Sunday, December 02, 2012

Spinal Decompression Therapy


The following is my personal opinion of Spinal Decompression, based on my experiences in the fall of 2012 at a Toronto back clinic.

I am a male, age 65, and have suffered from lower back pain (L5,S1) for more than half of my life. All back pain sufferers have different symptoms - for me, I was generally fine for most of the year, however every few months I would be the victim of seemingly random attacks, which would leave me completely debilitated and confined to bed unable to move for a week to 10 days. Despite the pain, recovery was usually quite sudden and complete, often finding me back to my normal routine within two or three weeks. During the period of the attacks, the pain was excruciating, often locking up my whole mid-section.

Over the years, I have tried virtually everything to free myself of these sudden and painful attacks - chiro, physio, acupuncture, yoga, steroid injections, etc. Nothing worked. I was adamant that I would not go under the knife - I had heard that for many who chose surgery, their back pain returned again after a number of years.
Then I heard about a particular back clinic in my area that was advertising heavily on the radio stations here in Toronto - glowing testimonials from previous patients. I decided to pay them a visit - it is unfortunate that I did not do my due diligence and research before my appointment; otherwise I would have probably made a different decision.

I met with the Director of this particular clinic (for the sake of this article, I will call him Robert). I mentioned that I was not currently in any pain, but that in my case, I get attacks every few months. As such, I stated that it would be difficult to gauge the success of any treatment, other than waiting 6 months to a year to see if the attacks returned.

Robert asked if I had any X-rays or MRI scans done recently. I mentioned I had an MRI done a few years ago, and he asked to see it. I obliged by getting a copy from the hospital and bringing it in for him to review. He examined the images, and stated that I had severe degradation of the lumbar disc at L5,S1. I already knew this; also, my last scan had indicated that my complete spine had degenerative disc disease, and the diagnosis was that there was nothing really that could be done for this.

However, Robert was quite emphatic that he could fix my condition with his combined treatment of spinal decompression, laser therapy, and supplements. This is where the high-pressure sales pitch came in. He claimed a 95% success rate with over 13,000 patients. Wanted me to sign up right away, as my condition was quite severe and he did not want me to waste any time before starting his program.

The cost?  It was quite high.. he offered several plans. Pay as you go: which would end up costing over $10,000 for 20 spinal decompression and laser therapy sessions. Alternatively, I could pay in 3 payments, and the cost would be reduced slightly. Or pay it all up front and save about $3,000. Despite this high cost, my wife and I agreed it was worth a try. But when we tried to defer our payment by a few weeks so as to have the payment appear on the next month's Visa bill, he would not allow it. He insisted on payment up front, despite the fact I was going on vacation and would not be able to start treatment for several weeks. That should have been a warning flag to me, but I missed it. I paid the $7,000+ dollars and left for my vacation.

When I returned and started treatment, I was surprised to see a new receptionist at the desk - the first of many staff changes yet to come. She provided me with a back support belt, which she seemed to have difficulty adjusting and fitting on me. No specific instructions were given as to the use of this belt. She also gave be a large jar of supplements that I was to take each day. When I got home, I found these supplements consisted of 3 large capsules of fish oil (Omega-3), 3 large capsules of Glucosamine, and 3 capsules of some herbal remedy. (I had already been taking Omega 3 fish oil and Glucosamine daily on my own, and mentioned this to Robert. He asked me to stop taking these, and use his own brands of these.)

The treatments consisted of:
  1. sitting with a heating pad on my back for 10 to 15 minutes
  2. then onto the rack (DRX9000 spinal decompression bed) for 25 minutes
  3. then lying down with an ice pack on my back for 10-15 minutes
  4. then having laser therapy (class IV K-laser) for about 8 minutes
This process was repeated for each session, usually 3 or 4 times a week.

Half way through the treatments, I had a 10 minute evaluation by Robert, who examined me with some high-tech monitoring device on my back that graphed out my areas of pain/inflammation. He claimed it had been reduced significantly - I said I did not feel any differently. He gave me a series of stretch exercises to perform each day.

After 20 sessions were complete, I had another short evaluation with Robert, where he said I had significant improvement, and gave me a few more stretch exercises to do each day. Robert also gave me an 'adjustment' to my spine - the typical back twist and cracking used by all chiropractors. I was to return the following week for another 'adjustment' and for orthotics fitting. These were included in the cost of the program. Oddly, the fitting was done by the receptionist - not a trained technician, chiropractor, or doctor.

I was to return the following week to pick up my orthotics, but as fate would have it, I had another back attack which left me confined to bed for a week, so I had to cancel my appointment. So much for the great success claims of this back clinic!

When I did return for my orthotics, I found them somewhat uncomfortable - the left one seemed to have a bump pushing up on the ball of my foot, just above the arch. The receptionist said this was normal, and would take some time to get used to.. she did not offer to check them or that they were correctly fit to my feet. Robert then came in for 5 minutes and gave me another 'adjustment' – he did not check the orthotics.

My final session was basically an exit interview with Robert, and a sales pitch for ongoing adjustments and a monthly or semi-monthly session on the rack and laser therapy. With my severe disc degradation problem, he suggested that actually a weekly visit would be best. I told him that I felt the therapy did not help me - I informed him of my back attack after the last session, and he was quite surprised and asked why I had not mentioned it. I said I had told his staff.  (I was surprised they had not informed him). Based on that, I felt it would not be in my best interest to continue therapy with him and his clinic. I asked if he offered a money back guarantee, and he told me that all patients are different and react differently to treatments, and therefore he could not make any such guarantees. Instead, he offered to give me 10 more treatments free of charge - I declined the offer.

Overall, I was disappointed with the whole experience. I kick myself for not doing due diligence - there are many non-success stories on the net. Unfortunately, the cost of this program was not covered by my company medical insurance.

