Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Old School Tools And Memories

I don't know about you, but I tend to get stuck in a rut and stagnate. The demands of the daily grind sap all my focus and energy. As a result, expanding boundaries, and trying new things gets neglected.  Somewhere along the way, my idea of thrift stores had been "set", and in my daily dash to maintain the status quo, I failed to consider that my perceptions about them could be wrong. My "ruts" can rival the expanse of canyons, and it takes quite a stimulus for me to think of
digging out.  

My history with thrift stores had been a bad one. At the behest of a friend, I went into one…once. "Join me.", she said. "It will be fun.' she said.  That statement could not have been more wrong. My experience was perfectly awful! The store was chaotic. Merchandise of any and all types was strewn about so randomly, that I daresay even the likes of Einstein wouldn't be able to discern a pattern in it. I felt confused, claustrophobic, panicked. I fled, vowing never to go back to a second hand store again.

So, how on earth did I become I thrift shop-aholic? Remember that I said it takes a big stimulus to make me consider  leaving my comfort zone? In 2012, hubby and I decided to downsize and move into a smaller home. We moved BEFORE selling the first home. For  6 months we made two house payments.  Money was tight! That was a rut busting catalyst. Hounded by the stress of budgeting two mortgage payments, I had to find a way to cut expenses. So, I ventured into what I considered to be a circle of hell Dante neglected to mention in the 'Inferno'.  With the most martyr-like countenance I could muster, I went into (GASP!) a thrift store. 


I crossed the threshold, and felt sheer panic. But unlike my prior attempt,  budgetary realities barred me from fleeing. Trapped, I had to deal with the panic and make this work. I procured a cart and took safe haven on the perimeter to could get the "lay of the land".  I spotted a group of very loud, energetic children playing a raucous game of tag. At that time I believed myself to be in purgatory. My path was dictated by desperate attempts to avoid the tag playing kids. They advanced, I retreated. They zigged, I zagged. This spastic choreography eventually brought me to a quieter corner of the store. There, I noticed a woman whose cart  overflowed with amazing finds! Were we in the same store??? I looked about and saw nothing. But she reached into the heaps and drew forth treasure! How did she manage this? What manner of magic did she possess?  I decided to study her, and copy her technique. Unbeknownst to this master shopper, she had acquired an apprentice! Methodically, she searched the shelves from one end to the other, shuffling everything around. Her method obviously worked, so I adopted her system and was quickly rewarded. I found…(drum roll please)  a set of iron skillets!

iron skillets from Goodwill

Three iron skillets for $9! I could hardly believe my luck! Understand that I knew nothing about iron cookware at the time. I only knew that iron was a preferred cookware of many great cooks…. my grandmother being one. I knew I'd found a great deal. But the deal wasn't the only bonus. Holding the skillets made me feel nostalgic. Like the fabled magic carpet, memories transported me back to a time I hadn't thought of in ages. Mealtime with my grandparents. Perfect fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread and more. We ate in their small kitchen nook where we had a view of the garden my grandfather loved to tend. Supper time was special back then. Not rushed like today, and certainly NEVER eaten while watching TV.  Meals were sustenance yes, but more importantly, eating together was family time.  We shared laughs, talked about our hopes, dreams. and everything in-between.  My grandparents made sure mealtime was a time set aside for us to be together.  My grandmother's iron cookware was a key component in all of her meal prep. and therefore a part of my memories. I hadn't reflected on those childhood years in quite sometime. But there, amongst the wild children, and piles of random stuff, I'd found something that built a bridge between the adult me, and the child me. Quite unexpectedly, these iron skillets helped me feel a stronger connection to the past.
The underside of the large skillet. 

I was yanked from my reverie when two of the energetic children ran right into me. Apparently, the game of tag had been going strong while I'd been revisiting those Mississippi summers in my mind. An angry mother came around the corner to gather the kids, and I realized that was the perfect time to conclude my shopping. I'd had my first victory in the thrift store arena! The iron skillets were my big turning point. Just like that, I was a full fledged thrift shop-aholic.

Two years later, I am an avid thrift store shopper. Second-hand things  come with mystery, surprise AND an affordable price! That's a win, win, win in my book. I enjoy using these 'old school' tools like my grandparents did. With each use, I am reminded of the wonderful memories I have of them, and decades later, I appreciate my grandparents all the more.  No matter how many great finds I come across, these will be extra special to me. For they mark the day I learned to find treasures among the ordinary.


As you can see in the picture, they weren't well seasoned. I brought the goods home and commenced to researching how one goes about seasoning a skillet.

Just beginning.

