Monday, June 4, 2018

The Year of Living More With Less: Worldly Possessions

I decided it was high time for a TYLMWL update. Also, ironically, I can't post a trip review of our boat tour along the Channel Islands yesterday because I'm still sorting through 855 pictures. And that doesn't count the ones on my phone. Clearly, I have some work to do in that department before we ring in 2019.

But I can talk about what it was like to complete the Konmari Challenge in PA and what it has been like to unpack what remained in CA.

First of all, if the moving company's weight coming from Kansas to Pennsylvania was correct (and who really knows because our moving company was so shady), then I sold/donated 13,000 pounds of stuff. As the garbage bags of donations started flying out the door right after Ash Wednesday, I would say it certainly felt like 13,000 pounds, even in the first week. But as the days turned to weeks, progress slowed and eventually ground to a halt while I searched for housing options in CA. With the exception of Neal's belongings, I did eventually finish holding every item we own in my hands and asking myself if it sparked joy. I didn't do Neal's things because I'm not Neal and only he knows if they spark joy or not. And he's not one to ask that question as he is more focused on whether it serves a purpose.

Which is why we have not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR containers of cords. My husband is a cord hoarder and he makes no apologies for it. However, I must admit that there has never been a time when I needed a cord and he didn't have it.

Although I was still finishing Konmari'ing the house as I pre-bagged items, I did finish and I learned some things about myself:

1. I have an art/photo/frame addiction. The more hyperlocal the art is to a place where we've been stationed, the better chance I have of owning it. It took 23 boxes to pack all of my art, canvas prints, framed photos and posters. That's a little bit embarrassing because we will never have enough walls to display everything I kept. But sometimes we have more wall space than other times so I'm going to keep it because it all sparked joy.

2. I seem to have a bit of a "soft gray t-shirt with some kind of design" addiction. They fade, they pill, they are all a bit too big...but I keep buying them. Gray tshirt and black yoga pants - that's my uniform these days.

 3. If the small kitchen appliances ever decide to gang up and wage war on us, we don't have a fighting chance. Because...there are a lot of them. We can: make sushi, make cheese, make beer, pop popcorn, make paninis, dehydrate stuff, grind coffee, make margaritas, slow cook things, slice, dice, peel an apple, make ice cream, juice a beet and make soup. And that's just what I can see from the couch. The problem is, I love that I can decide at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon that we are going to make beef jerky that day or spend an hour making ice cream on a Thursday night. So, they all have to find a place to live because they are all staying. I just hope they don't decide to unionize.

 4. Books and throw pillows. I don't think I need to say anything more because I believe most of you know and are nodding your heads in absolute agreement.

So, I know that I had an amazing crew of packers, but I also think the reason they were able to get it done in one day has something to do with my efforts to declutter and organize the house. Here's what no one has said yet, though. When you move as often as we do and you complete the Konmari Method, now everything that sparks joy is on that moving truck. For the last 5 moves, if something sparked joy and I would be devastated to lose it, I hand carried it in the car/truck/RV to the next duty station. But now I would have to hand carry everything. That resulted in a lot more anxiety around the packing and moving process than I had anticipated. When I voiced my concerns to some fellow Army wives, although they were understanding and appreciated the dilemma, they also answered with, "it's just stuff and it's all replaceable. And what's irreplaceable, you hand carry." And I did. I had 6 plastic bins full of Blue's original art, gifts from faraway places and handwritten letters/cards from war. But what can't be ignored is the fact that everything that went on the truck was still stuff I held in my hands and felt joy. It is just stuff but it's joyful stuff. And I had a hard time letting it go with someone else. Even the ice cream maker and the lap desk and the IKEA throw pillows. I struggled with all of it and tried not to think about it getting lost or destroyed along the way.

I think that's what needs to be said about what happens when a military spouse uses the Konmari Method. Every few years, some people who just want to get a job done and get paid will come into your house and throw everything that sparks joy into boxes and then attempt to move it some distance. And that will be stressful because now it's not just stuff.

It also needs to be said that even though Marie Kondo says you will only need to go through this process once, I disagree. Tastes change (I joyfully sold my heavy-as-lead Pier One drinking glasses at the yard sale because they were gorgeous to me in 2006 but cumbersome and outdated in 2018) and kids grow out of things. They grow out of sippy cups and Thomas the Train and blue jeans. We mature and evolve so just as our taste buds change every 7 years, I think that's a reasonable time frame for another pass through the worldly possessions.

I also decided to do a home inventory for this move, meaning that I grouped like items together (as many as I could squeeze into a photo) and documented their existence and condition before the move. This took longer than I thought originally but went quickly once I established a process. Although it didn't help with knowing what was in each box, if a box (or like PA, multiple boxes) went missing, I could deduce what had been lost. Every single item made it on this move. I wish I had done this before the PA crew lost half of my grandmother's fine china.

As for unpacking (and perhaps it was the care and attention paid during packing), it went remarkably smoothly. Boxes were mostly labeled and, once the furniture was in place, I could unpack and put away one room per day. We have been here for 20 days and every box is unpacked. The house is set up with pictures on the walls and floors cleared of packing material - which is unprecedented considering we didn't have Mom and Anna (a dynamite duo with a work ethic that we vastly underestimated) to help this time. And, most importantly, I have one paper bag, which is half-full, of items that I decided to get rid of after unpacking the house. That has never happened. I usually have another large purge after the house is unpacked. This one paper bag tells me that the Konmari Method was especially effective.

So, I can only say good things about taking the time to look at what you own, ask yourself why you own it and if it is something you love/sparks joy/can't live without. Although the question may be different for you, whatever it is, ask it and decide whether your worldly possessions are lifting you up or dragging you down. Because we can't take them with us when we die and most likely, our kids will drop it all off at Goodwill on the way out of town. Love it or leave it behind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fort Mac Firsts

California has been a bit of a culture shock, although probably more for me than anyone else in the family. Blue is just excited that we can run down to the beach for an hour if the mood arises and Neal has been working nearly every waking hour since our first Monday here. But I've had to make some...adjustments.

1. Traffic is terrible here.
I can't even imagine what it's like as you get closer to Los Angeles. Although we technically live in LA county, it isn't like you're sitting at a dead stop on the 405. But you should double (and sometimes triple) how long it would normally take you to get somewhere. My new rule of thumb for appointments: number of miles x 3 = bring a book and the phone number of the place where you're going because you may need to kill time or call and tell them you're en route.

2. Port of LA is breathtaking every. single. time.

These pictures don't even do it justice. Neal had tried to warn me before I got here. "To go south, you have to cross 2 huge bridges that go way up into the sky." After watching a documentary about that bridge in Arkansas that broke apart and half of it fell into the river, I've been a bit of a gephyrophobe ever since. So driving into the clouds on a bridge loaded with truckers coming from the docks sounded awesome. After a week, I've grown fairly numb to it. I just drive in the right lane with my Pennsylvania tags and know that I will get where I'm going, eventually. But the view...there is no way to accurately describe what it's like to see thousands of containers, stacked on top of each other, for miles along the waterfront. This country has a serious shopping addiction. One day, as we drove across the Vincent Bridge, I was trying to explain to Blue that many of those containers hold Amazon orders (look at me, driving across an enormous bridge in the sky AND talking to a 5 year old). Kind of like knowing where your produce comes from, it's equally as important to know where your Legos come from. 
3. Free range peacocks have the right-of-way. 
We first noticed these fellas as we walked to Blue's new school (right on the freaking Pacific Ocean, I might add. The dog park is right next door. The pups and kids have the best view around here). They chat to each other from roof tops and, occasionally, cross the road. (Why did the peacock cross the road? He thought he could do it better than the chicken.) Yesterday, I had to stop my car and wait for a peacock to decide if he was going to go left, right, or down the middle. They respond somewhat to honking but, like chickens, generally seem to stroll whichever way the wind carries them. Maybe I'll get tired of seeing a peacock, feathers fanned and strutting around someone's front yard, but the shiny hasn't worn off yet.

4. You know what they say about assumptions. 
It's no shock that homelessness is a bit of a problem in LA. I mean, if I was homeless, I would probably want to be in LA too. The temperature hasn't varied more than 3 degrees since we got here. And this is why, when I was at Smart & Final (which is a chain of fairly nice, reasonably priced grocery stores that I ignored the first week we were here because I thought it was like salvaged food) last week, I naturally assumed they were scanning my cart before it left the store to make sure it didn't go missing. I finally Googled it and saw on a Mystery Shoppers' website that they do that to make sure there's nothing left on the bottom of the cart. What a pain in the butt for the cashier, but I'm sure it saves the company a boatload in unpaid items every year. 

5. They are serious about infestations. 
When we crossed from Arizona into California, we were stopped by border patrol. They asked us if we were carrying any produce or plants. All I had was fruit gummies and a banana. He waved us through. But I called Neal because he was carrying a plumeria, a rose bush, one stalk of bamboo and a cache of fruit I had picked up before trekking into the Grand Canyon. They ended up waving him through, too, but we were stopped because they are trying to prevent a re-infestation of the medflies (Mediterranean Fruit Fly). California has also been attacked by Poinsettia White Flies in the Imperial Valley and Oriental Fruit Flies in Laguna Beach, among many other pests. We were contacted about 20 minutes after we moved in about receiving a Gypsy Moth Inspection since our outdoor patio furniture was moving in from out of state. And when Neal was at work yesterday, he learned more than he probably ever wanted to know about the Medflies. Controlling them is a 24-7 job and I feel there is a lot of stuff like that going on in California - we have no idea it's happening and just how complex it is. 

6. This town has about 3 stoplights but 73625282937464 stop signs. Some of the intersections have 4-way, some 2-way. It's almost impossible to talk and drive at the same time. It's a miracle more people don't get t-boned around here. 

7. June Gloom
I've met 736229373 moms (well, like 7 but it felt like at least 20 billion last week) and they were all chatting about "June Gloom" and how it seems to have descended upon us a bit early this year. Apparently, June Gloom is when the sun doesn't come out for basically the entire month of June and is the closest SoCal gets to "winter". I will say, we have been freezing since we got here (and by freezing I mean I had to unpack a couple pairs of jeans and some hoodies on day one) and in the past 4 days, we've only seen the sun from 3-8 PM. Yes, it seems June Gloom is upon us, which is unfortunate for everyone who was antsy pants about visiting us and booked their flights for next month. I hear July is a return to the sunny SoCal we've all expected.

I will say...I have yet to see a horse and buggy. I kind of miss them. And Utz Dill Pickle potato chips. SoCal just doesn't have the corner on the snack market the way PA does. But I do know where you can pick up octopus for dinner, so there's that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rabbit Hole of My Mind

After 4 weeks of chaos, life is mostly back to normal. And by normal, I mean Neal has added 30 minutes each way to his commute, Blue cries every morning about not wanting to go to school and I have managed to navigate the busiest Costco I've ever seen. And we haven't even ventured into Los Angeles proper yet.

We miss Pennsylvania and we miss our friends. That's not to say we aren't finding our way out here, but it is just so so so different, in almost every way imaginable. So, while I price shop the 4 major grocery stores and 4863927 different farmer's markets and plan out our summer activities, I'm also going to get caught up on the blog. I have some posts about the move, a few about our trip out here and then I'll get started with what we've done here so far. I've miss y'all and I couldn't be happier to be back!

So...this happened the day the packers came:

A team of 6 women showed up at our door step at 8 AM on the dot and proceeded to work, y'all. They took one 15-minute break and one lunch break. They packed our entire house in one day. IN ONE DAY. That has never happened. NEEEEVVVVVEEEERRRRR. Naturally, I was a little concerned about the state of everything after being packed that quickly and then moved into storage and out of storage. But I'm here to tell you, I've unpacked the entire kitchen, both bedrooms and the living room and the only thing that busted was a plastic bin from the Dollar Tree, which was probably living on borrowed time anyway. Not a single chip in the fine china, not a crack in the crystal, every piece is just as it was in Pennsylvania and all is accounted for. If you hire a packing crew and you get these ladies,
welcome them warmly and just sit back. They totally got this. Oh...and maybe feed them lunch. They like deli sandwiches, chips, fresh fruit and chocolate chip cookies. Had I known their mad packing skills, I would have let them take the antique Cosco stool instead of hand-carrying it in our RV for 3800 miles.

But then...2 days later, the men showed up. Now, to be fair, I gave them all (including the driver) a hard time from the get-go about marking furniture as damaged when it isn't...yet...and getting stickers on everything that wasn't packed in box. The driver, an older gentleman who was probably used to dealing with high strung military spouses, took most of it in stride. He probably rolled his eyes behind my back but to my face he was courteous and patient. His crew (and one gentleman in particular), didn't care for me much and had no problem letting me know. I got so flustered that at one point during the day I muttered, "I'm doing the best I can. I got no male back-up right now", which meant that Neal was gone to California while I was getting the house packed out. Except I didn't intend for anyone to know that, especially a group of 20-something, burly, men who carried incredibly heavy furniture down a flight of stairs on their backs. No, I didn't mean to say that at all. They were going to make mincemeat of me.

So, even though I tried to be much nicer the rest of the afternoon and I tipped them all once the truck was loaded, as they headed out of the neighborhood my constant thought was, "Crap. They are going to come back in the middle of the night and murder me on my RV mattress."
So, I got Blue off the bus and hung out with the neighbors until bath time. We brushed teeth and read stories and then I double-checked every door and window in the house. But that house didn't have an alarm system so then I decided that I would have to nap until about 2 AM. Because if I was hatching a plan to murder someone for being obnoxious, I would do it at the bars downtown until closing time. And then I would head out with my buddies and a baseball bat around 1:45 AM. 

I didn't have to set an alarm. I tossed and turned and dozed until 1:50. Then I played on Pinterest and listened for any sound of intrusion...until 4:30. Because 4:30 is basically 5, which is basically morning and nothing really bad happens at 5 AM. However, as my mother always says, nothing good happens after midnight. So I napped from 5-7 AM, when Blue woke up and we started our day. Neal was coming home that night so I would actually get to sleep that evening.

Even to this day, a month later, this was a totally logical way to approach the situation, which explains a lot about what Neal has had to live with for the past 13 years. I had no escape plan for if they did decide to attack, but I guess I would have been awake for it and that was going to be enough?

Thank you, moving crew, for not hatching a plan to return and murder me. Ending up on Dateline is not how I want to go out.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Champagne Friday: A Toast to Our Military Kid

Because April is, among many other things, the Month of the Military Child, tomorrow afternoon our unit will gather to recognize and celebrate our military children. I've spent this week preparing gifts and buying the ice cream for our little party. But even as we don our purple (the chosen color to represent military kids as it is a combination of the colors from each branch of service) and dish out the treats, somehow it still doesn't feel like enough. As I tossed and turned until 2 AM on Wednesday night, I thought about what life has been like for the past 6 years. This doesn't describe every military kid, but it does tell the story of ours.

Sweet boy, since your first day here,
this life is all you've known.
Though we may live far and wide,
we'll make this place your home.

As a baby when you napped,
the jets crossed overhead.
And at night when they played Taps,
we snuggled you in bed.

Your first steps were on a battlefield,
where men laid down their lives.
You squealed with joy as Daddy kneeled,
teetering, tottering, then a nosedive.

You've reached for a stranger's desert boots,
and tried on Daddy's dog tags for size.
You've stopped during Retreat to salute,
as pride welled up in our eyes.

You've moved five times in five years,
said goodbye to everyone you knew.
Acknowledged then faced all your fears,
You're brave even when you feel blue. 

You never signed up for this,
it was something you were born into.
We talk about the friends that we'll miss,
and the new ones we know we'll meet, too.

There's much to be learned from a mil-kid;
our "dandelions", they're considered.
Teaching us to bloom like they did,
resilient and hardy, not withered.

Today we packed up his toys,
his stuffies, games and the books.
We made some notes for his teachers,
took the coats down off of the hooks.

We're checking each box off the list,
taking pictures to help us remember.
Squeezing in the things we've missed,
Wishing we had until September.

On the hard days he still stops to ask,
When can we not move anymore?
When can this be the last?
Can we live in the woods by the shore?

Then I distract him with stories
of generations who came before him.
Soldiers who fought for Old Glory,
a family tree of honorable men.

When it's all said and done he will know,
he will have more than a thought or a clue.
That we are all in this together,
because he has served honorably, too.

To all of our military children, who serve involuntarily in an all-volunteer force, we love you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Year of Living More With Less: How to Rock Your Yard Sale

Although The Year of Living More With Less is supposed to be all-inclusive; less stuff, less stress, less waste, less negativity, less fat, etc., it has become more focused on the material things we lug around with us from duty station to duty station. That sort of happened last year, too. The Year of Living Better evolved into a quest to cut chemicals from our home and replace them with non-toxic cleaners and essential oils. I never really know how these things will play out when I start in January.

In March, Neal and I decided to have a yard sale before we moved. That's not to say that we have more stuff this time, but that I had more time and energy to prepare for a yard sale this go round. I've said it before, I will say it again: Yay, Kindergarten! Children are amazing creatures but their propensity for keeping every little bread tie and broken toy does not create an environment that is conducive to selling all of your worldly possessions. Ultimately, we told Blue that he would get the money from everything he sold and that's when he finally starting unloading the goods. Unfortunately, he's 5 and has no idea that we only gave him about 1/500th of his actual profit. But he has yet to hold down a job so he's basically still freeloading from us. I think it all evens out in the end.

I made a pretty good chunk of change at my little yard sale last weekend. More than I thought, considering most items were priced at $1.00 or below. I think that directly correlates to how much joyless stuff we had. I had never held a yard sale before so I read about 10 blog posts on Pinterest about how to have really successful yard sales. And then I began. It took about 4 full days of sorting, pricing, arranging and rearranging but Neal and I agreed that it was worth the effort. So, I'm going to share with you what I did. In the Army they call this an AAR - After Action Review. It's not good, it's not's just what went right, what could be improved upon and what you'll do differently next time. AAR sounds a little too much like AARP so I'm going to call mine


1. Let it Go
Look, Elsa, you can't be clinging to that bread maker with your icy grip unless you are actually going to make some bread. And if you aren't going to make some bread, come to terms with the fact that you are someone who wants to make some pumpkin spice bread in a loaf pan in October and buy the sliced stuff at Weis the rest of the year. You can't have any attachment to what you're selling or it's going to affect your entire yard sale. I would refrain from advertising your yard sale with signs that say "come put my junk in your trunk" but that's pretty much how you have to feel about it. If you aren't sure how to do this, read this piece I wrote about sparking joy. No joy = detachment and you're ready to let it go (thanking it for the role it played in your life is optional).
Everything we let go. I no longer feel frozen in stuff. Sorry...I'm done now. I love warm hugs. 

