Friday, May 29, 2015

The dark side of garage sales

     I was talking about garage sales earlier, and although I could probably come up with any number of stories about the things Mom has found at garage sales, there's one thing in particular that I'd like to bring up.

     When Mom goes garage saling, she has lists. Lots of lists. Some of them are general things she's keeping an eye out for, and others are more specific and include things that she's actively looking for. For instance, she's always scoping out the clothes and books, but on certain years she's been particularly interested in shelves, concrete blocks to edge the gardens with, or play equipment. All of these are pretty innocent things to look for.

     But there's this one other thing that Mom is always looking for. Stuffed critters.

     I don't know when she decided to start buying stuffed critters at garage sales or what her reasons for it are, but our critter box is getting pretty full. We get one or two new additions every time Mom goes to garage sales.

     The thing is, she doesn't buy the cute critters. We don't have any of the umpteen-bazillion teddy bears, and we certainly don't have any puppies or kittens or cute little bunnies. If she bought every one of those that she saw, there wouldn't be any room left in our house for us. The critters Mom buys are the ugly ones, the odd-looking ones. The animals that you wouldn't believe were actually made into stuffed critters. I mean, who buys those things?

     But apparently people will spend money on some pretty strange stuffed critters, because our critter box is teaming with wildlife. Here's what we've got.
Robin, pelican, duck, 2 ostriches, flamingo, blue jay, kiwi bird, stork-ish thing, rooster
2 jellyfish, 2 crabs, dolphin, walrus, & lobster
Snail, lizard, spider, scorpion, three chameleons, frog, & snake
Rat, rhino, beaver, moose, anteater, bat, skunk, monkey, & hedgehog
     In addition to this, we've also got a stegosaurus and a dragon, but I didn't think I needed to get a whole new picture just for them. I'm sure you get the idea. Our collection of stuffed critters is pretty unconventional, and unrivaled by any other.

     Maybe it's just part of Mom's home schooling technique.

     Whatever the reason, her buying of ugly stuffed critters is just one of those things she does. We don't actually mind it, though, because we like having all the interesting stuffed critters, instead of another Santa teddy bear. Seriously. Those are bo-ring.

     Of course, Mom won't buy just any old oddball stuffed critter. In addition to being unusual and ugly-looking, it also has to be cheap. She's not paying five bucks for an ostrich or a hedgehog.

     So there you are. That's the other side of garage sales. It's not just useful stuff Mom brings home. She also finds some pretty crazy things.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Too Hick To Be Square fan club

     A little over a year ago, my brother Eli graduated from high school. It was actually on the evening of his party that the Fu Manchu incident occurred, and the very next day he was getting into a vehicle to go down to Missouri and work for a guy we know down there who makes knives. He stayed down there for the summer, learning how this guy makes knives and basically figuring out how to live on his own. He was exploring a lot of different options at the time, doing some drawing and blogging about what he was doing down there. 

     After his sojourn in Missouri ended in the middle of August, he came back home for a week so he could fully move himself out of the house. Why? Because once he’d decided he would be leaving Missouri, he found a job through friends of ours up in North Dakota, and he had to be up there before the end of August. He had roughly a week to get home, organize his stuff, move what he wouldn’t be bringing with him to our grandma’s basement, and pack the truck. During that time he was one busy boy, and the rest of us didn’t get to spend much time with him before he was gone again. He did come home to visit a couple times though, once in October and once for Thanksgiving. But other than that, we didn’t see him. 

     That was a pretty big change for the rest of us, because up until now it’s always been all thirteen kids in one house. It took us a while to get used to him being gone. Around here we usually have trouble just getting a little space, so I don’t think any of us realized how much we’d miss him when he left. By the time he left North Dakota to move back to our area, I had pretty much forgotten all the things about him that annoy me and was ready to have him around again.

     Now he's back, and it’s thirteen at the table again—that’s when someone isn’t away working, of course. He’s still gone a lot during the day because he’s working full-time, but we’ve had him around for a month now and things are pretty much back to normal. It actually wasn’t that hard getting used to having him home again. The biggest problems were figuring out where he was going to put his stuff and who was going to do his laundry.

     And yes, I do remember why he drives me crazy sometimes. But I suppose I’ll tolerate him playing with my computer and splashing me with water and poking me while I’m working. It’s what we do.

