Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My thrifty ways: flea market finds May 31, 2013

I GREW UP SHOPPING for clothes from the sales racks at JC Penney. Rarely, if ever, was I allowed to buy anything from the full price rack. So why bother to look.

Because I was the oldest girl in the family, I got the new clothes, which were then passed down to my ungrateful sister. I use that adjective because Lanae didn’t especially appreciate my fashion taste. She was right. My indecisiveness often led to bad choices.

By my middle school years, I learned to sew. And from then on, I stitched most of my apparel. I didn’t mind. I loved selecting patterns and fabrics and creating one-of-a-kind clothing.

Still, mostly, it was all about saving money. And money was tight in our poor farm family of six kids.

I found this vintage Minnesota beverage tray for $2 at the recent Rice County Gas and Steam Engines Flea Market. All other items featured in this post were found at the same venue.

I found this vintage Minnesota beverage tray at the recent Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market. All other items featured in this post were found at the same venue.

With that background, you can understand my delight in seeking out and scoring bargains. Thrift stores, yard and garage sales, and flea markets are my favorite shopping venues. Not only can I find merchandise at affordable prices, but I typically discover something few others own.

At the same vendor where I purchased the tray, I bought this floral etched and painted box. If I remember correctly, this is termed "hobo art."

At the same vendor where I purchased the tray, I found this floral etched and painted box. If I remember correctly, this is  “hobo art.” I got the box and the tray for $12. These may be given as gifts; I haven’t decided.

I’ve passed this love of bargain shopping onto my three offspring. My 19-year-old college intern son, attempting to furnish his first apartment on a budget, recently negotiated the purchase of a leather couch for $25 at a Goodwill store in Rochester.

From another vendor I bought this Fire King bowl and handstitched tablecloth trimmed with rick-rack. Total cost: $5.

From another vendor I bought this Fire King bowl and handstitched tablecloth trimmed with rick-rack. Total cost: $5.

Last week his sister, a Spanish medical interpreter in northeastern Wisconsin, shopped a half-price sale at an Appleton thrift store and purchased an easy chair for $24. A mint condition coffee table found next to a dumpster at her apartment complex cost her nothing.

The oldest daughter, who lives in Minneapolis, also sometimes shops at second-hand stores and even bought her bridal gown for her upcoming wedding at a vintage bridal shop.

Yes, I’m proud of my kids and their thrifty buying habits. Not only do they save money, but they recycle what others have cast off or can no longer use.

This kitschy art is so ugly it's cute, if that makes sense. For 75 cents, it was mine. My husband just shook his head, but then hung it on our backyard fence anyway, per my request.

This kitschy art is so ugly it’s cute, if that makes sense. For 75 cents, it was mine. My husband just shook his head, but then hung it on our backyard fence anyway, per my request.

My own house is furnished with lots of second-hand furniture, lamps, art, kitchenware, etc. I don’t need new. Old works for me, my tastes and my budget. How about you?

I had the perfect spot in mind when I bought that frog art.

I had the perfect spot in mind when I bought that frog art.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stressing over a home improvement project February 2, 2011

I DON’T LIKE CHANGE.

I dislike chaos and disorder.

I delay making decisions when I’m not confident about the topic that needs deciding.

So you might rightfully guess that a home improvement project would throw me for a loop. It has. It is.

For some time now, we’ve been dealing with a project that put five new windows and a new door into our aging home. Of course, in an old house like ours, issues arise. New windows didn’t fit quite like the old ones, necessitating lumber and sheetrock patching. That means I’ll need to repaint. More decisions. More work.

There are issues with the new door, which are in the process of being resolved.

I am stressed and I really shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s not like we’re building a house.

But all of the decisions, the upheaval, the time away from writing, are wearing on me.

Every day for nearly two weeks I’ve pulled on my old faded blue jeans, one of my husband’s discarded t-shirts and headed upstairs to a spare bedroom to stain and varnish wood trim. Foot upon foot upon foot of wood. Sand and stain and varnish. Sand between coats and varnish each piece of wood three times.

Here's just a sampling of the wood trim I've stained and varnished during the past two weeks.

After about the third day of breathing stain and varnish fumes, and, honestly, “tasting” the toxins, I began wearing a dusk mask. I also left an upstairs window open. Yes, even on 20-degree days.

Yesterday I finished varnishing the last eight pieces of wood, until the carpenter brings me more wood for the door threshold. Oh, joy, more trim to prepare for installation.

I'm into my second quart of varnish. Every piece of wood gets three coats of polyurethane varnish.

But I keep telling myself I am saving us hundreds of dollars by staining the 75 pieces of wood and varnishing each three times. Hundreds. Of dollars.

That’s good because the money goes fast when you’re house-improving. For a frugal person like me, such spending doesn’t come easily.

I’m struggling, too, with choosing a color for the living room walls, which need to be painted before the carpenters nail the window and door trim in place. This is causing me great angst as evidenced in the endless paint swatches I’ve plucked from displays in three stores. I think now that I’ve narrowed the color down to two choices. I need to decide because once the sheetrock mudding is done, we’re ready to paint.

I've picked up way too many paint cards, further confusing me. I'm leaning toward "Whole Wheat," a warm color from Sherwin Williams with a golden tint. Anybody have that color on their walls?

My living room is a mess with wood piled in front of the TV, our bed headboard in the corner next to a bucket of sheetrock mud. A canvas covers the carpet in front of the new picture window and cardboard leans against the wall. Two white showers curtains serve as temporary window drapes…

I don’t even bother to put away the vacuum cleaners any more.

A corner of my living room. I'm not showing you any other rooms, some of which are also in disarray due to this "project."

P.S. To those of you who drive by our house daily, yes, we are getting new siding on the front. It’s tough living on a fish bowl busy street where “everyone” sees what you’re doing.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling