The Home That Yard Sales Built

How to conquer life's obstacles one bargain at a time!




So you say you don’t believe me when I say that an unusable purse has value? Well grab a paintbrush, and PTL for second chances.

Not too awfully long ago, I saw a purse.  Okay, okay…maybe some time has passed.  Alright, you know what?  FINE!  Last year.  It was last year.  I’m just now getting around to writing about it.  It was a sweet little winter white, satin Coach purse at a yard sale for five dollars.  Only problem?  It had stains.  At first glance they weren’t apparent, but upon closer inspection it could easily be described as dingy and certainly wouldn’t be an accessory one would be itching to dangle off of one’s arm (it made me itchy just to look at it.)  It was, for all intents and purposes, a lost cause.  I almost passed it up.  Left it behind and never looked back.  “I am far more deserving than a STAINED purse!”, I told myself.  “Clearly the previous carrier of this purse did not treat it carefully, in fact, it almost looks as if they didn’t even care about it at all!”  Logic and reason dictated that this particular little purse was not worth my time.  “Why do you always talk to yourself?” I asked.  “Because I fascinate myself!” I answered.  “And because nobody else is here.” I mumbled.


I began my return trip down the driveway from the garage to my car.  I could find far better purses another day!  That’s right!  Forget you, Coach purse!  Then it was almost as if that little purse called out to me:  “Hey!  Hey!  Don’t give up on me!  There’s more here than you might think!  I am worth your time!  I AM!


Giving in, back up the driveway I trudged, mumbling to myself once more, this time over being a sucker, questioning my sanity based on that fact that I was listening to an inanimate object and completely unrelated, wondering if there were any sour gummies left in the console of my car.


So, I bought the purse, took it home and in my office it sat for a day or two….or three, or a week or three, or yeah, as we’ve established, maybe a few months.  I eyed it on and off, wondering if I had made a mistake.  In the retelling I imagine myself giving it a stare down a’la Clint Eastwood, you know, because I’m a stone-cold bad@#%.  In reality it was more like a few sidelong glances that accompanied some cranial wiggling on how to clean it, alternating with second guessing myself regarding the purchase.  More than once I almost chucked it.


Let it be known that I am the stain eradicator!  If you have a question about laundry, I’m your gal.  One of my superpowers is stain removal.  I’m not sure exactly what the costume would be for a superhero with this power…but I haven’t ruled out the possibility of wearing one (one that I would, of course, hand wash and line dry.)  This purse, however, presented problems.  It was resistant to coming clean.  It was like it didn’t want to clean up nicely!  I couldn’t just attack the stains (and I had experience with this) or the fabric would bubble and buckle (satin fabric with backing…stain removal Kryptonite!)  I tried a few of my favorite remedies in inconspicuous places.  No dice.  The staredown recommenced.  I’m pretty sure the stains laughed evil laughs.  They had plans.  Dark plans.  Bad plans. Wicked plans!  Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong stain-fighting superhero.


After a few days it hit me.  This purse wasn’t ever going to be exactly what it had been when it started its life unmarred, pristine, and fresh…but maybe if I changed MY preconceived notion about what it had to be, it could be even better.


There were a lot of ways one could amend an item such as this, and we’ll cover other options in future posts, but for now, let’s talk about the painting process.  It’s not as apparent in the photos, but there were quite a few stains and also just an overall dinginess to the purse.  It had lost its former beauty. It was grimy.  It was lifeless.  Here is how it started its life with me (it actually doesn’t look too bad in the photo…but in person it was a bit of a mess):

I set about the process of painting the purse (that’s right…PAINTING it!)


Follow me:


Step 1:  Obtain or retain imperfect item.  Contemplate possibilities.  Consider chucking said item.  Forget to put it out on trash day.  Shrug.  Continue contemplating. What to do?  What to do?

Step 2:  Settle on painting purse with transparent fabric paint.  The results are much like dye, but the application, for an item such as this are less problematic.  The paint I used was left over from a similar project I had done a while back.  I am typically not a hanger-oner of stuff in general, but I loved this product (which was not inexpensive, over ten dollars per bottle at the time) the bottles were still nearly full and I loved the results of the previous project, so I had kept it on hand ever since.  I might have used different colors, had I been buying the paint specifically for this idea, but unsure as to whether the purse would survive the painting process I was unwilling to invest in new colors.  Now that I know that it works, I would.  The reason this paint works, as opposed to traditional fabric dye is that it is QUITE thick and does not need additional water.  Water is what warps and bubbles fabric purses like this.  While there was, of course, some moisture in the product, I was able to keep it to a minimum by applying it sparingly.  I wrapped the handle and zipper pull in Saran Wrap to protect the leather just in case either happened to touch the paint before it was dry.


Here is a link to the fabric paint I used:


(That link looks vaguely racy.  Heh.  But it’s not.  Really.  Click with confidence in the fact that it is rated G.)

Step 3: Plow ahead.  I started painting, using pink in some places and purple in others.  Using two colors gives it a more easy going/slightly bohemian look, a little more depth and allows room for error, but one could do a solid color as well.  I began by painting the areas I deemed riskiest, such as along the edge of the zipper, where the handle met the sides of the bag and around the leather Coach logo tag on the front.  I used a small, thin, slanted brush.  If you don’t have one in your arsenal of paintbrushes, a flat, slanted eyebrow/eyeliner brush works really well.  The paint I used is water based and washed out of the brushes completely with some soap and water.

Step 4: Look at the mid-project hot mess and second guess yourself again, but then choose to soldier on.  I continued painting, moving to a much larger flat brush.  I painted each quadrant in eighths, switching up and alternating between the pink and purple.  It is important to overlap the colors a little, but not too much.  You can also paint the entire thing in pink and then go back with the purple, but this only works if your colors are similar, as the ones used here.  Another way to go would be to use colors such as yellow and blue, and where they overlap you’ll get green.  Just be sure to test the result beforehand.

Step 5: This next step is optional.  While the paint was still wet I sprinkled coarse sea salt on the purse.  The effect can be as subtle or dramatic as you’d like.  Add it quickly after painting and leave it on for a long time and you’ll get much more intensely mottled effect.  The effect is achieved as the salt absorbs the paint on and around the spot where each granule lands.  As each piece of salt is of a varying size, it gives an imperfect, hand done look.  I put mine on after only a few minutes of dry time and left it on for less than 30 minutes.

Step 6:  While the salt is doing its job, stop, rest, have a cup of tea and ruminate on the parallels between purses and life.

Sometimes this happens in our relationships.  Maybe you and your boss are often butting heads.  Maybe your once adoring child became an angst ridden teenager awash in hormones and seemingly hell bent on convincing you that you’re the antichrist…or at least the anti-cool.  Maybe a relationship with someone you love hit one too many speedbumps and you could never see that person as you once did.  Look again.  Maybe your boss will be a little easier to handle if you realize she might have struggles in her life about which you are unaware.  Maybe your teenager doesn’t enjoy his misery any more than you do.  (Let’s face it, being a teenager can suck.)  Maybe your friend or loved one is ready and willing to replace the speedbumps with wide open highway…but they need for you to climb in the passenger seat and be a willing navigator.  A little compassion goes a long way and a willingness to see beyond what’s broken and have faith in what’s worth saving might be all that’s needed.  No one purse and no one person is perfect.  Perhaps none of these relationships will be pristine white, shiny and new ever again…but if they have good bones and they’re meant to stand the test of time they will.  That is, if, rather than expecting to erase the stains you choose to put them behind you.  If you allow it.  If you get creative.  If you let go of what was and imagine what can be…and then follow it up with action.  Be an active participant in the rejuvenation project.  Expecting dramatic change from anyone with whom you interact without also putting some time in yourself is an expectation doomed for disappointment. Now, of course, you could keep going out and getting a new pristine “white purse” (spoiler alert…we’re not talking about purses anymore, people) every year…but no matter how careful you are, every white purse is going to become stained at some point.  It may have been mistreated by previous owners, it may have hidden its blemishes behind designer logos, or maybe you just tossed it carelessly in the back of your closet and forgot about it.  Remember that to someone we ALL were once a pristine white purse that became a little dingy.  Don’t you want a second chance at life?  Don’t you want a chance to be colorful; a chance to be seen as worthwhile as you really are?


So, rather than throwing out your current purse and buying a new one every six months, maybe colorful, beautiful and built to last is better anyway.  I can tell you that I think it is (scroll down for a photo.)


Grab a paintbrush friends!








Step 7:  Step back and admire your work. It might not be right for just anyone, but I think it’s perfect!  (FYI:  It is less vivid and a bit more subtle in person…I have yet to master iPhone photos.)


So you say your jewelry needs a home?  Read on my well accessorized friend, read on.

This week’s project is quick and easy, anyone can do it, and (hint!hint! fellas) it’s a great surprise project that will make your significant other giddy with joy!  Imagine the look on your loved one’s face when they come home to find what you’ve made for them!

Do you have too much bling for a small jewelry box, but want something a little more unique than those mass produced jewelry cabinets?  By using a piece of furniture you already own, or finding an inexpensive one second-hand, you can have something much better, for much less!


Over the years I have accumulated jewelry.  Most of it from yard sales. I thin the crop from time to time, but I find that with jewelry, you just never know when you’re going to need that one quirky necklace, that classic cuff bracelet or those Ren and Stimpy shrinky dink earrings (IT COULD HAPPEN!  I MIGHT WEAR THEM AGAIN!)   As I have an affinity for vintage jewelry (and have a more difficult time discarding the vintage pieces) my collection needs a home.


We’ve all had experience with attempting to make jewelry storage work in a small box or drawer.  It doesn’t.  But does this mean we’re doomed to a lifetime of untangling necklaces which have seemingly fused together in one giant mass, or searching in futility for the mate to your favorite earring?


Fear not!  All of your jewelry storage issues can be solved in an afternoon!


Here is a step by step on how to make it happen:

Step 1.  Measure the inside of the cabinet, drawer or drawers you plan to convert.  


Step 2.  Cut foam core  (it’s a bit like poster board, only thicker.  It has a layer of, you guessed it, foam, in between the layers of thick paper) to the size of the drawer.  The size should be pretty darn close to the size of the drawer.  You can go a SMIDGE smaller to allow room for the fabric and batting, but I kept mine within ¼ of an inch.


Step 3.  Lay foam core on top of batting.  Cut batting about 1 ½” wider on all four sides than the piece of foam core.


Sidenote:  In case you’re wondering no, step 2b. was not “have a glass of wine or three”…my pictures just didn’t turn out so well.  Apologies for the blurry ones above and below!  :/

Step 3.  Do the same with the stretch velvet, cutting the velvet just a little wider than the batting.


Side note:  The back of these pieces are not visible at all once they are installed, so I didn’t even try to do a neat job when I was cutting the batting.  My scissors were old and dull and it all looks like a hot mess…, but don’t fret, it doesn’t matter one whit once it’s all in place.

Step 4.  Begin taping first the batting and then the velvet to the back of the foam core.  I have tried this with other projects and duct tape works best, as long as one is not worried about the back of the project looking “clean.”  I have used glue, staples and other forms of tape.  None were as effective.  If it matters to you how the backside of the foam core looks, you can cover it with black felt after you finish.  Start with one good sized piece on the center of each side.  It doesn’t stay in place super easily at first.  It’s more manageable if you enlist the help of a willing friend, or an unwilling teenager who would rather be watching John Green videos on youtube.  Your helping hand can then hold the fabric in place while you tape, or vice-versa.


It is important to pull the batting and fabric taut, but not too taut, or it makes it even more difficult for the tape to hold both in place.  It’s not an exact science.  You’ll figure it out as you go along.  🙂

Step 5.  Continue taping the batting as if duct tape grows on trees, next, tape the fabric as well, until it is completely covered.  Then put several additional layers of tape over what you’ve already done, in order to secure it in place.  On the corners, pull it towards the center, forming a pleat and tape like crazy.  Watch as it slips out of place.  Swear.  Tape again.  Invent new swear words.  Tape yet again.  When you have effectively depleted the duct tape rainforest to such a degree that Pete Seeger is knocking around some ideas for a song about you, add one more layer, and then rest.

Once you’re ready to “hammer out” the remainder of the project, move on to the next step:

Step 6.  Place in drawer.  If you did it just right it should be just a little tight.  That way it won’t slide around inside the drawer.  My pictures aren’t too great…it looks as if the fabric is wrinkled, but I’m not sure why…I think the flash picking up the nap of the fabric.  The stretch velvet actually stayed wrinkle free.


Step 7.  For the left hand side of my cabinet, which was an open space rather than drawers, I added LED tap lighting.  It would have been fine without, but it was a little dark, and not only that, but the lights made things sparkle and look pretty.  These amounted to a decent portion of my budget for this project, around seven dollars at Target for two, but in the end, I think it was worth it.  They install easily with double sided foam tape (included.)

Next I added hooks to the inside of the cabinet doors and to the inside of the open cabinet compartment.  Because this was a reasonably decent piece of furniture, I used Contact brand adhesive hooks, which won’t damage surfaces.  I had an old pine armoire years ago that I used for a similar purpose and used chrome screw in cup hooks.  I actually prefer the look of the cup hooks AND they hold larger items more comfortably.  Whenever I attempt a project such as this one I always try to allow room to grow.  In this instance I added more hooks than I need right now.


For the interior of the cabinet, in addition to hooks and the tap light, I added another black velvet liner for the “floor”, a black velvet jewelry display for necklaces and bracelets, and I also used some decorative dishes for storing extra bracelets.  I found my velvet jewelry display stand at a yard sale for a dollar, but they’re not priced out of reach even at full retail.  They are available in a few different styles and sizes at JoAnn Fabric and Craft stores for between 2.99 and 29.99, are frequently on sale and JoAnn also offers a weekly 40% off coupon for one item.


Here is a link to the JoAnn website showing the display stands:


Here is a link to their coupon page.  There is almost ALWAYS a 40% off coupon.  I used mine for my fabric:


You can also get the JoAnn app for your smartphone.  This way you always have the coupon on hand and don’t need the weekly flier.

I tried to keep like items together, pins, earrings, rings, etc.

The wider, lower top drawer was perfect for extra long or heavy necklaces and I also used it to store jewelry cleaning supplies.

All in all, I was pleased with the outcome!


I ended up with two extra drawers, and lined those with velvet inserts as well, because I had enough left over materials.  The extra drawers could be used for sweaters, delicates, etc.  Either way, it’s bonus storage!  🙂


I spent just over 30 dollars for all of my supplies and it was worth every penny!


So, there you have it…your own custom jewelry case is just a trip to the Salvation Army and the fabric store away!

I’ll leave you with this:


“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize” – Clairee Belcher (“Steel Magnolias”)

– Laura


So you say you’re in the mood for a cup of joe?  Well, don’t start that journey at Goodwill, my arabica bean loving friend.


Take a look at the photo.  Go ahead.  Do you see it?  Are you chuckling?  No?  Ok, look again.  I’ll wait.


(*whistles, taps toe, looks around.)


You’re back!  NOW do you get it?  I thought so.


*cue “The Circle of Life”


The above photographed mug, which began its journey at The Salvation Army has found its way to Goodwill and they’re selling it for 1.99.


Now, let me be clear.  I enjoy thrift stores.  More than just a little.  Kind of a lot.  Enough that I’m writing about them.  That said, their pricing practices can sometimes confound and confuse me.


I snapped the above photo at a Goodwill in Tucson, Arizona.  What you see is about 1/6th of the number of mugs they had for sale.  The lowest priced mug was 1.99, most seemed to be 2.99 and they went up from there, and there wasn’t a complete matched set in the ragamuffin bunch.  It was like a Dickensian orphanage for mugs.


This got me to thinking about my penchant for buying nearly exclusively secondhand.  Is that always the most economical choice?  The answer is no.  Not always, and especially not if one is shopping at Goodwill.


Here are a few examples of the retail prices for mugs I found with a quick google search:

How about a perfectly lovely mug from Crate & Barrel?  Granted, it won’t have any personalized chips on the handle, pre-applied Sanka rings on the interior, or the remains of an unknown user’s Fashion Two Twenty Party Pink lipstick on the rim, but at four cents LESS than the average price for a USED mug at the above Goodwill, you can’t deny that it’s a steal!



Is a customized mug more to your liking?  You can have one with your company logo, a photo of your grandchildren or “My Tardis Brakes for Yard Sales” emblazoned on the front for a mere $4.43 (or 1.08 if you have need for 5,000+ of them.)  Now, this might be slightly more than the $2.99 you’ll pay at Goodwill, but let’s not forget that they use LEAD FREE inks!  That’s gotta be worth just under an extra buck fiddy.


Last but not least, let’s consider the fact that you might want something really special, simply have expensive taste or maybe you throw money around like Lil’ Wayne at a strip club.  You can make it rain at the Bloomingdale’s website…that’s right, BLOOMINGDALE’S.   There you can procure a unique and interesting mug for less than thirty dollars.