I found the staff at this back clinic to be rather unprofessional. On several days I was left waiting 30 to 40 minutes for my laser treatment, only to be told (after I finally asked) that the laser technician was off sick that day. There were several other instances where I was left waiting for long periods - all that was needed was a brief explanation for the delay, but this was never forthcoming. Other days, I would observe staff laughing out loud and giggling uncontrollably like little girls - in front of patients. In another case, I was being attended to on the rack by Robert, all the while with his cellphone in his ear carrying on a conversation with someone else while treating me - very unprofessional.

During my treatment, I saw a very high staff turn-over - not once, but several times - to the point that when I left the clinic after 2 months, none of the original staff, other than Robert, had remained. This changeover of staff had an impact on my treatment as I found the new staff were being trained and learning on the job, with me as the guinea pig. I found myself being strapped onto the rack in different techniques, some of which I felt were wrong, as I did not have the same feelings and sensations as in previous appointments. Same for the laser treatments.. different from person to person.

Spinal decompression may not be for you. If you are considering this treatment, think twice and do due diligence. Search the web for information on spinal decompression. While there are many spinal decompression success stories, there are also some bad experiences. Try to get references from former patients of the clinic you are considering; try to speak to former patients who have had the treatments several years ago to see if there was a relapse. Many back clinics have websites. Check out the staffs' credentials, and check it out again in a month or two to see if there is frequent staff turnover – a red flag in my opinion. And do not rush into treatment – if you have been suffering from back pain for many years, you probably can wait a few more months while you check out the clinic.
 
As a long time back pain sufferer, I am of the firm belief that TIME HEALS. During peak pain attacks, I have often thought I was going to be left permanently disabled in some way. However, given time, the back will heal itself. In my personal case, I have found that severe back pain will usually leave me disabled for a week to 10 days (i.e., confined to bed, unable to move). Then, almost like magic, I can move with relatively little pain, and after 4 to 6 weeks, completely back to normal. That is, until I do something stupid like twisting, bending or lifting improperly. The key is knowing your limits and recognizing what causes the attacks.

CBC's Marketplace did a program on spinal decompression back in 2010.  I believe only Canadian residents can view this online. Well worth watching before you commit.  Here is a link to that show:
Stretching the Truth -
http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2010/stretching_the_truth/main.html

Another good resource is Donald S. Corenman’s website: www.neckandback.com. Dr. Corenman is an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon who has been working for the past 12 years at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. One good aspect of this site is his forum, where he is said to personally answer all questions related to back pain.

Here are some quotes from Dr. Corenman, who was initially trained as a chiropractor before becoming an orthopedic spine surgeon:
 
“The decompression (traction) table typically used by chiropractors (DMX 9000 and others) I am generally not a fan of. The two problems are the costs and utilization. Generally, there is a "program" you have to sign up for. This programs consists of 20 visits regardless of the success of traction and traction can aggravate symptoms in some patients. The charges of using the machine are also very high. Now I am not against traction, but to state that this modality "decompresses" the disc is not valid or accurate. If traction is to be effective, you should know in 2-3 visits and if the initial treatment aggravates symptoms, do not continue.”

            “The "spinal decompression" machine is simply a traction machine. It does not put anything "back into place". I have no specific objection to these spinal decompression machines like the DMX 9000 except the "sales programs" associated with them. You do not need more than two "treatments" to find if they are effective for you personally. I personally think these machines are not that effective.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

HOW TO HOST A SUCCESSFUL GARAGE SALE

After hosting garage sales for many years, I decided to share our experiences with you, in the hope that if you choose to host a sale, you will be more successful. In addition to hosting our own G-Sales, we are frequent ‘shoppers’, often going out every weekend looking for bargains, so I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to hosting your own G-Sale.

The key is PLANNING. You must plan all aspects of the sale well in advance. If you have a lot of items for sale, you should start planning several months in advance.

SET THE DATE

Start by nailing down the day of your event. I find that the spring is best, followed by the fall as a second choice. Unless you like to be uncomfortable, or unless your driveway is well shaded, avoid hosting your sale during the summer months - it is just too hot during the summer. The summer months are usually hot and humid, and if you are lugging stuff out of your house to the driveway, you are going to be hot and sticky before you even start. Also, I find that as buyers, shoppers also tend to avoid very hot days as well, so planning a date in the hot summer months will limit the number of visitors you will have.

The spring usually brings showers, so you have to be careful not to pick a date too early. I tend to avoid April; May or early June is usually best. If going for the fall, try September or early October – by that time, the weather is usually cooler.

When picking a date, also consider an alternate – a ‘rain date’, if you will. After all, if you pick a date months, or even weeks, in advance, there is no guarantee that Mother Nature will cooperate. If planning a Saturday date, consider making the following Sunday a rain date. Or if you have concerns about doing a G-Sale on a Sunday, consider making the following Saturday your rain date. If you are unlucky to hit a very rainy season, consider moving the sale to the fall, when there is usually much less rain. Rain is your enemy – even if you end up holding your garage sale indoors like in your house, or actually in your garage, rain will keep your potential buyers away.

SORTING OUT YOUR ITEMS FOR SALE

This is by far the most work. And why you really need to start well in advance. We find it best to go through the house one room at a time, looking for things you want to sell. To do a good job at this, we usually plan to do one or two rooms each weekend.

Inspect all items in each room and decide if you can part with them. If you have something that has not been used for several years, maybe it is time to recycle it and pass it along to someone who can make use of it. Do this for each room, making sure you through inspect all nooks and crannies, closets, under beds, etc. You would be surprised to find things you had completely forgotten you had – and unless there is some sentimental value, then maybe these are items you should consider for sale.

When inspecting each room, do not forget the biggest room – your basement (and also, your garage).

