The yard sale was a success! Before I tell you about the end results, though, let me go back a few days. I dove head-first into our spare room, which was full of old toys, outgrown clothes and stuff we don't use any more. During Dean's nap on Thursday, Marcus and I attacked our big storage closet and collected NINETEEN boxes worth of stuff for me to sell. The closet is now half-empty and SO orgnaized. You can even open the door without fear of death! Is miracle! Anywho, I had myself a pricing and sorting party on Friday. Here are some things I did to make my yard sale easier:
GENERAL PRICING Instead of pricing each and every t-shirt and onesie with a pink sticker, I separated single items (meaning t-shirts, pants and onesies that weren't part of an outfit) into boxes and labeled each box according to size. Each item in those boxes cost a quarter. This saved me the hassel of trying to figure out which shirt was worth 25 cents more than the other shirts when, let's be honest--in the end, someone was going to offer me a quarter and I was going to take it. This also saved me from having to use the calculator too much. I could just glance, see that these items weren't on hangers, and count up how many quarters these people owed me. I did hang a clothesline between 2 trees, where I hung nice outfits and a couple of Halloween costumes, which cost between 50 cents and $2.
I made 2 boxes of books, one for paperbacks, another for hardcover. Each box had a general price. One of our students was helping me collect money, so this made it easier for us to be consistent. The fact that most of my stuff cost a quarter made it harder for folks to haggle.
I also did a bargain bin. It contained bibs, tiny baby hats, a few rattles and other small toys and some baby socks. Anything from that bin was 2 for 25 cents. WHAT A DEAL!
SELLING IN BULK I had already decided that I'd cut people a deal if they wanted to buy a lot of items. One lady asked how much I'd charge for a big box of baby PJ's. She scored about 20 sets of PJ's in various sizes for 5 bucks. She also left me her number so that after I'd finished, I could call her. She came back and bought every stitch of clothing I had left for her grandchild, who will be born in December. My neighbor came over and bought a tricycle, a ride-on zebra and an entire box of 3-9 month clothes for one! low! price! Good for them, good for me.
NOBODY BULLIES JEN I had my fair share of early-birds, even though my signs and ads all asked people NOT to come early. I had just started to bring things outside around 7:05 when an older couple drove up in a truck. Not only did they insist on standing directly between the box I was unpacking and the table I was trying to set up, they also commented on the price of every single item I pulled out. I should have taken the advice of an article I read and asked them for a $5 convenience fee for letting them shop early. I gave the woman a pretty nice vase for a dollar just to make her go away.
Our baby swing was a constant conversation topic throughout the day. I've already received what I consider to be an excellent offer from a consignment shop, but I figured why not go ahead and try to sell it at the yard sale. One man offered me $10 for it so he could sell it for $15. Um, dude, little tip? Don't admit you're gonna re-sell it for more! One lady plopped her baby in it while she shopped. At the end of the day, it was one of the only items that came back inside, but I'll take it to the consignment shop this week.
I only had one really sketchy thing go down, which was a lady switching price tags. I had just talked with her about whether or not she wanted to buy the tricycle, which she decided to pass on for now. Then she went over to the table, hovered with her back to me for a bit, then came over with 2 items bearing a $1 price sticker. I remember pricing these items at $3. (2 really nice, brand new things still in the original packages) I remember because Marcus and I discussed the price AND I poked around on eBay to see what similar items were going for on there. I said to the woman," Ma'am, these were priced at $3." She said, "No, $1, see?" and pointed out the price sticker, which was barely attached to the package. I said, "No," and pointed to the half-torn sticker on the other side, then looked on the table to find the peeled-off $3 sticker sitting there. I said, "It's $3 if you want to buy it." Then she pretended not to speak English, which was especially annoying, given our previous 5 minute conversation, which was in perfect English. In the end, she gave me $3 for the items.
One woman brought her 3 kids, who were wild from the minute they got out of the car. The toddler, who I'd guess to be almost 2, managed to destroy my clothesline, unpack every single paperback book, knock over the tricycle and throw toys into my neighbor's yard. She kept throwing one hard plastic toy onto the driveway and I finally had to go over and tell her mom that she needed to pay for that item if her daughter was going to play with it like that. It was like she remembered right then that she had brought her children, and she began to yell at her son, who was trying to get into my car. She ended up buying the toy plus all the maternity shorts I had for sale.
IN GOOD COMPANY Like I said, one of our students came and helped me run things, which was great. It gave me another set of eyes and someone to check my math. Dean and I made muffins Friday night, so we sat and talked and had snacks between customers. Marcus stayed inside with Dean, who was NOT happy that his Mama was outside for most of the day. The little black curlydog from down the street came over about an hour after we started and stayed for the entirety of our sale. She sat on top of the ice chest and wooed people with her sweet face. One woman, whose sister was shopping, got out of the car just to pet the dog and ended up buying $15 worth of stuff. Once my assistant left, curlydog sat in the spare chair next to me. She was a great companion, except for the time she jumped into a customer's van and I had to go fetch her.
In the end, I'm thrilled with how I did. Monetarily, I ended up with more than double my goal, which will make for plenty of spending money for BlogHer. The fact that my house is free of so much clutter is gravy. Delicious, greasy, lump-free gravy.
I love blueberry muffins, but only if they're homemade. Lately, every time I bake anything I have an assistant.
We made these muffins last week, but he refused to taste one. I guess it's too much like bread. (Though he'll eat a donut. Hmm...)
This is a nearly perfect muffin recipe. You can take all sorts of liberties with it like adding a teaspoon of the extract of your choice (I recommend vanilla), throwing in some orange zest, tossing in a dash of cinnamon or sprinkling the tops with sugar. However you choose to enjoy them, they are easy to make.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 375. Use paper cups to line a standard 12-cup muffin pan, or spray cups with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center. In a smaller bowl, whisk together milk, oil and eggs, then pour mixture into well in dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries. Using an ice cream scoop, fill muffin cups. NOTE: This recipe typically only makes 10-11 muffins. Fill empty muffin cups with water for more even baking. Bake at 375 for 23-25 minutes, until crowned and lightly browned. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in a plastic bag.
This post was happily submitted to Eat At Home's weekly ingredient feature! Check out all the great blueberry recipes over there.
Talking about money makes me squinchy. When I was single, balancing my checkbook stressed me out as much as an algebra test used to in high school. Once Marcus came along and introduced me to online banking, things got easier. Where our money's concerned, two heads really are better than one.
Which leads us to our current state of financial craziness--we are about to buy a car. A truck, to be more accurate. Marcus's beloved El Diablo tuckered out on I-65 in May, so we've been a one-car family for almost 2 months. Honestly, if it had to happen, it was the best timing ever. It's summer, I'm not working, Marcus has very few things that actually require him to go into his office at the University these days (he's not teaching in the summer session, much to his chagrin), and we pretty much do everything together, so having one car is fine right now. However, Marcus is in a show in Birmingham later this summer and will need to be gone several evenings a week for rehearsal. Dean and I don't want to be home-bound, plus we'll need 2 cars once school starts back in the fall. Marcus has been searching for weeks and has finally found a good truck to buy. (knock wood) This means we'll soon have a car payment, something we've never had as a married couple. My car was paid for when we got married, then we bought his dad's old car with cash when my car was totalled. El Diablo was a 1988 model (translation: Not Expensive) and we bought her with cash, too.
Now here comes the fun part--I'm not working (that I know of) in the fall either. This isn't a surprise--we knew I wouldn't have a show at the Shakespeare Festival and we knew in March that I wouldn't be teaching at Montevallo in the fall. We socked money away from my last job to pay for Dean's school in the fall and we paid off our one credit card. These two things mean we'll have the cash to pay our truck payments. YAY. The fact that I'm not working, however, means we will have to watch our trips to the Bass Pro Shop, MARCUS and breakfasts at Chick-Fil-A, JEN and get potty trained already, DEAN monthly spending a bit closer. Here are some things we've discussed:
*Grocery budgets. We usually shop on Sunday or Monday for the week. I try to do menu plans for dinner and breakfast and lunch are usually inexpensive. We are going to get a bit stricter about our food budgets, though. We'll figure out exactly how much we want and need to spend on food, keeping in mind that we are foodies and enjoy eating good things like fresh produce. I feel lucky that Dean's such a good eater and I'm not willing to compromise on food. We like to cook, it's something we do together and the fact that I need to watch my salt and cholesterol means we should try to prepare our own meals from scratch so that we know exactly what is in them. I'd rather forego a new t-shirt or skip the dollar spot at Target for a couple of weeks than stop buying good food. Things we WILL sacrifice include coffee cakes from the Publix bakery, random donut purchases and candy, none of which we need anyway and half of which usually get tossed. I'll continue clipping coupons and shopping store specials and I'll also buy things in bulk whenever I can, though our incredibly crappy cabinets make it hard to stock up on too much at one time.
*Entertainment. We cancelled our Netflix months ago because we just weren't using it. Our cable package includes HBO and Cinemax, as well as cheap movies on demand, which I think we've used one time. We are usually so behind on our tv shows that we don't really have time to watch movies. If we're out of shows on the DVR, we turn on VH1 Classic. Marcus actually tapes the one-hit wonders show. He got mad at me last week because I deleted the one featuing "In A Big Country." But I digress.
*Date night. In a nutshell, Marcus and I very, VERY rarely get a date night. Instead, we do lunch dates. When Dean's at school, we meet for lunch once a week at our favorite Montevallo restaurant. This saves us about $80 in the long run if you consider what we would pay for a sitter, gas, dinner and a movie. When we do have sitters, we usually do it when one of our students has BEGGED for time with Dean and we usually pay them with free use of our washer/dryer for the night and a crockpot full of food. It's a pretty sweet deal.
*Extras. We never use the internet on our phones (I know, we're SOOO 20th century), so we're ditching it. That will save us nearly $50 a month. No, we don't have iPhones or Blackberries. We both pretty much live tethered to our laptops, though, if that helps your opinion of us. We also mow our own lawn, do a lot of our own home repairs (not always well, but we try) and try to stretch our dollars as far as possible on things like cleaning supplies, paper products and other miscellaneous household goods. I buy things like toilet paper and paper towels on sale and with coupons, so it's rare that I pay over $5 for big packs of either. We currently have a 12 pack of TP in our linen closet that I got for $3.25. I really like figuring out how to save money and always feel like I've accomplished something when I can combine store sales and coupons. It's like I'm pulling a fast one on CVS. (Am dork.)
If Dean would come on with the potty training, we'd save a good amount each month on diapers, both regular and the overnight variety. He's not feeling it. In fact, he hates his little frog potty so much that we're ditching it and going with a seat that fits onto the big toilet. This is NOT a good example of economicalizing, but you do what you gotta, right? (I'm pretty sure I just invented the word "economicalizing." I can tell you're impressed.)
With menu planning, coupon clipping and careful attention to our random spending (like on York peppermint patties!), we should be fine even with the added car note. However, if anyone would like to hire me to write things for them or better yet, to sit on my couch reading blogs and drinking Coke Zero, I'm all over it.
We have had quite the weekend. My mom and dad came on Friday and we went straight to our favorite Italian restaurant for an absolutely enormous lunch. Between the five of us, we devoured pizza, eggplant parmesan (that was all me), homemade tortellini and spaghetti and meatballs. Mom and I brought home a huge piece of cannoli cake and OH. MY. LORD. It was the best cake in the history of the world. The food coma that followed rendered us pretty useless for the rest of the day.
On Saturday, we got up and hit the Black and Blueberry Festival. My mercy, it was hot, but we pushed through and picked 3 pints of blueberries and 1 pint of blackberries (the blackberries weren't great this year). Dean really got into it this year. We showed him the blueberries on the bush and told him to be sure not to pick the green ones. Marcus told him he could taste one and next thing we knew, he was shoving handfulls of blueberries into his mouth. He looked like a chipmunk.
That evening, Dean modeled Grammy's slippers:
and sampled the fruits of his labor.
On Sunday afternoon, Marcus, Dean and I headed to Alabama's biggest state park for some fishing and play time. Things started out great. Marcus found a nice fishing spot and Dean found this pile of rocks to climb.
Then he found this mud puddle.
And this happened:
Oh, little boy.
