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10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

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Andersen Ross Blend Images

Some of you may know that I work in a library. Books are my life, and if I had to be employed outside the home again, I wanted to be around things I adore. And I do love my job: I enjoy helping people, having adult conversations, and just wandering the stacks (okay, I’m usually never just wandering, but even shelving my dear books fills me with joy sometimes). But working at the library has come with more than a few surprises and given me some valuable (and slightly frightening) insight into how people are actually using these venerable institutions.

1. It’s not about the books.

I know. If you’re anything like me, libraries are ALL about the books. We love them, savor them, breathe them. But books are losing popularity, markets are changing, and other services are in high demand. Our library is about DVDs. Then free computer usage. Many cardholders have never checked out a book. I know.

2. Libraries are not quiet anymore.

Cell phones are allowed. And we can’t do the infamous librarian “shhhh” unless we can hear your entire conversation more than three aisles away. Groups gather at our tables for projects, homeowners association meetings, and tutoring sessions. (Including a tutor who uses a ticking metronome!) I once had to politely banish a group of gabbing Girl Scout troop leaders to a far corner because they were yapping like a group of sugared-up Brownies. The building is filled with a constant hum.

3. Very few “real” librarians actually work at the library.

Patrons call me a librarian every day. I rather like the title, but alas, I am only a lowly library clerk. Chances are, most staff members at your library are as well. We do most of the same things as a librarian: answer questions, plan and carry out programming, help with research, handle library accounts, and SO MUCH more, but we don’t have that MLS degree. Or maybe we do, but the official position (one per branch, often only a few per county!) is not open. And we work for half the pay. Which is a key factor because…

4. Libraries are as underfunded as schools.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Library funds come from county taxation. Property taxes took a nose dive, which means funds evaporated. Plus fewer residents think they “need” libraries, so the percentage of taxes libraries receive keeps dropping.

5. Some people who work at libraries have no passion for books. None.

I’ll admit—this one knocked my socks off. I’ve had to rationalize it like this: when I worked retail management, I sold and managed many commodities I had absolutely no interest in (like men’s suits, shoes, and underwear). Libraries work the same way. I’d say half of the staff at my branch hasn’t read a book in years. A few listen to audiobooks when they drive. It’s all about customer service and moving a commodity. Meanwhile, I want to cry with joy whenever a patron asks my opinion on books, and I’ve volunteered to “show off” many of my favorite books and create displays to get these books discovered. And don’t even get me started on weeding…

6. Fiction make up a disturbingly small percentage of check-outs…and the numbers are dropping.

Entertainment DVDs make up most of our circulation: around 40%. Next comes Children’s Easy (picture) Books and CDs. Only then comes Adult Fiction and Lease books (new & best sellers) together making less than 15% of total check-outs—and those numbers are about evenly split. Think about it: ALL of the fiction books which aren’t top new releases (i.e. James Patterson, Nora Roberts and the like) make up only 7ish percent of our circulation. People don’t come to the library to check out novels. Well, some do, but not nearly enough.

7. A huge chunk of the population still has no (or very rudimentary) computer skills. And forget about having any concept of the Dewey Decimal system.

I’m guessing they don’t teach library skills in schools anymore. Or make students do research projects that require actually going to a library. Most patrons look at me as if I’ve sprouted a book from my head when I mention that books are actually organized by numbers. They don’t know how to find anything alphabetically or numerically. They can’t figure out how to type a title into the catalog and hit “search.” They just can’t grasp the concept. And our free computers (3 hours of use per day) are a huge draw in my branch’s location. So many people don’t know how to use Google. Or find their email, print, or type a message. Some don’t know how to click on a mouse. Blows my mind. And it’s not just older folks. I push our free computer classes, but so many patrons refuse to take them. How can anyone hold a job now with NO computer skills? You can’t even sign up for food stamps without some computer knowledge (which many folks don’t have, so we became part-time social workers as well).

8. So much material is “lost” because patrons never bother to check it back in.

Let’s say we look for a book—a classic like 1984 for example—that’s in high demand now due to high school summer reading lists (which I love). We may have 45 copies in the system. But that’s all the copies the library system has ever owned. Over the years many have been damaged and withdrawn. Dozens (say 75%) of the copies still show up as checked out with due dates as old as a decade. People just never check them back in and abandon the library system. And don’t even get me started on DVDs…if you want a copy of movie released more than five years ago, there might be one or two left…might be… So these thousands of people have been billed for these items, which leads to…

9. Many patrons rack up HUGE fines.

When I was a normal library patron, I’d occasionally have an overdue book. Usually only a day or two because my schedule wouldn’t allow me to drive the six miles to the branch. I’d slink up to the counter and immediately admit my books were late. Hanging my head, I’d take my wallet out and pay, apologizing the whole time. Now—no way. Patrons have $40, $60, $100+ fines on their accounts. I’ve seen a few over $200. Whole families owe hundreds because each member has racked up so much. Collection agencies are involved. People fight us. Others just shrug and walk away, never intending to pay or set foot in a library again.  And FYI: library fines are like student loans—they NEVER disappear.

10. Libraries must evolve to stay open.

Books won’t keep library door open. Door counts matter. And unfortunately, books just aren’t drawing people in. So we drum up adult programming, offer tech classes, and promote children’s crafts, movies, and science programs. We try and teach patrons about ebooks, but most patrons who come in would need hours of one-on-one help. The patrons who are computer/ebook savvy likely download everything from home, never needing to step foot in a branch. We make copies, send faxes, and act as unofficial computer tutors. We occasionally help someone discover a new author, and my heart grows six sizes each time. But we’ll find ways to draw people in, even if it has nothing to do with books because we need to find ways to keep books available to those who love them. Our future depends on it.

 

 

 

Review: THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry

The stories we tell by patti callahan henryWishing Patti Callahan Henry a very Happy Pub Day!

The Book:

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family.

But things may not be as good as they seem.

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

The Author:

patti callahan henry authorNew York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published ten novels–including one of my favorite reads of last year, AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year.

She grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she became a pediatric nurse. Not long after having her third child, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Patti wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until her daughter mentioned  that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up that Patti realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.

A full-time writer, wife, and mother of three—Patti Callahan Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Find Patti at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads

 

The First Line:

My eyes changed color and I didn’t even notice.

The Good Stuff:

By now we’ve all realized that in real life, there is no such thing as the “perfect” family. Chances are, even the most glamorous and stable of folks have something going on behind the facade. In THE STORIES WE TELL, Eve and Cooper live with this disparity: on the surface, everything looks fabulous. In reality, his online magazine is struggling, he’s jealous of the time Eve spends on her successful letterpress business, Fine Line, Ink., their teenage daughter teeters on the brink of full-fledged rebellion, and Eve’s free-spirited sister, Willa, is really a recovering alcoholic living in the guest house until she can piece her life back together.

The story starts strong: on a dark and stormy night, Eve is summoned to the hospital after her husband and sister are injured a car accident. Cooper escapes with only a glaring gash across his face, but Willa has suffered a traumatic brain injury. She can’t remember what happened that night, and Cooper is blaming her and her drunken antics—a story that doesn’t mesh with what either sisters believes.

But why wouldn’t Cooper be telling the truth?

The story also dips into the sketchy subject of financial infidelity. It’s a topic friends and spouses just don’t discuss, yet in these unstable times, it’s something that occurs more than we’d care to imagine. Does sneaking around the bank account destroy trust as wholly as cheating in the bedroom?

Eve and Cooper’s teenage daughter, Gwen, tugged at my gut. Each episode of acting out left me wondering how I’d handle a similar situation—and nervous considering I’ll be parenting a teen in just a few short years. I wanted to yell at Gwen and hug her all at the same time.

The details about Eve’s passion for printing and need to create added a colorful layer to the story. Though the ease of computers, many of us may dabble in graphics and design, but few of us have worked with a finicky old letterpress, hunted through junk shops for antique font sets, or spend hours pondering the differences in the feel of fine papers. I love the premise of the Ten Good Ideas card line—ten commandments for really living, like “be kind” and “search for the true” instead of ten rules threatening you should not do. These rules for living not only exemplified Eve and Willa’s values, but grew from their desire to be good to each other and in life—and made for a highly successful card line.

Patti weastories we tell, jack johnsonves music throughout the story, and I have to admit—she (or should I say “Eve”) has great taste. Songs provide an escape for Eve, act as a precursor of moods, and evoke just the right feelings in the reader—if they’re familiar with the lyrics. But who doesn’t cinch up a bit inside or feel transported to a hazy memory when they hear “Landslide” — be it the Dixie Chicks or Fleetwood Mac version?

It just so happened that my ARC of THE STORIES WE TELL tagged along with me to the Jack Johnson concert in Saint Augustine last month. (I don’t go anywhere without a book.) Imagine my surprise when a day or so later I read about Eve listening one of my favorite J.J. songs, “Flake.”   I dropped the book. The book had just seen that song live! Talk about good karma.

Recommendation:

Buy it. Lovely writing, relatable characters, and a plot that will keep you reading until you discover the truth. Toss it in you beach bag (or summer concert bag!). Though the novel delves into some serious issues, it’s actually a relatively light read. At 272 pages, it’s perfect for a weekend away—one of the reasons it’s topping summer reading lists. It would be an excellent summer selection for book clubs as well—plenty of meaty, relevant topics to discuss, but short enough to fit in during the often hectic time of year.

 

The Details:
The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Print Length:
272 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

 

Ringing in the New Year with ch-ch-ch-Changes

winds of change, change in the air

Happy New Year, y’all!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been counting down the days until I could kick that crummy 2013 out on its keister. Adios—don’t let the calender page slice you a paper cut on the way out.

A few of you may have noticed that things have been a little quiet around here. In real life, things have been anything but.  ::sniff, sniff::   Notice that intoxicating scent drifting on the January breeze? That’s the smell of change, my friends, and hopefully the winds of fortune are shifting my way.

News from my writing world: Remember a few months ago when I announced that my manuscript won the General Fiction category for the Novel Rocket Launch Pad contest?  Well, the Grand Prize announcement was December 9th. I’ll admit, I’d stopped obsessing dreaming thinking about it. No pressure, prayers, holding breath, or fingers crossed. So imagine my surprise when I opened my email that morning to discover I’d WON Yippee!  Someone (okay, a lovely panel of judges with exemplary taste) chose THE LAST RESORT as the Grand Prize winner! Whoo-hoo!  I’d like to give a shout out to everyone involved, and a sincere thank you to the Novel Rocket team. Your support has keep me going in this sometimes soul-skewering business. Thank you.

And thanks to them, I won’t use my 380 pages as fire pit kindling. . . just yet.

The other big news: I am officially a SAHM no more. Yes, I know I’ve been working my a$$ off for the last many years writing and editing, but most of the real world just considers that a luxurious little hobby, something I dabble in when I’m not nibbling bon bons in front of the TV.

Not only do I now have one (additional) job, but two.

If you’re going to do something, do it big, right?

The day after I was accepted to be a work-from-home contractor for a search engine company, I finally scored an interview for a library position. I’d been waiting on that call for nearly two years. (I swear, it’s easier to get into the Mafia than to score a library position.)

Several interviews, a couple of tests, and reams of paperwork later, I am officially a library employee.

Yeah. Kid in a candy store.

An exceptionally busy candy story—my library branch looks like Honeydukes swarmed by a horde of Hogwarts’s students jonesing for a new flavor of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans on a daily basis—but books are my passion, and now I have the privilege of being surrounded by them every day.  (And shelving them, checking them in/out, fixing them, organizing them, recommending them…)

And then there was the whole holiday thing going on—life is never hectic at that time of year anyway, right?

So I have some major changes going on around here.  My family must adapt to me working outside the home. We must shift homework duties, household responsibilities, and figure out what to do with the dear kiddo on days when our schedules conflict. I must accept that I’ll have less time with my family and adapt to having fewer opportunities to flex my writing muscles. My husband must familiarize himself with the kitchen once again.

But change is good. In fact, that will be my theme, my word for the year: change. I’ll strive to embrace change, enjoy change, thrive with change. . . for a change.

Don’t worry my friends, I’ll still be around. I’ll still be sending my (now Grand Prize Winning) manuscript out to agents. I’ll still write and blog. I might shift my focus a bit.  I’m not sure. Change is in the air, and I’m going to suck it in with deep, cleansing yoga breaths.

I hope you’ll stick around for my journey.

