Friday, April 21, 2017

The Glories of & How To Get Good Deals There

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm pretty cheap. I've been on a strict and shrinking budget for years now, leading to getting pretty creative at times to get things I want. While I'm a fan of getting things on the cheap, I don't like to buy "cheap things" (if that makes sense). I pride myself on knowing things that are worth skimping on as well as knowing where to splurge to get the best value for my money. My biggest hole in that for the past several years has been on handbags. I am notoriously rough on my purses, so I made the switch to buying leather purses as a rule about a decade ago. Back when I used to buy fabric bags or polyurethane bags, I was buying a new one every couple of months because the cheaper material just became tattered beyond repair. I still have the first Coach leather bag I ever bought back in 2004 and while it has a few stains, it's still perfectly wearable and sturdy. I have proved the value of my leather purses time and again. I would always buy them at outlet stores, making them cheaper anyway, and then I carry them forever. I'm not loyal to any brand name, I just want a quality leather item that will last. I haven't purchased any new bags because I really don't "need" a new one when my old ones are still fine, but let's be real - a lady just needs a new purse sometimes, amiright? Since I made several good sales on ebay a little while ago (selling things I no longer need in prep for my big move), I decided to splurge a bit on myself last year, but within reason. Enter is exactly what it sounds like: it's an online auction site that various Good Will locations around the country put their higher priced donated items on. If it's a fancy name brand, they probably have it on there now and again. I've seen lots of genuine Chanel, Fendi, Dior, Gucci, Coach, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Cole Haan, Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo and many more names in items like shoes, sunglasses, purses, wallets, jewelry, coats, etc. It's pretty amazing, actually. Now I know you can find similar items and names on ebay with the same auction style format, but since ebay is more heavily trafficked and more of a household name, you are in higher competition for the nicer items and prices get high very quickly there. ShopGoodWill is run through items that were donated, so often the auctions start at around $9.99 no matter what the brand name is (some brands are even cheaper). Granted the fancier names tend to go up pretty fast, but still not like the prices you see on ebay most of the time. 

All that said, I wanted to show off a few of the items I got in my little "splurge" last year.
My first win was this Audrey Brooke silver textured leather bag. The bag arrived looking almost brand new - there is a tiny speck on the front bottom that you can see in the photo, but that was literally the only flaw. Even the metal feet on the bag were not scratched! After a quick vacuum and wipe down with leather cleaner, I filled this baby up and have carried it around ever since. The silver color goes with everything, plus this bag is deceptively large - I'm consistently amazed by how much I can fit inside it. I had never heard of Audrey Brooke before, but again - I don't care about names so long as I like the look of the bag and it's leather. From what I've found online, these bags seem to retail in the $100 to $200 mark for genuine leather, so I'm ridiculously pleased with the $18 I paid for mine including the shipping :)
My second purchase was just a bid on a whim because I figured the price would go up and I would not get it, but I might as well put in a bid just in case. Well, this paid off and I won the auction, lol. All three of these items were sold as one lot (something the Santa Ana, CA Good Will does which is really fun). I got a black and gray leather Cole Haan purse, black patent leather Cole Haan peep toe wedge heels (in my size, 9), and an Anne Klein watch all for $35 shipped. How crazy is that? I've bought Cole Haan purses at the outlets before and paid $100, normal retail being between $200 and $400 for their leather bags. The shoes are at least $100 retail, also genuine leather (and they have gray snake skin on the wedge heels), and Anne Klein watches retail for about $60 - $100 new. I could care less about the watch, and I sold it for $15 on ebay, lol, but I've worn the shoes many times and I love the bag. This bag is the one I mentioned in my Yerdle post (back when Yedrle was still around - so sad) - the bag was in amazing condition, just needing a slight wipe down (because I'm a germophobe) and a vacuum out, except that the shoulder strap was not included. This isn't a deal breaker by any means, but I do prefer carrying my bags on my shoulder, so I was thrilled to find the strap on Yerdle.
Sure, the strap is yellow, but since the bag already has color blocking with the black and gray, I think it looks deliberate and kind of fun :) And if yellow doesn't match my outfit, I can always just un-clip the strap and use the handle. The strap is Coach brand leather by the way (and it cost me like $2, lol).
My final purchase last year was the most fun in my opinion and the one I had to actually fight for. This is another Cole Haan bag with orange leather and some kind of woven material - I love the color and style of this purse, so I was willing to keep bidding to a certain extent. This was my most expensive buy at $39 including shipping, but it's just so springy and cute :) Check out the lining!
Polka Dots! I will confess that this one has a smidge more wear than the other two bags, giving me a little initial disappointment when it arrived, but after cleaning is and vacuuming it out, I was back in love :) How can you not love a purse with a bow? This purse feels the most "me" out of all my purchases, so I'm fine with the price I paid for it.

I carried each of these bags for months with no problems. They held up great, and still look lovely :) I've recently found a thrift store that has their purses for $2 each no matter if they are expensive brands or not (?!) so I've switched my purse again, lol. But I still love to look at ShopGoodWill on occasion to see if there is anything I can't live without.

Tips for shopping the site: has its ups and downs just like any other site, and after spending a good amount of time there of late I figured I would share a few things I've learned.
  1. Always check the shipping costs! Sure, that Coach bag sounds like a steal of a deal at just $20 ... until you buy it and find out that the shipping is another $25. Some Good Will locations add on heavy "handling fees" on top of the shipping, or deliberately charge the shipping price for a 4 lb item when your item only weighs 0.5 lbs. It's not a deal breaker by any means if the price is right on the auction itself, but it's definitely something to keep in mind. Before I place a bid, I always check the shipping cost.
  2. Look over everything and read the full descriptions - Some photos can be deceptive of an item's condition because you can't blow them up very big like other sites. I thought my orange Cole Haan bag looked just as pristine as my first two bag purchases, only to find it had wear to the corners on the leather that I didn't notice in the photos. Again, not a deal breaker, but in the end you have no one to blame but yourself if you end up with an item in much worse condition then you hoped.
  3. Believe the listing about the item's color - The people listing these items are not necessarily good photographers with editing or lighting equipment, so be sure to read what they say the color is. I purchased a Fossil bag on the site 2 years ago thinking it was coral only to have it arrive a bright red. I was naturally bummed, but when I read the listing again it did say the bag was red, so totally my fault. I've seen bags that say they are black, but the photos look gray, or even white bags that look almost black due to bad lighting in the main photo. Just pay attention to what they say about the piece before you bid and don't like what you end up with.
  4. Cross-check prices before you get into a bidding war - This kind of goes without saying on any auction site, but I always like to mention it. It can be really easy to set your sites on an item and just keep bidding even though you could technically get it cheaper on ebay. I saw a Louis Vuitton bag sell for over $1000 on this site, no joke. Certainly the bag was technically worth that price, but seriously? $1000 for a used purse? No thank you. I've had my eye on several cute Kate Spade bags, but that seems to be a very in-demand name right now so these bags get above $60 most every time no matter the condition. That's all well and good for those who have more money to spend and feel that's a still a good deal - I just like to keep my cut off point to about $40 on a used purse. It's a personal decision, of course, but don't get caught in the thrill of the bid and feel duped later.
  5. Remember: You can always check back later if your item goes too high - This kind of goes along with #4, but I've had to remind myself of it several times. I bid on a Moschino wallet last week that got much higher than I wanted very quickly and I was tempted to just keep going. Sure, the wallet was certainly worth the bidding price, but it was over my budget so I let it go. There will be more wallets in the future. There are plenty of other items that have yet to be donated or listed, so I don't need to break my bank on this one item when realistically I will probably want another wallet the next time I search the site too, lol. Just know - it's ok to let it go :)
  6. Search not just for the name brand, but also a generic description of what you want - Some of the people listing these items don't seem to really know much about what they are selling. I've come across name brand bags that did not list the name in the listing title, meaning that bag did not show up when I just searched for  "Cole Haan Purse". Since I was on a purse quest, I just typed in "handbag" or "purse" since most listings use only one or the other, sometimes I add "leather" to my search, but I frequently find leather bags that don't say they are leather in their title, so again they don't show up under that search keyword. I've seen brands misspelled too, so by just looking through the generic categories, you are much more likely to find a hidden gem that others looking for those key names won't be aware of.
I'm sure there are other things to keep in mind, but those will certainly get you started. I also just want to say that I am not affiliated with ShopGoodWill in any way - I don't get any kick back at all for mentioning it here. I just have really loved my little treasure trove so far and wanted to share :) Good luck!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Reviews: First 5 Books of 2017

So my resolution to review the books I read has not gone all that well thus far this year, lol. I thought I'd do a little catch up here with a few reviews. If you're not into this type of post, don't worry - the sewing and knitting will continue shortly :)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is an interesting look into the mind of a boy with autism. The story is told completely from Christopher's point of view, a young English boy who lives with his dad because his mother couldn't handle their family dynamic and left. Christopher's father told Christopher his mother wasn't coming back, and allowed a lie to grow into Christopher believing his mother is dead. His world is turned upside down when he discovers letters from his very alive mother hidden in his father's room, which sparks an adventure where he runs away to live with her.

