Commerce

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Several times, I have been advised that the way one is happiest in one's job is to try to make money doing something you love to do anyway. I've steadily ignored this advice, since the one time I tried to make money doing what I loved (writing for a newspaper, in this case), it was disastrous. I ended up not loving it anymore, and it hasn't been worth it to me to try again, since I'm not willing to lose anymore passions.

Until now.

Another piece of advice I've gotten more than once is that I should become a personal shopper, since I love to shop, especially for other people, and can often find good deals on things and spot cool things other people miss. This advice has also been met with resistance, as I've said that anyone who can afford to employ a personal shopper is going to want to shop for things that are beyond my interest and shop at stores I'm not comfortable setting foot in. Nobody, I've said numerous times, wants a personal thrift shopper.

Except maybe they do, because that is what a lot of Ebay is--personal thrift shoppers. People who buy things at thrift stores and garage sales and resell them for a profit on Ebay. I knew this before, of course, but never did it myself, because I could never figure out how buying something for $5 at the Goodwill and selling it for $7 on Ebay would be worth the time.

And then last week I discovered the Goodwill bins, where all items of clothing are $1.25. Buy something for $1.25 and sell it for $7 and there might just be enough profit in it to make it worthwhile. And so I set out, for only the second time, trying to make a profit doing something I love...

I've opened an Ebay store, Your Personal Thrift Shopper. Right now, it's very heavy on clothes for babies and toddlers, because that's what I've had the best luck with finding at the bins, and because I've gotten a lot of wonderful advice on what brands, etc. are good for resale in that department. However, I'm keeping statistics of how much I put into things and what they sell for, and I'll be trying to tailor my thrifting (and therefore inventory) to meet whatever is in demand. That being said, if you have a size or item you'd like me to keep my eye out for, just drop me an email.

I'm sure, given discussions I've had here and elsewhere before, that there is going to be some flak headed my way for trying to profit off thrift shopping. It has been suggested to me that someone in my income bracket is somehow "cheating" by even shopping at thrift stores, much less buying low there with the intention of selling high(er). I've got to tell you, though, I've given it a lot of thought, and I see nothing to feel bad about. The stores in my area are stocked to the gills--there is no shortage of stuff to thrift. And the bins is the last stop pre-dumpster for most of this stuff, so buying it, even to resell, is keeping it out of a landfill, which I'm all for. Also, if it doesn't sell, and some of it surely won't, I'll either give it away or give it back to the Goodwill, so it's not like now that I'm selling things I'm going to stop giving. When someone buys something off Ebay that they could have thrifted themselves, what they are paying for is the time and effort it took the person who found, listed, and sold that item to do so. And I think that's a skill worth paying for. My time has value, and if this can draw that value out of the time I spend thrifting, then I don't think that hurts anybody. Much--even most--of what we pay others to do is stuff we could do ourselves, or could learn to do ourselves, and I don't see how this is any different. Just like anything else, thrifting can be a service.

So, if you are in the market for thrifted stuff, without having to dig through the piles yourself, keep an eye on my store. The stock should change often, as I thrift often, and as I said before, I'm happy to do what I can to fill special requests, just let me know.

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Not in my name

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Not in my name, not on my ground
I want nothing but the ending of the war
No more killing, or it's over
And the mystery won't matter anymore

-K. Kristofferson, "In The News"

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. I just lay there and stared at the clock, watching it count down to a new day, the first day of spring. And watching it count down to the appointed hour at which the government of my adopted state, presuming to speak for me, would, with legal and social sanction, murder one of its citizens.

I thought about turning on the radio to listen for news of a last-minute stay of execution, but I didn't, because I knew there wouldn't be one. And there wasn't. Texas killed a man last night, Charles Anthony Nealy. He was the 9th person executed by the state this year.

If you want to read the particulars of the case, they are all over the web. Dallas and Houston's morning papers both ran the AP story this morning. In bare bones terms, Nealy was convicted of shooting a storeowner during a robbery in 1997 and sentenced to death. Nealy has never admitted taking part in the robbery or killing the victim. He was supposed to be executed last November, but got a stay due to a witness in his trial contending that his testimony had been wrong. The Texas Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and the murder was rescheduled for last night.

