Bitten by the jitterbug

I’ve been a dancer my whole life, including a stint with the professional company Albany Berkshire Ballet many moons ago.

I’m currently in my 8th year as a volunteer dance teacher (ballet and tap) at Groove With Me, a program in East Harlem, NYC, which uses free dance classes and performance opportunities as a tool to instill in young women the leadership, pride, spirit of cooperation, creativity, joy and discipline needed to confront the adversity in their daily lives and throughout their future development. The love I have for this organization and my current and former students could be an entire blog post, but I digress..

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Teaching ballet class. These girls are teens now (eek!)

My ballet career ended because of a knee injury, so I’m unable to do anything near what I used to do. And now I recently discovered the NYC lindy scene. Apparently, there are people out there who appreciate historical accuracy, dancing, music, and period art/architecture, and said people get together at events to dance, wear their vintage or reproduction finery, and revel in the glory that is all things vintage.

My dear friends Sarah, whom I met while dancing in Albany Berkshire Ballet, have gone to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island in NYC a few years ago with me. We’d always talked about going again, but things come up, like graduate school, work, her living in the Berkshires, etc. We finally went to Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra‘s Winter Ball last week. A period ball, with 20s through 40s music, set in a private Gilded Age mansion on 63rd street.

Of course, we had to be historically accurate in all details. Stockings, shoes, dress, hair, accessories, etc. Sarah is a stylist and costume designer, and has background working in museums and other historical contexts, so texting each other about the appropriateness of a round toe vs a pointed toe shoe for the 1920s is not out of the ordinary for us.

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En route at Grand Central.

I altered a terribly frumpy but beautifully beaded evening gown from the 1980s that I got for $5 at a church rummage sale into a quite accurate 1920s evening dress.

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Before and during the transformation.

Sarah wore an authentic 1920s beaded dress borrowed from a friend. That thing weighed about 10 pounds! Quality, heavy glass beads adorned this incredible dress.

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Look at this beading!

Alas, we took few photos, but managed to snap a few at Grand Central on our way there.

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The weary travelers sitting on the floor really add to the glamour, no?

The event incredibly glamorous. Upon entering, one was completely transported to the jazz age.

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We took very few photos since we were having such a good time, but thankfully one of our new friends, Kay, snapped a few of us in action.

Thankfully we found some gentlemen who knew how to dance, and some ladies who knew their vintage.

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One of my dance partners, a lovely Londoner newly transplanted to NYC.

What an incredible evening.

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Sarah doing the Charleston.

The next day, at Webster Hall in NYC, the Dreamland Orchestra also hosted a jazz age Tea Dance, which was less formal and much larger. Sarah didn’t have time to finish sewing an afternoon dress, but I quite think she got away with wearing that antique dress again for an afternoon/early evening event.

I wore a 1930s silk chiffon gown that I also picked up for $5 through my crafty thrift-hunting skills. It was a bit dingy due to the age, but I am smitten with the zipper, which was sewn diagonally along the bias.

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My attempt at a selfie.

Sarah was a bit tired from the night before (we got back to my place around 3:30-4am!), but being photographed by Bill Cunningham and meeting some lovely people- including gentlemen that knew how to dance- definitely perked us both up. I’m not particularly into current fashion- I prefer making my own look that incorporates vintage and whatever strikes my fancy, rather than what’s prescribed in the latest rags- but I knew who he was. If you haven’t seen the documentary, check it out! He is an incredible street style photographer, often in the NY Times. I’ve heard of fashion bloggers hearing he is at an event, going home to don their most impressive outfit, rushing to the scene and waltzing around in hope he’ll take their photo. Apparently he doesn’t respond to invitations and doesn’t let people know when he’s coming. He just shows up. I guess you can do that when you’re Bill Cunningham!

I chatted with some ladies in the bathroom about their fabulous outfits and especially their jeweled headpieces and stunning outfits. We ended up being pulled aside to do a quick photoshoot with another photographer, Jeffrey Clark Grossman, that attended.

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Emily has a great Etsy shop, Lulaverse, where she sells beautiful vintage, and Robyn is a singer in Postmodern Jukebox, which does vintage arrangements of contemporary songs. Not sure if I am in love with the angle but it was fun nonetheless.

