March 14, 2017

Yesterday we had a blizzard. Normally I wouldn’t write about a blizzard, but because it was so late in the year, March 14, I think it merits mention.

The fact that we had a blizzard a week before spring is notable in and of itself…and the fact that I had taken a robin under the wing (so to speak) added to the drama (at least in my mind). This robin showed up a few weeks ago. It had been unusually warm back then for that time of the year and the ground was starting to thaw. I saw the robin out on the lawn doing his little robin thing…running a few steps, turning his head and listening, over and over again. I didn’t give it much thought.

But then it got cold. Bitterly cold. The ground that was starting to thaw refroze and was hard as a rock. The robin was smart enough to not even bother with his running and listening routine. I would see him in the trees and wonder what he was eating. Then I thought “Maybe he’s not eating.” That did it, blueberries were on my shopping list.

So the next day I put some of the fresh blueberries on the ground near the big holly which would provide some protection. I watched and waited and after a while he showed up and ate them. Success! I fed him those blueberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day since then.

But then the blizzard arrived. I could have worried about losing power or having the big old pine tree blow over on the house or something fairly rational. But no, I’m worried about feeding the robin.

The snow started very early in the morning. I brushed a path out to the holly and deposited the berries. I watched from the window and saw him eating. But then the snow became heavier and the wind was howling. I didn’t think he had time to eat many berries before conditions deteriorated. And he didn’t get his usual lunch. At about 3 PM the snow let up and I shoveled a path to the holly and cleared an area. I didn’t see him or hear him. I put the berries down and watched from the window…no robin.

Then it started to rain and the rain switched back to snow.  It was now after 6 PM and I was sitting in my chair by the window in the den. I saw a movement out the window and turned my head and there appeared the robin on the sill knocking on the window. He had a frantic look on his face and panic in his eyes! I jumped up, grabbed the berries, and headed out the door.

A robin is rather an aloof type of bird. They do their own bird thing and really don’t pay attention to humans. In contrast, the chickadee is a very sociable little bird. He comes over to greet you and sing his little chick-a-dee-dee-dee to you. The catbird follows you around the yard, almost complaining that you are intruding on his personal domain. The hummingbird who comes every year shows up at either the window in the kitchen or den to tell me she’s here and thereafter when she needs more nectar.

I wondered how the robin knew I’d be at the den window? He must have been desperate to do something so out of character.

I put the blueberries down and watched from the window. It was getting dark and usually the robin would be bedded down for the night by now. No robin appeared.

I saw him early the next morning by the holly. I grabbed the berries and by the time I got outside he was singing up a storm. Things are back to normal. And normal is good.

March 14, 2017 snow:

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Photo of his berries:

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Shipping and Handling

Shipping charges are pretty much fixed. Oh, sure, you could add insurance and other services to the postage but at the end of the day you know how much it cost to ship an item. Then you’d have to include the cost of the packaging…the box, tissue paper, bubble wrap, peanuts, tape, labels, note card and whatever.  But again, you can arrive at a proximate cost.  The handling, ah the handling, that is another matter.  Do you establish an hourly rate, estimate how long it will take to pack something and arrive at an appropriate handling fee?  I pack all kinds of antique, vintage and other items that have been sold at my Etsy shop.  I don’t include a handling charge because, in some instances, it would be exorbitant to the point of ridiculous.

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I sell a good deal of silver plated items.  Most are antique from the late 1880s. I take care in packaging these items but it really doesn’t take that long.  I’m not really worried about the package (and item) getting damaged, I’m concerned that it will get lost somewhere in the system.  It’s really a leap of faith to leave a package with the USPS and hope that it reaches the recipient.  I have lost sleep over a rare antique julep strainer that didn’t reach a bartender across country for days after its expected delivery date.  Although it was finally delivered, I think of it as a reflection on my service.  I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

Packaging more delicate items is not so simple.  An antique transferware plate is not extremely difficult. But packing a coffee pot does present challenges.

