If Only…

If only I followed my own advice. The advice I use in my books Tagged for Death and The Longest Yard Sale. Yes, even Sarah Winston knows not to buy something at a garage sale without smelling it first. You might look silly opening a drawer, sticking your nose in, and taking a deep breath. But it’s better to look silly than to bring home something that smells bad, really, really bad.

I’ve had this thing about wooden boxes lately. Here are some pictures of a few I picked up.



I don’t know if it’s a good thing I found another source. Here she is:



I recently bought this box at an event that was outside. It’s an old crayon box.











I like boxes that are put together without nails. So the one above caught my eye. It was only $3.00 dollars. (I paid $1.50.) But in my enthusiasm I didn’t take time to do the sniff test and since it was outside I didn’t notice it smelled. When I got it home, every time I walked by I wrinkled my nose because it is so musty.

IMG_4986Charcoal absorbs odors so I filled the box with charcoal briquettes (be sure to use the kind with no additives) and sealed the whole thing in a plastic bag. Some people say that activated charcoal (like the kind used in aquarium filters) works best.

I’ve used briquettes before and they worked. I bought the little chest below at an antique show in Dayton, Ohio. It was in a big gymnasium so again the odor wasn’t apparent. It’s the piece that taught me to always smell before you buy. I filled the drawers IMG_4988with charcoal and in a few weeks the musty smell was gone.

The good news is that if it doesn’t work on the box I can toss it without regret. And buying it reminded me, when I was out at thrift shops this week, to smell before buying. Lesson learned. Again.

Fabulous Finds — Guest Mary Titone

IMG_1697Mary thank you for joining me today and sharing this unique story about your dining room chandelier!

As a military family stationed in Europe, we took advantage of every opportunity to travel. We also got a lot of enjoyment out of shopping for souvenirs, along the way. That’s why, on a spur of the moment trip through Germany, we decided to make a quick foray across the border into Czech Republic to buy a chandelier. Our destination was Karlovy Vary, a beautiful spa town, known for its Bohemian crystal. The traffic was terrible in the city center, we couldn’t find a place to park & were told to move on by a policeman, when we attempted to stop & get our bearings. Frustrated, we drove away, down a side street, where we stumbled upon a brilliantly lit shop with crystal sparkling through the windows. We easily found a chandelier that we both liked, at a reasonable price, & were back in the car, with our conveniently boxed purchase, within 15 minutes. Score!

Over the next few years, we either lived in military quarters or rented properties, so we never had a chance to hang the chandelier. The box remained in storage, until we finally bought our own home in Virginia, when my husband, Mike, was stationed at the Pentagon. We thought it would be perfect in our new dining room. After updating the light fixtures throughout the house, ourselves, we finally got around to the dining room. Anticipating a fairly straightforward project, based on recent experience, we opened the box, only to discover that the whole thing was in individual pieces. Fortunately, there were instructions, but…they were in Czech. There were dozens of crystals to attach & wires to thread through various tubes. Daunted, we put the box aside, wondering if this had, perhaps, not been the wisest purchase we had ever made.

A few weeks later, the box still lay in the dining room, awaiting a resolution, when Mike returned home excitedly from work, & announced that there was a Czech crystal concessionaire, who had a temporary shop at the Pentagon, & was willing to assemble our chandelier. Unbelievably lucky! Getting the boxed fixture to the Pentagon was not a problem, but, once assembled, we would have to transport it back home, gingerly, in the back of our SUV. The plan was for me to drive to the Pentagon &, when I was close, I would call Mike & he would bring the assembled chandelier down to the parking lot, load it into the padded vehicle, & I would be set to go. The plan was unfolding nicely. I called Mike & told him I would be there to meet him shortly, but, then, I missed the entrance &, mistakenly drove across the bridge, over the Potomac River, into downtown Washington, D.C. As Mike stood in the Pentagon parking lot, in uniform, holding up the weight of all those crystals & wires & tubes, I was frantically trying to figure out how to get back across the bridge. I circled past the Lincoln Memorial & the Washington Monument, desperately looking for signs. (This was 10 years ago, so GPS was not available to me; I had to rely on my memory of the layout of D.C.). Fortunately, I was soon able to loop around & I did make it back to meet Mike, but not before he got a lot of strange looks from passerby (as well as some very weary arms).

Our Czech crystal chandelier now serves as a show & tell piece in our home…we show visitors the lovely fixture & tell them the crazy story of its journey.

Magda Toilet Cream

One day when I was wandering around an antique store in Concord, Massachusetts I found the beautiful little jar below. I loved it for two reasons — it was blue and white and it said Boston on it.

IMG_2667I decided to use the jar in the third book of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries , All Murders Final. I wanted to find out more about the jar so I did some research (thank you Google). Boy, was I surprised! There was a jar similar to mine on Etsy and the seller provided a lot of information — you can view the full post here. I had always thought the lid said Counti of Boston with a little extra flourish by the word “Counti”. In reality Countie is the family name of the company that manufactured Magda Toilet Cream. Here’s a picture of the lid:

IMG_2669 The Esty site provided this information: One of the Countie family members was kind enough to contact me and offer more information about this beautiful jar. Here’s what she told me:

‘My Grandfather Francis’ two Uncle’s John and Charles started this business in the late 1800’s. They called it MAGDA toilet cream. They were Chemists in the beauty business and developed this wonderful cream. Beacause it was in such demand, Cheeseborough Company, which is now Pond’s bought the formula and called it Pond’s Cold Cream. They used the porcelain jar back in those days because of it’s lower cost. Pond’s Cold Cream
I love my jar even more now that I know it’s history. IMG_2671

August 2020 update:

I was thrilled to hear from Lori Bermani a member of the Countie family today. Here is what she shared with me.

