curb appeal – curb shopping like a pro

I confess to being one of those folks who stop and check out curb furniture.  I bought a very small house and none of the furniture I already owned fit inside.  If you are open to it, the universe will suddenly throw a lot of choices in your path, not just from thrift stores but free things and curb rescues will appear everywhere.  I had to make some ‘rules’ about what I absolutely needed and what I am allowed to drag home.

Here are some rules of thumbs for curb shopping.

  • Keep a list of what you are actually looking for. Just because it’s on the curb doesn’t mean YOU need to take it home. Unless you are rehabbing items for resale or donation to those in need; if you don’t need it, leave it for someone else who may.  This isn’t just good karma… but it is VERY easy to end up with a lot of collected items and no homes for them.  If I pick up something for someone else, I don’t even remove it from the car, I take it straight to their home as soon as I can.
  • Make a thorough examination ON the spot. Unless there is dangerous traffic, take a good look at the piece, open it up, flip it over, check it’s sturdiness. Most of the time it will need SOME repair, otherwise it wouldn’t be on the curb. But know what you are getting into before you make a commitment to it.  Look for infestation or mildew…take a sniff.
  • Be prepared to properly dispose of it.  Which means don’t drag home something that you are going to have to pay to get rid of. You may discover it’s bigger than you thought, or it has more unseen problems.  If it is still a usable item you can donate it.  If it is NOT… in the case of a leather chair I tried to drag home and discovered it was the ‘dog chair’ and had to sneak it back in front of the house in the dead of night…or early sunday morning when no one is awake yet and aren’t likely to call the cops.
  • Have a suitable place to rehab things.  In good weather, you can just do it outside before you bring it into your home.  Sanding and painting is not something you want to do in the living room….you can get away with it in a larger kitchen because it’s easier to clean the surfaces. Spray painting should not be done in living spaces, trust me on this.
  • Hoard hardware like a crazy person.  Any time you see something actually IN the trash or before you put something out for collection, strip it of hinges, handles, knobs, casters and gliders from the bottoms of the feet.  Replacing handles and a coat of paint can transform most pieces and give it another career.
  • Keep a collection of paints, primers and finishes at hand.  You may not want to invest a lot of time and effort into renewing a piece if you have to spend a lot of money on materials. But if you have stuff already purchased then it’s an easy decision.  It will also help keeps you from putting a piece aside for rehabilitation “when I get around to it.” This way madness lies.
  • Be prepared to undo other people’s repairs. This may sometimes be worse than starting with a damaged item.  Usually it’s a brush coat of latex that needs to be sanded, or a sloppy glue repair.  Remember this is on the curb which means it started IN the house and worked its way down to the basement and then probably to the garage before all the way out to the curb.  Watch out for water damage, check the bottoms.  Standing water will make plywood and fiberboard swell and break down and actual wood will warp.

I just adopted another small curb item. I am always looking for vintage children’s sized furniture, which will be smaller than adult sized and made of solid wood so it will be repairable.   I regret not taking more before pictures or lousy pictures entirely but I hadn’t realized I was going to share this project I just wanted to get it into service as quick as possible.

It is solid hardwood, not a high-grade piece, just something from a department store from mid 20th century. Age and atmospheric moisture caused the plywood back to break down, but that’s an easy fix.  Nearly anything can be used for the back, even a piece of paneling. but you DO need the back to keep the item square, without it, the corners stress and get loose.  I just happened to have a bundle of cheap pine wainscoting I picked up Goodwill for $2 without an immediate use. I cut the pieces to fit and used a plastic mallet to assemble it. I didn’t even glue it but I may throw a brad or two on the edges.


My personal aesthetic is to paint all my mismatched pieces with White Gloss paint.  This helps unify them in my cluttered tiny house and makes them easy to wipe down and touch up when then need it.  First I sanded down someone elses paint job which had a lot of brush texture.  Since it was originally sold painted and I was going to spray it, there was no reason to strip it.  Pieces originally sold painted, look like crap when you strip them, the wood grains don’t match.  Two cans of paint with primer should cover most things up to a large bureau. Rustoleum also makes a paint line that will cover metals and plastics.  My personal preference is for 1 light spray coat, then a second thicker coat, a light sand with 1200 grit then a final gloss coat.  If the piece isn’t that bad you may get away with just washing the paint job it already has.

