Today I give thanks for not having kids, thus avoiding the chaos of Toys ’R Us on Black Friday. Or Toys ’R Us anytime, really. Both make me jumpy. I give thanks, too, for having the kind of family that does not expect anything with “plasma” in the title. Nothing that would require me to join the stampede at Target or the running of the bulls at Best Buy with a concealed weapon ready to threaten the competition. Nothing that demands I line up inside, and most especially not outside, or take a number or fight a tween for a gadget that requires batteries. I am content, this Friday, to relax in my living room, assembling nothing, needing nothing. Except an elephant print silk blouse I scored at the consignment shop for $17. I mean, I’m not without a soul.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t be jealous, but I spent my Friday night at the mall. I’m not even a teen or a tween. I just needed a new bra and bathing suit. This is the exciting life of a single woman in Salem. No witchcraft here, just an evening engaged in two of the most tiresome hunts that all females face: the search for the perfect bra and the elusive bathing suit. I think you know how that story ended. Folly to have shopped for both at the same time.
But you know what’s even more depressing? The mall. Granted, I was at a second-run, sad little mall on the North Shore that featured Wet Seal, a Famous Label store that was half-empty and echo-y, featuring ugly, giant urns, and long vacant hallways with nary a texter to be found. But the place was redeemed at the last moment when I spotted a mother and her little boy stuffed into a photo booth making funny faces and giggling while the camera snapped away. I pictured the mom placing it on her bureau mirror or the boy taking it to college one day.
But back to me. Gap Body came through the next day in the form of a neon pink number that for now only I will be appreciating. The fact that Beyoncé’s Run the World (Girls) song was playing at full volume in the dressing room making me feel like Super Woman had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to purchase.
Just when I was kicking my Anthropologie habit a couple years back, they went and opened a new store in an old building known for its design roots in Harvard Square. I resisted. Purchasing a home and the economy made it easy to keep resisting. Goodbye funky, flowered, patchwork skirts. Goodbye heavenly nightgowns and $238 wedges (OK, I never bought these, but I coveted them). Farewell delicate, handpainted teacups and saucers. I don’t need you.
But after more than five years of intending to switch out the uncool knobs on my white, chippy bureau to chic modern ones, I finally steeled myself to buy eight new pulls that, for the same price, might have paid for a new bureau on craigslist. I had a gift card, so it eased the pain.
Before hustling to the check out, I lingered over sweet notecards and dangly chandelier earrings, interior design books and more shoes worth a car payment. Then I hit the cramped sale room (seriously, it’s so small that finding a bargain is earned; patience tried) and found one awesome pair of pants (zipper pockets, zippered cropped legs), the only one of its style and in my size and marked with in beautiful red ink with the unbelievable: $9.95. Ten-dollar pants at Anthropologie? I’m back, baby. I’m sorry I ever left you.
Isn’t it awesome when you find the perfect snow boots and you order them and then Amazon tells you, Oh, by the way: these are out of stock, so you won’t be getting them anytime soon. Like ever. So, after much research and online comparison shopping (hmm, this review says they fit snugly; this review says they have no arch support; this review says they have too much arch support, but they’re the best boots ever) you settle on Dream Boots #2 only to discover when you’re trying to put them in your shopping cart, that they won’t go in the shopping cart because they don’t have your size.
So, finally, you go back to Zappo’s because browsing there is like shoegasm after shoegasm, and you find that Dream Boots #3 are well reviewed, fashionable, and on sale, so you shove them in your cart and click Checkout before anyone can buy the last size 8, and then they arrive the day before a foot of snow is predicted and you spend half the night waterproofing them even thought the next day not one snowflake falls from the sky, but you don’t care because it will snow again in New England—probably in June—and you will have snow boots ready and waiting for you like your own personal militia to protect you from the elements. Or you’ll wear them to the beach and look ridiculous, but by God you will wear them.
This year, my family and I have decided to ease up on the gift-giving chaos that is Christmas in America, and I couldn’t be happier. Allow me to enumerate the reasons.
1. I just saved a paycheck.
2. Those days spent cruising the mall, not to mention the parking lot? I just got my life back.
3. I don’t need more stuff. In fact, I want less stuff for Christmas; I’m putting that on my list. Less stuff for Christmas, please.
4. No more cruising the aisles of CVS on Christmas Eve wondering if a wind-up talking reindeer is a suitable gift for say, everyone.
5. Wrapping? No human can fold those stupid flaps properly anyway.
6. Heading off a green crisis at seeing all that wrapping paper strewn about, wrinkled and unsalvageable, that the dog tried to eat anyway.
7. No luggage to check, which means more room in the carry-on for books. Underwear and books. Because really, that’s all you need for Christmas.
When you care enough to send the very best, but can’t afford to, it’s fun to send your friends a link to gifts you’d send them if you could. So this Christmas, I’m sending virtual gifts.
For example, I saw this unique Ira Glass finger puppet on Etsy.com recently and sent it to my friend Katie, who shares my addiction to This American Life and probably my mad crush on the nerdy fella.
I’m always finding gifts for my ocean-loving friend Kim like this plate featuring her favorite whale: the humpback.