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Officially starting to take swing/lindy and other vintage dance classes here in the city. I’ve taken some private ballroom lessons, and my training in tap and jazz should help a bit. I’m terribly excited about merging my obsession with history, artistry, and dance.

xo Jaime

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The Ration Project

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I swear I have been meaning to write about one of my favorite podcasts, but since they just gave me a shout out (about my scarf project) on their most recent episode, I just have to talk about them!

The Ration Project is two fabulous, smart, funny ladies who have created a  one-year adventure in living history.  They have dedicated an entire year of their lives to eating ONLY the food rations that would have been available during World War II.

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Here’s the rules:

  • Each family participating in the project will be issued rations according to time, household size, and assigned location (U.S. or U.K.) and will purchase groceries for one year based on these provisions.
  • Items commonly available locally and not subject to rationing (i.e. local fruits and vegetables in season) may be purchased throughout the year in small amounts and in quantity when in season. This includes additional fresh eggs for those with space and knowledge sufficient to raising backyard poultry.
  • Each family member has the option to choose one “black market” item that they feel they cannot do without.

They discuss World War II grocery lists, menu plans, and recipes from the home fronts of Great Britain and the United States.

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My favorite part of history has always been the everyday realities of people living in a different time. Perhaps that’s why I have been so interested in handcrafts and historical fashion my whole life. So hearing these ladies try to live within the challenges of rationing on what people would have eaten during the war is fascinating. They also open each episode with the historical context of the war. Essentially, each week of their lives, they live with whatever rations were available during one month of the war, and along the way, they infuse the discussions with fun anecdotes as well as profound musings of the realities of war on the home front.

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Not only have I learned that rationing wasn’t necessarily about reducing the food people ate, but rather, making sure that everyone had enough to eat, but I have become fascinated with the other implications of rationing on everyday life.

One of my favorite anecdotes is due to the unavailability of nylon and silk for stockings, women used eyeliner to draw a line down the back of their legs to mimic the back seam of stockings. I have also read that this was done during the 1920s and 30s when the Great Depression made new stocking an unattainable luxury for many.

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They also have “bonus rounds”, where they take on challenges for a week that reflect some of the things people would have dealt with on the home front, such as clothing/cloth rationing, growing your own Victory Gardens, and 1940’s home and beauty routines. I can’t wait to start my own Victory Garden this spring!

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Check out their Facebook and their website, and of course, the podcast which is available online and on iTunes.

If you’re into history on the home front, I have a feeling you’ll be as addicted as I am.

xo,

Jaime

“Scarf project” update!

12/10/15

This project is going full swing! (Click here for more info.) We have an instructor who has organized meetups at a local coffee shop on a weekly basis to teach those who want to learn to crochet or knit.

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And Terri, a lovely woman I met through this project, has majorly stepped up and utilized her organizational skills and beautiful home has hosted our first evening meetup at her house.

We sorted through yarn donations and shared patterns and knitting needles, and some laughs. Some of these yarns were so lovely, we were drooling! They are the type that you want to buy, but just don’t have any need for them since you’ve already got more yarn than projects to do…well now we are able to enjoy working with some really fun and beautiful yarn, and give the items away for someone else in need to enjoy as well. It’s a win-win.

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Donations of finished products and yarn are rolling in, but because we are up to 47 people involved in the project, we can always use more!

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First batch of donations from about a month ago!

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This is me (coming in from the pouring rain- hence the drowned rat look!) into my friends shop, which is a local drop-off point for donations.

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More donations, as modeled by my guest room day bed. Excuse the awful lighting…

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Earwarmer headbands! These took me about an hour each and are great when you only have a small ball of yarn in one color.

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My mom made all of these colorful scarves! I donated some of them to a local group of families who lost everything they owned the day before Thanksgiving when their apartment building burned down. The more “manly” colored ones will go to Vets at the VA- though there are women vets here as well, there are definitely more men seen in these parts.

If you are interested in participating, please drop me a line at jwilsnack@gmail.com or jaime.wilsnack@va.gov  

I’ve even had friends from across the country mail me a box of yarn they had lying around the house to use for this project- that’s welcome too! We prefer worsted weight, since it’s thicker and easier to care for, but really, we will take what we can get and put it to good use. At our meetup, we had fun matching up odd single balls of yarn for use in striped scarves.

