Monday, December 26, 2011

Finished The Icarus Agenda

Sometimes I think I read a book simply because it's long, and I won't have to make a decision on what book to read next for awhile.  Of course I don't have to read a book, as far as that goes, but I've almost always got one going.  For awhile I had an "upstairs" book & a "downstairs" book, but the past few months I've only had the upstairs book, which I generally read in bed.  If they have lots of a pages with small type, like Robert Ludlum's Icarus Agenda, it's going to take me awhile.

I almost always finish the book, even when it requires trudging through.  Like this one.

I suppose this book would be described as a "thriller", no big surprise there.  It is very action oriented, with strong characters doing things most mortals would never dream of.  Strong is not always the same as believable.

Also par for the course is the whole set of assumptions behind the plot.  Its a book about conspiracies.  Not just run of the mill conspiracies, but several unrelated conspiracies by small groups of powerful people to control or influence countries, regions and economies.  And the hero that combats them.  That is essentially what the book is about, for pretty close to 700 pages.

Now where have I come across this plot line before?  Pretty much everywhere.   It's been done to death, and it had been done to death by 1987, when this book was written.

Anyway, I suspended disbelief for awhile and read the book. That's about all I can say about it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

There once was a gal from Nantucket.

I decided to break all the rules and write a clean "Nantucket" limerick.  Not sure why, but here goes.  And I feel the need to apologize in advance.

There once was a gal from Nantucket,
Who put all she had in a bucket.
She'd tote it around,
All over town,
Until she decided to chuck it.

That's all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Chigger Fighter: A dream

From an NIH website:   Chiggers are tiny, six-legged wingless organisms (larvae) that grow up to become a type of mite. Chiggers are found in tall grass and weeds. Their bite causes severe itching.

I provided the definition because I don't know if chiggers exist in the great white north, I don't know if people in colder areas are familiar with them.  I've lived in the northern reaches of the USA and in Europe and I don't remember chiggers.  It could be that they don't survive places that have winters cold enough to kill off the bugs.  Or it could be that I was a little older and tended to wear shoes.   When I was a young child in Kentucky I spent a lot of time not wearing shoes, and I was very familiar with chiggers.  They're little critters you can't even see - and by the time you realize you've run into them, it's way too late. Nothing dangerous, but uncomfortable.

Anyway there was a person who was a free lance chigger fighter.  He waged war on them, but because of state regulations he was not allowed to kill them or cause them harm, at least not on purpose.  He had to have a chigger fighting license, attend a bi-annual week long chigger warfare refresher course, and provide a safe place place for the chiggers he captured.   He was subject to occasional inspections, and made the chiggers available for scientific study upon request.  The state government paid him a modest stipend for these services. 

He had constructed a chigger friendly habitat in a small room in a corner of his house.  He didn't know how many chiggers he had, but he could pick up their habitat with one hand, put it on some scales and see that it was slowly gaining weight, even accounting for the ones the state removed.  He scale was sensitive, to 1/100th of an ounce, and he often wished he could afford one that measured to 1/1000th of an ounce, but he couldn't justify the expense.

He lived in a small house out in the country, close to the road on a very sharp curve.  The curve was at least 200 years old, and the reason why there had to be such an unusually sharp curve at that exact point had long been lost to history, especially after the courthouse where all the county records were kept  burned down some 80 years earlier.   The locals new all about this curve and generally slowed down.  But every now and then someone would come along who didn't know the road, would ignore the signs or for some reason would take the curve too fast.  He had years of ruts in his yard from dozens of cars whose drivers failed to negotiate that curve in varying degrees of disaster.  Usually the cars didn't stop.

One evening - the classic dark and stormy night - a driver was driving much too fast, missed the curve completely and crashed through the wall of his chigger prison.  The collision smashed his chigger habitat.  There was nothing to be done - undoubtedly some chiggers were killed, but undoubtedly some, perhaps millions upon millions, had been set free - released into the environment, including his house.

The next few days were spent dealing with his home owners insurance, being interviewed by state chigger control officers, filling out the state required "Incident of Chigger Death" forms, and obtaining prescription antihistamines to deal with the itching.  Weeks after his house was repaired & his chigger habitat had been recreated, after having been denied permission to fumigate his house because the chiggers were deemed too valuable for research, he visited a neighbor, someone he knew would do a little bit of black market fumigation for a price.  He hated to, felt guilty in fact, but gracious those little buggers could bite and they reproduced quite nicely in a nice warm house with lots of nooks and crannies to hide in, faster than he could capture them.

He suffered through a mild depression for weeks because of everything that happened after that car crashed into his house, and because of the incessant itching. 

After the illegal fumigation he redoubled his chigger warfare efforts, so that at the inspectors would not be suspicious the next time they came around.  Also he got the county to install a guard rail on that curve, and the county managed to get it funded through a state chigger warfare subsidy grant.  Things returned to normal, and he continued his struggle against the chiggers. 

He lived a long life, and after his death a resolution initiated by his state representative was passed in his honor, a medal honoring his years of chigger fighting was issued posthumously,  his next of kin (a nephew who lived across the country and hadn't seen him in years) received a plaque and the state flag which flew over the state capitol building on the day the resolution was passed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eventide, Lake Wobegon & Holly Springs

I don't really like to write up the books I've read, but I do because somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like it's a good exercise.  However  when I read them I never think about what I'm going to write about them.  I read them as if I'm never going to think about them again once I'm done.  Usually that's not the case.  Usually I write something about them, then never think of them again.

Each one of these books deserve their own write up, but it's not going to happen this time.  So, I'll mix them all together somehow.

Eventide by Kent Haruf, Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, & Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon all have settings in small towns & the areas just outside of them, though the locations, culture & traditions of these small towns were quite different.  Eventide is set in the Colorado plains, Lake Wobegon Days in Minnesota, & Holly Springs in northern Mississippi. 

Holly Springs is the only one of them that is actually a real location.  Lake Wobegon Days has some very funny parts, but it's much more than a humor book.  If you pick up that book expecting a laugh on every page, you'll be disappointed. Also, it's humor is quite sophisticated.    Eventide was probably the most "realistic" of the three.  They are very different books, all worth a read.

The small towns (and I do mean small) are the common thread for all three books.  They all capture an undercurrent of humanity that you will not see if you just notice the surface of things.  Anybody who has lived in a small town any length of time knows that there is more going on than meets the eye. 

Eventide is very good at capturing both the good and the horrors of a small town rural-ish area. There are people in this town who work hard and are fairly well off though not immune to the tragedies of life.  This books gives you a pretty good description of modern life on a ranch, raising and selling cattle.  And the horrors (my word) are because what the author describes is completely plausible & realistic.  Elderly people just hanging on, people who are just down right mean, alcoholics, abused children & social workers who have to deal with this, the upheaval that can be brought on by what is probably a very treatable & essentially minor mental illness, people who, if they were ever tested, might be considered retarded and are fairly incapable of dealing with the problems of life.  There is an undercurrent of dysfunction in which people still manage to function, at least at a certain level.  I dont want to scare anyone off this book - it's pretty good.  Much better than anything I'll ever write.

Lake Wobegon days creates a fictional town with fictional people from the days of it's founding as "New Albion" by Congregationalists from New England, to the arrival of Germans (who were Catholic) & finally the Norwegians, (who were Lutherans).  The history of the town, and the railroad that came to it accidentally is very detailed, so be prepared for that.  It was the Norwegians who became the majority and changed the town's name to Lake Wobegon, because they liked the sound of it.  The author creates all kinds of characters in all kinds of situations, and it's interesting in a town dominated by the Lutheran church & the Catholic church (Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility), the narrator grows up as a member of the  "Bretherns", a much more fundamentalist protestant sect, and a much smaller group, than the Lutherans.  My favortie part of the book is a chapter long footnote entitled "95 theses 95" which a recent emigre from Lake Wobegon, back for a visit, was going to nail 95 theses to the door of the Lutheran church.  He didn't because he could hear the Luther Leaguers inside and he was afraid someone would see him, and he was also afraid the nail might ruin a really good piece of wood.  So he slipped it under the door of the local newspaper office, where years later it remains on the editor's desk, even though it was never printed.  The editor is waiting for a slow news week, apparently.  The 95 theses were a "dramatic complaint about his upbrining", and details the engraining of a very inhibiting value system.   There is a lot of humor in the book, and it is used very well to capture that dysfunctional undercurrent of humanity that exists in every small town quite nicely.  I don't know if that is what the author was trying to do or not.

Home to Holly Springs is Jan Karon's first book in her "Father Tim" series.  Father Tim is an episcopalian priest and was the main character of her "Mitford" series of books, set in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.  People believe it's loosely based on the mountain resort town of Blowing Rock, but I don't know.  However in this book Father Tim is returning to Holly Springs, Mississippi his boyhood home, & pretty much confronting his past.  Father Tim came from a fairly well-to-do family, and grew up in a large home outside of town, living in what was almost a World War II era version of plantation society.  The undercurrents that seem to be a common thread of these books come largely through Father Tim's flashbacks to his childhood.  The innocence of childhood and of small town life is illusory much of the time. (Always has been)  Things happen which the child is only semi-aware and which are never completely explained.  Life is both good and safe, dangerous and tenuous.  There are brutal people in the world.  Even when Father Tim is in the present, the undercurrent is there.  Most people he meets are nice enough, but some are living in difficult situations, some are gravely ill.

I've not done any of these books justice.  They're all worth reading.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our eBay Month - Nov 2011

November was a very good eBay month for us, our best this year by far. 

Our postcard sales were better than average, and our photo sales (cabinet, cdv, snapshots, other antique photos) went through the roof.  We sold more photos this month than we have sold in any other month, by far.  We sold them in unheard of amounts, at least for us.  It was as if people suddenly discovered we sell photos.  I'm not sure why this was, maybe it was the holiday period, though none of the photos had a holiday theme.  Maybe it was domestic free shipping, but we've had that for a long time now.  So, we don't really know why sales spiked, which means there's nothing we can really reproduce to ensure continued sales.  So we'll do what we always do: list nice photos and describe them accurately,  price them reasonably, give free shipping to domestic USA address, package them up securely and get them mailed within one business day, and provide best customer service we can. 

November 2011 was the best month for us since December 2010, and even there, there is a caveat.  The only reason our gross in December 2010 was higher than last month was because of consignment sales.  Consignment sales accounted for 1/3rd or our total gross that month, and over half of our consignment sales was due to a sale of a fairly expensive item on the last day of the year.  Our net (which I see as our profit) for Dec 2010, was actually somewhat less than our net for November 2011.   You have to go back to July of 2009 to find a month where our net was higher than last month.  November was a good month.

And much of the July 2009 sales came via very strong consignment sales that month - it's funny, I can still remember what we were selling then.  Even though "Consignment" is still part of our store name, we don't really do consignment any more.

When sales go up, fees & expenses go up.  eBay charges a fee to list, a fee if an item sells, and a store subscription fee.  PayPal charges a fee when money is deposited into your account.  Fees get pricey.   Business expenses, especially postage, were quite high in November.  But I take the view that if the fees and expenses have increased, that means the sales have increased.  And the higher the sales, the over all less of a percentage expenses are.  This, by the way, is one reason large business can make a huge amount of money while small business struggle.  Just a little social commentary.

Our gross (and net) for Nov 2011 was almost twice as much as Nov 2010.   Interesting. 

Nov 2011 was a month of extremes.  On November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving, we had nothing to ship.  We were skunked - for the first time since sometime in 2009 we went a day without receiving any payments.  In the days that followed though, we set and then promptly broke a record (for us) for the amount of items shipped out in a single day. 

I've noticed we're getting quite a bit of repeat business - customers who buy things then return later and buy more.  In fact the repeat business has driven a lot of our sales, it's a good thing to have.

It's very hard to predict what sales will be.  October & November were very good months, July and August were terrible.  Back in 2008 there was a month when we actually lost money.  I have no idea how December will turn out, though right now it's looking pretty good.  We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

History (mildly revised)

I think a lot about history.  Well, sometimes I think a lot about history.   I studied history in college - got a bachelors degree, did most of the work toward a masters degree, but ran out of money & motivation (I think motivation was the balance of the issue), joined the Army learned strange things and went to strange places and the rest, as they say is, uh, history.  But that's not the kind of history I was thinking about.

A couple of things I know about history is that you frequently know more about an event the farther away in time you are from that event, and you have to know your sources.   History is written by the victors, so the story goes, but that isn't always true.

Take William Rufus, for example.  Good old King William II of England, 3rd son and successor to William the Conqueror,  King from 1087 to 1100.  In high school world history classes William Rufus merited maybe a sentence or two, I can't really remember.  In college survey courses he might get a paragraph.   He's one of those characters who if you really want to get to know, you have to put some effort into finding out about it.  There is information out there, but he is not prominent amongst the post Anglo-Saxon kings and queens of England.

William died in 1100 as a result of a hunting accident.  He was with several members of the nobility at the time (who else would he be with), including his brother Henry, and the scuttlebutt was that he was murdered.  But that's just conjecture.  It's quite possible that some near sighted member of his party mistook a rather broad man with long flowing hair and a full beard sitting astride a large horse for a deer and let fly an arrow in his general direction.  There were no corrective lenses in the 11th century, not even for nobility or royalty, so it's possible, I don't know.  It could be that he just conked his head on a low lying limb.  But what I do know is he died while hunting, and when the members of his party realized he was dead, they scattered.  Not out of fear, but because they knew there was going to be upheaval and they needed to get control of their property and lands before anyone found out.  Henry - the good King's brother - made a beeline for London and managed to get himself crowned King, even though I don't think he had the strongest claim. But he was there, so he was able to do it. 

Anyway, anything you read will tell you William Rufus was a brutal ruler & his subjects were happy to see him go.  It's in all the history books.  Sometimes you have to accept things, after all there just isn't enough time to question everything that comes along, so this was one of the things I just accepted as part of my education - that William Rufus was a brutal ruler.

But now I have some time to think about it, and I wonder how do all the history books know this?  Where did they get their information?  Well I think they got a large part of their information from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles, a series of documents started long before William Rufus and continued long after.  They were written by priest type people (they were pretty much the only people who could read and write at the time), and they did not like William Rufus one bit.   They had lots of reason to not like him - they had a vested interest in making him look bad.

The early Norman Kings of England could have cared less about Anglo-Saxon language and culture.  They caused a pretty massive upheaval amongst the higher echelons of Anglo-Saxon society, but pretty much ignored the lower classes, especially the language. They just didn't care.  They didn't speak English and didn't bother to learn it, didn't out law or direct how it developed in any way. The Norman kings generally had large holdings in what is now France, and much of their efforts and energies were directed towards that.   The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were like an underground subversive newspaper being written right out in the open, and the Kings either didn't know or didn't care (or both). Who the heck was going to read it anyway?  This went on for a long time, and I believe this is the main source for William Rufus being seen as such a brutal person.

My suspicion is he was pretty brutal.  It was the 11th century, and I don't think he was among the "enlightened". This is no Edward the Confessor we're talking about. But there's a good chance that he was no more brutal than any other King of his era.
Anyway, a part of learning stuff, of thinking critically is questioning the sources.  You have to ask where the money is coming from, so to speak.  So when you read something, or see something on TV, even if you agree with it, it pays to ask what the motivation is.

Frequently things boil down to money, and there is a good chance the Chronicler's, when you pulled away all the layers, were no different.  These were church people for the most part, and I bet anything William Rufus (and his father) confiscated church lands for this or that, and in the 11th century, especially, land was money.  

At any rate, the history of William Rufus was written largely by the vanquished.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Thanksgiving (in the USA) is November 24th this year, and I don't really have any thoughts about it.  Maybe that's because I'm a man, or maybe I'm just empty of thoughts.  But I have no real thoughts about it, so I thought dig around in my brain and see what I could find.

When I was a young child in eastern Kentucky, Turkey was not part of our Thanksgiving tradition.  I'm not sure why that is, but I'll put forth a hypothesis and maybe it will fly. 

