherited the aforementioned pack rat gene.

An eye dropper from my one of my other son’s assorted chemistry sets.  (He’s a chemistry major now.)

One of the Fisher Price Little People.  We had names for all of them.  If memory serves (which it probably doesn’t) this is Fred.

The candlestick and revolver from Clue, my husband’s favorite board game of all time.  Play with him at your own risk.  He’s insufferable.

Keys from our old house in New Jersey.   Wonder if the new owners ever changed the locks.

A bag of M&M’s I picked up when “they” (?) were making a B movie at the pond across the street from our house.  Neighbors were invited to help themselves at their commissary table as we watched the action (or lack thereof).

A corn on the cob handle.  A source of some disagreement in our family.  My husband refuses to use them.  They seems to threaten his manhood.  I, of course, insist that’s ridiculous.  The boys are conflicted….

Wine corks from some romantic meal that I no doubt wanted to remember forever, but which, alas, I have totally forgotten.

Several Trivial Pursuit question cards.  Q: What’s a funambulist? A: A tightrope walker.

Teddy bear shaped soap we brought back from our hotel at Disney World.  It falls under the category “Cheap Souvenir.”

Et cetera et cetera et cetera.

A Gentle Man with a Stubborn Streak

24 09 2009

A delightful gentleman comes into the Restore every week on the day I volunteer.  He’s in his eighties, I think, and is one of those people you can tell is very smart, though he certainly doesn’t flaunt it.  Things just come up in conversation that reveal this guy is no slouch.  He’s lived a long and interesting life, and he’s shared bits and pieces of it with us over time.

I volunteer one day a week, and I used to think he only came in that day, to see the Thursday volunteers.  I guess I was a little disappointed to find out he comes in every day to see everybody.  So we’re special, just not that special.  Then I found out he doesn’t just hit the Restore.  He has other shops on Route 1 that he frequents, with friends at every stop who no doubt love him as much as we do.  That’s okay.  There’s enough of George to go around.

Whenever he has something to donate that he thinks one of us might like, he gives us first dibs on it.  I got a nice oriental rug for my living room that way.  And a wooden baseball bat that has “The Dougster” scratched on it.  I thought it referred to his son, but he informed me it was the neighbor kid.  I kept it because my son thinks it’s funny and I feel sentimental about it.

A year and a half ago George’s family and his doctor decided he needed some fairly serious surgery to improve and extend his life.  He was not convinced, but, under pressure from them (the term ambush comes to mind), he relented.  His recovery was a struggle, especially considering he was pretty annoyed going in, but in retrospect it was a good call.  For a week or two after the surgery when he was able to get out and about a bit but not up for driving, his wife brought him in.  She is just as sweet as he is, but we know that if she comes in with him, all is not right with the world.

So I guess that should have been my first clue when I looked up last week and saw them both in the store.  Plus the fact that it was afternoon, and he always shows up promptly at opening time.  But it wasn’t till I saw his black eye that I really got concerned.

It turns out that the day before he had gotten held up when he got in the car in the parking lot at the grocery store. This was not on some back alley.  It was at a big, newly-remodeled strip mall—Staples, Home Depot, TJ Maxx, Bed Bath and Beyond, Michaels, and grocery store.  And it wasn’t late at night on a moonless evening.  It was at 10:00 a.m.  The guy snuck behind him as he sat in the driver’s seat, put his arm around George’s neck, and demanded the cash from his wallet.  George was so mad he threw the wallet to the side as he reached for it.  Which made the guy madder and resulted in a huge lump on George’s forehead, the black eye, and a substantial contusion on his forearm.

Perhaps most amazing was the fact that later that day the guy turned himself in.

Anyway, I’m wondering if George should have put up such a fight, putting himself more at risk.

I’m also reminded of what we all know.  Look in and around your car before you get in.  It’s smart to be cautious about where you go and when you go there, but nothing makes up for being alert to your environment. Plus lock your door as soon as you get in the car.

And I’m realizing that as charming a fellow as George is, he’s definitely got a stubborn streak!

Habitat for a Cat

9 09 2009


I just finished reading Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, a cute book by Vicki Myron about a cat who was adopted by the library in Spencer, Iowa.  He lived his whole life there, greeting patrons when they entered, riding around on book carts, exploring bookshelves, munching on the stray rubber band.  (The book is kind of the feline equivalent of the bestseller Marley & Me by John Grogan.)

The Habitat for Humanity Restore where I volunteer (see previous post) doesn’t have a lot in common with a library, which by necessity is a model of orderliness and organization.  A friend who worked at a library once told me “an incorrectly shelved book is a lost book.”  Because we get such a variety of stuff in such varying quantities, it’s proven to be quite impossible to keep our shelves organized.

In a library people speak in hushed tones and whispers.  At the Restore, we frequently have to holler to make ourselves heard over the forklift that hauls piles of tiles and bins of bricks around the store.

Whereas a library is typically a fairly clean place, one of my co-volunteers once commented, “this is the only place where I wash my hands before I use the bathroom.”

Surely the stereotype of libraries being run by no-nonsense, efficient librarians is at least partially true.  These are not people who might forget to feed the feline for a week at a time.  On the other hand, we’re staffed largely by volunteers who drift in and out, based on court ordered community service hours for assorted offenses.  They’re joined by the occasional high school student needing service hours for the National Honor Society.  (It makes for an interesting mix of people.)

Like a library, the Restore is a fun place to explore, but unlike a library, it’s largely characterized by chaos, dirt, disorder, noise, and instability.

So it stood to reason that a Restore cat was probably not in our future.

(Not that we’re without friends from the animal world.  People regularly bring their dogs with them when they come to shop.  The occasional bird has flitted about in our rafters.  We’ve seen evidence of vermin in deep storage recesses.  And a crew of feral cats has been spotted behind the fence at the edge of our parking lot.)

But as I was meandering about the floor yesterday I spotted a stuffed cat.  I refer to a plush toy, not an actual stuffed cat.  (Which would certainly be unusual, but as I mentioned before, we do get a little bit of everything.)  This little fellow was great.  He was sitting on a sofa in the furniture area.  He looked amazingly lifelike.  (Most plush cats fail to capture the rather ethereal spirit of a feline.) He had a sensor in him that caused him to meow, purr, wag his tail, or turn his head at seemingly random moments.  He really made a person do a double take.  So we decided this should be our resident cat.

Whereas Dewey was unceremoniously dumped in the book drop one cold winter night, this cat appeared unannounced on a couch in the furniture area.  So there’s certainly the chance that some sweet young lass is going to come in claiming she inadvertently left him.  Or someone determined to have this feline will make us an offer too good to refuse.  But in the meantime, we’ve got ourselves a low maintenance, high impact kitty.

Forging Ahead With Blinders On

8 09 2009

RestoreI volunteer at the Restore, a Habitat for Humanity operation that’s a cross between a thrift shop and a Home Depot.  Profits go to build the houses.  It’s supposed to be a place to recycle building products (wood, windows, doors, tiling), home appliances (washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners), home furnishings (furniture, light fixtures) etc.  In reality, we get a wide assortment of stuff, and if someone actually brings something in, we rarely turn it away.  (People’s egos could get deflated that way and the guy who contributes frequently is also the guy who buys.  Besides, you never know what might sell, and money’s money.)

So I was a little taken aback but not too surprised when I wandered in one morning recently and found a walker for sale.  A few minutes later I saw that we were also selling a scooter for the disabled (a bargain at $999?)  When a lady came in with a cane a few minutes later I started wondering if I was being set up.

As I tried to digest being hit over the head with what might well be three glimpses into my future, the customers had no clue what was going through my mind.  What are other people struggling with that I know nothing about?  We’re all living in our own little worlds, each forging ahead with blinders on.