It dried pretty quickly and I moved it into place on the same day.  The top is smooth and white, but I have cats, so I threw a piece of oak on top to protect it.  (the piece of oak was a pristine sewing machine top I found at the dump)  the only thing that is making my teeth grate, are the handles.  Those are the handles it came with, I don’t have 8 replacements yet.  My personal choice are vintage bin pulls which I also paint with white enamel. Because the vintage ones screw in from the front, they will cover the holes from previous handles. But that’s something I will fix later.

With minimal investment in curb found furniture, you can have pieces to use until you find something you really love.  No one needs to know you got it off a curb  unless you tell them.  Me? I tell everybody.   Because my house is so small, sometimes you gotta make do. I put this bookcase on top of this half size dresser to give me a make shift hutch. Which works perfectly for my purposes. I have only seen one REAL vintage hutch in this half size…and that’s now in my kitchen.   Overall I think the pieces I have collected are pretty good and anything I that didn’t work out I put on my own curb.

A true egg story

Sandy is an avian American found street walking at night in a lesser part of Sanford Maine. Now she is the grande dame of a small but productive multi-ethnic flock, doing her part to encourage the other hens as they labor.

Let me go back to the beginning: Over a year ago I was visiting my brand new pair of mothers I had just gotten when I found Sandy trying to cross the street at night. No that’s not far enough, let me go back to the VERY beginning . . . there once was an egg, who met a sperm, and they made a zygote. But the egg and sperm were still in high school and the zygote became a blastocyst that would need shoes for the next 225 months. As this was the dark ages of Camelot, the Catholic church got to draw a name of of a hat of a pious yet childless couple and present them with a bouncing demon puddle splasher whose first and only word was NO. Are we far enough back yet?

Flip forward through 53 years punctuated by death, detention, depression and divorce until the Catholics finally offer up my address for an outrageous price to my only non-mother blood relation. Using their outdated and inaccurate mother-data provided me and my incredible stalking superpowers, I managed to locate my biomoms address in less than an hour. Of all the US states in all the world, my biomom had married a woman from Maine and they had moved to less than an hour away from where I would eventually make landfall. Being the instant gratification brat that I am, in lieu of sending them a cablegram, I drove to their house and rang the doorbell. <insert family reunion montage here> Very quickly my dance card went from zero to sixty, with biosiblings and aunts and non bio siblings and other extended relations yielding a Marvel universe worthy family tree.

Back to Sandy…remember Sandy? Every few weeks I take a run over to my mothers’ house to bang some yarn and stock up on eggs. One night coming back I find Sandy wandering around in the bike lane at an intersection. After corraling her into a collapsible cat carrier, I brought her back to my mother’s hen house. With her trimmed beak and wing feathers, she had obviously escaped from a truck taking her to no place good. It took a few weeks of rest and ‘recooperation’ for her to join her new flock where there are no expectations for her to take part in the production aside from moral support. Although every so often she pops out an egg just to prove she still has what it takes.

i knit therefore i am

What did YOU do in the most recent blizzard? I managed to knit a pair of handwarmers. I have done plenty of socks which are more complicated but I only recently learned how to do thumbs. These are still wonky, but if they are like socks, but the time I do number 5 and and 6 they will be a lot better. (yes they LOOK fine, but the place where the thumb joins the hand, is untidy)

On Day Number THREE I had already fallen off this year’s frugality wagon when I stopped at the Local Yarn Store and ended up walking out with a couple of skeins of grey baby alpaca. I was going to start on another pair of socks as I had another two skeins in the wings. I am fixated on this red sock yarn which I have to buy everytime, but I like the way they feel and look. Each pair costs me about $20 in yarn. If I were to BUY a similar pair it would be about $20+. So there’s not much savings there. But these actually fit properly and are better than I can buy.