I’m planning on making a big donation to the VA right before Christmas. Since it’s such a huge medical center, I’ve identified a few departments that will receive the donations: the Homeless Program, the Women’s Program, Renal (since many of them have to travel to the hospital several days a week for dialysis treatment) and of course, MIRECC patients, which is my department (Mental Illness, Research and Clinic Care.)

It’s truly touched my heart to see people coming together, donating, and being enthusiastic about this project. My supervisor, a psychiatrist who has been here for 15 years, really thinks handmade items made with care and love like this will be touching to our patients who have a lot on their plates. Sometimes “little” things can be huge.

xo,

Jaime

Scarves for our Veterans in the Bronx– and more! Updates on 10/2/15 and 10/7/15

UPDATE 10/7 (Happy birthday to me!) The community Facebook group has grown to 40 people (!!!) interested in participating or donating- way more than I ever imagined when I hatched this idea. I’m so excited to expand our donations to not just vets at the Bronx VA, but also to a local homeless shelter and to needy families right here in our town of Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown. Along with Terri, I am putting together a tracking sheet because there are so many people and ideas to organize. Hoping to get this off the ground very soon. I’ve had people willing to donate yarn, tools, and their knitting/teaching skills to those who are newbies and want to learn and contribute.

If you’re one of my family members or friends from out of town, you are more than welcome to join the group or to contribute to this project in any way you can. If you like to donate one scarf or 10, or just a ball of yarn or some old knitting needles, I will make sure all of it goes to good use. E-mail me at jwilsnack@gmail.com

Also, my friend Heather, who owns an incredible shop called Trilogy that sells modern, vintage and artisan clothing and accessories has agreed to offer her shop as a drop off point for people who want to donate supplies or finished products. She is open e Tue-Sat: 11:00 am-6:00 pm, Sun: 12:00 pm-5:00 pm (closed on Monday). Since I work during the day and get home around 6:30, this is a great location for a drop-off that’s open during the day, 6 days a week. If you want to bring anything, just stop by her shop at 107 North Broadway in Tarrytown, across from C-Town Supermarket, and let her know I sent you. Anyone else can contact me to arrange a drop off.

What started as me wanted to utilize my yarn stash has turned into what looks like it will be a community effort to help those in need! I’m really looking forward to meeting others in my community and helping others in some small way.

My mom and grandma helped me learn not only my craft and crochet skills, but the importance of helping those in need, even if we aren’t particularly wealthy ourselves. I don’t make a ton of money, especially considering my student loan bills after completing my Masters, but this is a small way I can help others using what I do have- time and yarn!

This whole thing is making me feel both literally and figuratively warm and fuzzy. 🙂


UPDATE 10/2/15: Since I posted this yesterday on my local community Facebook page, I’ve had lots of people show interest in donating yarn, making not just scarves but also hats and mittens, and even meeting up to teach others/learn how to crochet or knit! What a great community I live in. I was also contacted by a friend from my hometown who is sending me a donation from her yarn stash (Thanks, Kaira!) in addition to other community members who will donate supplies.

If you are local in Westchester County (Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, or surrounding areas), I created a Facebook group along with a woman named Terri who so generously offered to host meetups in her home! Click here for that Facebook group. We can use this to coordinate meetups, distributing the donated yarn, and distributing the finished products. Terri also suggested we open it up to donating to the homeless, which is of course a great idea. I’m so happy I live in an area with fellow crafters willing to use their time, energy and supplies to help those in need.


ORIGINAL POST (10/1/15): Hi friends and family,

This weekend I was attempting to organize my embarrassingly large craft supply and yarn stash.

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I remembered reading about groups and individuals who were randomly making and leaving scarves tied around trees, poles, and benches in cities with a note that they are free to anyone who needs one.

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I’ve decided that because my commute is about an hour each way from my cozy home in Westchester to my job at the James J Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Bronx, NYC, and because my yarn stash is out of control, I’d use my commute time and resources to make scarves to give away at the hospital.

As many of you know, I work in suicide research with veterans. This hospital has some great cutting-edge research, including my colleagues investigating neuro-epigenetics and amazing robotic exoskeletons that allow parlayed people to walk again.