2. The Price is Right 
To be honest, the necessary step of pricing my stuff has kept me from having a yard sale for a long time. It seemed like an impossible task. I have an incredible memory for prices. I know what I paid for my Chi flat iron and the scarf I bought at the airport in Rome and the Edward Hopper print I found at a yard sale. You can't get caught up in what you paid for something. Being detached is especially important in this step because most people suggest pricing yard sale items at 10% of what you paid. Not 10% off of what you paid. 10% OF WHAT YOU PAID. So that entertainment center we paid $2500 for? It absolutely sold for $250. And the bicycle helmet that Blue had to have? The one with Lightning McQueen? We paid $10. It sold for $1. This kind of pricing is key to a successful yard sale because people cannot freaking resist getting something for $1. The founders of The Dollar Tree have known this for years. And if folks can get something for 25 or 50 cents? All the better. They don't need it, but it only costs a quarter. They'll find something to do with it. What they do with it isn't your concern because you're detached, remember? What matters is that you now have their 2 quarters to rub together. And trust me, those quarters and dollar bills add up. Just ask an exotic dancer. You are going to make it rain.

If you are pricing something that was a gift or you can't remember how much you paid for it, ask yourself, If I was at this yard sale, what would I be willing to pay for it? You might be surprised at how quickly you will drop the price from what you think it should be to what you would actually pay. And know that the item's condition will affect how much someone will pay. If it's damaged or broken, 5% of your original cost may be more realistic.

3. Did I Mention Detachment? 
I only come back to this because it's really that important. Let me give you an example. On my 3rd engagement (the one where my ex-fiance couldn't decide if he wanted to marry me but let it get so far down the road that I actually had a bridal shower), I was given a set of beautiful wooden salad bowls. I wanted them, I registered for them. And on that glorious day in August, I got them. But when I moved out of his house, I took the bowls with me. Because, at the time, I didn't have much and they were necessary if I didn't want to sip tomato soup out of my hand. But Neal and I have been married for almost 12 years now and I had only used them once and that was probably 11 years ago. They've been moved all over this country but never made it out of the box. So, I decided to sell them. I broke my 10% rule because I wasn't 100% detached. I priced them at $5. They were beautiful but they weren't $50 to begin with. They sat on the shelf for 3 hours when I finally decided that I was being ridiculous...and worse, attached. I knocked it down to $2. They sold 5 minutes later. At the end of the day, I could have $2 or some bad juju salad bowls in my hand. I think I did the right thing.

4. When the Stickers Don't Stick
One of the best pieces of advice that I gleaned from those bloggers about their own yard sales was how to attach the price to the item. In this Age of Amazon there are about 3374 ways to affix a price sticker to your worldly possessions. All you really need is a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie. Seriously. Those little brightly colored dots will fall off. And they are small which means if your average shopper is like my husband, who forgets his reading glasses half the time, they won't be able to read the price. And if they can't read the price, they aren't going to buy. Masking tape is sticky, durable and doesn't have to be torn with your teeth. Plus, it's comparatively cheap. Make your price big and legible and watch the items fly off the shelves.

5. Everything Gets a Price
The other super helpful piece of information I got from Pinterest was that I needed to price everything. Yes, Vern, I know what you mean....that is a giant pain in the ass. But...necessary. You will have some shoppers who don't mind to ask you what stuff costs but most people will not, especially if you are busy helping other shoppers. Again, if I was at a yard sale where nothing was priced, I wouldn't stick around. It's too much work. And the burden of the work is on the person making the money, not the person spending the money.

6. Groupies
Pricing every single stupid little thing gets tedious. I had these jars from Michael's that were like $1 each. I bought them at Christmas because I was going to make sugar scrubs for each jar and give them as gifts. That was 4 years ago. They've moved twice. They had dust on the inside of the jars. So I put them all in a gallon bag and priced it at 50 cents. They sold by 9 AM. Group it, put it in a bag or wrap masking tape around it a couple of times and call it done. The same is true for books, DVDs, jewelry, shoes, or any like item. I bought an entire set of Jewish children's paperback books at a consignment sale last month just because I wanted the one about gefilte fish.
Drill Sargent Blue keeps the groupies in line.

7. Tables Need Not Apply
We don't have many tables. Make that any. We don't have any tables besides our dining room table. So, having a yard sale where everything was laid out on tables wasn't going to happen. But what we do have is a lot of shelving. It's the kind they sell at Lowe's that you put in your garage to organize your Christmas decorations. We have a ton of that stuff. So, instead of laying it all out on tables, I just laid it out on the shelves. We secured broom handles to the shelving with zip ties and used that to hang clothes. The point is: use what you have. I even used plastic bins and cardboard boxes to display books and DVDs. It helps if stuff isn't stacked on top of each other and if it's a bit cluttered to begin, as soon as people start buying, take a moment to spread it out as the space opens up. But you don't need to rent or buy a bunch of tables to make a yard sale work. Even a door laid across 2 saw horses makes a flat space that is perfect for a yard sale.
Who needs tables? Bust out the shelves!