As a Texan, or really as an American of any variety, one gets a bit used to one's government carrying out atrocities in the name of the citizenry. No matter how many times it happens, though, I just can't get used to this. It is surreal to the point of seeming impossible that I really live in a place where the government regularly and publicly murders my fellow citizens and nobody cares. I can think of all manner of different arguments against it when I am thinking logically, trying to argue with someone about why the death penalty is such a very bad idea. I can cite the racism, the classism, the possibility of a mistake leading to the execution of an innocent person, the expense of the system. When I'm lying in bed at night, though, it all comes down to being completely floored that anyone can think that the intentional taking of a human life by the state is acceptable. Killing is wrong, and it is even more wrong for a government than for a person. It is a subversion of everything governments are supposed to do for their citizens. It does not keep us safe, it provides us with no collective service and contributes nothing to the collective good. It gives no hand up to the less fortunate among us. It does nothing but exact vengeance upon the weak (a single individual, in this case) by the strong (the state apparatus). And every time it happens, we are all the worse for it.

I'd like to find some silver lining to this dark cloud, but there really isn't one. A few weeks ago, I heard Sister Helen Prejean on the radio, and she seemed so positive, citing statistics that showed the number of executions, even in the South, was going down, and that people's tolerance for government sanctioned murder was waning. I can't find her optimism today, though. In less than three months, my state has executed nine people. Last night, in the first hours of spring, they--no, we--executed a black man who may or may not have met the legal definition of mental retardation days before his 43rd birthday. The dark, bleak winter stretches out before us, and there is no spring in sight.

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goodwillbluehanger.jpg916 Springdale Road
Austin, TX 78702
512-928-8832

Store Hours
Mon-Sun: 8:00am - 8:00pm

I have not always been a great thrift shopper. I started thrifting in high school, but I had a much different attitude about it then than I do now. Then, it was about getting more clothes for cheaper, and about finding the kind of clothes I couldn't find in "regular" stores (sadly, I was a more creative dresser in high school and early in college than I am now). At a size 10 or 12, thrifting was easy, and I never had to get particularly good at it.

As I got a little bit older and a lot fatter, thrifting for clothes for myself became more difficult, but I never stopped liking to thrift, and in fact got more into it in college and after. This was for two reasons. The first is that, being on my own, I started seeing the value in thrifting for non clothes--for a long time, when I was most frustrated with my body, I thrifted only for books and housewares, and a large percentage of what is in my house is thrifted. The second thing, though, was that I started to really like to thrift for thrift's sake--going through other people's old stuff was just fun, regardless of whether I find something that works for me or not. And that, I think, is what makes me a good thrifter.

And my mind, the way you know a good thrifter is by what she can do at the bins.

To walk down memory lane again, I grew up with good thrift mentors. My mom isn't much of a secondhand shopper, just because she isn't much of a shopper of any kind and she lacks patience and willingness to spend hours going through stuff. My mom's next eldest sister, however, is a master. She calls it junking, rather than thrifting, and no store is too nasty, too crowded, or too full of crap for her. So, of course, it was with her that I went to Portland's bins.

The bins, for those who aren't familiar with the terms, are the place where the stuff that doesn't sell or isn't deemed salable from a chain of thrift stores (Goodwill or Salvation Army, in my experience) goes to die. The term "bins" comes from the fact that the stuff isn't sorted or on shelves or racks, but rather just dumped on large tables or in "bins" for patrons to sort through. In the case of the one I went to with my aunt in Portland, said stuff is then sold by the pound.

And y'all, I couldn't handle it. It was early in college when I went, and I was overwhelmed, grossed out, and scared that I'd reach into a bin and pull out a hypodermic needle or something. I just couldn't do it. And I haven't been to a bins store since then.

Until today...

In Austin, the Goodwill bins is called the Blue Hanger Discount Store. Stuff there isn't sold by the pound, but it's significantly cheaper than regular Goodwill prices (for example, clothes are $1.25 per item, books are $.50, etc.). The layout is just like I remember the store in Portland being--a big warehouse room of tables piled high with stuff. Not really sorted, other than clothes in one area, books in a second, and everything else in a third, and not very clean. Sorta smelly and questionable.

In all that silt, though, there is gold.

gwbinshaul.jpgAt left, you will see my haul. Total spent? A bit less than $20 (cat not included). For real.

This is what you're seeing in the picture:
A brand new cat scratching post, $3
A beautiful wicker sewing basket, $2
A stuffed snake (my dogs LOVE them), $1
Two wide mouth mason jars (I use them to hold bath salts, scrub, etc.), $.25 each
A burlap, plastic-lined reusable grocery bag with an organic coffee logo, $2
2 pairs of Banana Republic slacks for Mark, both in good shape, $1.25 each
A cool old-fashioned style bandana, $.25
A velvet bolero jacket/shrug/fancy cover up thing from Lane Bryant, $1.25
A red flowered Gap cami with built in bra, $1.25
A gorgeous black embroidered blouse from Lane Bryant, $1.25
Two pairs of capris for me, one Tommy Hilfiger, one Gap, $1.25 each
A fully lined black Le Suit suit skirt for me, $1.25 (which doesn't fit, unfortunately)
TOTAL: $18.75 plus tax

So, needless to say, I am LOVING the Blue Hanger Discount Store.

However, there is a caveat: if you don't actually like to thrift, don't bother with the bins. Seriously, it's not worth it. The prices are great, but this is a thrifting marathon. You have to dig through A LOT of shit to get to the good stuff. And some of it is nasty. I'm not just talking about seeing other people's old underwear, here, either--I'm talking about seeing other people's old potty chairs, vibrators, dentures, and syringes, and none of it being clean. And having to dig through it with your own two hands. It ain't pretty. I saw one woman there with gloves on, and she clearly had the right idea. There are no dressing rooms, but I wouldn't try this stuff on without washing it even if there were. There are no returns or exchanges, either--you buy it, it's yours.

Also, if you have a lack of patience, don't bother with the bins. This trip took me about two and a half hours. The stuff there is 90% crap, at least, and you have to get through it all to find the good stuff. It takes time.

If you are a small size, though (anything below a 12 I'd say) and have a good bit of patience and a strong stomach, you could practically re-outfit yourself here for not much money at all. And don't skip the non-clothes, either--I found some wonderful stuff in the junk bins, and if I had kids to buy for, I'd have really been in heaven. The only real loser section is the books, and I might just be thinking that because I had to see books thrown around in bins like that.

All in all, the Blue Hanger has to be the most rewarding thrift experience I've had in Austin. It's going to be my new go-to store.

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Sounds like we're fostering right breed!

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ORLANDO, Fla. --A 17-pound beagle named Belle is more than man's best friend. She's a lifesaver. Belle was in Washington, D.C., on Monday to receive an award for biting onto owner Kevin Weaver's cell phone to call 911 after the diabetic Ocoee man had a seizure and collapsed.

Heh. Awesome! Go here for the rest.

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Halleluja

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As I think I've mentioned before, I am a big, big fan of Leonard Cohen's song, "Halleluja." In fact, if I had to pick a #1 favorite song, that would probably be it. As such, I'm a sucker for a decent cover of it (the Dresden Dolls do a great one, as does k.d. lang). My expatted-to-Norway friend S. just sent me a link to a Norweigan group doing it, which she'd seen on TV. You should give it a watch/listen. It's goddamn brilliant.

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Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules

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herculesaudio.jpgedited by David Sedaris
Simon & Schuster Ltd, August 1, 2005
Audiobook, abridged

As a big fan of David Sedaris, let me just say that I am very very glad he has not been able to better emulate his writing heroes. Because for a very talented storyteller, the man has appalling taste in stories.

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules is a Sedaris-edited short story collection. Sedaris makes clear in the book's introduction that these are stories by authors he particularly loves, and that he aims to be as great as he thinks they are. Oh dear.

The version I listened to is abridged--quite abridged, actually. It only contains five of the 17 stories included in the print version. The first story, Patricia Highsmith's "Where the Door Is Always Open and the Welcome Mat Is Out" (read by Cherry Jones) is one of the dullest 45 minutes I have ever spent. A plodding account of a neurotic middle-aged woman preparing for a a visit from her judgmental sister, the story seems to be intended to be farcical, but it's just. not. funny. I ended up with no feeling for either of the two characters, no laughs, no thoughts, and mainly amazing relief when it was finally over.

On the other end of the book is "Cosmopolitan," by Akhil Sharma (read by the author), and it similarly dragged and irritated me. It's the story of a newly separated Indian-American man who falls in love with his neighbor, and again I felt nothing but distaste for the characters and there wasn't actually any plot with which to get involved. Bah.

The only high point of the audio collection was Mary-Louise Parker's reading of Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried." A brief interlude into the life of a young woman watching her best friend die, the story is well-written and completely heartbreaking, and Parker's reading is excellent (better, even, than the reading Sedaris himself does of a silly story about a substitute teacher, "Gryphon," by Charles Baxter).

I like David Sedaris. I like short stories, especially in audio format. I was really, really excited about this little collection. So it's difficult to admit how much it sucked, but it really, really did. The print version may well be better (though it really seems to me that short stories are meant to be read aloud), as it includes some stories I know are of higher quality, including "The Girl with the Blackened Eye" by Joyce Carol Oates and "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor, as well as an afterward by Sarah Vowell. However, I was so put off by this sampling I probably won't pick it up to see.

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PSA: Paperbackswap.com

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Through murmurings on a message board, I recently discovered something so great I have to share it here: Paperbackswap.com. The premise is fairly simple--you join up, then list books you have (don't have to be paperbacks, can also be hardcovers or even audio) that are in good shape, but you want to get rid of. These books get listed on the site, and when someone wants one of them, the system emails you and lets you know. You send it to them them. When they get it, they log in and tell the system, and then you are issued a credit, which you can use to order another book from someone else. Simple enough. As a bonus, you get three credits when you list your first nine or more books, even before anybody requests any of them.

It's fantastic! Media mail shipping isn't expensive (usually $1.59 for a regular sized paperback), so you can fairly cheaply get rid of your old reading material and get new stuff. The selection is good, if not great. If you were a genre fiction or series reader (can you feel me judging you?), it would be really great--the site is full of Harlequin romances and those westernish Christianish series. But even if you're more like a me, a just-about-anything reader with a focus on Oprah's book club type novels (can I feel you judging me now?), there's a lot to choose from. Plus it has a feature where you can "wish list" books you are looking for, then if anyone adds them, the system gives you right of first refusal on them. Excellent.

Also, if you happen to have active readers for children (more young adult than little kids), I think it would be great to get them into it. The site is full of the type of kids' books I consumed like candy when between the ages of about 8 and 13. Babysitters Club, Lemony Snickett, Harry Potter, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry...it would be great for a kid to have an account all his/her own, to swap books via U.S. Mail with others like him/her all over the country. I would have LOVED that.

I don't think there is any bonus for signing up new members, so you don't have to tell 'em I sent you, but if you're a reader who isn't 100% library (I know, I know...), definitely check it out.

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Not Shopping, Day 17

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So the not shopping? It's gotten pretty easy. But that might be because of the cheating.

Actually, though, I don't think it is. I haven't been shopping for recreational purposes, and I haven't really wanted to. I did go and buy some fabric so my mom could make me some summer shirts, but that had to be done sooner rather than later, as she needs time to sew, and I didn't buy anything extra. I also ordered some spring shoes, but that was just as a return for some other shoes I sent back (and I netted money on the deal). So those are "cheats," but not really in spirit.

If the idea is to stop having shopping be recreational, I think I'm improving. I've been doing well with finding other things to do with my time (it helps that it has been an extremely busy couple of weeks). I am able to see more and more clearly the difference between things I want and things I need (cute jewelry is a want, reasonable shoes to wear to work all summer is a need). These are steps in the right direction, and I feel good about them.

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Today

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I'm fairly to very irritated about all number of things today. However, today's dog-of-the-day calendar page helped. A lot.

wolfhound.jpg

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My apologies

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If you have been commenting and your comments haven't been showing up on the blog, I apologize. For some reason, I missed publishing a whole passel of comments last week and just now saw them. I should be all caught up. I promise I'll pay better attention in the future--I really love it when people comment on my posts.

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More bath product reviews

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I'm so behind! I have been finding time to take baths, but I guess I haven't been finding time to write about them.

figsandleaves.jpgFirst, I have to give props to a Lush product, even though I hate them now. I recently tried Lush's Figs & Leaves soap for the first time (it was from an old order and I didn't realize I still had it until I found it while looking for something else). It is excellent. It smells great and it's really, really moisturizing. I found the bits of fresh fig sticking to the outside of it kind of nasty, but they peeled right off. It's a little bit exfoliating, but not too much. I just love it. Too bad my $7.25 bar has lasted like five showers.

On to happier subjects, I've tried products from a couple more of Lush's competitors. Given that I was so excited about the independent nature of some of the places I'd found online, I decided to dig even farther down into indie businesses and see if I could find some good stuff coming out of somebody's kitchen or something. So I hit Etsy and started browsing around, eventually making orders from three shops (note that this was before the whole not shopping thing). Two of those orders have arrived and been tested, and here's what I think:

Blue Wool Organics

Run by a young woman in my home town of Portland, this shop makes body butters, bath bombs, hand salves and (oddly) candy. The products are made without dyes and using only organic materials, and everything is vegan unless stated otherwise. I placed an order for one of the 12 oz giant bath bombs ($4.95), with a "be calm" dead sea salt, lavender, and peppermint blend; two regular 6 oz bath bomb ($4.50) in the cherry lemonade scent, and a Valentine's Day special 12-back of tiny fruit-scented "bath fizzies" ($4.95). As the stock is ever-changing, none of these products are in the store right now.

My order came quickly and was mercifully low on excess shipping paper and junk that would just have to be thrown away. The enclosed note told me that the proprietess was out of the smaller cherry bath bombs I'd ordered, so she enclosed two of the giant size instead (score for me!). Unfortunately, the bare-bones wax paper packaging didn't do much to protect the product, and the two cherry lemonade bath bombs were pretty much smashed. No problem, I poured them into a jar and used them anyway.

The products are nice, with no additives or non-organic shit in them. They make for nice soft water, and the scents are soothing and not artificial. The cherry lemonade scent is particularly pleasant. However, the all-natural scents fade very fast, and I felt like I needed to use a greater amount of the Blue Wool Organics bath bombs than I did of other similar products (for example, the 12 oz bombs are only good for two baths, when I would have expected three). Also, shipping costs were very hefty, with my $14.48 worth of products costing $11.25 to ship. I probably won't order again.

Rainforest Soap Shack

bath_blasters_new_LRG.gif
My order from the Ontario-based Rainforest Soap Shack took a bit longer than the Blue Wool Organics order to arrive, but it was very worth the wait. This shop offers a great deal, a half dozen of what they call bath blasters (4 oz one-bath bath bombs) for $15.00 (they also sell individually for $2.99 each). They can even be all different scents, and there's a long list to choose from. The blasters are fizzy and moisturizing, made of dead sea and epsom salts, sweet almond oil, and shea butter. I doubt the colors or all of the scents are natural, but the one I tried last night, Grandma's Kitchen, was a perfect mix of vanilla and spices that made me feel like I was bathing in a pie.

As a bonus with my order, which came well wrapped and labeled, I got small samples of this Pretty in Pink soap and great-smelling body whip, as well as a cute rubber ducky. Shipping on the $15 order was $8, making the whole parcel very cost-effective for this kind of thing. I'll quite likely be ordering again.

The third shop from which I ordered, Downtown Bath and Soap, hasn't sent my order yet. Or rather they have, but they for some reason got it back. Damn postal service. Anyway, they emailed me about it and were very apologetic, and said they'll include some freebies and mail it again. I can't wait!

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March giving

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For March, my donation dollars are going to Austin Parks Foundation. We take our boys to a city dog park nearly every weekend, so the least I can do is show my support by becoming a member of the park foundation. It's only good sense.

How are the parks where you are? Do you use them? Support them?

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Hey, I'm over here!

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I have a new post up today on Heroine Content. Check it out?

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