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The spout and handle have to be carefully protected, as does the top. Constructing three sided cardboard protectors for the handle and spout works well. It takes thought and time. Double boxing is a good idea.  You can write “FRAGILE” all over the box. But you never know, do you?  The word “fragile” might provoke playfulness with those whose care you have entrusted it.  I can see it being tossed across a sorting room… I have to remove those negative thoughts from my mind somehow.

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Antique paper is another nightmare.  Paper that is 130 years old is fragile.  It crumbles if you just look at it. Carefully rolling it in tissue paper and inserting in a plastic bag (to protect it in case it is left in the rain) before you place it in a shipping tube is nerve wracking.

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As some of you might know, I sell pieces of wood from my yard.  Yew is popular.  And you might think it has to be a piece of cake to package a stick.  Well, if it is a nice, straight stick that easily slides into a tube, it is!

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The following photo shows a root end of a piece of yew.  It might not look that large in this photo but it was. It was huge.  I’m lucky I had a box big enough to hold it.  And it had to be well packaged so that it didn’t bounce around inside the box and break through one end.  The buyer of this piece of yew paid a good deal in shipping but the handling was free.

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Another sort of wood that I sell is hawthorn.  It is bought mainly for the thorns which can be up to two inches long and sharp as you know what.  Not only do you have to be careful to not impale yourself in the process of packaging it, you have to be very gentle with it as the thorns are fragile and can break.

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Moving right along to the harder substances, I sell antique bricks as well. Certainly, you might think, bricks have to be simple to pack.  But they’re not.  These four bricks had to be individually bubble wrapped and then separated by a cardboard grid to keep them from bumping up against each other.  The exterior sides of the box had to be protected by a double layer of cardboard as well.  Antique bricks break easily. I wrote “FRAGILE” all over the outside of the box too. They have to be protected.  And carrying that box into the post office wasn’t easy either! (Talk about handling!)   “What do you have here, lady, a box of bricks?” Yup.

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And lastly, I also sell some unusual rocks from my property. wp-1486299618053.jpg

The heart shaped rock above was purchased by a woman who said she had just gone through a very difficult time in her life and this rock was perfect. She was so looking forward to receiving it.  Broken rocks are fragile and crumble easily.  I wrapped it in tissue paper and bubble wrapped the heck out of it.  “FRAGILE” was written on this box as well. It arrived safely and she was so happy.  I was happy too.

 

 

Manuka Honey

A few weeks ago my sweet little cat, Graycie, spotted the neighbor’s cat in the yard behind me as I was coming in the door.  Graycie made a run for the door and I put down my hand to stop her.  In her frenzy to get out the door she attacked my hand and arm, biting and clawing, almost as if I were the neighbor cat herself.  At least I had managed to keep Graycie inside and away from doing any damage to “Fluffy” as I call her.  But she sure did damage to me.

Graycie

Graycie

I washed the cuts, cleaned them with peroxide and then soaked them in epsom salts. I applied neosporin and then continued periodically soaking the hand and arm in epsom salts.  I knew cat bites and scratches were bad and cpi;d ;ead to a serious infection. I had cellulitis a few years back from a bite from another cat which resulted in a trip to the emergency room and antibiotics.

It looked like I had the situation under control for the first few days.  There was what appeared to be a deep puncture would and deep scratch on the back of my hand that were still bleeding and draining; they were the worst of my injuries.  The general area was slightly swollen and a combination of black and blue and red. I had to keep my hand elevated as it was less painful that way and I slept with it elevated as well.

But the morning of the fourth day I awoke not feeling well. My hand seemed to be a little more red and my blood pressure was higher than usual.  I hated to do it, but I called the doctor.  She saw me and prescribed Azithromycin tables for five days, which I took. 

Little by little the redness seemed to lessen but the pain was still there.  At the end of the fifth day the two deep puncture / scratch wounds were still draining a clear liquid (exudate). (This is now nine days after the “incident” as I shall call it). They had pretty much scabbed over except for those areas that were draining. The edges were red and puffy.  I tried not to use that hand as the movement would open up those wounds as the skin was pulled tight. My blood pressure was still elevated during this time.

