Yard sale finds


A 7-day heat wave ends tonight. And weeks of a yard sale shopping drought ended this morning. Traveling and weather have thwarted my bargain hunting, but today, in 90° temps, I made it to the handful of sales that were on (picture sellers languishing in the shade of a tent after dragging their belongings out into their hot yards) and got exactly one thing. And that was enough.


The lump in the bed is not a giant pea but my cat enjoying the cool sheets.

I found the loveliest patchwork duvet cover that looks like vintage tea towels sewn together. At Anthropologie it would be $325. At a yard sale, it was $20 for the cover, bed skirt and two shams. I hesitated because it was a full size and my bed is a queen, and while I’ve made that mistake before (but this chenille bedspread is so cute it HAS to fit), this time it was the perfect size, proving once and for all that the full / double bed designation is a strange one.


Yard sale finds

This weekend I headed to the Marblehead Art Walk, which was a bust. This was likely due to the fact that I missed it by an entire week (May is disappearing faster than I thought, apparently), so in wandering around looking for art or the art-making workshop I was keen to attend, I realized there was no art. But all was not lost. I hit up a few early-season yard sales and was pleasantly surprised to find (wait for it) art.

Everyone needs a pineapple oil painting, no? This one is heavily textured, like a pineapple, but the frame is a little staid for my tastes, which I probably should not have said to the seller after she gave it to me for $5, but no worries; I went to the paint store and they mixed me up a sample of an avocado green for $3. That little sample tub is my tip of the day, people; if you have something small to paint, samples are a bargain. Or does everyone know that already? Anyway, this weekend will involve funkying up the frame.

Turns out the seller is a poet so we chatted about people and organizations we had in common (You love Grub St.? I love Grub St.) and she even invited me to join a local writing group, which I must say, I hadn’t expected when buying a pineapple painting.

pineapple painting

But why stop there when I could dig up a second piece of art–this one of a madame that will go in my bathroom, if you must know. The style of the drawing (or watercolor? This is how little I know about art) is reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, yet it’s signed something like Lilead or Iliad, which must be wrong, because the Interweb turned up zilch about the former and a million references to Homer for the latter. Who cares. The vibrant red frame is perfect, no painting necessary.

madame drawing

I also found a packet of Bookmarks for Cooks (can’t bring myself to write in my cookbooks), which should help when I make a note like “Add more cheese.” I expect most bookmarks will say “Add more cheese.”

Finally, I scooped up this gold, worn heart locket, which is as oversized as it looks, for 25 cents. Come on! I don’t yet have the right dangly chain, so if you have one, get in touch. I need to wear this puppy before the steampunk movement passes.

heart locked

Yard sale finds

yard sale sign

The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

rooster banner

Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

Yard sale finds

Today’s find: a dirty bird. As my friends will attest, I have exactly one coaster, which means I’m scrambling for a place for guests to put their drinks. I spotted this tile with an odd-looking, geometric bird for $2. Dusty and sticky, I cleaned him up like a duck plucked from an oil spill, where he now sits on the coffee table—coaster count doubled.

I also found a book titled Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, which is handy because I’ve been working on perfecting grilled pizza of late (perfecting, failing, perfecting, failing, eating anyway) and am interested to try to make piadinas, a type of flatbread used to wrap sandwiches or as a crust-like bundle for something sweet.

In addition to a sparkly metallic bracelet and a couple of CDs that the DJ sifting through the same box thought fit to pass up (The Sinatra Christmas Album and Corinne Bailey Rae, if you must know), I picked up the book Plastic Ocean for my ocean-loving friend who likes to snuggle up with a good book about the ocean’s flotilla of garbage. I mean, don’t we all?

Yard sale finds

This week’s Marblehead haul included a crock for my birthday plant, a vintage box for stacking plants, and an amateur portrait of a very serious Bert. Rest assured, Bert will not be living in the garden, but nailed to the wall in the living room. Sorry, Bert.

I’d been hoping to score a planter at Brimfield, but the prices were high, especially for those stamped with a little number like this. Must be valuable, but I just wanted a solid, vintage-inspired container for my plant. This one was marked $30, but I talked him down to $15, getting it for $14 when I realized that’s all I had in my wallet. Whoops.

On the back of the Bert illustration was a handwritten note: “To Peter, Happy 4th Birthday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” I decided it was a keeper when I heard someone call out, “Peter, how much are you selling this for?” Sandy-haired Peter was now my age, the two of us children of the 70s. “You sure you want to sell it?” I asked. He seemed unfazed, and couldn’t remember if it was from his father or grandfather. For that, I asked if he’d sell it for $2 instead of $3. A man should know who drew and framed a portrait of Bert for him when he was four. But Bert, just so you know, I would have paid $5 for you.

