Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shampoop: DIY Can Be Good For Your Head

I hate certain scents. It's hard to tell if I am actually allergic to them or just hate them so much that they dry out my mouth and make it hard to breathe. Things like fabric softener and Mountain Fresh Scent in laundry detergent. If a person has really loaded it on, I can't be on the same side of the room with them. So, in lieu of risking a wheezy whiney wife and having to buy a 10 dollar bottle of laundry soap, the husband began to make our own. And, besides having to own a large pot to stir it in and a place to put it, it is fairly simple. And wicked inexpensive. It made us take a step back and begin to suspect that there was very little reason for the prices attached to these all natural green products beyond greed and we began to look for other things to make, leading us into the wild and woolly world of home made cleansing and body products.

Okay. Maybe not wild. Or woolly, really. But I live with a scientist. Figuring out percentages in ounces can be fun. I swear.

We have begun to put together different products to start a line of skin creams, body oils and soaps. I don't want to tell you how because when we build our Etsy empire to be followed by our mail order empire to be followed by our vendor table at street fair empire, I want you to NEED us. But the truth is, you really don't. The advantage we have over you is that we invested in the basics...which pay for themselves really quickly....and we have been experimenting with different varieties of smells and textures.  Also, when it comes to soap, there is the issue of some math to be done to make the fat vs. lye balanced. But, between you and me and the wall, it takes balls to charge 5 bucks for a bar of soap if you knew how much a batch costs and how much you get in it. Unless there is money cooked into that fancy hippy soap, you are getting schtupped.

The laundry soap costs about three bucks a batch. All natural. Three ingredients. Cleans great. It looks a little weird, but so what.

I found a recipe for dishwashing detergent. Again under three bucks for a gallon of this stuff.

We also make our own mozzerella cheese. Super super easy. Renin, Citric acid, milk and some salt. Takes twenty minutes. If you screw it up, it is ricotta.

The husband makes his own beer and wine. Okay. THAT is a little more expensive because you have to have equipment, but, really, after all is said and done, he gets a lot of hootch that would cost way more in the store and he has say about the elements that goes into it.

In the long run, it is good to know the basic elements that make a product work just to know what you is rubbing into your skin or onto your dishes that you eat from. But people who normally will analyze their food products down to the cow the milk came from don't think twice about what is exactly in the soap you are dumping into the clothes you are wearing as long as it is biodegradable and "green."

What is it? Really? At least  consider that if you look at the recipes for some of these things, you will know what you are actually paying for. Because you will be astonished at how often you are paying for packaging and profit and then a little teeny bit of ingredient. And maybe you might want to take a shot at making your own.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Just A Thing....Or Is It? Thinking Twice About What You Sell

For a long time now, we have been in a holding pattern. I watch my daughter during the day and work when I get it.  My husband goes to college and is finishing...finally.... his PHD. We aren't living on the streets or anything. Our apartment is nice. We have clothes that get a little tattered but we can find ways to replace them when they become truly embarrassing. Some times are better than others. You can usually tell by how much we splurge on eating out. Once in a while we have enough to buy something cool, usually so that we can sell it when things aren't so good. And that's okay normally but there are two things that I regret selling. And one is my ukulele.

There is a musician named Melvern Taylor. He plays the ukulele like a champ. He makes it retro cool. He lives in Lowell and wears a porkpie hat with neat facial hair. My ex-boyfriend who used to be in charge of the music department of a huge advertising agency in NYC said that he knew who he was. Mel is that type of musician. The kind a lot of specific people know from all over because ukulele afficianados are a special breed. He was the first musician that I ever liked and sought out when we moved to Boston. And he made me want to play the uke too.

My husband has always been very kind when it comes to humoring my quirky wants. We went to Guitar Center and there was a beautiful Mitchell on sale for a little under two hundred dollars. It was fierce and fit my small hands and most of them had nylon strings that didn't look as painful as guitar strings. I took it home and compared it to the Hawaiian novelty ones that we had sent from my mother in law in Honolulu. It was obviously a better instrument (although the pink one looked wicked cool). Not as good as Mel's but it had mother of pearl inlay and felt right in my hands. I would sit at my dad's old desk after I downloaded chords, trying to play songs. Or I would try to study the lessons from my Ukulele instruction manual.  Mel even gave me a names of recommended teachers.