I had read before about using honey for wound and burn care.  I got on the internet and searched and sure enough, honey’s praises were being sung even by doctors. The best honey to use appeared to be Medical Grade Manuka from New Zealand.  My local Vitamin Shoppe had it in stock and I picked up a jar.  It was rather expensive…close to $60.

Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey

I applied the honey both to the wounds and to the gauze pad with which I covered it. My hand immediately felt better.  I could bend the hand without the pain and tightness. wp-1474890935174.jpg

The article shown above and below is from www.dermnetnz.org and was extremely helpful. wp-1474890946476.jpg

I changed my dressing twice a day. wp-1474890955615.jpg

I applied the honey for at least ten days as I could see it was pulling exudate and also debriding the wounds.  At the end of that time I could see the swelling and inflammation was gone. My blood pressure was back to normal.wp-1474890963678.jpg

What I found interesting is that the article above states that when honey is diluted by wound exudates, hydrogen peroxide is produced via an enzyme reaction.  This is released slowly to provide antibacterial activity but does not damage tissue.  From my experience that is exactly what it did.

It is now twenty five days later.  I still have scabs but no inflammation, draining or pain. 

And I pet Graycie with the other hand now.

Cooking Pasta in a Drought

We here in north central Connecticut are in a severe drought.  This is becoming somewhat of the norm in recent years.  I have a well and I’m constantly thinking about ways to save water.  I have a rain barrel to collect some of what comes off the roof.  I capture the water that drips from the window air conditioner and water the umbrella pine with it as the pine likes water and was severely stressed (better now that it’s getting buckets of water from the air conditioner).  And I use the water captured by the dehumidifier in the basement to fill the birdbaths.  There are other ways I conserve water but I won’t go into that. 

Drought Monitor Map CT

Drought Monitor Map CT

The map above shows the severe drought we are experiencing in our part of the state.

I have been planning meals with an eye towards less water consumption and pasta has been off my list for quite some time now.  The recommended cooking method for one pound of pasta requires boiling it in 4 to 5 quarts of water and then draining and rinsing with even more water.  Too wasteful as far as I’m concerned so it was off my menu.

The National Pasta Association facts and figures shown below state that Americans consume 6 billion pounds of pasta each year.

Pasta Consumption in the U. S.

Pasta Consumption in the U. S.

If you use 4 quarts of water to boil one pounds of pasta, then we Americans are using at least 24 billion quarts of water to cook our pasta annually and even more to drain it. That 6 billion gallons of water. 

I had a half box of Barilla gluten free ziti in my pantry for quite a while and I had some really ripe tomatoes that I wanted to make a sauce with.  I wondered if I could cook the pasta directly in the sauce?  I searched the internet and found quite a few articles about cooking pasta in very little water.  The claim was that pasta doesn’t need 4 or 5 quarts of water to cook; the job can be done, and done very well, in much less water.

There were variations of suggestions as to how to do this. Some said to cook 8 ounces of pasta in 1 and 1/2 quarts of boiling water. Some said to put the amount of pasta you want in a pot and add cold water to just cover it.  Starting this way with cold water prevented the pasta from sticking together.  Some said to cover the pot and some said to just stir it occasionally uncovered.  I figured what the heck, I’ll go for starting with cold water in an uncovered pot. I added a little salt to the pot.  Remember, this is gluten free Barilla. I wasn’t sure if it would work as well as regular pasta.

I put the heat at medium high and once the water started to simmer I turned it down to medium.  I stirred it every minute or two and let it continue to simmer.  In about 12 minutes it looked like this and it was very al dente.  I didn’t want the pasta to get mushy so that’s when I took it off the heat.

Al Dente

Al Dente

After standing for about three or four minutes, and a little stirring, this is what it looked like: wp-1473267004026.jpg

Not a drop of water to drain out.  The pasta was cooked perfectly.  I added it to my sauce and voila, a perfect meal with no wasted water. 

This method of cooking works with the shorter cuts of pasta like my ziti. The pasta has to be submerged under the water without sticking out to cook properly. Stirring helps to assure that each piece is submerged.

I could see making macaroni and cheese this way by combining some butter and cheese with the cooked pasta. One pot and no wasted water.  Love it.