Tips for shopping Brimfield: a primer

How to tackle Brimfield

Only at Brimfield can you find taxidermied animals, buckets of toy soldiers, Smurfs, vintage shift dresses, anchors, and rainbow parasols. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about the Brimfield Antique Show. It’s Day Two of the show that runs July 10-15 this year, attracting collectors and designers (excuse me, Martha, mine!) from all over the country, so take advantage of this sublime summer and head out to Western MA for the day. Can’t make it? The show comes around again in September.

I hit the show yesterday on opening day after scanning the tips of Brimfield organizers and scouring blogs for the inside scoop. But the suggestions read a bit like those over-the-top-cautious hiking tips to bring 17 layers, enough water to hydrate a camel, and a tent and sleeping bag in case you get stranded. Here, I offer my own tips that you may find handy.

When to go

The show is held in May, July, and September each year, so pick your favorite season. In May you have the possibility of rain, and in July, the hot sun; but September sounds just right. This week promises to be sunny and hot, as evidenced by my flagging energy at Hour Two. The show runs rain or shine, and while the elements won’t deter diehard collectors, rain may dampen (ahem) your experience. You can buy a poncho, look ridiculous, and suck it up, or you could just go another day.

Strategy comes into play when planning the time of day to visit, too. Go in the morning and you’ll find yourself on the road at 3 a.m. to compete with dealers when the gates open; but you do have the best chance of seeing the goods that get snapped up first. Go at midday and it’s a bit quieter, but the height of the day could mean you’re contending with the heat. Go in the evening and you could be one happy camper; while you miss some initial bargains, you can shop at twilight and the dealers may be ready to deal. Imagine what you could score on the last evening on the last day of the show.


Pay $5 and park in the middle of the mile-long stretch. Five bucks is reasonable (you could probably pay less but have to hoof it even farther or pay more for no reason that I can deduce) and you’ll be able to walk back to the car with your purchases. Or to take a nap.

For your trophy room?


Everyone recommends you bring water. And yes, it gets HOT and you get tired and no one wants to get dehydrated in a dry field mobbed with people, but you know what? Water is heavy. A buck or two will get you cold water on the spot.


Experts advise packing snacks (again with the carrying) for healthier choices and to sustain you. But where there is fair food (hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and fried dough!) there is happiness. Splurge on fries. You’re gonna splurge on that stunning chandelier anyway, so what’s another $10? I found a nice variety in the food corral, actually: Greek salads, Ben & Jerry’s, mac n’ cheese and some killer apple cider doughnuts. Life is short.

What to wear

This is no time to debut the gingham espadrilles. Wear comfy shoes that you can walk all day in and don’t mind getting dirty. The fields are dry and dusty or wet and muddy. Wear light layers and check the weather. In July, dress like you’re going to the beach. May and September could go either way: beachwear or a scarf and hat. It’s New England.


Wear sunscreen. If you need inspiration, read this graduation speech from 1997.

Know your prices

A little legwork in advance could put you in a strong negotiating position. But all the research in the world will not stop you from shelling out an exorbitant sum when you spot the rare, speckled ostrich feather you need to complete your collection. Still, dealers expect haggling; just do it in a respectful manner. Try, “What’s the best you could do on this old ostrich feather?” It’s like negotiating a salary; let them name the price first because it might be less than you expected.

And bring cash—more than you think you need. Then go back to the ATM and get more.

I hoped to pick up some crocks for my patio garden, after scoring this white one at a yard sale for less than $10. But my failure to research meant I had a good laugh when I realized some vintage vessels cost upwards of $80. Geraniums just didn’t seem worthy.

Grab it

You snooze, you lose. If you circle around feigning disinterest, someone will grab the item you covet before you can finish hemming and hawing. But then, you shouldn’t exclaim, “OMG, it’s a 1970s Topo Gigio doll in mint condition!” either, because you lose all bargaining power, not to mention your self-respect.

If you see something you decide to come back to, good luck—not only because it might be gone (likely), but because the place is a rabbit warren of labyrinthine paths designed to disorient you. I like to think my navigation skills rival that of a GPS, but after a while, all the booths and dealers and fields start to look alike.