Then I found this great sculpture for my friend whose initials are HA. But seeing as I spotted it while window shopping at M2L, a store with spare but expensive inventory, she’ll have to make do with a photo.
Virtual gifts say I care and know you so well that you would love this gift, but I’m frugal, so don’t hold your breath.
I need your help, people. I’m buying my first pair of snow boots since I was like, eight, and I’m having trouble deciding. I can’t make a decision like this on my own.
There are the sporty and fuzzy Earth Newton
Don’t let the size of that last image bias you or anything. Let the voting begin.
I just got the slickest pair of riding boots at The Tannery, the shoe store with the friendliest cadre of Middle Eastern men. They’re cute and comfortable (I know! Impossible, right? Wait, you thought I was talking about the men didn’t you?) because they’re made by Born, so you can actually walk in them instead of strutting around for like five minutes and having to pull them off ’cause they feel like your calf is getting a mammogram. I trekked all around Providence with them recently with nary a blister to be found.
Wait, let me take a picture of them…
The thing about boots though is that when the first crisp day of fall hits, you run out to buy them, but it turns out the next day feels like summer, and where are your boots? Standing legless and forlorn useless by the bed. Of course, if you hadn’t bought the boots, it would have turned fall—and stayed fall—overnight. So, I figure it’s a win-win: I got boots and it’s summery.
Now I just need a horse.
Is it weird that I consider browsing Whole Foods a good time? That company really has shopping psychology down. I love the layout, the handmade signs (what, don’t tell me they’re manufactured to look handmade?), the produce pyramids, the polite and knowledgeable staff, and the new products around every bend. Oh, those new products in their seductive eco-friendly packaging. They know just the right words to use. One in particular that hooked me was U, a new cereal by Kashi—a combination of hearty flakes, walnuts, and currants that’s attractive for its fiber and goodness but mostly because of the simple cardboard package and pretty “U.”
On my last visit, for $40, I also scored a small basket of goodness that included salmon, caramels laced with sea salt, bok choy, sesame and tarragon crackers, and a new magazine called Boho that’s mediocre actually, but that worked its magic on my at the checkout counter anyway. Also, their prepared foods is a cornucopia of beauty, and while honey-glazed chicken with apricots at $14/lb is not in the budget, I can get inspiration for free, creating the dish at home. The cheese tastings and other samples have also been known to suck me in, but I’m hardly alone. I’ve probably eaten a pound of Irish cheddar there over the years.
Eating well costs more sometimes. At least, that’s how I rationalize the expense. But I do find myself making healthier choices when I’m at Whole Foods, maybe because when all their products are good and good for you, it’s easy to make the right decision. And sometimes it’s just worth that extra dollar if it gets you some mighty nice ciabatta bread from Iggy’s.
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.
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.
The Running of the Brides, the infamous bridal dress sale held twice a year by Filene’s Basement, is aptly named. It’s no understatement to compare the event to the running of the bulls in Pamplona; in fact, I’d take my chances with the bulls over a roomful of cutthroat brides with sharp elbows. Injuries aside, it’s a blast.
At 8 a.m., the doors open and bridal party teams in matching t-shirts, some having camped out for hours, rush into the mammoth room and start grabbing dresses off the rack like they were loaves of bread in Soviet Russia. With gown prices starting at $249, it’s easy to see why a stampede might be in order. My roommate, the bride, was much more sensible, so along with another friend, the three of us sauntered in midmorning when the initial rush was over and dresses were already back on the racks. For a pack of determined brides-to-be, it was all very civilized really.
We hauled dresses over for her to try on (modesty went out the window) and fawned over each with our best girly girl squeals, delighting even more in the dresses that were ridiculous (unfortunate bows and ruffles on crack). We competed to find the absolute worst dresses and paraded around in them while other shoppers looked on, not as horrified as they should have been. Our friend put on a black and white number and declared herself Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, and we tried on matching dresses with fin-like wings, an insult to fish and birds everywhere.
In the end, we got down to business, all trying on our fantasy dresses but ultimately encouraging the bride to go with her favorite, a beautiful two-piece corset with a ruched crinkly skirt that screamed drama. I expected to battle over a dress or two with other women and had practiced my tug-of-war skills, but in just two hours, we ran around like teenagers, played ultimate dress-up, and even got a dress in the bargain; the only way it might have been better is if they had actually unleashed live bulls.
My birthday is in July—in a couple of weeks, in fact, in case you need to prepare—but my mom starts asking for my wish list in say, December. She likes to shop obscenely early for Christmas too, starting around June.
Any other time of the year, I find myself browsing store windows murmuring I must have that! Asked to come up with an idea on demand though, I draw a blank not unlike the permanently confused look of our leader. I can always come up with a few book titles and look forward to my stack being replenished around now, but there’s not a lot I want. I’m trying to reduce the “stuff” I already have, so I’ve placed a moratorium on buying me things. Gift cards are my friends, especially if they’re for an experience like dinner or a movie, a massage or a class.
Of course, if you’re really asking me what I’d like then I’d have to say Sox-Yankees tickets or better yet, season tickets and countless Sox wins. Yeah, that’s it. Or, wait: a clean desk. Now that would be a gift.