Ice Cream is Better than Aspic

The previous owner of this unusual sickle shaped item called it a “bookmark”.  It is just over 10 inches long, has a hollow handle and is relatively heavy.  How could someone possibly think it is a bookmark?  But what is it?

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The curved blade is beautifully etched on one side.

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And has a small amount of etching on the reverse.

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There is a mark, possibly two marks, on the handle. wp-1465124497031.jpg

Although difficult to see, the mark shown above is a French mark called a “Minerve”. It depicts a woman’s head and has a “1” at the top right side of the head.  This indicates it is 950 parts of 1000 silver…sterling silver.

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On the opposite side is what appears to be another mark, possibly a maker’s mark, but I have been unable to identify it.

Searching “sickle knife”, “sickle blade” and other sickle related phrases, I found results for aspic knives on the internet.  Some well known American sites were calling this an aspic knife or slice.

The thought of aspic left a bad taste in my mouth.  Aspic…a savory jelly studded with meat, fish, vegetables or whatever.  It made me think back to the jellied pigs’ feet my mother sometimes made when I was a young girl.  I couldn’t even stay in the house when she was making the stuff; the smell nauseated me never mind the horror of seeing pigs’ feet in a pot.  After cooking, the pieces of meat and broth were put into bowls and placed in the glassed in back porch over night.  This was only done in the cold months and the broth would jell around the meat.  What was even more disgusting is that it was eaten the next morning!  The pigs’ feet had been boiled with cloves of garlic and the aroma in the kitchen the next morning was revolting. Time to disappear for a while.

I wondered how these sickle shaped utensils could be used to cut through aspic.  The blade was not serrated.  How could it cut through pieces of meat?  And how would you hold it to slice?  It just didn’t make sense to me.

I knew from experience that although an item might be identified as something by certain people, even by so-called experts, it did not necessarily mean that it was correct.  And if something is identified as a certain thing, other people jump on board, do no other research of their own, and take for granted it is what others are saying it is.

What I was looking for was an advertisement, article or catalog page from the time showing that it is an aspic server.  But what I found instead is that it is an “ice cream slice” or, as the French would call it, “serpette a glace”.  The illustration below from an 1898 publication shows a “service a glace” (“glace” translates to “ice cream”).1898 La Coutellerie Depuis l'Origine Jusqu'à Nos Jours pg676

This sickle shaped slicer was usually sold in a set with a server. 1904 Deutsche Goldschmiede-Zeitung Vol.7 pg100 & ca1915 German catalog

Both illustrations above came from German publications from the early 1900s.  They call this sickle knife an “eissichel”.  “Eis” in German is “ice cream”.  “Eis…sichel”…”ice cream sickle”.  I believe the tip of the blade is placed on the plate on the far side of the ice cream and pulled toward you to slice.

This is evidence (word and illustration) from the time that this is an ice cream slice.  If anyone reading this has written evidence that the “aspic knife” is actually an “aspic knife”, I’d be delighted to see it and will add it to this post.

This ice cream slice is available for sale here at my Etsy shop:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/398805449/serpette-a-glace-french-950-minerve

 

Today’s Terrarium Trend

It was evident last summer that parts of my lawn, if you could call it a lawn, had serious problems.  It was becoming overrun by moss, wild violets and clumps of tall fescue.  The wild violets, I don’t mind.  I actually think they are pretty and after the white and purple flowers finish their bloom, the glossy leaves are nice and green.  Moss is lovely, in the right place but not in the middle of the lawn.  And the clumps of tall fescue were just hideous.

My lawn was talking to me and it was saying it needed lime.  One of the most useful books I have, “Taylor’s Encylopedia of Gardening”, reads in part “What Lime Does: Rainwater is generally somewhat acid.  It therefore tends to leach out of soil some of the necessary calcium, as well as other soluble materials.  If too long continued, this process results in what the farmer calls a sour soil, unfit for clover and for many other crops…”  That’s what I had, a sour soil.  It continued “Besides the purely chemical action, lime of the right sort has the peculiar quality of making heavy clay or silt soils more workable.  This action is apparently purely physical, for it results in the amalgamation of extremely fine soil particles into somewhat larger units, which allows far better aeration and drainage.  On this core alone lime is of the greatest value.”