A picturesque scene today, but a dizzying maze of booths tomorrow

Transporting the goods

Show regulars suggest bringing a cart. I suppose if you’re a serious collector or have an unlimited budget, by all means, bring a cart at the risk of looking like an 82-year-old hitting the grocery store. But be aware you’ll have to park your cart outside most stalls; plus, they’re unwieldy and prone to running over errant feet. If you’re just hoping to pick up a trinket or two (and not a stone urn), ditch the cart and bring a backpack. Also, there are entrepreneurial porters who will sweat for you as they wheel your bargains to your car.

Mason jars breed like rabbits at Brimfield


Bring a clothespin. When nature calls, your only option is a portable restroom facility, which we all know is a much fancier phrase for the stifling little shack that shields you while you pee in a hole in the ground. Just know that the best part of leaving Brimfield is not riding home with a carload full of treasures, but the promise of a clean bathroom.


Pets are not banned from the show, but they’re not exactly encouraged. It can be a long hot day for a beagle, and one innocent wag of the tail could mean you end up owning a broken (fill in the blank with the priciest item you can think of). But if you dog is cute (and it is, obviously), put that fuzzy face to work to get yourself a bargain.


Bring a tape measure (not an impractical ruler like yours truly) so you’ll know for sure that the red Formica table will not possibly fit in your car—or your kitchen. Take a moment to collect yourself. I know how you feel. I left these red lockers behind. Sigh.

You shiny, lovely things

Go with your gut

The most important tip: if you love it, buy it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t worry about whether it will “go” with your decor. It’s your decor; make it go! If an object moves you or raises your blood pressure in pure joy, buy it and love it unconditionally. Until you decide to sell it at a yard sale.

Yard sale finds, kitchen edition

Maple and I are watching Brit Andy Murray try to win Wimbledon for his country. In other words, I’m spending 4+ hours on the couch.

Well, I’m fitting in a few domestic chores, like washing my yard sale finds: a blue and white striped rug ($3) and some kitchen scrub cloths ($2), which I hope eliminates the icky sponge routine. They’re a great match for some orange and white dish cloths I bought at Marshalls for actual retail prices. But at $3.99, the prices at Marshalls rival those at a yard sale. But first, Maple sniffs the curious new items, applying her scent to each by rolling about.

Satisfied, she then lords her body over them, possessing. I can only hope she’ll tackle the dishes in the sink with the same devotion.

Yard sale haul

It’s been one year this week when I moved into my very own little house with its very own naked walls. I love a great photograph or painting but I’m also discriminating. You can’t just slap up motivational posters like it’s college. So, the art collection to rival the Met is slow in the making. But slowly I’m finding pieces that I love. And given that I have a fixation with owls ever since reading Wesley the Owl, I practically hooted when I discovered this treasure at a yard sale.

A little research turned up the fact that Ikki Matsumoto is the artist and that he features a lot of whimsical animals in his work, inspired by his mentor, Charley Harper. Who (sorry) could resist these stick-legged owls gazing at the night sky with comets in their eyes? Come on! How awesome are these little guys? $5 worth of awesome, though I would have paid a lot more.

The next weekend’s sale brought in this vibrant print for $3, a beach scene I snapped up, ironically, hours before the first snowfall.

Accessories were practically begging to go home with me, so I gave in to temptation and scored a horsehair belt, which is probably not horsehair, but I don’t know how else to describe it, two dangly pairs of earrings, and a Scotty dog ring that makes me feel like I have a dog without all the hassle.


Yard sale haul and a cat emergency

Despite a list of promising sales, I forgo yard sailing on Saturday to take Maple to the vet because she is—wait for it—drooling. What, me, overprotective? But listen, it’s like sleeping with a small, slobbering walrus. Not normal. A quick search of the web convinces me that the little fuzzball has something lodged in her throat. Unfortunately, Webvet is just as alarming as WebMD.

I wrangle Maple into the carrier (which she does not like) and the vet checks her heartbeat (which she likes even less) and pries open Maple’s mouth (which she despises), and declares that they should do an x-ray. Maple and I look at each other. “No, thank you,” I say.

The vet agrees that because she’s eating, it’s unlikely there’s a real problem. So, a hefty $150 later, we are on our way with some anti-hairball medicine (really?) that smells suspiciously like maple syrup and that Maple has no interest in trying, despite the name. A tip from my cat-owning friend has me smear her paws with the goop, which kinda works because she’s compelled to lick it off, but not before she tracks it through the house.

The patient, less drooly

All that is to say, I am only able to hit two yard sales on the much-less-popular Sunday, but for $10 I score this beautiful, petite painting of a bay by Karen Gausch. And that is enough because I could look at it its dreamy sky and marshy shore all day.