     Eli had his birthday recently, and as I said he’s nineteen now. Usually at birthdays Mom and Dad are in charge of gift-giving, and they’ll give each birthday kid a gift from “the girls” and “the boys.” None of us ever know what it is we’re giving, but it makes things a lot easier since we don’t have to pick out individual gifts all the time. This year, though, I had something in mind that I wanted to give Eli myself. Partly it was because I missed him, but also because I like to tease him. So this is what I gave him.
     I dare you to look at that and say it’s anything but a brilliant birthday gift. What makes it even better is that he wears it, too. If I’d given it to David, I’m not sure it would ever come off his shelf. But Eli will wear it, and that makes the joke even better. 

     Another great thing about this gift was that since Eli was away while I was making it, I could tell the whole family and not have to worry about him finding out. We were all laughing in our sleeves when he started unwrapping his presents because we all wanted to see his face when he saw it. And sure enough, it was pretty hilarious and definitely worth the twenty bucks I spent on the shirt and getting it printed. 
     So now Eli is the face of Too Hick To Be Square’s advertising campaign, and, as it turns out, also my biggest fan. How about that?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garage Sales

     In my part of the world, it’s garage sale time. The spring citywides are starting, and that’s something my Mom always goes to. I’ve just started a series of articles about garage sales in the newspaper, but I also wanted to say something about them here on the blog, because garage sales are pretty important to the Clan.

     In fact, I could say a whole variety of things about them, because Mom has been going to garage sales for over fifteen years. Anything we've been doing for that long has some stories worth telling. But I want to at least start by talking about garage sales in a more general sense. They're something that I’ve always viewed through the scope of my Mom and how she does them.

     I’ve seen people who go to garage sales like they go to the mall: they just walk around, chat with friends, and make it a social event. That’s a perfectly fine way to do it, but I’m not big on mall-shopping. Strolling is not a normal mode of travel for me. And my Mom doesn’t stroll well either. Her approach to garage sales is more of a hit-and-run type thing.

     For her a day of garage sales starts early in the morning, usually at the crack of dawn. She’ll be in town before the first garage doors are even open, armed with coffee and ready to go. Weather doesn’t make a difference either. She goes in the rain, in the cold, and on days when it’s inhumanely hot out. And she doesn’t just cruise up and down the main streets, either. She goes up and down every street, hits every garage sale on both sides, and by the time the day is over she’s been to practically every garage sale in town.

     She’s very thorough.

     I used to never think about the ways we do things. They were just the way we did things, so to me they were normal. Since I started the blog, though, I've started to look a little more carefully and the differences have started to jump out at me. Mom's approach to garage sales is one of those things that's different. Up until last summer, I'd never had to really think about how Mom did garage sales. If I went with her, I just sat in the passenger seat, got out when she got out, and walked through every garage sale she walked through. Nothing to it. Last year, though, I went separately and brought M along for company. Experiencing it as the driver and person in charge of deciding where to stop and how to get places was definitely not the same.

     It was actually a bit of a challenge. I started by getting lost and forgetting how to get out of the residential area. Turns out I don't look at street signs much. Then I had trouble with parking. I had no idea so many people spent Friday afternoon at garage sales! Besides those minor hiccups, things went pretty much without a hitch, but we were only in town for three hours that afternoon and only covered one part of town. I know that I started out stopping at almost every spot, but the longer we were in town, the more places I would just drive past because I could see enough to tell me I probably wouldn’t be interested. Plus I was getting tired.

     And maybe a little bored. There’s only so much looking through other peoples’ junk I can stand, and the sheer number of fussy dolls, Santas, and weird little figurines you can find at garage sales is almost beyond belief.

     Having done it myself once now, I have a lot more respect for Mom’s approach. The fact that she can spend eight hours in a day getting in and out of the car and walking around garage sales is impressive. It's also part of the reason why garage sales are so important to the Clan. When Mom goes, she always brings back a bunch of stuff.

     It would be impossible for me to make a list of all the things Mom has brought home from garage sales, because most of it gets incorporated into the rest of our things until we forget where it even came from. Here are a few of the things I know we’ve gotten from garage sales, though.

     Clothes. A lot of our clothes come from garage sales. I couldn’t put a number on it for sure, but Mom has been going to garage sales for fifteen years and every year she comes back with a pile of clothes. All of this goes into bins downstairs, and when clothing switch comes around we pull those clothes out of the bins and pass them around. Mom still has to buy jeans every now and then for skinny little boys, but as far as shirts go, we’re set for life. 

