Thursday, January 28, 2021

Down to the Last Dollar (Last Come Unthrifting post for now)

In The Conscious Closet, Elizabeth L. Cline makes this statement: "The less we pay for something, the less we value it and the less likely we are to take care of it! If you're buying something on sale or low-priced, take a good look at it and ask yourself if you can find a way to value and care for this item anyway."

If that last sentence seems a little confusing (if you're still in the act of buying something, why would you be wondering already how you can care more about it?), Cline clarifies by giving the example of a clothing item she bought inexpensively that soon needed a repair. She might have junked it, since it didn't cost her much to start with, but she decided to mend it anyway, and then found she really liked it.

How useful or true is that idea? While I have, not infrequently, re-donated thrifted items after a very short ownership (clothes didn't fit, hated the book after one chapter, or realized I already had a copy), I do generally try to take as good care of inexpensive/thrifted clothes as I do of more expensive ones. Like washing them on Gentle and line-drying them, instead of ruining them in the dryer.

I don't think that really solves the problem of whether or not you should buy inexpensively-made new things (although that's a lot of what Cline's book is about); but it is a good way to perhaps look differently at those you already have, wherever they came from, or however much or little they cost.

Meet my extremely expensive designer infinity scarf.

It came from an exclusive boutique called Chez Dollarama.
What made me buy it in the first place? I loved the colour, and I don't currently have anything else in that openwork knit/crochet style. Would I have paid more money for it at a better store? Would I treasure it more if it came from a free-trade store? Or if I had found it at a thrift store, maybe with the store tags still on it, and it turned out to have been quite expensive?

Would I find it irritating to get more compliments on a cheap scarf than on a new one that I'd saved up for?

Does it make any difference that some of my thrifted clothes came from the full-price aisles, and some were  getting their last chance in the dollar corner? How about when something in the dollar corner turns out to have been misplaced there (you can tell by the tags), and it's really a whole five or six or ten dollars? When prices are already so low, and the money's going to a good cause, it seems ridiculous to care one way or the other; but I have seen thrifters make a fuss over items that they thought were priced a dollar or two too high.

Why did I find it upsetting to have a too-juicy takeout panzerotti leak all over my dryclean-only skirt on the drive home, even though the skirt was thrifted and I did manage to spot-clean it? Would I have cared that much if it hadn't had the fancy label inside it? (Note to self: bring a plastic bag along next trip. Or remember to wear jeans.)

Why am I still hanging on to the sequined Oleg Cassini top that didn't sell on Kijiji* and that's about as heavy to wear as a pair of gravity boots, even though I paid only three dollars for it? Maybe because I only paid three dollars for it.

These are all good questions, and I'm not sure of all the answers. I think one of them is found, though, in something else Elizabeth Cline wrote: "Clothes are not garbage." Yes, stuff is just stuff, and clothes are just clothes, and if a mountain of clothes (or a pile of toys, or a huge box of books) is weighing you down, yes, you should probably get rid of them without having to give each piece a goodbye hug. There are times we are just done with things. But on the preserving, caring end...sometimes it's worth pretending (to yourself, of course) that the dollar-store scarf came from an exclusive store, and the like-a-thousand-others chair is a mid-century treasure, and the thrifted candle bowl is a family heirloom, if it creates a larger sense of gratitude for the things we have been privileged to find in our hands.

Something to think about, anyway.

*I don't usually resell clothes (or attempt to), but I thought this disco top might have some resale value. Besides, it was close to Hallowe'en.

Deep-Dish Contentment (Come Unthrifting Again)


The January sunshine is cold but brilliant. Through our upstairs window I see what looks like dancing glitter over the porch roof. Is it snowing, or just blowing? You have to look hard, and it only works when the sun is coming down full blast.

During the days I work on writing projects, while Mr. Fixit works on his restorations
Or read books. I just finished Reading Buechner on the Kindle app. I'm reading my Christmas-gift-card copy of You Are What You Love, and re-reading last year's Christmas-gift-card copy of The Conscious Closet. I'm also working on a scrounged-last-year copy of Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil, by Os Guinness. 

I look at my Lismer print over the computer desk.
I do the laundry. Mr. Fixit vacuums the floors.

