How To Second Hand Shop Hop


My sister is an expert at doing the Second Hand Shop Hop.

The girlfriend can get curtains, lamps, picture frames and a coffee table and completely transform her personal space in a new color scheme. For $15.

She picked up a beautiful soft leather Coach bag for a steal.

She has an ‘eye’.

Obviously, you need to be a private eye with an eagle eye and not be afraid to give the lady trying to grab the thing you just spotted – first! – the stink eye. This type of shopping isn’t for shrinking violets.

When I go, I seldom find a treasure that makes me do the Happy Dance.

But she can put together an outfit for her Hubby’s work Christmas dinner and look like a million bucks.

And I know she only spent twenty.

So here it is:

How to pop some tags with $20 in your pocket.

  1. Go alone. Take bottled water and snacks. Preferably chocolate.
  2. Alone! Unless you’re with a professional like my sister, otherwise, text selfies for second opinions.
  3. Don’t go in a distracted mood. Focus. Have a good hair day. Wear comfy shoes.
  4. Do special occasion outfits way in advance. Like months, if possible.
  5. Wear pull-on clothes for fast changing and slender clothes for trying on ‘over the top’.
  6. Map the stores in advance. Note their hours. Do they take plastic or is it cash only?
  7. Map the store from the door. Where are the dressing rooms? Are there dressing rooms?
  8. Take your list and be faithful. What do you need? What will you splurge on if necessary?
  9. Never believe the tags. These clothes are here for a reason. They lie.
  10. First, look for stains, holes, broken zippers, missing buttons. Rerack immediately.
  11. Is it cotton (shrink) linen (wrinkle) rayon (fray) velvet (eew) beaded (missing)?
  12. Dry Clean Only? Really?
  13. Shoes are vaguely more size-honest. And pre-molded to another’s foot. Use caution.
  14. Speaking of mold, there are items that you should never purchase second hand. Just no.
  15. Try it on. Look from every angle. Bend over. Sit down. Reach up. Can you breathe?
  16. Beware coats or workout wear. They may smell funny when wet.
  17. If you buy this and hate it, can you return it? Yes, but only as a donation.
  18. Always take a bag for dropping off to make room for new treasures.
  19. If you dither, it will vanish into another woman’s cart. Maintain physical contact until you decide. No, it won’t still be here tomorrow.
  20. Don’t buy it unless you love it. It’s not a bargain if you don’t actually wear it.

It used to be baby and kids’ clothing that we filled our carts with. Toys and books.

Now, my favorite place to look through is the jewelry display. If I can’t find a single thing in the whole store that fits me, I can always find a bit of sparkly that will go with everything I own.

One size fits all.

For two bucks.

Dream On

I’m exhausted this morning.

All night I had dreams that woke me up just long enough to realize that they had been dreams before dozing off into yet another ridiculous dream.

Maybe it was the Chinese food I ate for dinner, but more likely it was that my brain bubbles over with too many thoughts and emotions. The minute I fall asleep, my subconscious says, “Hey we shouldn’t waste all these leftovers!” and all the scraps and remnants of the day are tossed together like a zesty chow mein.

There’s the usual “running/hiding from the bad guy” dream which is all tense and involves me trying to dial 911 on my cell phone which doesn’t have any number keys.

There’s the one where the whole family is going about a normal day except we’re in a house I’ve never seen in my life and the family somehow includes total strangers that I’m cheerfully making lunch for.

I haven’t had the one where I can fly for a while now, but it used to be one of my favorites.

When my kids had nightmares, we talked them over. They have their own recurring ones, too, and it can be frustrating.

It’s not like you don’t know how it ends.

You just want to dream something else for a change, thank you.

My daughters tell me they wake up in the morning sometimes, having had a volcanic argument with me in a dream. Apparently I was quite terrible, so even though they realize it was just a dream, they stay mad at me all day and I have no idea why.

My sons will tell me about a dream where I was killed which is only slightly better for my reputation, as they seem sincerely upset about it. But with all the violence their dream contained, we’re lucky anyone escaped. Even the T Rex.

Although they make for animated conversations, figments are unwelcome to a good nights’ sleep.

Especially when things like bedwetting, sleepwalking or wall punching were involved.

And so we practiced changing the channel.