     Mom also buys furniture at garage sales. Most of the shelves out in our barn came from garage sales. Some of the shelves in the house were garage sale finds as well. She also buys armchairs, because this family is hard on chairs. Every few years she’ll bring home another one or two, and we’ll be able to burn the ones that were on the verge of falling to pieces. 

     We get books every time. We have shelves and shelves of books downstairs, and my Mom does not frequent bookstores. My Grandma has given us a lot of books for birthdays, but even that doesn’t account for the number of books we have in this house. Many our books come from garage sales. Every year Mom comes home with another 25 or so. I don’t know how we keep finding spaces for them on our bookshelves.
They're sorting and reorganizing the books on
just 6 of the bookshelves downstairs. There's more. 
     We also get music, too, mainly CD’s. Mom will buy copies of CD’s that we already have, and then sell them to us older kids who have our own computers and are trying to build up our own music libraries. Most of my personal music library is music she’s gotten at garage sales and sold to me for a buck apiece. 

     I am slightly suspicious about this, though, because I’m not certain that every CD she’s ever bought cost a dollar. She may be putting her own prices on them and trying to turn a profit.

     Another thing she buys a lot of is rubber Croc shoes. And I mean a lot. I think our current count is up to a dozen, and we have all colors and sizes. We stick them out on electric fence posts in the flower garden in front of the house. Then when we have to go outside for quick jobs we can grab a pair of shoes to wear. It’s pretty handy.
And still more.
     When the flowers start growing, the effect is pretty awesome. We sure don’t have any plastic flamingos, but we decorate the lawn in other ways.

     Mom's bought a variety of other things, too. Hand weights. Picnic tables. Play equipment. Toys for the sandbox. Gardening tools. Craft supplies and yarn. LEGO’s. All kinds of things. We get all our ties and sunglasses from garage sales, too. That’s why my brothers are some of the coolest kids on the planet.
The Clan's resident fashion expert.
     This is just a sampling of the things Mom has brought home from garage sales. The list goes on and on, and I probably would never remember all of it. I'm fairly certain, though, that Mom could find just about anything at a garage sale. She just has to look hard enough. 

     Some of the things she finds are not what you'd expect to turn up at a garage sale. She's been going for fifteen years and I've been watching her bring odd stuff home for nearly as long. But she can still find something that surprises us all. I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

So much to do, so little time

     This week I published my first new post in a long time. I hadn’t realized it’s been so long, but there’s an entire two weeks between M’s birthday post and my post about the blog’s anniversary. Two weeks slipped by without me noticing that I hadn’t written anything for the blogs. I have a hard time believing it’s already been that long, because I feel like I’ve been incredibly busy.

     And I have been incredibly busy — just not with the blogs. For the past two months, I’ve actually had a couple other projects cooking that I haven’t mentioned on the blog because I wasn't sure how they'd turn out. Last month they both exploded into reality, and I’ve been trying to stay on top of both of them at the same time. That's been what's keeping me occupied, but now that they seem to be under control, here's what's been going on.

     First, I have a job! 

     That is correct. I’ve been working part-time at the grocery store for a month now, and am pretty much completely trained in. They’ve even had me closing a few times, so I guess that means they think I know what I’m doing. Doesn’t that just fill you with confidence? Ha! 

     But so far the job has been going well, though it does take up a big chunk of my time. I’m earning money on a regular basis now, which is better than what I was getting from occasionally babysitting and picking rock during the summer. Since I’m trying to save up money to pay for college, I’m definitely pleased with that.

     Second, I have a job!

     Or rather, a second job. About five weeks ago, I started writing for the local newspaper. I’m not actually doing any journalism, but I am writing regular, weekly articles for my own column that are published every week with the rest of the paper. Since I'm writing the same things in the paper as I write here, I'm calling my column Too Hick To Be Square. It’s definitely a challenge, because I have more restrictions to work around in the paper. Adjusting to the different format and it's limitations takes time, but I’ve got four articles published and another one that I turned in this week, so I seem to be getting the hang of it.

     Of the two jobs, the newspaper one is by far the more exciting. I mean, how many 17-year-olds get to write for a newspaper? It’s pretty incredible — and a HUGE feather in my cap. It’s an enormous step forward for my writing to have landed this opportunity, and I’m still in that fluttery stage where I can’t quite believe I actually did it. Now I’m being published for real, and in something that has a foundation of regular readers who will see and read my column! Every week! I’ve already gotten some comments from complete strangers who say they’ve read my article and liked it. 

