The Goodwill Project: It’s a shell game.

Kind of, anyway. You’re never sure what you’ll find when you lift up the cup. And with “circuit shopping” — my self-imposed strategy for hitting up one or two of the half-dozen Goodwill Stores near my house each week— you never know if you’re headed in a lucky, treasure-filled direction or not.

And therein lies the fun.

I have some look-fors on my list: I’ll reveal them when I find them. And I have a small collection I’m working to enhance, but that too, I’ll tell you about in good time. Otherwise, I have a budget of $9 per store to find that which I like or need— or that which I’ve never even imagined— among the aisles of other people’s castoffs in this game I call The Goodwill Project.

I wasn’t looking for someone else’s seashell collection when I went to the Goodwill Store in Roswell. And had I been, I don’t think I’d ever thought to find it in a jar that formerly held chocolate-covered raisins, but indeed, there it was. A 99 cent price tag on the bottom got my imagination stirring.

My once-brilliant idea to create a seashell garden along the path around my house had gone way to the first rain, later defiled with pine straw, gumballs, dried leaves and neglect. But it’s Spring and the perfect time for reawakening, so I popped the jar into my cart and headed for checkout.

A fresh bag of play sand on the way home and my seashell garden is back and ready for more rain, falling debris and inevitable neglect.

Garden passersby might think I’m a particularly lucky beachcomber. I’ll pass the seashell garden with perfect contentment that junk is my genius.

Ninety-nine cents fills a seashell garden quite nicely. Might have missed out on the waves and sand, but I’ll save my raisin container just in case I can wrangle a beach trip this summer.

The Goodwill Project: Following my own ‘mom preach’ advice

“If you bring home shopping bags, fill them with clothes or other items you no longer need or want for donation before you put the new stuff away.”

That was just one “mom preach” of mine that worked a small portion of the time. The concept is a good one, though, especially if you happen to be living in a filled-to-the-brim home that is now bigger than you need and yet you can’t resist the thrill of the hunt in this game you’ve dredged up called The Goodwill Project.

Perhaps my attempt at “Fulfillment in the Time of Corona,” The Goodwill Project is proving to work for me. I’m having a lot of fun perusing through junk and energizing my life with the spoils. I justify it with something I call “conscientious editing.”

It’s simple: Identify that which you don’t love or has run its course, and replace it with something you do. Conscientious editing can work in reverse, too: Find something you love, and take away something you don’t.

I found this charming little piece of original art likely painted by someone in a country I’ll never get a chance to visit. A brightly colored agrarian scene, its canvas looks to be a reed or dried leaf of some kind. It had been crookedly mounted on a piece of cardboard and placed in an all-wrong gold frame. I snatched it up at the Goodwill near Perimeter Mall for $2.99.

I brought it home and switched out the frame to one I had in a closet and headed to the room in my house with the brightest colors: the bathroom off the laundry room. It’s small and it’s covered with things I love and with things I didn’t even realize I didn’t.

A quick perusal and I hit upon a set of three iron insect things that had been hanging over the hand towel ring for longer than I can remember. They were cool enough when I hung them there, but a heedful look with Marie Kondo eyes and I realized they were bringing me no pleasure at all.

I popped them off the wall, pulled out the bottom two nails and hung my new piece of art on the top nail. Now I smile at it every time I wash my hands in that bathroom.

And the iron insect things are in a bag in my trunk to drop off at my next visit on the Goodwill circuit. Right next to the all-wrong gold frame.

Conscientious editing makes this spot much more pleasant to me now. (Disregard that messy paint blotch on the wall. I forgot what happened there, but I’ve chosen to keep it as a reminder of that flaws can be beautiful too. Especially when you don’t want to repaint.)

Goodwill Hunting: Why didn’t I think of that before?

The Goodwill Project is scoring big with unexpected and “what-can-I-turn-it-into” finds, but I’m feeling a little off my game that I didn’t think of “Goodwill Hunting” for the name of the operation before I kicked it off. That idea came from my ever-punny sister.

A little after-the-fact, of course, so I’m feeling like it’s best to chalk it up to that which I will impart upon you as the biggest and most important lesson of bargain hunting: “You snooze, you lose,” also known as “Late to the party, ain’t no party,” or “He who hesitates, suffocates.” Point being, the heartaches are as plentiful in Goodwill Hunting as the jubilations. The only thing worse than a “just-miss” is a “can’t decide-then-return-to-find-out-it’s-gone.”

I’ll stick with my plan and the name of my project, but know that if I were as punny and quick as Linda, the whole thing would have a better name.

I am open, however, to changing the rules when I neeed to. As you know from my previous blog, the rules for this circuit shopping of Goodwill stores game of mine include a methodical sweep starting at the back left of the store moving clockwise, a no-hesitation collection of that which intrigues, and a strict (with exceptions) cart edit and final purchase limit of $9 per store.

I had to make up a new rule for the Bunny Bowl.

Just two days before Easter I found the pewter stand for $2.99. Three rabbits positioned around a base to hold something up, so I figured it must be for a glass bowl of some kind, but there was none in sight. I scooted over to the aisle with the glassware and tried out every bowl. The one I landed on couldn’t be the intended because I think the design would have had it fitting closer to the bunnies’ outstretched hands, but I liked the way it looked anyway. The leaded glass bowl was $6.99, so together 98 cents over the limit.

As any true bargain buccaneer knows, while I might not have ever found a lone pewter bunny stand again, another leaded glass bowl could easily be scored at another visit on another day, but it was a holiday find after all and I was feeling frisky. I made a new rule that the $9 limit could be broken when two unrelated items were unearthed in the same store and the whole was better than the sum of its parts. I wheeled to the checkout counter and bought the Bunny Bowl.

The Bunny Bowl would probably really be pretty filled with a colorful salad, but sausage ball appetizers also worked.

The Goodwill Project: Self- imposed rules that are destined to change

I recently described myself as a “one-good-pattern-deserves-eight-or-ten-more” kind of girl. Subtlety has never been a gift; more-is-more and all that.

Here’s the thing though: While overplay may have defined my first handful of decades, it’s not so much true any more. These days, I’m yenning in a more subtract-simplify-streamline direction. A trendier tie-in to the whole leave-no-footprint thing, it might beg the questions, “Why The Goodwill Project?” “Why a manic forage through other people’s junk?” “Why shopping for things you really don’t need?” “Why now?”

The answer is in The Goodwill Project’s rules of the game:

  1. Wander each store on the circuit in the same defined pattern: Start back left slowly moving along each aisle to back right of store; finish with a few pop-ins on the miles of clothing, handbag and shoe racks.
  2. Fill your cart with things that really intrigue you; take pictures of those that closely tempt or totally confuse you.
  3. Edit your cart to what you can buy for $9 or less.
  4. Travel the route in reverse to return all that doesn’t fit within Rule No. 3 with a careful eye toward treasures you might have missed.

Only the $9 rule can be broken:

  • Items that fit with long-term-goal finds (a future blog)
  • Big ticket items you simply can’t resist
  • Finds such as the Hope Diamond II, a previously-unknown Vermeer, or something similar

I broke the $9 rule this weekend with the purchase of a desk chair justified as a big ticket item that I simply couldn’t resist. It turns out to be way more fun and comfortable than the dining room chair I’ve been spending hours at a time on since the work-from-home pandemic days. I snagged it for $9.99 at the store on Buford Highway near Clairmont.

This desk chair is in perfect condition. I bought it for $9.99 at the Goodwill in Northeast Plaza. The store is in the same location that Pogos and Packets was oh-so-many years ago. I experienced the distinct taste sensation of my first and last Singapore Sling when I walked through the door.

The Goodwill Project: The logic—and lack thereof— behind the plan

Circuit shopping is the brainchild behind my plan for The Goodwill Project. There are five or more Goodwill Thrift Stores within a 10- or 15-minute drive from my house. I plan to shop one every other day or so for the next year in a methodical—or perfectly arbitrary—rotation. Just like the rest of life, I expect I’ll be five minutes late for the find of the century one day, and unearthing amazing treasure the next.

The thrill of the hunt has always been what stirs me, and I’ve been junking long before junking was cool. My Rodeo Drive is a flea market, garage sale or antique shop, and the junkier it is, the better I like it. I’ve popped in Goodwill stores a few times when I’m staging a house and have always had good luck, but oddly enough, its really never been on my radar until a few weeks ago.

The shelter-in-place months got me started. I sorted closets, re-thought clutter and filled my car 15 times or more for a dropoffs at Goodwill. About midway through those trips I started venturing inside to see what new clutter I might be missing out on.

What I found surprised me.

All Goodwill Thrift Stores are merchandised in the same way: clothes and shoes are in the front; furniture, lamps and art are in the back left corner; and aisles from left to right across the back are adeptly organized with glassware, dishes and serving plates, plastic things, baskets, holiday items, toys, books and videos.

Each row’s endcaps are merchandised by color. It’s adorable. Some stores do it better than others, but you’ll find a charming display of only purple items on the end of one aisle, only red items on another, and so on.

The prices are awesome—way better than you can find at a flea market or antique mall these days. Small furniture items can be as low as $7.99 and rarely more than $39.99. All books are under $3 and knicknacks can range from under a dollar to rarely over $5.

Even cooler? Music from their own Goodwill Radio plays throughout the store while you shop. I can always be certain to get my fix of Maroon Five while I peruse others’ castoffs, and that’s good because Adam Levine also stirs me.

I’m a newbie Goodwill groupie. And in my quest for a new project to stimulate the senses, I’m laying plans for The Goodwill Project. Next up, I’ll fill you in on the rules and the list of ultimate finds. Come along with me, y’all. Let’s see what we can ferret out.

The Goodwill Project begins: Think “Julie and Julia,” only with junk.

In “Julie and Julia,” Amy Adams plays the role of Julie Powell, a woman who sets out to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” She spends a year experimenting with each recipe and blogs about each dish along the way. Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, though the movie’s portion of her story is set nearly four decades earlier when Child is living in France and perfecting her recipes in preparation of publication of the now-famous book. The true stories of the two women intertwine, though they never actually meet.

My newest venture, the Goodwill Project, is like that. Except it’s completely different.

I’ve missed writing, and I love rooting through other people’s castoffs, so I’m going to combine the two into something new to keep me busy. Like Julie, I intend to make The Goodwill Project a year-long experiment, and like Julie I have outlined a crafty set of rules for myself along the way. But instead of cooking, my plan is to circuit shop the six-or-so Goodwill stores that are a reasonable distance from my house, hitting several each week.

And like Julie, I’ll blog about my adventures along the way.

What am I looking for? Where did this idea come from? What are the rules of the game? Never fear, dear readers, all will unfold as the project embarks in the coming days. Mask up and come along for the ride with me. It’s barely started and I’m already having the most fun I’ve had since before COVID-19!

A personal story that’s personal to many

The Dunwoody Crier has published its last issue and we are a community in mourning. Here’s my story and a copy of this week’s final publication.

The wind brought me to The Crier but this isn’t a personal story.

The truth is, the horrific winds of April 9, 1998, brought a lot of Dunwoody citizens to The Crier. For those whose homes were damaged or destroyed on the night of the Dunwoody tornado, The Crier became a lifeline. The newspaper in the familiar blue bags that landed on our driveways every week took on a new meaning as the newspaper covered issues that touched each victim as personally as any news coverage ever had. For many, it was more than a year before insurance settlements could be made, contractors secured, homes rebuilt and life returning to normal, and it was The Crier that provided the glue to hold us together and the proof that our community cared.

I joined The Crier staff a few weeks after the tornado to cover the recovery with a weekly column. I filled 500 words every week for a year with news, opportunities and encouragement in “Recovery Update.” And when the year was up and the stories were finally dwindling, I transitioned to a more widespread column of community news with “Over the Picket Fence” that appeared every week for 16 years.

I was new to Dunwoody in 1998, and the fact that one of the country’s most experienced and respected journalists was at the helm of its community news escaped me initially, but it didn’t take long before I understood that value and Dick Williams became a true and consistent friend and mentor.

The Crier’s tornado coverage won journalism awards, and for many, turned the paper into a must-read, as much for its coverage as for the sense of community it forged.

The Crier helped build my business but this isn’t a personal story.

The fact is, there are loads of businesses that can directly cite The Crier as the conduit for connecting their business to the community it serves. Long-time residents can no doubt flip through their contact lists of go-tos — whether it’s a favorite jeweler or plumber, doctor or insurance provider, restaurant or garage door repair company— and realize they were first introduced via The Crier.

My husband Tom and I have advertised in The Crier since we began our residential real estate business almost 14 years ago. More, I advertised my graphic design work in the classifieds for many years. Our client lists are filled with lovely people we connected with through its pages.

Crier advertisers are loyal and the community has been loyal to them. The opportunity to promote our community’s businesses via print in a respected and well-read local publication may have been a luxury that perhaps we all took for granted.

The Crier made me a writer but this isn’t a personal story.

Indeed, the opportunities to report the news or weave a feature story have been afforded to many by Dick Williams in The Crier. And it’s because of that chance that many of us have unleashed a passion for the pen that we never knew we had.

Dick has given opportunity to students for first-time reporting of their high school sports teams and many have gone on to make it a career just as many of its earliest reporters. Many early reporters cut their teeth on Dunwoody stories and now report in feature magazines and larger market publications.

I’ve published two novels, and without question, the courage and passion that led to that dream came directly from my experience writing from The Crier. Dick gave me the chance to spread my passion for community in my weekly column that led to a fervor for writing that continues to bring me much joy. And I’m not alone— there are half-a-dozen or more published books that have come from current and former Crier writers, and I trust they feel the same way.

The Crier made me a part of this community but this isn’t a personal story.

Dick tells me that he feels that every community deserves a newspaper, and I know he means it from the depth of his soul.

He’s sad to close the doors of The Crier, and what this all means for some of us who have lived and loved it here is only just beginning to sink in.

I’m proud of my 21-year affiliation with the little community of The Crier staff led by a man I’ll always love and admire. For me, it’s that little community that made me a part of the much bigger, but still-small Dunwoody community.

But this isn’t a personal story.

The Crier was a conduit for an entire community to feel a part of itself. We’ll find our way, I suppose. But it will never be the same.

Kathy Florence’s “Over the Picket Fence” column ran in The Crier from 1999 through 2015.

A case for Chia pets.

Though it was 15 years ago now, the “SM Armpit Incident,” as it’s been tagged in my family, never seems to escape discussion when my kids and husband are ragging on Mom. Such was the gathering at the Flo house this weekend. I took another look at the story’s chronicle I’d written in my weekly column in The Crier’s “Over the Picket Fence.” It can also be found on page 49 of my first book, “You’ve Got a Wedgie Cha Cha Cha.” I share it with you now:

December 8, 2004

I’ve Got Something Up My Sleeve.  And I suspect you’ll never guess what. I assure you I was not expecting it either. 

I spotted the jar from across the store and with my fists full of shopping bags, I rustled over with the same kind of raging passion that the jar’s contents had stirred in me decades ago. 

Like any child longs for the love and passion of a pet, I had begged and cried for my own. I tacked pictures from the back pages of my Archie Gang comic books on the refrigerator with PLEASE written in my best cursive. And I dreamed about their sweet faces, crowned heads and wiggly tails smiling at me from the home I would lovingly create for them.

No wonder I was so intrigued! Look at this description” “They swim, play, scoot, race and do comical tricks and stunts.” I no-doubt sent my money in quarters taped to the back of form, especially excited to see a sea monkey “scoot.”

Yes, of course, we’re talking about sea monkeys. 

And after all these years, here were sea monkeys for sale at the mall. And just like the ones that had finally arrived in my mailbox oh so many years ago, they looked nothing like the drawing in the comic book ads or on the box they were selling at the mall. In fact, it looked just like tap water if you dare to look closely — just little specks of nothing floating around in the water.

I was immediately filled with that same sense of self-doubt and Emperor’s New Clothes inferiority that I felt when looking at my children on scratchy black sonogram photos. What am I missing here? Is it just me that can’t see a family of monkey-shaped water cuties in this jar? How can they dare to think more could be fooled by this promise of pets to love and love back?

What could this mockery possibly cost, I wondered. 

I turned the jar over to look at the price tag and te entire sticky sea and its fake monkeys poured down the sleeve of my coat sopping the arm of my sweater from one end to the other. 

I gasped from the cold shock, put aside the embarrassing horror, and then pondered my options. 

They put the price tag on the bottom of the jar and they don’t even have a seal for the top?

There was certainly no retrieving the sea monkey pets that were now wallowing around my armpit. What if the store clerk wanted me to pay for them? I would have been a fool to pay good money for the sea monkeys intact. I simply couldn’t bare the thought.

But, I am a mother, a mother who is always looking to guide my charges toward doing the right thing during these teachable moments. And to walk out without saying a word would certainly not set the right example. 

Then, on the other hand, my kids were at school and would never have to know.

But, what if I walked out and my actions caused another kind of consequence, something in line with stepping on a crack in the sidewalk? I realized quickly that I couldn’t take that risk either. 

There seemed like nary an answer to my sea monkey dilemma until I turned toward a flashing strobe pulsating light on an end cap display and my answer. 

Of course. I’d simply buy something else at the store. I would buy enough of something that it would cover my guilt. And I would do it quickly enough that I’d be safely back home changing my sweater before anyone suspected my misdemeanor.

It worked. I don’t feel a bit guilty for setting those sea monkeys free. And I got all my shopping done, to boot.

I do hope the Chia pets will be a big hit with all my family and friends.

And there it is. Not necessarily a proud moment—either in my klutziness or my rationaled behavior— but a story that has stood the test of time, to be sure. Please share when you see a blog post you like! And visit my website at
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Writing through the deadly sins.

I came across a cute meme that I shared on my FB author page this week:

Its ring-true humor doesn’t change the fact that writing is one of my favorite things to do. And even better, there are many enviable exceptions to this rule of writing lucratively.

But as my tax return will prove, being an author can have just as many red lines as black.

And that doesn’t even count the cost I’ll ultimately pay for deadly sin envy that I have for those who are able to make writing their full-time and very lucrative work.

(So deep, I could probably kidnap Agent/Author H.N. Swanson and hold him or her for ransom and then brag about it, and come out better on Judgment Day.)

But, undoubtedly and unequivocally, writing and publishing my so-far-three-books is one of my greatest prides. (Indeed, another deadly sin, but the red lines keep that one in perspective.)

Fact is, this blog was never intended to be about money. Or sins for that matter. Its original intention is now in my drafts folder for another day.

Instead, I’ll attempt at wrapping up the words and 5 a.m. nonsense so that we can all get on with our days:

I’m lusting for muse (or time and conviction) to get back on my third novel train. (Reunion of Saints, I know you’re in there.) I’m angry (and sort of grateful) that my thoughts wake me up at weird hours of the night and pull me by the fingertips to the keyboard. If either of my novels ever do make it to the best seller list, I would probably be greedy and want to do it again. If there was some coconut cream pie in my refrigerator, I’d probably eat it in glutton(y)ous bites between paragraphs of this blog. And I like Kristen Bell, but I don’t get her affinity for sloths.