In the evenings we listen to vintage music through a vintage radio.
We set the table, light candles...
and eat homemade deep-dish pizza.
Or honey garlic chicken. Or leftovers.

There is lots to chafe over, right now. But there are good things to focus on.

Friday, January 22, 2021

A Little Sauce Goes a Long Way (Come Unthrifting Again)


On the Vivienne Files website, there's been a theme over the past few months about planning smaller, shorter-term wardrobes. This was inspired by an idea in the book The Chic Closet by Fiona Ferris, but I think it's also symbolic of the past year, and particularly the current state of things: it just seems hard, sometimes, to visualize what you might be doing three or six months from now. A month at a time seems to be the limit of our attention spans, and it meets our craving for a bit of variety. That doesn't mean buying all different clothes; it might just mean re-organizing things better, or featuring clothes you haven't worn for awhile.

And right now, that works for me too. I did a page with a  blue and green January wardrobe, which could have been enough clothes-thinking for the whole rest of the winter; but this month I saw a new Vivienne Files story with lots of grey and pink, and that seemed fun for Valentine's Day, so I did my own version.

It reminds me a bit of Edith Schaeffer's advice that we need both treasured items in our homes (the things we look at and identify with our place and our family, like the Ingalls family's china shepherdess), and that we also need to be positive, creative, and even whimsical with whatever else we have. Over the past year, I've made a point of putting something out to be a focus on the dinner table, like candles or a pottery jug or a special ornament...or all three...but not the same things in the same combination every night. We really only have a few different table runners and cloths; our place mats and napkins, especially, are used over and over again, because we only have a couple of sets. But with different decorations added to the table, different combinations of candles, and maybe some paper napkins with a seasonal theme, it can still look cheerful and a bit more varied. Kind of like having mostly grey clothes with a couple of pink and purple sweaters and some pretty scarves.

In the council of the Achaeans, King Antiochus’ ambassadors being come thither, to move them to break their league with the Romans, and to make alliance with the king their master, they made a marvellous large discourse of the great multitude of soldiers that were in their master’s army, and did number them by many diverse names. 

Whereunto Titus answered, and told how a friend of his having bidden him one night to supper, and having served so many dishes to his board, as he was angry with him for bestowing so great cost upon him, wondering how he could so suddenly get so much store of meat, and of so diverse kinds.  

“My friend said to me again, that all was but pork dressed so many ways, and with so sundry sauces. And even so (quoth Titus), my Lords of Achaea , esteem not King Antiochus’ army the more, to hear of so many men of arms, numbered with their lances, and of such a number of footmen with their pikes: for they are all but Syrians, diversely armed, only with ill-favoured little weapons.” (Plutarch, Life of Titus Flamininus)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Let's Play Rummage Sale (Come Unthrifting)

This is an approximation of what I might bring home from a good old fill-the-bag rummage sale. I haven't even been to anything like that long?...but you know the sort I mean. You pay a flat fee, grab anything that looks good, sort it out later.

The first thing, obviously, is to spread it out and see what you've got.

Maybe it was because I was sort of cheating by already using our own stuff, or because we don't have scads of miscellaneous unidentifiable things here (we've moved twice in the past four years); but the sorting and the putting away actually didn't take too long.

Marie Kondo says to start decluttering with clothes, so we'll start there. (Apologies that the colours are a bit gloomy, but that's because it's a snowy January  morning and the light's bad.)

