Monday, August 30, 2010

Summer Sale-ing

I had a yard sale this past weekend.

First of all, I have to state that my wife does not like yard sales.

Secondly, we are geographically challenged. I continually chant, 'sidewalks, sidewalks, sidewalks,' as I envision of a life of walking out the front door, onto my sidewalk that leads to shops and cafes, to new stands and stores, to bars and galleries, and more, without having to get into a car and drive an hour for any one of those. I know there would be more people connections and interactions and, in contrast to the poor attendance at my yard sale this weekend, most likely more traffic both by foot and car to suck up my treasures!

About twelve cars worth of 'shoppers' came by over two days. Day one, Saturday, was the better of the two days with about ten gawkers; Sunday only two cars full. All in all, for the week or two worth of sorting and pricing, and the time setting up and tearing down, about the only thing I gained was 25% more muscle mass and a sincere appreciation for throwing things out.

With that said, there is something I don't understand. Why don't people just love everything that I've put out there? The fact that those bunk bed frames look like they were well used for over 15 years shouldn't detract from their sturdiness and future support! The various pieces of china, mugs, cups and saucers and numerous plastic things (I think they're plastic, what came before plastic?), served us well and the fact that they are mismatched, missing their accompanying matching piece or need a little cleaning (okay, there were packed away in a tote for eight or ten years) doesn't mean they aren't functional...they should have been swooped up by any one of those who showed up. When I bought all of those toys for the kids, they were collectibles. "Dad, these will be worth thousands of dollars some day, I have to buy it, please, please, let me buy it. I'll take good care of them, I promise, please, please!"

Did I mention that I asked the boys to help me with the yard sale. Thought they could be a part of the unloading of all of these 'collectibles' and be here to help me carry the money inside. No, they were, "Busy this weekend, sorry. Maybe next weekend." Off they went. They checked in on Sunday after the fact. I told my wife it was safe to call them to let them know all was done, after I put the last tarp away. I went in the house and heard my wife yell, "Funny! Guess who's here?" Sure enough, one drove it almost on cue. "How'd it go?" I apprised him I didn't sell any of his stuff and it was now piled in the middle of his room so he could deal with it. Not that he could tell the difference from the piles that are all ready there.

Back to the event. Books, books, who doesn't need books? Some tattered, some well worn, but they're books...they always have value and the fact that only one sold only means that they were passed up due to appearance rather than content....a fairly shallow appreciation by the audience, I think.

I knew I was going to score a sale when the couple arrived with three small kids. They headed for the pile of 'formerly loved toys' and each picked up something and looked longingly at their parents, "can we get this?" "Ask the man how much!" They looked at me, "50 cents." They looked back at dad, "Deal," he said. They picked up another toy and the total soared to $5.00.

Of those who came, some were looking for fishing gear (only had one rod and the youngest still uses it, but I offered to rent it to him), or sapphire glass (I only have glass from McDonalds and the jelly company and it all has pictures on it, and they are mostly cartoon characters...they're collectibles, you know, and will be worth thousands some day!). Another wanted stamps. I told him, "No, no stamps here, but if you need one to mail something I have one in the house I can sell you." He just looked at me briefly and then walked away. A single woman noted, "My daughter just moved into an apartment and I'm looking for stuff to fill it up." I pointed to everything and said, "Help yourself, this filled our house nicely." She took a harmonica. It's nice to know her apartment will be filled with music.

Met the neighbors down the street who arrived with a couple from Costa Rica. I was impressed. I commented to one that I was amazed that they came all the way from Costa Rica for my yard sale! "Yes," he said, "It's all of that international marketing you're doing!" (Need to note that for the next yard sale, not only road signs on the contiguous roads within five miles to try to direct people here, but also London, Paris, Moscow, South America, Beijing and Iceland, to start with!)

A couple of old bottles, two boy scout belts, a school carry bag, and a refrigerator magnet filled out the day's sales.

I closed down a couple of hours early on Sunday, recognizing the fact that people thought they had better things to do, got 'saled-out' on their way here, or the economy had dealt a deathblow to lawn topped resale efforts. I wonder if Wall Street has taken note of that.

Most of all, as I put some items out by the road next to a "Free Stuff" sign, I was depressed that those who did come didn't see the grand value of all that lay before them. Years of care, items carefully tucked away to sleep for a decade or more, things that once served us faithfully or entertained us or the boys for hours on end, sat untouched. The grime or wear was, quoting Charlie Brown as he looked at his friend Pig Pen as the dirt shook off him, "History." If people only understood the time, effort and love given each item they would have gladly paid the buck and taken the treasure home.