Dear Sherry, A couple of years ago, my Aunt Jeanette Countie gave me one of the original jars that belonged to the Sister of what would have been my great – great Uncle Charles Countie’s formula for his popular face cream MAGDA TOILET CREAM. Here is a little more history,The drugstore on Charles St. in Boston was in the front of Beacon Hill. He created this cream that had enormous popularity at the time, even with American actress Lillian Russell. He sent to China to have these little jars made for the cream. (He later sold the formula to Pond’s) The jar I got is larger and quite wonderful. I notice on eBay at times, people either will sell the cover alone or the whole jar. The original jars are Countie of Boston on the top. MAGDA TOILET CREAM is on one side with C.J. COUNTIE & Co CHEMISTS BOSTON U.S.A under the O in Co it has .. If this jar reads COUNTIE of CHICAGO, it is not the original authentic jar. (like anything nice, it is a duplicate from the original jar). I believe this to be the rest of the history to the story of the wonderful pottery jar called MAGDA TOILET CREAM. My Aunt Jeanette passed away last year and this was a letter of the story that she wrote to me in her own handwriting. Thank you Sherry for keeping the legacy of this jar continuing.. Lori (Countie) Bermani. Boston, Ma. August 2020

It’s fascinating that Lori is a makeup artist and an Esthetician in Massachusetts. Skincare runs in the family.

Old Things

I am cross posting this from the Wicked Cozy Authors website.

IMG_2611I was looking for a scrapbook I made when I was in third grade that was full of vintage valentines. I didn’t find the scrapbook but I did come across a bag of photos and postcards that were from my grandparent’s farm in Novinger, Missouri. I’m guessing keeping old photos in a plastic bag isn’t the smartest way to keep things. The chair in the background also came from my grandparents farm.



IMG_2624I didn’t find a valentine but I found an Easter card.

This seems to be some kind of attendance record. Each airplane represents a day my dad attended Sunday School. There’s a whole stack of them — a fall one with squirrels, a IMG_2614Christmas one with candles, one with cows, but I liked this one with the airplanes.

I found this picture of my grandfather in World War One. As I recall he was in New York City ready to board a ship for Europe but for some reason was pulled out and spent the IMG_2620war in NYC. I think it’s where these postcards came from. I love the colors.IMG_2604IMG_2602My dad served in World War Two. I think the first one was taken in Iowa City.IMG_2617This one is in the Philippines. He spent the war at headquarters instead of in combat because he knew how to type and could run the teletype machine. But he told us a story of how he and his buddy hadn’t IMG_2618finished digging their foxhole and the Japanese attacked. The pictures below are self explanatory.









And a picture of me from college that was in the newspaper my grandparents subscribed to. Can you tell which one is me?

IMG_2622Readers: Do you have a favorite old photo or postcard? What is it?

Left Behind

I love going to yard sales — even when I travel but I hate finding things that I’d buy if I was at home. Here are a few things I had to leave behind.


IMG_0205This chaise is from a yard sale in Destin, Florida. No way to cram it in my suitcase.

IMG_0206I loved the white bed frame — lot of potential to make a bench.

IMG_0243IMG_0244When I was visiting St. Louis for a wedding I spent the morning going to yard sales with a friend. We came across this bedroom set and the man only wanted $30.00 a piece for the set. It’s hard to tell but the drawers were dovetailed in the dresser above. Maybe it’s a good thing I couldn’t get it all home.

IMG_0245More fun finds in St. Louis. I loved the picnic baskets.

IMG_0260I didn’t really want the Harley but I’d never seen one at at garage sale before!

IMG_0247I finally found something that would fit in the suitcase. I couldn’t resist bringing a couple of tins home. On the bottom of the tins it says: Desgined by Daher, Long Island, NY 11101 Container made in England. Did you ever have to leave something behind?

Bartering on Portobello Road

IMG_2539I’m not a big fan of bucket lists but as a garage sale enthusiast there are events I want to attend. The World’s Longest Yard Sale is held every year in August. It follows Route 127 for 690 miles, beginning 5 miles north of Addison, Michigan and ending in Gadsen, Alabama. Portobello Road market is in London and Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen is outside of Paris.

IMG_2543Last spring I finally made it to Portobello Road with my family and my daughter’s roommate in tow. It was packed with people, vendors and food stands — everything I dreamed it would be. As we squeezed through the crowds of people we heard many different languages. Lots of people shared my enthusiasm for Portobello Road.

My daughter loves elephants and as we visited the various booths we kept an eye out for them. Finally about halfway down the street she spotted a painting of three elephants. We asked the owner how much he wanted and he said 30 pounds which translated to roughly 45 dollars. My daughter studied the painting, hem and hawed, and eventually set it down deciding she didn’t want to pay that much.

IMG_2545After we walked a few steps away, I pulled her aside and told her we could offer him less. She asked how much. I told her we’d try this: We’ll offer him 15 pounds. He’ll say no. I’ll ask what is your best price and he’ll say 20 pounds. Do you want it for 20 pounds? That’s about 30 dollars. My daughter agreed but asked me to do the negotiating.

We returned to the booth. “Will you take 15 pounds?” I asked. He clasped his arms to his chest and said, “that hurt my heart a little.” I said, “Mine too.” He laughed and studied me. “How about 20 pounds?” he asked. “Sold,” I said. I was shocked it played out exactly as I said it would. But I let my family think I was a bartering goddess.

IMG_3346_2My daughter and her roommate caught bartering fever. As we continued shopping they begin to ask for a better price. Sometime the answer was yes, sometimes no, some things were left behind. It was fun passing on the thrill of buying something and bartering for a better price.