The Art of Friendship

My sweetheart and I recently painted our home office. Well, mostly he painted and I was the cheerleader (and packer of books, remover of pictures, filler of holes, and washer of carpet, he helped with that too!) It’s one of those things we do every 20 years or so, whether the room needs it or not.

The best part of doing this was the opportunity to have freshly painted walls on which to display some of the original art we’ve collected over the years. We love art and even more, we love the art created by people we know. Some of our pieces were given to us, others we’ve purchased. Some has been professionally framed and others, I just placed in frames picked up at local thrift shops.

this was my desk view before we painted

One of the things I find challenging is hanging art in groupings. When we finished our office, I had 6 pieces of art of varying sizes that I wanted to hang together because I felt they complemented one another well. But I was really stumped as to how best do this. Luckily, one of my amazing artist friends, Linda Klippenstein, came to my rescue.

She had me take individual photos of each piece that I have along with their dimensions. She then entered these into some kind of magical program that hung them on a virtual wall to show me how the pieces could create a beautiful whole. The advice was to match edges or corners and balance colours and sizes.

So here’s the individual art pieces.

Original art by Kathy Curry, a high school friend, purchased in 2020. Professionally framed.
Artwork by same Kathy Curry – this was the Christmas card she sent this year. Thirfted frame
Original artwork by Sarina Brandt, friend. Purchased. Thrifted frame.
Original art by K. Schellenberg, purchased at a fundraising event put on by Abbotsford Arts Council. Thrifted frame.
Photograph by Allison Imbenzi, taken when she was in highschool more than a decade ago. Thrifted frame.

Art by William Voth, friend and member of our church youth group. This was the family Christmas card last year. Thrifted frame.

And here’s how Linda recommended I hang them. Cool, right?

But I still had to get them on the wall in that order. So I cut out pieces of newspaper to the size of each piece and used painter’s tape to stick them on the wall.

genius, right? pretty sure my sister taught me this trick.

This helped me get the picture hangers in the right place. I measured the back of each piece, where the hanger would be and then measured that on the newspaper and banged the hole in the wall. Here’s the final result!

isn’t it lovely? the art on the left is an original given to my father-in-law in 1988 upon his retirement and which we inherited. it’s a painting of the canal in Ottawa in winter!

What’s your favourite piece of art in your home?

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Sharing the Joy

I am a klutz in the kitchen. I’m forever dropping stuff, grating my knuckles along with the cheese, or burning my fingers. Learning to bend properly and having bandaids on hand takes care of the first two, having an Aloe Vera plant on my windowsill is essential for that last one. Every time I burn myself, I snap off an end of one leaf and squeeze the aloe gel directly onto the burn. It has a cooling, almost menthol quality that takes the heat and sting away instantly. Lucky for me, I have a beauty of an Aloe plant and, wouldn’t you know it, it comes with a great story.

I have a birthday twin. Dolores and I are exactly 20 years apart (I won’t tell you who is older.)

Dolores, me, and Judy – all birthday twins and Dolores and Judy were actually born on the very same day!

Two years ago, just when our province was implementing lockdowns, we met for lunch. At that lunch, Dolores gifted us each with a wee aloe plant and I was so happy because I had given mine away and was regretting that decision.

The original plant is the huge one on the right, when it first came to me, it was as big as the one on the left!

In the two years since, that plant has grown so much that I’ve had to repot it twice. And I don’t know what was going on in that flower pot recently but it had so many children that the main mama plant was getting really crowded. So, I decided it was time for those kids to move out and I headed to a thrift shop to find the tools I needed to make that happen.

At the MCC Centre Thrift in Abbotsford I hit a jackpot of little plastic pots – perfect for this repotting project and super cheap: 4 pots for 50cents. I found a couple of cute plastic sleeves as well.

As I scanned the flower pot shelves, I also noticed some earthenware pots in great condition, including the lovely grey one, made in Italy. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with these yet but I couldn’t resist them.