 My friend Alan said the lime wouldn’t even reach the soil with the carpet of moss out there.  So he, and then we, began moving the moss, piece by piece, and placing it under a maple tree close to the barn.

Transplanted Moss

Transplanted Moss

And then Alan dug up some of the tall fescue and artistically placed it near the moss.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue

I was so pleased with the way the moss and fescue looked that I emailed a couple of photos to my daughter, Christine.  She responded that the moss would be good for a terrarium and terrariums were all the rage now; in fact she was teaching a course on creating terrariums later that morning.  She asked if I would be selling some of my harvest on Etsy. 

Well I had no idea that terreraiums were in vogue again.  I have sold hawthorn and yew branches on Etsy as well as some rocks from my property…why not moss? I looked on Etsy to see how many shops, if any, were offering moss for sale and to my surprise I found that quite a few were…and at reasonable prices.  It didn’t appear to me that Etsy needed another shop selling moss.

I started to think about terrariums and the different components that go into creating one. I was even inspired to make a Polyvore set:

My Polyvore Set

My Polyvore Set

This set was picked by Polyvore as one of their best “Home” sets.

It seemed to me that terrariums most likely were popular back in the 1800s at the same time ferns were all the rage (I’ve published a separate post on ferns entitled “Pterodomania”).  Researching this a bit I found www.terrariums.net which provided the following: 

“The ferm case was discovered accidentally in 1827 by Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a London physician with a passion for botany.  Dr. Ward built a fern rockery in his backyard, but the ferns kept dying, poisoned by the fumes from the city’s factories.  Ward was also studying moths and caterpillars and, while experimenting with a cocoon in a covered jar for observation, he notice that several plants had grown in the bit of soil at the bottom of the jar.  Among the bottled plants was a fern, and, unlike the ferns in his garden, it looked healthy.  Dr. Ward concluded that plants could flourish in London if they could be protected from the city’s polluted air.  Ward pursued his discovery in miniature greenhouses, which he named fern cases, and which are now known as Wardian cases or terrariums.”

And “Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening” contains quite a bit of good information on terrariums:

“A terrarium is a transparent container, tightly fitted with an adjustable glass cover, in which plants are grown in earth instead of water.  It is known also as a fernery, Wardian case, bottle garden crystal garden, and glass garden.  Terrariums may be bought in any number of sizes and shapes, or more at home by fitting pieces of glass, cut to the proper size, to a planting pan.  The edges may be bound together with silk adhesive binding.  Glass aquariums, fish globes, cracker and candy jars – in fact, any glass receptacle with a tight-fitting top can be used.  The tight cover is to prevent the loss of interior humidity, as the terrarium actually answers the purpose of a miniature greenhouse.

“The uses of the terrarium are many: for house decoration, plant propagation, nature study, scientific observation, centerpiece, and table garden.  Experiment with different sizes, shapes and planting materials will produce many odd and beautiful results.  The size of the case will limit definitely the choice of the materials, but of more importance are the requirements of the plants.  Woodland plantings of lichens, moss, trailing arbutus, violets, anemones, partridge-berries, trilliums, bloodroot, and wood ferns are desired by many as winter house decorations.  But steam-heated living rooms, with temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees, are much too warm for these cold-loving plants.  These natural woodland plantings can be had, of course, if the temperature can be kept low enough, or the plants replaced easily from time to time.  If moss is used, place it face down in the container, so that a free green carrpet will be visible from the outside.  Then arrange your woodland plants and fill in around their roots with rich loam and more moss.  Natural scenes may be copied from the woods, using stones for large boulders, a lichen-covered stick for a log, and a seedling evergreen for a tree.  Colorful effects are obtained by the addition of bits of tree-growing fungi, twigs with incrusted growing plants, and low-growing flowering plants to force into bloom.  Artificial furnishings should be used with discretion.

“Sand and large pebbles may be used instead of moss as the drainage layer, with a little charcoal for sweetening.  Above this spread an inch or more of topsoil.