May the new year brings you and your loved ones change for the good!

new year 2014

Happy 2014 y’all!

photo credit: WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com) via photopin cc

10 Kid-friendly 80s TV Shows I Miss

My kid can’t watch prime time TV. Maybe Too Cute on Animal Planet or something from one of the *Kids Only* channels, but any current sitcoms or dramas on mainstream channels—not happening. The sex, gore, and violence is just too much for a 10-year-old to handle. The modern shows make me long for the Can’t Miss TV, for family sitcoms that drew all-ages to the screen, for simpler times when the entire family could gather around the living room TV and watch together. We didn’t have many channels to chose from, and we were spoiled if we even had cable (ooohh, HBO!), so programs seemed much more kid-centered.

It might be my fuzzy memory, but it seems like when I was a kid in the 80s, every night there were shows the entire family could indulge in. As I skipped down TV memory lane, I came up with far more than ten.

Do you remember any of these 80s family classics?

 

1. The Cosby Show

How could any 80s kid not love the Cosbys? They were the perfect upper-middle class family we all wanted to join. Mom was a lawyer, dad a doctor, and none of the kids were perfect. Now I realize I should have taken notes on how Claire dressed down her kids so efficiently. And when dad Cliff went at it, we all laughed.  Remember the funeral for Rudy’s goldfish? How about Cliff’s sweaters? Pure 80s gold.

And don’t forget the spin-off, Denise goes to college, a.k.a. A Different World

2. The Facts of Life

facts-of-life

For some reason, I was obsessed with the idea of going away to boarding school. (I blame it on The Girls of Canby Hall books.) I wanted their independence. I wanted their friendship. I wanted to smack the spoiled Blair and hang out with cool tomboy Jo. I wanted my own Mrs. Garrett. And I wanted George the handyman (Hello young George Clooney…)

3. Family Ties

Hippie parents, kind of square kids, and sibling ribbing that made you laugh. Alex P. Keaton made Michael J. Fox a household name before Back to the Future, and he’s still going strong.

4. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire

This show came out in 1990, but close enough. This is when we all fell in love with Will Smith, and he proved that rap/hip-hop didn’t have to be nasty. Do you have the theme song in your head yet?

5. Blossom

Did you realize that Blossom was modeled after a modern-day Holden Caufield? Neither did I back then (I had a few years before I fell in love with Catcher in the Rye) but I loved Blossom for her funky wardrobe, free dancing, and fast-talking friend Six. Oh, and I wanted Joey Lawrence for an older brother. Thrilled to see Mayim Bialik on Big Bang Theory now. Thrilled.

6. Silver Spoons

Silver_SpoonsHe was the little rich boy all little girls swooned over. I’m pretty sure my Barbies to dated him (when she wasn’t with Ricky Martin, who was then in the boy band Menudo). We wanted to hang with Ricky and Alphonso in their mansion so full of arcade games and toys it must have been the original Man Cave. We mooned over his heartbreak as Mr. Mister sang Broken Wings and wished we were there to comfort him.

 7. Different Strokes

“What’chu talkin‘ ‘bout, Willis? ‘Nuff said.

8. Full House

Who imagined that baby Michelle would grow into the uber-rich Olson twins?

9. The Wonder Years

wonderKevin and Winnie and the curse of being “just friends.” Totally got it then.

 

10. Who’s The Boss
tony danza Because every career girl needs a live-in male housekeeper right? Tony Danza played one of the original Mannys, and his daughter on the show, Alyssa Milano, was super cool—to an 8-year-old.

But wait—ten show just barely puts a dent in all of the fun shows I remember from childhood. How about:

Growing Pains

Kirk Cameron’s poster graced many girl’s walls back in the day. Now when I see this box I only see Robin Thicke’s dad. ::shivers::

 Doogie Howser, M.D.

doogie

 

 

 

 

Neil Patrick Harris as a boy-genius was cute back then, too.

 

Punky Brewster

Uploaded with ImageShack.us

So, she looked a little like Rainbow Brite. . . Actually, I think her style is back IN style.

My Two Dads

My Sister Sam
mysistersam1

 

 

 

 

 

Charles in Charge

Webster

webster

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Belvedere

ALF


Head of the Class

head of the class

 

 

 

 

Gimme a Break

Dukes of Hazard

Okay, not the best example of classic TV, but we all watched it loved it as kids. If you were a true 80s kid you must have had a die-cast General Lee car or Daisy Duke Underoos. What were we thinking?

