What I Shed Today

another year of lightening up

- the bread machine is dead, + long live the bread machine

More than once during the decade of my twenties, attempting various economies, I tried to learn to make my own bread. Then as now when seeking a new skill, I “looked it up” … first in Irma Rombauer’s joyous great chronicle of cookery. I had a good teacher and an auspicious setting, an enamel-topped kitchen table in a 200-year-old Indiana farmhouse. But my loaves, alas, all turned out dry and hard as brown bricks. (I know now that I took it too seriously. I think my anxieties stunted the yeast.)

A couple years later, after relocating to a graduate school dorm in Chicago, I picked up a copy of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery from a bookstore’s remainder table. “This might make good light reading before I fall asleep nights,” I thought, “when I can’t handle any more Hegel.”

I devoured Ms. David’s amazing book—half history, half cookbook, and all celebration—as if it were bread. And learned from her the critical secret, the deft touch: don’t worry. Yeast are resilient. All they need is time, plenty of time. Cut the amount in the recipe in half, and let the dough rise all night.

Suddenly, the magic worked for me. I could make bread! And bread I made: hearty chewy rolls that sustained me and amazed and fed my grateful friends. Which (rolls and friends) were honored guests at the rehearsal dinner before the wedding Nimue graciously consented to appear at with me.

A year later, we moved to a tiny town downstate, where I was called as minister of a congregation that gathered for dinners with religious frequency and vigor. I knew I couldn’t fry chicken that was safe to eat, and my scalloped potatoes turned out tough as shoe leather, but hey, I could bake happy little loaves that even farmwives hailed. “Our preacher makes homemade bread,” they bragged to the Methodists.

And come our first Christmas there, the church-folk honored my craft by giving us a bread machine.

It was generous—bread machines were new-fangled and expensive then. I said all the right words of thanks. In truth, I was grateful for my congregants and their gift. But I thought to myself, a machine? Weren’t the kneading with one’s hands, the patient proofing, and finally the watchful baking the point? I predicted to Nimue, “We’ll never use this beyond a time or two.”

I was so, so wrong.

I can make better bread than the bread machine. But in our busy lives that seek to balance many goods as we pursue the Good, the machine makes acceptably good bread much more often than we would by hand. Over twenty years, it cranked out hundreds, possibly thousands of batches. Twice we replaced the pan (the shaft at the bottom is a weak link). The bread machine kneaded on … till now.

Snow it goes (to be honest, a month ago)

Snow it goes (to be honest, a month ago)

The mandrel about the main drive shaft has worn enough that it binds. Repair parts are unavailable. I took it apart, but without recourse to a machine shop, I couldn’t see a practical way to fix it. Our faithful bread machine is, in a term that says much about “consumer goods,” B.E.R. … Beyond the cost of Economical Repair. To the electronics recycling dropoff at the landfill it shall go.

Perhaps I should turn in my minimalist merit badge. My fingers and arms remember how to mix and knead bread. But they cheerfully helped me pick out a used bread machine at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. (Cost: $6 and an hour of scrubbing.)

The new (used) bread machine is smaller and fussier than the old. We’re still growing accustomed to it. But it’s making bread, and we’re eating it. It may not be best, but it’s better than buying bread in a plastic shroud.

shedding style: recycle, replace
destination: local electronics recycling dropoff

Comments welcome … what compromises do you find yourself accepting in order to enjoy a “less is more” life?

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- promo sports bottles

It’s spring! And the season for charity-sponsored sporting events, which in Casa de WIST’s case are bicycle rides. We’ve seriously cut back the number we’re doing this year, but last Saturday we allowed ourselves a favorite, the Firefly Trail “Ticket to Ride.” It benefits efforts to turn a local abandoned rail line into a multi-use path. (R.E.M. fans take note: though the “Murmur” trestle has been judged too deteriorated to safely use as part of the trail, the bridge proposed to replace it may be modeled on the iconic span.)

Corporate sponsors, bless ‘em, feel a sort of moral imperative to give participants what we call “bling” or “swag” when we like it and “stuff” or something else when we don’t. These bottles were okay … but we (and most cyclists) already have bottles enough that pass the pragmatic test of the Morris rule. We don’t need any more! (Hint for sponsors: edible swag is very acceptable. So are socks.)


“Better than bottles,” Nimue says, “is SPF-15 lip balm.”


We dropped them off at a nearby thrift store on our evening walk, along with a pair of Nimue’s pants that no longer fit (more cycling = less girl).

shedding style: give away
destination: Goodwill

Comments welcome … how do you give away pesky give-aways?

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- 355 books

I dropped them off at the library yesterday for the Friends of the Library annual booksale.


photos taken against the terribly unlikely event we’ll have to defend our modest tax deduction


At points in the whole process, I felt regret (“I may miss that book someday”), puzzlement (“where- and whenever did we acquire that?), irritation (“what possessed me to haul that along all these years and miles?”), bemusement (“oh yeah … what was I thinking?”), and, most of all, gratitude: for writers, editors, words, and the Word.

And for release.

shedding style: give away
destination: Friends of the Library booksale

Comments welcome … why is a book at once so difficult and so easy to shed?


- books

Happy Valentine’s day, dear readers! We hope whatever your weather, it’s warm at your hearth and in your hearts!

Though we haven’t posted lately, we haven’t been idle at Casa de WIST. We re-mortared the field stones that were loose in the fireplace surround and painted the sitting room. (At last!). And we’ve undertaken the soul-searching and muscle-straining labor of culling our library. How many books do an academic and a philosophically-and-theologically-trained clergyperson acquire in years, nay, decades of voracious reading? We don’t actually know … we gave up counting long ago. But: lots of lots.

We knew when we committed to lightening up that shedding books was going to be hard. Some are such good friends … others involve long- and closely-held hopes … and collectively they come to such a sunk cost. But we’ve come to see that, though a few books are tools of our trades that we use over and over, most are like meals we eat. Once we’ve enjoyed the experience, we should pass them on so others may as well. It’s crazy to build more and more bookshelves to hold them while they fade and gather dust.

Speaking of bookshelves, those are another potential shed. But back to today’s—

A church nearby occasionally rents tables for rummage sales, thereby raising funds for good works. Last fall we took mostly housewares. Today we set up a used bookstore for a half-day.

Nimue's bookstore

Nimue’s bookstore … hardbacks cost a buck, trade paperbacks 50 cents, mass-market paperbacks a quarter, or five for a dollar … we aren’t getting rich this way.

I don’t think we have second careers ahead as booksellers, but a few dozen books are now in the hands of new readers. Most importantly, we have several boxes full that we’ve already mentally parted from; we just have to decide on their destinations. Options abound: thrift stores, our community “Friends of the Library” booksale, Better World Books drop-off boxes, a venerable local used bookstore, and (for a very few volumes) internet resellers.

“Of making many books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes said, “and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes was frequently a grump. Let books abound, we say! Let them never settle too long, but circulate!

shedding style: resell
destination: new readers 

Comments welcome … any ideas for other happy ways to pass books along?


- corn planter box

The previous owner of our house left a curiosity beside the garage where the trash cans sit: an open steel box. It has remained there because I couldn’t think of anything better to do with it, though I tried. It seemed like something I ought to do something clever with, like organize things in. (Ah, but what “things”?) Or fill with plants in pots. (But our pet plants are perfectly happy sitting out where they get some air.)

The box is constructed of galvanized steel. It has two bail handles and a hole with a nipple at the bottom of one end. I thought it was the ice compartment out of an old icebox, but when I took a closer look today I found lettering on one side that says, in part, “Holden’s Ideal Corn Planter” and “Des Moines.” So it’s a piece of an old seed corn planter. I’m glad to know that, but I still can’t think of anything to do with it, except pass it along to someone who can via craigslist.


shedding style: resell
destination: a home that uses pinterest

Comments welcome … have you ever had part of someone else’s project hanging around cluttering your space?


- the goal of posting every day in 2015

When I inaugurated What I shed today a year ago, I set two goals for every day of 2014: to shed something in my life that was weighing me down and to blog about it. I missed that target, but nevertheless I shed regrets and celebrate the good that’s come from the project. Nimue and I have made a lot of progress toward a “lighter” life, though we see we have a long way to go still.

As we focus on remodeling Casa de WIST and increasing the scope of our minimizing, I need to get “post to WIST” off my daily to-do list so the blog doesn’t feel like an obstacle. So we’ll keep shedding, and I’ll report and reflect here … just somewhat less often.

Here’s to a happier and lighter 2015 for everyone!

shedding style: release

Comments welcome … what are you letting go of so you might move in the direction of your dreams this year?


- 2014 (for every shed there is a gain)

Facebook (which, despite a thousand frustrations, I’m not yet shedding because it serves as a conduit of connection to my Mom) offered me its view of my year in review. I didn’t look, because I knew the algorithm wouldn’t have a clue. Looking back at WIST myself, I see a year of painful losses, significant shedding, and gains I’m grateful for.

It’s upon the latter I’m drawn to reflect in this ultimate entry for the year. Nimue and I gained clarity about what we need and want and what, on the other hand, just clutters the lives we want to live. We gained some momentum toward getting closer to that elusive goal.

I’m most grateful for the company I’ve gained on the journey to a less consumptive and cluttered and more simple, sustainable, satisfying, and aware life. Thank you, commentors and fellow bloggers! On your journeys (which I hope will continue to cross ours), goodspeed!

shedding style: release

Comments welcome … as we’ve asked all along… what might you shed today?

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- fishing rod transport tube

In a pattern with so few instances one could hardly see it, I fish only spasmodically, and then mostly by invitation. Nevertheless, I have a fly rod and some gear (which could prove a fruitful category for future sheds). Furthermore, at some point I learned that a fishing pole is an unwieldy, fragile object that doesn’t take well to having a car’s door closed upon it.

So, one afternoon while on a camping vacation at Hatteras (which, somewhat surprisingly, included a good deal of fishing), I found the only building supply store on the island and bought a length of pvc pipe, fittings, and cement. I had enough materials to make two fishing rod transport tubes. I put my rod in one and gave the other to Dad. Like me, he hardly fished enough to need a tube to store rods in, but he graciously thanked me for it.

That happened, let’s see … during a summer twenty-eight years ago. Long ago I completely forgot about the tubes, but while decluttering Dad’s shop earlier this month, I found the one I gave him, stood up in a barrel with other long, skinny things.

spare the rod ... children and fish will be better off for it

spare the rod … children and fish will be better off for it

After a moment of tenderness (“Awwh, he kept it”), I decided I’d best take responsibility for it again. I brought it back to Georgia and offered it to my friend Sam, who really does fish. I hope I didn’t just shift something unneeded from my garage to his, but he did seem glad to have it. Oh, and he wants to take me fishing. I managed to locate my rod in a dark corner, safe in its transport tube, so I don’t have that lack for an excuse. The trip might happen. But fish need not fear; they’re in little danger from me.

shedding style: give away
destination: Sam’s fishing gear

Comments welcome … what of the past almost invisibly clings?

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- Dad’s ties

I could not, would not chide my departed Dad for having 43 ties. A terrestrial life of 91 years crosses a lot of Father’s Days (an occasion for gift-giving on the third Sunday of June in the US). I’m personally responsible for at least a few in his collection, and I’m touched that he kept the especially extra-wide and eye-popping one ca. 1973.

Nimue laid them out grouped by patterns, paisleys, stripes, solids, and textures. I think every male scion and one female took at least one tie except me … I have enough of my own to thin. The rest went to Opportunity House.

Dad's ties before sons, daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons made their choices. I think youngster Ethan is using his as a bookmark ... hey, why not?

Dad’s ties before sons, daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons made their choices. I think youngster Ethan is using his as a bookmark … hey, why not?

shedding style: give away
destination: Opportunity House

Comments welcome … when you tie one on, do you have more than enough options from which to chose?

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- Dad’s hats

Our uncle, Dad’s brother Jim, enjoys shopping for bargains. Even more, he loves sharing them. Over the last few years, Jim sent my parents several “care packages” of clothes he thought Dad might be able to use. Along with shirts and sweaters, each contained a hat (or three, or five).

Dad settled on two which he found comfortable and warm. Except when he had to go to a hospital, I suppose he wore one or the other every day of the last few years of his life. He even slept in them. They were nearly as worn out as his body at the end, and I felt a great upwelling of gratitude and bittersweet regret when they went in a wastebasket.

On his closet shelf were several spares. With yet more gratitude for the care they represent, to Opportunity House they go.

cat in the hats

cat in the hats

shedding style: give away
destination: Opportunity House

Comments welcome … is it possible that our consumerist economy is dwarfed by an economy of giving and gratitude?

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