I need to start using up more of the yarn I already have, I am just not a creative knitter. I’m a subsistence knitter, I just create usable things. I know I can never create things that are as beautiful or complicated as the ones I can buy. I am very happy with the sweaters that I own and right now I don’t feel the urge to waste a lot of yarn trying to make one.  But if I can turn out a few plain scarves, shawls, handwarmers and socks, then I will never need to buy those things.  After I master handwarmers, I am going to do some hats, that should keep me busy. The first thing I will need to do is repair the one I bought that my dog found pretty tasty.

I will say this, I am getting pretty speedy, the handwarmers only took me one knitting day each. A knitting day is one where its snowing too much for me to bother doing anything else


I got it into my head to learn to make English meat pies. I haven’t had any from Thwaites Market in Methuen in a very long time and had a hankering. Not to mention I have been watching a LOT of British television lately, perhaps it is a side effect.  I bought some meat and veg and made sure I had plenty of flour and lard.  I think one of the reasons I like to cook British foods is that it rarely calls for a rare ingredient.

The first batch stuck close to traditional recipes of Raised pork pies and Cornish Pastys, I even tried a few cheese and onion.  But I am not a fan of pork as such and I may have to revisit those with a more sausage flavored profile.  But the Cheese and Onion without potato is something I liked very much, with potato it is more like a knish and less like a quiche.  When I restock the Cheddar cheese I will make more.

Recipes and I don’t get along very well, I am always making alterations based on what’s handy and personal preference. Traditional Cornish Pasty has large bits of beef, minimal seasoning and is a large entree sized portable pie. I prefer the snack sized, I also prefer smaller bits of beef, carrots and less turnip, and more seasoning, basically I don’t like large pieces to fall out after every bite.

Final result of this weekend’s baking is that this is my favorite variation on the British Meat pie, and one I will continue to make in the coming year.  Inside this is minced beef, carrots, turnip (rutabega), potato, and onion, all diced small, parsley, salt & pepper (I use my own mix of salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder) and a sprinkling of flour.

The key to it all is the pastry. 1 lb flour, 4oz butter, 4oz lard, salt to taste, and several tablespoons of hot water to form a dough. Paint everything with beaten egg to get things to stick shut and glaze nicely, this makes a great portable and tasty crust. And yes you need the lard, I even rub all my tins down with it so they don’t get rusty.
Bake 45-50 minutes in 350-400 degree oven; my counter top oven runs slow so your results may vary.

where’d it all go?

Every year I look at the things I bought, most of them were just to make myself happy.  Sometimes they were to replace things that I couldn’t live without, a lot of them were to fix or create other things. Since I buy very few actually NEW things, and almost always from Amazon or Ebay,  it is easy to see what I bought.  Everything else I acquire is from thrift shops or rarely Craigslist. Surprisingly this year, a lot of things I purchased were ones I really didn’t need but thought I did at the time. I also bought a lot of ‘just in case’ things which I apparently don’t need either.  Yeah this was a bad year in comparison to other years, I mostly blame the very bad job that I had, I was spending the extra pay wastefully, probably just to keep from killing people at work. I also took up backpacking\hiking and bought a ‘new’ car which led me down a path to acquire appropriate accessories.

I kept trying used hiking clothing made of all the new and improved fabrics for hiking clothing and finally threw in the towel and redonated the entire lot. I just can’t wear anything made of polyester next to my skin. I bit the bullet and bought a merino t-shirt (although I found a $50 shirt for $20!) I can’t wear it in summer as they claim, but it’s fine for the rest of the year. I will usually only buy clothes on ebay after I have failed to find something I really want in thrift shops. At $50 this Aran Merino hoodie was probably the most expensive item of clothing I bought this year, I also picked up some merino lounge pants and a lightweight merino hoodie at $20 each, both needing light repairs – I write all the woolen purchases off as ‘heating’ expenses. I didn’t buy as MUCH yarn this year as other years, though I did stop knitting in the summer when the weather got sticky. I am going to TRY to use up the yarn cache under the bed, including sweaters I bought specifically to unravel for their yarn.  I wasted at least $60 buying ‘hiking’ socks which I loathe, so I finally mastered knitting my own socks. I may have to add to my needle collection next year, and move onto other things.