The story is interesting even just for the way it is written. Christopher is a mathematical genius, but he can't handle interacting with people. He also hates certain colors and can't process information like those around him. I've heard some say this book was contrived to deliberately be popular, and I've heard others say it really is accurate to how an autistic person operates. Personally I enjoyed the story and Christopher's adventure through his eyes. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Joy On Demand is written by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google programmer who has become an advocate for Buddhist teachings in a secular environment. This book teaches the ins and outs of basic meditation practice without all the Buddhist religion you usually have along with this info. While I picked up many good tips from Chade-Meng, one of my favorites is to lift your mood by simply focusing on someone else and inwardly hoping they have a good day, or that things are going well in their life. Just that quick little altruistic thought can brighten your spirits so much, because it pulls you out of your own petty problems and helps you focus on someone else with no thought of personal gain. That's just one little tidbit in an overall wonderfully explained book. Even if you are completely new to meditation, this book will help you being and get better control of yourself. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero was one of those "the right book at the right time" situations for me. This book worked on me exactly as it is designed - to be a kick in the ass to finally do something about the things you don't like in your life. Jen is a "life coach", which has always sounded ridiculous to me, but she has some very valid points and certainly seems to know what to say to cut through your crap and get you to really see your life for what it is. I listened to the audiobook of this, so I had the added fun of having the author read me the book, which made this more like a sarcastic therapy session with great stories and examples. This book got me to try running (!) - yes, ME! That's huge. That's a manifestation of how well this book works if you are tired of being unhappy and ready to change. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - What can a person really say to describe what makes this book so great? I don't know if I should even try. I will say that this book confirms my love of Tolstoy. He always manages to use believable comparisons of very realistic characters to bring you around to contemplating the meaning of life. I completely understand why this book is at the top of books you must read in your lifetime. It's a huge undertaking to get through, but very much worth it, and the story is so interesting that I never felt bored. Personally I love that in spite of all the terrible things the characters endured, they all look back and say how they wouldn't change anything because it made them who they are now. We all have tragedies in our lives, whether large or small, and it is our attitude about the experience that shapes our future lives and happiness. I definitely agree with the sentiment of Natasha and Pierre - I am grateful for the things I have lived through because I can better enjoy and appreciate the life I have now. In my opinion this book is worth reading just to have that fully sink in. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is the story of the sad suicides of an entire family of girls in the 1970s. The story is told as an investigative project long after the event done by some neighbor boys who had a strange obsession with the girls. The story leaves you to contemplate what causes suicide to become an option for the very young, but doesn't offer up an answer. The book just lays out the events leading up to the tragedy as well as the aftermath for those left behind. The book is depressing, there's no doubt, but it is an interesting idea to contemplate. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 14, 2017

FO: Flapjack Frogs

This is a project that I've wanted to make for quite a while. Back at the beginning of March, I found myself without a toy project. I had just finished my baby doll, and I really just felt like knitting toys quietly in the evenings. So I kind of haphazardly picked a pattern I liked from my stack and started knitting. I've always loved the Flapjack Frogs by Anna Hrachovec, and it was one of the first patterns I ever bought from her. Such a cute idea, right?!
So I dug through my stash of green acrylic, worsted weight yarns (of which I actually have quite a selection, lol). I started with Premier Everyday Soft Worsted in Shamrock, then Red Heart Super Saver in Spring Green, then I Love This Yarn in Jelly Bean. I liked the variations between light and dark all represented in the one project. Because of the bright colors of the frogs, I went with a hunter green (Caron Simply Soft in Dark Sage) for the lily pad. The white is Vanna's Choice on their tummies and the fly's wings. The black is Premier Everyday Soft Worsted, and the pink is Red Heart Super Saver in Perfect Pink.
One of my favorite touches is the little tongue - it's just so funny, lol. I didn't want to over do it though, so I only made one frog with a tongue. I used 9 mm safety eyes for the frogs.