One key thing to remember about items for sale is that generally high priced items do not sell at G-Sales. In my experience, anything priced over $20 is unlikely to sell. This is not always the case, and I have seen some expensive items bought and sold at G-Sales, but as a rule, G-Sale shoppers tend to look for inexpensive bargains, usually a couple of dollars or less. So, if you have something that you think is worth big bucks, you might be better off trying to sell privately, or maybe place an ad on Craigslist or Kijiji. These are free services, and if you are not familiar with them, I will post an entry later on how to effectively market with these services.

If you have any item that needs supporting material, be sure to include it. For example, if a product has or requires a manual or user guide, include it with the item. If it is no longer available, try to download a copy from the internet. If the guide is too large, make sure you include the link where the buyer can download it themselves. If the product needs power to work, make sure you have batteries available so the buyer can test the item, or if it needs AC power, make sure you have an extension cord available so they can test it. Basically, consider that if YOU were buying this, what would you need or like to ensure the item will work in your home.

You may also wish to include clothes. Although, it has been my experience that unless something is very clean and equivalent to new, you are unlikely to get a buyer. After all, would you buy someone’s old tattered clothing or shoes? Also, displaying clothes at a G-Sale is a bit more difficult. I often see people selling clothes at G-Sales and they have them in a pile on the grass beside their driveway. Unless someone is very desperate, they are not going to sort through a pile of clothing. You really need a rack or clothes line to properly display clothing, and make it easy for people to find something. If you are not prepared to properly display clothing, forget it – donate it to Good Will or Value Village, or some other organization that can make good use of it.

Shoes and boots are items I frequently see at G-Sales. Generally, they do not sell (unless they are new, or in impeccable condition). Again, would YOU wear someone else’s old shoes? Same goes for hats, although you can usually clear a hat much easier than old shoes. Having said that, I have seen people buy shoes, slippers, boots, and hats at G-Sales – some people can be desperate. An exception to the ‘no footwear’ rule is sports. Things like skates, roller blades, ski boots, etc. are usually higher priced items that buyers often will pay a fraction of the normal cost if sold at a G-Sale. But you have to price them so that they sell – pricing them near the price of new items, will not yield a sale.

When sorting through your items for sale, you should gather all items into one central location, such as your basement, or garage. This is going to be hell for the weeks leading up to the sale, as you will have this big pile of stuff in your basement or garage, that will be taking up useful room in your home. But, when the sale day arrives, you will have all your items for sale in one central place. This will ease the movement to the driveway, and ensure you have all the items you want to sell readily at hand.

PRICING YOUR MERCHANDISE

This step can be done a week or so before the sale. Buyers like to see a price on items, so try to price each item before the sale. It will save you a lot of “how much is this” questions, and avoid you trying to think of a good price when asked.

Go to your local dollar store or Staples, and pick up a package or two of those small yellow ‘price’ stickers. Also, get a Sharpie indelible ink pen. Then start marking your merchandise. If the sticker will not stick on an item because the material is cloth or some other material, use tape or a pin or something to ensure the sticker stays on the item.

Price aggressively. After all, you do want to sell don’t you? Marking an item with a high price, or a price near the new value, is likely to turn off your buyers. On the other hand, you don’t want to price too low either. And always price a little bit higher than what you really want. Remember - this is a garage sale, and buyers like a bargain, and like to bargain, so they will nearly always offer a counter offer. I tend to price items a few dollars higher – so for example, if I want $5 for an item, I price it at $7 or $8. That way, if the buyer offers me $4 or $5, then I gladly close the deal, and we are both happy.

Again, do not try to sell big ticket items. An exception may be something you really don’t want to sell, unless you get your (high) asking price. So if you do sell it, you get good money, but if you don’t sell it, no big loss, since you were not sure about, or comfortable with, selling it in the first place. The down side of this of course is that you will need to bring these items back into the house again after the sale.

If you have a lot of smaller items, you can forego pricing each item individually by grouping them all together. What I do on the day of the sale, is set up 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ tables or groups. This is often a good selling feature, as buyers usually pick up several items because they are ‘cheap’. This is also good for kids who accompany their parents, as they sometimes have their own money and can buy a few smaller and cheaper items for themselves. There is a small downside to grouping items like this, and that is that some buyers will pick up an item from the 25¢ table, and when it comes time to pay, they will claim that it was in the 10¢ table – some people are cheap! So, you need to have a good idea what was on each table. Also, some buyers may pick up an item from one table, and if they decide later to not buy it, they may return it to the wrong table – thus the next buyer may legitimately pick an item from the wrong table.

One trick I use when arranging the ‘penny’ tables, is to get these large cardboard ‘flats’ (short open boxes) from Costco that were used to hold produce. These are free for the taking, and make excellent sorting bins when you are collecting and organizing your merchandise for sale. Then, when the sale date comes around, you just cart these ‘flats’ full of merchandise out to the driveway. Using a large marker, clearly mark the price on the boxes.

WHAT ABOUT STREET SALES?

Street sales, or multi-family sales, are often more advantageous than single family G-Sales. Buyers will often hit street sales before single family sales, mainly because there is much more available in a smaller area – they can park and walk from one home to another. If you live on a relatively small street (100 homes or less), you may wish to consider a street sale. If so, planning again is key. Advertise the fact that you are planning this – create a half page ad, copy it so that you have two ads per page, then print off the pages and cut them in half. Add a G-Sale graphic or two if you wish.. clipart is plentiful and free on the internet. Hand-deliver to the mailboxes of all residents on your street. Do this at least one month or more before your sale, to give them plenty of time to prepare. Include your name, address, and phone number on the flyer, so that anyone can contact you if they need to. (It is not unusual for someone to offer to help put up posters, etc. for the sale, so knowing who you are is important.) If nothing else, having a street sale is a good way to get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with your neighbours, and it can provide you with a distraction during the lull between customers, to browse your neighbours’ treasures.

