there is no problem.

I buy cards at yard sales and thrift stores. I have bunches and bunches (and bunches) of them. I keep them organized in a dresser. Stationery is probably one of those things that most people don't realize you can get used. Not only can you get them, you can find enough to develop an unhealthy collecting habit. The best place to find them is estate sales. Old ladies are card hoarders. They buy them in multi-packs all the time - on vacation, at holidays, to support various charitable causes. And then they die, and someone sells their whole card collection to me for a buck or two. I pick out the ones I like, and then the rest I ship off to a relative with small children. I suggested they use them for crafting, but I really have no idea what they do with all those cards. They probably wonder the same about me.

I've always been big into sending birthday cards. People just like it so darn much. Even as stamp prices rise, it's a pretty cheap way to make someone happy. If you did the math and figured out how much happiness is created with the cost of a card and a stamp, you would find it's an excellent value. Then I would ask to see your numbers, because I'd really like to know how you quantified happiness. It doesn't have to be a nice card, and you don't have to put money in it. Somehow, the act of getting mail, of being remembered, is enough.

I call them "used" cards, but "secondhand" is probably a better term. However, sometimes they actually are used. A person will buy a 25 pack of Christmas cards and then just sign them all in one session before realizing they only have 21 friends. Then they stuff the four extra cards in a drawer somewhere with every intention of using them next year. But they forget about them until the next time they move or clean, which is how they end up at the thrift store, where I buy them. Sometimes, I send them anyway. (For a couple of years, I sent cards signed from the local Masonic lodge to a girlfriend of mine in New York. She thought the first one was weird, but she got really freaked out when one year she moved and they found out her new address. She suspected me, but when she asked, I told her that I would never ever forge the Masons' signature, which was true, though misleading.)

Anyway, while my collection is impressive, it is not exactly a replacement for Hallmark. I used to take a lot of time to pick out just the right card, spending a half hour just to find one. It was pretty stereotypical woman behavior (I make up for it by being good at math). Now, the selection is more limited, though frequently more interesting (and free). I do make myself pull from my stash, otherwise, I would have no justification to keep buying stationery (and I do want to keep buying it).

Basically, I have to get a little creative, but is that ever a bad thing? Luckily, I have a very large selection of cards that are blank inside, so they can be for any holiday. I do write a little note for each one. I frequently feel the need to make an explanation as to why the other person is receiving what might seem like a pretty weird card. I try hard to make the card choice seem relevant. But maybe I don't have to explain that at all. Maybe the people who get cards from me know me well enough to realize that I don't know how to send cards like a normal person. Being weird acts as its own excuse.

Anyway, all this is to explain that I got a couple of odd birthday cards this year. They were from my nieces, who live in a household that has been the recipient of my rejected overstock cards. One of them was an Easter card, and the other was a Christmas card. While the older niece made some effort to replace the Season's Greetings with birthday ones, the little one just stuck a "Dear Aunt Sandra" before the message wishing me a happy Easter. Considering one of those girls once gave her brother one of her baby teeth in a jar as a birthday present, this was actually a relatively sane gift.

I think this is a positively brilliant solution to feeling like I don't have the right card to send. The solution is to not care at all. Frnakly, I should have thought of this myself, since I apply it in other areas of my life.

For instance: accessories! While visiting my sister this year, I wore a green shirt, while I was also carrying a green suede purse. She asked if I had a different purse for each outfit. I told her no, sometimes it works out that way, but in general I'm not that put-together. She said that she always carried a black purse, that way it matched everything and she didn't have to worry about it. My response was that she didn't have to worry about it anyway, and then she could use any crazy purse she wanted. We are different people, so we each thought our respective way was better based on our priorities. It is more important to her to match. It is more important to me to have fun purses.

Just like the problem of having a matching purse, the solution to the problem of using an appropriate card is to not care about the problem. It turns out that there is no problem.

It's funny - my nieces sent the out-of-season cards because they are kids and have not yet succombed to the idea that only birthday cards are for birthdays. They probably picked those specific cards because they liked the pictures. Give them ten years, and they will likely do things differently. Except for the fact that they have an Aunt Sandra, who has decided that the problem of appropriate cards is not a problem. Given my example (which was originally their example), maybe they'll see it that way, too.


burglar fantasies.

I used to work with a guy who would brag that if a burglar broke into his house, he wouldn't know what to steal first. The point was that the guy had many valuable and hockable things, from fancy guns to media equipment. My coworker had an elaborate fantasy of a robber, dressed in all black with a hockey mask, entering each room in a state of building excitement, like Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders. He rubs his hands together as he tries to decide which thing to pilfer first.

