SWAP! (Or, Are You Going to Wear That? I Mean, Like, Ever Again?)

Remember that adorable black-and-white sweater I was wearing back on the 13th?  (Click here to see that post.)  I promised I’d tell you the story of how I’d acquired it.

me -- February rêveuse

A couple of years ago, it became very chic for women to host swap meets with their girlfriends.  The recession had been hammering down upon the whole country for so long, the recovery slow.  In a strong environmental push, some of the people who suddenly had little (or less than they’d had before) were finally realizing the intelligence of reduce, reuse, and recycle.  And women’s magazines began featuring articles about Swap Meets.

The concept is simple:  you bring the things you don’t want or need anymore and give them to others who can make use of them, and you take home their stuff you can make use of that they can’t.  (The generally-accepted rules for how to host your own party are below.)  Parents of small children have been enjoying this principle with other young families forever:  how many of us wore hand-me-downs?

There’s new terminology for it now, too, to give the whole concept a little flair and to encourage everyone to feel good about it all.  “Recycle” has become “upcycle,” “hand-me-downs” have become “hand-me-ups.”  Euphemisms aside, though, it’s a concept that, if performed thoughtfully, frequently works.

So after reading about Swap Meets enough times — and yes, I do occasionally read certain women’s magazines, don’t judge — I decided I wanted to try it out.  I emailed all my girlfriends to explain the concept (as if they didn’t know) and to ask, who might be up for it?

As it turned out, the answer was most of them.

We’ve had a few Swap Meets over the last couple of years.  Not everyone can make it to every one, but usually between eight and ten can, which is a really good number.  This is the sort of activity that works well once or twice a year, because inevitably the group is a little different each time, and it seems like, in our cluttered lives, cleaning out the closets is always a good idea.  If you’re like me, your closet isn’t quite big enough to hold all your clothes and wardrobe accessories, so every spring and every fall, when it’s clear the weather has really turned the corner, I switch out about half my clothes for the appropriate season.  And while I recognize that in the early 1990s the style etiquette mavens decreed that white was perfectly fine to wear in the winter in warm-weather climates, I still like to keep the bright whites, the dainty florals, and the pale flowy garments separate from the heavy colors, heavy fabrics, and heavy mood of the glorious colder months.  So twice a year I’m compelled to make an inventory of my wardrobe and clear stuff out.

It’s an exercise in streamlining that may one day, hopefully, evolve into the ability to handle all the cluttered details in my life, and I know this, and I’m okay with that.

Now, if you really want to clear stuff out of your house — because, let’s be honest, that feels good — the trick of the Swap Meet is to take and give away a whole lot more than you bring back home.  At our last one, I took about a carload of goodies and brought home four new things, one of which was that delightful sweater, and another of which was a pair of incredibly hot vintage-inspired black velvet heels which my friend Marcie wore once and then decided were too tall for her to walk around her campus in every day.  Score!  I’ll be wearing them tonight to a fancy fundraiser at my school.

Thank you for having a job where you walk to work, Marcie!
Thank you for having a job where you walk to work, Marcie!

So by now, no doubt, you’re ready to host one of these parties yourself, aren’t you?  Well, there are a few rules.  Not many, and they’re largely common sense, but they do matter just to make sure everything goes smoothly, that there’s no confusion or mismanaged expectations.


1.  First of all, contribute to the Swap Meet only those items which are in good condition.  Avoid bringing anything you’ve decided to discard because it’s worn out or stained or in need of mending you don’t have the time or expertise for.  The general thought is that if it could be sold at a consignment shop, then it’s probably a good candidate.

2.  This is for (insert category here) only.  That means, just the ladies, or just the guys (if they’re interested), or just children’s clothes, or just home furnishings, etc.  Keep it simple so everyone knows what they’re getting into, and if they’re not interested, they won’t show up and then be bored or disappointed.  (A side note:  necktie swaps for men have shown some promise at some workplaces, but I’m not sure they’ve truly caught on yet.)

3.  Turn your living room (or wherever you’re hosting it) into a boutique.  Lay out the clothes nicely:  hang them up, fold them neatly on a table, stack the shoes and purses artfully as if you were preparing a window or shop display.  The idea is to make the overall environment cute and appealing rather than making it look like a picked-over garage sale.  This may sound intimidating, but it’s not so difficult once you start, and if you’re not as confident as you could be about your ability to do this, enlist a friend with good design sense (think, a well-ordered or nicely decorated home) to help you.

4.  Everyone who comes to the party must bring something to give away.  (Again, this isn’t a garage sale.)  Even if you bring only one or two items, don’t show up empty-handed.  And remember that a variety of sizes for a variety of guests is a good thing!  Often what we purge from our closets is what, heartbreakingly, doesn’t fit anymore.  It’s fun to share that favorite blouse you’ll never wear again with one of your good friends on whom it would look fabulous.

5.  In order to get everything set up before people begin browsing your displays, ask that everyone give you their items before the day of the Swap Meet — or else come over an hour early to help set up.  Also have a defined time for when things begin and when they end.  For example, we usually say the party will be from 1:00 to 3:00, and that no one may begin swapping or claiming items until 1:00.  Anyone who’s late understands the consequences of that.  Anyone who shows up at noon to help set up will get a sneak preview of what’s being offered.  (Reminding your friends of this can sometimes actually  result in more people coming to help set up.)

6.  No money changes hands for anything.  This is non-negotiable, or it ceases to be a Swap Meet and becomes something else.

7.  Lay out some treats for the party:  light finger-foods, a little dessert, some wine or punch or whatever.  Remember that it’s not a typical meal-time, and that people are going to be trying on clothes — bedrooms and bathrooms usually work well as fitting rooms — and that probably no one wants to eat anything heavy.  Keep the menu simple, light, and festive, and don’t forget the small plates and napkins.  One successful menu I’ve used which resulted in very little waste and general yumminess all around:

  • hummus and pita bread triangles
  • simple antipasti tray:  cubes of three different kinds of cheese, sliced pepperoni, mild olives (Some gently-herbed flatbread crackers make a lovely companion to this.)
  • sliced vegetables with Love Dip or some other festive spread rather than just the same old Ranch (Remember, we’re not kids anymore and can try other interesting flavors.)
  • bite-size cream puffs (You can find them in the frozen section of the grocery store.  Just get one box, though!  Or if you’re extra health-conscious, go for a fruit salad or tray of already-cut fruit, which people will often be more likely to nosh on than whole fruits like bananas, apples, and even clementines that haven’t been peeled or cut.)
  • a light white wine if people are interested, assorted individual teas, bottled water, maybe a ginger ale punch

8.  When your party comes to an end, make sure everything left over gets either boxed up to store for the next Swap Meet or else donated.  This is very important if your goal is (at least in part) to clear the clutter out of your house.  No one should repay the hostess for her hospitality by leaving all the unclaimed stuff in her living room!  Make a plan before the party to take what’s left over to a nearby charity or donation center, if you like, thereby doing something really good for other people in need.  Just be sure everyone knows from the outset that they must either take their leftover items back home with them or else have an immediate/same-day plan for getting them out of your house.

And ta-da!  It’s a party with little clean-up, you’ve had fun with your girlfriends, and your closet has been cleaned out.

Swap Meets for the win!

Puritan Valentine Cards

Okay, I realize this is very geeky, but have you seen the Puritan Valentine Cards floating around?  They are too funny.  Click the link below for the entertainment to begin.

Puritan Valentine Cards

Don’t forget that today is also Generosity Day:  a chance for you to do something kind for anyone and everyone (as if you needed an opportunity other than waking up in the morning to get that done).



Rêveuses, Rêveuses Everywhere! (And One Young Rêveur.)

Well, today was really remarkable for those of us identifying to be dreamers.  I wore my usual 13th of the month color scheme, and when I got to school this morning, I was stunned to see Continue reading “Rêveuses, Rêveuses Everywhere! (And One Young Rêveur.)”

A Valentine Story

My grandfather Joe, on my dad’s side, fought alongside his brothers and cousins for the US in WWII.  He found himself in multiple theaters: at Normandy, in Northern Africa, in Italy.  And unlike many men of that generation, he never shied away from telling us stories about the war, but he picked his tales carefully.  We heard anecdotes about the lighter side of things, such as the small black goat they bought from a man on the side of the road; they named the kid Midnight and made him their company’s mascot for a while.

My favorite story, though, was the one he and my grandmother, Rose, told us about how they met and married.  Seeing as Valentines’ Day approaches with relentless haste and this is such a sweet tale, I want to share it with you.  My grandmother isn’t alive anymore, and my grandfather is in his nineties, and now just feels like the right time to commit this story to writing.

My grandfather was on a thirty-day furlough from the army and was headed home to Houston.  It was the mid-1940s, and he’d had several tours in the war already.  He came back stateside to the northeast and then took a long train ride down to San Antonio, where he would need stay at the base for processing for three days before continuing on home.  On the train to Texas, he sat across from a man he didn’t know, but who had “the map of Lebanon on his face.”  Always happy to meet any ethnic brethren, my grandfather introduced himself, and on that journey, they became friends.