ADVERTISING

One of the most important things you will need to do is get the word out that you are having a sale. There are several ways to do this.

Take advantage of the free services online. Sites like Craigslist and Kijiji offer free ads and have garage sale sections to make it easier for people searching for such items. Prepare your ad by listing the time and location of the sale. Include a rain-date. It also helps generate interest if you provide a partial list of items for sale. List big ticket items specifically, and generalise on common stuff, like electronics, computer equipment, baby toys, jewellery, etc. If possible, create a link to your place using Google Maps to help people find you and to let them know the general area where you live. And most importantly, only post this notice the day before your sale – too early, and it gets buried and will not be found.

If you have a local community newspaper, consider posting an ad there. However, in most cases this will probably cost you $20 to $30, so only do this if having a street sale (and you can share the costs), or if you have a lot of items and are sure you can offset this cost with your sales.

Let all your friends and family know you are having a G-Sale. Invite them to drop by, even for a visit – chances are they will see something they like and offer to buy it. A word of caution: if you are inviting someone to your sale, and they gave you something as a gift, do not insult them by having the gift for sale at your G-Sale.

And probably most importantly, print up signs to guide buyers to your sale. It is very important that you do this correctly. You most probably have seen G-Sale signs that are virtually impossible to read – either because they are too small or illegible. Two important rules: do not hand write signs, and do not use small signs. Any sign that is a standard 8.5 x 11 inches or smaller, is too small. I am sure you have seen these before and you know what I am talking about – you just cannot read them unless you stop and walk right up to them.

My suggestion is to make your signs on a computer, using the largest font you can fit onto the paper. You do not need much – the Garage Sale title, followed by the date (and optionally, the time if space permits), and then the address (street name and civic number). The bottom of the sign should have an arrow pointing in the direction the buyer needs to turn to find your house. There are a couple of choices for the arrow: you can simply draw a 1-inch thick black line and use a marker later to add the arrow heads in the direction needed just before you hang the sign. Or, if you know the direction the arrows are to point, you can use your computer to add the arrowheads. In either case, make sure they are large enough to be easily seen at 10 or 20 meters.

When creating your signs, set the page size to either 17 x 11 inches (this is two 8.5 x 11 pages side by side) or 17 x 22 inches (this is 4 standard 8.5 x 11 pages, tiled together). When you print these pages, select the TILE option, so that you print two pages or four pages; then you can tile the pages together. If you really want to get attention, set the size to 25.5 x 22 (6 standard 8.5 x 11 pages, tiled together), for a really large sign.

Buy some bright fluorescent paper, like hot pink or candy-apple green – this is very visible from a distance. Make all your signs with the same coloured paper – this will provide consistency and help your buyers find your house more easily.

Of course, you can always buy pre-printed G-Sale signs, however these can be expensive if you need to buy 15 or so of them. Also, there is nothing to make these signs stand out among the others in your area, and indeed, could be confused with other signs in your area.

Now the important part: never post your signs as paper only.. you need to paste them to a hard backing. I use heavy cardboard, which one again, I source from stores like Costco or my local grocery store. You are going to need a lot of cardboard, so start collecting early – bring home a piece or two each time you go shopping, and by the time your sale rolls around, you will have plenty.

You are going to need a sharp box cutter (and new spare blades) to cut the boxes to the size you need. Cut each sheet of cardboard just slightly larger than the final paper sign. Buy some spray glue (I use 3M Super 77 Spray Glue) to attach your paper signs to the cardboard backing.

Before staring the gluing process, you will need to cut off the excess paper (about ¼ inch) from the paper sheets, so that they can be tiled properly on the cardboard backing. If you have a guillotine paper cutter, great! If not, use your box cutter and a straight edge to make the cuts.

Set up in your garage, or preferably outside if there is no wind. Remember, spraying glue will spread to other areas with the least little bit of wind, so be careful. Use disposable gloves and wear old clothes just in case. Spread out some newspaper to catch the excess glue. Work one sheet at a time – lay it on the newspaper, spray some glue onto it, especially around the edges, then glue it to the cardboard backing. Repeat for each of the remaining pieces of the sign, carefully tiling each piece next to the others, to make a beautiful and professional looking large sign.

The signs should be made well in advance. And should be designed to be easily read at 10 to 20 meters. Test it out.. if you cannot read it at distance, then neither will your potential buyers. Using your computer to print your signs will give them a much more polished and professional look. Using fluorescent paper adds attraction. And using heavy cardboard backing will ensure they stay flat and readable.

POSTING YOUR SIGNS

Just as important as creating large, readable signs, is posting them in an area so they will be read.

Before actually making your signs, I recommend you scope out where you plan to post them. Either make a hand-drawn map of your area, showing all the streets leading into your area. Or, print off a Google map of your immediate area. On the map, indicate all the corners and other areas you think would be a good location to post a sign. This will give you an idea of how many signs you need to make. It will also help you when it comes time to posting your signs, by giving you a ‘roadmap’ so to speak.

Try to keep the signs within a half kilometer of where you live – people will get frustrated if your signs are further away, especially if there are a lot of turns to get to your location. 10 to 15 signs should be sufficient. You will need to place signs on each side of the corner, to catch traffic coming and going at the intersection.

Placing the signs (and taking them down later) is best done with two people if you are using a car to get around. Have a driver take you to each spot, jump out and post the sign. This will allow the driver to move the vehicle out of traffic if necessary, and still allow you to put up the signs. Use clear 2-inch wide packaging tape to attach the signs to the poles or trees. The driver is also the map person – marking off the location on the map where the sign is posted, and planning the next stop on the route. Keep this map to use later to ensure you remove all the signs later after the G-Sale is over.

Try to place your signs the evening before the sale, provided it is not raining. If it is raining, then you are best to get up an hour earlier on the day of the sale, and place them that morning. You can place them a day earlier if you are absolutely sure it will not rain – rain really spoils signs!

Avoid placing signs on private property, or public boxes like Bell or Hydro utility boxes, bus stop shelters, etc. They may be removed before your G-Sale even starts.

When placing your ads online or in the newspaper, make sure you tell your readers to ‘look for the hot pink (or whatever colour) signs in the area’. This will guide them into your location, and not some other G-Sale in the area.

GET A FLOAT

Sometime before the day of the sale, you will need to get a float. Generally speaking, the first buyers of the day will come with a $10 or $20 dollar bill – and until you have a lot of sales under your belt, you will need to have money to make change for them.

Depending on the size of your sale, you will probably need a $100 to $200 float to start the day. Get a good amount of quarters, dollar and two dollar coins (or bills, depending on your country currency), and five dollar bills. After doing a few sales, you will soon learn exactly how much of a float you will need. It is bad to lose a sale because you cannot make change.

Keep your money with you, preferably in an apron-type of carrier that you can tie around your waist. I have seen people with money boxes on a table that will go walking – especially if there are a lot of buyers to provide a distraction. Better to keep your money on you.

At the end of the sale, simply count up your proceeds and deduct your float to see how much you made at your G-Sale.

PREPARING THE LAYOUT

During the week or so before the sale, prepare how you want to present or display your merchandise for the sale. If you have some tables you can use, great. However, many people do not have large tables unless they are professional G-Sale sellers, so you will have to make do. Try to avoid spreading stuff around the ground – it makes is difficult for buyers to walk around without stepping on something – of course, the exception would be for large items which must stay on the ground. And if you do have a lot of ground space, you can place items there. If you do this, remember that people will be walking all over your lawn, so it might take a beating.

I find a great source of free cardboard is Costco. The have these large cardboard ‘flats’ (shallow, open-top boxes) normally used to transport produce, that make great containers for your merchandise. Also, they have large flat pieces about 4 feet square and a half-inch thick, that are used to separate the large 15-litre jugs of water – these make great ‘table-tops’ as they are quite sturdy. Find some large cardboard boxes about two feet high, place them upside down on your driveway, and then place the large 4-foot water jug cardboard flats on top.

Try to organize your merchandise – put all the jewelry in one place. Same with electronics, music and video. You get the idea. This will greatly help the buyers. If you have items with supporting material such as user guides or manuals, device chargers, etc., make sure you put them with the associated items.

Place one or two larger items, or the more colourful items, near the end of the driveway so that it attracts the attention of the buyers passing by. Often, cars will slow down as they pass, and if they do not immediately see something from a distance, they just won’t stop.

If possible place the least expensive items items at the end of the driveway, and keep the more expensive smaller items nearer to the garage entrance. This assumes your position during the sale will be nearer to the garage entrance, where you can keep an eye on these items. It is hard to believe, but there are actually people that will steal from garage sales – it has happened to us a number of times now, and you must put the more expensive items where you can keep an eye on them.

During the course of the sale, you may want to reposition items as table space becomes available.

Try to have at least two people running the sale. If one person gets distracted with a buyer asking questions about an item, the other can continue to monitor the merchandise and prevent theft. Even better, solicit the help of family members or friends – nice for a visit during the quiet periods between buyers. Also, more people allows for one to go on a coffee or food run, or a pee break – after all, you are going to be going for most of the day and will need a break. And if you are having a street sale, it will give you an opportunity to visit your neighbours and see what they are selling.

Have an extension cord plugged in and handy for those buyers that want to test an electric or electronic product. Speaking of which, if you have an item for sale that uses a rechargeable battery, please have it fully charged up before the sale – nothing like the embarrassment of trying to sell a product that the buyer cannot get to work!

Have a plan for rain – if it suddenly starts, decide if you are going to rapidly move everything into the garage or cover it up. If the latter, have some tarps or other water resistant cover handy.

Watch out for the hot sun – it can ruin things like vinyl albums and candles, making them unsellable. Place them in a shaded area.

THE DAY OF THE SALE

On the day of the sale, you need to act fast. Allow at least an hour to set up, maybe more if you are not used to doing this. That means if you advertised your sale from 9am to 3pm, plan to start moving your merchandise out to the driveway by about 8am – with two people working, you should get most of your stuff out and ready. Remember, you also have to set up tables, etc.

Be prepared for early birds. No matter how much advertising you, there will always be people coming by earlier than your advertised start time, just to get a jump on the others and get the best bargains. You have to be firm with these people – tell them you are not open yet and cannot make change: if they really want to buy an item, insist that they have exact money, as you cannot make change. Yes, I know I said you need a float, but just say you don’t have change, otherwise they will only delay you from finishing your setup, and when your advertised start time rolls around, you will not be ready. Again, this is another reason to have 2 or more people working your sale.

Set up a few chairs so you are not standing all day. Also, have some water or something else handy to drink. Maybe some music – great if you are selling a stereo so people can see it working.

Be prepared to bargain – that’s part of the allure of G-Sales. If you hold fast on your prices, you are unlikely to make any sales. If something is marked at $7, and the buyer offers you $3, counter offer at $5 or $6. Keep it going until you get a sale. If a buyer looks interested in an item, and puts it down and starts walking away without buying it, don’t hesitate to lower your price in the hopes that they will reconsider. Sometimes a person may seem too shy to make a lower offer, so you have to take the initiative.

Bargaining is one thing, but do not give away items just to get a sale. I have had some absolutely ridiculous low-ball offers.. like someone offering me $1 for something I priced at $10. I tell these people that I would rather give it away to Good Will than sell to them for $1. That sometimes embarrasses them, but I have never had someone making such a low-ball offer actually make a purchase. You will find this type of scum at every sale – just looking to get something for free, or nearly free. You need to be firm with this type of buyer.

It is unlikely you will sell everything on the day of the sale. Have a plan for what to do with the remainder of your merchandise at the end of the sale. If the remainder of stuff is essentially worthless, put it in the trash. Or put it at the foot of your driveway – it will usually disappear within a day – some people just love anything free, no matter how worthless it is. If the remaining items have some value, but not enough to keep, consider donating it to Good Will, Value Village, or some other organization that takes in used merchandise. If there are items remaining that in your opinion are worth something, consider posting them on Craigslist, Kijiji, or eBay.

During your sale, do not be afraid to talk to your buyers. Be friendly. It is surprising what you may find out about people once you start talking to them. I once had a buyer stop by who was a house painter, and I ended up contracting him to paint our house later – and got a very good price to boot! If other families on your street also have a sale, wander over and talk to them. It is a great opportunity to meet your neighbours if you haven’t met them already. And, you may just find a hidden treasure.

AFTER THE SALE

I would advise not going too much past 2pm, if you started at 8 or 9am – especially if it is a very hot day. Many people stop looking when it gets too hot, and you may find yourself getting too hot sitting there – unless of course you have the luxury of having a very shady treed lot.

If you used some empty boxes for table legs, it is now time to get them out and start boxing up the ‘remains of the day’. Separate what you want to keep, what is going in the trash, and what is going to be donated.

While packing up, you may notice that some late comers stop by looking for last minute deals. It is of course up to you, but if you have already made the decision to pack it in for the day, and have placed some items you no longer want at the end of the driveway, tell them that stuff is free. You will be surprised at how much of your ‘garbage’ suddenly disappears – some people simply can’t resist something if it is for free. Let the scavengers clear your junk for you.

So, you have moved some of the more valuable stuff you want to keep or sell privately, back into the garage. The remainder that is not going to the dump, box and bring to your local Good Will or Value Village.

And while you are out delivering this remainder to GW or VV, TAKE DOWN YOUR SIGNS. Yes, I am shouting, as this is most important. There is nothing worse than people leaving their signs up for days, weeks, even months! Use the map you used when posting the signs, and follow it to remove them now. This will also stop people from wasting time only to find you have closed shop for the day.

TIME TO RELAX

Ok, it is all over now. You cleared up the remainder of stuff on your driveway, dropped off what you no longer want to keep, put what you want to keep back into the house, and the remainder into the trash. And have taken down your signs.

Now it is time to have a cold one in a cool spot.. hopefully a nice shady back yard. And count your money – subtract your float, and see what you made. Hopefully, a few hundred.

Was it all worth it? Did you make mistakes? Is there something you could have done better? Do you want to try another next year? All questions to discuss over the cold one in the back yard.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Heat is Back

Well, the heat is finally back on.

Thursday my wife called me to tell me that 'the part' had arrived, and expressed surprise at its size. I told her to call the gas company to come and install it.

When I got home, I looked at the rather large box, and commented that I thought they had sent the wrong part. I opened it to see that it was the large main blower used to circulate the heat inside the house. The part that I was told was bad, was the smaller blower used to vent the exhaust to the outside.

Sure enough, when the service reps (two of them!) arrived on Friday morning (day 6 of no heat!), they agreed with me, that is was indeed the wrong part. When I expressed concern for the possibility of being without heat for even longer, one guy commented that he may have a new blower in his truck. Sure enough, he did - and it was installed within a half hour, and soon after that, we once again had heat again in the house.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 3 of no heat...

Well, it is now day 3 of being without our furnace.. the only saving grace is that outside temps are unseasonably mild for January. And it appears the trend will continue all week. We are expecting above freezing temps during the days, dipping to just a few degrees below freezing at night.

As it was quite cold inside the house yesterday, I decided to go out and buy one of those Presto Dish Heaters that they are selling at Costco. They were around $69.

Back home, I called Direct Energy to inquire about the part on order for our furnace, I was told there was none available in Canada, and that they would have to order it directly from Carrier in the US. May take several days to get here. I asked them what I was supposed to do about warming my house, and they asked me if I had any electric space heaters. When I said I didn't, they said they would send me over a few.

To my surprise, about an hour later, a delivery person showed up at my door with four - yes FOUR! - small Honeywell (model HZ-316N) electric space heaters. And I do mean these were small - about 7 inches square. But each was rated at 1500 watts, same as the Honeywell Dish.

I unpackaged two of them, set one up in the kitchen and one in the hallway upstairs. I also set up the dish in the bedroom. Surprisingly, they worked quite well, and seemed to heat up the place quite quickly.

I unplugged the dish when we went to sleep, but kept the other two little Honeywell units running all night. This morning when I got up, the house was at 68 degrees - the temp I normally leave it at each night and most of the day. It was nice to get up without freezing.

At first I was a bit apprehensive about plugging in three 1500 watt units, as most of my outlets are fused for 15 amps; I was concerned that they would blow fuses or trip the circuit breakers (we have both types of circuit protection). But, so far so good. However, there is also the concern of electrical consumption - consider that running the two Honeywell units at 1500 watts, is equivalent to having THIRTY 100-watt bulbs burning! (45 if you add in the dish heater). That's a lot of electricity.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Still no heat

Well it is 1pm Monday, and still no heat. Woke up this morning to 59 degrees in the house. Called Direct Energy, and they still have no idea when the part will arrive, nor where it is, or indeed if it is even in stock. What a company!

So, here I sit with long johns on and fleece lined pants, layers of shirts and tops, and my winter coat on.

Started a fire again in the fireplace, but after 2 hours the temperature has only gone up from 59 to 62 degrees.. and that is only in the living room where the fireplace is - it is still freezing upstairs. Luckily, it is above freezing outside today.. and should be like that for the rest of the week.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It is Cold!!

This morning I had a hard time getting out of bed. It was warm and cosy. When I finally did get up, I found it unusually cold. Put on some clothes and went downstairs to get something to eat.