Speaking of cute touches, look at that little fly! He's cute on his own, but I think what really makes him super adorable is his little colored eyes. I was lucky enough to test out some Suncatcher Craft Eyes and I got a multicolored pack of size 6 mm. Not only was this the perfect mini size for the fly, but this limey green color is so vibrant that it even showed up on a totally black background. Isn't that awesome?! This is the second set I've used and they are just such nice quality. I'm definitely a believer :)
So, what do you do when you're taking pictures of a fun set like this? You make little scenes, of course, lol. My nephew helped name the frogs, so this is Frank with Flynn the fly, lol. 
And how about a little synchronized swimming? It's like they're sky diving or something, lol.
And why not add in the lily pad? Also aren't their knees cool? I love all the little touches that Anna adds to her patterns. They are small touches, but they make the project so much more interesting and they have much more character.
So now I finally have my set of Flapjack Frogs :) They are fun for playing leap frog with, as well as stacking in various ways. Anna has a few other patterns that keep with the theme of stacking (Pile-Up Pups and Stackable Cats) which I will eventually make as well. They're just so fun! I'm glad to have them on hand "for future children". In the meantime, they will looks really cute in my sewing room :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

FO: Christmas Ginny Sweater for Mom

This is my final project I knitted for Christmas 2016. It's been knitted since Christmas, but I didn't have pictures to blog because I was still searching for buttons. Now that it's finished, I can share it here - the biggest project I've ever made for someone else :)
Back in March of last year, I was shopping in Michael's and discovered they had all of their Issac Mizrahi Issac's Colorways Merino Blend yarn on clearance. They were half price, plus I had a coupon for another 20% off my whole purchase, including clearance and sale. That was pretty epic, and it doesn't come around often, fyi. The yarn was being discontinued, and at just $3.13 per skein (!) I knew it would be a great yarn to stash for sweaters. Some colors were down to just a few balls, but they happened to have a lot of their red colorway (called Betty) left when I came around. I decided then and there to knit my mom a sweater for Christmas, as her favorite color is bright red. I love knitting sweaters, but being a Florida resident my sweaters don't see a ton of wear. I've never made sweaters for other people because I am worried they will not appreciate and take care of them like they need. Sweaters are a lot of work! But if there is one person in this world who love and appreciates anything I make them, it's my mom :) She does so much for me, and this was a way that I could show what she means to me in gift form, and in a way that would be nice item that I could still afford.
I'm sure this looks a little familiar to those who've read my blog this past year - I made myself the Ginny's Cardigan by Mari Chiba in The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits magazine this time last year. If I was going to all the effort of knitting this sweater for someone else, I wanted it to at least be something she wold love, so I told her about it when I bought the yarn. She loved the color, so I started showing her designs that I had in my stash that would work with the yarn. We went through quite a few that she thought were pretty, but in the end she said she really liked my Ginny Cardigan. So I made one for her :) The real design feature of this sweater is undoubtedly the owl lace pattern on the back. This is the first time I've ever made a sweater pattern twice, and the nicest part after knowing exactly how the sweater will fit is that I already knew the lace pattern. Woo hoo!
This sweater fits me ok, but my mom is taller and bustier than I am, so it doesn't fit me exactly on purpose. My mom wanted this to be a sweater she could throw on indoors when she gets chilly at work, etc, so we wanted a slightly relaxed fit. The arms are a bit long on me, but they fit her well.
The big hang up with calling this "finished" was the button situation. Ever since my local Hancock Fabrics closed, I've had to drive almost an hour to Joann's and hope they have enough of the right type of buttons for any given project. I don't frequently make the Joann's pilgrimage, so this sat. Earlier this year, a Hobby Lobby opened only 15 minutes away from me, so I tend to swing by there on the regular, lol. I pass by it all the time in my commute to my house, so it's no big deal to swing in and buy 1 thing at 40% off and then leave, lol. I brought the sweater soon after they opened and found the perfect buttons. They were shiny, 7/8", smooth, and the exact color red for this yarn. It was fate. Plus they were 50% off that day. I bought 4 buttons because that was all they had, then I had to wait for them to restock, then I proceeded to go in and buy just 1 card of 2 buttons to get them for 40% off each time, lol. I figured my mom had waited this long already for the sweater to have buttons, and she agreed that she would like them better if they were all super cheap, lol. She is my mom, after all :) So over the course of a few weeks I accumulated the 9 buttons I needed to finish.
Isn't that lace just the greatest? I love that this is such a simple design with a pop of something interesting on the back. Plus this color really makes it eye catching. I need a sweater in this color for myself, lol.
Realistically this is how the sweater will be worn, and happily it drapes nicely.I was a little worried the buttons would be too heavy and pull that side down, but it looks just fine.
And here's the happy recipient :) This picture was taken on Christmas without the buttons.
And the ever lovely back :) So cool, right? I really love this design.
So there's another sweater for the books :) And my first sweater for someone else. Love you, mom! No one deserves a month of my knitting time like you do, lol. I hope she loves it for a good long time and it keeps her warm when she is chilly.

and THAT'S my last Christmas project, lol.