I don’t remember the other Lebanese man’s name, but he lived in San Antonio, and he invited my grandfather to come home with him for real food instead of staying at the base the whole time.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

Now, across the street from that hospitable gentleman lived the Sacres, another Lebanese family.  The Sacres had six grown children, three boys and three girls; their boys had been in the war, too, and they had a kindly habit of inviting the Lebanese GIs coming through San Antonio over for dinner.  When they found out their across-the-street neighbor was home and that he had a friend with him, the dinner invitation couldn’t come fast enough.

The Sacre daughters — Mary, Sarah, and Rose — were all beautiful as could be, and they were polite to the soldiers at dinner.  And afterward the young people all went out bowling.

(Yes, bowling.  Fun Sacre pastime that, like playing Canasta, lasted all the way to my generation.)

Over the next three days, while my grandfather was in town, they all continued to meet and go out, but it was clear that he had a particular interest in Rose.  The oldest sister, Mary, told Rose she should date him.  He was good-looking and from a well-heeled family in Houston.  My grandmother was ambivalent, largely because when the soldiers had come for dinner that first night, my grandfather had kept staring at her.

“I was admiring your dress,” he insisted when they told me this story.

“You were looking at my chest,” she scolded him.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were,” she said.  She turned to me. “I had on this white eyelet dress, and it was pretty, I guess.”

“Very pretty,” my grandfather corrected her.  She shrugged, but even more than fifty years later, she still blushed cheerfully about it.

So in those three days, the young folks managed to see each other quite a bit.  Joe told Rose he’d be back in a couple of weekends, and he hoped she’d go out with him again.

“Okay,” she responded casually, but with a very nice smile.

When she told her older sister Mary about it, Mary was very keen that Rose go out with him.  But my grandmother could be a bit stubborn and never liked being told what to do.  She acted noncommittal and advised Mary that she should go out with him instead.  Well, of course that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, Joe came back to San Antonio and took Rose to a dance.  He told her he wanted to marry her.  I’m not sure what had changed in my grandmother’s mind in those two weeks, but she agreed.  While my grandfather was on leave, the war ended, and he was discharged from the army so he could come back to Houston and make his life as a grocer.

And as a husband.  A couple of months later, Joe and Rose married.  They went to the beach for a little honeymoon.  They lived in Houston, had seven children, and — though it wasn’t any more perfect than any other marriage, and in some ways it was rockier at times — they made a pretty good life of it.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2001, a few weeks after they celebrated their anniversary.  It was a party around her sickbed.  She was lucid, we all managed to be cheerful, and there were so many friends and family members around we couldn’t all fit.  The cake was enormous, and my grandfather held her hand all afternoon.


Last year around this time, I suggested you should write a love note to someone — anyone — for Valentines’ Day.  I think this ought to be an annual tradition.  Go ahead, write a love note, write a poem if you like, write a card.  Do something wonderful for someone you care about.

Here, Dear Readers, is a valentine for you.

My daughter made this.  Pretty cool, huh?  She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend.  I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.
My daughter made this. Pretty cool, huh? She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend. I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.

100 Days of School

Today was the 100th day of the academic year at my kids’ school.  All the grades observe this in some festive way.  The kindergarten — of which Tiny Beowulf is a member — celebrate by having every child make a poster for homework in the couple of weeks leading up to the 100th day upon which they must mount 100 items in some sort of grouping.  For example, the year my daughter was in kindergarten, she brought in a posterboard with ten groups of ten Disney princess stickers.  It was adorable, and she was proud of her work, and we were proud of her.

Well, Tiny Beowulf wasn’t interested in putting stickers on a posterboard  No, he had his own design concept in mind.  We went to the craft store to find supplies, and he picked out a red foam board.  Dark red, because that’s one of the colors he can reliably see with his particular cocktail of vision anomalies.  And when we got home, he asked for a black Sharpie — always a dangerous proposition — and drew a monster.

What were his 100 items, you might be asking?

Go ahead, try not to giggle with glee.  I dare you.
Go ahead, try not to giggle with glee. I dare you.

Googly eyes.  Yes, 100 googly eyes.  Ten on the monster’s face and ninety on the monster’s ninety eyestalks.

After pasting the ten eyes on the face itself, I suggested the monster should maybe have a nose and a mouth.

“Oh, good idea,” Tiny Beowulf said.  Then he meticulously drew a single dot for the nose and a short, upwardly-curving line for the mouth.  Seriously.  See if you can find them amidst all those eyeballs.

The best part?  (Other than the sheer incredible awesomeness, that is.)  No one is going to think Mom and Dad did his homework for him.  And that’s just the way we all like it.