Sunday, May 27, 2012

Clutter Doctor

Anybody that has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am married to a hopeless garage sale fanatic.  I finally gave in and decided if couldn’t beat him, I had to join him.  So, years ago I started a business, Clutter Busters, which did quite well when we lived in NJ. 

Back then, in the 80's, the beauty of Clutter Busters was that no one knew the value of what they had.  There were no informative shows on television like “Auction Kings”, “Storage Wars”, “Pawn Stars” or “American Pickers” (yes, we watch them all).  Heck, we charged people $75.00 a truckload to haul their valuables away.  Then, Bill and his buddy, Charlie would go sell the stuff for next to nothing at the flea market (we didn’t know the value of what we had either).  It really was a great business as it was almost always pure profit. 

We even expanded Clutter Busters to include gutter cleaning - that is until Charlie fell off the ladder and broke his wrist in 10 places, but that is another story.  Eventually, we had two trucks on the road - I drove one and Bill drove the other.  Jennifer, our oldest child, often accompanied me to the dump - riding shotgun in her car seat.  She would have been less than a year old at the time.  Some mother I am! 

Anyway, Bill and I reached a crossroads with Clutter Busters - I wanted to expand the business even further by renting a warehouse and doing auctions.  He thought I was nuts.  In short, we argued, Bill won and we ended up moving to Florida when he got a teaching job.

Fast forward 24 years.  

Now, we do have all those shows on television and everyone knows exactly what they have.  It’s made our job of finding the amazing items that we used to come across all the time that much harder.  When we do find something of value, the people selling them think that they can get retail price.  It’s a tough world out there for the avid garage saler.  You really have to know your stuff. 

It took me years to forgive Bill for not believing in my vision for Clutter Busters - about 24 to be exact.  I frequently dream of where we would be today had we franchised, but  I’m getting ahead of myself.  So, I finally gave in again and joined him in the quest for the holy grail of rusty, dusty gold.  There really is something to be said for the high you get when you find out the magnet you bought for fifty cents is worth $120.00.  Of course, I wasn’t content to just go out garage saling, I had to start a business.  The name Clutter Busters was already taken here in Florida, so we are now Clutter Doctor and our motto is: Got clutter? Don’t just put a band-aid on it - call the Doctor!

It’s funny how life seems to come full circle.  When we started Clutter Busters, we had a little Ford Ranger that we beat into the ground.  Now, we have a Chevy S10 that is as beat up as our Ford was.  In fact, just recently, our truck had a near death experience.

Bill and I were on our way home from selling our goods in a small antique town, Arcadia.   We had the truck loaded with items we didn’t sell and were pulling a trailer with some of the bigger items.  As we were driving down Interstate 75, I kept smelling something strange. 

“Do you smell that?” I yelled to Bill over the rush of wind coming in my open window (we don’t have A/C in the truck and Bill’s driver’s side window doesn’t open). 

“What?” He yelled back at me.

“Do you smell that?”  I screamed louder.

“What’s that smell?”  He yelled back at me.

“I don’t know.”  I said as my feet started to feel strangely warm.  “My feet are hot.”

“I can think of other things beside your feet that are hot.”  He smiled wickedly at me.

“No, honey!” I began to panic now, “My feet are really hot!”

“What?” He yelled back at me as I was bent over feeling the floor of the cab. 

“The floor’s hot and something smells like it’s burning.”  I began furiously looking for the source of the problem.

Nothing in the cab was on fire.  The hood of the truck wasn’t smoking.  I looked behind me.

“Oh my God!!”  I screamed, “Bill, pull over the truck’s on fire!”

Now, I have to add a side note to this story.  If anyone has ever traveled Interstate 75, they know that hundreds of cars fly down that road at 75+ MPH and ride up each other’s tails, switching lanes like they’re on the Indianapolis Speedway.  This day was no different.  Why didn’t anyone honk or attempt to alert us that we were driving a flamethrower down the highway? 

I called my daughter, Jennifer because we were supposed to be meeting the family and some friends for camping.  “Jen, we’re going to be late.  The truck’s on fire.   I have to go and call 911.  I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

I was frantically dialing 911 as Bill pulled off the road. 

“911, what is your emergen....”  The phone died. 

“The phone died!”  I yelled to Bill who was wrestling with the flaming tarp. 

“I’m not going to die.”  He yelled back. 

“Forget it!”  I screamed over the traffic as a nice lady stopped to see if we needed any help.

“The truck is on fire.”  I said as if she didn’t already know this.  “My phone is dead.”

“I called 911.”  She said as she handed me the phone.

“Our truck is on fire.”  I yelled at the 911 operator. 

“What is your location?”  she asked calmly.

“We’re on 75 southbound but I don’t know exactly where.”  I looked at the lady who shrugged her shoulders in an “I don’t know either” manner. 

“Bill, where are we?” 

“On 75!” He yelled back to me as he stomped the tarp that was now on the ground. 

Flames were still shooting up between the cab and the bed of the truck.

“I know we’re on 75 but where?”  “Get away from the truck before it blows up!” 

“Mam, what was the last thing you remember passing on 75?”  I heard the operator asking. 