Oh well, the house is a little lighter. I've boxed up some stuff to give away, but was very careful to tuck away a couple of totes full of 'treasures' for the next yard know, the ones that people, if given the chance, will desire for their 'soon to be valuable' value. I can't throw them away, you know, "They're going to be worth thousands!"

After the big sale, the wife and I went for a drive. I had to pick up the sign I posted five miles down the road, we were going to stop somewhere for dinner, and she wanted to drive south a bit to check out a marshland where people take their kayaks. She wants to do that some day and I look forward to writing about those adventures.

I stopped at the corner, grabbed the sign, and put it in the back of the wagon. It was standing up and the top two lines were visible from the back window, "Yard Sale. Sunday, August 29th." We drove eight miles down the road, after getting gas at the corner store, and decided to swing into McDonald's for a quick burger and shake, to go. Just as we grabbed our treats from the serving window, prepared to pull away, a guy jumped out of a pickup truck behind us and waving and yelling at us, "Sir, sir, just a minute." He came up to my wife's side of the car, as I was driving, and said, "Where is it? Where is the yard sale," "Huh," I said? "We've been following you all the way from the gas station and are wondering where the yard sale is." "It's over," my wife said, "It was in Kerhonkson, but it's done." He replied, "My friend there in the truck, he's a flea market freak and we thought we were following you to a yard sale. Bummer."

My wife just shook her head. In the rear view mirror, I could see the guy in the truck behind us just laughing and shaking his head. We said, "Sorry," one more time and then pulled away. What was that about? Had I thought twice about it, I would have opened the trunk and tried to sell the leftover clothing that I'll now be hauling around for a couple of weeks...darn, missed that opportunity!

As we pulled onto the main road, to head off to the marshland, I pointed out to my wife, "Look, yard sale. Should we stop?" "Only if you're dropping stuff off," she noted and, sipping on her milkshake (which wasn't in a collectible glass by the way), she pointed straight ahead and said, "Just drive."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Deals

We went on another day of car shopping today. The wife wanted to re-check the cars she saw earlier in the week, see if anything new appeared on the lots, and was determined to make a decision today. And, she did. We bought a "new to us" car and we can pick it up on Tuesday.

Her beloved 1998 Taurus, with 256,000 miles on it, needed repairs that rivaled the value of the car and we thought a newer car to be a better investment of any money.

Buying a car, and having something newer, should be something of a thrill, but the process is just never fun. The industry is set up to set us up. You hear about deal making and trading away accessories to bring the price down, offer to pay $2,000.00 less than the sticker, the salesman goes off to "talk to the boss," they come back offering a small amount off, you come up a bit, they go see "what else, if anything, but there's not a lot of room as we're all ready at cost," and when all is said and done you end up paying just what you didn't want to pay.

We tried what tactics we could to lower the price. We're just not good at it and there's something about haggling over the price of anything that feels cheap. We came away with a car that attracted us, got body work tossed in to take care of dings and scrapes, and a CPO. We had a CPO once before and it was good. And, once I figure out what it is, I'll explain it to you.

Basically, we're happy. The sad part of it was taking days to test drive, compare one to the other, ruminate over them all, return to find one we wanted was being sold as we appeared, and having one sales person (not where we bought the car), seemingly put us down for asking questions. "It doesn't matter if you finance or pay cash for the whole thing, the company doesn't care," and, "You have to understand that you're getting a warranty and that costs the company money." I got it. The salesperson was looking out for the company and, for them, he's a keeper.

The truth is, the final two cars were about the same amount of money. We went with the other guy who treated us well.

We left the car dealership to have lunch. After downing a couple of sandwiches with fries, we got the bill for the meal. I asked the waitress if she could do something about the bill.

"Huh?," she asked.

"Well," I said, "the meal was okay, but I don't think you bought the bread today, and the pickles most likely were bought more than a few days ago. I think there's some depreciation here we can take into consideration."

She seemed stunned. "You're not serious, are you?"

I shook my head in disbelief as my wife hit me with a, "What are you doing?"

I stuttered to the waitress, "I'm sorry, we just came from buying a car!"

"Oh," she said, "I'm sorry. Now I know why you asked that. Actually, we have a car buyer's remorse coupon, but you have to come back to use it, it can't be applied to food that's all ready been served, and it's only good on our full priced entrees, and only on Wednesdays between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m."