One blue silk blouse, one grey-blue silk-cashmere wrap sweater, both thrifted last year; one magenta cardigan that I wore a lot last summer, one pink t-shirt also from last summer. The t-shirt and the cardigan are good "finds," because I was wanting to add more pink into the closet. The blouse and the sweater are indicators of two things: one, that I'm a sucker for lovely fabrics, and two, that I was not able to try things on in 2020, and that even silk and cashmere can't make up for tight fits and strange cuts. They did not cost me enough to cause excessive pain when I put them into a donate-when-the-stores-open-again bag.
Next category: books. Three faith-based books and two about playing backgammon. We have a good backgammon set, but the way we play it is about as exciting as Parcheesi, so I remember picking those books up at different times to see if there was something we were doing wrong. Two of the other books can go by my bed (a handy place to remind myself of things I want to read). The Prayer and Temperament book was pretty quirky, but I think I'm done with it, so it can go in the donate bag.
Metal bookends, from all the books we had in our old house. Right now they're just a reminder that I'm stuffing the bookcases here too tightly instead of leaving room to even need a bookend. If I knew somebody who desperately needed bookends, I'd pass them on; but since they are the sort of thing you wish you had when you don't, I'm going to keep them even if they're not currently in use.
And  magazines, from a year ago. Probably the best kind to read right now. They can go on the coffee table.
Four CDs, ditto: they can sit beside the CD player as a reminder to put them in.
One lined notebook with only a few pages torn out (I was using that sort of notebook for my online classes). Some letter-writing paper. Two more little notebooks, one with a mirror that I have used as a decoration in the bathroom. The lined notebook can go with the office supplies; the stationery and the flowered notebook can go in the basket where I keep those things; and the mirrored notebook...not sure, but maybe in my purse, because who doesn't need a mirror sometimes?

I noticed another rather obvious indicator about the past year: travel-type items that are sitting unused. The clear pouches you have to use for toiletries at airports; zipper pouches to hold tights or pens or snacks; and so on. Well, they're there when I need them.

 I sorted out the personal-care stuff from the travel-storage things, and used a box and a basket to corral them in the bathroom.  Travel bottles and zipper pouches went in a drawer.

I had used these flower ornaments (old VBS crafts) and the bottle (supposed to hold things like vinegar) in the bathroom before, but I put them back in a more streamlined way, just to freshen things up.

Some miscellaneous things in the pile: a heating pad that we used to use to make yogurt. I remember writing awhile back (maybe a year ago?) that yogurt-making had been curtailed because we never had powdered milk around anymore. I did buy a bit of powdered milk awhile ago, so I might experiment and see if I can still yog.

Two round cake pans and a springform pan. Not things we use a lot, especially when it's just the two of us and we're not making cheesecakes or whatever. Mr. Fixit has previously expressed the heart's desire of making deep dish pizza, though (or at least eating it), so I think I'm going to hang on to the pans and try to find a workable recipe. Maybe we'll have a pizza and backgammon Valentine's party.

A bit of gift-wrapping ribbon and bows. On the left: garbage. On the right: store with the gift-wrapping supplies. See, I told you that was easy.

Small gift bags, ditto.
What's left from the pile of stuff? Only a couple of things, and I'll talk about them tomorrow, along with a couple of less random un-thrifts.

Notes to Self

Use the face scrubbie brush my daughter gave me.

Save out a bit of yogurt and make sure we have enough milk to try making homemade yogurt again.

Read some Os Guinness and Richard Foster.

Find out if we're playing backgammon wrong, or if it's supposed to be that boring.

Look for pizza-in-the-pan recipes. Buy pepperoni. Also buy food colouring and butter.

Eat pizza while listening to Quartetto Gelato and eating beautiful Valentine cookies from last February's Better Homes and Gardens. While wearing a pink t-shirt and magenta cardigan.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Thing Is (The Return of Come Unthrifting With Me)

Right now all the Ontario thrift stores are locked down (again), so our treasure-hunting trips are not happening. Online alternatives are tempting, especially with many retail stores having sales and offering incentives like free shipping. However, I'm trying to hold out on shopping for amusement, and enjoy the things I already have, so I'm reviving the Unthrifting posts. (Total honesty: I did order a new tote bag to replace one I've used hard for two years; but it was on sale.) 

Lately I've been seeing ads for a very nice sweatshirt-fabric blazer. The thing is...I own a similar navy is-it-a-sweatshirt-or-is-it-a-blazer, that I found at a thrift store a few years ago.
The same company has sent me ads for their most recent take on a good-quality, simply styled jersey dress. The thing is...I recently thrifted a similar dress.

I often click the shopping links on Vivienne Files posts, which give helpful information (what's that sweater actually made of?) but which often involve stores and clothes much too cher for me. So now ads for the same stuff pop up everywhere I go online. Lately that means a whole batch of beautiful scarves, mostly florals. The thing is...I have scarves too. Most of them are thrifted, a few came from Ten Thousand Villages before it closed, and a couple were bought new somewhere else, and/or were given to me. Last fall I saw this pink scarf called "Poetic Nature Foliage" on the website of a Canadian store, and I ordered one along with more practical things like pajamas and turtlenecks.

Are you seeing the pattern here? (I don't mean the one on the scarf...)

It seems to me that many of us, when we're getting bombarded with ads and filling virtual shopping carts with clothes or books or whatever, could probably look through our own closets and shelves and find things that pleased us just as much when we first undid the packages, or when we first came across them at a fancy store. Or a thrift store. Or an amazing little out-of-the-way used bookstore. Or even at giant-mart.  (Don't discount the discounts. I have a favourite blanket scarf that I found during a giant-mart grocery trip.)

If you were to photograph some of these things beautifully, post them on a buy-my-stuff website, and then absent-mindedly come across your own ad, would that make you say, "Look! Just my size! Great colour! I want it!" or "That's a book I wanted to read again?"

This week I'm going to pull out a few of my own surprise-myself items, and (hopefully) get happy all over again. You can come too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Wednesday Hodgepodge, Better or Worse

 It's the Wednesday Hodgepodge! You know the drill: click on the graphic to go to This Side of the Pond and add your link.

1. When were you last a guest at an event or in someone's home? Tell us about it. Do you enjoy having guests in your own home? 

That's like asking someone during Prohibition when they last had any gin. But honestly, we are depressingly well behaved. 

2. What has you 'tied up in knots' currently or recently? Are you any good at tying actual knots? 

The fact that my answer to #1 has to exist.

Real knots? I was a Girl Guide, so I learned a few. The one I've never totally grasped is that thing you do when you thread a needle and slide the knot down the thread. I was never that big on macrame, either.

Scarf knots...I know a few of those.

3. What's something you've been wanting to do and have decided 2021 will be the year you 'take the plunge'? 

Not sure. I have some writing projects that might get off the ground. 

Mr. Fixit and I always planned to do something special this summer to mark thirty years of "tying the knot." Right now the most exciting thing I'm envisioning is chicken burgers from the drive-through.

4. Something in your home that's old? Something new? Something borrowed? Something blue? 

Something old: a collection of small books that were passed down through my family.  The largest one, Abiding in Thee, is 5 by 6 inches, and the smallest is 2 by almost 4 inches.
The smallest one is a Book of Common Prayer with metal edges and the findings for a clasp (the clasp is gone though). It was printed in England and it has very small print.

The other small book, the dark brown one, is older; it’s A Selection of Psalms, Hymns and Anthems, with a really interesting inscription: my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name, and then “Pew No. 30, St. Paul’s Church, Yorkville, C.W.” Do you know what C.W. stands for? Canada West; that’s the pre-Confederation name for Ontario. The book was printed in Toronto in 1861.

Something new: well, Christmas presents. 
The absolute newest thing in the house, other than some groceries we're going to pick up this morning when the ice melts, would be a tote bag I ordered that hasn't arrived yet, which, technically, doesn't put it in the house yet, but soon. It's a replacement for another bag I use a lot which I know is starting to look pretty worn. 

Besides that...a pair of leggings my daughter ordered that fit me better than they did her.

And I guess you could count a package of Valentine's Day paper napkins from the dollar store.

Something borrowed? Library books on Overdrive?

Something blue...lots of things. This is a quilted bag I made ten years ago to hold doll clothes. It's been repurposed to hold a collection of off-duty acorns and pine cones (real, fake, and crocheted).
5. Share a favorite quote, a verse of scripture, and/or a bit of wisdom for couples getting married in this challenging and seemingly unpredictable season we're currently/still experiencing. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Wednesday Hodgepodge, More or Less

Happy New Year! Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday link up. Answer on your own blog, then hop back to From This Side of the Pond to share your answers. 

From this Side of the Pond
1. What advice would you give yourself as we begin this new year? 

Count up the sunny days. 

 2. If you could throw a themed party for yourself what would the theme be? 
A book party with squirrel decorations, thrifted presents and lots of chocolate? (Please, nobody take this too seriously. Except maybe for the chocolate.)