I think we can all agree that this is an obnoxious thing to say in public.

I started thinking about someone breaking into my house, and I also concluded that any would-be burglar would find himself at a loss as to where to focus his efforts. In my fantasy, he comes into the living room and then just stops, not excited but confused. He looks first to the obvious grabs, but the TV and stereo are so ancient, the thrift store wouldn't accept them. Then he starts looking around at everything else. He slowly rotates in place, his eyes scanning the room for something to go into his special burgling sack (with his name embroidered on it).

Gumball machine (with gumballs)
piggy bank made from old post office box
mid-90s TV
Antique scientific scale

Though his burgling eye is trained to quickly pick out the valuables among the clutter, he's frankly not quite sure what each of the things even are.

WW II dummy cartridge
1934 encyclopedia set
half-size scuba helmet reproduction
GE Custom Decorator
mid-80s stereo receiver with turntable
Huge three-armed lamp
Giant schoolroom map of South America

And even when he can figure out what an item is, he's not entirely sure whether it's valuable. He can tell from a glance at a video game console how much he can get at Crazy Larry's pawn shop, where they don't ask questions. But what would a gumball machine be worth? He is not sure that even Larry is that crazy.

More books
Giant beaker
Globe of moon
Standing globe of Earth
Lamp made from a fire extinguisher

Even the things he think might be worth something are so oddly-shaped that it's probably not worth it at all. But he's not sure, because he's never had to price a sarcophagus before. Is it real? Is it haunted? Does that make it worth more?

And the answer is that none of it is worth anything at all. His best bet would be to sell the fire extinguisher lamp for the copper. But he'd have to haul it out of there, and it's heavy and has a lamp on it. Our collection combined is probably worth less than one of my coworker's fanciest guns. He was proud because he could make a criminal salivate. I'm proud to just confuse the heck out of him, to make him stop short and wonder what was the matter with these people.

I am being just as obnoxious as my coworker was. My identity is wrapped up in having weird things, rather than expensive ones. We both think that our stuff says something positive about us. It does, but the stuff probably doesn't say as much as our pride in it does. The best thing is probably just to keep our burglar fantasies to ourselves.

Besides, before the thief would even get to the sarcophagus, the pitbull would find him. He probably knows what to do when he sees one of those.


black friday.

I stopped to fill up in Hickory on Black Friday. Not because we desperately needed gas, but because I wanted a snack. That's something we do, stop for a soda and a candy bar. We always split a mammoth soda, the biggest gulp we can find, and lately we've been getting those Snickers bars that have two small bars within one pack. I filled up the tank while Josh went inside the store.

He came back out, empty-handed. Total failure in procuring snacks.

"What kind of drink do you want?" He seemed distracted.

"Whatever is fine." Usually, we share a Dr Pepper, which is his favorite and my second favorite. But most any drink is fine. I don't like root beer, and he can't abide Mountain Dew, but whoever is filling (and paying) can make the call. I wasn't sure why he bothered going in and coming all the way back out to ask. I was finished with my gas-pumping duties, so I said I'd just go inside with him.

"Okay. I'm going to talk to this guy over here." By "this guy," he meant the homeless person standing at the side of the parking lot next to a suitcase of shiny things for sale. I began to suspect that he was not thinking about snacks at all. What happens inside his head is frequently a mystery to me.

When I came back outside, a giant Dr Pepper and share pack of Snickers in my hands, he was still talking to the guy. Homeless people make me nervous, but it was a magnificent day, and somehow that made me less nervous. No one would rob me (or whatever it is I'm nervous about) on such a nice day. Plus, Josh was talking to the guy. Josh exhibits a kind of openness to other people that I wish I had. I could tell that this was one of those occasions that I should be More Like Josh, so I followed his lead on this one.

A mixed-breed but cared-for puppy was tethered to the suitcase full of wares. A red scooter was parked behind him. From the suitcase hung two things: a business license issued by the city of Hickory, and a cardboard sign asking to help the homeless help themselves. I was no longer nervous. Homeless men with puppies and scooters who pull themselves by their bootstraps are not threatening, especially on such a nice day.

"Hey," Josh smiled when I appeared beside him. "Go ahead and pick one out. I've already paid."

When we drove up, we took the shiny things to be watches. In fact, they were SPOON RINGS.