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Many of the vets seen at this hospital are of course, from the Bronx, and the population tends to be low-income, low-resource men and women who have served our country recently or many years ago. Many of them are struggling with the physical and mental repercussions of being in the military, and living with the day to day challenges of living in NYC and growing older. Regardless of their socioeconomic status however, I just think it would be a nice thing to do to make some homemade scarves and distribute them at the hospital for anyone who needs one. It’s quite a large and bustling medical center.We see a lot of elderly veterans, women vets, and vets bringing their families, including children with them to the hospital for appointments.

So I’ve decided to make scarves and place them in the lobby with a sign that they’re free, made with love, to anyone who needs/wants one. If anyone has any extra yarn they’d like to donate to me, please email me at jaime.wilsnack@va.gov and let me know! And if you’d like to make some scarves (and hats, mittens, etc- I’m not so good at those) you’re more than welcome to contribute. I plan on making a batch and putting out the first basket when the weather turns cold…which will be pretty soon!

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Here’s some crochet patterns. Knitters are welcome of course, but I’m Team Crochet because I can’t seem to handle two needles.

At this point, this is just an idea I’ve hatched and plan on executing myself, but I plan on talking with other programs at the hospital to see if others want to get involved. I’ll update on my progress.

xo Jaime

Mental Illness awareness jewelry

I find that most blogs shy away from talking about the heavy stuff, and I sort of plan on my blog being no-so-serious all the time, but I wanted to write about some of the jewelry I’m making and the story behind it.

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I’ve been making jewelry with resined bezels featuring messages of hope for those living with mental illness or those who support us. I say “us” because I am both a mental health professional and someone living with mental illness.  I have been struggling with depression, anxiety, and panic disorder since I was a teenager. It’s been an up and down battle for me, and one that I will probably have to manage for the rest of my life, but I remain hopeful that someone with mental illness, just like any physical illness, can strive to live the life they cant.

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On June 29th, 2014, I lost one of my closest friends to suicide. It was extremely difficult to cope with because it was unexpected, and because it is my line of work to prevent these things.  I strive to honor her life and keep her memory alive in my work. I’m so proud of what she did in her life (including being a petite, blond state police officer that you wouldn’t want to mess with if you were the bad guy!)

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My experiences with mental illness and my own clinical psychologist led me to choose a career as a psychologist when I entered college. I’ve earned a BA and an MA in psychology, and for almost 10 years, I have been working in research and treatment for suicide and self injury. I am currently a psychiatric researcher working at a Veterans Affairs hospital in NYC with veterans struggling with suicide, PTSD, substance use disorders, and more.

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Inspired by Project Semicolon, I started making jewelry with messages of hope. I love working with resin, so after finding an excellent jeweler’s grade resin (i.e. won’t yellow over time, is extremely durable) I made a whole bunch of them, and they sold out of my Etsy shop within a few weeks. I’ve made more and they’re selling really well! I want to keep them at an affordable price point, which a federal EIN number allowed me to do because of my ability to buy wholesale supplies.

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Essentially, the message is that the semicolon, a simple punctuation mark- which divides sentence clauses – is being used to help raise awareness about depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, substance use disorders, and other mental illness. A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. It is a physical representation of personal strength in the face of internal struggle.

I love that creating and selling this jewelry has allowed me to connect with others concerned with this cause. One of my first orders was from a woman who wanted me to send the necklace to her best friend as a surprise birthday present. Another person let me know they too live with depression and anxiety, and that they appreciate my story. It’s so gratifying to interact with people in this way and to create something that will be a little reminder every day.

xo Jaime

Adventures in jewelry making

I’ve been meaning to write a post for ages!

I’ve been doing crafts since I was allowed to use safety scissors. Over the years, I’ve come to various levels of mastery in crocheting, drawing/painting, refinishing furniture, mosaic art, costume making, all kinds of sewing, tailoring, soap and bath/body product making, candle making, scrapbooking, cross stitch, computerized graphics, candy making and baking, making my own cleaning products, DIY home decor, ok I’ll stop now. I’ve always enjoyed making jewelry (wire-wrapped seaglass jewelry were my Christmas presents to my friends in 7th grade, you’re welcome ladies!). But I’ve been majorly bitten by the bug…

While shopping and sourcing vintage finds for my Etsy shop, I came across great jewelry that might be broken or unwearable, but had great elements that I was convinced I could remake into jewelry. In addition to that, I was inspired by a movement called Project Semicolon, which seeks to provide support and reduce stigma to those who live with mental illness. I was inspired to make necklaces featuring positive messages and vintage elements, and so these became my first Etsy sales.