8. Hang It Up
Clothes sell better when they are hung up. It's easier to slide a hanger across a broom handle than it is to bend over and search through sizes. I understand that unless you are a Lularoe consultant, you probably don't have a clothing rack laying around, but improvise. Find something that will support the clothes you want to sell and make it work. I tossed clothes with stains and holes in the "free" box - but they were still there at the end of the day...meaning that people don't want that stuff, even when it's free. I also used hangers with clips to pair pajama bottoms with tops and any matching sets. You could separate your clothes by size but I only had Blue's 5T stuff and my size 16 stuff so there wasn't anything to separate.
Prices posted above each group of clothes keep me from having to price every single piece.

9. Make Some Change
I have heard horror stories about someone walking up to a yard sale first thing in the morning and handing the person a $20 for a 25 cent item. I decided that if I prepared for that scenario, everything else would be easy. So I made change for $100. I got $60 in $5s, $30 in $1s and $10 in quarters. I also gathered up the spare dimes and nickels we had in the cars and around the house. This was plenty of change for the entire day.

10. Think Like Target
I arranged my yard sale like a department store. Kitchen items were grouped together, as were toys, clothes, household items, books, rugs and jewelry. I also kept clothing hanging in the garage so the hot sun wouldn't fade them. (Side note: pray for hot sun on your yard sale day. It was rainy and 40 degrees the day after my yard sale. I'm pretty sure that would have affected the bottom line.) 

11. Stock Your Station
I used a patio table and chair as a cashier station. As a frequent yard sale shopper myself, it feels awkward if the person is pacing as you're shopping. I played a little 70's music on my phone, answered questions as needed and hung out in my chair until someone was ready to pay. I also had a notepad, pen, calculator, a ton of plastic bags from the grocery and Target (that I've been saving up for months because I'm generally a resuable bag kind of girl but I knew this day was coming), a little bubble wrap for fragile items, a measuring tape, extra masking tape and a Sharpie and extension cords for testing electronics. I made sure all battery-operated toys were functioning before the sale started.

12. Advertise on Social Media
This works really well if you have lived in an area for a really long time and know half the county. But even being here for just under 2 years, I still pre-sold a lot of big pieces just by posting a photo of my garage on Facebook. You can also post to a local buy/sell/trade page to get more interest.

13. Speaking of Pre-Sales
Get in good with the neighbors by offering a preview night to your neighborhood. I posted to our neighborhood Facebook page that I was opening the door to neighbors on Friday afternoon from 4:30-6:30. And then we went out to dinner with some folks who stopped by! They appreciated the early shopping and I was able to make a little space for the next day. As Blue says, it's a win-win! 

14. Adjust 
My yard sale lasted 6 hours but by the second hour I could see what was working and what wasn't. I was selling a pup tent and a rooftop carrier but they were both in their carrying bags. People weren't unzipping the bags to look. So, I pulled them out and laid them on the grass. I also had a lot of shoppers checking out the La-Z-Boy chair. They were sitting on it, reclining in it, enjoying it immensely. But not paying the $25.00 I priced it at. So, I dropped it to $15. Watch your shoppers to see what they are picking up, what's getting ignored and what needs to be more visible. If something isn't selling, move it or drop the price slightly. It doesn't hurt to try something different.
A well-loved but still fully functional water table gets dropped to $1.

15. Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs
So, this was my biggest mistake. I didn't put up enough signs. Mainly I was concerned about annoying my neighbors with my fluorescent posterboard all over the neighborhood, but I needed 2 and maybe 3 more signs to help guide shoppers to the house. I made very clear, concise signs that simply read:
SAT 4/14   7 AM - 1 PM
MY ADDRESS (which was my actual address but this being the internet and all..)
I taped them with packing tape to some wooden stakes I found in the yard sale aisle at Walmart. Walmart sells fancy "yard sale signs" for $4.50 per sign. You don't need that. And I was concerned that putting them up on Friday morning wasn't enough of a heads up, but it was going to rain so I waited. As it turns out, yard sale shoppers really don't need more than 24 hours notice, but they do need some trail markers. I just assumed that everyone out there is using Google Maps or Waze to get around in this world. Don't assume that because it's not true. I was told multiple times on Saturday that people were driving around looking for our house and that they almost gave up when they finally found it. So, I'm sure some did give up. Don't make this mistake. Put enough signs up so that someone can find your house, even without a smart phone.

16. Sticky Fingers
I've been told by my neighbors, who are veterans of the annual neighborhood yard sale that much of the city looks forward to every spring, that some shoppers have sticky fingers. And that things will get stolen. The worst case scenario is your change box (I used a waitress bib from when I was Sookie Stackhouse for Halloween a few years ago), but it isn't uncommon for other, less valuable items to disappear. I only noticed that some of the jewelry was gone, but considering it was 25 cents per piece, if you are stealing the jewelry from my yard sale, you have bigger problems than I do and probably need Jesus. Peace be with you.

17. Send 'Em Away With Something Free
On the advice of several bloggers, I had a free box. This was mostly filled with happy meal toys, Dollar Tree party decor, a box of oven bags that I don't remember buying and some of Blue's pants that had holes in the knees. My Mennonite shoppers grabbed these right up as they know their way around a needle and a thread. It gave the kids something to look through while their parents shopped and several people found something free first but then shopped until they found something to buy.
This bin was still half full at the end of the day, proving that sometimes folks don't even want your free stuff.

18. The Extras That I Skipped
There are people who say you should have snacks on hand or bottled water, or even treats for sale. They also suggest that kids set up a lemonade stand. First of all, unless they are super helpful or entertained by a device, kids underfoot while you are trying to tally and make change is extremely distracting. I lent my husband to the neighbors so they had help hauling off a fence and in exchange, their kids watched Blue. It was a lovely arrangement. Also, while I do feed the people who come to pack our house, I don't feel it is necessary to feed the people who are coming to pay a quarter for a scarf. So, will not find rice krispie treats or lemonade at our yard sale. But Sheetz is right down the street and they make a killer cappuccino.

Not pictured is the giant entertainment center and 2 matching end tables or the washer & dryer we sold.

There are a lot of great blog posts out there about how to host a successful yard sale (sometimes I feel deep pity for our parents who never had Pinterest to turn to) but this lady is pretty great. And she's way more succinct than I am. Someday I'm going to get paid per word and then I'm going to make it rain.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Little Couch That Could

As y'all know, we are chin-deep in getting ready for another move. I started Kon-mari'ing the house in January (with apologies to Marie Kondo for turning her method into a verb, but to say that I'm "decluttering" or "tidying up" really doesn't do justice to what is going on around's significantly more serious than that). And now our garage is plum full of items that sparked no joy when I held them all those months ago.

Except one of the Keurigs and a microwave managed to make it back into the house. To be fair, the movers busted our last Keurig and it was a whole new level of Dante's hell as I waited for the reimbursement check to come in so we could replace it. Also, I'm fairly certain that the CA house doesn't have a microwave (because it's the military and they figure they are giving you a roof, some rooms and a refrigerator, you can figure out the rest).

Also...this couch.
A quick story about this couch. It was our first furniture purchase as an active duty family when we were stationed in Georgia. We already had a beautiful Haverty's leather sectional, with recliners at each end, didn't fit in the base housing. So, we scooted on down to the AAFES furniture store one afternoon and bought something that was comfy, leather and fit perfectly in our shotgun living room.
(Selfie maternity photos. All you need is a tripod, some props and a baby bump.) 
Well, I take that back. It wasn't SUPER comfortable. It sat REALLLLLLLY low to the floor. Like...on the floor. Our knees were never at a 90 degree angle when we were sitting on it and we had to hoist every grandparent (as well as my 9 month pregnant self) off of it when it was time to get up. 

Eventually the too-low couch was excommunicated to the playroom, where it lived until last week. I didn't hold it in my hands but the fact that just looking at it made my knees hurt, told me all I needed to know about how much joy it sparked. Neal hoisted it on his shoulders and hauled it out to the garage, destined to be someone's yard sale bargain. 

As he lowered the couch to set it on the ground, I heard him say, "Huh. Maybe we should put the feet on it if we're going to sell it." 

Wait. What? It has FEET?? As in, it doesn't HAVE to be the world's shortest couch? 

He put the feet on. 

I loved the couch. It was comfortable and one can rise with ease. 

We carried it back into the house, where it will stay until the movers put it on the truck to CA. It has earned a spot in the living room and given us one extra place to sit when company comes to visit. 

I guess the lesson here is if you have your furniture delivered, it's always a good idea to look under it before using it for 8 years. There may be something useful stapled to the bottom. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Breakfast of Champions

I don't know who started it, probably my maternal grandmother considering her insatiable appetite for sweets at any time of the day, but cake & coffee (or chocolate milk in my decaffeinated days) has always been an acceptable breakfast. Pie is a decent substitute but there was always more cake than pie when I was growing up. Whenever our family gathered for a birthday (which seemed to happen about 3 times a year as the birthdays were unintentionally clustered into March, September and October), you could bet that everyone would finish the cake the morning after the party.

I think my husband was justifiably appalled by this when he married into the family, especially considering our family dies from diabetes and cardiovascular disease. You would think we would always have veggie omelettes and turkey bacon, but no...the sweet tooth gene is alive and well (and has been passed down yet again).

It has been awhile since I had cake & coffee for breakfast, but this is a special cake from some truly exceptional folks.

Yesterday afternoon, a group of families from our children's missions group at church gave us a going away party, complete with yummy food (I may have declared to Blue at one point, "THIS is dinner! Eat it or starve later!"), thoughtful gifts and delightful conversation. For 4 hours we gathered, shared a meal and swapped stories about our children, home ownership and how we came to be Moravians. The kids, being hearty Pennsylvanian stock (our own son could now pass for a native) played outside, although the wind chill had to be below freezing. And the littlest of our crew toddled around our feet or sat in laps while we chatted.

It was the warmest I've felt since the last days of summer.

When Neal was assigned to a National Guard post with no on-post housing and very few active duty families nearby, I...well...I had what my friend, Carrie, calls a complete come-apart. I came unglued, unhinged, consumed by the idea that I wasn't going to make any friends because we were going into a place where everyone had known each other for a hundred years and one new, transient face was never going to break through the ice.

And for about 6 months, I wasn't wrong.

But it had everything to do with my attitude.

I assumed these people would have no interest in me, so I had no interest in them. Consequently, they had no interest in me. But I was lonely and Blue was, too. We had gone from being completely immersed in Army life and engaging daily (sometimes multiple times a day) with our neighbors and friends as we passed each other on the street or chatted at the playground or met for coffee after our morning workout to a civilian suburban life where we would see 1 or 2 kids on bikes after school and a parent or 2 checking the mail before closing the garage door behind them.  In Kansas, we lived in barracks that had been renovated into spacious apartments so, we were, literally, on top of each other. We sometimes disagreed and there was occasional drama, but we had become a tribe, more than that...a family. We all cried when it was time to leave. We had become completely enmeshed in each other's lives.

And then we Korea, Texas, Louisiana, Germany, Florida and Pennsylvania. It was devastating and I wanted to quit all of this. It was too hard, too emotionally draining. I can deal with finding a new dentist, new doctor, new school, new everything every 24 months. But finding new friends was too much to ask. I almost asked Neal if we could just be done.

But if I had, we would have never found our Pennsylvania family. And I can't imagine my life without these people in it. Not just our church family, but our neighbors and friends we've met along the way. I think about the night of my birthday last year when we gathered with neighbors in the backyard for a potluck dinner and to watch Captain Underpants (I let Blue pick my birthday movie. I'll know better for next year.) on the big screen. And driving a carload of kids to the Farm Show every January to see the chicks hatch in front of our eyes and the just-born calves struggle to their feet for the first time. And to drink our weight in PA Dairy Association milkshakes. And the epic pre-trick-or-treating party our neighbors throw every Halloween night. Last year they had 3 tables full of food and inflatable party decorations.

And I think about all of the mission work we've been able to participate in through the children's missions program at the church: decorating pumpkins and passing out valentines at the nursing home, crafting gifts for the Father's Day worship service, gathering and packing supplies to send to Soldiers deployed overseas, preparing the Lenten meal for a Wednesday night service. These children are learning from their parents and their church how to serve others and I feel lucky and blessed that we've been a part of that. What if I had given up after Kansas? Look at all we would have missed.
Palm Sunday. We had obviously temporarily lost our minds when we sat down with all of the kids between us. I mean...what could go wrong? 

This is just a few from the hoards of photos I have from the past 2 years...favorite teachers, city parades (PA loves a good parade), church services on the front lawn, trick-or-treating in the neighborhood and a little of what makes our church unique. And not a single person in these photos is in the military. They were just living their lives, going to church and soccer games and swim lessons. And then we showed up. Strangers. Gypsies. Temporary. They loved us anyway. 

They knew we couldn't stay. They loved us anyway.

They knew the goodbyes would be hard. They loved us anyway.

They didn't know our story, where we came from, what kind of friends we would be. They loved us anyway. 

They knew nothing about military families or what our lives are like. They loved us anyway. 

They don't know if we'll ever be back. (We will.) They loved us anyway. 

Whenever I meet a new military spouse, I tell him/her, "You will get out of it exactly what you put into it." That's true for most things in life. But taking the time to engage with your community and its culture can seem like an unnecessary burden when you are always the new family. What's the point? And it's easy to assume that they are thinking the same thing. But what if they aren't? What if you enrich each other's lives; you help them to understand the sacrifices that a military family makes and they help you to understand what makes their community so vibrant and distinct? What if you are looking for a church and end up finding a family? It is often said that it takes a village and we must not be afraid to ask our neighbors and our friends to be our village when we have moved so far from family. Every military spouse knows that finding your tribe when you live on post or on base happens fairly easily and quickly. But finding them in a civilian setting feels overwhelming and pointless. I'm here to tell you it can happen and that it's worth trying. 

And to everyone who has taken us in, shared a meal with us, come over for a chat or welcomed us into their circle, thank you. Thank you for loving us anyway. It is, by far, the best way to support military families. And it makes us want to continue doing what we're doing. Even though we have to say good-bye, we are grateful for every memory and the chance that when we meet again, it is as friends instead of strangers. Until next time....