But the money started running out again and there were so many other things that we needed besides my ukulele lessons. Eventually we fell into the inevitable pinch when I had to sell things again. My husband's guitar was sacred to me. We purchased it right before my daughter was born so that she would always be surrounded with people playing music. My husband had a beautiful voice and would sing to her. Later, we got an electric piano cheap. I held on to that second because I had dreams of our daughter learning to play and I loved banging away at it badly. We could always get another ukulele. So it went to a nice man on Craigslist who bought it for his son. I was glad that it went to an appreciative home.

We got a crappier one that my daughter drags around trying to teach herself now. She has potential. I regret never letting her play with my beautiful good one.

Some day I will get another one and I will get to keep it. Some day I will be able to buy one without thinking of it as not something to sell in a pinch but value it for what it is. A time when poverty doesn't rule our decisions and let us keep the things that we regret selling later. Not that the holding pattern has been so bad with occasional family trips and nice meals spun from creative spending.  Some of those memories will be the best days of my life. And we had our good days when I was just selling stuff to get it out of the house. But, let's say, consistently better days on the other side of education and sporadic incomes. With ukuleles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You Paid Too Much For Your Shopping Mall Ladle: Silverplate Is Your Friend

I've got this stoneware handmade medium sized pottery pitcher that my mom made. She's a professional artist, not some lady with a group of other ladies in a basement of a community center pressing things from molds. It is a high quality piece of art work created by a skilled artisan. This pitcher is a rarity in my doesn't have a chunk missing out of it anywhere on it. It could be resold if, say, I ran out of other things to sell. Not that I would  but say it was between it and my left much was it worth to the average folk on Ebay? I know how much it really is worth. Every town in the country with disposable income and abundance of yoga classes has one or two or five art gallery and home decorating joints. She used to sell stuff in them.  Folks pay a lot for a fine piece of craft. So imagine my shock when I saw the going prices in the online auction world. You pay more for a piece of reproduced crap in a super sized department store. Same for a whole lot of other things.

Say you are strapped for cash. The credit card is maxed out. You cannot afford even a  $25 gift card at Target for an anniversary present. The birthday's of your adult dear ones gives you night sweats. Your pie server's handle busted off and you have one steak knife with the tip missing. You need something for under fifteen bucks and it just doesn't exist out there. Or your options are just plain old bad quality bunk (Melamine tableware for 16 bucks. Seriously?! I don't care if you do get 12 pieces. It's plastic.) What is a soul to do?

I was looking at flatware at a fairly decent department store where one would go to purchase dining ware. Reasonable but with quality stock. There was a high-end name 65 piece set on sale for 190 bucks. Really good price one would think. BUT its stainless steel. Are they out of their fucking minds?
 I like to think in terms of resale value.  You can't give that away.

It is worth, in the unloading it kind of way, about 65 bucks if you sold them today. Maybe. I don't care if Lady Gaga pressed the metal herself.  Silverplate, which is basically a crappier metal like, say stainless steel (! ) or, in older days, copper or such with a layer of silver over it. And, right now, you can't give that away on auction sites either.  If you are going to go drop money on an casual dining set of flatware and it is going to be cheap metal, don't be spending $190 dollars. Go to a cheaper store for the some poor quality metal with a lesser fancy name or get thee to Ebay and punch in the words "Wm. Rogers or International" under the "antiques silverplate" section and get yourself a pretty set for under a hundred bucks that you can hawk for at least maybe SOMEthing if you get desperate and have enough of it. Cake servers? Ladles? Meat forks? Poultry shears? You can get them for the same price, maybe less but far more gorgeous and they won't fall apart. Often mistaken for real silver without an experienced eye. Your welcome.