Then I noticed the thermostat: 62 degrees (F)! Wow! No wonder I was cold. And I was very surprised I was not cold in bed.. guess that down-filled duvet I bought last year really works. Funny how you don't get really hot under one - just really comfortable, no matter what the outside temperature is. This morning it was about 7 (C) below zero.

Hmmm.. so the furnace was not working.. why not? I went down into the basement and opened the cover. There were some LEDs flashing on the controller board: I counted off the flashes: 3 short and one long - '31'. Nothing mysterious about that one: seems to be the catch-all for every problem - as far as I can remember, every problem I have ever had with this furnace was a '31', which means the burner did not fire because there was an air flow blockage. This could be caused by anything from a blocked air filter to a blocked external vent, or an internal component failure. When I called the company for service, I did not even mention the error code this time, as I know it is completely meaningless to the service technician.

To my surprise, I was told a tech would be there between 10am and 2pm. What?! On a Sunday? Same day service?! Hard to believe - last time I called for service it took 4 days.. and the problem was caused by a previous technician who had come by a few days earlier to perform the 'annual routine maintenance' on the furnace. Turns out, he came on a warm day when the furnace was not in use; a few days later when it got cold, the furnace would not start - the jerk forgot to turn on the gas switch inside the furnace. Needless to say, I cancelled my 'annual routine maintenance' and just kept the service contract for failure problems.

So now I have a real emergency, and I am told a tech is on his way. Whoopee! He shows up within two hours, and starts his examination. Turns the power off and on to fire up the furnace, but of course it doesn't. Instead there is a loud rasping noise - he knows right away what it is - the blower is broken, most probably the fan blades have come off the unit and are rattling around inside the assembly. That he has diagnosed this so quickly is the good news; the bad news is that he does not have a replacement, and he will have to order one. Tells me it will be delivered directly to my home - when it arrives, just call back and the company will send someone to install it. Said it may even arrive today, despite it being Sunday.

Well, it didn't arrive. Called the company, and they have no idea where the part is or when it will arrive. And it is now 10pm.

I went outside to get some firewood in the back yard, then I lit up the fireplace trying to get some heat in the house. But it only marginally heated up the living room from 62 to 66 degrees. The rest of the house was still cold. I moved one of the sofas in front of the fireplace, grabbed a blanket and my notebook and did some work, but my hands were just too cold. So, I watched a course on Web Fonts which did not require the use of my hands.

I am now back in bed, under my duvet. I even dug out the old electric blanket to warm it up a bit before getting it. I can assure you that I am quite warm right now - even my hands, which are outside the blankets and typing this entry, are warm.

Will the part arrive tomorrow? Will I have to wait days for a service tech to replace it? Only time will tell. For now, good night.

Monday, October 10, 2011

25 Years ago today

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary.

We were married at the Old Mill here in Toronto, and honeymooned in Vegas at the Frontier Hotel. The Frontier, like many other icon hotel/casinos in Vegas, has been demolished a few years ago - but unlike other hotel/casinos, the lot still sits vacant today.

Over the years, we have many numerous trips back to Vegas, and have noticed the considerable change and growth that has taken place. We were there last month to celebrate our anniversary. We went a month earlier, so that we could take advantage of several tours that were time sensitive.

It was hot, with temperatures over 100 degrees most days: the hottest was 105! Yet we spent most of the time in air-conditioned hotels and casinos, as well as our rented car.

Normally, we spend a lot of time gambling, but this time the trip was more focused on tours. We did a day trip into the desert north of the city, where we toured the Nevada National Security site, formerly the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. There is no longer any nuclear testing there, but the use the vast area as a training ground for troops that are to be deployed to the middle east, as well as for HASMAT training for first responders for the nation. It took us well over a year to get clearance to participate in this tour, and it was well worth it. On the bus trip back, we were fortunate to see a Predator drone flying nearby doing tests. I was amazed at how quiet it was.

We also did a tour of the Neon Bone Yard, a repository of old hotel and casino signs from years gone by. I will post a link to my photos here as soon as I get time to upload them to Flickr - so check back soon.

We took in a few other local tours: a backstage tour of the Jubilee set and the Mob Tour at the Tropicana. And Lois' highlight of the trip: The Chriss Angel show at the Luxor. We has excellent 3rd row seats, and even at that close distance, I was unable to detect how the illusions were performed. A great show!

Overall, we did not lose much money.. maybe about $200, which is not really that bad for a week in Vegas. I also found a new gamblers' supply shop, which has many of the missing and discontinued dice and chips I was missing from my collection.

That was probably my last flight into the USA. I am getting sick and tired of the hassle we have to put up with at the airport in the name of homeland security.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hemorrhoids or Anusitis?

So I was chatting with my family doctor a few months ago, and said I really wanted a second opinion regarding my ongoing problem of hemorrhoids. I said I had been seeing a doctor who specializes in colonoscopies and he had told me that there was nothing he could do about my hemorrhoids.

I had been seeing this specialist for about 10 years now, and he has been doing my colonoscopies every two or three years. Why so frequently, when everyone else has them every 5 years? Well, the first time he found a polyp several cm in diameter; he removed it and found it was benign, but it seems when they find something, they opt to be on the safe side and do them more frequently. Believe me - if you ever had a colonoscopy, you really don't want to have them too frequently; the actual procedure itself is not so bad, since the patient is sedated and often does not feel anything. However, the prep the two days before is a killer - you spend nearly all the time on the porcelain throne and by the time you have pretty well purged yourself, the bum is raw and sore.

Anyway, I digress. My family doctor suggested I go to the Rudd Clinic in downtown Toronto. Apparently, they are the authority on all things bum and bowel related. I had to wait about a month or so to get in, but considering their reputation and specialization, that was really not that bad a wait. When I got there, I was surprised that I was seen by Dr. Warren Rudd himself.

I went into the exam room and he asked what the problem was. I said I had really bad hemorrhoids that hurt like hell and burned like hell. In fact, I had even taken a picture of them with my iPhone and took it out to show him. He did not seem surprised that I had a photo of my hemorrhoids, but after taking a look, he immediately said, "That's not hemorrhoids." I said, "What do you mean? Look at all those bulging bubbles there." At that point, he asked me to drop my pants so he could have a better look. Once again, he said it was not hemorrhoids. He said it is a condition called Anusitis, sometimes called Anal Itch, which is often caused by diet, and cured by changing diet. He asked if I drank coffee, and I said just decaf. He said it did not matter - caffeinated or decaf - I had to immediately stop drinking coffee and colas, as well as chocolate, and anything hot or spicy. He then asked if I read while on the toilet, and I said of course, whereupon he said I have to break that habit: never sit on the toilet more than 2 minutes!

He then asked if I read his book. What book? Knew nothing about it. I asked if he had one there, and he popped into his office and returned with a copy. I asked how much, and he said $20 - no tax. "Read chapter six", he said. Actually, he said read the whole book and especially chapter six, which deals with my specific condition of Anusitis.Click to enlargeHe then told me to go downstairs to the drugstore and buy a device called Anurex. He said it is small device, about 3 inches long and about half an inch in diameter, with a knob about an inch in diameter at the top. He said to put it into the freezer for about 2 hours and then insert it into my anus. It works like a cold compress that you would put onto your arm or leg if you sprained it. Only, this works 'internally' in the anal canal. The device is reusable - just wash it thoroughly afterwards, and put it back into its container and return it to the freezer. It comes with a small container of aloe lubricant, but that is a very small container, and he said I could get a tube of KY lubricant instead.Quite frankly, I think I still have hemorrhoids, but he claims differently, and he is the expert. What bothers me is that my colonoscopy doctor, and family doctor, both mis-diagnosed this problem, and I have been living in pain for over 15 years.

I have been using the Anurex device for several weeks now, and have also changed my diet to mostly bland foods. And, oh yes, I have a high fibre cereal (Fibre 1) each morning. He insisted on this - said this is the only cereal with 15 grams of fibre per serving, and that I needed this each day. For the first week I did not notice any difference, in fact, it seemed to make my more constipated, which aggravated the problem down below because it made me force each bowel movement. I called him up about this, saying it sort of negated the effect of the Annurx device if I had to exert so much force for a bowel movement. He asked if I was drinking water with the cereal - I said no. He then said that eating fibre is useless unless it is accompanied by a bottle of water. Apparently, water is the catalyst that makes the fibre work in the bowels. So, I started drinking water each morning with the cereal, and actually taking a bottle with each meal, and I can't believe the difference. I now have the recommended 2 to 3 firm, but not hard, bowel movements each day.

However, the 'hemorrhoids' are still there, and still as sore as ever. I have a followup appointment with him this Friday. I am not expecting miracles, but he did say it may take 3 to 4 months till the anusitis goes away.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peter Haworth

In the early 70s, I was given a painting by Peter Haworth. No one seemed to like it except me. In fact, my wife wanted me to toss it out, but something made me keep it. Art is a very personal thing.

Recently, I decided to see what it was worth. I searched the internet, but could not find any reference to the painting. Apparently Peter Haworth lived from 1889 to 1986 and produced a lot of paintings, but only started to delve into abstracts in the late 60s or early 70s.

As the painting I have in possession is an abstract, I assume it is one of his earlier works in this genre. So, I also assumed it might be worth something.

I contacted a local art auction house here in Toronto via email, and sent them along some photos of my painting, including a close up of the signature and the back, which appears to read "Village" preceded by the number 5 with a circle around it. The painting measures about 20" x 25", and is on Masonite board. The following are the photos:



Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge




The auction house replied back that based on my photos, they estimate that it could fetch between $800 and $1200 based on its condition - they would have to see it up close for a more accurate evaluation. They asked if I would like to have it consigned for auction, and I declined.

I was a bit disappointed.. I thought it would be worth more. In the end, I figured I would hold onto it a bit longer, perhaps pass it down to my kids - who knows: with age it might accrue in value.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Motorcycle Supershow 2011

Lois and I went to the MotorCycle SuperShow yesterday. It is an annual event held each year at the International Centre near the airport. It is a very big show, covering several halls. Many of the big names are there, but mostly it is show bikes and vendors. One of my favourite paint jobs was this one painted with autumn leaves - the painted leaves on the bike perfectly matched the real leaves on the ground under it. More photos of bikes from the show can be found on my Fickr site.



We bought a few things - Lois finally got a new helmet. She had a full face helmet for the past 15 years and was looking for a new visor: the one she had was badly scratched and she wanted to replace it. However, being so old, no one carried a new visor that would fit her helmet. By I and the sales rep tried to convince her that although her current helmet was still 'looking' in good shape, it really should be replaced - riders should really replace their helmets every 5 years for safety.

So, she tried on an HJC CL-MAX2 in matt black. It it also a full face helmet, however the front pivots open for easier installation and removal. It also makes it easier for her to put on her glasses. She loved it, and we bought it.Below is an image of the helmet both closed and open.





I was also looking to replace my 15-year helmet, but was looking for a shorty half-helmet with a built in drop-down visor, but could not find one at the show. The sales rep who sold Lois her helmet, said they had what I was looking for at their store, but did not have any at the show. He gave me a discount coupon to buy one at his store, so I will head down to it next week to see what they have.

We also bought a few other things, like T-shirts and things. Lois had hoped to find a new pair of boots, but the type (slouch boots) she was looking for were not there.


In all, it was a great show. It was crowded for a Friday, and it expect it will be a mad house on Saturday and Sunday.