I read on one site that the best way to season iron cookware is to use it. So I cooked bacon and saved the grease for future seasoning.

In progress----

Almost a year later. I'm very pleased with how this one has seasoned. And I love it all the more since I carefully brought the skillet to this state.

And below--some delicious homemade cornbread in my iron skillet…like Grandam used to make.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Old Books--The Addiction Begins

Hello. My name is Kim and I'm a recovering retail shopper. In other words, I'm a thrift-shop-aholic, and I'm absolutely okay with it.

I wasn't always this way. Second hand shopping is a recent addiction revealed to me by one of the best teachers around--necessity. Approximately two years ago, hubby and I decided to downsize and move into a smaller home. We chose the little house we wanted, and moved in. We did this BEFORE selling our other home (yes, it was a crazy thing to do).  As a result, we weathered 6 months of making two house payments. Precious little money was left over after paying all the bills. I wouldn't want to endure that again, but as is often the case, hardships can force us to see new things. During this time I discovered the thrill of thrift store shopping.

The addiction began when I had my first stellar day at a used book sale. Prior to this, I'd had nothing but terrible luck in second hand stores. They were the antithesis to the well organized displays I was accustomed to in retail establishments. I found thrift shops confusing, random, chaotic.  In my opinion, retail stores were the overture, and thrift stores were the cacophony. But, on that September day, my checking account verified that retail was not in the realm of possibility. I simply had to make sense of thrift store chaos, and failure was not an option.

I tested the "second hand" waters with a used book sale at the local library. It was $5 dollars per box. No matter how many books I could cram into a box, the cost was $5. How refreshing! I went from feeling as poor as the proverbial church mouse, to feeling like I had just won the lottery! Okay, maybe not the lottery, but it was really nice to feel like I could buy some things and stay in budget. To give you an idea, here is my take from that day.  Hmmm, suddenly, I wasn't missing the chain stores with their latte machines.  :)

My haul from that day. As you can see, I stuffed the box and stretched that $5. 

Below, you can see the oldest books I got at the sale.

The book at the top right, 'The Lady In Black" is from the late 1800s! The others are from the early 1900s! I was thrilled to find these.

But my favorite of the day…the book that officially awakened my love of collecting old books is this one. It's not the oldest one of the lot, however there is more to it than meets the eye.

Initially, the colors and artful illustration on the front cover stood out. In this photo it's difficult to get the full impact of the art, but I think it's clear that the cover has a distinct style and quality. The colors are vivid. The illustration very detailed. In short, this is a cut above the usual look of mass produced products today.

Here are some more examples of the beautiful illustration style of this book.

The artist's skill takes us into a moment. 

These illustrations are like looking at paintings!

Upon further examination, I discovered the most impacting aspect of this book:

"To Patsy From Daddy  Conference 1945"

If I had wavered before, seeing this sentiment generations later sold the book.  It sparked my imagination. This is  a child's book, so I would guess Patsy to have been  around 10-12 years of age. I can picture this Dad, searching for the perfect gift, then proudly presenting it to his daughter. This was an era untouched by smartphones, laptops, tablets, iPads, kindles and the like. In the absence of all this electronic "noise", I believe books were more revered in those days. Can you imagine her pleasure upon seeing her father's gift? Did she squeal with delight? Did she grin from ear to ear? Did she hug his neck? Perhaps she did all of these things. Perhaps bird watching was a hobby she and her Dad shared. This brief note of affection touched my heart. Surely this had been special to Patsy!  It was sad to see this token of love on a shelf, at a used book sale for a stranger to buy. How could this have ended up being donated to a sale? Was there no one at all who felt a connection to this book? I quickly realized the answer to my last question was a resounding NO! Being privy to this father/daughter moment, a full 67 years after the fact, tugged at my heartstrings. Therefore, I decided it would have a new home with me. By the way, when I got it  home, I discovered one more thing that made this book even more special. The author is Margeurite Henry! She was one of MY favorite childhood authors!  I loved her books! Patsy and I are generations apart, yet we share the same childhood author. Perhaps like me, she read 'Misty Of Chincoteague', and 'Stormy, Misty's Foal'.

Here is where I saw the author's name. And I love the sign the illustrator added over the door of the birdhouse.

Fast forward almost two years--'Birds At Home' still has a place on my bookshelf. I've amassed a lot more books since then. Each one interesting in its own way. But no matter how unique, no other book  I find can usurp this one. For this is the one that awakened my passion for collecting old books. It taught me that things with a history come with a wealth of mystery and surprise. It's my first treasure found among ordinary things. Whenever I look at it, I remember the experience of finding it, and I am reminded that Patsy and I can cherish the same book.