I got him out long enough to do a little fishing with his daddy.
And then he fell in the lake.*
*Before people go calling Child Protection on us, the part of the lake he fell into was only about 3 inches deep. He thought it was great. We love him and feed him really well.
As you're reading this, my family is at the Black and Blueberry Festival a town away. We went last year and picked some of the tastiest berries I've ever had. Here's a recipe for fruit pizza, a great way to get in a tasty serving of fruit and a wonderfully cool summertime dessert or snack.
1 roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1-8oz. package low fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (also great with almond extract!)
Sliced fruit of your choice. We like blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, mandarin orange segments, pears, plums, blackberries, raspberries and bananas.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll cookie dough out onto pizza pan. Bake approximately 12 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool.
When crust is completely cool, mix cream cheese and vanilla extract in a bowl and spread over crust. Arrange fruit over cream cheese in the pattern of your choice. Slice into triangles (like pizza) and enjoy!
Julie recently asked that I do a post listing my top 10 favorite NYC restaurants for those going to BlogHer. Of course, the foodie and former New Yorker in me is MORE than happy to write this post! A couple of my favorite places have closed since we moved (sad, sad day), but NYC has plenty of tasty spots to satisfy any and every palate...and budget.
I should admit that I'm not hugely familiar with the area immediately around the convention hotel, but it's just a quick walk or ride from there to many of these places. Also, keep in mind that New York City restaurants are machines--they are equipped to and used to churning food out quickly for greater turnover. It also doesn't take nearly as long as you might think to get from one place to another in that city (most of the time, anyway), so don't feel as though you're restricted to a 2-block radius on lunch breaks.
Also note that if you ask other New Yorkers to do this exact task, you will get completely different answers and they will probably heartily disagree with at least one thing on my list (as I will with theirs). New Yorkers are ferociously loyal to their favorite places, especially if they are in the neighborhoods where we live (or lived in my case). I have a deep love for the Upper West Side, as I worked there most of the time I lived in the city. I ate as many meals in UWS restaurants as I did in the restaurants around my apartment in Astoria Queens. These are just places I enjoy for one reason or another and that I think would satisfy a tourist or a local.
Here are my picks for where and how to eat in NYC (Manhattan only), in no particular order:
1. Diners. I'm not naming one specifically because really? They are more or less all alike to some extent. They consistently have good burgers and salads and GREAT breakfast. Which leads me to Jen's #1 tip for visiting NYC: EAT A BIG BREAKFAST. In a diner, you can generally get a very filling, tasty breakfast for around 6 bucks. They have a great selection--waffles, pancakes, French toast, pastries, eggs and omelets of all sorts, bacon and sausage. Fill your belly in the morning to give you stamina and eat cheaper and lighter at lunch. If I had to pick my favorite Manhattan diner, it would be Applejack Diner, 55th St. and Broadway. They make a great reuben and the world's best cheese fries and they have tons of good breakfast specials.
2. 44SW I love this place. Here's their site. I've never had a bad morsel of food there. When I worked at a theatre on 42nd Street, this was where I'd go with friends for a late-night bite after a show. The cuisine is excellent, the atmosphere is cozy and it's not insanely loud. If you want a nice Italian dinner, you can't beat 44SW.
3. VYNL DINER. I mentionVYNL separately from other diners because it's so unique. If you're a music lover, you've got to eat here. Your menu comes to you in a record sleeve. All the drinks have catchy names like the Pearis Hilton. The best part, though, is the bathroom. Bathrooms, actually--there are 4. Each is themed around a music superstar. They rotate sometimes, but last time I ate there, they had Elvis, Cher, Nelly and Dolly Parton. There's a tile mosaic on the wall depicting the star, plus a shadow box with that star's doll. The star's music blasts while you do your business. VYNL is usually pretty crowded and loud, so you may want to go early or expect a wait.