“A sign for Cracker Barrel.” 

“Well that narrows it down!”  I heard the operator getting snippy with me.

“Listen, we got on 75 around Arcadia and we’ve probably traveled about 15 miles.  I didn’t pay attention to the last mile marker.”  I handed the phone back to the lady and went to help Bill.

He was still stomping on the tarp when I noticed the flames in the center of the truck just suddenly went out. 

“The flames are gone.”  I said as Bill stomped out the last cinder on the tarp. 

“I know,” he said, “I just stomped it out.”

“No, the truck isn’t burning any more.”  I said in disbelief. 

Sure enough, the truck was just sitting there looking like a regular truck - not a flame in sight.  Shortly after, the fire trucks and police cars came blaring down the highway right past us.  They had to turn around and come back after the nice lady flagged them down. 

A fireman dressed in full gear jumped out of the truck, grabbed the hose and came running over to the truck while the police directed traffic down to a slow one lane crawl. 

“Where’s the fire?”  Another fireman asked.

“I don’t know.”  I said, “It was here a minute ago.”  I pointed to the charred grass next to where our mortally wounded tarp lay on the ground.  “The truck was burning, but it just all of a sudden went out.”

The fireman eyed me suspiciously.  He went over to inspect the truck and observed the charred back window.  He looked the truck over from top to bottom, shrugged his shoulders and informed us that he figured it was ok to drive, but he said that the fire truck would follow us for a bit to make sure no new flames appeared. 

“You were very lucky.”  He told us.  “The fire was really close to your gas tank. Something must have fallen between the cab and the bed and rested on the muffler.  That’s what caught fire.  The flames from that caught your tarp on fire.”

We thanked the very nice phone lady, the firemen and police and climbed into the truck.  I was a bit shaky as we started down the road and did more than a few double takes over my shoulder, but we made it home without further incident. 

As soon as we got home, I called Jen who had no idea if we were dead or alive and was ready to send a posse out looking for us.  I assured her that we were fine and would be coming to the campground shortly. 

Our truck still bears the scars of the fire with permanent black streaks on the back window and truck bed - but I think it adds a touch of character to the old girl.  Looking back, I realize that we were so lucky to have survived this incident relatively unscathed - and I truly thank God for that.  Then, there are times when I think about all our antics and I wonder if I was psychic in choosing the name “Clutter Doctor” for the business because Bill and I need to have our heads examined!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Snippets and Tales came to be when I had a conversation with my friend Karen about my writing and she suggested that I start a blog.  I had no idea how to start a blog, but I was fairly internet savvy, so I figured it out pretty quickly and launched Snippets and Tales in February, 2011.  I have to say that I was scared at first because I really didn’t think anyone would want to read my stories.  
The first few months when I would read my stats, it was usually under 20 readers a month from the US.  I was happy with 20 readers, but then I started seeing readers from Denmark, Netherlands, UK, Bangladesh, India, Sweden, Singapore and even Latvia (a small country located between Estonia and Lithuania).   Since then, I have posted over 60 stories on the blog and have over 5,000 readers from over 20 countries.  
Yesterday, I was talking to Karen and telling her about all the readers I now have.  For instance, I have 219 readers in Sweden but I don’t know how or why they ended up on my site.  I feel blessed that so many people find my stories interesting enough that they keep coming back to read them and must be passing them on to others.  
Anyway, I was telling Karen that I would like to know about these people reading my stories when she suggested that they might like to know about me.  
“What are you talking about, Karen?” I said through the phone, “Aren’t I telling them about me throughout all the snippets I’m posting?”  
“Yes,” she replied, “you are telling them in a roundabout way, but you aren’t telling them who you really are.  You’re not telling them about all your struggles.”  
I listened to my best friend in the whole world (who had the audacity to up and leave me for Texas) when she told me to start the blog, but I wasn’t so sure I should listen to her now.  
“Who wants to hear about my struggles!” I yelled into the phone.  
“They just might want to know YOU.”  She yelled back.  “You want to know your readers.  Why wouldn’t your readers want to know you!”
Karen has this way of seeing through me and getting right to the point.  She certainly knows what I have been dealing with over the years and she might be right.  I’ve been thinking about what she said for two days now and I guess maybe she is right.  Maybe my readers do want to know who I am and what I do.  Maybe they want to know what my struggles are.  
So, I’m taking Karen’s advice.  I’m going to introduce my readers to me which may take a while as I am a very complex person.  Not really.  Truth is, I’m just me.  I live on a farm with my husband and two daughters; one in middle school, the other in college.  I have two children with their own families and one young lady from Bangladesh that I consider a daughter who is also in college.  