My thinking goes like this.  My grandparents, all four of them, were 19th century people.  They were raised by people firmly rooted in the 19th century, and those traditions and values were passed on to them.   Land and farming were very important to them.  They grew their own food - not only tons of vegetables, but fruit too (especially apples) and they also raised cattle and pigs.  Big pigs. And sometimes rabbits.  There was always a mule about, and it's basic function was for plowing.  Grandpa plowed behind a mule, just like people had done in the "old timey" days.

They weren't completely self-sufficient, they'd buy flour, sugar, coffee, stuff like that.  But virtually everything else, they grew or raised.  It was very hard work - I don't think I ever appreciated how hard they worked.  I remember Grandma saying they worked "like dogs" and they kept at it until they hit their early 80s and just could not do it anymore.

I don't remember either set of my grandparents raising or hunting Turkeys.  I'm not sure there were any Turkeys around to hunt anyway.  I don't know what they raised before my time, fowl wise, but I never remember them raising any winged creatures other than yard birds - sometimes referred to as chickens.

They did, however, raise hogs.  And hogs were slaughtered & butchered when it was cold, and I recollect that the main dish at my earlier Thanksgivings was ham - so I have a feeling I was eating one of my grandparent's pigs.  It may have been one from the previous season, they had a smoke house & electricity so they could store stuff for long periods.  I don't know.  I just know that Turkey was not part of the Thanksgiving meal.  To this day Turkey is not something I really look forward to.

I've seen the Norman Rockwell paintings so I know Turkey had be firmly established as a traditional Thanksgiving food by the time I sprouted forth.  But it wasn't traditional for my family, and I suspect it wasn't for almost everybody around there at that time.  It was different back then. 

I suppose this counts as a Thanksgiving thought. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Thoughts Nov 5, 2011

Time once again for some thoughts.  Don't really have any, but here goes.

This is North Carolina, it should be 70 degrees or so right about now, but it's not.  That bugs me, I like warm.

We go back to standard time very early tomorrow morning.  I'm not going to worry about it.  Daggone people messin' around with time, like they're some sort of Einstein wannabe or something. 

I dont think time really exists anyway.  Clocks and calendars measure days and hours, but days and hours are not time.  Days and hours are measurements of the passage of something we call time, but really isn't time. 

Gravity does exist, however, and it freaks me out.  So strong, yet so weak.  How can it hold the moon and not crush me?

I don't even have an inkling of an understanding of the universe. 

I dont even understand why, no matter where you are on planet earth, the ground appears to be below your feet and the sky appears to be above your head.  

I have found that the most interesting things are frequently the things that didn't seem interesting at all at first glance. 

Thru the medium of television, I've discovered that we could easily afford a home in a backwater village in southern Italy (especially if we could live without heat).  Bergen, Norway is a completely different story.  I don't think we could buy a place there, at least not without some sort of job.  And you'd surely need heat, though maybe not a/c., not sure.

In Minnesota, there's a joke about a Norweigan (Or Swede, take your pick) who loved his wife so much he almost told her.

Pickles the Dog thinks that she is a good dog.  She also thinks that she is a pretty dog.  Righ now she is where she always is this time of night - zonked out on the couch.  She barks if she hears something unusual, so that's worth the price of dog food.

I don't like shaving.

I love rhubarb pie.  No strawberries please.  Putting strawberries in rhubarb pie is like putting coconut in banana pudding.  Don't need it.  Even more importantly, don't want it.

Fine grit sandpaper is a phrase I could live without.

This is about all the time (rather what we call time) I have to think of things this evening.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our eBay Month - Oct 2011

October was our best month this year.  

In looking at the sales & things I keep track of, in one way it seems like a broken record.  Most of our sales are either postcards or various forms of antique photographs, and so much of what determines whether we have a good month or not depends on the photograph sales.  The same was true for October.

Our sales of single postcards - which I still consider the core part of our business - was a little higher than average, and the price we got per card was a little higher than average.  It was a good solid postcard sales month & I'm quite happy with it, but we've had months this year where we've sold more. 

Our sales of photographs is another story - they were by far the highest sales of year. Actually the highest sales ever (except for June, but that was a special case, so I don't want to count it).  Also, for the first time since we've been selling photographs, they generated more money for the month than the postcard sales - and we had a good postcard sales month. (Again, except for June) Our photos are the same types of photo's we've always had. (Once again, except for June). Its as if people suddenly discovered that we sell them.  I really don't know why so many sold this month.  

We offer free shipping domestically, maybe that played a role. eBay increased the title size to 80 characters, perhaps that helped. I really don't know for sure.

June was a special case, photo wise, where a few unique photos did very well for us.  In October, it was volume, photo grunt work so to speak, the most individual photos we've sold in a month, ever.  In October we sold our typical photos, and there is no reason why we can't repeat that.  We may not, but it's entirely possible.  In June, we had a few unique photos and that will be very hard for us to replicate.  June was a little bit of luck, but luck had nothing to do with October.

I pay attention to photos - I know what makes an antique photo unique and collectible.  They are actually hard to get hold of for a reasonable price (unique items being unique and all).   I also know that people collect photographs for reasons other than absolute uniqueness, and I'm doing my best to get a share of those people.  At the same time I keep my eye out for something really interesting or unusual.

It's like a car dealership that sell Mercedese and Chevys.  The Mercedese are much more expsenive, but they'll make more money over all on the Chevy sales.  I won't get into maintenance, because there the analogy may break down.

There is nothing special about the month of October.  October 2010 was a poor month for us, sales wise.  You'd have to go back 18 months or so to find a month where we did better than last month.

Another first for October 2011 - we actually sold more than we listed, so the inventory in our eBay store has gone down a bit. 

eBay fees are high.  Of course the more you list & sell the more fees you pay.  There are also PayPal fees, which aren't as high, but are high enough.  Postage is also a major expense - generally our second highest expense of the month. 

Even with the increased expenses it was a good month.   November seems to be starting off well so we'll see if it keeps up.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Men In Hats Bat Hunting Recruitment Song

We're men!  We're men in hats!
We crawl around in caves looking for bats!

We're Men! We're men in hats!
We need help finding some flying rats!

We're a bunch of happy spe-lunk-ers,
In caves from Or-e-gon to Yon-kers!

We're Men! We're men in hats!
Won't you help us find some bats!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Valdese Town Council Elections

It appears that town council elections for Valdese, NC are imminent.   I'm not sure who all's running, but I've seen signs.  Literally. 

There's Frances Hildebran, with a blue and white sign that just says vote for Frances Hildebran.  There's Steve Ogle, with the same kind of sign except it's red and white.  There's Jason Banner whose sign I think is red, white & blue, and asks you to vote for him "For A Better Valdese".   And then I've seen Sandi Walker's sign, which asks you to vote for her for "Common Sense Government".  Her sign is also yellow with black lettering, thus setting her apart from rest of the field in the graphics regard.

Frances & Steve have pretty basic signs, just getting their name out there, letting you know they're running, nothing else. Old school - they probably have the same thing printed up on those funeral home fans so that people who are grieving for their loved ones can think about who to vote for in a couple of weeks.

Jason and Sandi, however, had made campaign promises on their signs. Really general, unmeasurable, impossible to verify campaign promises, but nontheless they've stuck their neck out.

Jason has promised a better Valdese.  My first thought is, better than what?  Better than right now I suppose, but how much better?  What does better mean? Is he going to get all the mills & factories in town churning out furniture and hosiery products and employing hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people like they were 50 to 60 years ago?  Or is he just talking about adding a traffic light where Faet meets Main Street so people can make a left turn without risking their lives.  Or is he just going to get all the traffic lights on Main Street better synchronised?   Or is he going to round up all the non-English speaking people in town and make them prove they're citizens.  I have no idea what his idea of a better Valdese is, but most likely, somone else has a different idea of what a better Valdese is.

Sandi has promised common sense government.  Of course I immediately wonder which common sense, because there seems to be more than one. So much of what a person considers common sense depends on the values instilled in them when they were growing up.   I have common sense about some things, so imagine a large circle that represents my common sense.  Now imagine another circle representing someone elses common sense.   There are parts of the circles that will surely overlap.   If it's cold outside, you should dress warmly.  I believe that's common sense to most people & that would be in the overlapping parts of the circles.    To some people, especially those with lots of money, it's common sense that if a community needs more jobs you should lower taxes on it's wealthiest citizens. To others that makes no sense at all and that may not be in the overlapping parts of the circles.  I'm positive Sandi Walker has common sense, but is it the type of common sense that prays the gay away, or is it the type of common sense that says that now is perhaps not the best time to start life over as a real estate agent.  I have no idea.

