Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thrift Store Confidential

I've been a regular volunteer at our local community thrift store for over a year now. The Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program Thrift Store, also known as MCEAP (we pronounce it "Muh-keep), puts all of its profits (minus rent and similar expenses) back into the county in the form of financial assistance, the food bank, and the clothing bank for eligible clients. None of the volunteers at MCEAP, including the director, are paid for their efforts, which is amazing when you consider how many much time it takes to run this store. The program's philosophy is to assist county residents in maintaining their households and restoring their self sufficiency. It's a great program, and I highly recommend it to anyone local who's interested in volunteering.

I have greatly enjoyed working with my co-volunteers and serving my community at MCEAP, but this Friday will be my last day at the thrift store. I'll miss seeing friends each week, but Steve's and my work schedules are about to change and continuing to donate 5-6 hours a week will be too much for me right now. I'm sure at some point in the future I'll resume volunteering there again, but in the meantime I'll continue to shop and donate goods to the store.

Over the past year I've learned a lot about thrift store management and human psychology as it pertains to a thrift store. I thought I might share a few highlights with you. Some of these points are humorous, some are pitiful, and all are true.

1. Reputable thrift stores and clothing banks depend on your donations which they sell to produce funds for a charity, organization, or a project. There are some thrift stores that will take your donations, but only a small portion of the money they make when they sell your items is donated to a charitable organization because the store is actually for profit. If you have any doubt about where the money the store generates from your donations goes, ASK for more information. You might even ask how much much of the store's profit goes to the stated charity. If you don't approve of the answer you receive, take your items elsewhere.

2. Most thrift stores gladly accept clean, wearable clothing that is in good shape and not too out of date. Thrift stores do not always have the facilities to wash dirty clothes or repair any that are torn, missing buttons, or lack a working zipper. For some reason, people often donate clothing or items that are not clean or usable.

2a. Let me reiterate that last point, as my experience has shown me that some people do not understand the concept of "clean, wearable clothing in good shape and not too out of date." If you are cleaning out your old uncle's house and you are aware that he had some difficulty with his bladder functions, please do not donate his soiled clothes to the thrift store. If you are donating your toddler's outgrown clothes but you just haven't had the time to wash them and there's still spilled milk (or worse) on them, please do not donate them. If you have cats and your items are covered in cat hair, please do not donate them. If it's missing buttons, has holes in it, and the zipper is permanently stuck? Don't donate it. And that lemon yellow tuxedo shirt with the frills and super-wide collar? You know, the one you last wore with the polyester double knit blue leisure suit to your cousin's wedding in 1973? Yes, don't donate that either. Much of my time at MCEAP is spent throwing away dirty and otherwise unusable clothing that should never have been donated in the first place.

2b. And it's not just clothing. Do not donate any household goods that still contain moldy food, cigarette butts, trash, or any other kind of filth. If it stinks, has bugs in it, or requires hazardous waste handling procedures because of the presence of bodily fluids, DO NOT DONATE IT! The thrift store is not a dumping ground for your trash.

3. Sadly, some people who donate unusable goods seem to have the viewpoint that anyone who receives assistance from the thrift store in the form of vouchers for clothing or household wares should take whatever is available without complaint. It's difficult to fathom why anyone would think these clients somehow deserve dirty and torn clothes. That's a demeaning, disrespectful, and humiliating attitude towards your neighbors. No one needs that.

4. There is no shame in shopping at a thrift store. No one is going to assume you're on welfare or a client using a voucher just because you're in the store. I like shopping at MCEAP because it's economical and I have found some fantastic pieces of clothing there. Plus, a thrift store needs customers because that's how they generate the money. I'd rather have at least some of my money go towards helping my community than have it line the coffers at the headquarters of Target.

5. Thrift stores often have regular customers who show up first thing each and every morning that the store is open. Some of regulars are dealers or re-sellers while others are hoarders. Frankly, most thrift stores couldn't care less what their customers do with an item once it's sold as long as it was paid for.

6. A surprising amount of merchandise will recirculate through a thrift store. I've seen the same jacket show up two or three times over the course of a year, and I'm only there one day a week. I sometimes wonder if an item that I've seen before also got bought and sold at a yard sale before it making its way back to MCEAP again. It's fascinating.

7. People steal from thrift stores. I realize that people steal from other businesses, too, but it's sad when they steal an item that only costs a dollar in the first place. I just hope they really, really needed that shirt or pants or whatever it was that they stole.

8. If you shop at a thrift store, do not be surprised when you discover that the merchandise has been previously worn or used. One gentleman was astonished and announced with great surprise, "These jeans have been WORN!" Well, yes they have been, sir. You're not shopping at a department store.

9. Thrift stores cannot carry all items at any given time. You may not find pool toys in the middle of winter, and don't be surprised if Easter-related items aren't on the shelves in August. The one exception to this rule is that many thrift stores will put out Christmas items year round. Shoppers love to buy Christmas stuff and you'd be amazed at how much Christmas decor arrives at a thrift store in any given week.

10. If you have had a great experience in a thrift store and really approve of what the store is doing for the community or charity, please let the volunteers or staff members know. Most of us have suffered burn out at some time or another after sorting through yet another bag of dirty clothes, and a simple "Thank you for your help!" can get us through an otherwise long day of service. (We also appreciate a bag of candy now and then!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stinky Pee Plant!

We had asparagus with dinner the other night. Ally loved it last year, but it had been months since she'd eaten any and I was holding my breath that she would still like it. Sometimes her tastes change and one food she disliked earlier will be her new favorite, while an old favorite food may be pronounced inexplicably as the dreaded "yucky." As luck would have it, Ally was delighted to have asparagus again and immediately announced that it looked like bamboo and she was now a panda bear for the rest of dinner.

We're very fortunate that Ally has a distinct fondness for many vegetables and will sometimes eat her weight in broccoli without any sauce on it. In addition to broccoli and asparagus, she also likes sweet potatoes, corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes, and okra. She tends to be less enthusiastic about carrots and will draw the line at pumpkin unless it's in the guise of pie or cake. (You parents of picky eaters, please don't hate us.)

But back to the asparagus. About a half hour after dinner Ally went to the restroom and discovered that her pee stank. She was far less aware of this unique side effect of eating asparagus last year, but at 4.5 years old, she's an observer of many different things. I thought this might be something that turned her against asparagus, but no, she seemed positively amazed by this. We explained to her that our bodies break down the asparagus into some pretty stinky compounds which then show up in our pee. You eat asparagus, you get stinky pee.

Poking around on Wikipedia today I found a mention of a recent genetic study that indicated that not everyone can detect the odor of "asparagus pee," even though the production of post-asparagus stinky pee appears to be a universal human trait. So the next time the subject of stinky pee comes up, I can explain to Ally that you eat asparagus, you get stinky pee, but not everyone can smell it.

I can't wait to hear from Ally's teacher when this discussion inevitably comes up in her classroom.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Yurt

Steve and I had wanted to visit the Charlottesville area for a number of years, but never really got around to planning the trip. We mentioned this at Christmas and Steve's sister offered us their time share points that were about to expire very soon, so we suddenly had free lodging right outside of Charlottesville. As luck would have it, this particular resort offered comfortable cabins and "luxury yurts."

Of course we opted to stay in the yurt.  Really, we couldn't turn it down and consequently spent the next month giggling at the phrase "luxury yurt."

On our arrival the yurt looked very much like a circular tent with weatherproofed tarp on the outside. These are permanent structures with lit walkways and a lockable front door.


The yurts are elevated off the ground with a naturalistic fencing hiding the plumbing and electrical necessities. Steve immediately commented that you know there must be possums or raccoons living underneath there.


But the yurt did not disappoint. (You can tell I'm not a professional travel writer because I waited until the last day before taking pictures of the yurt. Try to ignore the luggage and towels strewn every where in these photos.)




Yep, it's a completely circular room with a full size sofa and reading chair, electric fireplace and TV, and a queen sized bed with dressers.  There's a good size table for four behind the sofa and a full kitchen along one side of the room. The kitchen was fully stocked with dishes and cooking equipment. Behind the kitchen is a full bath with a generous shower stall.


Honestly, this is a much nicer shower stall than we currently have in our master bath.


The roof is a tarp over the support beams. There's even a ceiling fan and a skylight. I think this must get pretty loud during a good thunderstorm, or in the fall when the oak trees start dropping their acorns.


Behind the yurt was a small deck with wooden Adirondack chairs, deck lights, and a gas grill. I've stayed in nice hotels in large cities that didn't have as much to offer as the yurt did.

The resort was sparsely occupied but we did hear a fair amount of noise through the yurt walls (cars driving by, a rooster over by the stable). I'm not sure I'd like staying in the yurt in high summer when the resort was at high occupancy and the pool across the road was full of screaming kids. Still, I wouldn't turn down another stay in the spring or the fall if I had the chance.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mid-winter Trip, 2012

Steve and I recently spent a long weekend trip in the Charlottesville area. We ditched Ally and the dog at Grandma's in Roanoke and immediately celebrated our new childless freedom with french fries at McDonald's.

(Yeah, we don't get out much. We're working on it.)

During our trip we visited James Madison's home Montpelier. There's a walled formal garden on the estate that was renovated in the early 1900s by Annie du Pont, after the duPont family purchased the property in 1901. The garden is beautifully landscaped with sweeping beds, boxwood hedges, symmetrical layout, and marble urns and statuary.

The brick walls surrounding the garden, with the horse stable beyond it.


I'm not a big fan of formal gardens, but I do find them impressive in terms of the landscaping and the effort it takes to maintain all that symmetry. 


Being the dead of winter, there weren't many plants to look at beyond the boxwoods and some other evergreens, but the statuary was impressive.





I'd like to have a pair of these urns, but they're not something you can just pick up at the local garden center.


And then it hit me....we have a pair of matching almond colored toilets that Steve took out of our house. I've been waiting to find the perfect project to use them in this summer! I was thinking about filling them with water and adding some goldfish for a water feature, but now I think I'll fill the bowls and tanks with potting soil and putting in some plants instead. I could have a tall, arching daylilies in the tanks with some nasturtiums spilling out of the bowl. Or maybe a mounding clump of coreopsis in the bowl and some sweet potato vine in the upper tank. The possibilities are endless!

The hard part will be deciding to position the toilets at either side of the entrance to our driveway, or flanking the steps to the gazebo.