I purchased everything for under $10 and headed home to clean them all up and do the repotting. The Aloe Vera plants are all doing well and enjoy being in front of my west-facing sliding door where they get lots of light.

I have plans for these plants – some special folks in my life will receive them eventually, as soon as I’ve ensured that they’ve taken root in their new homes.

What kind of plant or gardening things have you found at your thrift shop?

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Confessions of a Stationery Nerd

I have a thing for stationery. There’s just something about new writing paper that gives me a thrill. I love having pretty paper to send to someone just as much as I love receiving letters written on pretty paper. I think it’s because it lets a person know that you care, that you took the time to choose something special to write on, that you chose to write slowly, by hand. It just makes me happy.

pretty paper and a lovely pen, it’s all i need to make me super happy!

Last year, I blogged about rediscovering slow mail and the letter writing I’ve done since the pandemic began. Since that blog I’ve written dozens and dozens of letters. Some folks write back, some don’t, but I don’t care. I don’t write in order to get a letter back, I write to let someone know that I’m thinking of them.

And since I’ve rediscovered this passion, I’ve been combing thrift shops for unique stationery and have not been disappointed. Here’s some finds from my local MCC Thrift Shop in Abbotsford.

i love that the cards come complete with a bow

This beautiful box set is so feminine and the cards have a lovely, Victorian quality to them. There are a few elders in my church who have been corresponding with me and I look forward to writing back on these pretty cards. The set was nearly complete and cost me only $1.25.

This set came in a plain plastic cover and cost me only 75 cents.

I love the petal detail on the paper and the smaller size means you don’t have to write a long letter, just a nice one.

the vivid colours on the folder caught my eye right away

But this one is my favourite so far. This sea-side themed set came in a folder and I just love the bright, vivid colours.

It’s cool how the writing area is screened back and I love the detail scroll on the paper bands that hold the envelopes together. There’s a lot more paper than envelopes but that’s okay. It only set me back a dollar.

In January, I’ve been writing to the young people in our church youth group. The pandemic has hit this generation hard in terms of mental health and I feel so sad for the challenges that our youth face. Hopefully, getting a cheerful letter in the mail will remind them that they are loved and valued and thought of.

Any other stationery nerds out there?

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A Book Sent From Heaven

This is a story about two sisters, Jimmy Carter, and a book.

My mom, Susan (left) with her sister, Erna in Paraguay

This is my mom and her older sister Erna (my Aunt, or, as we say in German, “Tante”) when they were young girls living in Paraguay. They were born 18 months apart and they were always close, even when they lived far apart, which wasn’t very often or for very long. They were the oldest two of 12 children (9 of which survived to adulthood) and when my Tante Erna passed away suddenly last summer, it was devastating for my mom. She lost her closest relative, someone she loved dearly, and the person she had known longer than anyone else on the planet (think about that for a minute.)

All the sisters! Tante Erna is in the front with the cane, mom is second from the right (front). In the back from the left: Claudia, Christina, Alma, and Margaret. Aren’t they a fun bunch?

One of the interests that mom and Tante Erna shared was books, especially biographies or books written by famous people they admired. One person they both admired greatly was President Jimmy Carter. My mom deeply respects the ex-president for his deep Christian faith and his deep commitment to serving others – two things mom and Jimmy have in common. She’s scoured thrift shops and used book stores for his books, usually with success but one book eluded her: Living Faith, first published in 1996 and currently out of print.

A treasured book.

Mom remembered that she and her sister had discussed the book; she remembered that Erna had once owned it but Erna couldn’t remember nor could she find it. When Tante Erna’s daughter and granddaughter were cleaning out her suite after she passed, mom asked them to keep an eye out for it but it looked like either Erna never did own it, or it had already gone to the local MCC Thrift shop in boxes already sent there.

That was August.

