Monday, January 31, 2011

On Garage Sales and Swapmeets

Here in the desert, garage sales are more of than just a weekend morning activity. In fact, it's normal for garage sales to occur on weekdays since the majority of the local residents this time of year are retired. You can hear the real treasure hunters whispering over flashlights as they cruise the pre-dawn driveways in search of deals.

Since our driveway is too steep to host a garage sale our dear friends Mary and Jim volunteered to host the sale. We packed up all our assorted crap leftover from moving and headed over to their place the afternoon before.

While there are many types of garage salers there are only two types of sellers. The professionals have carefully labeled signs and advertise in the local paper. They're the ones that base their price points on the original value of an item, then factor in use and currently availability in a complicated algorithm to arrive at a final sticker price (also neatly lettered). They also know how to bargain.

The second type is the type I am. We choose not to advertise (because it costs $17 and when Mary asked if we'd make that much, I didn't think we would). We make our signs on the computer and tape them to rock-filled boxes to position on nearby street corners. We base our pricing on how easy it will be to make change (whole numbers are best). We get tired of writing out stickers so dump things in boxes and scribble, "Everything in this box $.25!" Then we start planning the important things...the menu.

I baked a coffee-cake and Mary baked her amazing egg and grits casserole. She had coffee and orange juice and I brought champagne (they live on Mimosa so it seemed right that we imbibe in Mimosas - one passerby commented that he was look to buy a house on "Vodka Tonic").

By 8AM I had learned that the key to a successful garage sale is more about the libation than the sale itself (could be why they're so popular locally).

The whole experience was loads of fun. Mary made $15, I made $115, and our other friend Diane managed to sell her car at the darn thing! The adult beverages flowed and the neighbors were fun to chat's clear to me now why garage sales are so popular.

Mind you, the real treasure-hunting had occurred the night before. That's when Mary found a few items she liked in our boxes of discards and I found...the lamp.

Jim had paid a pretty penny for it back in the 1960's and had dutifully moved it from house to house. Fortunately for me, the lamp no longer fits their decor so I offered to find it a new home in our cowboy themed guest room.

Of course that meant drilling 5 holes and still missing the stud even AFTER using the stud-finder which is apparently as effective as a Magic 8 ball.

I love this lamp!
So if we could have that much fun at a single garage sale, imagine what happens when 10,000 people in motor homes descend on a tiny town halfway to Phoenix and decide to sell rocks and other treasures from card tables?

Quartzite is known state-wide for its huge swap meets. From fall to spring, the flocking snowbirds offer up every item I think any of us have ever thrown away.

Case in point: I found my lunchbox from 2nd grade, salt and pepper shakers from my college apartment, and keys that I know fit the first Mini I ever owned.

There were old magazines; china from the 40's; and tools from barns and garden sheds across the decades. It was more than a blast from the past - it was a trip down memory lane...if all of your memories are covered in a 1 inch layer of dirt.

I did say it was in the middle of the desert, didn't I? Did I mention, the wind blows there non-stop? Even I was covered in an inch of fine silt by the time we had unearthed (no pun - I mean it) our treasures.

For me it was a series of small items suitable for hanging off my covered wagon mailbox. A tiny shovel, a cast iron frying pan big enough to make silver dollar pancakes, a set of pottery just the right size - I even found some salt and pepper barrels and some shaped like lanterns.
My loot - all for about $10

The barrels and urn are glued on...we'll see how that fares in the wind.

I wired on most of the pottery and my two salt and pepper lanterns.

I also wired on the shovel, the rake, and the frying pan.

I just think it's so darn cute!

I wasn't the only one who enjoyed Quartzite. Nancy found a truly stunning fossil that would look great on display in their living room. The boys said the highlight was discovery of the local daycare center.
The folks in Quartzite have a good sense of humor!

We ended up eating at the Quartzite Yacht Club (motto: "Long Time, No SEA") where we were served double helpings of deep-fried green beans!  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

We've Got Mail!