Your brain isn’t an old school TV with three channels stuck on “re-runs”. It’s faster and more diverse than the internet. You’ve got Cable in there with limitless channels and they air 24/7.


You just need to get your hands on the remote.

I asked my kids to try an experiment.

“Just as you’re about to fall asleep at night,” I said, “deliberately choose a channel you want to watch. Tell yourself you are only interested in the Cooking Channel and that if something else plays, like an old western, that you’ll stop on mid-horseback and tune back into a cake contest. With gold frosting and sprinkles on it. Visualize it for a moment. Taste it.”

Your brain will remember this, even in your sleep.

It has to be a fun, wonderful, even imaginary thing. Something warm or safe or quiet; whatever is the opposite of the dream that’s bugging you.

Why watch ‘CSI’ when you can watch the symphony on KPBS?

Maybe you’ve always wanted a pet panda.

Here’s your big chance, tune in to Animal Planet.

Maybe you want your brain to come up with a solution to a puzzle. Punch in the MythBusters.

You may just wake up with the right idea.

If your brain is going to spend some time at night goofing off in your head, it certainly doesn’t care what it plays with. So give it some happy bits and tell it to behave in there.

The remote may have some static interference now and then.

Be gentle on yourself.

I would suggest chamomile tea and a teddy bear to hug for emergency back-ups.

And stay away from the chow mein.

Would You Rather…The Toddler Version

My kids have a card game called “Would You Rather”.

The premise is that you have to choose between two pretty ridiculous things.

For example: Would you rather wear a tuxedo to school/work every day…or clothes three sizes too small?

Would you rather post all your report cards on Facebook…or all your love letters?

Would you rather be able to camouflage yourself like a chameleon…or puff up your body like a blowfish?

They love it.

Because they haven’t lived long enough.

So tell me, parents in the toddler trenches…would you rather…

“Sleep in” till 6am while your kid gets the butter out of the fridge and butters the entire kitchen and himself…or fall asleep at lunchtime and forget to pick up your kindergartner from school?

Pretend the toddler is still taking his nap so you can finish the chapter of the book you’re reading…or walk in before he decides to finger paint the walls around the crib with the contents of his diaper?

Force your kids to swallow “chew forever steak”…or look the other way so they can spit it into their napkins?

Eat a nice dinner of fettucini alfredo with roasted chicken and a side of acorn squash….or make spaghetti for the ten zillionth time in a row because that is all the kids will eat?

Potty train ‘early’, cleaning the floor, doing the laundry and tolerating six months of ‘relapses’…or wait until the summer they turn three and turn them loose buck naked in the backyard with a never-ending sippy cup and a potty chair?

See the inside of every bathroom in your community, suspending the tot above the sleaze…or keep a permanent line item in your budget labelled: “diapers and wipes”?

Step on Legos, Jacks, and Slinkys in the middle of the night while running into the kids’ bedroom…or let them throw up over it all and toss it out the next morning as “collateral damage”?

Let the flotsam of a year’s worth of meals build up to the point where you can no longer tell what color your high chair is…or put a pile of Cheerios in the middle of the floor and let the kid have at it?

Give them a pacifier that they drop out of the crib every single night at 2am and shriek madly…or let them suck their thumb until they’re 20?

Spend 15 minutes strapping your baby to your chest and your toddler to your waist while making a two minute stop to pick up your kindergartner…or spend a half hour waiting for Hubby to show up with a spare car key because the kindergartner climbed in and accidentally locked the car from the inside and is attempting to drive away?

Give your little one a pet fish that refuses to die (unless, of course, you pet and cuddle it)…or give her a hamster that refuses to live (and especially loathes petting and cuddling)?

Have the child who hates swim lessons and refuses to get into the water…or have the child who loves swim lessons and refuses to surface from below the water?

These are important choices to ponder, and I think I speak for us all when I say, “To Toddle or not to Toddle…that is the question.”

I’ll be making different versions of this game, as I find it rather cathartic.

And when you’re standing in the kitchen and have to choose between washing the dishes or drinking your bevmo from a sippy cup…well, we all know the answer to that one.

You Might Regret It

I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you, but I’m not the adventurous type.

In my benign youth, I watched my mom fry up a rattlesnake and my dad eat some, just to get our goat. My dad would gather us around and say, “Watch this!” while he slowly ate an insanely hot pepper. His face would go beet red, sweat pouring down to his collar, and I would think,


This is before I understood boys (men are just larger versions).