Let me tell you about spoon rings. They are rings that you wear on your finger, just like any other regular ring. However, they are made from spoon handles, and they feature all the designs that you might find in your silverware drawer. I came across spoon rings in New York City. My friend Sarah took me to a shop that she said I would really like. The whole place was filled with things that were made from other things - motherboard coasters, bike chain picture frames, LP bowls. I wanted to buy pretty much the whole store, because I love things made from other things. I love reusing something for a completely different purpose, I love looking at something common in a totally new light. After carefully examining (and wanting) every single thing in the store, I ended up buying a spoon ring. I paid $20 for it, which is pretty spendy for me, but it was my little souvenir, plus it was a freaking SPOON RING.

I'm not sure that Josh knew that I was already the proud owner of a spoon-turned-ring, though he could hardly have missed my excitement when I saw what was for sale and shrieked "SPOON RINGS!" I'm guessing that the salesman does not have a lot of customers who are familiar with silverware jewelry, but maybe I'm underestimating the good people of Hickory.

So I picked through the rings. I am picky about jewelry. A lot of the rings were too bulky, though I'm sure that made them high-quality spoons. A few had really nice monograms, but not my initial. One had a Holiday Inn engraving, and that one would have been mine forever had it not been so thick. I finally settled on one with simple lines. The shop in New York advertised its wares as being handmade by artisans, but I actually got to meet the maker here.

When Josh had walked up, the guy was selling them 2 for $10; he said he was flat broke. Josh went ahead and gave him $10, hoping that I would go along with it. As we were looking, a trio of college girls came up and started enthusiastically poking through the rings, perhaps encouraged by our presence (and the puppy, the scooter, the nice day). They bought four between them.

We left feeling pretty much awesome. It was truly a gorgeous day, Josh was elated at having done a good thing, and I had a new spoon ring (and a boyfriend who loves his fellow man without judgment). He was also happy that I was happy. I guess somewhere along the way, he got the impression that most girlfriends do not appreciate jewelry made from used silverware by men who live on the street. I'm under the impression that most boyfriends don't go shopping on Black Friday in the parking lot of the RaceTrack. I guess it's good we found each other.



One fine Saturday afternoon last May, I was on my way to the local trash dump site. Since I live just outside the city limits, I do not get trash service. There are companies who will allow me to pay them for this service, but I'm too cheap for that. There are several dump sites scattered throughout the county which are quite convenient. One of them is right on Josh's way to work. That makes it doubly convenient for me, though less so for Josh.

However, on that spring day, Josh was out on tour, which meant that I had to be an independent woman and take my own dang trash out. I was sitting at a stop light on the way, when a red pickup truck turned onto the road ahead of me. It had a trailer, which was hauling some cabinets, an old toboggan (the sled kind), and a windsurfer. Fresh from my successful yard sale day, I thought to myself that he had just come from a really great sale. Then I remembered that most people are not like me, and this guy might well be on his way to the dump, too. And if that was the case, maybe I could pick up someone else's trash while dumping off mine. I continued to sit at the intersection, watching the trailer full of goodies get smaller and smaller as it continued down Aviation Parkway. I cursed my red light luck.

But I guess my secondhand crap luck was with me, because I found myself directly behind him in line at the dump. As soon as we stopped, I jumped out of my car and asked if I could have the sled. He said sure, and he didn't even ask when I was due back at the asylum. He'd picked it up at a flea market for $25 several years ago and seemed happy that it would not be thrown away after all. He asked if I wanted a windsurfer, and I had to tell him no. I showed restraint in not telling him that the local Goodwill would be happy to take it (frankly, I'm not sure that they would, but you should always try).

Saturday afternoons are a busy time at the dump, and the line behind us was building up. I'm sure the person in the SUV behind me sighed with impatience at the crazy lady trying to fit an eight-foot sled into a hatchback. I like to think that his frustration turned into grudging admiration as I closed the door with my rescued item inside. Everywhere I go, it's like I'm filming a commercial for the Honda Fit.

Even after I got the toboggan in the car, I'm sure everyone there was wondering what I was planning to do with it. The previous owner had bought it as a Christmas gift. In fact, it still had a battered red bow on it, because after that jolly Christmas morning, it had sat neglected in his basement for years (next to the windsurfer, probably). I wondered if the recipient had been as enthusiastic as the giver. The sled was a little broken and therefore not useful for its original purpose. It was an eight-foot broken sled. As a Christmas gift. That then sat in the basement for years and years, a sad pathetic symbol of resentment and crappy gift-giving.

Of course, I can relate to the guy who saw the sled at the flea market and immediately knew that He Must Have It. I stalked a stranger to the dump and asked for his trash because I was overcome with the same feeling that I Must Have It. Sometimes you don't know why you like a thing, nor do you know what you will ever do with it, but you know that this right here is what they call an opportunity, and you should take it.