Fast-forward to November. Mom and I visit The Bookman – the best used bookstore in the Lower Mainland, IMHO – and we check to see if she’s still on the wait list for Living Faith, a list she’d been on for two years. Yes, still there, still no book.

A couple of weeks later, she noticed Mr. Bookman at the MCC Thrift shop picking up books for resale in his shop (something all used book store owners do.) He left the store with a whole grocery box of books.

Happy Camper!

Last week, I get a phone call from The Bookman letting me know that the book we’ve been waiting for, Living Faith, has come in. Did we still want it? Yes! I went to pick it up. Bonus: I had enough points saved up that I got the book for free. I brought it to mom, who was thrilled.

The next morning, I get a call from my mom. “Are you sitting down?” When your 80+ mom starts a conversation with those words, you sit down. I could tell from her voice that she was happy, so I wondered what this was all about. “What’s up?”

That morning, mom sat down to finally look at the book she’d been searching for all these years. She opened up the cover and there, on the fly leaf was one word written in the corner: Erna.

“I knew right away this was my sister’s handwriting,” she says. “She always wrote her name in her books this way. I almost started crying.”

So, the book made its way from Tante Erna’s home, to the thrift shop where my mom volunteers, where it was bought by Mr. Bookman, who called to say it had arrived, so that I could go pick it up – for free – and bring it to my mom, who had asked her sister for it years ago.

Apparently, Tante Erna remembered about the book when she got to heaven and then made sure it got back to her sister. She even signed it to make sure that mom knew where it had come from.

Not sure what could make this story any better than that. It feels like a wee Christmas miracle, doesn’t it?

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Home Office Solutions

Our new, second home office

Since March of 2020, my sweetheart and I have been working from home and y’all know why. For most of this time, I’ve been in our home office space and he was working from the dining room table. Given that we were unable to entertain more than 3 people in our home for most of this time, it wasn’t really an issue.

But now that our whole family has been vaccinated (and I hope you and yours are too!) and we’re permitted to do a bit more entertaining, I realized that I want my dining room back for Thanksgiving!

So, we decided we’d convert our son’s old bedroom into a second office. This seemed more practical than keeping a spare bed in there since it is almost never used. The problem was, we needed a second desk.

When we started looking at places like Staples and Ikea, we were shocked at how expensive a desk could be – particularly because we were looking for something quite simple onto which John could put his standing desk unit. We just needed a table, really, just lower than a dining room table. We were looking at anywhere from $300 to $1000!

The desk as it was on the floor at the MCC Centre Thrift Shop

But a few weeks ago, we attended the MCC Festival which was held this year in the parking lot of the MCC Centre, a building that houses the MCC Centre Thrift Shop. I went in to do a little recon and what did I see? The perfect desk for $20.

a minimal amount of wear and tear

The desk is solid wood, the perfect height, has two desk drawers (something a table doesn’t have!), and was in pretty good condition.

He figures next time he might go out and buy a sander…

It had a few scrapes and bangs but drawing on his inner-handy-man, my sweetheart first sanded the surface and the banged-up edges by hand (talk about applying elbow grease!)

He then applied a rub in stain, and finished it off with a coat of Varathane.

The finished desk

The desk fits perfectly in its new home, even leaving room for a small filing cabinet and a corner table for a plant, a lamp, and some artwork.

Just need to hang a few more pieces of art work

His standing unit fits nicely on the desk and he no longer needs to have a foot rest to keep his feet at the right height.

Not bad for $20, eh? Feeling pretty good about this find! What’s the best deal you’ve found lately?

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Thrift for Truth and Reconciliation

I purchased this Orange Shirt new, from an Indigenous business. It’s important to know that you are supporting a legitimate Indigenous business, so do your homework!

Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada, a day to reflect on the impact that residential schools have had on our Indigenous neighbours. I have been encouraged by the number of businesses that have chosen to donate a portion of their sales to various Indigenous organizations. Thrift shops are also doing their part.

