What I Shed Today

a year of lightening up

swing blade repaired

Sometimes I feel that if all my projects were placed in a single pile, they’d form a new peak climbers would have to bag. In fact they are largely in piles, which hinders reasonable progress toward getting them done. I mostly decide what to work on next by triage: what must be completed in order to accomplish what’s become urgent? Then I go digging.

Tonight I shed the project of re-attaching the blade to the swing blade handle. All it needed was a bolt and nut … but then, I haven’t needed the swing blade, so in its pile it remained. Tomorrow, however, I said I’d deliver it to the community garden so Melanie can begin whacking down the grass and weeds that got ahead of everyone this summer. (She’s on a quest to find her potatoes.)

So I went to my little drawers of odds and ends of fasteners and found a round head machine screw that matched the others on the tool. Then I said to myself, “Self, that may have worked loose in the first place because washers weren’t installed under these screws and nuts.” I’m not an engineer, but I am the son of one, and I like the feeling a washer provides, that the force is spread out a little more when the tension goes on a fastener. Washers are to screws and assemblies as a couple mugs of coffee are to me and my day … it all works better if they’re there. So I fished eight washers out of a drawer and put the swing blade back together better than the day it was made. I wire-brushed the rust off the cutting edges, too. I deserve my swing blade merit badge for this evening’s work.

By the way, if you don’t know this tool, I’m pleased to introduce you. It isn’t as serious as a scythe or kaiser blade, but it will take down grass that’s gotten too high for the mower without wearing you out as soon as they will. And compared to a string trimmer, it has a carbon toeprint … a pinkie toe, at that.

This is not the "sling blade" of the Billy Bob Thornton film of that name. That's a kaiser blade. As Karl Childers says, "Some folks call it a sling blade. I call it a kaiser blade."

This is not the “sling blade” of the Billy Bob Thornton film of that name. That’s a kaiser blade. As Karl Childers says, “Some folks call it a sling blade. I call it a kaiser blade.”

shedding style: repair
destination: Evergreen community garden

Comments welcome … do you have clutter that wouldn’t be if it didn’t lack a screw and nut? (Don’t forget the washers!)

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cabbage seeds

Today’s rather modest shed is of some seeds. The packet is dated for the 2009 growing season, and I don’t know how well or poorly it’s been stored. My germination test this spring wasn’t encouraging. But I’m interested in giving whichever variety it is a trial. I say that because the front calls it “Savoy Perfection” and the back “Savoy Chieftain.” Both are open-pollinated, heirloom varieties with crinkled leaves and mild flavor. I sowed 66 cells in a flat with about three seeds each … if that many sprout, I’ll have to scramble to find growing space for them. One step at a time, however. I’m content that this one used up something that’s meant to be used.


shedding style: use up
destination: gardens (one hopes)

Comments welcome … have you anything that doesn’t improve with age you might sow in hope of a harvest?


“Gro and Sho” Bright Stik disposable fluorescent lamps

General Electric sold these, so far as I can tell, from the 1970s through the 2000s. In the later years they remembered how to spell and called them “Grow and Show” lights and Bright Sticks. But they remained much the same: a T5 lamp cemented to its mounts (which incorporated a ballast) with a cord and in-line switch. I didn’t get a picture before this shed, but, bless the internet, people collect old lighting and some of them post images at Lighting-Gallery.net. Here’s a Bright Stick quite like mine.

Convenience was the primary design feature. They weighed only a few ounces and thus were easy to secure with double-sided tape. But the bulbs couldn’t be replaced. Perhaps since they were rated for 7500 hours, most buyers were comfortable with the compromise.

I wouldn’t have been, but I obtained my pair of Bright Stiks by moving into a rental house where a previous occupant left them behind. I’ve used them in early spring to give tomato and other seedlings the surprising amounts of light they need to get a head start indoors. And I don’t know how many hours the lamps had burned before they came to me, but I used them up. They got blinky, and then their plugs melted. That was a bit disconcerting to observe!

This afternoon, Nimue and I loaded the Bright Stiks into our bicycle baskets and rode to our county’s recycling division facility, which accepts fluorescent lamps and some other items requiring special processing. Could anyone at GE when they were designed have conceived what their end-of-life would involve forty years hence? I doubt it, but we’ve got to get better at thinking downstream. Before next spring, I’ll look into LED-lamp seed-starting solutions.

shedding style: recycle
destination: municipal solid waste facility

Comments welcome … what have you had to do to responsibly dispose of the disposable?