I apologized to the young lady, paid the bill, left her a bigger tip than usual, once again paying more than we expected to, and we left. I did ask for the coupon on the way out, at the register, but was told that offer expired yesterday at midnight. Geez!

Onward to the grocery store. We quickly ran around the place, gathering our basic needs and headed for the register. I loaded everything on the belt, as usual, while the wife handled the coupons and directed the placement of goods for ringing up. For what turned out to be about three bags of goods, $105.00.

As my wife went to write the check, I told her to wait a minute and I said to the clerk, "Are there any management specials today?"

"Management specials?," he asked.

"Yes, specials," I repeated. "This food has been sitting on your shelves for days, and months in some instances, and it seems to me that you should be running specials, say 10% or 15% off, or at least including the tax in the price."

"Wha," the clerk said?

"Management specials. You know, you put up balloons and drape flags all over the place, maybe you hire someone with a blimp or a plane to announce the deals, and you move old stock off your shelves."

"Is he for real," the clerk asked my wife?

"You have to excuse him," she noted, "We just came from buying a used car."

"Oh, why didn't you say so!" The clerk advised us that if we could wait until the next stocking of the store, and take our goods in brands they chose, we could qualify for free refrigeration of any perishables. The only thing was that we had to drive to the store to pick up items as we needed them, but there wouldn't be any extra charge for this service.

My wife pushed the cart into my backside and told me to stop thinking and pack the bags. She apologized to the clerk and we were soon on our way.

I don't know what came over me, perhaps haggling lag, but I started to think, although a car is worth what its worth and our souls and peace of mind might be better off if we just paid the posted price, I paid too much for those donuts I bought this morning...they had holes in them and I want a discount!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fruit of Summer's Labor

Growing up in Richfield Springs, as a teenager, I had a lot of work to do around the house and yard. Spending those years in a 20 room Victorian, with four younger brothers, meant a lot of housework and upkeep. Along with helping with dishes, cooking, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, laundry, and helping to raise the younger boys, there were 3 acres of lawn to be mowed, along with other outdoor duties.

I learned to like lawn mowing when we got a lawn tractor, as I could spend hours outside by myself riding around and around and around. Should someone call to me or need me to do something else, I could always say that I couldn't hear them over the noise of the mower.

Of course, there were ways to mow the lawn, as the step child of the wicked stepfather. "Straight lines perpendicular to the the front of the house, parallel to the house on the side, and in a square box formation in the back." I learned how important this was one day when the wicked step-father came home, after I had mowed the entire lawn, and he made me go back out and re-mow the whole thing, in the afore-described manner, so the lines the mower made matched his expectations.

Now that I think of it, I could probably get a job mowing for the National Baseball League...I think I know how to mow those checkerboard patterns into the grass!

The chore I liked the least was working in the garden. We had a large vegetable garden every year. The minute the weather looked like it might be warming, and thankfully up north those warm days didn't set in until late May or early June, we'd have to be out in the garden, seemingly every available minute, hoeing, turning soil, and planting, then weeding, watering, pruning, picking and washing whatever was there. We're not talking a 16' by 16' garden here, not even 25' by 25'...this one was almost a quarter acre. In retrospect, we could have probably hired someone to work there 8 hours a day, all week long each week, and still not have kept up with it.

Everyone was out there at some point during the day. My brother next to me, the middle brother who spent most of his time sitting on the ground wailing about having to do anything, and my mother, with twin babies in car seats in the furrows between the corn stalks. It was an obsession. Not ours, but that of the wicked stepfather. However, the more work done outside resulted in more peace and quiet inside.

It was not a pleasant day when the wicked stepfather came home and found weeds in his garden. My mother would push us out there the minute we got up, before school, and after school, and all day during summer vacation, and implore us to get it in pristine garden shape...she's woo us with cookies and cakes, money and, as we got older, use of her car...anything not to have to hear about the garden.

One year, I was put in charge of the carrots. I was the carrot-meister...the wicked stepfather was German; 'meister' means mayor. I told the wicked step-father's mother, the evil step-grandmother. that I was the "Carrot Meister." She shook her head, said something in German that I didn't understand, and probably wasn't very nice, and turned around stomping back to her trailer.

Whatever, it was my little joke. I planted them, watered them, weeded around them, and then got the job of harvesting and cleaning them. "Have those things done by the time I get home," the wicked stepfather imparted on his way to work that a.m. The "Carrot Meister" had his marching orders.

If it were ten or twelve plants, I'd have had then picked, washed, pared, and sliced by lunch time. Ready for blanching and freezing, I could have whipped that out too, as I made formula for the twins.

