Funky Frugal: Ma Sue the matriarch

by Tanner Cangelosi

We recently loaded up our 15-passenger van with our six tiny humans and went on an eight-hour road trip for the holidays. The reason we underwent this madness was the prize at the end of the journey — getting to Ma Sue’s house. 

My grandmother’s home is a little bit like a fairy tale dream. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting with good smells and cozy blankets to snuggle under. She is the best cook I know and has a great eye for making her home cozy. 

My sweet granddaddy, who passed away last spring, was a beef cattle farmer along with many other hats. He would always fetch her things out in the barns for me to paint on. They were married 65 years, and I loved watching them care for each other.

Here, we got a saw out of the barn, and my grandmother wanted me to paint her house number on it. She is always finding fun projects for us to do.

My children squeal with glee when we pull up the driveway. Her quaint white farmhouse sits on top of a hill in a small Kentucky town.
One thing I adore about going to her house is going to the flea markets and yard sales together. We both have a passion for junk, and fixing it up. I guess you can say it is an inherited trait, but it must skip a generation because my mom does not share our passion. My mom and I bargain hunt/have therapy at T.J. Maxx!  

So this trip was no different. As soon as I arrived, we started planning our trip out to Pa’s Place (our favorite treasure spot). My husband was kind enough to keep the kids at the farmhouse while we ventured out to satisfy our thirst for junk. And did we find some! 

Ma Sue gave me $25 to spend for my birthday, and I just went to town! I purchased an old mixing bowl, tea kettle, some fake pearls, a tea cup, a perfume bottle and Christmas lights. My favorite item was a junky old table. This was all done in this small town junk shop that also doubles as their auto mechanic, so you could shop while you get your oil changed. 

We gleefully took our treasures home to the hill to wash and paint. I want to share with you how easy it was to clean up my $15 table.  
To begin, I simply sprayed it with cleaner and wiped it down. I then used black spray paint that my Ma Sue had on hand. If your furniture is not in a high traffic area, it doesn’t always require primer. Although, if your children will use your coffee table as a stage (not that I would know), then you will want to prime it first.  

After the paint dried, I brought it in the kitchen and sat down on the floor with my grandmother and cousins and began to paint. I had an idea of what I wanted, but not an exact idea. I knew I wanted the song “It Is Well With My Soul” on the top. I also love bright flowers, so I decided to combine the two. If art isn’t your thing, consider using a stencil or, even better, a projector. 

After I was done, I sprayed the table with two coats of polyurethane, which is a must if you plan on setting a drink down on it. If you use a brush to apply the polyurethane it will work even better, but I was just lazy and pressed for time. Don’t judge. I had six kids waiting for dinner!  

I’m so thankful Ma Sue would encourage my love for finding treasures in junk stores. We both love old things and doing something new and fresh with something worn out. It gives us a strange joy to see how much bang we can get for our buck. If the seller will bargain, well let’s just say that Ma Sue is the Jedi Master of bargaining. I’ve learned from the best.


A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Tanner Cangelosi owns
her own business – – and has done a variety of projects, from individual home décor items to painting murals in private residences. For more information, Tanner can be reached at 501.908.1338 or[email protected].