Apparently, you do these things for fun.

It should never have surprised me to discover that my oldest son made a video at age twelve wherein he eats a live grasshopper.

“Mom, people in China eat crickets all the time.”

And while I would love, love, love, to stereotype radical decision-making to the male gender, alas, my daughters will also do things which go miles out of my own comfort zone.

Case in point: Six Flags Magic Mountain of Shrieking Doom.

Every teenagers dream come true, specifically the one about where you’re flying and then you wake up at 2am and puke.

Every summer, a heap of our sons and daughters alike head to Valencia to storm the theme park. They do it at the end of July, when the temperatures soar to Death Valley numbers. They go for the entire time the park is open to get their parent’s moneys’ worth. They leave the sunscreen at home so they have a lasting memento of the day, since a souvenir drink cup runs approximately $13 before tax.

I know this because I volunteered as driver/chaperone one year.

I needed more punches in my Mom Card.

After a three hour trip culminating with reflex-testing LA driving, we filed through the entrance, kids scattering, and I began a slow survey of the place.

There wasn’t a single indoor area. Shade was at a premium. Seating was scarce.

Apparently, air conditioning is for sissies.

The morning wore on, and I passed groups of our teens, dashing on to the next hazardous horror, laughing like the little maniacs they are.

I had never been on a roller coaster in my life. The ferris wheel doesn’t count…and it doesn’t, technically, have seat belts, a thought that never left my mind during the tense ten minute orbit.

I strolled past a ride that blasts you at 100 mph backwards, then the tracks turn straight up.

415’ up.

At the very top of the track, which ends in mid air, stands Super Man. The goal is to have just enough momentum to reach him and say hello but not enough to run him over and off the end of the track. The car hovers at a stand-still for three heartbeats before flying 92 mph, straight down, all the way back to the start position.

The boom from the G forces comes first, followed by shrieks from the passing car.

You can hear them all the way to the top, where they have just enough time to take a breath for their return screams.

I watched in dread, rooted to the tarmac, and thought, “Why?

I looked desperately for refuge from the havoc.

In the center of the park, high above the tallest joyride, was the Sky Tower.

It sits, with 360* views, displaying park memorabilia, and it’s air conditioned!

I found a corner out of the way, plopped myself and my books (always be prepared!) onto the floor and told the concerned employee that I was staying put for the rest of the day.

He was about twelve; I may have use my “mom voice” on him. It only works on other people’s kids, though.

Sitting above the screaming masses, the day passed quietly. Once in a while, a kid would call me and wave enthusiastically from a two hour line to yet another abomination.

As the sun was sinking into the west, a daughter called me and said, “Come down and meet me for dinner!”

We sat on the balmy benches, talking loudly over the nearby howling.

“Mom,” she said, poking at a $15 slice of pizza, “you came all the way to Magic Mountain and you haven’t gone on a single ride. That’s crazy.”

“Not as crazy as actually riding on them.”

She looked me right in the eye. “If you don’t, you’ll always regret it.”

Now there are a great many things in life that I haven’t done and have no intention of doing, and I have no regrets whatsoever.

But I looked into her challenging eyes for a long minute and thought, “Why not?

All the way to the roller coaster, I asked, “What if I fall out? What if the ride breaks? What if it stops half way and I have to climb out onto the track way up there? What if I get sick? What if I have my eyes shut the whole time? What would be the point?”

“Mom,” she sighed, putting me in line, “this one is for babies. I’ll sit next to you. It’s okay.”

We strapped into the ride. I tried not to hyperventilate.

She patted me on my white-knuckled hand and smiled.

And I took my first and only upside-down roller coaster ride.

I kept my eyes open. I laughed the whole time. I went twice.

I decided to stop while I was ahead and take my one happy memory home with me.

It wasn’t of the loopy ride.

It’s of my daughter, trying to make sure I make a few radical decisions outside my comfort zone, so I will understand the “Why” a little better.

And not regret it.

Back to School Risky Business

“Dear Parent or Guardian: The pesticides listed below have been authorized by the District to control weeds, vertebrates and insects on campus. All pesticides are applied on weekends or non-school days only by outside contractors.”

“The law states that individuals may request notification every time the district applies a pesticide.