 

21 Jump Street

Teen drama. Hello Johnny Depp. Still swooning.

What shows have is missed? Which shows do you miss the most? Any you want to buy on DVD to show your kids?

Mama's Losin' It

Nowhere but Home and Last Meals

While on vacation last month, I ate up Liza Palmer’s Nowhere but Home. Though not the typical beach read, I savored each word as I relaxed in the Florida Keys. The book came out in April, I read it in August, and I’m just reviewing it in September. (How the hell is it September already?) Slap a slacker sticker across my forehead. I’ve been so sucked into my own writing that my eyes go blurry at the end of the day. My books backlog is ridiculous. My reviews—overdue. Mea culpa. But I just couldn’t forget this story.

From the back cover:

Nowhere but Home nowhere but home - liza palmer-last mealsby Liza Palmer

The strategy on the gridiron of Friday Night Lights is nothing compared to the savagery of coming home . . .

Queenie Wake has just been fired from her job as a chef for not allowing a customer to use ketchup . . . again. Now the only place she has to go is North Star, Texas, the hometown she left in disgrace. Maybe things will be different this time around. After all, her mother—notorious for stealing your man, your car, and your rent money—has been dead for years. And Queenie’s sister, once the local teenage harlot who fooled around with the town golden boy, is now the mother of the high school football captain.

Queenie’s new job, cooking last meals at the nearby prison, is going well . . . at least the inmates don’t complain! But apparently small-town Texas has a long memory for bad reputations. And when Queenie bumps into Everett Coburn, the high school sweetheart who broke her heart, she wishes her own memory was a little spottier. But before Queenie takes another chance on love, she’ll have to take an even bigger risk: finding a place to call home once and for all.

********************************

First off, this cover doesn’t do the book justice—though it’s pretty and charming, the story is far more Texas grit than fluff. As always, Liza Palmer’s characters are irreverent, a little rough around the edges, bitingly funny—and all the more gripping because of that. If you’ve read any of her other books, you know that she delves into some deep stuff—the cover of More Like Her may feature three chicks in heels, but the story starts with a shooting. Grit lit, not chick lit.

In Nowhere But Home, Queenie Wake slinks back to North Star, the tiny town she’d fled years ago trying to escape from her shame and herself. The mean girls from her past might be married with kids, but as they grew older, their claws grew sharper. They won’t let Queenie forget how her mama was shot dead by her best friend after being caught in bed with her husband. The small-town social hierarchy painted Queenie and her sister as trashy, no-good, tramps, too—even if the women are anything but. In a town overflowing with dirty little secrets, Queenie must learn that she can’t outrun the past, and sometimes, holding onto your roots can set you free.

A couple of plot twists into the story, Queenie accepts a rather unusual culinary position—cooking last meals for convicts about to be executed. Cheerful job, right? But someone has to do it. Queenie takes the job seriously, working tirelessly to recreate each prisoner’s request, down to figuring out where in Mexico one man’s grandmother came from so she could make the proper type of tamale. The details of the requests—from a meal that read like a Mexican Christmas dinner to the significance of a pack of Skittles—got me thinking.

What foods would I want to savor, knowing I was about to die? Which foods would bring me comfort, draw blissful memories, transport me to a time and place far from the fear of death?

(A difficult subject to ponder while staring into turquoise waters in a picture postcard setting.)

nowhere but home, liza palmer, florida keys, bahia honda

My first thoughts drifted to foods from my travels: the crepes a la Florentina from a cozy trattoria in Florence, the near perfect tortellini in white sauce savored while overlooking a Venetian canal, the delicate lemon cake from my wedding night in Rome. All recipes I’ve been unable to recreate, all foods that set my taste buds in a tizzy as I reminisce . . . all hoity-toity delicacies that represent a part of my life I want to relive, but not who I really am.

After hours of thought, I figured it out.

Veal cutlets, mashed potatoes, Le Seur canned peas, onion gravy. My family’s traditional sage stuffing. My mom’s caramel brownies with a side of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Beverage . . . I don’t think they’d let me have any chardonnay, so . . . root beer?

I grew up eating this simple meal. (Okay, the stuffing went with turkey on holidays, but dammit, it’s my last meal. It sops up gravy perfectly.) I still make it regularly.  We call it comfort food, as in: “What’s for dinner?” “Comfort food.”  And we all know exactly what’s on the menu. When I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I just don’t want to eat anything, this always makes me feel warm inside.

Guess that fits the bill.

As for the book—Nowhere but Home is rich, satisfying, and will leave you cheering for the disreputable Wake girls. Buy it. Read it. You’ll laugh, shed a tear or two, and get really hungry.

{psst—you can find my final request recipes for Mom’s Magic Caramel Brownies here and the Traditional Sage Stuffing here…good stuff…}

Your turn—what foods would you choose to fill not only your gut, but your heart? What would be your last meal?

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com

 

{Okay, technically a book review isn’t PYHO material, but the deep thought involved with last meals certainly took a lot of thought and heart to write.}

 

Top 10 Thrift Store Tips & Tricks {or how to become a Thrift Store Fashionista}

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I have a confession.

I rarely set foot in real stores yet my closets and drawers are stuffed. Last week I bought two packs of hangers and cleared out the guest room closet to handle the overflow. My son owns more clothes than a boy his age cares about, and that’s not counting the next two sizes waiting for him to grow into. And I would rather slit my wrists than pay retail.

I am a thrift store shopaholic.

Having been a savvy clearance shopper for years, I’ve always bee-lined to the back of every store and nailed sale rack scanning down to a science. But that just wasn’t enough for me.

I had to take it to the next level.

I decided to brave a thrift store.

Admittedly, I was nervous the first time. Would it be scary? Nasty? A total wast of time?

Inside, my eyes bugged out behind my designer (flea market) sunglasses as racks of colored and styled clothes stretched as far as I could see. Thousands of items, each one unique, and all begging for a new closet. At first, I flipped through the racks timidly, assuming it would be worn-out discount department store rejects, but after five minutes my arms hung heavy with finds and I went in search of a shopping cart. Cashmere sweaters, preshrunk designer jeans, adorable summer skirts, vintage little black dresses, chic leather jackets, unique accessories–I had died and gone to budget fashionista heaven.

If you want to find you own thrift store treasures, you must understand the method to the madness.  Here are some of the tips I have learned through trial and error:

Learn how you can discover your own vintage treasures | Top 10 tips from a Thrift Store Diva

1. Location, location, location. It’s all about the real estate. The nicer the neighborhood, the better the donations. One Goodwill might consistently stock junk, but one on the other side of town may feature half an Ann Taylor store on the racks. And while I feel perfectly safe and comfortable in my favorite Salvation Army, the sketchy dudes stalking the parking lot of another made me keep on driving by.

2Know the merchandise. A used Walmart t-shirt for $2–not such a deal.  A NWT (new with tag) Banana Republic cashmere sweater set for $3—a steal! Learn how to spot quality fabrics and brands from a distance.

3Ignore sizes. They vary brand to brand anyway. (I own jeans in four sizes, for real.)  Almost everything is pre-washed and preshrunk. If it looks like it might fit, try it on.

4.  Dress for success.  Some stores don’t have fitting rooms. Some fitting rooms have a half-hour wait. If you come prepared in a skinny tank and leggings you can find a mirror and explore your inner exhibitionist. Trust me, everyone does it.

5.  Buy off-season.  If you go looking for warm jackets during a January cold snap you will be sorely out of luck. Look in July and you’ll have dozens to choose from.

6.  Ask if the store runs sales. Many stores discount a particular colored tag each day.  My Salvation Army has 50% off all clothes each Wednesday. It’s an absolute madhouse—but $3.50 Versace jeans are utterly worth it to me.

7.  Carefully check out the goods.  They are “recycled.”  Some stores inspect items thoroughly but others may put out items stained, ripped, or torn.  If it needs to be repaired, it had better be worth the work.

8. Look for what you NEED first.  Dying for a new pair of fitted black pants? Your kid growing out of his shorts? Check those racks first. I’ve watched a woman snatch every pair of pants in my husband’s extremely hard to find size after I’d wasted time browsing through tank tops I didn’t need. Ouch.

9Leave the kids at home. Yeah, I know that’s not always possible, but thrifting takes time and patience. Kids get bored before you can blink. If you do have to drag your munchkins along, make sure to bring something to keep them fully occupied. (i.e. Is your phone fully charged and loaded with games?)