Now I put the question to you:  Is the Goodwill mug a bargain?  I would argue that it is not.


The point I’m making is that what appears to be a bargain on the surface, may not really be.  Do your research, pay attention and know what matters to you.  Thrift stores and yard sales are a wonderful resource for creating a beautiful home on a budget, but they’re not the only resource.


While the average American paycheck remains stagnant, or for many has become nonexistent, and the prices on many consumer goods and services continue their seemingly endless downturn (gasoline, milk and pro athlete salaries notwithstanding) the prices at many national chain thrift stores (based on my colloquial observations) have enjoyed a steady spike.  So, what gives?  As far as I can tell, there is only one explanation:  The folks pricing the goodies at Goodwill are on crack.  All of them.  On crack.  Crack cocaine.  However it is that one ingests crack, they’re doin’ it.  They must be doing SO much crack that they’ve lost their foothold on reality.  Just sitting in the back, doin’ crack, and pricing stuff.  Perhaps they REALIZE the prices are outlandish, but they need the money in order to support their dozen cracks a day, Costco-sized portions habit, I don’t know.  I am not an expert on crack.  All I know is that crack has GOT to be a factor.  Right?  Yeah, sure, right.


My mother shops at Macy’s.  She has a Macy’s card.  She has frequently regaled me with  stories of the bargains she has found, such as a perfectly lovely designer top for FOUR DOLLARS and seventy cents (on clearance with Macy’s coupon.)  Now, contrast that with the fact that if I walk into my local area Goodwill and saunter down the long sleeved shirt aisle I can find any number of stained, pilly, out of style Mossimo tops.  The cost?   FIVE DOLLARS and seventy nine cents.  What?  WHAT?  Yeah.  Seriously.


So, assuming that my crack theory is off target, what on earth could lead the powers that be at Goodwill to these ludicrous price point decisions?  Greed?  A complete lack of knowledge of retail trends?  An utter inability to give a s*%@?


Inquiring minds want to know.


In order to prove my point (because, hey, what girl doesn’t want her point proven?) I stopped in a local Goodwill location recently and snapped some photos.  It was NOT difficult to find these examples of rampant crack-headery.  I was in the store for maybe five minutes.  I didn’t even scratch the surface of the UNdeals to be had.  Check it out and get your outrage on:

Exhibit A:  Six-year-old iPod docking station. Missing buttons.  MELTED.  8.99  EIGHT DOLLARS AND NINETY-NINE CENTS!!!  I found a brand new iHome docking station online at Office Depot for 21.99.


I could rest my case here, but let’s move forward, shall we?



Exhibit B:  Canon Electronic calculator.  Let the record show that said calculator has missing parts, is paint bespeckled, clearly began its life during the Carter administration, is no longer in possession of its red nor its black ribbon and has no power cord. 12.99.


I found a brand new Canon Electronic calculator online with more features for 18 dollars.


Exhibit C:  Older model George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine!  Missing parts.  Greasy interior.  17.99.  Yep!  17.99.  Your honor, I object…to this pricing strategy!


I am pretty sure that the number of George Foreman grills on the secondhand market outnumbers the total number of men, women and children living in the lower forty eight states.  I haven’t run the actual numbers, or conducted a poll or done “research” per se, but I stand by my calculations.  I have never purchased a George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine!, yet I am confident that if I went into my kitchen right now and checked the dark recesses of my cabinets, I would find that one had magically appeared.  Maybe they’re mating when we’re not looking.  Maybe they are an alien lifeform sent here to study our curious ways (and reduce our fat intake.)  Maybe Americans buy a lot of stuff we don’t need….nah!  It’s probably the alien thing.


At any rate, what I’m saying is that there is a glut of George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machines! out there.  If what we learned in high school economics holds true and value can typically be determined by the number of items available vs. desire/consumption of said items (supply and demand) then I am going to go out on a limb and say that this teflon coated item is overpriced.


Here is an example of one that actually sold on eBay recently, keeping in mind that almost ALL of the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machines! (Whew!  The person who named the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine! could never be accused of being overly concise…I am burning fat just typing the name!) of this vintage remained unsold:


99 cents.  Even factoring in shipping, this lucky (sure, let’s say lucky?) buyer saved themselves nearly half off of the Goodwill price…and it was offered complete, in good condition and with all of its parts and accessories.

Exhibit D:  VERY broken Rowenta Iron.  12.99.  Sigh.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will hear testimony that this iron did aid and abet Goodwill in their attempt to willfully and wantonly murder the bank accounts of their customers.


Now, granted, this Rowenta comes with complimentary greasy mystery stains (perhaps it was gettin’ cozy after store hours with the GEORGE FOREMAN LEAN MEAN FAT REDUCING GRILLING MACHINE!  As we’ve already surmised the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine! IS all about reproducing, after all)  but I did find a Rowenta iron online at Lowe’s for 31.99.  Lowe’s typically sells its irons WITH the handles attached, so, you know, there’s that to consider.


Madam Foreman (lean mean fat reducing grilli…oops, sorry, it’s force of habit at this point), what say you?


“We find the defendant.  Goodwill Industries GUILTY on all charges!”



Now, all of this said, I must admit that I do still find bargains at Goodwill, but they are becoming fewer and further between.  There are a few locations I no longer bother to frequent, their pricing has become so outlandish.  The prices seem appropriate for about 3% of the merchandise.  The rest is better left behind.  So what has happened?  Thrift stores that are SO packed to the gills, one can barely flip through the racks without sustaining Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, make heads or tails of the precariously stacked dishware, or sort one’s way through the cracked tchotchkes without setting off an avalanche of dust and Home Interiors figurines, that’s what.  What happens then?  Damaged merchandise.  Is it just me, or is this pricing strategy counterproductive to Goodwill’s mission?  These prices are certainly not helping those in need to buy clothes or other necessary goods for their families and I have seen the racks and shelves SWELL with product as the prices continue to rise, which tells me people are buying fewer items.  Would not a more reasonable price move more product and help more people?  The cost behind running the thrift store (rent/utilities/staff/insurance/etc.) does not escape me, nor does the fact that the proceeds benefit other good causes, but I can’t help but think that all would be better served by lowering the prices and selling much, much more.


Throw down that pair of high-waisted acid washed jeans, the VHS copy of “Short Circuit II”  and the painfully ugly 1980’s sweater (they’re not ironic anymore anyway, they’re just ugly), America!  Stand on a nearby rickety table and go Norma Rae on their behinds!  Call your regional area Goodwill representative and tell them to stop doin’ crack, get in a twelve step program and get to gettin’ at making amends!



p.s.  My apologies to any of my readers who do crack.  I’m sorry to have associated you with the folks pricing the merchandise at Goodwill.


Godspeed fellow bargain hunters,






Does your linen closet look like it was last organized by a sleepwalking bandicoot wearing mittens?  Well, read on for the tools you need to skin that bandicoot and neatly fold his hide!

(The author’s grandmother, a few years ago, just before she turned 90.)

I love linens.  I love truly fine linens. I love vintage linens. I love unique linens.  I love drying off after a shower with thick, plush, white towels.  I love that moment of slipping into crisp, cool, freshly laundered sheets.  I love a newly made bed.

I also love a beautiful, well-organized linen closet.  My former linen closet and I, however, have been torn asunder.

I used to own quite a collection of linens.  I acquired vintage chenille bedspreads galore.  I amassed dozens of sets of vintage embroidered pillowcases.  I folded and stacked antique quilts aplenty.  My collection has since been pared down rather substantially and the reason is twofold.  The first being that I simply decided it was time for much of it to move on to a new home, but before I tell you the second reason, let me tell you a story.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma Beck.  I love my grandma.  She is sweet, generous, hilariously funny, industrious, self-reliant, and she’s just contrary enough to let you know that all of that sweet is genuine (and to keep you on your toes.)

(Who rocks comedic eyewear?  Beck does!)

My grandma loves to feed people.  If you want to make my grandma happy, mention that you’re starving, she’ll be thrilled.   If you’re not ravenous, she’ll settle for a tad bit peckish, and if you can’t manage either of those, for heaven’s sake at LEAST say you might have room for a sliver of pie (FYI:  your “sliver” will be 1/6 of an entire pie.)  As you might imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s kitchen, most of it sitting at the kitchen table, watching her prepare food.


At this point you may be wondering what ANY of this has to do with linens.  Well, be PATIENT!