There are truly beautiful silverplate pieces out there that have very little value in this market. A lot of dealers don't like even bothering with them these days.  Same goes with china that normally would have sold for a ton two years ago. And non-gallery functional artisan pieces. And glassware.

Need a nice birthday or wedding present? Punch in "Limoges" in your auction's china site. You'd be surprised what you can get. Or go to the glass section and shop it. A vase? Maybe even that same water pitcher new. Or better yet, go to the studio pottery or art glass section and get something unique and far more valuable in the future. There are literally thousands of quality choices out there. Many cheaper than that gift card you can't afford.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't Look The Gifted Crap In The Mouth

So your great great auntie passes away and it is up to you to get rid of the years of sentimental belongings that she had tucked in the back of the drawers and hidden on chotzke bookshelves.  Old things that are, well, sort of ugly and dated.  The first thought that crosses your mind is, "The thrift shop is going to be so pissed at me when I try to unload this on them." But you start looking at them a little closer.  The materials are cheap but they are old and sort of charming in their ugliness. And she loved them for a reason.  Kept them for 30, 40, maybe 50 or even 60 years. So you put them in a box in the basement and try to forget about them.

Well, you may be glad you had.  There are a series of collectible items that I have run across in auctions and antique stores and online whathaveyou that have suprised me.  Because they are not made of silver or gold or porcelain.  They tend to be a little tacky next to modern belongings. And they are collectible as hell.

For instance, chalkware.  Chalkware looks like figures that are formed from dried up toothpaste, sanded down and painted. It is found in figurines, lamp bases, anything that you wouldn't eat off but can be pressed into a shape.  You may recognize the material from manger figures and mid-century religious statuettes.  Apparently Christians in the Truman era were wild about chalkware.  Chalkware manufacturers were prone to kittens, doggies, cowboys, smiling fruit, and floating heads (sometimes with string coming out of their mouths). I found four from the  1950's in the shape of ballet dancers that were intended to hang from the wall.  One didn't make it through the shipping process to California.  Which explains why chalkware is collectible.  It is really hard to keep it intact.  That creepy looking clown figurine from 1952 that you always wanted to break? Be glad you didn't.

Then there is toleware.  Aka painted tin. Sexy, right?  You've probably seen a million pieces but they  just never registered. A lot are painted with floral patterns, occasionally a Pennsylvania dutch motiff.  Tip trays (small rectangular trays), round trays, serving trays, coasters, lampshades, most places where painted tin comes in handy. Items are being pursued by collectors as long as they haven't been dented or chipped or otherwise abused.

Enamelware is another surprising and hugely diverse type of collectible. Kind of the sometimes deceptively older and more practical cousin to tolewear.  Again tin looking.  Again painted (actually coated in thin glass).  Sturdy in very specific colors, often used for cooking. You know those blue tin coffee mugs that you used for camping? That could be enamelware. Some pieces can be very very old. It is a huge market. And you can have a piece in front of your nose. Or more likely in your back yard or basement where someone used it as a planter or used it to haul water. It can be that coal bucket.  Or the camping mug.  Or the sentimental teapot that you kept on the top shelf of your hutch because it looked quaint. It reminded you of cooking over open flames. It didn't occur to anyone that it could have value because it was so darned useful.

What I'm saying is, before you pitch it out, if you have an item that is in pretty decent shape that is kitchy (aka ugly looking but sort of cool) or useful and even a little old, it may not be a bad idea to poke around a bit.  Punch in the description and see what Ebay has to say on the topic. Other things like lighters and tin signs have very large collectors communities.  And if they aren't worth anything, its an excuse to finally unload the bunch of crap in a box in your basement.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Look...Under There...Stuff!

It's easy to ignore the tremendous pile of virtual garbage that grows in one's email inbox. Every corporation that has your address in their craw will attempt to tell you that they should be paid attention to the hardest and the most.  To spend your money HERE!!! Even if its in the spam folder, I feel compelled to look to see if the over zealous spambots have thrown something I actually want away. Perks, rewards, deals, bargain, discounts just today (again), buzzwords all engineered to lure you to their website and get you to spend money or not leave.  Once in a while, though, its worth looking under the proverbial rock. 

For instance, I found a free-ish thing in my utility website that surprised and pleased me. Verizon Fios had sent me emails regarding perks.  Of course, I ignored it.  Mostly because I always forget my password and didn't have the energy to go through my archived emails to find the information.  It just didn't seem worth it to go read what seemed like someone's attempt to get me to buy something. Until I had to pay my bill.  And I hate jumping through the automated phone service bills and whistles.  Plus it was over due and I was going to pay it from an array of resources.  Spread the pain around. You know.  Poor people style.

Anyhoo, I found the information that I was looking for and decided to push the button that was entitled 'Perks.' I expected it to be something to do with Dunkin Donuts since I associate that word with that particular company (good job subliminal marketing department!). There were a couple of options listed and, amongst them,The Entertainment Savers Guide internet style.

The Entertainment Savers Guide is a book of coupons published for different cities throughout the country that I had been envying for many years.  In the bookstores it cost about $25.  And I never had $25 to spare enough to justify it.  Or I forgot about it when I did.  Besides I am relatively new to the concept that a coupon is not shunned by society for asking for something for free in lieu of bringing business where one would never have looked otherwise. But there it was.  Up to 10 free coupons a month for Verizon customers.  And it was not adhesed to one zipcode.  I am traveling to North Carolina next week and it had coupons for all sorts of restaurants, stores, hotels, and any number of things.  I could do one free shake at a North Carolina ice cream place, and two for one dinners at a restaurant that I loved in Beverly, MA (with an entree price maximum) all in the same shopping cart.  And, as a Verizon customer, I got the same coupons that would have cost me $25 in a book, right there for nada on my computer.  A real deal

My point is, when something that you are already paying for is offering you something as a deal, at least read it to see what it is. There is a corporate war going on out there.  I left one cable company that did not wish to bend over backward to accommodate me, over to a company that I initially had great mistrust for due to bad business experiences many many years ago. And they deserve my business.  Not only are there prices better....note to the other company: DUH!....they are giving the competition really something to worry about. Better customer service and perks.  Real perks. Like any company that wants to give the enemy a run for its money. Bribery is a beautiful thing.  And its out there.

So poke around those corporate websites.  See if there are "member benefits." Hell, even my unions have things hidden on their membership pages that I wouldn't know if I didn't think to go looking.  Any place that requires membership or customer enrollment will probably have something.  And what do you have to lose besides a little time and maybe hand cramp from typing.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Great Amazing Library

And then I go and worship The Library.  Ah The Library.  I get giddy when I think of Her.  No membership fee.  Encouraging behavior like taking out THREE books at once that you couldn't possibly read before they are overdue.

It's a bloody miracle that there is a place in the world where they don't have hidden costs and is open to every social and economic demographic.  With free internet (Love ya, coffee bar, but someone has been sitting in that chair for so long that it has his body scent. ). And they let you rent movies for free as long as you aren't late (Got to admire chutzpah to charge a buck a one messes with The Librarian!).  In just about every town in the country.

Sometimes I will go there just to pretend that I am shopping again.  Looking at all of the lovely choices.  Feeling the same way about books as I felt about shoes. And coffee beans.  Wandering the aisles taking in the sensation that there is no rush at The Library.  As long as it isn't closing time and I don't have a child in tow, I can lurk and loiter in a public place without any legal repercussion. If I lean over a book in my lap and don't snore, I can maybe get some sleep if they can't prove that I am not actually reading.  They even have discounted and/or free museum passes at some of them so that you can loiter in other public places.  All the while leaving the utilities off at home.  Not only making The Library free...making it profitable!