     As you can tell, I’m extremely thrilled at how this has turned out. Besides just being an one-of-a-kind opportunity, though, I think it also shows how far my writing has come in just one year. There was a time not so long ago when I didn't think writing about real life would hold any interest for me. I've certainly surprised myself.

     In addition to being exciting and a great opportunity, though, the newspaper writing has been keeping me very busy writing. For the past four weeks or so, when I’m not at work I’m trying to string together sentences into an article. This isn’t always an easy job. It actually takes quite a bit of time to finish just one article — longer than it takes me to come up with a blog post. Partly it’s because I’m limited to around 500 words for an article, while I can write as much or as little as I want on the blog. I also can’t use pictures as much in the paper, because there just isn’t space. And if you look back through the posts I’ve written, I tend to use pictures. A lot. I’m having to adjust to this kind of writing while trying to put my own stamp on it. So far it’s turning out well.

     For those of you who are interested in finding my articles and reading them, the paper I’m writing for is the Spring Valley Tribune. My articles are posted online on the commentary page, right HERE. All that I’ve written so far have been published there. Just look for the ones that say "Too Hick To Be Square". If you're looking for a paper copy, since I know some people like to have a physical object, you could always subscribe. That will help me show the owner of the paper that letting the rookie write was a good idea. (wink) Either way, feel free to check it out and read what I’ve come out with so far over there. And since this is a weekly deal, you can expect new content more regularly over there than you’ll probably get over here. 

     As excited as I am about the newspaper, I also don't intend to neglect the blogs, since I feel they're both good outlets for me in different ways. Both of them target a different bunch of readers, and I wouldn't want to drop one group for the other. This past month or so, I’ve had to dedicate more time to these new projects, but now that I’m trained in at work and have gotten a few articles under my belt, the blogs should start getting more of my time again. I’m not sure how everything is going to get done, but I’m going to at least give it a shot. 

     Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month and a little. As you can see, I was not fooling around and wasting time. I have gotten some very big things started, and I’m just hoping I can keep them all going at once. These next few months are going to be a very interesting and busy transitional time — as if I didn’t have enough things going on this summer!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Curly Hair

     People have always had trouble telling the Clan kids apart. They’re forever getting our names mixed up, and since there are thirteen names to remember, there is some merit for that confusion. Even I get the Melonheads mixed up, so I can’t blame anyone else for making that mistake. But what I don’t understand is when people mix me and M up. This has happened before, but except for the fact that we’re the oldest two girls, I don’t think we’re at all alike.

     For instance, I’m older. (I have to point that out.) I have glasses - M doesn’t. Our faces look different, although there are probably similarities since we’re sisters. But the big visible difference is in our hair. When I was born I already had a lot of hair. Since then it’s only gotten longer, and it’s always been straight. M, on the other hand, was born with hair that curled pretty much from the get-go. And we’re not talking about little wisps either. Her hair had attitude.
     M’s hair got this natural curliness from Dad’s side of the family, and on top of being curly it’s also quite thick. Those two attributes give her hair an incredible amount of body. As her hair gets longer, the curls do stretch out a little and become a little less fierce, but when she was little, Mom would braid her hair a lot. Otherwise it was just too out-of-control for M to take care of, and she would get the most incredible knots in it. Now that she’s older, M doesn’t need to braid her hair in order to function, but she still has to find ways to deal with the living thing growing out of the top of her head.
We were dying our hair with Kool-Aid one time...
     Mostly that means doing absolutely nothing to it, because there’s really nothing she can do. Her hair has a life and mind of it’s own. What it’s going to do, it will do. Between the curls and the sheer mass of it, she sometimes has a hard time just getting it into a ponytail. The alternative, though, which is leaving it down, is pretty much out of the question. If she did that, she’d end up with this all the time.
Family picture time - M had quite the 'do going.
     The most incredible thing about M’s hair, though, is what it does when it gets humid outside. My hair doesn’t do a thing, but M’s gets completely out of control. It curls like crazy, and she’ll have lots of tight little ringlets. But her hair will also go poof and almost stand up straight on her head. On those days it’s a real challenge to be M.
Today also happens to be M's 15th birthday.
     Happy birthday, M!
     As you can see, her hair is in her face less than it used to be, but it still has a thing going on.