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Then I got into soldering. Aka playing with molten metal. I’ve only sustained 3 small 2nd degree burns from my experiments, and I’m pretty thrilled how things are turning out. I’ve used vintage lace, vintage hankies and fabric scraps (most of which I got from some amazing church rummage sales, and soldered them in between glass.

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The results are promising…

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I’m loving how this first batch turned out, and have honed my skills enough to make them good enough to sell. They’ll be in my Etsy shop soon and in a local boutique where I live in Westchester County, just outside of NYC, shortly!

In addition, I’ve come across from beautiful antique/vintage chandelier crystals at a local antique shop, and will be combining these with other vintage elements to make some gorgeous jewelry soon.

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I’m also in love with resin, which is a serious pain to work with, but comes out shiny and icy-clear when done right. That’s what I used for the inspirational pendants, some vintage sheet music from an old Barber of Seville conductors book…

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…and and some fabulous scraps of Liberty of London print fabric and washi paper that I picked up on a trip to Japan in 2007.

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I’m really excited for this new venture and it makes me so happy to connect with others over handcrafted items that I’ve made.

xo Jaime

Vintage, antique or thrift shopping: what to bring with you

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There is a serious strategy to what you bring with you on these kind of shopping trips.

What to wear?

Outfit: the best things to thrift in are comfy, slip on shoes, leggings, some kind of tank, and another layer if needed. Because some shops don’t have fitting rooms, you can throw things on over your leggings and tank top. You don’t want to wear your Sunday best (things can get dusty), and you want to be comfortable.

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What to bring with you?

Here’s what I bring in my “thrift kit”:

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Cross body purse: for hands free shopping. There’s nothing more annoying that carrying a giant, heavy purse (my default bag is basically giving me back problems) when you’re flipping through the racks.

Small change purse or wallet: downsize to only what you need: ID, cash, and credit cards

Student ID: thrift stores often offer student discounts, just ask. (Luckily for me, this usually includes graduate students!)

Cash: many stores don’t take credit cards, so bring cash. This is helpful when setting a budget for yourself as well- only bring as much as you want to spend. Sometimes the deals can be intoxicating and you’re prone to overspending. A $5 Brooks Brothers top is only a good deal if you actually wear it.

Foot liners: those little things you get for free at shoe stores, for trying on shoes that you won’t want to wear socks with, but don’t want to try on barefoot

Tissues: sometimes these stores can get dusty. Also handy for seeing if a stain will come out (see below).

Antibacterial hand gel: this is KEY. If any stores feel skeevy, this is always nice to have. However, this has a much more important function: helping determine if an ink stain will come out. People often donate clothing if it has a small defect like a hole/tear (great if you have even the most basic sewing skills) or a stain. If you see something that’s otherwise great but has an ink stain, rubbing alcohol-based things will remove most inks. Dab some antibacterial gel on a tissue, press it onto a small part of the ink stain for a few seconds. If the ink lifts off onto the tissue, you’ll be able to get it out in the same manner.

Tide to go pen: same as the antibacterial hand gel- you can determine if a stain is likely to come out by putting some of the stain stick on a small part of a stain and dabbing it with a tissue to see if any of it lifts.

A drink and snacks: this kind of shopping is a marathon, not a sprint. Easy to eat snacks like granola bars and almonds are perfect. There’s nothing worse than getting hangry in the middle of the hunt.

Earbuds: sometimes I like chatting with other shoppers (they can be great resources for info about sales, others places to shop, and they’ll sometimes share great finds they’ve decided not to buy), but other times, I just want to zone out. Podcasts or an upbeat playlist can keep you company while you sift.

Reusable shopping bag: I love these foldable ones that tuck right into your purse.

A few other things that might be helpful…

Hair bands: for fuss free shopping

Measurements: if you’re keeping your eye out for home décor or furniture, write down the measurements of your space. You won’t remember it off the top of your head, trust me.

I actually keep a little zippered case with my “supplies” ready to throw into my bag if I decided to go shopping.

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Do you have any strategies for what to bring while bargain hunting?