MCC Centre Thrift on Gladys in Abbotsford

I live in Abbotsford and both the MCC Centre Thrift Shop and the MCC Clothing Etc Thrift Shop are donating 50% of all their sales to the MCC BC Indigenous Neighbours Reconciliation fund. This is where I feel it’s so important to support charity-based thrift shops. If you are there at 2:15 pm, you can participate in the two minutes and fifteen seconds of silence, honouring the discovery of children’s graves earlier this year.

Life’s Second Chance on South Fraser Way in Abbotsford

Life’s Second Chance Thrift Store, also in Abbotsford, has a display in their window in honour of TRC day and is staying open because they are a point of contact for people living with addiction.

Other thrift shops have chosen to close on this day and give their volunteers the opportunity to participate in various events in their community. I appreciate this effort as well.

one of the most helpful books i’ve read so far

In the past months I have made a commitment to listen and learn. Part of that process has been reading Indigenous literature. One of the most helpful books I found was “21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act” by Bob Joseph, which I first took out of the library and then purchased at The Bookman – one of my favourite used book stores. I learned that I knew exactly nothing about the Indian Act and I am just incredulous that it still exists. The book makes the topic very accessible, includes the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, other resources, and discussion questions. It’s a fantastic resource. (Also, Bookman donated 22 children’s picture books to School District 33 to help children learn about the truth and impact of Residential Schools. Just another reason to love this book store.)

The Bookman in Abbotsford – their flagship store is in Chilliwack

I also recommend “Five Little Indians” by Michelle Good, “Embers – One Ojibwe’s Meditations” by Richard Wagamese, and “Before We Lost The Lake” by Chad Reimer.

On National Truth and Reconciliation Day, I am going to go thrift shopping. I’m going to support other businesses that are Indigenous-owned and I am going to continue to reflect and read. On Friday, I’d like to take in the opening of “The River People and the Land: Living within S’ólh Téméxw” Exhibit at the Trethewey House Heritage Gallery in Abbotsford.

I’d love to hear what you are doing to remember this day (and moving forward.)

I am listening, I am learning.

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The Pandemic and the Fitting Room Conundrum

Everyone has been impacted by the global pandemic, especially small businesses. Thrift shops are among those enterprises that have had to make a number of changes in order to stay open, sell goods, and support the charities they serve. What I’m wondering is this: which of those changes will remain?

Along with plexiglass at the cashiers, hand-sanitizing stations, mandatory masks, and directional arrows, one of the biggest changes to the thrift shopping experience has been the closing of fitting rooms.

I’m not entirely sure why this is standard practice. Most for-profit clothing stores allow customers to try clothes on and they are most certainly NOT laundering those clothes in between fittings. Used clothing has already been worn but many thrift shops do launder their clothes before putting them on the floor, so I don’t see the difference.

Nonetheless, no access to fitting rooms is the norm; in fact, several thrift shops I’ve been in – including (evil) Value Village – have actually removed their fitting rooms entirely and at some thrift shops there’s conversation about not bringing them back. For the thrift shop owners, this makes some sense. Removing the fitting rooms creates more floor space for product. Fitting rooms are also a source of irritation since they are often left a mess and when your workforce is mostly volunteer based, you often don’t have enough staff to keep up with the tidying. Even though shops limit the number of items one takes into a room, this is where theft often happens. So removing the rooms altogether is an advantage for the shop owner. For the shopper, not so much.

A fabulous fitting room at Living Planet, a retail shop in St. John’s NFLD

Not being able to try clothing on means you’re taking a chance with each purchase. Part of the problem is that the size assigned to a piece of clothing is meaningless. Size 10 at H&M or Old Navy is not the same as size 10 at Northern Reflections or MEC. With thrift purchases you have the added possibility that the item has been incorrectly washed by the previous owner and has shrunk. Because many clothing manufacturers are now adding spandex to everything (I am not complaining about this!) sizing has become even trickier. So not being able to try something on makes purchasing a challenge.

