Most weekends, my husband and I go to yard sales or estate sales. We don’t actively search for them, although I do know people who make detailed plans to hit yard sales: laminated maps, printed lists, and a very carefully planned route. There are just so many that we can’t help but pass at least a couple on our way to or from Saturday morning coffee.  These are events I have come to enjoy since moving to the US because I have never seen them in the UK. In Britain, we have car boot sales where people pay to use a parking space and then fill the boot (trunk) of their car with things they want to sell, but I’ve never come across either yard sales or estate sales there.

The sales advertise themselves via handwritten signs attached to lamp-posts. Sign writers, take note. Good signs have the date. “Today” is not much use if the sign has been there, flapping in the wind, for the past month. If I don’t usually go down that road, I don’t know if today is really today or was three months ago.  Good signs have large bold lettering. I can’t read a 16-point font sign driving along the road. If your sale is down the road on the left, don’t post the sign immediately at the turning. Give us a warning and time to change lane! If you draw an arrow on your sign, make sure the average person can figure out where it is pointing. I’m pretty sure you aren’t directing me to a sale in a treehouse, but I’m not always sure. Also, don’t write an essay on your sign. When and where are all I need to know. I’ll figure out if it’s worth stopping as I drive by. If I’m struggling to find the info in a mass of text, I’ll give up. Finally, please don’t say ‘Huge sale’ or ‘Biggest sale ever’. Those always seem to be the tiniest, with the junkiest stuff for sale.

Bad sign: yard-sale-sign-fail

The average yard sale has  tables of books, some old furniture, clothing and shoes, and a bunch of odd knickknacks (some odder than others).  Despite all those stories about people finding priceless paintings or rare Ming vases at yard sales, I’ve never found anything like that.

I like estate sales more, although I felt a little uncomfortable at the first few I attended. It felt odd browsing through someone’s life, all put up for sale after their death. However, I enjoy it now  – mainly because it allows you to see inside all kinds of houses. The most amazing house so far had a lovely wide staircase and huge windows, and backed onto a private lake. The most grungy was a very run down house with a terrible mildew problem and at least 20 lamps hanging from the ceiling in one room, plus creepy dolls. Most are predictable, but some have such an eclectic mix of art and literature that you really wonder what kind of person lived there. Some would have been very interesting people to meet.

A lot of the things in our home come from yard and estate sales. A handy chrome rack to stash unpaid bills, framed artwork, a like-new watch for just 25¢, book shelves, clothing, numerous books, and a hideous wooden monkey (that I did NOT want) – all yard sale deals.

Even better than yard sale purchases are FREE things! I’ve not seen people in England leave free, unwanted items in their front yard for others to take ( perhaps because the local councils can be pretty strict about how you get rid of things in England), but here you’ll sometimes pass a house with a pile of stuff and a sign saying ‘free.’ Our most recent free-in-the-street find was a drum. Well, two drums. My husband loves drums – playing them and fixing them up. When we picked them up they looked like this: drums before

And now, after some sanding, staining, and lacquering,  they look like this:drums now (I should confess that my only contribution to this transformation was opening and closing the back door so my husband could take them outside to spray with lacquer.)

So there you have it – one person’s trash can look very nice with a bit of effort!


Give me your bag!

For some reason, the bus was particularly busy the other day. It felt like about five people got at every stop, so it was quite crowded. One woman got on with a very small child, a stroller, and a fairly heavy-looking handbag. She stood while her daughter sat. I was in the seat behind and noticed her bag.  Two thoughts went through my head at the same time.

The first thought was more of a memory/reminiscence. I suddenly remembered taking the bus in Seoul, something I did twice daily for several years. Sometimes, when there were no free seats, I’d experience older women (probably 30+ years older than me) tugging on my bag. The first time it happened I wondered why on earth someone was pulling my bag. Hardly a subtle strategy to steal a wallet! But it turned out she was offering to hold my bag for me while I struggled to stay upright on a bumpy ride. Seoul bus drivers drive fast and like to treat the clutch very roughly. Passengers lurch back and forth with the bus, watching passing cars come perilously close. In fact it’s not at all unusual to see cars and buses collide in Seoul. I would usually thank the person offering to take my bag and hold onto it, but some women would be very insistent and rather than conduct a handbag tug of war it was easier to pass it over. It was very kind of them to offer to hold it. I would feel uncomfortable handing over my bag, although it was usually a bag of groceries or a few books and nothing valuable. It wasn’t so much because I was worried they would take my stuff, but because it was usually a tiny, shrivelled old woman who didn’t look she should be carrying anything. Of course, those women were probably much stronger than me, despite appearances!

The second thought was to reach out my hand and offer to hold her bag on my lap, but just before the words came out I stopped. I suddenly wondered, here in the US, what would be the reaction to a stranger reaching out and grabbing a bag? I decided it might well be negative and decided against finding out. However, part of me felt bad that I didn’t try. It could have been a nice thing to do for someone. Maybe the woman would have understood my intention and accepted my offer. She might have understood but just turned it down. But on the other hand, she might have thought I was trying to steal her purse. Or someone watching might have thought I was up to no good. Since I did nothing, I’ll never know.

How would you react if a stranger offered to hold on to your bag on a busy bus? Would you offer to hold someone’s bag on your lap? The situation certainly made me think. Maybe I’ll offer next time.

Which side are you on?

Side of the street that is. I had a revelation a few weeks ago – although to be honest, it’s a little embarrassing that this didn’t occur to me several years earlier (by at least a decade).

I’ll start by admitting that I am clumsy. Even if a doorway were to be 10 feet wide, you could bet money on the chances of me bumping into the sides. It’s just the kind of person I am.

Once when I was coming back from lunch with a co-worker when I lived in Korea, he commented that people seemed to bump into me a lot. He was right – even for a country where the concept of personal space doesn’t really exist, I did seem to get jostled a lot more than most. I just put it down to my general clumsiness. Clearly I walk into people in the same way that I walk into door jams and slow-to-open automatic doors.

BUT a few weeks ago, on the stairwell in the college library I suddenly understood- I walk on the wrong side of the street! It all made sense: People in the UK drive on the left, but here (and in Korea) they drive on the right. As I dodged people on the library stairs, I realized they were coming up on the right, whereas I was going down on the left which, if you think about it, is the same side. (Trust me – I even made my husband act it out to make sure before writing this.) I’d never given any thought to the side I was walking on, but now that I think about it, it completely makes sense that we tend to walk on the same side as we drive, even when going up and down stairs. It also explains why I didn’t get bumped into half as often when I lived in Japan. They walk on MY side!

Subtle cultural differences – they get you when you least expect. So, which side are you on?

Source: cyclinginfo.co.uk

Source: cyclinginfo.co.uk