3. Tell us where you were and something about what life was like when you were 20- 21.

Mid-eighties, university (actually two universities, I tried out a different one for my second year), weekend buses back and forth between the big city and home. CP/M computers and dot-matrix printers. Made a lot of lentil burgers. My best classes turned out to be Canadian poetry and children's literature; my worst were (almost always) religious studies, especially when they started talking oh-so-respectfully about theologians like Rudolf Bultmann (:known for his belief that the historical analysis of the New Testament is both futile and unnecessary", Wikipedia)

Years later, though, I'm kind of glad I took those courses, because it reminds me that some current arguments over beliefs are not new at all, and that the church has managed to stay on its feet through past storms as well. 

4. What's on the menu at your house this week? 

My husband just made the trek out to large-mart for hamster fluff and sponges, and brought home a frozen lasagna as well. But I think we're making beef tortillas tonight.

5. What should you do more of this year? Less of?

More than 2020, or than any other year? Some things I would like to do more of but I can't. Same with less of. Some things I should do more of, or less of, but I don't really want to.

I guess I'll have to keep thinking about it.

6. Insert your own random thought here. 

I came across this hymn by George Herbert and I'm still thinking about it. 

1 Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing,
"My God and King!"

The heav'ns are not too high,

God's praise may thither fly;
the earth is not too low,
God's praises there may grow.
Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing,
"My God and King!"

2 Let all the world in ev'ry corner sing,
"My God and King!"
The church with psalms must shout:
no door can keep them out.
But, more than all, the heart
must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in ev'ery corner sing,
"My God and King!"

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

From the archives: Epiphany, liturgy, lasagna

First posted January 2014; edited slightly

Epiphany, January 6th, celebrates Christ made manifest, and shown in His glory to the Gentiles, who are represented by the Magi.  A manifestation is when you see something, right?  And "having an epiphany" is often used, these days, to describe suddenly seeing (and understanding) something clearly.

And what is "liturgy?"  A generic definition might be "a fixed set of ceremonies."  A spiritual habit or discipline, maybe.  If you attend a liturgical church, it means that the worship time is laid out ahead of time, word for word: prescribed, observed, repeated.  As opposed to figuring it out fresh every time, or letting everything happen spontaneously.

In Jan Karon's Mitford books, Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, often goes off by himself to "repeat the office."  He is not going to his office; he is saying his prayers, those that are laid out in the prayer book for different days and different times of day. An office is a service you do for someone, in the same way that we call worship time a service. That's where we get our word "officer."

On a site called The Daily Office West, I found this thought in their FAQs: "The Office provides a framework for your thoughts, needs, concerns, thanksgivings, confessions and resolutions, so your praying becomes extremely personal. You wouldn't build a house without a foundation; once that’s down, you follow a written plan, and after it’s done, you decorate it so it suits your personality. Ideally, the Office provides a discipline; that’s why it’s best used Daily. If you wait until you’re inspired to pray spontaneously, God may be waiting a very long time to hear from you."

Framework, written plan, discipline. What does this have to do with Epiphany, or Charlotte Mason? It's coming, hold on.

Several years ago I posted "Lasagna Without Recipes," meaning that you could add a variety of ingredients, mix and match, leave out the tomato sauce or the cheese or the meat, and still have something that's recognizably lasagna.  But you still have to give it structure with noodles or something else to keep it separated in layers, or what you end up with is not lasagna.  It might be a good casserole, but it's not lasagna, because it's the structure that gives it its shape and identity.

Like lasagna, we need a framework in our worship, our life and our learning. Or at least we can say that a framework gives it more meaning.

In her preface to The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater quotes a passage from Wendell Berry's novel Jayber Crow, about seminary students who "could tell you" but "didn't see."  They could not see the beauty of the world around them, and so did not connect it with the Creator.  She also refers to Charlotte-Mason-style notebooks as things that "teach us to see" AND that are "the liturgy of the attentive life." A framework, a discipline, a structure...and yet a place to add our individuality, our own taste.  ("Us" and "our" also meaning the students, of course.)

A big epiphany, a star in the heavens, might be experienced once in a lifetime, but we can watch for small epiphanies, glimpses of glory. And if we make use of the disciplines of learning, they may help us to keep our eyes open.