The Art of being a Kerb Crawler

A neighbour recently called me a kerb crawler, but meant it as a compliment, not an insult.  I am not given to hanging about on street corners soliciting money for favours from strangers.

She meant it as a compliment as she also has been known to trawl the streets of our neighbourhood on Council Cleanup Day, looking for handy items to being thrown out which can become born-again parts of her house and garden.

I started this practice when my children were very young and continue to practice it to this day.  So far I have rescued discarded cupboards, chairs, children’s plastic shell shaped sandpits, magazine holders, brand new teddy bears, toys, books and DVDs, as well as filing cabinets, rugs and once a very comfortable leather lounge.

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of things people throw out which are in perfectly good condition, and could be sold on EBay to raise money or given to charity for those less fortunate.

I have even had garage sales, where passersby have offered to buy items I have rescued from previous cleanups which have taken up residence on my verandah.  I once put an old wooden and metal bench out on the kerb, only to have a passerby offer me money to mind it for until she could return with a trailer to pick it up!

My son and daughter-in-law have a great supply of pre-loved play equipment in their backyard salvaged from cleanups.  It is being recycled and reused by their little toddler at no cost to them.  They also have a lovely cane lounge on their front verandah, complete with pillows, which only needs a coat of white paint to look a million dollars.

This is just one area where you can save literally hundreds of dollars, be environmentally friendly by recycling other people’s “rubbish”, and use your own creativity to alter and embellish through painting, varnishing or stripping back furniture or adding your own cushions or covers to seats and lounges.







How to build your nest egg or everything old is new again

One of the things I have learned over many years is how to save money.

There are many ways of doing this, and today I will concentrate on a few.
When my daughter was born I had very few baby items and not much money to spend on them.  I was living with my mother at that time in the country, and a nice neighbour offered me her secondhand pram, as she had completed her family and had no further use for it.  I was very grateful and paid her $10, as she was going to throw it out and it was in very good condition.
Thus began my love affair with secondhand goods.  When I moved to Sydney, I searched the papers and Trading Post (a paper devoted entirely to advertising second hand items for sale), and found a great wooden cot for $20.  I had now saved myself hundreds of dollars, and had two perfectly good, presentable and useful baby items.
From this humble beginning I started to visit charity shops such as Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army (affectionately known as the Sallies), where I found numerous items of baby clothing, some brand new for a fraction of the original price.  I had visited them years before with my art student friends, and we would buy silk  full length petticoats, dye them different colours and wear them as dresses.  Later on smart shops opened in the area which were using the same idea and charging big bucks for them!
Another way these charity (or “op shops”, short for opportunity shops) were useful, was in providing a good source of pre-loved toys and secondhand furniture.
My  husband and I furnished numerous rented houses with divan beds, big comfy lounges, coffee tables etc, all at a ridiculously low price.  I made big colourful cushions to lie around on the floor (this was in the hippy era), or put on the back of the divan, which was used as a lounge by day and a spare bed for visitors at night.  It even had 2 large drawers in the side which came in handy for storing books and toys in.

One of my friend’s commented on a lovely maroon Art Deco lounge suit we had bought from a second hand shop recently.  She claimed she had once had one that looked identical, and on lifting one of the cushions was able to verify it was one and the same as she had sewn a patch on a small tear!  Talk about spooky!

Once my children started school, I bought them some second had uniforms (as well as one new one) so they had cheap spares when needed.  They were in good condition, and their grandmother knitted them jumpers in school colours to go with the prescribed ones.

I have never bought second hand shoes for children however, as it believe it is very important that their feet are fitted properly and they are not wearing worn down shoes which will cause them to walk unnaturally.

Another great area of saving is libraries.  I always make sure I join my local library as there are plenty of books, magazines, free newspapers to read there as well as DVDs and music CDs.  My first job was a library assistant in the country,  and I worked for 3 years in the 80s at Stanton Library, a fabulous library in North Sydney.  There were always heaps of new books to bring home for the children to read.  My son loved Tintin and I saved heaps of money by bringing the library’s collection home one by one for him to read.  Whenever the library culled books and magazines to make room for new ones, I would salvage any suitable ones for school projects or general interest.  At one time we had a huge stack of National Geographics which were full of beautiful photos and maps as well as stories of great interest about rare tribes and species.

So you see, there are numerous ways to save money without living like a pauper.  My children always had plenty of good clothes to wear to parties etc, as well as some second had ones when they were little, and when they were older and became fashion conscious they wore new clothes bought with the money I had saved earlier.  I had plenty of money left over to pay for piano and ballet lessons, and they had a birthday party every year with all their friends until they reached their teens and wanted to do other things with a smaller group.

Despite the fact that we rented for many years, we were able to live well and never felt we were deprived.  It has given me a lifelong respect for those who went through the Depression and taught me to budget and cut my cloth according to my means.  There were certainly not the government handouts then that there are now for families e.g. baby bonus, family allowance etc.

Does anyone else have any handy saving tips they would like to share?

It’s a Wrap

A couple of years ago I came across a display of knitted rugs in my local library, along with a leaflet.  It related to a group called Wrap with Love which was started by one woman in Australia  in 1992 who had seen a TV segment about the civil war in Mozambique and was shocked to see people –  men, woman and children being forced to sleep outdoors in the cold as a result, with nothing to keep them warm.  

Illustrates the definition of a knitting wale,...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She felt so strongly about the situation that she decided to knit a wrap to send there,  using leftover wool and knitting it into squares which she then sewed together.  She persuaded 38 of her friends to help her, and managed to get the wraps sent to Mozambique on a ship containing farm machinery which was being sent there.

Since then her simple idea has grown to become a charitable organisation called Wrap With Love Inc. and is made up of mostly women, but some men and schoolchildren, who get together in groups in libraries, or their homes,  to knit wraps to send to those in need both here and overseas.   The wraps are all made of 28 squares which each measure 25cm x 25 cm (10 inches  x 10 inches), on size 8 (4mm) needles, 8 ply yarn, with 50-55 stitches and each row plain (ie. garter stitch) so even the most basic knitters can contribute.

The founder Sonia Gidley-King died in 2010, but her work lives on and to date there are 30,000 volunteers and 255,322 wraps have been produced and sent around the world.

The group I belong to meet once a week at our local library where we sit around a large table and knit and chat and drink cups of tea or coffee.  The participants  are of all ages (we recently had some new members, a mother and her two small daughters who are learning to knit) and come from vastly different backgrounds and countries.  There are many in retirement villages and nursing homes who spend time knitting or crocheting  squares, or sewing them together.

We have recently been moved from the back of the library to the front.  I’m not sure if it is because we made too much noise chatting and laughing at the back and there were some complaints, or if  it is to give us more exposure, but we have had more enquiries since we have been there from people browsing the library shelves.

Once a year there is a big knit-in at all the libraries, co-ordinated by the ABC TV station, and multitudes of beautiful wraps are displayed on shelves.  We have competitions (I came up with the concept of blindfold knitting, which is hilarious to watch), and groups from all over our area congregate to chat and knit and admire each other’s work.  Many schoolchildren are now participating (boys and girls) and they love competing with the older people.

It has enriched my life, and I know the lives of many others, and has increased my circle of friends immensely.   There are many more beautiful rugs than mine,  with intricate patterns and sometimes flowers, kangaroos and other animals knitted into them, but I derive great satisfaction from finishing one and imagining where it might be going.

One of my first wraps
I used up old balls of wool, and anything I was given
The edging has been crocheted to make it stronger

I tried to limit my colour range in this one

I like to think that somewhere in the world someone is covering themselves with one of my rugs, and the colours and warmth are making their day just a little bit better.

Please Sir, can I have some more?

I was thinking today that sometimes I feel like Oliver Twist.  There never seems to be enough in my bowl.  Then I got to thinking that most people probably feel like that, even the super-rich.  Feeling like that is really a luxury in most Western countries, as many people around the world are so poor they can’t afford a bowl, let alone some food to put in it.

Fortunately I am not in that position, and probably have enough bowls to keep Oliver supplied with gruel for the next 10 years!  This lead me to ponder the habit of hoarding.  I am a bit of a hoarder (some would perhaps say more than a bit) but my partner Rod  trumps me.  He has developed a passion for clocks, and they stare accusingly and (mostly) silently at me from walls and bookshelves all over the house.

Master Clock (at left) driving several slave c...
Master Clock (at left) driving several slave clocks. Note third one along at the top from the right is a radio controlled quartz for reference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As he works from home and receives regular items by courier, we now have a room which we laughingly refer to as The Box Room.

This used to be a bedroom in the dim distant past, but has now been taken over with formidable piles of boxes of all shapes and sizes, as well as bubble wrap and foam.  Some of these are recycled and sent to customers and relatives, but each time I open the door I am greeted with a new looming menace.   They seem to have a life of their own and their breeding  habits are out of control.

Having spent  some time in the past working at preschools, I learnt the value of saving egg cartons, bottle tops, boxes, toilet rolls, coffee filters etc as they could be used to create anything from a bee or submarine periscope to a car.  Unfortunately I now feel a pang as I place  them in the paper recycling bin, as I can see their hidden potential, and have been known to secrete them in cupboards “just in case”.  This has lead to periodic culls, when I reluctantly clear things out because they fall on the floor whenever I open the cupboard doors.

Why do we develop such an attachment to objects?  If I had a Monet or Picasso I would say that it was because of their beauty and how much satisfaction I get just looking at them.

Lately I have developed a fascination for different kinds of chopsticks and have developed quite a collection.  My favourites are two wooden ones made in Africa, which look like tiny giraffe heads on long necks.  I found them some time ago at a garage sale, and now gain immense satisfaction from using them when eating takeaway Chinese food.  I don’t know what it is about them that I love so much.  I love real giraffes with their amazing necks, long legs , huge eyes and beautiful spotted coats, but I don’t want to collect them (fortunately as I think my neighbours and the Council would object profusely).

Perhaps it is just that the chopsticks remind me of the beauty, variety and quirkiness of nature.      Eating my food with them becomes a bit like a journey into a strange land.  When I eat with a knife and fork, I don’t pay attention to them because they are just utensils.  

My giraffe chopsticks however bring a little of the exotic into my life.  My food seems to taste better and I have to pay more attention to it or little bits of rice escape and fall on the floor and onto me.  My meal becomes a small adventure in itself.  

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  In the film ‘American Beauty‘ a plastic bag wafting on the breeze becomes for a moment an object of almost unbelievable beauty. 

The trick in life is not to become buried under a pile of your favourite possessions, and to learn to let them go eventually.

Have you seen Harold?
He’s over there behind the elephant


Money saving, frugal living, penny pinching, environment, music, photography, poetry, recycling,recipes, humour