Simple fitting rooms in the Mission Thrift Shop in Ottawa

If you could take something home and return it, it would make it slightly less inconvenient but nearly all thrift shops are “all sales final.” (Evil) Value Village does allow you to return an item within 2 weeks but not for refund nor for store credit: you must find something of equal value on the day you return the item. This is pretty smart on their part because typically, you end up spending even more.

Bought three capris today at MCC Centre Thrift in Abbotsford. The ones I’m wearing fit great, the other two, not at all, so they’ll be going back!

So, mostly, you hold up a piece of clothing in front of a mirror, you stretch it across your body, and you guess. Given that most of your purchases are cheap, you’re willing to take the risk, and you justify it by telling yourself that you’re making a donation to charity. I’ve only recently returned to thrift shopping (mostly because of my own pandemic-caused, mental health anxiety issues) and in 3 shopping excursions I’d say I’ve gotten it right 50% of the time. Given that I return the items back to the thrift shop from which I’ve purchased them, that’s a pretty sweet deal for the thrift shop.

And since I genuinely support the charities that these shops represent, I’m mostly okay with that. But I think that at the end of the pandemic, I’d like to see fitting rooms return.

What do you think?

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Pledge to Thrift

This fun image I shamelessly borrowed from MCC Thrift’s Facebook page! you should follow them!

An MCC Thrift post this week reminded me that this week is Fashion Revolution Week, tomorrow (April 22) is Earth Day, and it’s time to take the #ThriftFirst pledge. All of these events remind us that if we want to live in a better world, then we have to do our part to make it so.

The Bangladesh garment factory, just after its collapse.

Fashion Revolution Week began after the Rana Factory collapse in 2013 that killed more than 1000 sweatshop workers toiling away in unsafe conditions to create cheap clothing that we demand.

Me, privileged enough to hike the Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland, one of the most pristine places I have visited

Earth Day reminds us that we must behave differently if we want to save our planet. Given that we have no other place to live, you’d think we’d take that more seriously.

And the Thrift First pledge is a reminder that the choices we make are part of protecting both people and planet. The Thrift First pledge is exactly that – a pledge to choose thrift first when making a purchase.

this is the first sweater i ever bought at a thrift shop with my own money. cost me a buck.

If you visit the “about” section here or read my first blog post, you’ll find the words I wrote when I launched Thrift Shopper for Peace in 2011. I shared the many reasons that I choose thrift first. Thrifting is good for the environment because it reduces waste and diverts things from the landfill. Thrifting supports charitable work in your neighbourhood since most thrift shops are set up by charities to support their ministry. Thrift encourages volunteerism, since most shops (the best ones, I think) are primarily staffed by volunteers – good for the community, good for one’s mental health, and good for the charity they serve. The bonus, of course, is that you also save money.

Thrift is a way of life for me so taking the Thrift First Pledge was not a hardship but it was a good reminder that this is important. When you take the pledge, your challenge is to commit to reducing textile waste by looking for clothing before you think about purchasing new clothing for a year. MCC will send you a guide to thrifting and you’ll have a chance to win a gift card to an MCC Thrift Shop (so this perk is for those living in North America). Their website has lots of helpful tips and information about the impact that thrifting makes.

Friends, this is such a simple way to make a real impact in the world. If you’ve never shopped thrift before, read my second blog post – shopping thrift is different from shopping retail; think of yourself as a treasure hunter! Take the Thrift First Pledge and see for yourself what a difference it can make!

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Adventures in Paska

I baked paska this weekend. I don’t do this every year like some of my friends do; that’s because my first experience with this traditional, Mennonite sweet bread was a mitigated disaster. As I look back on that, I realize that it had a lot to do with lack of experience… and possibly old yeast.