However, there were several rows of carrots. I do not remember how many bushels of carrots I ended up dealing with that day, but the thought of hand washing all of those carrots was overwhelming. Carrying some of them into the house towards the kitchen sink I spied the washing machine. Why not? I grabbed a knife, starting the washer on cold wash, cold rinse, and snipped off the tops of one after the other dropping the carrots into the machine. As it started it's cycle, I could see the dirt slipping away from them all. The gentle cycle worked wonders and, as I saw a clean one make its turn to the top, I'd grab the carrot out of the tub and put it into a bowl I had set on the dryer. I was very careful not to overload it, the water got really dirty and I wanted to be sure to be able to see them surface. I went through the whole day's harvest in short order.

The problem arose, after they were all cleaned, when the washer wouldn't clear itself of all of the dirt. Seems some of the larger clumps couldn't make their way out of the little holes on the inside of the machine and a number of pebbles accumulated in the bottom. My mother came through the door just as I was scooping out a rather large nasty bit of loam and she just about fainted. I know what went through her mind. The wicked stepfather would no doubt walk in on this production and go through the roof now that I "ruined" the washer.

She had me put the carrots in the kitchen and put some in the sink, to pretend that I washed them there, and she started numerous washes in the machine to clean it out. She was correct in her assumption that the wicked stepfather would show up during this production...he came home early that day, "Just because." (I often thought he had the house wired and would come home when the dialogue led him to believe that we were 'up to something.') He did think that the carrots looked especially clean, whew, and he never found out about the washer escapade, double whew!

The whole point of this story is that, during my hours of gardening and harvesting and cleaning, I would think that there had to be a better way, and I found it. Perennials and vegetable stands.

At my house, in the Spring, I watch flowers come up in my front yard garden, a 16' by 8' spot of perennial flowers that I accumulated over several years, and under the overhang, a 3' by 8' spot, some thistle, chives and sage, and some other interesting plants. In the back yard my herb circle, where mint and oregano come up annually with no more work on my part than opening the door to go outside to look at them.

Down the road, in either direction from our house, are vegetable stands. They have all sorts of vegetables and fruits that have been harvested and cleaned (and no doubt benefited from someone's care and weeding), and I have all of that saved time to do other things.

Off to the side of the back yard, we have an apple tree. This year it has put out the most apples ever. All I did was watch the snow melt off it, see the apple blossoms bloom, and investigate, from time to time, the bulbs that have now formed into fruit.

I do enjoy a little gardening, but nothing on the scale of the mega-gardens of my past. To be honest, I might like a nice vegetable garden, but our soil is poor and our oak trees block any hope of sun for the hours needed to pull everything out of the ground. And, given the time and effort it takes, purchasing our vegetable needs is probably cheaper, I'm conserving our water for our other needs (showering, laundry, cooking, and those little scotch and water events) and, I'm fairly certain, the wife might have something to say about the use of the Maytag come harvest day!

I wonder. If you put washed lettuce in the dryer on the air cycle, would it get rid of the excess water??? Hmmmm...maybe I'll try a little garden next year!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Cutting Cuttings

I've decided there's one thing worse than not having time to paint. That's having all of the time in the world to paint.

The pressure can be enormous.

Of course, I should be putting out lots and lots of work. What else is there to do?

Some artists treat their practice like a job. They go into the studio at 8 a.m., take a half hour for lunch, return until 5 p.m. and then turn the light off until the next day. They work at it.

Others, like me, are mood painters...have to feel the urge and want to do it.

I subscribe to a twice weekly e-letter from Robert Genn (thank you, Wendy, for that suggestion) and he noted in one letter this week that a friend of his secured a two week residency and wrote that she didn't know what she was going to do with all of that time. There is the suggestion that plenty of time equals many more good works than usual and success each time.

I decided today to use the time and just do it. As a result, I went through six pieces of watercolor paper. I can balance chores with watercolor, as you need to let the piece dry between applications, and having to fold clothes or do dishes fills the time nicely and forces you to walk away from the painting. That way, if the painting doesn't pan out, at least I feel like I got something done.

Lately, people have been urging me to do more leaf paintings. It's a little early in the year for them, but I pulled everything out to give it a shot. You have to find the right cutting. The shape, the veins, the condition (lots of little bugs inhabit leaves)...and the funny thing is, and it's perhaps the length of time the leaf is exposed to the elements over the duration of several seasons, before they fall, or the cold air at night in the early fall, summer leaves are tough to deal with. They have waxy surfaces and resist water and paint. I won't tell you what I do to prepare them pre-season (that's a trade secret), but I took out my scissors, took some cuttings, got a dozen together. and spent about eight hours, on and off, to come up with basically one picture.