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dead box fans

Casa de WIST has a heat pump, so we are able to “condition” our air in the hot, humid southeastern US summers. That comes at the cost of burning coal somewhere else in the state, however. We try to reduce our carbon footprint by muddling through with the cooling effect of wind, which a collection of fans produce for us. Ceiling fans keep the air gently stirred in three of our rooms. We have three standing models, variously made, that we move around at need when we want to direct air somewhere specific. (Usually upon our perspiring selves, though Nimue doesn’t like for the clothes closet to get stale, so sometimes she parks one in there.)

But the draft horses of our system are the box fans (which cost $14.95 each at the Big Box Home Improvement Warehouse). We set them in windows, blowing out, so fresh air is drawn into the house at night and during the morning before the day heats up. With four fans running on high, they provide more exchange capacity than we calculate we need—as much as a whole-house fan would.

So we weren’t all that concerned when the motor in one died. The oldest have seen several seasons of use, though the product has changed so little that I can’t tell which date from 2008 and which we bought in 2013. When a second failed, I thought they might have been designed to be more consumable than I like. Now a third is slowing significantly. But the year has turned to both meteorological and astronomical autumn, and even in Georgia the nights are cooling. So I’ll get rid of the corpses and worry about replacing them next summer.


shedding style: recycle
destination: steel collection bin at the municipal landfill

Comments welcome … are you a fan of fans?


Nimue’s flute

day four of the WIST musical instrument shed-a-thon

Unlike me, Nimue can play a musical instrument. She mastered the flute in her youth, and has kept the skill. But for years she hasn’t made her flute sing, because it needs service.

It’s been out of hearing, out of mind too long. I’m shedding the inertia. Tomorrow I’m taking the flute to the local music store for a repair quote. And then, even if the figure makes me gulp, I’m going to say, “Do it, please.”

I have a “fun fund” in the bank. What’s it for if not experiences?

shedding style: repair

Comments welcome … what would you give for that with which beauty and meaning can be made?





M. Hohner Marine Band harmonica, key of C

day three of the WIST musical instrument shed-a-thon

Here’s where it gets real … the instrument, the letting go.

For years—make that decades—I’ve wished I could play a musical instrument. (In this, kazoos and Humanatones don’t count.) I’ve even wished I would learn to play, because I recognize it doesn’t happen by magic. But I’ve never successfully made the choice to take time away from everything else I want to do to submit to the disciplines of learning and practice.

I’ve made attempts. I’ve accepted loans of guitars. I kept my friend Nancy’s piano for two years while she studied in Germany, and some evenings I picked out chords on it. But I’ve never made the commitment that might make learning to play stick.

This harmonica is an artifact of one of those attempts. I recall I purchased it at the local music store in Greeneville, Tennessee one summer when I was home from college. (There was no Great Department Store in the Cloud to order things from then.) A truly decent man owned and managed the music store, and gave it his name. I’m glad I knew him. Probably I should have bought or rented a cheap guitar and asked Gene to recommend someone to give me lessons. I wasn’t that smart, then.


I’m not much more, now, but I’ve become more flexible. Should I decide, somewhere and when along my path, to learn to blow a harp, I’ll buy one then—and get a teacher! This harmonica should go to someone who’ll try to make music with it, here and now, not in a someday that never comes.

shedding style: give away
destination: to (I hope) a friend who’s learning

Comments welcome … Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) recommends that we excavate and resuscitate our buried dreams. But I wonder, if they are a weight that clings so closely, if we’re better off dropping them behind. What do you think?

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day two of the WIST musical instrument shed-a-thon

When I was about ten years old and hungry to master the world, my father occasionally contributed to my growing skill-set from his store of arcane male knowledge. He asked one day if I or my friends ever played a comb. No … how? “Cut a piece of wax paper the same size as the comb. Hold the paper in front of the comb, press it against your lips, and hum.”

It worked! I took my newly-manufactured and mastered instrument to school the next day. It didn’t raise me to the pedestal of popularity I’d imagined, but for months afterward, every now and then, my friends and I would put paper and comb together and merrily buzz though a few tunes.