In addition to not knowing why I liked the sled or what I would do with it, I didn't know where I was going to put it. I've mentioned this twice already, but the sled is seriously eight feet tall. I put it on the porch, at first so I could take pictures of it, then because it was out of the way. And there it sat for seven months, barely protected from the weather by overflowing gutters. Every time I saw it, I felt both guilty and stupid. Guilty because it was beautiful and it was wasting away on my watch, stupid because it was ridiculous, and I had no idea what to do with it. Eventually, I would have to load it back into my hatchback and take it back to the dump site. Any sensible person would have left it there in the first place.

That is secondhand failure, folks. I have experienced much of that in my life. Sometimes, things just don't work out. I don't mind so much when it's a sweater or a bowl. But the sled was rare and so beautiful. It is old technology, a piece of very specialized craftsmanship. Someone figured out how to bend boards. Perhaps a Jedi made this sled. You know, one hiding out in Vermont. The sled even had a good story. I saved it from certain doom, a relic lost in a world that didn't know what to do with it. Except I didn't know what to do with it.

Last week, Josh got tired of seeing the sled on the porch, so it actually made it inside the house. We tried a couple of different spots, before finally deciding to rig it up from the railing that prevents people in the second floor hallway from falling into the living room (though they could easily land on the futon). And it sorta worked there. Still feeling productive, I mixed up a bowl of olive oil and lemon juice and I rubbed it on the wood to undo some of the damage done by years in a basement followed by months on a porch. The wood was dry and sad and gray. But trees must love olives and lemons, because the stuff revitalized the sled. It looked like wood again. It still looked old, but like someone actually cared about it. Once the sled was restored, we agreed that it totally worked there. It doesn't match the sarcophagus at all, but that could be the latter's fault. It fits in very well with our overall theme of "Stuff We Like."

And thus I felt redeemed. I had not been crazy to rescue this sled. I had vision.

It's a weird thing, I know. I fully understand that most people would not want it. It looks like something that might hang on the wall at a board shop in the mountains or maybe a ski chalet. Some woman was very, very glad to finally get it out of her basement, even as she enjoyed telling the story of the ridiculous thing her husband gave her one Christmas, isn't that just like him. And I hope that the man was comforted by the fact that he was not the only person in the world who thought an eight-foot wooden toboggan was a great thing to bring home one day. He wasn't crazy at all. He had vision.


many, ten, five.

Too many
I organized my books this week. By that, I mean only the books that I have not yet read. My to-read pile takes up two bookcases, one of them stacked two deep. I am not proud of this. It's very easy to collect books and then not read them.

I have therefore put myself on hold in terms of buying books. I am not allowed, as according to me. Unfortunately, it's also very easy to say that you're not going to buy any books and then do it anyway. Which is how I came home from the Goodwill yesterday with seven books. In my defense, three of them are hardback copies of books that I already own, so I can upgrade my current copies. The other four? Well, they look really good.

Seriously, y'all. No more books.

I have a Wii and about five games to go with it. It doesn't get a whole lot of play in the house, but it's nice to have the option. On Cyber Monday, I bought a copy of Lego Harry Potter for $10. Admittedly, a video game made about a toy line based on a movie that is based on a book series is some ridiculous cross-marketing. But hey, if it's a good game, who cares?

My ten dollars was not wasted. Low-stress, hard to die, lots of things to see and places to explore - these are things I like in a video game. In fact, it seems to be impossible to die. You lose all your life points, but you get a fresh one right away. That is a trend I've noticed in a couple of the other games that I have. You can die, but you have unlimited lives. It's like they want you to keep playing.

Anyway, if I don't get sick of it, I hear the Lego Indiana Jones is pretty fun, too.

I stumbled across a new-to-me retail store. I even went inside! It's called Five Below, and the premise is that everything is less than five dollars. It's basically a dollar store, but it's somehow hipper than Dollars Tree or General. For instance, there was a large wall dedicated to smartphone cases.

It's a fun little store. I'm missing the target demographic by about fifteen years, but I'll probably be returning before too long to grab a couple of stocking stuffers. I read recently that dollar stores are doing quite well right now, what with the lousy economy. That's A-OK with me. Widespread acceptance of frugality is maybe the silver lining of the recession.



The Rex Hospital Blood Services sends out the Bloodmobile to my office park every once in a while to ask us all to roll up our business casual shirt sleeves to save a life or three. I am always eager to give blood, both for the warm mushy feeling it gives me and also for the free snacks at the end. As an extra incentive, if you give blood during the month of December, you get a special Christmas ornament that you can take home and treasure forever. These ornaments are nice pewter medallions. On the front is a scene from "The Twelve Days of Christmas," while the back says "REX" and the year.