Jason & Sandi probably assumed they were putting some bland, safe slogan on their signs, something that sounds agreeable and people would hopefully associate with their names and not really think about.   Neither considered that Pickles the Dog and I walk the mean streets of Valdese every morning, generally south of Main Street, and I see those signs.   I see them, I look closely, trying to catch the nuances of a printed two dimensional piece of small town political advertising, I wonder about them, I read between the lines, I try to figure out what they're really saying, especially if there are any "code" words in them.  Jason and Sandi's signs kind of scare me, I have no idea what their slogans mean to them, and I can easily see the sinister side of  "A Better Valdese" and especially of  "Common Sense Government".   Frances and Steve have no slogans, make no promises, could be they're just really need a job, and for no particular reason I feel a little easier about them.

Doesn't matter.  I've never met Frances, Steve, Jason or Sandi, and probably never will.  I don't know anything about them or what they stand for, which is why I pay attention to the signs.  And we don't live within the Valdese town limits, so I don't reckon I'll be a-votin' for them any how. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Night Thoughts

That time again, writing something just to write something.

As in most other places in the world, it is October in North Carolina, and if the wind is blowing and you're in the shade, it almost feels crisp.  Otherwise it's just as humid as it was in August, just not as hot.

I am convinced that dogs see things that don't exist, then get scared and bark at them. 

Cats also see things that don't exist, however they don't get scared,  they just stare.  Nature of the beast.

I still like twitter better than facebook, it seems more anonymous, even though it isn't.

Here is a short list (out of a much longer list) of foods I don't like:  butter, mayonnaise, cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, steak, peas, peaches, pears, artichokes, cauliflower, mustard, onions. 

Not sure what the difference between x-factor and the voice is, but I could live without either of them.

I thought I'd make a joke about Herman Cain's 999 plan just being 666 upside down, but when Michelle Bachmann made the same joke, I was glad I didn't.   Now I'm sorry I even thought about it.

Last night I had a dream, I woke up & tried to remember it, but it just dissolved.  I could see it dissolving and there was nothing I could do.  I couldn't remember anything, and I tried hard.

I can talk myself out of mowing grass without any problem at all.  I did it today - it needed another day to dry out.  That's the ticket.

Even though I was in the Army at the time and that put a bit of a damper on things, I really liked living in Monterey, California.

As much as I disparage Kafka, I really liked the unfinished story about Blumfeld, an elderly bachelor.  How on earth could anybody think of something like that?  Where does that come from?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Shoveling out the Driveway

Topographically speaking, Valdese, North Carolina is not a flat place.  If there is a flat place in Valdese, it was made that way with heavy equipment.  Valdese is very close to some good sized mountains, and has some very nice views in spots, but it's actually located in the foothills region of North Carolina.  You can tell this because 25 % of the businesses around here (80% of which are thrift stores or beauty parlors) call themselves Foothills something or other.  This is not to be confused with Piedmont, which I believe is French for Foothills, but is an entirely different region, somewhat to the east of us.  Anyway, Valdese is a pretty little town with an interesting history and some interesting buildings,  and could almost be a tourist destination if the universe had aligned itself just a tad differently.  All that aside though, it's not a flat place.

Our property is roughly rectangular, almost 3 acres, sloping almost but not quite gently from the gravel road we live on to a creek, then banks sharply up toward some houses in a relatively new development.  That area is completely wooded and in the summer we can't see those houses.    We have huge trees and lots of elbow room and it's nice.  But it's not flat.

The gravel road we live on comes off a paved residential road, travels downhill toward our property then curves.  Our paved driveway comes off of that curve, continues down hill on the west side of the house then curves around behind the house.  The driveway area behind the house is about as flat as things get around here and it was made that way at some unknown time in the past, almost certainly with heavy equipment.

The problem is, it doesn't drain.  So when it rains water streams from the paved residential street, down our gravel street, down our driveway, and ends up in the area of the drive way behind our house.  It brings along with it a lot of dirt and other residue it picks up along the way, and in very short order that area of the driveway is caked with mud.  It dries out & turns into dirt, and the driveway disappears.  

Now there are drainage ditches, but they're apparently just a good intention.  They've never worked, and I'm sure are only there because some permit issuing authority from the local government required them to be there so they could collect their permit issuing fee.

When we bought the place there was no indication of any kind of issue with the small part of the driveway that is behind our house.  Of course I'm pretty sure there was a drought when we bought this place.  I shoveled the driveway out once several months ago.  I started to it out again today, but decided it doesn't really matter.   Shoveling dirt from a driveway by hand is hard work, even on a low humidity day.

 With the new septic system & grading done in the back yard, maybe it will drain.  But I bet it won't.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Our eBay Month - September 2011

September finally broke our 2011 sales pattern, where (with the exception of June, and maybe August, but not by much), every month was not quite as good as the month before.  September exceeded August, both in Gross & Net.  To a person like me, who really knows nothing about the finer points of business, the most important number is the net - what is left over after expenses.  In September our expenses were higher than in August, so as a result even though we grossed quite a bit more in September than August, our net was just barely higher.  But still, it counts.

September was also the end of the 3rd quarter of 2011, which can lead to a lot of comparisons.   3rd quarter of 2010 was much better, 3rd quarter of 2009 was about the same, both in gross and net.  However, up to this point in 2011, we're doing quite a bit better for the year than we did in 2010, and are about even for the year with 2009. 

In 2009 we were still doing a fair amount of consignment sales.  We did a lot more before that, and while it's profitable, there's a lot more work involved record keeping wise and especially dealing with people.  People, as you know, can sometimes be difficult.  If I wanted difficulties I could have a REAL job, sitting in a cube sweating drops of blood & jumping thru hoops to meet deadlines and such.  So we decided we didn't want to do consignment anymore & by 2010 we were pretty much out of it.  As a result our sales dipped mightily for the year.  Well I think we've finally recovered and compensated for the lack of consignment, and in 2011 we're back on a 2009 pace.

September started out pretty slow, but it began to pick up during the 2nd week - maybe because school started, who knows.  As usual, what seems to determine if we have a good month or not are our photo sales - and photo sales were better than usual for the month.  Postcard & trade card sales were about average for us.

We had a jump in international sales also.  We sold more internationally in September than any month this year since January, and that was very welcome.  October has started with an international sale (a trade card to Malta) so hopefully it will continue.

July was an absolutely dismal month sales wise, we've had two pretty good months since then, and we'll just have to see how it goes.  This eBay stuff seems to be boom or bust for us with not much middle ground.  All I know to do is keep plugging away at it.  It's the optimist in me I suppose.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Evening Thoughts - because it's all I can think of

I'm surprised at how much I don't know.

I created about 1000 credit card sized, laminated, edited cliff note versions of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" in case I run into anybody in Valdese who needs to know what an actual Nazi is.  Not really.

A few minutes ago I used a pair of scissors to pry apart some chocolate cookies that had melted together.  It was not a good decision, and please don't tell my wife.

I find I'm cynical sometimes, but I'm not cynical enough to be a political cartoonist.  Also, I can't really draw.

Whenever there's a movie about a dog, somebody's going to die.

Whenever there's a movie about Christmas, somebody's going to die.

I suppose I'd rather watch Bachelor Pad than be water boarded, but I'd have to think about it.  No I don't.  Somebody call Dick Cheney and let's get it over with.

I believe the worst day of summer was Sept 2nd or 3rd - it was hot & humid, then there was an afternoon thundershower, and then it got hotter and more humid.  I'm thinking about that now, because it's 45-50 degrees cooler, and I'm pretty sure I don't like it. 

If I had 1.9 million dollars in cash to spend, I could think of a lot of things to do with it other than buying a house in Costa Rica.

When I read over some of my older posts, I cringe.  I suppose one day I'll read this and cringe. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Think I Remember Mrs. Apple

I may have my facts wrong, right down to people's names, but I think I remember Mrs. Apple.  