Ms Risk Management Specialist”

…per California law 2000


Before a child is allowed on campus, a prodigious amount of forms filled out in triplicate for each student in blue ink only is required.

The amount of paperwork I have to sign just for them to play a sport each year is obscene.

So when I’m sifting through the stack I toss out every single page that isn’t absolutely necessary, including school lunch applications and ads for class rings.

I have zero tolerance for either.

I have to write down who is authorized to pick my child up from school and make a doctor give the school nurse his approval to dispense ibuprofen to my son who gets migraines.

Advil. Seriously.

Here’s how much I hate school paperwork: for years, whenever a child brought home fund raiser packets, I would throw them wholesale into the recycle bin and hand the kid ten bucks and hand the school ten bucks.

I don’t approve of child labor and I don’t approve of wasting people’s time.

I will hand you money if you don’t make me fill out forms.

Anyway, back to the toxic chemicals.

I was tossing papers out in wild abandon when this one caught my eye.

Probably because of my ant dilemma, it occurred to me that perhaps the school district had discovered a way to keep ants off their property.

You don’t see ants in the classroom, even when the little children are obviously begging to be hauled down an anthill.

There were a lot of Latin words for “lethal” that I couldn’t decipher.

The bits that made sense included, “Bedlam” “Hornet Jet Freeze” “Dragnet” “Ratimor” and “Gopher Getter”.

I was excited to discover the word “strychnine”. It balanced nicely with “rosemary and peppermint oil”.

Our school district is an equal opportunity exterminator.

Furthermore, I had no idea they employed a Risk Management Specialist.

For the last 15 years, this person has been educating parents and/or guardians such as myself of risks being managed on behalf of my child.

And we have been completely ignoring her.

And she knows it.

The paper clearly states that deadly and destructive forces are being applied to the school by ‘outside contractors’, but if I want to know which days the ‘district’ applies them, she will be happy to let me know.

Tricky lady.

She could easily have written, “Every four weeks during the full moon, we will be letting vampire bats crawl among the rafters seeking mice, only four of which actually ate our ineffective dynamite bait (aka: ‘MiceKaBoom’).”

I would have never read it.

After the first three words, it would’ve been canned.

I would like to submit an open question or two regarding these thoroughly managed risks.

Does the term “vertebrates” include soccer moms?

Which particular pest is being targeted with “permethrin”?

According to my research, it’s toxic to bees and fish, and should be kept strictly away from drinking fountains and swimming pools.

It attacks subterranean termites. And head lice.

Somehow she has to manage to sort out the risks between cooties, creepers, and kids.

Decisions, decisions.

Who, specifically, authorized the item: fluazifop-P-butyl-2-[4-[[5-(triflouromethyl)-2-pyridingyl]oxy]phenoxy]propanoate?

Will it be in Common Core Math this year?

And does it kill ants, because I felt a few brain cells die just trying to read it?

And do you, perhaps, have to fill out forms in triplicate in blue ink only each time you bring it on campus?

I had no idea school was so risky.

On behalf of parent/guardians everywhere, hands spasming with finger cramps, Thank you, Ms Risk Management Specialist, whoever you are.

Martha Stewart, Eat Your Heart Out

Over the weekend, I attended a dinner party. A real live grown-up dinner in someone’s lovely home, as a prequel to a baseball game.

My girlfriends are quite sensible and when they throw a party, they let everyone bring a piece of it with them. I had to bring “something that will go with chicken tacos”.

I simply planted a lime tree, checked my pinto bean fields, then took my scuba gear out for some lobster.

But nothing quite inspired me.

That’s code for: “I seriously didn’t have time all week to google a recipe under ‘goes with tacos’ and when I did the ingredients were…weird, so I just panicked and ran to the store to see if the Mexican food aisle carried anything besides jarred salsa in it.”

It’s a good thing.

Rational Californians just go to the corner Mexi Market and grab something authentic and unpronounceable, but not this little white gringo.

I turned away from the canned chilis and boxed taco shells in disappointment and behind me was the produce department.


There are six of us – a triple date.

Displayed in front of me were cute little watermelons.

Now maybe we can blame this on Costco. I went there first to buy margarita mix because that part, at least, was easy. Costco already has winter coats and all three major holidays in a row for sale, and somewhere in the back of my mind, a memory stirred.