Later, when I was first shown a kazoo, I was unimpressed. “Why, that sounds no different than playing a comb.” A kazoo has some advantages, though. You don’t suspect you ought to wash it before you play it, or have to borrow your mother’s wax paper roll. Kazoos have more cachet than combs—they’re serious musical instruments, not little boys’ homemade toys.

Nevertheless, I’m going to shed mine. They aren’t much fun to play alone, and if I do, the cats take offense. They’re of the class of things best enjoyed en masse … which Leonard Bernstein knew. He scored for a chorus of kazoos in his Mass.


shedding style: give away
destination: thrift store

Kazoo pop quiz: into which end do you hum?


nose flute

day one of the WIST musical instrument shed-a-thon

In case you haven’t heard or seen one before, this is a nose flute:

the classic nose flute, anterior and posterior views, still available from many sources for about $1

the classic nose flute, anterior and posterior views, still available from many sources for about $1

Or, if you want a more genteel name for it, Humanatone. They were invented, according to a blog devoted to the devices, in 1903. To play one, the nose flautist presses it against the nostrils and open mouth. Exhaling through the nose produces a tone (described as “pleasantly flute-like” by the optimistic), which can be modulated by closing the mouth or opening it wider. I just got a quavery octave out of mine. When I was in form, I could manage a decently pitched octave and a half.

Briefly (mercifully), a subset of a punk band I was in formed a nose flute choir. We played the opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra at a church once, stomping our feet because we didn’t have timpani.

The trick to playing a nose flute is to not start laughing. It destroys the dignity of the performance.

I don’t feel I have much more dignity in my 50s than I did in my 20s, nor significantly less playfulness. But I’m going to shed the nose flute nevertheless. But not to deny myself fun—it’s that reducing the quantity of my possessions has become urgent to asserting my freedom.

Across thirty years, a punk I knew who swore he’d never work for the clampdown is laughing … with me.

shedding style: unfortunately, because of the rather intimate contact between flautist and flute, I feel I must throw this away
destination: landfill

Comments welcome … that box of mementos in a drawer: is it time to move any of them into memory alone?

1 Comment »

Huffy Infinity bicycle

This shed is a bank shot—not mine, originally, but I don’t mind serving as the backboard it bounces off of into the basket.

“Do you want an old mountain bike?” our custodian and groundkeeper at church asked me. “Not really,” I answered (thinking, we’re back up to ten bicycles, and I’d like to shed down to six or seven). “But I know somewhere that might.”

Perhaps the most successful and popular arm of our local bicycle advocacy organization is its Bike Recycling Program. The BRP shop turns unwanted bicycles into practical transportation for people that need it and distributes dozens of bikes for children at the holidays. What can’t be repaired and re-purposed is properly recycled. Along the way, volunteers learn useful bicycle maintenance skills.

It’s all good. How often can that be said about anything to do with internal combustion vehicles?

Huffy Infinity bicycle, ca. about 1992, in the BRP shop's donation rack (itself pulled from a dumpster!)

Huffy Infinity bicycle, ca. about 1992, in the BRP shop’s donation rack (itself pulled from a dumpster!)

shedding style: recycle
destination: local Bike Recycling Program

Comments welcome … your WISThost would rather you were riding your bike, but if you aren’t and probably won’t, might it be passed on to someone who will?

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coffee can

Though I’ve cut my consumption to two mugfuls a day, nevertheless I go through a can of coffee every two weeks. I feel a twinge of conscience at claiming this as a shed, yet twice a month I have to do it to stay ahead of a deal of clutter.

For quite a while I used a hole punch to make the plastic lid nice and leaky. Then I moved it to the bottom of the can … and voila! I had a kinda cute, if not very durable planter. But soon there were more of them about than I had soil or sprouts for. (And 25 late-season tomatoes last autumn said, “You know, there just isn’t enough root-room in these for us.” And proved it by failing to flower or fruit.)

So now I try to go straight to dismemberment. It takes me, a can opener, and a razor cutter two minutes to reduce a can to its component parts for recycling. The lid, metal bottom and rings, label and cardboard will flow into our community’s “diversion” stream. The foil liner, alas, must add its volume to an anthropogenic hill out on the county line.

before and after

before and after

A better practice would be to buy bulk beans from one of our greener groceries; then I wouldn’t bring this solid waste into the house or county in the first place. —I’ve just recognized a habit I need to shed!

shedding style: recycle, throw away
destination: community recycling stream, landfill

Comments welcome … how else might we shrink our footprints by bulking up?

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