While Jeff and I have been very happily cohabitating with our kitty Pepper for more than a decade, we chose to opt out of the commercialization of Valentine’s Day about 11 years ago. While neither of us was ever that keen on this holiday, what sent me over the proverbial cliff was when Jeff bought me wilted roses at Dominick’s as a show of his undying affection. I think not, honey, dear, sweetie – jerk! What ensued was that I fled the house and treated myself to a really fattening meal at my favorite neighborhood burger joint, Fratellos. A hamburger and some of the best French fries east of the Mississippi helped put things in perspective and calm me down. So after the fallout – and the extra padding on my love handles, we made a pact to never celebrate Valentine’s Day in a traditional way ever again. Now I can tell you that more than 10 years later and flower-free, our relationship has weathered quite a bit and our deep bond has grown stronger.
With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers, with all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal, would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear. Bicycles Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it’s because no injury surveillance systems were in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if any prevention organizations existed, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today. My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of…
My love of jewels, cabochons, beads, gemstones, rhinestones, vintage jewelry and other baubles goes way back to my early childhood. So it was with great anticipation and near glee, when I stumbled upon a terrific article heralding a wonderful hidden treasure trove of such things in NYC. The 17 Apart article prepared me to some degree, but when my friend Barb and I actually ventured into CJS Sales last month, we were dumbstruck. This was a dream come true for me – reminding me of my youth, but on a much grander scale. When my younger sister Janet and I were very little – probably 3 and 8 respectively, we had a secret stash of jewels in a little cardboard jigsaw puzzle box. We carried this beloved stash on outings, including when our mom traded in her massive light blue Chevy station wagon for a new car. Much to my dismay – Janet was really too young to panic – after we drove out in our new vehicle, I realized it had been left behind, hidden under the seat. Luckily, we were able to reclaim it and we had this box for at least another 5 years, adding to its content here and there.
It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.
Back in March, when I ventured into my local Goodwill store, I was astonished to see a crappy, framed reproduction of some lesser Impressionist painter on very cheap, warped cardboard for $199.99. What made this even more egregious is that the back of this monstrosity still bore the $4.00 garage sale price tag – and even at that price, nobody wanted this piece of junk. This prompted the following letter sent to Goodwill Corporate. The name of the store manager has been removed to protect the innocent – but not sure if that is her or me! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3/22/13 Letter My mouth is still agape from my visit today to this retail store: Goodwill Store & Donation Center 900 W. Algonquin Road Arlington Heights, IL 60005 (847) 870-7897 I have been frequenting this store since it opened and have noticed that the prices are going up constantly. The prices now are higher than at any antique store for pieces that aren’t worth more than a few dollars. I saw a cheap reproduction of a painting on crappy cardboard (framed) for $199.99. When I brought this to the attention of the floor manager, I mentioned that I have expertise in antiques and collectibles and they could sure use somebody with my expertise to price things more accurately. She said we don’t hire people with expertise to price items and my manager thought this was real. I replied, ” Well I understand you don’t hire people specifically to do that, but wouldn’t it be helpful to have somebody on board with that knowledge?” The fake painting was SO obviously cheaply printed on inexpensive paper and the garage sale price of $4.00 was still marked in very large letters on the back – $199.99 – good grief!!!!! Yes, I agree that Goodwill is…
Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.
I have been meaning to write about this particular thrift store in Palatine for a long time. Sparrow’s Nest embodies what we detest about some so-called charity thrift stores – perhaps more than any other shop we have blogged about – GREED. Everything Jeff grouched about in the opening salvo on this subject (back in October 2011) can be found here and then some. As I look around the Palatine shop, I am left to ponder if there is gold hidden inside some pretty unremarkable, and often shabby merchandise – what else could justify these prices? The parent organization Home of the Sparrow, helps victims of domestic violence – in this case, homeless women and their children in McHenry County and Northern Illinois. That is a very commendable cause that would be better served by thrift stores with fairly priced merchandise. Home of the Sparrow runs five resale shops – in Algonquin, Cary, McHenry, Palatine, and Woodstock. While I have never been to the Algonquin, McHenry or Woodstock locations, I have to say that the Cary store is not nearly as guilty of price-gouging as the Palatine store.
When CVS Pharmacy first opened in metro Chicago, I was impressed with the selection and prices. They were certainly competitive with Walgreens and Jewel-Osco, but in the last few years this chain has slid downhill at a rapid pace. Of course some locations are better than others – I went to the Palatine store today and it is vast and well stocked compared to the locations I normally frequent. Unfortunately the two closest to my home should be renamed CVS: Consumer Valueless Shops. But in general, not only are some of CVS prices out of sight compared to other discount stores, but the selection is meager. And even worse, the clerks are often incompetent and rude. That old adage I used in my recent Deals blog, when a deal is not a deal – certainly rings true here.
I think I was Italian in a previous life – what else would explain my love of Italian grocery stores and cuisine, Italian art, Italian designers, and the country itself. I traveled to Italy twice in the early 1980s and fell in love with Venice and Florence. But alas, time passed and obligations piled up over the years and I have not been back to glorious Italia. For now I have to satiate my quest for unusual Italian food products by frequenting the best damn Italian deli this side of the Atlantic Ocean! And listening to Louis Prima when the mood strikes. So twice a year we drive to Kenosha and thoroughly enjoy shopping at Tenuta’s Deli, a Kenosha tradition since 1950.
One of the reasons we love going to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few times a year is not to buy cheese, but to browse a wonderful little shop crammed with treasures called Monica’s Thrift Shop. A bit off the beaten path, this unassuming store is loaded from floor to ceiling with an amazing array of new, vintage, and antique goodies with something for everyone’s taste. Our most recent visit was on May 29 and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I would say that there was more merchandise packed into this place than the last time we stopped by. Even the bathroom at this shop is decked out with incredibly cool items.