One day Mrs. Apple was driving her jalopy down the road, her jalopy being defined as something on the order of a Model T, and of course it broke down.  But she wasn't worried, she lived in a nice friendly place and she knew it was only a matter of time before some nice young man would stop and help her.  So she sat down on a small retaining wall in the front of someone's house and ate an apple and waited.   People stopped, but no one could figure out what was wrong with her car, so she just told them thanks and they went on, confident that eventually someone would be able to figure it out.  Well eventually Mr. Brown, a nice young man who drove a delivery truck & wore some kind of uniform, stopped and looked, and he's the one who figured out that Mrs. Apple had run out of gas.  They both laughed and he gave her some gas and they went on their way.

In my life, especially when I first started owning cars, I've had a few occasions where my automobile has decided to strand me on the road somewhere usually due to its advanced age and a lack of money to keep up a proper maintenance routine.  Each time that happened I always thought about Mrs. Apple, and how things never seemed to work out for me like it did for her.  And I wished, for a time at least, that I could have lived in Mrs. Apple's world, where everybody was nice, and everything always turned out fine.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Our eBay month - August 2011

August was better than July, but the business is still following a trend that I would like to reverse.

How good or bad a month we have is determined by a few factors: the number of items we sell, the amount we're able to sell them for, our business expenses and eBay policies (which are closely entwined with our business expenses).

In August we actually sold somewhat fewer postcards and antique photos than we did in July, but we sold quite a bit more trade cards.  Also, there is a quirk of the way I keep records.  I update the totals on the days we ship - I somehow feel like it isn't legal unless it's paid for, packaged and on its way, and it helps me keep organized. We ship Monday thru Saturday, everyday the post office is open.  July had a holiday, and because of the way the days fell there were 25 shipping days in July.  In August, there were 27 shipping days.  For monthly totals, it doesn't matter how many days there were, but it does matter for daily averages of sales and transactions, and I watch that closely.

Overall, we sold more items in July than August, but we got a better price for things in August, so our "gross" haul was slightly better than in July. 

The important number though is not the gross, but the net, the amount we have left over after expenses.  The net for August was significantly higher than July, and this happened for a couple of reasons.  Our postcard & antique photo sales were down slightly, both in number and dollar amount, but we had a pretty good Victorian Trade Card month.   In addition, our monthly business expenses were much lower than average. 

I'm very interested in why business expenses were lower, and I some reasons I know, and others I have theories. 

First, our direct eBay payment was noticeably lower.  eBay charges listing fees whenever we list something for sale, and a final value fee if it actually sales.  Until last month the FVF on most items we sold was 12%.  Last month eBay lowered the FVF to 11%, but included shipping and handling charges in the FVF calculation, something they had not done before.  For people who have a shipping and handling charge on their items, their expenses just went up.  We don't charge shipping and handling on any items we ship to a domestic USA shipping address, so this change resulted in somewhat lower eBay fees for us.

Second, the amount we paid for postage was much less than what we paid in July.  I print postage labels online when I can, and we purchase stamps in bulk (by the roll, etc) as needed.  We just didn't purchase as much in August as we normally do.

The increase in the amount we netted for August was significant, and 80% of that came from reduced expenses, which does not really make me happy.  Our daily sales average in August was less than in July, and the average transactions as well as the average number of items sold per day were also lower than July.  This continues a trend that started in January - the daily averages for each month this year have been less than the month before (with the exception of June).  I don't like this and I'm not sure what to do about it.

September has started fairly slowly. Sigh.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene in Valdese

In Valdese, Hurricane Irene consisted of some high thin clouds, sunshine, humidity and a warm breeze.  We made no special preparations (other than mowing the grass - the same as I did for Hurricane Hanna a few years ago).  I suppose we live far enough west that a gigantic storm going up the coast is not quite gigantic enough to cause us any inconvenience.  I think for us to be bothered it would have to make landfall somewhere in South Carolina then head north west. 

My only experience with hurricanes are the ones that passed by when I was living in Maryland, and there I was used to hours and hours of torrential rain - I'm sure Irene soaked most if not all of Maryland.  I'm pretty sure rain from a hurricane going up the east coast is the most rain I've ever seen at one time in my life.  But here, at the foot of some rather good sized mountains, that's not the case.

So for us, yesterday was just a warmish, humid day.  Today it's a little cooler, not as much haze in the air & I got a good view of the mountains from the cemetery when I walked Pickles this morning.

In the eastern part of the state, a  completely different story.   What a difference a little distance makes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A word about today's earthquake

There was an earthquake today on the east coast, 5.8 or 5.9 depending on where you look.  I didn't feel it, tho apparently plenty of people in the area did.   However we now realize that about the time it hit, Pickles the Dog went totally bee-zerk.    Can't be sure that the two events were related, but its possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Valley of Horses

I had read Clan of the Cave Bear & thought it was interesting, so I decided to read Valley of Horses, the next in a series of "Earth's Children" books by Jean Auel.  Being a red blooded American male of the species, I'd never heard of them before - we picked them both up in a box of books at a yard sale down on South Avenue in Valdese.  I'm not sure how many more books there are in the series.

First I need to gripe about the titles.  I naturally want to say Clan of the Cave Bears, which is wrong, and I also have a strong urge to say Valley of THE Horses, which is also wrong.  I bet anything the author did this on purpose, just to screw people up and see who was paying attention.  I can think of no other reason.

I liked Clan of the Cave Bear - it must have been interesting growing up Neanderthal.  The author created a whole culture for them, I'm sure a mixture of accepted scientific belief with imagination used to fill in the holes. 

The story continues with Valley of Horses, with Ayla forced to leave the clan by the extremely jealous, angry, and impulsive Broud, using every bit of skill she has just to survive.  But the book introduces another major character, Jondalar, who is on a "Journey" with his brother to travel to the end of the Mother river - looks like the modern day Danube. (or Donau). 

Slowly but surely it becomes clear that Jondalar is something of an Ice Age John Holmes, but much more handsome, and Valley of the Horses becomes, in addition to everything else it is, something akin to literary pornography geared towards women.

The characters are great, extremely vivid, detailed, very well described, very realistic and it is very easy to identify with them.  Jean Auel is at least as good as someone such as Orson Scott Card ("Ender's Game" etc) when it comes to character development, maybe better.  Most characters in most books can't come close to touching Ayla and Jondalar - it's beautifully written that way.  My fear is I'm going to compare the characters in every book I read after this to the characters in this book, and I'm sure almost all will come up short, they'll seem somehow incomplete.

And it's not just humans - Whinney the horse and Baby the cave lion are also an important part of the story.

But the descriptions of sexual encounters involving Jondalar are overpowering, and I'm not sure that it always advances the story.  Or maybe it does - it is certainly part of his (and Ayla's) being.  But it's like the author gets lost in it, and it goes on and on forever with page after page of throbbing manhood and pulsating wetness and such. But you know how us males are, it could be that my main complaint was that there werent any pictures.  Anyway, when I finished this book my overall impression was "Man, there's a lot of sex in this book".  There's more than enough sex in this book to get a Republican up in arms, or to cause some parent somewhere to demand it be removed from the school libraries.  Assuming it was ever there to begin with.

But the book is so much more.  Its a great story with beautifully written characters, in a beautifully described location just trying to live their lives 30,000 years or so ago.  You're not going to find many books as good as this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another Thoughts Post

I've been a bit slow about about posting in this blog lately.  Nothing burnin a hole in my mind I suppose, but if I'm going to keep it, I should post something once in awhile.

Pickles the Dog is coming up on her 4th birthday.  We're not actually sure when she was born, but we knew roughly how old she was when we got her, so we just agreed on Sept 1 as a bithdate.  No party is planned, she's a dog and she doesn't care. 

Pickles is funny tho.  If you wake her up, she immediately runs to a window and looks out, as if we've caught her goofing off on the job or something. 

Pickles has to work for her treats.  She has to sit, give me a paw, then lay down, then jump up form a prone position.  The jump up doesn't count unless both rear paws leave the floor.  She seems to love it.

Most of the country has been through a long and brutal heat wave this summer.  In my little slice of North Carolina, it's been a pretty normal summer, temperature wise.  That means, it's been pretty brutal until fairly recently, with enough heat and humidity to drown a mule.

I do not listen music enough. 

Saturday I finally conquered the weed eater.  I seem to have trouble with machinery.  Its strange, because I've held jobs in the past that required a very complex and/or abstract level of thinking, but please dont ask me to start anything by pulling a chord, or do anything that requires mechanical precision.  It will not end well.  But Saturday was a breakthrough - I successfully installed a new spindle of string.  Just like a big boy.

It would be nice to get paid for reading - as long as it's not Kafka.

I learned today that State Highway 80 in Kentucky is the state's longest highway, stretching from Pikeville in the east to Paducah in the west.  That's a long ways. There's a new highway 80 running through Knott County now, but when I was young it was Hindman's Main Street, and a two lane twisty curvy mountain road,  by far the best road in the county.  I never knew it went all the way from Pikeville to Paducah.

I finished reading Valley of Horses by Jean Auel, and all I can say is lawsy, that ol' Jondalar.

All for now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our eBay month - July 2011

July was a pretty sad month eBay-wise.   It was by far the worst month of the year, and, with the exception of June, it continues a downward trend for the year.  We've seen a monthly decrease in our average daily shipping amount (dollar wise) each successive month since January, again with the exception of June. Even so, July is the first month this year I'd consider to be a "bad" month. 

June was a special case - we sold some pretty unique items at a pretty good price.  Had we not sold those items, June would have continued the trend.

So, if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting the results to change, then perhaps I'm crazy & we need to totally revamp the business.  Of course I think the definition of insanity has a lot more to do with disorganized thinking, auditory & visual hallucinations, paranoid delusions and stuff like that than it does with the way we run a fairly minuscule eBay business.  But still.  I wish I knew what's going on.

July 2010 was a very good month for us, so I don't buy the explanation that it's summer & people are doing summer stuff.   It was summer last year at this time.

The overall economy is not in great shape, but I also can't believe that our postcard and photo sales reflect anything going on with the financial or housing markets, or anything else having to do with the national economy.  But I can't discount it either.

Our sales of single postcards were normal - both in quantity and price. They were right at what our average for the year is.   Our sales of old photos and Victorian trade cards were less than normal, and our business expenses were somewhat higher than normal, but not extremely so.  

I just checked our trade card sales for the year and I'm surprised at how much less than normal this month's was.   So I guess that was the issue.  Lower than normal photo & trade card sales, higher than normal business expenses. 

I track postage expenses separately from business expenses, and while they take out a chunk, they were actually a little lower than previous months. Lower sales, lower postage expenses. We offer free shipping on virtually items shipped domestically - perhaps that bit us a little this month.

But at any rate, January 2011 was a good month, and it's been going down hill ever since.  With the exception of June.  June aggravates me, because since it was a good month I have to keep writing "with the exception of June".   But, with the exception of June, sales keep getting worse & worse.  So I gotta think of something.

I do know something though.  Good inventory sells.  Even in the summer, even in a bad economy, even in a bad economy in the summer, even on eBay.  "The exception of June" kind of proves that point.  The trick is getting good inventory.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This is what happened today.

Today some local police asked me to show some identification as I was getting ready to leave the post office.  Interesting.

Patti, Pickles the Dog and I piled into the truck and took our daily eBay mailings down to the post office.  It's a daily tradition - almost every day at some point in the afternoon you'll see us there.  Typically, while the weather is warm, Patti goes into the post office mails the packages, picks up things and goes to the counter if needed.  Today was stamp buying day, so that made a trip to the counter necessary, and some times that can take several minutes, depending on how many people are ahead of you who wish to chat.

Pickles and I walk across the street and sit in a shady area on a small concrete wall near the Waldensian Museum. 

This happens day after day.

Today a few minutes after Pickles and I had settled in, a white Jeep approached us.  As it got near I saw it was an unmarked police vehicle - there were 2 people in it, one in uniform and one in plain clothes.   It passed me up then made a U-turn and parked near end of the post office parking area across the street.  I saw this out of the corner of my eye, didn't think much of it and went on thinking about whatever I was randomly thinking about.  Pickles was busy smelling the grass around her. 

A couple of minutes later they left and drove down St. Germain, but then stopped, two or 3 houses down.  That I found interesting.   I did look at them, but why wouldn't I, it was odd.  They were there for a minute or so, then Patti came out & Pickles an I got off the wall and walked toward our truck.   The police car made a U-Turn on St. Germain, then parked across the street from me.  I was actually in the truck & starting it up when they approached and asked to see some identification.  Pickles started barking at that point, but wasn't as bad as she could have been.  Pore ol' dog doesnt know any better.  I was very polite.

So I gave them my drivers license.  The one in uniform asked what I was doing in the area, so I told him. The other looked in the back of the truck (there's not anything there) then ran my name and license plates, asked me if the address was valid and all that.  Everything checked out so they gave me my drivers license back, said thank you & told me to have a good day.

After that we drove over to the Family Dollar, one of Valdese's premier retail establishments, then headed home. 

They never told me why they were checking me out, and I never asked.  I figured as long as they didn't ask me to step out of the truck or start putting me in cuffs I wouldn't worry about it.  I dont know if I fit a description, or if the truck did, or if for some reason I just looked suspicious to them.  It is possible I looked a tad unkempt to the casual observer.  I suppose I need a hair cut, could use a shave, and certainly was not dressed in my Sunday best.  And technically I suppose I was loitering, sitting there waiting for Patti to come out of the post office. I probably looked out of place.

I suspect they searched the area where I was sitting after I left, but I can't prove it. 

I've lived in enough small towns  to know there is a strong undercurrent of lawlessness about, and Valdese is no different.  There are a lot of people who live on the very edge, people who bend or outright break rules of society, people who mostly are never noticed by the church going white people with enough money and a comfortable place to live.   There are drug abusers, thieves, alcoholics, abusers of wives, husbands & children, sex offenders, convicted felons, shop lifters, robbers, the occasional murderer, violent, unsavory, undesirable people living in Valdese and the immediate area.  They don't make up the majority of the community by any means, not even close, but they are present, and most likely only the police have a good idea of just how present they are.  Most people ignore it, arent affected by it, out of sight, out of mind.  

I've had a lot of experiences in my life, I've lived in a lot of small towns and I am very aware of this seething undercurrent of dregs in polite society.  These days I mostly sequester myself from it.  I don't want anything to do with it.  So I can go for a long period of time with no reminders of it's existence.  But all I have to do is pay attention to realize it's right there.  All anyone has to do is look.

There are a lot of people in Valdese & in Burke County North Carolina living right on the edge.  It is not a wealthy place.

I don't know why these policemen decided they needed to talk to me.  Maybe some tall guy with brown hair lugging around a goofy half hound half retriever robbed a convenience store.  I doubt it.  Most likely they were looking for someone, or perhaps I just looked out of place.  Either way, I can understand.

UPDATE - Aug 2, 2011:

I found out today that someone robbed the BB&T bank on Main Street about 10 minutes before we loped into the post office.  No one hurt, apparently no weapons involved (at least none anyone could see),  but that explains the unusual behavoir of the local constabulary. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Thoughts

This must be the era of strange dreams for me, I seem to have them every night.

I took my pickup truck in for its North Carolina state inspection today.  There were several other people in the small waiting room chatting with each other.  As I listened I thought this could easily be Kentucky.  Had I been in the same situation in South Dakota, I probably would not have thought that.

Yesterday Ricky Skaggs, John Glenn, Nelson Mandela & I had a birthday (along with about 1 in every 365 people or so on the planet).  I wonder if any of them thought about me, 'cause I thought about them.

If you happen to read this, your life is just that much different that it would have been had you not read it. 

When you're driving and you see other people in other cars, do you ever wonder what their lives are like?

In the same vein, if you go to a restaurant with someone, do you ever wonder how different your perception and experience would be if you had sat where the other one was seated?  In fact it could change the perceptions and experiences of every person in the place.   Maybe just a little, maybe a whole lot.  Who knows?

Pickles the Dog is goofy.  No two ways about it.

Back when my life was spent in a cube, I was prepared to lead a worker's revolt against motivational speakers & writers.  Now I don't care.  Stephen Covey, you're safe.  From me at least.  Good luck to ya.

So ends my Tuesday thoughts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On the Behavior of Dogs.......

When we emerged for our daily dog walk, sometime before 9 AM this morning, we were greeted by overcast skies and a temperature of about 75 degrees.  However, it was not the 75 degrees of late autumn, or, around here, of early winter.  It was not a 75 degrees with clear, crisp skies, with a slight breeze that might add just a touch of a refreshing bite.  This was 75 degrees with thick, heavy, humid air, much closer to today's low temperature than what will be today's high.  I knew sweat would be rolling off me before we had travelled very far.

Today is also trash day.  Pickles loves trash day, as long as we dont meet any big, loud trucks.  On the walk, once we got off our property, she fell right into walking mode.  I have her on a leash, but it hangs loose, and she walks along side of me with her head about at my knee.  I was looking around, not really paying attention when I felt a tug on the leash.  Pickles had stopped.  Not only had she stopped but she was rubbing her shoulder and then her whole side into the pavement, in the remnants of some liquefied detritus from a garbage truck.  It was only then that I noticed the smell - aided by the heaviness of the air it was overpowering to me.  But to Pickles the Dog, it was heaven on earth.  A sweet ambrosia.  Eau de Garbazhe.  I paid more attention as the walk continued.

As we approached the railroad tracks across Praley, I heard a dog bark.  That's not unusual, there is a dog up on the corner of St. Germain who frequently barks, but this bark was coming from a slightly different direction - in the same general direction I was planning to walk.  I always pay attention when I think their may be strange dogs about.

Pickles' behavior on a leash is different from her behavior off a leash.  On the leash, we walk past barking dogs (either behind a fence or chained up) and she pays them no mind.  She might look at them, but she doesnt bark at them or go crazy or try to get to them.  She just trots nicely along, giving anyone who notices a misguided impression that she's a good dog.  If we meet another dog walker, and they're on the other side of the road, same thing.  The other dog might be going crazy, but Pickles doesnt even seem to notice.  If a dog is loose and approaches, Pickles wants to play, but she's not too pushy about it. 

Off the leash, it's another story.  We don't routinely let her run loose, but she keeps a good look out in the house.  If another dog, cat or person comes on our property, she goes ballistic.  She can also get very excited if she's riding and we see another dog.  Once when she was a puppy, she jumped out of the window of our truck, while it was moving (slowly, thank heavens) past a neighbor's dog.  They stood there face to face about a foot a part and barked at each other.

So, why is she so docile on a leash, and so excitable when she's not on a leash?  I've had this long standing "dog behind a fence" theory of behavior, which I also apply to humans. My theory is a dog tends to be more aggressive when there is no possibility of physically confronting the object of the aggression.  Or conversely, when there is no possibility of the object of the aggression physically confronting the dog.  Substitute human for dog, for a more general application of the theory.  I don't know if this is true or not, I've done no studies, no dogs have filled out questionnaires.  And obviously this would not apply to dogs who may be sociopaths or psychotic, just your normal goofy tail wagging bone chewing dog.  But I think it's true.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Our eBay month - June 2011

June was a very good month for us.  It was also the end of the 2nd quarter, which causes a fanatical urge to compare quarters so I shall do so, briefly.

We know exactly why June was a very good month. In May we bought 10 cabinet cards of Native American Indians.  We paid a bit more than usual for a group of 10, but they looked very interesting.  The person who sold them didn't know if they were original or reprints.

We couldn't tell for sure either - we do not consider ourselves experts or authorities, but we are gaining quite a bit of experience.  We've sold hundreds of 19th century, early and mid-20th century photographs, so we know what they look like.  There is a big difference between the looks of a snapshot from the 1940's, a gelatin silver photo from the early 20th century and a late 19th century albumen print. I'm talking about he physical characteristics of the photo, not the subject matter.  We've gotten pretty good at estimating the age of a photo with a glance.  The photos we received did not look like 20th century photos to us.  We looked at them pretty closely too.  We scanned them to see if we saw dots or lines, we looked at them under a magnifying glass.  I made my peace with the world and stared at them.  We saw nothing that would absolutely place these photos in the 20th century.

But still, we had no way to absolutely authenticate them, so we do what we always do when we think we have an original but aren't 100% positive or can't prove it:  we took good pictures, and described it to death.  And included our caveat that we weren't sure.  We started these at a fairly low auction starting price - especially if these are originals.   And we weren't going to argue with anyone - if some one didn't like the photo or it wasn't what they thought we'd refund their money, no questions asked.  After we received the item back, of course.

Every one sold, most sold for MUCH more than our asking price & we made a very good profit on them.  This is the reason we had a very good June.  If these were originals, even the ones who paid a lot of money for them got a bargain.  The people who bought them seem to be happy - so far all our feedback for them has been positive, and we haven't received any low dsr marks. 

Our sales of single postcards were down slightly, in fact they were the lowest this year, but not by much.  All in all post card sales continue to remain steady.  As usual it is the photo sales which seem to determine if we have a better than average month or not.  In June, the photos sales were very good.

Our net for the 2nd quarter - after expenses and stuff - was about 9.5% higher than our net for the 1st quarter of this year.  We are doing much better in 2011 than 2010.  Our net for last month alone was almost as much as our total net for the whole 2nd quarter of 2010.   And our net for the 1st quarter of 2011 almost doubled our net for the 1st quarter of 2010.

I doubt July will repeat June, but you never know.  You just keep plugging away at this stuff and sometimes good things happen.

On July 6th eBay is implementing "new lower rates" for sellers and they're also rolling out a shopping-cart.  I've been with eBay long enough to know that when they implement "new lower rates", it always costs sellers more.  Always.  It will this time too.  I made a prediction awhile back that prices on eBay are going to go up overall, maybe by as much as 20%.  I hold to that, though I can't defend it with any hard data. 

As for a shopping cart, that may bring eBay up to industry standards - it's a common thing on most online sites.   Hopefully it'll work with no glitches.  As sellers we shouldn't even be aware of it's existence. 

Blogger's spell checker doesnt seem to be working - so be kind.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pickles the Dog Vents

It's hot these days, and even tho the dog and I take our walk in the morning (2 miles, give or take), the heat and the humidity are quite evident.  

We have several routes we can take, but I've found that on most occasions I'm following the path with the most shady spots.  When we pass from sun to shade the change in temperature is quite noticeable, at least to me.  Of course humans perspire differently than dogs, so I don't know if Pickles notices it as much.  But I sure do.  I do know that if given a choice of laying down in the sun or the shade, she'll pick the shade every time.  Me too, for that matter.

No matter what, when we get back from these walks, sweat is literally dripping off me, and the dog is involved in some very heavy panting.  We've both developed an after dog walk routine - I stand under a ceiling fan and luxuriate in the cool air blowing down on my sweat covered self.  Pickles plants herself right over top of an air conditioning vent.  She does that so much now that we say she's venting.

After a couple of minutes we both go somewhere else. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Books I've read lately.

I've been remiss on writing about books I've been reading, so I shall do so now.  Quickly.  I'm not going to go into a lot of details, tho.  Or worry too much about grammatical conventions. Just 'cause.

First I read "Five People You Meet In Heaven".  I can't remember the author.  It was a mystical little book about an elderly amusement park worker who died in a work related accident, while trying to save a small girl from the same fate.  After his death he meets 5 people who's lives he impacted, some of whom he'd never known while he was alive.  Basically his whole life history comes out with these people, and it was interesting.  The author's concept of Heaven though has nothing to do with religion, at least not with Judeo-Christian traditions.  You've seen the same concept a thousand times in movies & TV shows.  Heaven is not a physical place but a state of mind, and it's different for each person.  Not sure that'd past muster with a Baptist preacher.

I also read "The Summons" by John Grisham.  This was a good story, I don't think John Grisham writes bad stories, but there wasn't anything great about it.  In this book an elderly judge is dieing, and he summons he two sons (hence the title) to his Mississippi home, supposedly to settle the estate.  But he dies before they arrive, and the more responsible brother finds boxes filled with cash.  Something over $3,000,000.  His father never earned more than $50,000 a year in his life, so something strange has happened.  The rest of the book deals with the money, and has a semi strange (but only semi) twist.  Not bad reading.

Then I read Ken Follet's "The Man From St. Petersburg", which I thought was very good.   The main characters are Felix, a Russian anarchist, and Lady Charlotte, the daughter of the Earl of Walden, and it is set in the summer of 1914, in the months preceding the start of World War I.  It's kind of a spy story, but not really, and it gives vivid descriptions of British society & customs in the early 20th century.  Prince Alexsey has come to England to negotiate a treaty.  The British negotiator is the Earl, who happens to be the Prince's cousin by marriage.  Felix knows that if the negotiations succeed, Russia will enter the coming war on the side of England and France & he wants to stop that.  Not out of love for Germany, he just doesnt want Russia to go to war.  So the story is about his attempts to assassinate the Prince.  Now there is a history between Felix & the Earl of Walden's wife, the result of which was Lady Charlotte, tho the Earl doesn't know.  And Lady Charlotte is coming of age and is expressing a lot of interest in politics, the suffragette movement and society as a whole, much to her mother's dismay.  Felix and Charlotte meet, and she is drawn into the web.  I liked this book a lot.

And I also read "Precious Victims" by a couple of authors who names I can't remember.  This is a true crime book, and tho it told an almost unbelievable story, I thought it was very poorly written.  There were a ton of people in the book, so that was hard to keep straight, and many times they were referred to in one sentence by their first name and the next by their last name, so that just added to the confusion.   The book tells about a couple in Illinois (not to far from St. Louis I gather), Robert and Paula Sims, who had three children in the 1980s.   Both daughters were found dead, and Paula Sims, who gave unbelievable stories in both cases, was convicted of murdering the 2nd daughter.   That's about all I want to say about it, it was pretty tedious.  And not Kafka tedious, but bad writing tedious.  It looked like it was written in a hurry, and could have used a bit more editing.  And it could have been a lot shorter.

I'm one to talk, I know.

Not sure what I'm going to read next.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just One Thing

I have discovered that no matter where you go, there's almost always a road nearby.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Birds in the Birdbath

This is a bunch of birds in our little bird bath, just outside a window in an area shaded by a large oak.  I took several pictures, but I had to take them thru the window because they'd skedaddle as soon as I opened the door, no matter how quietly.  I think there are 8 in this picture, but there had been as many as 12.

It's unusual for this many birds to be in our small bird bath at one time.  Normally it's just a couple at a time, sometimes with others waiting for their turn.  But these guys were having a party in there, literally drinking & splashing out almost all the water.  There were one or two who seemed to be trying to take charge of things, but they weren't having much luck. 

I think these were juvenile delinquent type birds.  I think they hatched not too terribly long ago and are the equivalent of teenagers in the bird world. I think they're all brothers, sisters & cousins.   In a month or two they'll be all grown up and burdened with their bird responsibilities, scatter to the wind and won't have time frivolities like seeing how many birds can pile into a bird bath.  This has been going on for a couple of days, I don't expect it to go on too much longer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Our eBay Month - May 2011

Well April is no longer our worse sales month this year.  May now holds that dubious honor.

Our business is really divided into three sections, 1) postcards 2) photographs 3)Victorian Trade Cards.  We sell other random items occasionally, but the core of our business by far is the sale of single postcards (as opposed to postcard 'lots') and old photographs.  Although I consider Trade Cards to be a main part of the business, postcards and photos is where we concentrate most of the energy.

Our sales of postcards in May was about average.  We actually sold more postcards in May than we did in April, and for a somewhat higher price.  Our sales of photos & trade cards were below average.  In fact Trade Cards only generated about 1/3rd of the money they did in April. 

The trade card sales data in April is a tad askew however, because one of our cards sold for a lot of money.  It got multiple bids, and kept going up and up.  I remember when it hit $40.00, we looked at each other and wondered what these people knew that we didn't.  It went a lot higher, and as a result the we got quite a bit more money for Trade Cards in April than normal, even though we sold pretty much the same number of cards we always do.  Honestly, I would have been happy with $5.00 for that card, and I still don't know what was so special about it.

So in May, postcard and photo sales were roughly equal (actually a little higher) than in April, but Trade Card sales were not.  Hence our gross sales were somewhat lower.   Also, as luck would have it, our business expenses were higher in May than in April.  It all combined to make May a dismal month net sales wise.  April was a bad month, May was worse.

Now a serious question is why have April & May been so poor?  I'm keeping my eye on "Free Shipping".  We recently expanded it.   Not the best timing perhaps - the post office increased their rates - but eBay is implementing changes which make offering Free Shipping advantageous.   However I think this may be a culprit.  Shipping costs are consistently our 2nd highest monthly expense, & we'll have to watch this closely.  If sales don't increase as a result of free shipping, we lose money.

The first 4 days of June have been very good though, I have no idea if it will hold or not.  So far the best month this year has been January.   

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things I've Noticed About Movies & TV Shows

In movies, especially, whenever anyone comes home from grocery shopping they're always carrying a paper bag with a loaf of French Bread sticking out of it. 

Almost no one goes to the bathroom.  Occasionally they do for comedic or shock value, but it's not a normal everyday thing like it is for everybody else.  One exception was Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta's visits to the toilet seemed to be part of the story.  But as a rule, movie people are a non-excremental species.

In movies people can take all kinds of falls without getting hurt.  I've got some news - skidding on concrete hurts.

Ever watch 24?  The whole series is supposed to be about a 24 hr period.  But no one seemed to get tired, hungry, or have the above mentioned need to go to the bathroom. 

In most movies no one ever just stops or starts a car.  They burn rubber, slam on breaks, you can't start or stop in a movie without squealing tires.

-- an aside.  I watched a lot of The Soprano's and I noticed that whenever Christopher showed up at your door unannounced, nothing good was going to happen to you.  Didnt matter if he was smiling. 

In the movies a person can be gravely wounded and shake it off, but as soon as someone tries to bandage the wound, it suddenly hurts.

The movie world is a very violent place, and no one seems to run out of ammunition, no matter how much they shoot without reloading.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Blog

I started a new blog - Postcards & Photos.  Guess what it's about?   There's also a link on the side bar.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Thoughts - dog walks, dreams, twitter and cherries.

Supposedly it's only 79 degrees (at not quite noon), but Pickles and I are here to tell you that it was very warm on our walk this morning.  The air is thick, heavy, with very little if any breeze & both our tongues were hanging out by the time we were done.  Well, that's life in the eastern United States.

On our walk I noticed swarms of very tiny gnat like things flying around.  I avoided them.  Again, life in the eastern United States.

One thing I didn't avoid though was shady spots.  It makes a difference.

For two weeks in a row now, I've forgotten about Wednesday.

I'm wondering about dreams.  For the most part I know I dream, but I can't remember them.  Sometimes I remember flashes of them, and sometimes I remember what I think is the whole thing.  But it's quite rare that I have any recollection of the details of a dream - I just remember I had it.  What I can remember tho is that my dreams all seem to have a thread of tension in them.   I have to be somewhere I can't get to, or I'm lost, or I've not been doing something I've needed to get done, and on and on.  They seem odd to me, but I doubt they are anything special. 

I found I like twitter better than facebook.  I'm not sure why that is, but I'm much more likely to throw a weird blurb out to the ether on twitter than I am on facebook.  In fact I only check in on fb occasionally.

I'm thinking of starting a postcard blog, where I'd post pictures of postcards I like, which may or may not be for sale.  Maybe I'll include photos too.

Patti bought a bunch of sour cherries at the farmer's market Friday.  She wasn't sure what to do with them, so I suggested this.  Pour them in a bowl, add a cup of milk, a couple cups of sugar, some butter, an egg or two, a couple tablespoons of Hershey's Cocoa, a little bit of baking soda, mix it all up, add some flour until it's thick, maybe 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract, pour it into a 9 x 12 inch pan, cook at 325 degrees for 20-25 mins or so, then let it cool and cut into bars.  Spit out any stems and pits you may encounter while eating.   It appears she had other ideas tho.