This year I replaced the Microwave, the Tea kettle, my watch and finally the Bluray player which had died over a year ago, it was either replace it or sell the last of the bluray discs. On the bright side I have sold off so much of my media collection I am down to just the stuff I really love. I did end up rebuying a few discs I had already sold off.  But I rarely buy them new unless they are as cheap as used.

After going 5 days without power I FINALLY ordered the Mr Heater, which had been sitting on my wishlist for like 3 years. It would have been $20 cheaper if I had picked it up in summer, but I was playing chicken with the climate. Hopefully I won’t actually NEED to unbox it . . . ever. I also picked up a butane stove which I am using regularly instead of the hotplate. It takes way less energy and fits nicely in the cupboard. 

From Craigslist I picked up a dehydrator for less than half price, I was getting a little sick of throwing squash into the compost pile because I wasn’t eating it fast enough. It is also one of those things that if I don’t use it next year I can resell it. I also aquired a couple of roof storage boxes for $25 each for my car, (I miss my truck) I know I only need ONE, but I am hoping to sell one in the spring and cover the cost of both. I also got a kiddie bike trailer for $20 with the intention of taking the dog for a long bike ride… when I am in physical condition for a long bike ride. And I bought a bike rack for the back of the car which I bought new because it was as cheap as used. I STILL need to get a roof rack if I ever want to use the $$$ canoe which is still hanging from the ceiling, although I have seen people simply padding the roof with pool noodles.

The Subaru Forester was probably the biggest expense of the year, though selling the truck covered the actual cost. It does free us up to go traveling, we managed to hike a lot of different places this year. I have intentions of doing a bit of camping or at least CAR camping so I can see the rest of the state. Her K9-SportSak was probably the most used purchase this year..and one of the most expensive at $79, well worth every penny. I did drop a significant amount on a Ultra lightweight backpack that I had my heart set on, though I did some horse trading to get it paid for; it should last me a good long while.

I was a little aghast at the volume of small bits of crap I bought  off ebay this year, I really need to stop doing that. I only bought a handful of physical books to add to the book case (we won’t discuss my audiobook addiction today) I try to keep even those purchases within reason. I did treat myself to a $100 set of Signed James Morrow books, which I see as more of an investment . . . albeit one that brings me joy.

everyday’s a tea party.

When I started hiking further afield around the state, it was a challenge to bring along not just snacks and lunch but have a way to brew up a hot drink.   It all goes to keeping costs down. This little kit is something I have been working on for the last few months, it is something I will probably be tweaking and improving on, but with a few recent purchases it’s complete for the most part.

I was inspired by the Edwardian motoring picnic kits, many of which had a little alcohol stove matched with their kettle.  It is limited to making tea\coffee and toast, with a few packets of biscuits\cookies tucked into it. I have a completely different case with a few other things for car camping\cooking and another small picnic hamper for foodstuffs.  This case is designed to sit in the car all the time just waiting for me to find a nice scenic view when I can open the hatchback and have a nice brew up. With the addition of a few slices of bread and cheese, you can do a pretty decent toasted sandwich. I am probably going to replace one of the smaller cups with a larger one for instant soups.

Samsonite Traincase contents:

Vintage enamel tea kettle – (upgrade from an aluminum camping kettle)
two Enamel cups & two 7″ vintage luncheon plates
Lidded Tin containing various teas
(still looking for a container for sugar)

Grid-It organizer holding
Spoon & fork
new folding stainless picnic knife (delightful find on ebay)
Swiss Army Knife
Salt & pepper (using tiny glitter shakers)
Mini stove lighter
Cutting Board

Coghlan’s Folding Stove (stored in tyvek mailing envelope)
Alocs Outdoor Camping Stove (Alocs has the best simmer ring adjustment)
GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Toaster

Sadly I don’t have a picture of it in use from this year, but I will have plenty next year.