My leaf paintings are all original, one-of-a-kind, productions. Prepared on a quarter sheet, if all are successful, I might get one really good big painting or five or six small ones.

I learned the trick of cutting paintings down one year on Monhegan Island, many years ago. Fred Wiley, a well-known Monhegan artist, was visiting our group of painters. I had a poor painting going and was ready to trash it when Fred stopped me. He whipped out a small mat and moved it to a part of the painting where something was hiding. "In every bad painting there's a beautiful postcard," he said. With that little action of his, voila, there it was, my first cutting. If I'm lucky and the painting is a really big bad one, I can get two or three cuttings.

Since then, I've painted with abandon knowing that something will be there that will be worth framing. Okay, not every time, and not with complete abandon. Some times, very few times, I just paint to paint. I actually try very hard to paint well and still throw a bunch of stuff away.

Over the years, my leaf cutting and painting processes have resulted in some outright gems and many worthy cuttings. This one, a piece of quarter sheet is a cutting.

When they go really bad, and with this process many do, I cut the sheets into strips, five or six inches long and a couple of inches across and end up with hundreds of abstract book marks.

So, today, from my cuttings, one painting and sixty-seven book marks. Can't tell you what tomorrow will bring, but I always look for the right cutting.

By the way, those six pieces of paper may have resulted in six pictures that one could argue, if done well, matted and framed, might bring several hundred dollars each. That being the case, I'd welcome $1800.00 for this one. If anyone is interested, contact me right away.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Kayak (yak, yak, yak...)

Just back from 10 days at the lake...our usual summer stomping grounds, we figured we've been visiting Canadarago Lake in Richfield Springs for the past 25 years, less one or two when we waited too long to reserve the camp.

This year we booked far in advance and added two days to our usual trip...those few days make all of the difference. Gives you 'extra' time to chill. One week's vacation is just not enough...two or three more days makes it better...of course, a month or two would be really, really nice!

In the past, we've spent days swimming, visiting with family (I'm from that area), travelling around that area to Cooperstown and sites thereabouts, and entertaining our boys. As they've gotten older they have deferred from vacationing with us, at times. During their later teen years they certainly didn't want to be seen with their parents and these days they have jobs that prohibit them from taking the same time or the same amount of time off that we have.

At the camp, we continue to swim and lounge about, and we get to sit on the party boat owned by the camp owners who rent to us, but we don't have the use of that power boat or other motorized water vehicles. We've used the canoes or rowboats to entertain ourselves afloat, as we enjoy 'discovering' other parts of the lake, and we've spent time and put in a lot of effort hiking them in and out of the water.

Last year, I bought two kayaks...the wife had commented on them several times and I surprised her with them, much to her pleasure. As it turns out, it's very pleasurable for me, too.

Kayakers around the world, forgive me, but I'm about to share a kayak secret. One that men around the world have talked about and, when they discover it, kick themselves in the seat for, as they realize they should have bought kayaks years ago.

Along with being lighter and easier to deal with in and out of the water, and there's little maintenance, there's a personal aspect that's very appealing.

You see, when you're in a canoe or rowboat with the wife and family, you are the hired help who can do nothing right. You are either paddling against others, not paddling fast enough or going too fast, you aren't holding the oar correctly, you're not relaxing or taking in the sights as you should, you're sitting too high or too low, you're going the wrong way, or you're hearing about all the things we did do, didn't do, should have done, or will do next time we go on vacation. And, of course, once you're fifty feet away from shore, someone has to go back...too boring, have to go to the bathroom, didn't want to go in the first place!

In a kayak, it's your own little world. As you drift away from your partner's kayak, completely out of your control, of course, as the tide is too strong or the wind is blowing you apart, you soon find out that you can't hear her. Before you know it she's too far ahead of you or you're too far ahead of her, and you're looking at things you want to look at, paddling at your preferred speed, and no one is telling you that you should be doing anything different at all.

You can't take anyone with you. Gee, I'd love to take someone for a ride, but I can't. They have to go out on their own. Gee, I'd love to talk about the sights and wonders as we paddle along, but you're just too far away for me to hear. Must be the sound waves bouncing off the water, but I can't seem to make out anything that's being said!!!

I never thought I would enjoy paddling around the lake as much. And while I miss the camaraderie and conviviality of shared boating, turns out there's plenty of time to tell me what I'm doing wrong back at the camp!