Growing up, I loved watching my grandmother cook.  Of course I enjoyed the end result because she’s really good at it, but I liked the process too.  Her cabinets used to make a SNAP sound when they closed that I can still remember.  Snap!  Snap!  Snap!  During the cooking process she would sometimes swear (her rated G version) when something like bacon grease popped on her hand, she would often set off the smoke alarm with the heat from what she was cooking, but she would always, at some point in the process, while attempting to retrieve a necessary implement or ingredient from the deep dark recesses of a poorly designed corner cabinet, while wielding a flashlight she kept in the cabinet for these occasions mutter:  “I’d like to get my hands on that old man that designed this kitchen.”


Anything in construction that is poorly thought through, in the estimation of my grandmother, is CLEARLY the work of “Some Old Man.”  Bathroom stall doors that open IN, rather than out?  “Some Old Man.”  Basement steps that are too steep?  “Some Old Man.”  Cabinets with three feet of nearly unusable space?  Everybody together now:  “SOME OLD MAN!”

It gradually came to my understanding over time that when my grandmother uses the word old in this or a similar context, she doesn’t necessarily mean advanced in age.  She is using old as an ersatz swear word.  I think what she meant was:  “Some D#*% Man.”

After moving into the townhouse where my daughter and I live now, I realized that the house had NO linen closet.  None.  The building was constructed in 2005.  No linen closet?  REALLY?  I uttered these words before I even realized what was coming out of my mouth:  “Well, it’s pretty obvious that SOME MAN designed this house without even bothering to consult with a woman.”  Sigh.  Yep.  I skipped turning into my mother and went straight to becoming my grandmother.  You know what though?  SHE’S RIGHT!  The things in my current home with which I take issue are all things that I have to believe could have been easily remedied with a quick conversation between the builder and a woman with even the tiniest bit of savvy.  They built a pantry, but did not see fit to include electrical outlets in said pantry, forgot to leave room anywhere in the kitchen for a trash can, brooms, etc.  The only additional closet in the house is a coat closet (which should only be said with accompanying air quotes) the size of a priority mail envelope.  There is not a place in the entire house in which to store your vacuum and the bathrooms are a wanton waste of space devoid of storage and with no medicine cabinets.

Please understand that I’m not complaining.  I am merely observing.  Everyday.  Every day I observe what “Some Man” has wrought.



And there it is.  The linen closet – Grandma Beck connection.

As you may have guessed, the lack of a linen closet was the second reason for the thinning of my linen collection.  It’s not nonexistent; it’s just been carefully pruned to only the most necessary, most beautiful or best-loved pieces.


And now, after all of that, we get to the point of this post:



I call it the “sheet packet.”  The sheet packet makes it unnecessary to go scrounging through your linen cabinet for pillowcases.  The sheet packet makes it a quick grab and go exercise when it’s time to change the bed.  The sheet packet (and this is my favorite part) looks neat and tidy when you open the linen closet door and gaze upon your home’s necessaries.

Here’s how I do it:

First, fold your fitted sheet.  Everyone seems to have trouble with this step.  It’s easier than you think.  There are lots of tutorials out there on how to fold a fitted sheet, so I’ll keep this quick:  grab a corner; we’ll call it bottom right.  Turn it inside out with your hand inside.  Take the top right corner and fold it over your hand, right side out.  Move on to the top left corner (inside out), lastly, add bottom left (right side out.)  Shake out the edges and lay it on the bed.  At this point you should have a square with ONE curved corner.  Neaten it up (easily done when it’s laying down rather than trying to do it while you’re holding it.)  Put the curved corner on the upper left, so that these instructions will make sense.  Fold the left edge inward about a third.  This means that now your curved edge is gone, you’re left with a rectangle.  Now fold the right side in by about a third.  Now, fold up from the bottom, in thirds or fourths, depending on the size of the sheets.

Set aside.

Fold the pillowcases next.  I fold mine once in the middle, with the open edge left on the top, flip them over, fold them by thirds, then in half again…so that when they’re flipped over the decorative open edge is on top and no raw edges are showing on the sides or the front.  Place the pillowcases on top of the folded fitted sheet.  You should have something like this:

Set aside.

Fold the top sheet in half, bringing the bottom to meet the top edge.  Now fold in half side to side.  Lay flat on the bed and smooth out any wrinkles. Set your fitted sheet in the center; with the pillowcases still side by side on top of the fitted sheet.

Bring the “raw” edged side of the sheets in first (meaning the side that doesn’t show a fold, but does show the open edges of the sheets.)


and then bring in the other side.

Next fold up from the bottom, covering the fitted sheet,

fold the entire packet over once more and VOILA!  Sheet packet!

From the front you’ll see only the round folded edge.  From the sides you’ll see only clean edges and when you’re ready to change your sheets you can grab the whole thing with one hand and you’ll know that you have everything you need!

By the way, my grandmother did eventually get a new kitchen.  She was in her eighties when it finally came to fruition.  New range, new dishwasher, new countertops and yes, new cabinets…including a corner cabinet with rotating shelves designed by someone other than “Some Old Man.”  Her new corner cabinet is Beck approved.  She deserves it.  I’ll miss the snap the old cabinets made, and I suppose part of me will miss her snapping at That Old Man…but it makes me happy to think that she is content.


– Laura


p.s.  Now you know from whence my contrary comes.  😉

The Provenance Makes it Personal

So you say it’s all just used junk?  Well, I happen to disagree, my friend!


I like pretty things.  In a lot of ways, it’s as simple as that.  Who doesn’t?  I think we can agree that pretty things are, by and large, universally liked.  You’ve become pretty jaded if you start saying:  “Ugh.  Pretty things?  Pfft.  No thanks.”  That said, that’s not the only reason the things in my home make me happy.  Obviously some things have a place here because they’re practical.  Quite a few things are in my home because they make me giggle.  There is one thing that almost all of the items in my home have in common and that is that they have a story.

This vintage crystal dish was a recent aquisition:

  It was a chilly Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were out and about.  We went to an estate sale, which, having been held Friday and Saturday as well, was in it’s final death throes.  At most estate sales, by the end of the day on Sunday the carcass has pretty much been stripped clean, the bones left to dry in sun.  The first hour or so of an estate sale is a frenetic feeding frenzy.  Folks are hopped up on the adrenaline that can only come from the thrill of possible treasure, filling their arms with pre-loved riches and rushing from room to room snatching up lace doilies and mismatched kitchenware as if they’re on some real life, musty scented version of “Supermarket Sweep.”  By Sunday afternoon, a random shopper will wander through occasionally, mostly with looks of disappointment or scorn, surveying what meager offerings remain, eyeballing the poor soul having the sale almost as if it is a personal affront to them that nothing is left.

This particular sale, much as it’s proprietress, had retained some of it’s youthful beauty.  In my, never to be humble, opinion, there were a few reasons for the quantity and desirability of what remained:

1.  Location:  Not only was the property off the beaten path, but the GPS map was even a bit “off” in how it displayed the street, which was actually more like an alley.

(Side note:  Always keep a graphic street guide handy folks!  Don’t become so dependent upon GPS that you forget how to read a map.  In the event of a zombie apocalypse, do you think you’ll have GPS?  No!  Hope for the best (no zombie apocalypse) prepare for the worst (zombie apocalypse) and you’ll be better off for it.)

2.  There were very few signs.  What signs there were had been poorly placed and had no arrows.

3.  The prices were high.  Not “have you been smoking crack?” high, but pricier than the typical yard sale clientele are eager and willing to pay.

4.  The prices were high because her things were VERY nice…however, because they weren’t nice in a flashy or ostentatious way, but were nice in an elevated and refined way, a lot of patrons were overlooking their value.  She knew what she had and wanted a fair price for those things.  For instance, she had a leather bound Bottega Veneta organizer.  Now, had it been a Louis Vuitton organizer swimming in “LOOK AT ME!” LV logos, it would have been snapped up early on.  Because its mark was embossed, quietly, on the inside, shoppers had passed it by.

4.  On Saturday, when I had first visited the sale, the woman hosting it was, well, let’s say not bubbly.  Ok, why mince words?  She was flat out unfriendly.  It seemed as if the process of people mauling her treasures, approaching her with said treasures, which she had carefully accumulated over a lifetime, and offering her 25 cents each for them had in some way offended her and affected her mood.  Who woulda thunk it?

So, for all of these reasons, my daughter and I, the only people browsing at this point, found ourselves oohing and ahhing over some pretty fantastic stuff.