I think one of best things about living in Arizona is the freedom that seems endemic here. The "Old West - Anything Goes" mentality is strong in the desert.

Now I'm not just talking about being able to make off-road vehicles street-legal or being able to pay your state taxes directly by check to your local elementary school if you feel like it (although those are very cool things in my book). I'm talking about freedom of artistic expression.

Case-in-point: this weekend we ventured with friends to the tiny town of Chloride (pop.215) where tucked back in the hills lies 40 foot murals painted on the rocks.

Roy Purcell is the artist.

He painted these back in the 1960's and then repainted them 3 years ago.

Back in San Diego we lived in a subdivision that was closely regulated by a vigorous (some may say "overly vigorous") homeowner's association that routinely (as in twice a day) walked by all 148 homes looking for infractions.

The color you painted your garage could only be selected from a palate of 10; trees in the front yard were mandatory and had to be a certain size; and heaven help you if you wanted to build a shed in your back yard that no one could even see above the fence - that took weeks of paperwork and an act of Congress!

In fact, when I went to install a new mailbox back there, I had to submit a written request 30 days ahead of time and wait anxiously for approval from the HOA board.

Fast forward to our Arizona home and it's a completely different story!

Havasu is known (or should be known) for its unique mailboxes. Oh sure, each one fits within USPS regulations and yet they express the individual homeowner's personality. Let me take you on a quick tour of our neighborhood by way of illustration...

Saguaro cacti are a popular theme.

There's actually a lighthouse society here in town that maintains scale replicas of famous lighthouses around the lake.

The scorpion is very clever and the next door neighbor has a large mouth bass mailbox.

Seriously...ANYTHING goes here!

So you can see that I would not be content with just any old mailbox.  I had the old ugly, clunky mailbox from the last house (part of our staging for sale was installing a fresh new mailbox) so I thought a stucco deal would be nice.

Stucco mailboxes come in many shapes and sizes.

You can match your house if you want - right down to the roofing tile.
 That is until I really started researching stucco boxes. Purchasing one starts at $300. Building my own would involve pouring a small slab, installing post anchors ($10-15 each), wood, lath, was adding up fast so I ditched that idea.

Since we love the Old West and I hadn't seen any covered wagon mailboxes (although cacti and cowboys feature heavily around town) I decided I would try to make one around our old mailbox.

In keeping with my lack of budget for this project, the next door neighbor cheerfully donated scrap wood from old pallets he'd chopped up to burn and a tarp that was threadbare in spots.

I have promised to help reupholster his outdoor seat cushions in return.

I spent time cutting wooden wheels from the scraps on the scroll saw and I only broke one blade during the process.
I started by drilling holes and then inserted the scrollsaw blade...32 times...ugh!
Dave's job was to make the mailbox solid on its post (it had wobbled embarassingly at the other house - part of the reason we had to move). He bolted and screwed and bolted some more until the thing was solid as a rock...or maybe pebbles.
That's Dave's expression when he hears there's a chocolate treat reward for his efforts.

Then the search was on for metal coat hangers - since Dave retired, there's no more dry-cleaning so our supply was low. He was able to scrape up 5 old ones and so I set to bending them into shape.
Couldn't find matching coat hangers but who will notice?

Then I chopped up the good bits of the old tarp and sewed them into the wagon top.
I painted the old broom-handle top to look like a barrel...if you use your imagination and squint.

The next step in construction of the wagon was the lettering. USPS requires that addresses be at least 1 inch tall but I didn't want to ruin the effect of the old weathered wood with stick-on numbers so I searched online for a good Old West font and hand-painted the sides.
I had to include the pointing finger that is on every old playbill from the Old West.
Then came the cussing...I mean digging.

Apparently, Arizona is 2 inches of topsoil on top of 7 feet of concrete - who knew? So I began the night before diligently soaking the spot the post would go - right behind the old mailbox post.  Then I started digging...and hit the concrete (they call it caliche - which is Mojave for "concrete" no doubt).

So I stopped digging and moved the hole over 18 inches.