Today, I found out there is a new Christopher Moore book that has been released.  I love buying Christopher Moore books.   But I can't do afford to purchase it in a book store.  So I will go to my and order it from The Library where The Librarians will hunt it down for you if The Library Branch doesn't have it (same for DVDs).  And they will call me when it arrives and say, "Hey, come get your free temporary brand spanking new book! Just like the new ones in the store but covered in mylar and stamps!" And I get to read it!  Then I will look at the inside cover price and say, "Some day, I will give you royalties, Christopher Moore.  Some day.  But today, I still get to enjoy you and save 1/4 of my YMCA membership fee." And  I don't mind giving it back when I am done.  Because The Library is also a kind public oxymoron even.....and will let me take it out as many times as I want.

Spending To Save Money! That's Crazy Talk!

I'm not sure which is worse.  Never having a latte now or thinking you may never have one again (or a quality pair of shoes or a really good fancy know what I mean). "Never" is a scary thought.  And sometimes it feels just like that.  Infinite deprivation.  Well, truth is, thinking like that isn't going to help or induce proactive behavior. Action makes me feel better.

The husband got a decent sized check earlier in the year.  We paid up all of those bills that had piled up. We bought lots of groceries.  I got a latte.  It tasted wonderful.  The problem, though, is that our owed money was so backed up that the decent sized check disappeared almost instantly and here we are again.  We held onto it as long as we could.  We pondered what we could do to make the future easier when the money would dry up entirely while our employment status remained fixed in this situation. And we came to some conclusions that did seemed a little extravagant for poor folks trying to get by.  But, in the end, I think it makes sense.

We always buy a monthly train pass even if we have to sell the cat.  We have to.  The husband uses the commuter rail to get to school. It is enormously expensive to take the long commute per ride and it is one fee that we expect.  The car is worn out as it is.  The less we use it, the less we spend randomly on gas and repairs. Sometimes we don't even use the car and I feel virtuous as a non-carbon footprinter.

We also keep our YMCA family membership, again, even if we have to sell the cat.  (And we like the cat. So don't think we would actually do it.) (I say in case my daughter is reading this).  (And its a nice cat but the market value ain't all that.) All Massachusetts and Rhode Island YMCA memberships are good at any in those states. Also, we get a certain amount of passes for other ones not in state.  Our YMCA  family membership for 3 of us costs about $90 a month.  Sounds steep?  But, I shower there every day that I work out there.  So does my husband.  It is a couple of hours of every day that I am unemployed when I am not in my house not using heat and water.  Say the kid is getting antsy because you just can't pay to do something like going to the movies or something like that? There's always the swimming pool at the Y.  My employment is attached to my physicality.  I am also over 40 years old.  I have to exercise somewhere or I get mean.  And lose work when it comes knocking.  It takes the edge of the money stress.  It is one more thing that is an expected monthly expense that keeps me moving forward. It is worth keeping.

I like to think of myself as a squirrel.  Not in a rodent way.  In a storing things for the winter way.  Which is why when the money is present, I pay extra attention to sites like Groupon and Living Social.  These are daily coupon sites that make deals with restaurants, salons, attractions, hotels, pretty much any local business willing to make one huge cut to attract new business.  You choose your location and you receive an email each day with a couple of offers.  I look for specialty food stores and occasionally a restaurant with a really good deal.  Then I put it in a tree for the winter. Or when the financial feces hits the fan and I need food products.

My favorite has been an Italian deli where I picked up 20 bucks worth of cold cuts that I had paid ten dollars for and a bakery with fantastic bread with the same deal.  10 dollars for 20 dollars worth of food products that I had already paid for a long time before the fact. My acorns. We also paid for a coupon for a trendy vintage/hipster clothing store that happened to run a store wide half price special the day we were there. So we paid 10 dollars for 40 dollars worth of products in the end which included new jeans and a shirt for the husband which he needed badly.  Pretty danged sweet. Yeah, its spending money on something that looks a little luxury item.  But in the long run, food is food. Clothes are clothes. And cheap is cheap.  Even if it is in a gourmet deli.

No one said it was easy.  We do still have some choices. And sometimes the choice doesn't look like the right one.  But in the long run it may help you get through to the other side in a less tattered condition.