(yes there is a tiny lantern for ambience, but it may get squeezed out by more cookies)

Death Takes a Holiday (2/23/34)

Death Takes a Holiday (2/23/34) Emo Death is feeling unloved, hangs up his shroud and crashes an affluenza weekend houseparty looking for the meaning of life or maybe get laid, whichever. He takes turns hitting on each girl until he finds the manic depressive who is probably cutting herself in the powder room. Seriously THESE are the people he chooses to visit? We are introduced to these entitled one percenters at a drunken party, on their way back to their baroque castle in a made up country, they nearly kill a poor schmuck of a flower seller and his donkey, but it’s okay because they bought all his flowers. What the hell? who are these people? WHY them? I realized it was an Italian play, and until faily late in the 19thc, the place was carpeted with disenfranchised princelings, but I think we could have been treated to a little Americanization so the audience can identify with SOMEONE. Personally I identified with the flower seller’s donkey.
This is a play. it’s not scary, it’s not funny, and since so much time has passed, it is not even THAT thought provoking. The set decorator should be shot at dawn, unless they shot it in a church or museum, then its the location scout that should be shot. I hadn’t watched this film in a very long time, I remember enjoying it when I was in my Frederick March phase and I was working through a list of Hollywood heaven/hell/afterlife films…I remember liking it, but seriously what was I thinking? There is no one in this film I like. I loathed every character including death. He’s a bully, he’s basically kidnapped a houseful of people to entertain himself and prove a point that he should have dealt with millenia ago, how can we sympathize with him? And the women whom he flirts with are rather useless vapid women, they neither sow nor spin, and the one that ‘loves’ him? and has ALWAYS loved him and always seen him as a large floating shroud? yeah that woman is well passed medication time, her profession of love is a suicide note. Death, dude, only people who have all the money and all the toys are so bored out of their minds that they can afford to be in love with death and not fear it. You want to meet people who LOVE life and would fight for every scrap, go hang around with the Flower Seller and his donkey.

The Ghoul (11/25/1933)

The Ghoul (11/25/1933) The best little horror film Universal never made. Working from a tried and true formula Gaumont gives us a Gothic horror film that could only have been made in England: one lightless, moldering mansion, five sneaky suspects, two naive bickering heirs, one comic relief in need of a slap, one whackjob undead home owner, a dollop of quasi Egyptian mumbo jumbo, and one magic dingus, all wrapped with some creepy atmosphere, and served with London’s visibility limiting smog.

Frosted with decent cinematography and art direction, not to mention Karloff, Thesiger, Hardwicke and Richardson – one would think it would be perfect, but it does have some things working against it. The acting from the juveniles is simply juvenile, what ARE stage actors looking AT when they stare off into the distance emoting? It also overcomes its slightly convoluted plotline where the dead guy isn’t really dead and the dingus tied to his hand has to magically jump into that of the statute, at least I THINK that’s what’s going on. BTW try to follow the magic dingus being punted from servant to lawyer to niece to Egyptian fanatic to spinster to mock vicar and eventually back to the the undead guy. Karloff’s makeup effect although very effective, is utterly unnecessary, as if they needed the poster to telegraph the entire film using only his face. AND for guy who was JUST on death’s door, undead or no, he is shambling around at a pretty fair clip, strangling people and bending security bars like Charles Atlas. Lifting the Egyptian themes from Universal’s Mummy is at once clever, as at the time many an English Gentleman’s home was being redecorated with pilfered grave goods, yet, with Karloff performing another villain trying to appease a long dead god, seems like pilferage of grave goods of a different sort.

On the bright side Karloff’s self mortification scene locks in the first H is for Horror rating ever employed. And reel one gives us a nice little closeup of an absinthe cocktail being prepared. We also get a playful making coffee sado masochistic sex banter, followed eventually by an excellent skewering of the British-fawning-over-any-sort-of-royalty trope and some really great abuse of organized religion which I could watch all day. Whereas US films patronize the woman over and over ‘you should get some rest’, ‘go to bed’, ‘go back to the hotel’, the Brits have no compunctions about patronizing MEN and women, ‘go to the library’ , ‘yes come along.’ and then they go like little public schoolboy sheep. This film is well worth watching if only to give us our second installment in Thesiger’s horror movie hat trick.