I grabbed three watermelons, three mangoes, a box of blackberries and a bag of green grapes.

Ages ago, I would cut up big watermelons in the shape of either a basket or a whale. It was my way of distracting the potluck crowd from the fact that I did not, in actuality, cook anything for the event.

So I modified on the fly.

Here’s the melons on their way to being a pretty sweet fruit salad:

First, slice a thin wedge off the stem and flower ends, so your bowls will sit upright, then cut the melons in half.

I used a metal ice cream scoop to scoop out melon balls. The scoop is useless for ice cream though, way too small! I keep it around for when I want to give Martha Stewart the stink eye.

The first scoops are *perfect* and then you’re reduced to getting the rest of the bits, finally holding the shell over the sink and using the side of the scoop to scrape the hull a bit.

I sliced the butts of my first melon a little too thick and exposed some pink. These two bowls, I had to leave some melon in the bottom to fill the gap. Not entirely waterproof at this point, but I won’t tell Martha if you won’t. Points for enthusiasm!

I took a small serrated paring knife and cut little “V”s along the rims.

If you have a better idea, I don’t want to hear about it. I was in a hurry.

Mangoes are perfect for Mexican meals. Mango salsa is the best if you can find it. (ahem – Costco). Mangoes, like avocados, are ripe when very slightly soft. Color has nothing to do with it. And if you can actually smell the mango, it is usually quite soft, very ripe, and should be eaten now. I chose mangoes on the edge of ripe so they would slice easier.

The funky oval pit takes up a lot of mango space. Peel the mango, then hold it in your palm and make a fat oval slice parallel to the pit, on both sides of it. Then slice along the edges and around the pit, getting what you can from the rest.

Yes, I stood over the sink with a mango pit in my mouth and juice dribbling from my chin. Because Martha wouldn’t, that’s why.

Everything goes into plastic containers in the fridge to chill except the berries. I covered my bowls with plastic wrap after an epic battle with the box. Grr.

I assembled the fruit salads just before meal time, garnishing them with little umbrellas (why should the ants have all the fun?) and a tiny mint sprig from my garden.

Really, the table was so pretty.

Even without a lobster on it.

Legend of the Boom Boom Stick

Back when I was a kid, my sisters and I got into the usual amount of mischief. Well, as much mischief as you can get into considering we weren’t allowed to leave the yard.

There was the time we decided, one end-of-July summer day, that all the tomatoes in the garden ought to be used up as ammo for the World’s Biggest Tomato War.

It was epic.

But it wasn’t okay.

My parents were traditionalist “spare the rod, spoil the child” types, and discipline played out in an invariable routine when mom had had her fill.

“Just wait until your Father gets home!” she’d say.

And we’d go into hiding for the afternoon.

That night, Dad would come striding into the tiny house and get the daily report, and we’d linger around the doorway, holding our breath and waiting to see if Mom was really going to tell on us.

Sometimes she would let it go, and we were eternally grateful.

For at least two days.

But if Dad started taking off his belt, we scattered. He seldom had to do anything but that to get the message across.

If one of us did get a spanking, the others would all cry along with her.

When I became a parent, I was determined that I would discipline for myself, on the spot.

And I would never, ever use a belt on a child.

My mom’s weapon of choice was the wooden spoon from the kitchen but it was used only as a directional baton, like an ineffectual flyswatter.

It shooed us away, but we always buzzed back.

My two (older) daughters tell me regularly that my two (younger) sons are spoiled rotten.

Their basis for this judgement is the amount of times they’ve actually seen me spank them compared to the times they recall being, themselves, swatted with a wooden spoon.

Apparently, the Legends of the Boom Boom Stick are many.

My children inform me that they spent many childhood hours thinking of ways to defeat the Attitude Adjustor. They knew that wearing their toughest denim jeans was always a good idea.

They put books down their pants.

They thought that if they could only put jello into the proper mold, mom could hit it and think it was an actual bottom being reprimanded.

They snuck into the kitchen and broke wooden spoons in pre-emptive strikes.

They had spoons break across their bottoms which just goes to show, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Spoons, I mean, not bottoms. I figure those are about the same.