I used this recipe from The Mennonite Treasury. Take note of my own notes in the margins. This cookbook is a truly a treasure and was created in a time when most women were experienced cooks and home-makers by default. Most of these recipes are a simple list of ingredients with directions like “mix together, place in medium oven, bake until done” because any Mennonite woman worth her weight in salt would know what that meant.

Also, note the sheer volume of ingredients: 16 eggs! For 8 cups of flour? Every recipe in this book is made for families with 12 children. My disaster started with yeast that was likely old because my dough (two huge doughs, apparently) did not rise. I let it sit for something like 18 hours. I made loaves and baked them anyway (probably figuring I wasn’t going to waste 16 frickin’ eggs!) They came out as bricks and I think it threw all but one away… I kept one in the freezer in case I needed to knock someone unconscious.

Fast-forward 30+ years, a LOT more experience, and a far more reasonable recipe from the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website. Not only is this a reasonable recipe, it has DETAILED instructions (i.e. if your yeast doesn’t foam, throw it away and start over!), and pictures!

It is still a day-long commitment – 3 risings representing the 3 days of waiting for Jesus to rise from the grave – and worth the effort. (I didn’t use raw egg in the icing because my great-nephew will get one of these and it’s not recommended for kids.)

Here’s the fun thing, though: even though I used a new recipe, I still used the same mixing bowl, the same measuring cups and spoons, and the same loaf pans that I used 3 decades ago. The measuring cups and spoons were a wedding gift, the bowl and loaf pans came from my mom to help me set up my kitchen as a newlywed. The pans have that great patina to them that comes from years and years of use; they don’t need a ton of greasing because of that. It just feels super special to me that these things have lasted so long, used over and over again as I’ve honed my skills as a cook and baker. Both the tools and I have improved with experience!

Happy Easter!

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Rediscovering Slow Communication

It has been a while since I’ve written. It’s been a while since I’ve been thrift shopping. This pandemic has been a revealing experience in so many ways. In some ways, I’ve been grateful for the forced slowness of life: my evenings are no longer filled with meetings, events, or gatherings. Instead, my sweetheart and I ensure that we are going for a walk each day, I’m re-reading beloved novels, I do crosswords, and I’ve revived my love for writing letters.

There’s something about slow communication that is really special. It takes time to write a sentence in long-hand, cursive, writing. Unless you want your missive to be filled with scribbles, you think through your sentence before you write it because you can’t just back-space and re-compose. It’s thought-full.

I have a lovely little writing desk – I don’t think it’s antique but it feels like it – that I inherited from a friend of my mom’s who passed away several years ago. I store my stationery, journals, and books on writing here.

Most of my stationery is thrifted. There’s something fun about finding pretty writing paper and using a quality pen. I’ve had inkwell pens before but they tend to blob, so I stick to ballpoint – but the wooden one I have here, a gift from my sweetheart, is pretty special.

I wonder if anyone has ever used this kind of stationery before? I picked up this package for 75 cents years ago and have started using it again. you write on the back of it, fold it over and stick it shut with a sticker ( I reinforce it with scotch tape.) You can see where the stamp goes. It’s cool because it eliminates the need for an envelope but it does limit your writing field.

After a previous blog, where I mentioned that I had run out of envelopes, a friend delivered an enormous box of empty envelopes, saved from a card shop. So now I’ve not only got lovely paper to write on but I’ve also got quality envelopes to send my letters in.

I’ve written dozens and dozens of letters in this past year of pandemic and am truly thrilled whenever someone writes me back. Some send me home made cards with their children’s artwork. Some have painted beautiful paintings on card stock or made amazing photos cards. Others have written back on cards or paper that they too have thrifted. The medium doesn’t matter to me, it’s the content that I love… the fact that someone took the time to respond, slowly, thoughtfully… this is what matters to me. It’s something that I hope will survive the pandemic.

What gifts have you discovered in this past year?

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