10.  Check back often and don’t get discouraged.  Some days I find 25 steals I simply can’t live without. Some days I find crap. But you never know when some style maven may clean out her closet because she’s bored or changed sizes. Keep checking.

The only time I set foot in the mall now is to claim my free Victoria’s Secret panties (love getting those coupons in the mail!). I’ve nearly stopped making my rounds at Ross and T.J. Maxx because I know if I am patient, persistent, and sometimes just plain lucky I can find whatever I’m looking for (and usually so much more) for practically pennies.

Every Wednesday I’m overwhelmed with the urge to be at my favorite thrift store. The hidden treasures call me, tempt me, like a discount liquor store lures every wino for miles. Luckily my addiction is good for my (gorgeous second-hand Coach) pocketbook and doesn’t fry my liver. To make room for new finds, I often show up at the thrift store with a bag of donations. I’m all for recycling.

Amongst my fellow thrifty friends I gladly brag about how cheap I find my clothes.

(Them: Love your shirt. Me: Thanks!  {whispered} Salvation Army. $1.50!)

I try to convert my friends after each compliment I receive but only if they don’t wear my size.  I don’t need the extra competition.

When complemented by less enlightened folk who may snub their nose at my methods, I simply give a knowing smile and a modest “thanks.”

It’s vintage. It’s recycled. It’s unique. It’s me. large_4904276362

Now if I only had someplace to WEAR all my little black dresses…

Have you ever tried thrifting? Would you? Have any shopping secrets to share?

photo credit: Niccolò Caranti via photopin cc | photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc |  photo credit: Guillaume Lemoine via photopin cc

Pitch Madness

My heart is racing this morning. Not just a little I’m-nervous-about-riding-this-roller-coaster-pitter-patter, but a holy-crap-I-just-ran-a-10k-and-I’m-about-to-keel over beat. You see, there’s this game called Pitch Madness. During a strict 24-hour window, aspiring novelists on the hunt for agents submit their 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of their completed manuscript. Several rounds of slush pile readers whittle down the entries (hundreds? thousands?) to the top 60 and post the winners on their blogs.

Pitch madness 2013

The winners were posted at 8 a.m. sharp this morning. Though I tried to ignore my anxiety and the #PitchMaddness twitter feed craze, I still woke at six counting down the minutes until the big reveal. I wouldn’t be one. I can’t get my hopes up. Need to brace myself for the months and years of rejection this writing business is bound to dish me like my heart carved and served on a platter.

At 8 a.m. I peeked at the first blog (who’d hinted on twitter she’d picked a women’s fiction entry). Not me. Damn. Checked the second. And the third. Tons of YA, dystopian, magical realism. None of me. Double damn. Figured I might as well check the last one, just in case. My heart felt like it dangled  in a noose.

There I was. Lucky #13. Hot damn.

So, it’s two hours later, and I’m about to down a blood pressure pill to stop the racing. Next week, agents—real agents, some who are on my short list to query—will compete for manuscript requests. Holy crap on a stick. I have some work to do—never know, I might be one of the lucky ones.

This month I’ve dedicated myself to preparing perfecting my submission package (pitch, query letter, 3 different synopsis, and a manuscript polished brighter than spit-shined patent leather pumps). I just started an online class—Submissions that Sell—and I need to hop on the fast track. I need all that knowledge and critique now—no, last week. And it all needs to be squeezed in during a crazy month overflowing with back to school schedules, concerts, trips, conferences, and chaos. But there’s never a “right” time, right?

Reading through the other entries I felt overwhelmed by the amount of talent out there. Some of those first lines snagged me, and I can only assume they will be like a wriggling, juicy, scrumptious bait worm to the agents playing for requests. I wish all the other hungry writers all the luck in the world. I’ve set my hook. Let’s hope my work is strong enough to reel someone in.

And the clock ticks down until Tuesday when the games begin.

vintage nike ad, nike inspiration, nike yes Check out my entry here on FizzyGirl.com. (Click on THE LAST RESORT #13!)

Thanks to all of the generous bloggers, writers, slush pile readers, and agents participating in this creative melee of Pitch Madness. Y’all rock!

Welcome to my construction zone!

Lego construction, lego pumpkin

Hi there!

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