Back in the day when I had five little rascals I can tell you there were days when I was grateful to have the Spoon of Power. It gave just enough sting to remind everyone who was still in charge, and no, you can’t go into the garage and rearrange all of the fishing gear into a fort because I don’t want the baby to eat hooks.

For the seventh time this morning…

Swats were necessary for the dangerous things or the deliberate belligerent ones, but it doesn’t stop kids from being kids, and when things are really going south, you can’t catch ‘em all.

But time outs are the best thing ever invented.

I used to stand my kids in the corner. Sometimes I had to use up all the corners of a room at once.

I would put their finger on a spot on the wall and say, “Don’t move your finger until I say so”.

It worked okay.

But they were still fighting each other with everything except their one finger.

We switched up to putting noses on the wall.

Much better.

You want to set the timer for one minute per year-old of the child.

I just round mine up to an hour and send myself for a nap, to make sure I’ve learned my lesson.

Everyone grew up. Everyone started to behave themselves a bit more each year, and frankly, I got just too tired to bother. Either my sons get into half the trouble my daughters ever did, or I am ignoring twice the things that used to be “rules”.

Mothers do the best they can with what they have on any given day. Somewhere between kids, my discipline style evolved, I understood kids better, I realized how fast they grow and learned what did and didn’t actually matter.

Sort of.

Once in a while I rattle the spoon caddy in the kitchen to see if anyone’s instincts rise to the bait.

And I’m curious to see if my kids will tell their own kids some day “Stories of the Spanking Spoon”.

It always begins, “Back when I was a kid…”

Intention Retention

Yesterday afternoon, the Hubby finally broke down and “helped” me go over our finances.

It’s been sitting on my desk for nine months.

Time to birth the budget.

It’s a pudgy pile of paperwork that grew from a single sheet and is now looking more and more like us. And it’s colicky right from the get-go.

Money is the single most argued about item in a marriage they say.

We spent about six hours putting numbers into tiny boxes and then rearranging them until my eyes crossed. An additional two hours went into taking deep breaths and pacing around the kitchen and another hour devoted entirely to making tea and forgetting to drink it.

I simply cannot be held responsible for the things I think during labor pains.

But this morning I woke up and realized, “Hey! We tackled something! It’s not done and it’s not perfect but we stayed married!” I checked the bed to affirm that yes indeed, there was a husband in it.

I was so inspired, I decided to take a firm look at my other Resolutions and assess my progress with a critical eye.


There appears to be an occasional gap in my daily choices.

(If I managed to read one chapter from ten different books sitting in a pile next to my desk does it count as having “read” them?)

So I decided that today is officially “Anti Procrastination Day”.

I went early to a yoga class.

It’s been on my List for six months people.

I loved it.

I hope I go back again next Monday.

Then I drove straight over to the car wash and surrendered the taxi. It was a revolting combination of summer vacation debris mixed with teenage boy aromas, topped with a hint of campfire smoke.

While the car was detoxing, I walked across the street to Target.

‘Tar-jay’ is French for “come in for soap, leave with a new outfit and a VitaMix”.

But we have a budget now, so I stayed focussed and bought a table-top ironing board.

Because ironing is definitely on my List of Intentions and today’s The Day!

I was thinking long and hard about what I needed to address on my Resolutions List as I pushed the traffic light crosswalk button.

Waiting at the intersection, I noticed landscape rocks artistically placed along the sidewalk.

“Landscaping” has been on my List maybe ten months, since a friend offered us free rocks.

I said “yes” then and promptly forgot about the whole project.


I collected my car and dashed home.

Because today is the Day I Do the Things I’ve Been Putting Off.

On the kitchen counter were six rotting bananas, waiting to be turned into banana bread.

On the table was a pile of wrinkled laundry, possibly a decade out of date.

In my phone were messages from my mother (“Why haven’t you called me back? It’s been three weeks!”) three auto mechanics (“Here’s the price quote for your car alignment. When can we book you?”) my son (“Come pick me up now and by the way, I have volleyball at the gym tonight.”) and the Hubby (“We should research cell phone plans, our bill is way too high.”).

Serves me right for hauling out the budget.

No matter how much I attack that List, it expands like a hydra.

I heard the soft voice of my yoga instructor:

“Invite your breath to fill your body. Feel your heart lifting and your thoughts recede…”

I would rather invite the bananas into the trashcan and feel my income lifting so my hair stops receding.

But whatever.