4. PIZZA. Ok. Pizza is a controversial topic. Here's the thing: DO NOT eat at Sbarro. I know it's convenient and flashy right there on Times Square, but DON'T DO IT. If you do, I will be forced to disown you and you'll be very disappointed. There are some NYC based chains, like my favorite, Ray Bari, that are good, but a lot of times you'll find the best slices in random little Mom and Pop shops. If you're walking by a pizzeria that smells amazing, it probably IS amazing. Give it a try. You can usually score a slice of pizza and a coke for about $4 (or less). My all-time favorite pizzeria is in Astoria, where I used to live. I may have the cab take me straight there from the airport. For BlogHer lunch breaks, I'd probably hit the original Ray's on Broadway at 54th St.
5. Arte' Cafe. This place is a subway or cab ride away from where BlogHer will be held, but it's worth it, especially if you go for the early bird dinner special. Located on W. 73rd Street, this place was a favorite dinner spot for my friends and me when I worked at Lincoln Center. The service is friendlly and fast and you cannot beat the early bird dinner--15 meals under $15 between 4-6pm daily, which INCLUDES dessert, salad and drink. Their lunch specials are also fantastic and they have a good amount of outdoor seating. BONUS: They are next door to Alice's Tea Cup, a famous NYC tea shop. They also serve food, but you need to have a while to spare if you're going to eat there. I believe they only take reservations for parties of 6 or more. But you can do what I like to do: Eat dinner (or lunch) at Arte Cafe, then go to Alice's and grab a cup of tea and a scone to go!
6. Hale and Hearty. I have no idea whether or not they are a NYC chain, but this place has awesome soups and sandwiches for a pretty good price. They are scattered throughout the city. The closest one to the Hilton is on 56th St. between 5th/6th Ave.
7. Carmine's. I know. New Yorkers reading this are banging their heads. But if you're a NYC tourist or you're eating with a big group, Carmine's is great. (I like their food, actually.) It's right in the heart of Times Square on 44th St. and serves big Italian dishes family style. For four people, I'd recommend a salad and 2 entrees to share. You'll be satisfied, I promise, and you'll get out of there for under $20 per person.
8. Chat N Chew. If you venture down to Union Square, which you should, pop into Chat N Chew on 16th St. between Union Square West and 5th Ave. They serve up comfort food and awesome desserts. My favorites are the turkey burger (oh, my word, it's delicious, I wish I had one now) with a teeny ween mac and cheese (a small version of their usually enormous favorite dish), followed by a big piece of Coca-Cola cake.
Edited to add:I just talked to a friend in NYC and she told me Cafe Mozart closed! SAD DAY.
9. Cafe Mozart. I assume a lot of folks will want to do brunch on Sunday. My favorite brunch place of all time, Candella, closed and became a TGI Fridays. (It physically hurt me to type that.) For those with a late flight out on Sunday or those sticking around through the weekend, venture up to Cafe Mozart. (It's on West 70th Street) They have outdoor seating, but also have a pianist inside if you choose to sit indoors. Everything I've ever had there has been awesome. I like their weekday lunch menu, too, but brunch is my favorite. They used to have green eggs and ham on the menu, which were pesto-infused scrambled eggs, served with perfectly cooked Canadian bacon. This is likely where you'll find me on Sunday morning.
10. Angus McIndoe. If you are a theatre fan and/or want to see some celebrities, go to Angus around 10 or 10:30pm on any given night (except Monday--most theatres are dark that night). It's THE place to go after shows. They have incredible calamari. Ask to sit upstairs. If you want to splurge on a nice steak, this is the place to do it.
A few other thoughts...
*Don't fear food from carts! You haven't really visited NYC if you don't eat a hot dog from a vendor! I like mine with mustard and sauerkraut. OH, and FYI, you can't really get yellow mustard anywhere in NYC. They all use deli mustard. It's good. Try at least one hot dog while you're there. I would, however, avoid the pretzels. They tend to be overpriced and dry. Meats on sticks are also tasty. (My friend Kitty, the world's pickiest eater, eats them weekly and calls it "Street Meat.")
*The same goes for those kinda sketchy looking delis that double as quickie marts. They usually make sandwiches behind the counter, they usually use Boar's Head meats and cheeses, and they are usually awesome. Don't wast $25 at Carnegie Deli on 2 pounds of dry turkey when you can get a fully dressed sandwich on a fresh roll for about $2 at a small deli. Deli breakfast is almost always good, too, if you're in the mood for a bagel or breakfast sandwich.