The Invisble Man (11/13/33)

The Invisible Man (11/13/33) Reputedly clever man makes a string of bad decisions. If he really wanted to be left alone, he woud have gone to London. Once he chose to go to east bumfuck he became the center of their attention, of COURSE people spied on him, that’s WHAT small towns DO for entertainment. Mind you that wasn’t his first bad decision, experimenting on oneself never ends well; he really should have stuck to lab animals, or maybe he did and he misplaced them all. Griffin and Kemp are supposed to be equals assistants to an older scientist, well Kemp seems to live very well in pretty damn nice house, how come Griffin is so incredibly poor he has gone so completely obsessed for power to impress his girl friend? IF he works all night every night on this for 5 years, WHEN did he had time to romance Stuart? When did THAT happen? I suspect there was something else going on before he starts terrorizing the country side. “We will begin with a reign of terror,” that had to come from a childhood trauma. The book paints him as crazy BEFORE he starts injecting himself with things, the film says it made him crazy, probably because we can’t imagine Gloria Stuart falling for a madman. I can see why the script delayed the production, it does rely on a lot of distration. If you are looking for the plotholes you are missing the big picture. The film isn’t about how he got himself invisible, it’s about the ensuing paranoia, what do you do when there’s an invisible hostile force roaming about? What do you say to a naked man?

This was an ideal project for Whale, a generous dollop of science fiction smeared over a traditional English setting. He got to paint a portrait of people he knew and then set about terrorizing them. Where would the world be without Una’s screaming? Watch for Whalesian details… when Griffin is removing his headbandage in front a mirror using a matte techinique, the matted arm keeps ‘bumping’ the curtain which is on the other image. When he lies down for a goodnight’s rest, the scene cuts to the man he just killed also covered in a blanket but being carted out on a stretcher..morbidly clever. I always laugh when he gobbles up the toast soldier. Love the sly wordplay – like the Little Willy joke about sucking the boy out of a snow bank (Little Willies were the naughty 4 line poems from the 1910s., or when a naked invisible Griffin complains about the cold freezing icicles of an Eskimo..and “Icicles” rhymes with what body part? Dwight Frye, cub reporter repeatedly asking for any ‘special secret plans?’, as IF they were going to tell him. Even visual jokes, like filming Kemp hitting on Flora completely obscured by what would have been a very expensive mid winter floral arrangement. The ladies of the pub all bundled up snug in their Snug. And the not so vielded reference to Chancellor Hitler with the posturing and the Power to Rule speech about conquering the world with invisble armies. The long drawn out stalking and murder of Kemp is pretty damn ghastly, as is the over the top crashing of an entire train load of people; but what reign of terror is complete without a little mass murder?

On the whole this is my second favorite James Whale film. Casting second string Rains was a stroke of genius, granted Karloff’s round tones are by far creepier but in a more subtle way, Rains went from charming subtle threat to over the top mad cackling in heartbeat. One of the few films where the protagonist is represented more often by a special effect than an actor, yet still Rains’ voice over resists taking a back seat to those special effects, which really try to steal every scene…except the ones that Una steals.

Supernatural (5/12/33)

Supernatural (5/12/33) The first reel of this film is jawdroppingly batshit creepy. Multiple murderess is gleefully counting down the days to her own execution…and I MEAN Gleefully. Mad scientist has cockamamie idea of evil spirits escaping the executed body and cons warden into a little gross abuse of a corpse. Which brings us to all the other reels: Socialite Lombard is mourning her dead twin, and starts messing around with fat fake spiritualist who for some reason was banging the murderess and thinks he has a shot with a socialite who keeps a tuxedo clad Randolph Scott around just for arm candy. Lombard stumbles into mad scientists….living room? where he just happens to have the murderesses still bangable body and is zapping it with electricity for kicks.

At minute 46 the murderess body jumps into Lombard, you can tell because she brings a little Max Factor to the party. Lombard makes a beeline to getting her revenge on….I stopped paying attention after that… THIS HAD to be the film, that inspired an young Val Lewton to say “I can do better than that crap.” Seriously this film has half a good idea, and suffers from a really bad script and poor editing. The BEST thing about it is the Poster, which I highly recommend..and Val Lewton..go watch Val Lewton instead.

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