“Tropical plants with their wealth of color and love of heat and moisture are ideally suited to terrarium culture.  Among the best of these are crotons, hoffmanias, all of the warm-house ferns, begonias, African violets, oxalis, peperomias, selaginellas, and creeping philodendrons.  Tree-moss, liverworts and creeping nettles make excellent carpets.

“Terrariums require very little care.  Watering must be done in moderation, perhaps once in ten days, unless the rooms are excessively hot.  No water must be left standing around the roots, or the soil will become sour and soggy.  If mold appears, increase the ventilation and it will disappear.  If the lid fits very tightly, and the terrarium is given plenty of water, it may safely be left for a number of weeks without attention, as the moisture will condense on the  cool glass and drip back into the garden.”

Using a terrarium for winter house decoration especially appealed to me.  I certainly had a yard full of potential candidates for terrarium use.  Maybe later in the year I’ll make one!  If I do, you can be sure I’ll be blogging about it!

I did put some of the moss in an old shallow planter. 

Moss Planter

Moss Planter

The moss is much greener than the photo shows.  That’s taller, darker moss towards the back.  It is rust colored with bright green tips.  I think this planter would be an excellent focal point for mediation.  You can see there are so many tiny variations in the moss…you can really get lost in it.  Moss meditation!

Oh, baby!

I received an email from a relative recently that stated she heard on television that a small number of Princess Diana purple Beanie Babies were worth $500,000.  She just happened to have one of these Princess Diana Beanies and was sending it to me and asked that I check this out.

I have to say that this email certainly got my attention.  $500,000!  So my research began.  I saw that eBay had 1,571 purple Princess Diana Beanie Babies listed for sale and that was just searching title, not description.  Of the 1,571 listed, the majority were described as “rare”.  And some had a listing price of over $500,000.  The sold items on eBay showed 607 sold Princess Diana Beanies and a few of them sold for good money, a few thousand dollar “best offers” but not the many thousand dollar listing prices. Most of them sold under $50.

Then I looked at Etsy, not expecting to find any since Etsy’s policies state that “vintage” items should be 20 years or older and these 1997 Beanie Babies are a year shy of meeting that 20 year criteria.  But, to my surprise, there were 25 of them listed in the Vintage category.  I guess Etsy is a little lax in policy enforcement.  I created an Etsy treasury showing the highest priced 16 listings which follows.  Two of them are listed for $250,000, followed by one for $175,000, $145,000, $100,000 and down.

Some Princess Diana Beanie Babies Listed on Etsy

Some Princess Diana Beanie Babies Listed on Etsy

There are many “hits” when researching this particular Beanie Baby on the internet.  The one I found most informative is: http://tycollector.com/the-scoop/princess-bear.htm

I made two screen prints from this site which follow, but if you are really interested in this subject, I urge you to read the information contained on the tycollector.com site.

Ty Collector Princess

Ty Collector Princess

Following is a chart showing Princess Diana Beanie Baby values as of February 29, 2016.

Current

Current Princess Beanie Baby Values as of 2/29/16

This Ty Collector site includes a “Fraud Alert (January 14, 2015) which starts: “From time to time, prices paid by buyers on eBay for the Princess Beanie Baby increase dramatically for a short period of time.  This generally happens when a blogger, a personality on a TV show or a news reporter claims Princess is valuable because it is selling for an extremely high price on eBay.

That of course, is an uninformed misrepresentation or sometimes an intentional deception designed to scam potential collectors who do not understand how eBay really works.”

This entire section of the website is very informative as to how eBay works and what to watch out for.

So, all of that being said, I do have a Princess Diana Beanie Baby available for sale. 20160322_120251.jpg

I cannot list it for sale on Etsy as it does not meet their Vintage category requirements. 20160322_120312.jpg

It is in mint condition. 20160322_120344.jpg

Handmade in China, no space, PE pellets…this info means something to you if you are a serious collector.20160322_120426.jpg

If you are interested in making an offer on this Beanie, please contact me at queenofsienna@gmail.com20160322_120501.jpg

If you have any additional information you would like to share regarding the Princess Diana Beanie Baby, I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks.