Yard sale cycle can spin out of control

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What do a bread machine, electric wok, heart-shaped waffle maker, Tater Twister, and avocado-green fondue pot have in common?

They all seemed like a good idea at the time! A wedding present? Spur-of-the-moment buy? Mother’s Day (Father’s Day) present? What was your excuse? Whatever the reason, these contraptions that ended up hidden in the back of a cabinet often show up in your spring yard sale. Just as often, they’re at the new owner’s yard sale, with the same dust and neon-colored price tag, the following spring.

Spring cleaning vows, ultimatums from a significant other, or resolutions to get rid of clutter are made in the depths of February. The result is old clothes, games, aging sports equipment, baby strollers, dishes, and kitchen appliances regurgitated onto sidewalks and driveways for the world to see – and, we hope, purchase.

Like moths to a flame, cruising cars slow to a crawl as signs scream ”GIANT MULTI-FAMILY YARD SALE” at every other street corner. Who can resist the possibility of a great find? I spot one. Not quite sure what it is from the curb, I park. Aha. another must-have, a Tater Twister. The little dot says $2. I’m not even going to try to bargain.

”How do you use this?”
Blank stare.
”Got the instruction booklet?”
Laughter.
Can’t be that hard to figure out. Somehow or other you stick in a potato and this lethally sharp disc turns something whole (hopefully not your fingers) into curlicues.
”Why did you originally purchase this,” I ask?
”Seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought they would look nice on a plate,” says the seller.
The Tater Twister joins the growing mound of items in the car.

What am I going to say to my husband? ”Part of the research, hon.” He’s an academic. He’ll understand.

The research continues at the home of Ginny Tavilla of Lexington. ”Downsizing after 35 years,” says her sign. ”At last year’s yard sale, I had a bread machine,” she recalled. ”I tried using it five times and gave up. I also had an electric griddle. You need another house for all this. One of my daughters worked for a home shopping network and she would give me all these gifts. Guess what?” Tavilla’s arm makes a sweeping arc over the tables piled with unopened boxes.

Onward. The Lexington High Lacrosse Team’s yard sale looks promising. Ooh, a never-been-used, three-tiered, Oster electric steamer. Now that is intriguing. Again, there are no instructions, but the pictures of various foods and a timer on the front make this a no-brainer.

”We think this might have been a wedding gift for the history teacher,” says the coach’s wife. ”I have one. It cooks a whole meal without using any pots. Chicken breasts on the bottom, potatoes in the middle, and broccoli on top.”

Now I have one, too, for six bucks! I ask, ”What’s this tong-like tool with a cupped slotted basket used for? It’s the third time it’s turned up at a yard sale today.” The lacrosse moms all gather. We examine and guess, but no one knows. For 25 cents and a good cause, I’ll figure it out later. The very next day in the mail, a catalog with kitchen gadgets appears. There it is on page 20: ”The Perfect Slicer! For the right slice every time!” Pictures show perfect rounds of tomatoes and onions. I was meant to have this.

Lexingtonian Dick Howe is selling his home, and among the many items in his driveway are a Nordic Track and a little wok. ”Those two things are prime examples of good intentions gone awry,” says Howe. Asked if he ever used the wok, Howe pauses, pulls in his breath, and says, ”You know, I’m not sure.”

The mega yard sale at Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury is a bonanza. Tables of popcorn makers, pressure cookers, food choppers, two bread machines, an original fondue pot, sandwich maker, waffle irons, woks, coffee makers, a brand new giant food chopper, a clay garlic baker, stacks of dishes – whoopee! Fifty-five dollars later, I have a Breadman Plus, heart waffle iron, electric wok, the garlic baker, a sandwich maker, a Le Creuset pot, and a real 1970s avocado-green fondue set. Such a deal.

Somewhere along the line I also acquire a brand-new, in-the-box, Blooming Onion cutter with its bright red ”As Seen On TV” label beckoning to me along with other necessities like a spaghetti measure, toast rack, and wire cheese slicer.

The mumbled promise to my husband not to keep anything (my toes were crossed) was slipping away. Images of freshly baked pumpernickel bread made with my Breadman Plus, served with tomatoes cut using my Perfect Slicer, with a side of curly Cajun potatoes from the Tater Twister, an appetizer of a deep-fried blooming onion, and for dessert, symmetrical orange sections executed with my As-Seen-On-TV Citrus Express, were dancing in my head. What a feast. This would wow him and weaken his resolve.

Everything actually works, which is a bad thing because I don’t want to give up anything. Oh, all right, I can live without the toast rack and the Citrus Express. The serrated blade nearly sliced open my palm anyway.

So, hang in and wait for the appliance du jour to be next year’s nifty yard sale find. Ice cream makers are big this year.

Note: Don’t be dissuaded from buying an appliance because there is no instruction booklet. I went online to the Breadman Company, got their customer service number, called, and they sent along a copy of the Owners Manual and Recipe booklet for free.

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