The rule in Arizona (according to the natives) is, "If you dig and hit a rock, don't try to dig it out - move your hole."

You can see my first hole and then the second...

I think this might be why everyone here is so flexible and laid back.

So I dug...and watered...and cussed...and dug...

It's only 18 inches deep but feels like 4 feet!

Then I hit "THE ROCK".

SIDE NOTE: When I called AZ Blue Stake to have the utilties marked so we didn't accidentally dig through a power line and take out the whole neighborhood, the kindly lady on the other end of the line asked me if I would be using explosives. I had laughed and assured her we were simply installing a new mailbox.

I wish I'd said yes.  I could have used some explosives. It took me more than an hour to scrape away enough dirt and gravel to get THE ROCK loose (it also took the use of the neighbor's pry-bar).

It might not look like much here but I swear it's like an iceberg - this thing would NOT budge!

Finally I loosened the surrounding soil and the hole was deep enough! Luckily, Dave had stopped by a friend's house on his way back from the dermatologist (his lame excuse for not helping me dig) and brought Eddie home to help pour the concrete (so I forgave him).
The men made quick work of the mailbox assembly and concrete pour.

I LOVE my new mailbox!

Even the postman (who is actually a woman) thought the new mailbox was charming.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Most Expensive Quilting Class I'll Ever Take

Yesterday was the event that quilters all over the Southwest dream about all year - the Quilting at the Lake retreat is a week long orgy of all things that quilters hold dear - think of it as a week of "Chatting over Batting."

I have been looking forward to this event because I'm new in town and a class is a great way to meet new people without feeling like a complete outsider - we're all learners, right?

Well the ladies at this convention don't believe in outsiders so I was welcomed immediately - the local quilting guild is super friendly and super fun.

But as for all being learners? Well let's just say there are different levels.

Case in point - I have often been teased for owning two sewing machines - in this crowd I was the "poor cousin" for owning ONLY two and to use another allusion in the same sentence (to wake up the English teachers reading) the "kid from the wrong side of the tracks" for the age of my machine.

I brought my "good" machine to class (I wanted to make a good first impression after all). It's an 18 year old Elna that was top of the line. "Was" is the operative word here. These ladies are sewing on sewing machines - Vikings and Pfaffs that cost $6,000! These suckers could put a man on the moon, they've got so many features.

The teacher, Linda, was very gentle when she saw my machine. Imagine the expression you'd use when talking about how someone's dear old grandma needs a seat near the window for her crop-dusting tendencies...sort of sad but understanding too.

So Linda placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and said that I had better use her machine for the class or I'd become so frustrated the other students wouldn't be able to hear her directions over my sobbing.

She was probably right.

It was a "Trapunto" class which I think originated back in the middle ages from mead-drinking quilters who slurred the words, "Trap under"...of course I'm just guessing, but the goal of Trapunto is to sew puffy bits into the quilt as you go along and use other stitching methods to create designs using shadows. It's a very elegant technique and requires no piecing of fabrics so there's no "country quilt" or "patchwork" effect at all.

Linda is a terrific teacher - her background is in art education so she was able to take the expert quilters in the class to the next level (it seemed like I was seated at the advanced table inadvertently) and simultaneously drag along the ones at the bottom like me.

Let me just explain that although I make quilts - I don't "quilt" them. I tie the layers together with yarn or tiny embroidery stitches and that's it. The quilting part of quilting scares me. Moving all that fabric through a sewing machine is like wrestling an octopus into a bag and then trying to give him a tattoo. It's not one of my skills.

But after Linda's class...I think I'm willing to try.

We started by tracing the pattern using a disappearing ink. This stuff is supposed to last 48-72 hours and can be washed away sooner...mine of course was disappearing as I sewed - could have been my drool over the Lamborghini I was sewing on...

Let me just add in here that I was sewing on a Diamond Viking. They also have a Sapphire, and a Ruby. Linda works with dealers and teaches classes for new sewing machine owners...I asked if they made a cubic zirconium model - more in my price range...nope. Figures.
Then we stitched using wash away thread - again I never even knew there was wash away thread (seems like something you'd sell to people you were trying to bilk doesn't it?).

The wash-away thread is sewn right over the marker - I used a fine point marker which was almost impossible to see - mistake #4.

The next step is to cut away the batting without cutting your fabric - harder than it looks actually.

I was good at the cutting away part - I have a long history of sewing the wrong things together so have honed my cutting skills.

Ironically, after you cut away that batting you flip the thing over you add MORE batting...and then you use ever pin you brought to keep the thing from sliding and start sewing with real thread.

The grid sewing was done in ONE go! It was Harold and His Purple Crayon in stitching.

The last step in the process is the free form "scribbling". Linda showed the class how to do it using my quilt block - she made it look soooo easy. It sounds easy doesn't it? I mean, tiny children can scribble...I am embarrassed to say that I actually called Linda over to help with my stitch length only to learn that there is no stitch length and my odd long stitches were due to my crappy scribbling technique...sigh.

Eight hours after I entered the room, I had completed one square. Sure, I'd started with the wrong machine, the wrong batting, the wrong thread, the wrong marking pen, not enough pins, no blue tape, and a deficient set of quilting skills but I finished with the start of an addiction...

I love the result! Very elegant - with 16 more days and a new machine, I'd have a lap quilt.

So my $80, lunch-included class is going to cost me thousands...when I buy a new machine...shh don't tell Dave.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Frugal Meditation

You can probably guess that I'm not terrific at meditation...okay...I'll confess that I pretty much suck at it.

I can't help it - my mind ALWAYS wanders - like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love - I find myself decorating imaginary rooms or making "to-do" lists when I should be emptying my thoughts.

But I do recognize the value of meditation and I know I could give it a proper try if only I had the right furniture...

You see, my niece likes to meditate AND she has the coolest chair ever to do it in (which is probably her secret - right?).

Her chair is made by a company called "Zen By Design" and these folks have really done a nice job. It's only fair that they be compensated for their superior construction except that I can't actually afford the $429 plus tax and shipping for a pasttime I'm not particularly good at.
Their chairs are gorgeous!

So when my other yoga-loving friend Barb suggested that we make our own by modifying old chairs, I was on board!

As previously mentioned, my discretionary bank balance is a bit anemic these days, so my goal was to make a meditation chair with as little cash out of pocket as possible.

Here's how it went:

I spent $5 for the ugly 1980's era dinette chair at a yard sale.

This beauty had been outside a while so all foam and fabric had to go.

I spent another $7 for cross dowels and hole plugs that it turned out I already had but of course couldn't find when I needed them. Then I hacked off the legs to shorten the chair and repositioned the seat to give the correct yoga tilt.

I decided a separate cushion would slide me right onto my meditating butt so I set out to craft an upholstered seat instead.

I cut out a huge butterfly shape from some scrap chipboard.

Now my knees will have a place to be when I sit cross-legged.

Then I glued together strips of scrap foam from my last bench project. The best part was using my new electric knife to cut the foam to fit the chipboard!
Yes, I thoroughly washed the knife afterwards - in case you stop by for dinner sometime and see me carving roast beast.

The bad part about using scrap foam is that the joints were easily visable through the seat fabric so I needed batting. I scouted around the house and happened on a quilt I'd made a few years back that had turned out to be too itchy to use - BINGO!

I absolutely LOVE my upholstery stapler - it's may favorite tool ever!
 I used scrap upholstery fabric for the cushion. I'd cut up an old broom to get the dowel I needed for the back support. Then I wrapped it with scrap foam and the result looked like something from a failed marshmallow experiment. So I wrapped it with blue painter's tape.
It's mostly even...

This was supposed to form the low back support...or in my case - sciatic support since I forgot to calculate the height of the seat cushion when I drilled the broom handle...sigh.

Finally, I placed my $12 chair facing the lake with the sunrise in view to my left...and discovered the secret to meditation...

I tried facing the sunrise but it's blinding.
...a furry friend.
Huckleberry loves how easy it is to hop into my lap.