The crystal dish above was an item I had seen on Saturday.  At that time the woman hosting the sale, a beautiful woman in probably her late seventies, who my daughter described as having “great style and the perfect glasses”, had, when I chirpily asked the price, snarled at me that it was “Twenty dollars and not a penny less.”  On Sunday, her mood had softened.  She was lovely.  The stress and anxiety of Saturday had left  her and she chatted freely, sharing stories of every item on which we commented.  I touched the dish on Sunday and she told me that it sat on her mother’s coffee table for decades.  Looking at the dish she said:  “Do you like it?  You should have it.  It’s only five dollars.  Please take it.”

I have to say, I had no business spending even five dollars that particular day, I went because I thought we might find some things that my daughter wanted.  But in that moment, I grew attached to the dish.  I was enamored with it and with her.  The dish had grace and a casual elegance.  I was impressed with her grace, and her elegance.  Even her only thinly veiled superiority was charming on that day, rather than off-putting.  Also endearing was that she clearly wanted me to have that dish.  Not that she wanted to make the sale, please understand.  It was something different.  Perhaps in her mind it would go somewhere that it would be cherished, rather than hauled off to Goodwill.

I paid it.  I gave her five dollars.  I brought it home, washed it, dried it and set it out, and guess what?  I do cherish it.  The crystal has soft gentle curves and feels almost silky when I touch it.  The lid’s finish is imperfect and I love it’s aged patina.  When the light hits it, it explodes in a rainbow of colors.  It feels to me as if it belongs in my home.

As much as I cherish the dish, what I cherish even more is that every time I look at that dish, I’ll remember that day.  My daughter and I had a wonderful time, we laughed and talked, we had a lot to say on the way home after the sale…about the house, about what we had found (even about the items we left behind!) and about the woman who we met. She was special. For whatever reason, that day was special to me.

All of these things, all over my house, they have a connection.  To their previous owner, to events in my life during the time in which each item was purchased, to how they connect in ways small and large to everything else in my home.  I appreciate them.  Tremendously.

Have gratitude for all of the little things all around you.

 Every day you wake up and there’s NOT a zombie apocalypse, appreciate it.  😉

A Magical Mistake

 So, you say you can’t afford Christmas presents?


 Yesterday I shared how I think when I miss out on a bargain I’ve seen.  Today, I’m going to show you what my daughter did under similar circumstances.  

 My daughter Hadley’s favorite part of Christmas is watching other people open their gifts.  I know, but you can roll your eyes all you want…she really means it.  Even when she was a young child she wouldn’t ask for anything.  She was so wrapped up in the giving that she forgot to care about the receiving.  I don’t know what I did to be so lucky, but I have a really amazing kid.  Every year she spends a great deal of time on gifts for her friends and family.  

(My mother and me…check the rockin’ collar on Mayme’s shirt, y’all.  Pretty sweet.)


 This year, due to circumstances beyond our control, for the first time ever we won’t be with family and she and I won’t be opening gifts on Christmas morning, but we’ve found a lot of other ways to make the season special.  For one thing we’ve saved up several weeks of “The Soup” without watching and we’re thinking marathon!  Oh Joel McHale, you wise-crackin’ tall drink ‘a water, you’re gonna save Christmas!

 Hadley created uniquely tailored gifts for all of her friends, things like mix cds (with her own custom artwork) and other homemade gifts.  For one friend she wrote a story customized just for her.  For one friend, a fellow “Doctor Who” fan, she made two medallions from Shrinky Dinks paper, each in Gallifreyan (if you don’t know what this means, trust me, you don’t care), one which translated into ‘Buddies’ and the other into ‘Space and Time‘.

 There was one gift, though, that she really wanted to give to her good friend Lexi Rose and that was a Harry Potter wand.  A Harry Potter item which required retail goods.  Lexi loves Harry Potter and Hadley was set on giving her a wand.  Nothing else would do.  Not long after she told me this, I was in a Goodwill store and found, of all things, a Harry Potter book of posters and inside the book was a wand!!!  What are the odds?  Hadley wasn’t with me, she had walked next door to get something to drink, but I went to get her, asked if she wanted it and we rushed back.  I was gone maybe three minutes.  MAYBE!   Well, of course you know where this is going.  it was gone.  Vanished.  Snapped up by another shopper.  We scoured the store just in case, but to no avail.   

 Obviously we were disappointed, but nothing was going to keep Hadley from handing over a wand to her friend on the last day of school before Christmas break. This kid puts the T in tenacious.    

 Finally it was decided.  She would find a tree branch (see last Friday’s post…we have nothing if not an abundance of yard waste) and fashion a wand herself.

 Time passed.

 Days passed.

 Other projects were completed and the gifts wrapped, some even delivered.

 Now began the last minute crunch.  My daughter is wonderful.  She is kind, she is compassionate, she is creative…aaaaand she can occasionally fall into the trap of procrastination.  Procrastination makes me nervous.  It makes me so nervous, in fact, that seeing someone put things off is sort of like watching a horror movie.  You just KNOW that vapid, nearly topless cheerleader isn’t going to find the quarterback behind the locker room door.  But you have to watch her walking blithely toward her doom, unable to change the course of events.  So, as the days went by, I would open my fingers from where they covered my eyes and peek out…hoping to see progress.  

 It is my humble opinion that nagging children is by and large not only a worthless endeavor, but when it comes to something such as this, unwise as well.  Hadley is who she is and, She’s not me.  She needs to live her way.  Much like my incredibly talented cousin, she often proves to thrive and prosper in that squeaking in just under the buzzer, last minute slide into home way of operating when it comes to projects.  Both of them manage this in a way that I cannot.  Nerve-wracking?  Yes.  Impressive?  Also, yes.   

 Around 10pm on the last possible night, as Hadley was wrapping the second to the last gift, she went to find a stick and asked:  “What knife should I use for whittling?”  WHAT KNIFE SHOULD SHE USE FOR WHITTLING?  Um, unless we have a stash of Andy Griffith knives about which I am unaware, we don’t have knives predesignated for whittling, and as much as I like Lexi, she’s a really great gal and all, I wasn’t really on board with the bread knife meeting its early demise for the sake of the wand.  

Well, apparently, that was 50 points from Hufflepuff for me, but I redeemed myself by suggesting a pocket knife, which we happened to have, thanks to my grandmother (yes, REALLY, my grandmother) and Hadley set to work.

 Her plan was to whittle the branch into the shape she wanted, stain it and apply a coat of polyurethane.  The late hour left that plan an impossibility, due to dry time.  So what did Hadley do?  She put a coat or two of clear nail polish on it!!  It looked AMAZING!  Then she added red Swarovski crystals on the end (Lexi is team Gryffindor all the way.)  

 You might think that she would have stopped there.  YOU would be as mistaken about that as that poor cheerleader was about NOT running into a slow, scary dude in a hockey mask.  Hadley took the box from a roll of parchment paper, covered it in white paper, printed out an Ollivander’s label (if you’re not super nifty cool and knowledgeable like us, Ollivander’s is the wand shop in the Harry Potter books) and added that to the box.

 Did she stop there??  Nope.  She then wrote a bit about the provenance, history and significance of the wand, printed it on heavy vellum-like stock in a font that looked like handwritten script, rolled it up in a scroll and tied it with twine.

 THEN she was finished.   

 It was sweet.  It was special.  It was one-of-a-kind.  It meant something.  But here’s the part that’s most impressive:  It was nicer and better looking than the one we missed out on at Goodwill the week before.

 I wish I had better photos.  It was late and we were both tired, I snapped a few with my phone,  They look terrible, but believe me, it looked like a million bucks.

 So the next time you miss out on some material object and you’re kicking yourself…kickstart your creativity instead!

Missed it by THAT Much!

 So, you say someone nabbed your treasure?

As you pull up to the yard sale, you see it.  You love it.  Even from the air-conditioned comfort of your car, you know you’re going to buy it.For me (most memorably) it was about five years ago and it was a vintage 1960’s lamp.  The base was a white porcelain owl.  The shade was still in great condition.  Boy, was it ever gorgeous.  It wasn’t just that it was vintage, it wasn’t just that the owl had a look on his face as if he had a secret, it wasn’t just that it was in perfect condition, it wasn’t even that I had never before seen another one like it…it was all of those things, but what elevated it was that it was also “fine.”   Neat, kitchy, fun, and oh so finely made.  Ahhhh.I rocketed from my car and sped toward the sale.  I can still see it.  I’m pretty sure a heavenly glow was emanating from the lamp itself and I’m positive I heard a choir of angels singing the hallelujah chorus.  I walked briskly, but, not wanting to appear too eager (thus eliminating any leverage I had when it came to the negotiation process) I didn’t quite run.  I approached the proprietress of the sale, a stately woman who appeared to be, by my best estimation, in her seventies.  She was clearly beleaguered by the entire enterprise of having the yard sale, but seemed to be doing her best to remain civil to the motley crew of customers.  Casually (sure, let’s say casually) I inquired as to the price of the lamp:  “HOW MUCH IS THAT AWESOME OWL LAMP?”   “Thirty dollars.” she replied.

The mental conversation that ensued between my frugal self and the part of me that had fallen in love with the lamp took only a fraction of a second and went something like this:

Owl love me:  “YES!  We should buy it”
Frugal me:  “Whoa!  Hold on there cowgirl!  Thirty dollars is a lot of money!”
Owl love me:  “Yes, yes, I know, I know.  You’re right.  Thirty dollars is a lot of money.  WE SHOULD BUY IT!
Frugal me:  “But, see the thing is, I wa…”
Owl love me:  “BUY IT!  BUY IT!  BUY IT!
Frugal me:  “Okay, shhhhhhh.  It’s okay.  Take hold of yourself woman!  Let’s think through what we need right now and consider whether or not we can afford to spend thirty dollars on something we don’t need.”
Owl love me:  “I want that owl.”
Frugal me:  “Yes, I think I have come to see that.  Perhaps it would be wise to offer a lower price.  Certainly twenty dollars is a good place to sta…”
Owl love me:  Step off Frugal.
Frugal me fell silent.
Owl love me (outloud and enthusiastically, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear):  “I’ll TAKE it!”

Beleaguered proprietress:  “Oh, it’s already sold.  A woman bought it just before you asked about it.”

“Mr. Owl.  How many seconds does it take for that lousy so-and-so in the red sweater to snag the lamp I most assuredly was destined to own?”

“Let’s find out.  One, two, ttttthhhREE!  Three seconds.  Get over it.”

Thus ensued the five stages of grief:

Denial:  “Wha?  Huh?  Nooooooooo.  I must have heard you incorrectly.  What woman?  No.  There’s no other woman.  Who?  Her?  No, she would never buy this lamp.  My lamp.”
Bargaining:  “Maybe she’ll sell it to me!  Maybe if I offer her thirty-FIVE dollars she’ll walk away with that sweet five dollar profit a happy lady.”
Depression:  “Waaaaaaaah!  My, *snif* lamp *snif*.”
Acceptance:  “Crap.  Oh well, I’m gonna miss that lamp.  What else is up for grabs at this sale?”

Why did the woman running the sale tell me how much it was if it was sold?  Why had the universe taunted me with this treasure only to rip it from my grasp?  Why oh WHY did they cancel “Firefly”?  (Whenever I’m bemoaning and why’ing, I always ask that last question.)

I’ve thought about that lamp a few times since then.  It really was special, as material objects go.  But here’s my take on situations such as this:

A lot of people take the “I wasn’t meant to have it” approach.  For me, it’s different.  It’s not that *I* wasn’t meant to have it, it’s just that in that moment, someone else needed it more.  See the distinction?  It’s not about what I wasn’t supposed to have…it was about what someone else was supposed to have.  Maybe ‘Red Sweater’ had had a really lousy week and that lamp cheered her up.  Maybe her mother had a lamp just like that and it reminded her of her childhood.  Maybe she loves owls more than Kanye West loves interrupting.  Who knows.  The fact is, the why doesn’t matter.  I truly believe that she must have needed it more than I did, and that’s enough.

So, the next time you feel the sting of the bargain that got away, just picture it with it’s new family, happy in it’s new home.

I’m sure the owl lamp’s owner is happy and truly appreciates what she has.



The Christmas Tree Conundrum

 So, you say you can’t afford a Christmas tree?  Well, not to worry friend, do I have the solution for you!


 As Thanksgiving gave way to Black Friday and Black Friday paved the road to full on, bell-ringing, jingle-horsing Christmas, I realized something.  This year, for the first time ever, I couldn’t justify the expense of a Christmas tree for my daughter and myself.  Things are tight.  Not just sort of tight, tight tight.  As in, “Pardon me, but do you have to buy two packages of Top Ramen to get the sale price?” tight.

 Not to be discouraged, I set to mulling over possibilities.  What you see below is the end result:

 In October I cleared overgrown ivy, underbrush and all sorts of critter infested debris from the backyard of the building where I live.  Three days of sweat, scrapes and spider bites netted a pile of detritus taller than me (not a great feat in and of itself, as I am shockingly short, but impressive nonetheless) and about the width and breadth of one and a half largish SUVs.  This is all only vaguely interesting until we get to the part where I single handedly dug up, chopped down or tore out by the roots SIX dead trees.  Now you’re seeing where this is going, right?  The trees varied in height from just under 20 feet tall to just over 30 feet tall.  It bears no pertinence to this story, but for the mere sake of bragging rights, I’d like to point out that one of the two ripped out by the roots (by little ole me) was the over 30 footer, but I digress.  

 Luckily, the management company that runs my building isn’t exactly what one might call ‘on the ball’, let’s just say they’re about as interested in building maintenance as Kim Kardashian is in “those heavy things with the pages.” Although I had requested pick-up of this Toyota 4-Runner sized pile of yard waste, and had been assured on multiple occasions that it would be done, still it sat in the backyard mocking me.  I clambered over the pile, extracted the two most interesting specimens and hauled them to the garage.  After some trunk sawing, some limb breaking and some swearing I managed to get them into the house, one in the living room and one in my bedroom.  

 I will save the how-tos for later (see below), but let me say a few words, first, about the why you too might want to take on a project just like this one:

Reasons to create an ersatz Christmas tree from discarded dead timber:

1.  It is economical.  FREE!  Imagine the least you’ve ever paid for a Christmas tree…now let it sink in that even THAT far exceeds the cost of this tree.  Which is nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Now, parlay that savings (about 80 dollars for a six to seven foot tree, here in LA, at the local mom and pop tree stand I have shopped in the past) into stocking stuffers for the kiddos, a donation to a local toy bank or groceries and you’re ahead of the game.

2.  It is environmentally friendly.  If you’ve used an artificial tree in lieu of the real deal in an effort to suck up to mother nature, reconsider.  Your motives are solid, but the end result is a tree mass produced (probably in China), from chemicals which can’t have done the planet any good in the production stage and, which at the end of its useful life, will spend the rest of eternity NOT breaking down in a landfill.  When you’re finished with the tree in this project your options are many…break it down and use it for firewood, add it slowly to your compost pile or borrow a wood chipper from Steve Buscemi and turn it into mulch.  Many communities have Christmas tree drop off stations, where the flotsam and jetsam of Christmas recently past can be left, free of charge to then be turned into compost and mulch for public areas.  Even if you just toss it in the trash, you’re one step ahead of a tree made from non-biodegradable materials.  

3.  It’s a change of pace and a conversation starter!  “Why, what a lovely and interesting tree you have there!  However did you come to fashion such a delightfully different holiday display?”, your neighbor might comment, to which you can then reply:  “Let me tell you the story, nearby resident! I read a blog on the internet written by a snarky down on her luck single mom and she seemed to think it was a good idea, so obviously I followed suit! DUH!”  

 My daughter loves our tree and so far everyone who has seen it has oohed and ahhed.  One friend even seemed a little disappointed that they had already purchased a tree and said they would love to try it themselves.

4.  You can have a much larger/taller tree than you normally might be able to afford or even find!

5.  It bears repeating…IT IS FREE, PEOPLE!


Now, onto the how.  Follow these steps and please refer to the helpful hints that follow before you decide to undertake this project:

Step 1.  Be poor.  If you’re not poor like me, alternatively you could try being thrifty, creative, or simply up for a challenge.

Step 2.  Abandon your sense of pride and convince yourself that a dead tree is a perfectly sound alternative to that passe Douglas fir everyone else’s front window is sporting.  

Step 3.  Find a dead tree.  Not everyone will be so lucky as to have a dead tree lying around in the backyard.  Get inventive.  Maybe a quick drive around the neighborhood will leave you dead tree rich.  Perhaps someone has put one out for yard waste pickup, or maybe they have one still in the yard.  Offer to cut it down for them…everyone wins!  Go to local nurseries, Home Depot, etc. and look for dead trees and ask if you can take one away for them.  They’ll be happy to have it out of the way.  You have to have the courage to ask.  This is something you’ll hear from me again in the future.  

Step 4.  Measure, measure, MEASURE!  Be sure it’s going to fit through the front door and into your space before you attempt to bring it inside.  The nice thing about this type of tree, as opposed to a typical Christmas evergreen tree is that you can chop bits off the top, bottom and sides and it won’t necessarily negatively affect the aesthetic.

5.  Bang the tree on the ground a few times before you take it into the house in order to loosen any dangling bits and dislodge any insects.  The reality is you are taking something that has been outdoors for a long time and putting it indoors.  I found one spider on my tree after I had it in the house, but otherwise, all was good.

Step 6.  Decorate and enjoy!  

(But wait…there’s more…read on!)


 Now, some helpful hints (FYI:  These hints apply to the classic vintage tree and the rustic nature themed tree.  Additional hints for the nature themed tree are listed separately):

1.  Depending on the tree you choose, you may have to MacGyver it up a little when it comes to the stand.  I discovered that my tree was too thin for the stand I had on hand, so I wrapped it with kitchen dish towels before putting it in place.  That did the trick.  You could always use Duck tape.  The fact is, unlike a standard fir tree, this tree only needs to a tree stand in order to, well, stand.  You have no need for the water reservoir (unless you have a pet…oh who am I kidding, child, whom you frequently forget to supply with water) so you could even go the very old fashioned route of the wooden slats nailed into the bottom of the tree.

2.  String the lights on the tree while it’s still on the ground.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  This tree isn’t going to be the tree you’re used to decorating.  In some ways it’s easier (no needles in the way) and in others it is more difficult (no needles to hide the wires!)  Although I did my own lights, one method which I strongly suggest to anyone with a willing significant other is to enlist said sucker, er- I mean, loved one to string the lights for you, and then stand nearby directing them and critiquing their work.  Believe me, you’re going to love this approach.  

 Wind stands up each branch (if the tree is small with few branches) or at least on several branches (three to five branches, minimum, based on the size of your lights for a larger tree.)  Don’t hurdle from branch to branch.  Wind up one branch, back down the same branch and then up another branch.  I used a separate strand of lights for each branch, and had a power strip at the base of the tree.  If you are doing only a few branches, make sure to do an odd number (three rather than two, five rather than four and so on.)

3. Make sure to say ‘branch’ as many times as possible during step two.  As an example, refer to the previous paragraph.

4.  Don’t be afraid to lose branches here and there if they don’t work.  Trim it as you go along…while you’re adding lights and decorations if need be.  This tree is not about symmetry and perfection.  Ultimately you will want a somewhat balanced look, but a natural feel.  Much as you would with a potential partner who chews with his or her mouth open, picks their nose or listens to dubstep, feel free to guide this tree to a better version of itself.  

5.  File this one under ‘Learn From My Mistakes’:  Check to make sure that any branches on which you are going to string lights and hang ornaments (some branches will be too small, so don’t worry about those) are STURDY and still well attached.  After spending the day decorating my classic vintage tree (the only part of decorating this year on which I spent any significant amount of time), a few minutes fiddling with all of the accouterment that goes along with Christmas decorating in general, and hours cleaning up, I sat down around 11:00 pm to survey my work and mere moments later heard a CRACK and a CRASH.  One of the limbs, which had been a little “bendier” than made me comfortable to begin with, fell right off the tree, landing on the granite floor.  There was some collateral damage (Oh vintage bulbs, I hardly knew ye!) but all was set right after a few minutes of finagling the AWOL branch into the tree stand.  Better, however, that this not happen to you at all!

6  Prepare yourself mentally, in advance, for the fact that this is not going to play out like every other year.  You have to adjust.  I have an extensive collection of Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments.  (You know what?  You can just stop rolling your eyes right now.  I am comfortable with my nerd quotient, thank you very much!)  For the tree I was attempting to create, they just didn’t work.  I’m not saying it’s out of the question for you, but this project does lend itself to themes (such as nature) or a classic, almost vintagey theme.  I shied away from my most modern looking ornaments and went for those that were antique/vintage (either genuine or in their style), shiny/blingy or natural/rustic.  

7.  Fill it in a little.  It would have looked just fine without the sheer, shimmery net ribbon I wound throughout the tree, but by adding another layer the tree has more depth and a little bit more sparkle.  Being a human magpie, inexorably drawn to shiny objects, I opted for shimmer.  However, there are SO many options.  See my helpful hints for the nature themed tree for more ideas.

8.  Every tree is different.  The one I had on hand was sort of wispy and had a lot of teeny tiny branches, which weren’t fit to hold tinsel, let alone ornaments.  I broke some off, left the rest and it looks fine, but keep in mind that your tree needs to have at least some branches sturdy enough to hold a lot of ornaments.  I prefer a tree that is absolutely dripping in ornaments, and you may not, but either way, it has to be strong enough for what you have in mind.  Use your best judgement (unless you’re Fred Willard, in which case, ask a friend, colleague or arresting officer to make the call for you, because clearly your judgement is impaired.)  Like me, you may not have the luxury of being picky when it comes to the tree itself, so be flexible when it comes to decorating.  Work with what you have and make the best of it!  Sometimes the happy accidents that come from not having a plethora of choices can bring you to your most creative place!

9.  This tip applies to any tree you’re decorating, whether the traditional evergreen or the one we’re discussing here:  Create a balance with your ornaments, but don’t make it too perfect.  Stand back after at least every third ornament placement and take a look.  Which area of the tree looks bare?  Add more ornaments there.  Is one side of the tree looking a little heavy on red and the other on gold?  Fix that.  Keep larger/heavier ornaments on the lower third and closer to the trunk (but make a few exceptions to keep it a smidge asymmetrical, I can’t emphasize enough that it needs a little bit of imperfection to feel authentic), medium sized on the midsection and the smallest/lightest toward the top.  Mix them all up to some degree, but if you follow that rule for 90% of the ornaments, it should feel “right” when it’s finished.  It’s pretty easy once you start assessing your tree with a critical eye.  You do not need to be a designer or decorator to start noticing things like this.  You just have to pay attention and take a little extra time.  Believe me, it will be well worth it as you stand back when it’s finished and think to yourself:  “Take THAT Martha Stewart!”  You’ll be kicking her behind in no time!  (Disclaimer:  I mean this figuratively and not literally.  I don’t really care who you are, don’t cross her.  I’m pretty sure she could take you, me and the rest of the Internet and come out with nary a snag in her hand-woven sweater.  She’s sort of the Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler of crafts.)

10.  Don’t take it too seriously.  Don’t be discouraged if you have to move a few ornaments or even start over a time or two, in order to get it right.  Do your best and relax…because in the end, it’s just a tree.  Not only that, but it will be gone in a few weeks time.  

11. Use a ladder.  Does this need explanation?  Be careful!

12.  Do not attempt a tree like this if you have:  Curious cats, a rambunctious golden retriever with a destructive tail, really young children who can’t be trusted (read: young children), a loose cannon of an uncle prone to cane waving or if you consider cranberry jello shots to be a legitimate side dish for Christmas dinner (in which case, skip the tree and invite me to dinner.)


Let’s talk about the nature themed tree.  

Everything with which I decorated this tree cost me five dollars, with plenty of bits and baubles left over.  I wasn’t striving for perfection with this tree.  Once it was in the stand, the entire decorating process took less than 30 minutes, so keep that in mind when you’re mentally critiquing my work.  😉  Once I knew what I wanted to do, I went to a few yard sales with this in mind.  To recreate what I have done, follow these steps:

1.  I used strands of mini lights with each light inside of a grapevine ball.  You could find some like this, or create your own by using pre-made grapevine balls (found at Michael’s and other craft stores.)  Just slide one over each bulb.  You don’t need to use lights such as these, but if you can find something that looks a little outdoorsy, garden inspired, etc. that’s super.  Lights with brown cords instead of green are a plus.  One thing about which I felt strongly was that the tree should have a subtle glow rather than a brilliant shine, so I didn’t use many and the lights I did use were diffused even further because of the grapevine.  As I mentioned in the instructions for the vintage tree, string the lights while you have the tree on the ground.  You’ll be glad you did.  

2.  After the tree was in the stand I added layers of very wide, sheer ribbon with a bit of stiffness, so that I could get some purchase against the branches.  Slick, slippery ribbon will make your job more difficult.  I used some with just a smidge of sparkle, because everything else I was using was natural, but I also had burlap ribbon on hand and that would have been pretty as well.  I wound the ribbon up through the tree loosely.  As I was winding it, I tried to visualize how things move in nature: fire, smoke, dust moved by the wind, etc.  This helped to create a look that felt organic.  It also got a Kansas song stuck in my head for about four hours, so visualize at your own risk.

3.  Next I gathered the flora.  Included in my five dollar purchase I nabbed a particularly sad and timeworn basket of flowers, which looked as if it might have been a Thanksgiving centerpiece when it was young and vital.  When you’re looking for things secondhand, do your best to look past it’s current state or how something looks as a whole.  In this instance I ignored the tattered fall leaves and the floral pick scarecrow and zeroed in on the berries, what appeared to be dried, yellow tinted rice flowers, wooden flowers, orbs and other shapes (in deep brown and white) and the Spanish moss that lined the basket.  I pulled the berries off of the stems about midway down, snapped the stems off of the wooden flowers, pulled out some of the faux ornamental grasses and put the Spanish moss into a plastic bag (to keep the mess to a minimum.)

4.  At this point I applied what I had dissected from the basket in stages.  First, I tore clumps of Spanish moss and placed it on the tips of some limbs, and in the crook of some of the branches.  I then added the ornamental grasses, keeping close to the trunk.  I added berries and then balanced the wooden flowers throughout.

5.  Now it was on to the final details.  I had three large daisy type blooms (silk flowers on tiny little clips) in warm, autumnal colors.  I placed those towards the very end of a few branches.  Last, I had three bags of tiny little ivory colored blooms, I have no clue of what these were made, but they felt almost spongy and were very light, thus allowing me to wedge them onto branches and balance them easily on the tips.  

6.  I wrapped a yard of burlap fabric over and around the Christmas tree stand and VOILA!  Done!


Helpful hints and tips for the nature themed tree:

1.  Take into account all of the helpful hints from the vintage tree and apply it to this project.  Step back frequently and survey your work, don’t be afraid to remove or start over and work from large to small…placing the smallest items on the furthest tips and the largest items toward the center, but always make a few exceptions, to keep it looking natural.

2.  You can find things for this all over.  Walk into your backyard.  If you have a bush that bears hard berries (and you don’t have pets or small children, or you don’t care for the ones you do) you could cut some of those and use them.  You can use trimmings from various other trees or bushes.  You can gather some moss and tuck it into a few places in the tree.  Put the word out to friends and family that if they have any old floral decorations that they’re ready to discard, you’re more than willing to take them off their hands.  Is your mother’s eyesight failing?  Perfect!  She’ll never miss that arrangement she crafted back in 1989 that’s been gathering dust in the garage, next to a stack of Jackie Collins books.  Yard sales and thrift stores are a great place to find weary dried or silk floral arrangements in need of a new life.  Pick one up for a few dollars and you could easily have half of a tree ready to go!  However, don’t feel as if breaking down and buying a thing or two retail is a failure when it comes to living the yard sale life.  It’s all about making things work, and sometimes that means supplementing a yard sale find with a retail quick fix or two.  If you make a stop at Michael’s and spend five dollars on ribbon or Spanish moss, you’re still doing far better than if you walked into a retail store and purchased everything brand new.  When you do go to a craft store for these types of items, check the clearance area and remember to look at things beyond their original purpose.  You can get great bargains this way.  

3.  When I put my tree together I simply tucked things here or there, wedged, balanced, etc.  A truly industrious sort might hot glue each item into place, but unless you’re making this for year-round use (which one friend pointed out could be done with the nature themed tree), or you just have a thing for hot glue guns (in which case you might consider a twelve step program) it’s probably not necessary.  If you think you might reuse the items after you dismantle the tree, you’re better off not coating the back of each flower with a thick frosting of adhesive.  

4.  Last but not least…one up me!!  I threw this nature themed tree together quickly (under 30 minutes, once it was in the stand), but if you have the time and the inspiration, how could it be done in a way that looks even more ‘fine’, kitschy or interesting?  You could do a small version, add artificial flowers and then spray the whole thing top to bottom shiny white or red (in this instance it might actually be a good thing to use glue).  How about using fresh flowers in tiny little floral water tube picks?  Can you imagine how stunning that would be?  Hmmm…gotta go.  I have another tree to decorate!


And one last disclaimer:  I am not a scientist, a home inspector or a ventriloquist (the last having nothing to do with this project, but I’m proud of it and want you to know), so use caution and common sense when choosing to try anything I suggest.  I don’t imagine that this tree is any more flammable or dangerous than any other Christmas tree, but what do I know?  I can’t even make a cranky puppet tell inappropriate jokes.  

Salvation Thy Name is Yard Sale



My passion for yard sales and thrift stores began before it was legal for me to drink.  The heady thrill of finding something someone else considered useless and giving it a new home, life or purpose was intoxicating enough to keep me sidling up to the bargain bar for the rest (so far) of my life.  A semi-significant portion of my adult life has been spent either in financial hardship or at the very least, just getting by, but I was unwilling to let the condition of my wallet negatively affect the comfort of my surroundings.  Everything changed earlier this year when I lost my home.  Now, before you feel sorry for me, please wait.  Why?  Because, as with so many circumstances in our lives, what can on the surface appear to be a tragedy, is really a shiny silver lining waiting to reveal itself.  In this particular instance there are many, but the one most relevant to this, MY BRAND NEW BLOG (*say in your best Rod Roddy voice.  Do it.  I’m waiting.  Ok, that’s better, thank you.), is that after I did everything within my power to save it, after I shed many an eye-puffing tear over it, after I felt colossal shame, I realized something: I hadn’t lost my home.  I had lost a house.  A house that another family would buy and then it would be their home, and that part made me happy to imagine, and eased the pain.  However, to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, a pretty resourceful gal in her own right: “Wherever was I to go?  Whatever was I to do?”  My challenge was to turn a rented townhouse into my new home…and to do my best not to look back.  And God as my witness my sofa shall never hunger for the sweet embrace of a cozy throw ever again!

I traveled the long and winding road of loan modification only to be turned down by the bank and find myself in a humiliating town called “Foreclosureville” (Which thanks to it’s recent population explosion, might someday be able to improve the infrastructure and do something about all of these one-way, dead-end streets!)

This journey taught me a few things, these two being the most pertinent to this conversation:

  1. Even if one believes oneself to be compassionate, there are always lessons to be learned.

  1. Second, that, no matter how difficult your struggle, there are always other people who need help even more.

I consider myself a fairly strong and capable lady and I have to tell you, foreclosure is a debilitating experience.  How, I asked myself, could some people ever get through this?  What if one was working three jobs (my hat is off to you!),  had 12 kids (heaven help you if that’s you, and if you’re reading this right now…TAKE A NAP!), was chronically ill, wasn’t a native English speaker (Please press two for La casa que fue construida por ventas de yarda), or if one flat out had NO idea how to start over?  There are plenty of organizations in place set up to help you keep your home, but once all is lost, then what?  I have been through a laundry list of ideas about how I could reach out to these very people.  The people with whom I will forever share one of those aforementioned silver linings.

What do I know best?

Well, I know a thing or two about starting over (I’ve done it multiple times), I know a thing or twelve hundred about finding bargains and I would like to think I know at least a little about sharing.  So, maybe, if I put this out there, suck up my pride and share my story, then perhaps some folks who are starting over can get a little inspiration, a little know-how and a little push to get started and build a home.

It took me a long time to openly admit the defeat known as real estate foreclosure.  I had to force myself to speak openly about it.  Even now, this is difficult…I’m sharing this with the Internet!  Do you have any idea just how many friends the Internet has?  Lots.  The answer is lots.  No, whatever you’re thinking, double it.  Actually, triple it, then multiply it by the number of times Lindsay Lohan has crashed (literally and figuratively) multiply THAT by the number of times you’ve heard someone on “House Hunters” say:  “I don’t like the color”, then add another million or two people AND YOU’RE STILL NOT EVEN CLOSE!  What I am saying here, is that there are a lot of people online! Forevermore the Internet will have it on record that I said:  “My name is Laura, and I lost my house.”  However, if my plan is to do something valuable, then by golly, we’d better start out with all of our cards on the table.  (What?  This old thing?  Only solid mahogany….yard sale…35 dollars.  I knooooow, right?)

My mother recently called me The Queen of Making a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear.  It’s a long title, and the crest, I have to tell you is a little off the wall, but I’ll take it.  Check me out Internet, I’m royalty!

So, let’s do this together.  Whether you wish simply to be entertained by the ramblings of a yard sale addict, to check out whatever crazy finds I have unearthed, or if you want to learn the ins and outs of sow’s ear reconstructive surgery, read on.  I hope that this helps some people like me.  Folks who would love to live in a beautiful and special home, but don’t have the money to go about getting there in the traditional way.  Maybe you have plenty of money, but you like a challenge, the satisfaction of doing it yourself or you just can’t find exactly what you want via traditional retail.  That’s great too!  Everyone is welcome!  (except for you Chase bank…I’ve got my eye on you!)

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