My last “career” job was as a special education teacher two years ago.  I’ve been involved with special education it seems my entire life - at least since high school when I was a volunteer in a special education class.  Since high school, I’ve managed group homes for special needs individuals and taught for 18+ years.  Two years ago I made the difficult decision to leave my job and go on medical leave while applying for disability.  It’s been a tough row to hoe since then.  I guess this is what Karen was talking about - telling my story since I’ve been on medical leave.  So, I’ll try.
The worst thing in the world (at least for me) was to think of myself as “disabled”.  Growing up, I was an athlete.  After high school, I rode my bike 1600 miles through Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.  In my twenties I rode my bike 600 miles through Cape Cod.  I’ve always been an avid tennis player and coach.  I also played racquet ball.  In fact, my first date with Bill was on a racquet ball court. 
Nineteen years ago my life began to change.  That is when I had a stroke.  Of course, someone my age having a stroke was unusual and finding the culprit was not an easy task.  Finally, after many many years of doctor after doctor, I was diagnosed with Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome.  In short, my blood was too thick so I went on blood thinners and have been on them ever since.  Slowly, as the years progressed, I became less and less able to do the active things I loved.  
I gave up coaching tennis.  Eventually, I had to give up playing league tennis too due to severe arthritis in my knees. I no longer could ride my bike any great distance.  I couldn’t play racquet ball anymore either.  Now, when I’m able, I play senior “mini tennis” which is about all I can handle.  
My memory was greatly affected from the stroke and I had difficulty remembering people’s names and faces.  I had whole sections of my life wiped out. I had to stop teaching because I could not physically do it any longer. I had extreme difficulty remembering  the names of my students and the kids on my tennis team.  I couldn’t remember my colleague’s names either.  One time, I had a meeting with some parents and realized an hour into the meeting that I was talking about the wrong student!  The pressure of trying to remember everyone was exhausting not to mention the physical problems I was experiencing.
Now, I battle constant stomach problems and other issues that prevent me from returning to teaching.  Sometimes I get in my car and forget where I’m supposed to be going. I have good days and bad days.  I thank God for the good days and sometimes curse him for the bad days.  I wonder why I have these struggles - what God has planned for my life.  It certainly wasn’t what I THOUGHT He had planned for my life!
I got to the point where the only thing I could do on a regular basis was write.  So, that is why my blog exists.  I felt that maybe God was telling me to write and, in order for me to listen, He had to literally knock me off my feet.  Well, I’ve gotten to the point where all distractions are gone and I’m wondering what’s next?
I’ve been denied disability twice.  My family has struggled financially and my marriage has struggled because Bill and I were so active together - playing tennis etc.  Sometimes I can be sitting right next to him and feel like we are miles apart.  I know every marriage experiences this now and then.  Lately, it seems it’s more now than then.  Yet, I keep plugging along and keep praying and keep writing.  
I have always tried to be upbeat and optimistic in my writing.  I have always tried to stay true to who I am.  Mostly, I have tried to make my readers laugh.   Sometimes I imagine they might cry.  That’s okay too.  Basically, I try to portray life as I see it.  My solemn  prayer is that whatever I write will be something that someone somewhere out there needed to read at that moment in their life.  I don’t know where my stories go.  I just know that I have to keep sending them out there because it is all I can do now.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Keeping up with the Hendersons

I think our family should have a reality show.  I’d title it: Hey Kardashians - keep up with us!  I’ve never watched the show, but I bet they never drove a burning truck down the interstate (oblivious to the fact that it was burning).  I bet they never got chased by a herd of cattle, milked a goat or drove a car without its key.  
I wonder if Kim Kardashian ever had to feed thirteen children.  I wonder if she ever had to deal with thirteen children with lice!  I don’t think that Kim has ever stood at the bedside of a child going through reconstructive surgery.  I wonder how she would handle sleeping in a hospital chair for days on end. 
Have the Kardashians ever taken a family vacation in the middle of winter in a truck with a broken back window?  
Honestly, our family is much more “real” than a group of models!  How many people can relate to the Kardashians and their fancy lifestyle?  Let’s face it, there are very few people out there who would star in a sex tape or pose nude for PETA, but I bet most people can relate to overflowing toilets and weekend garage sales to help pay the bills.  
I get it, though.  People watch the Kardashians to escape their own humdrum lives.  I guess I’ll just have to settle for writing about my family - although I wouldn’t trade places with the Kardashians; Not even for 40 million.  
Okay, I lied.  I would trade places as long as I could bring my family along and the Kardashians would have to live my lifestyle.  Could you see Kim Kardashian feeding the chickens or sifting worms?  How about Kim riding the three wheel trike down to the CVS and the Dollar General or mowing the pasture on the tractor?  I would love to see her trudge through the hundred acre field with Paola looking for clues in cow pies.  Now that would be worth watching!  
Over the past six months we’ve had a fire in our house and in our truck.  We’ve lost our investment home in Tennessee because of deadbeat tenants.  I’ve been on medical leave from my job for two years so, we have had to drop our health insurance because we just cannot afford it.  The people that were boarding their horses on our farm stopped paying us.  We learned that Paola cannot get a Social Security number until we apply for citizenship for her which is going to cost us $600.00.  It seems we’ve had one tragedy after another, but I still wouldn’t trade my life for the Kardashians.  
You see, unlike the Kardashians, we live in the real world.  We have real problems that most people can relate to, but we also have real family and friends and faith that gets us through those problems.  So, although we do not have a 40 million dollar contract for another season, I pray that God will bless us with many more seasons.  Most importantly, I thank God that we have each other because that is priceless!