They've been doing the "Twelve Days" theme awhile, because the one I got this morning has eight maids-a-milking on it. Well, actually, it has women in bonnets and aprons carrying pails. We are assume that they just back from their a-milking, rather than believing them to be just back from a-mopping or a-fire-out-putting. Also, there are only seven, because it's hard to fit eight women in a little space. The eighth one must be short and behind all the others, or maybe she just had a full cow. One additional limitation of the medium means that the maids are all quite homely, if not outright deformed, as if the cows have kicked them in the face more than once.

All that complaining aside, I was very excited to receive my ornament. I got the swans-a-swimming last year, so I am actually collecting the set. Now, I know that's just what they want. They dangle a matching set of ornaments in front of me like a but-wait-there's-more offer on an infomercial, just to get me in the door so they can take my blood. It's very devious, and I hate to think that I am falling into that trap. But I was going to give blood anyway, just because I like to do it. Also, saving others with my precious donated life force is different than buying a SlapChop at 3 in the morning.

Unfortunately, I didn't even move to Raleigh until after they'd started the "Twelve Days" ornament gift, so I missed my opportunity to get several. My set will never be complete, and there is nothing sadder than eight (or seven) maids-a-milking without three french hens.


Last year, I found two other Twelve Days ornaments at thrift stores in the area. So some people out there are giving blood, but for some reason do not care for the highly collectible pewter keepsakes. So, I bought them. I added the golden rings and the partridge to my set. I paid for them with cold hard cash, rather than warm flowing blood. And I feel a little guilty about that, like I didn't earn them. I imagined someone coming into my house and accusing me of fraud. No, I did not give blood to Rex Hospital in December of 2008. But I've given blood a bunch of other times when there was no seasonal gift. Can't I just transfer my March 2010 donation to that December so I can say that I have a legitimate right to the fifth day of Christmas?

It's a silly thing to worry about.


viola jokes.

We used to have a guy named David working at my company. He was a funny guy in a lot of ways, for example, he knew a lot of jokes about viola players.

Q: How do you know when a violist is playing out of tune?
A: The bow is moving!

I get it, but I just don't know any violists, so the joke doesn't resonate with me. What's the fun of cracking jokes about a group of people when you don't know a representative? David himself played the violin, and I think his twin brother played the viola. So I guess it's funny if you look at it that way. My viola knowledge is nil, but I know a thing or two about sibling rivalry.

Besides his obscure stringed instrument humor, David always used to take advantage of our monthly company lunch. He would bring in plastic containers, sometimes cleaned-up take-out containers from a previous company lunch. After everyone had finished eating and gone back to their desks to try and work on too-full stomachs, he would go into the kitchen and fill those plastic containers with free leftovers. Then he took them home, where I presume he and his family made a dinner out of it. I never got the impression that it was out of need; that was just something he did. Of course, we all made fun of it. Maybe it's the high testosterone levels, but you'll get teased for pretty much anything here. Some people probably did think it was weird or would be embarrassed to do it. Leftovers are for poor people, I guess. I was not raised to think that way. I was raised by a woman who used to collect all the soda cans from her workplace and then turn them in for money.

And then David left and we couldn't make fun of him anymore. I mean, we still mentioned it on company lunch days. "Someone call David, his dinner is ready!" The thing is, I never realized that when David went to get his leftovers, he also cleaned up the mess, too. Who has been doing it since he left? I suppose the cleaning staff takes care of it, but I bet they just toss it, no matter how much lo mein is left. Basically, we were making fun of him for being prudent and also cleaning up after us. Man, people are jerks.

This afternoon, a company lunch day, I passed through the kitchen on the way to the bathroom. And the food was still sitting there on the tables where we had left it. It was near the end of the day, so most people had already gone home. Food waste makes me sad inside, so I did the right thing and took care of it, while grumbling only a little. Clean-up consisted of throwing away empty containers, consolidating the half-empty containers, and packaging up the leftovers and putting them away in the fridge, where come Monday lunchtime, a couple of people would be happy to find them there. Some people think that leftovers are perfectly acceptable, but they wouldn't think to take them home. Then I wiped down the tables, even though the cleaning staff probably would have done that.

As I was cleaning up, I found a couple of smaller empty containers. And then somehow, they weren't empty, but filled with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I mean, it was silly to save three (okay, five) measly rangoons and one little spring roll. Might as well take some of this beef with vegetables, too. Before I knew it, I had a nice little dinner all ready to be reheated. I suppose they'll start making fun of me, now. Whatever. Free dinner!