Yard sale haul

Memorial Day is not a popular yard sale weekend, but I took advantage of the gorgeous day to scout out sales in tony Marblehead. At least three of the sales offered an ocean view, the best bargain of all. Still, I raked in all this good stuff for $26:

An old white planter (flowers not included) for $2, a finely weaved basket also for $2, a Cuisinart toaster ($15) with free crumbs, thyme ($2), a magazine, t-shirt, and a trio of old puppets for $1 each. A guy my age was selling the puppets—a bear, fox, and rabbit—and said he unearthed them from the basement after 30 years. Is that any way to treat childhood friends?

“Unlikely friends, the fox and the rabbit,” he said.

Saturday yard sale haul

I’m an avid yard sale shopper, so it’s only natural that spring brings Saturday posts full of bargains. Allow me to introduce Saturday Yard Sale Haul. Today was rare: I only made it to one yard sale. But let me tell you, the other crazies were out too, and by the time I hit this sale, 5 minutes after it started, the place was milling with women, arms brimming with goodies. Perhaps it was the lucky confluence of the first yard sale of the season and the fact that it’s finally stopped raining that brought everyone to this one yard, or maybe it was just the promise of some good stuff. Europeans having yard sales are the best. They offer up beautifully designed things and a few trinkets they’ve carted over from abroad. Mothers were leaving with Japanese storybooks, French jumpers, and unusual games for their kids.

I scored a unique Japanese mortar and pestle for $1 (!) and a nice assortment of cards, including a little packet of gift bags from one of my favorite designers, Lotta Jansdotter. A good start to the season followed by yoga, an indulgent visit to Formaggio where I reluctantly put down the $10.25 pint of ice cream, and reading on the porch.

Yard sale bliss

It’s been weeks since I’ve gotten to indulge in one of my favorite Saturday morning activities: hitting the yard sale circuit. Apparently, the bargains had just been waiting for me to come by, because I scored a bunch of things I needed and wanted, all for a song. I found two great plants—a ficus for my office and a dragon’s blood succulent ($1 each) a wood floor mat ($2), a sleek set of square white dinner plates, saucers, and bowls ($3 for the set), a memoir (.50), organic potting soil that normally costs the equivalent of putting your teenager through college ($1), an Anthropologie skirt that normally costs the equivalent of putting two teenagers through college ($4), a bunch of Cook’s Illustrated magazines ($1), and a wooden cube for books ($1) that I’ve already filled. Score.

My yard sale haul

My yard sale haul

I was accosted by one woman holding a yard sale who insisted on telling me about her tragic life, while I kept thinking, Can I just buy this book? Another guy gave me a print of an old Boston Aquarium ad I thought my marine science-y friend might like; he insisted that I take it for free as an ex-girlfriend had given it to him. For some odd reason, he also had an Andre Agassi poster that I, too, once owned in the 90s; that I didn’t take. After a record six hours of yard sale shopping, I headed home glad I don’t own a truck because the damage might have been much worse.

Business is booming–in my yard anyway

My group of friends and I have been on a mission to de-clutter for months now and we’re finally holding a yard sale. We drag boxes of stuff to the lawn, arrange the merchandise like a shop, and sit happily chatting in the sun for hours. We bargain with early birds, give away free trinkets to every kid that came by (at last, a home for my Hello Kitty barrettes I’ve had since I was ten), and meet some of the neighbors. A good day of simplifying and community building.

People buy a lot–good stuff like chairs and clothes, and strange things like a bag of rocks and a single earring. And everyone wants my turquoise table that I got at a yard sale myself for three bucks.


Must-have trinkets


Then, my nemesis arrives: a packratty middle-aged woman driving a yellow Corvette (ew) on a mission to jam her car full of more crap. I run into her on my yard sale jaunts, so I know she wants everything cheap. Like free. She’s my stiffest competition on the road, but today, she’s in my front yard. She gathers a bunch of my stuff: note cards, jewelry and such, but when I tell her my silvery earrings are a dollar, she declares that too much. She’ll take them for 50 cents, she says. We go back and forth and she grabs more stuff, adds and re-adds her pile and does this obsequious thing of “Would you…could you…take $5 for everything?” This is her shtick; she wears you down; and because I don’t want to carry one little thing back in the house, I cave. She knows I would.

On the flip side, a charming Moroccan guy sails in, buys up all my roommate’s winter coats for a fair price, and tells us they’ll go to people who live in the mountains when he goes to Morocco on the hiking tours he leads. We feel good about that sale and even better when he invites us to his import shop in Cambridge for Moroccan tea. Tea is fine, but I really hope it’s a euphemism for something…