*Avoid chain restaurants! Do not go to Applebee's, TGIFriday's or even McDonald's. You're in NYC and you're going to pay NYC prices! An entree that's $10 where you live will be at least $15 in Manhattan. You're in New York, home of some of the best restaurants in the world. Try them instead of chains!
*Pick up a copy of TIME OUT NEW YORK as soon as you get into town and read their restaurant section. They'll have reviews of new places and tried-and-true gems.
New Yorkers--tell us your favorites that aren't on mylist!
Any type of cuisine you feel is under-represented here? Ask me! This is just my top 10 list. Remember, I spent 7 years eating in this city.
I'm having a yard sale soon. It's a multi-purpose yard sale: to clear the clutter from our home and to line my pocket with spending money for BlogHer! I haven't set a date yet, but I have lots of little piles of clothes and such all around the house and every time I walk by things we don't need anymore, I price them in my head. We'll be parting with things like our baby swing, the highchair, the rubber mat things we bought to cover the carpet when Dean's eczema flared up and TONS of clothes. The baby clothes are the hardest part for me. We took 6 boxes full of clothes for our new nephew, Lukas, to DC a couple of weeks ago, most of which Dean had gotten from his big cousin, Adam. I've got a few boxes for a friend who's having a baby boy in October and I took several outfits to Henry this weekend. Yet there are still bags and bags of clothes. As I go through things Dean has outgrown, I tend to grab a few things for his keepsake box, which contains the outfit he wore home from the hospital, a few things that were purchased for him by special people in our lives and some outfits that are just so DEAN that I can't bear to part with them. Perhaps someday I"ll have a grandbaby boy who can wear these duds. Or I can take them out and smell them from time to time if nothing else. One thing I will probably never part with are Dean's baby blankets. My mom and grandma made them and they have been amazing! They're really big, so we still use them, and they are so SO cute.
I've also got clothes I can't wear any more. I am FINALLY within 5 pounds of my pre-baby weight, so I'm getting rid of any and all maternity clothes that somehow made it through the last purge, and anything above one size bigger than I wear now. (Does that make sense?) Marcus has decided he likes a size larger t-shirts, so we've been cleaning out his dresser drawers to make room for some new purchases. I tried to implement the "If you bought it in the 80's,it's outta here" rule, but he wouldn't go for it. Pity.
Toys are easy to get rid of for me, especially now that we've entered the Every Toy We Own Involves 908 Small Parts phase. If we haven't played with it, read it, watched it or opened it at all in the past couple of months, it's outta here! Seriously, we've got to get rid of some toys so Dean can organize his playing a little better. It's almost like there's so much stuff around that he doesn't know what to choose, so he just throws the thousands of pieces all over, then moves on to another room. Plus we have virtually no storage space in this house. We have a small bookcase in Dean's room, which holds the majority of his books and some stuffed toys, and I've got some bins in the family room for Little People, cars and play food for the kitchen. We don't have room for much more shelving, unfortunately, and our closets are currently packed with clothes we don't need. So clearing the clutter, you see, is imperative!
I read a great article recently in Woman's Day magazine about how to price things for a yard sale. It gave a guide for pretty much anything you could possibly want to sell, and it gave tips on how to get rid of stuff at the end of your sale. I never would have thought of making a clearance bin for a yard sale, but apparently, it works! I"m going to make some kiddie grab bags, which will contain things like stickers and small "happy meal sized" toys, and sell them for a buck. I may also do a bake sale table with tea cakes and muffins.
I have always been a packrat, but moving to NYC really helped me get over the need to hold onto stuff that I might want or need again some day. Spaces there are so tiny that people often have to rent a mini-storage unit to store their off-season clothes. When we moved back south, we got rid of a ton of stuff, including all our furniture (oh, china cabinet, how I miss thee!) and about 30 pairs of shoes. We also managed to lose all of our glassware, which I actually wish we had.
I think I could easily be one of those moms who hangs onto everything her baby ever touched, but what's the point of that? I'm keeping a few special things and letting the rest go. After all, I have this nice blog to record my memories, so who needs the clutter? :)
What could YOU stand to clear out of your home? What do you hold onto for the sake of sentimentality?