What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

+ reel mower

Yesterday we unshed the reel mower.


I was taking its picture by sunlight so I could post it to craigslist when a back burner in my brain suddenly went warm. “What are those bolt-and-bracket-y assemblies inside each wheel doing?” I wondered. Ah-ha! They’re for adjusting the cutting height! Might it be made to go over the acorns and gum balls?

I raised it as much as possible and mowed a test swath. It would do better if our lawn were verdant with Kentucky bluegrass and sweet white clover, but it worked well enough on our weedy cover. So we’re keeping the reel mower for now.

This will likely encourage us to rake up the chaff and seed some annual and perennial rye into the lawn (the little left that hasn’t been turned to growing vegetables). Then, perhaps, we can shed the fossil-fuel-powered vegetation chomper!

destination: right back into the garage

Comments welcome … has your “less is more” journey had u-turns?

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– reel mower

We so wanted this to work. We loved the hope of never buying nor burning lawn mower gasoline again.


But American sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) and white oaks (Quercus alba) lean out over our “lawn,” which is a rough patch of bermuda grass and Indo-European herbaceous colonizers of disturbed ground. By hundreds, the gums drop the spiked, remarkably rot-resistant balls that are their fruits. The oaks rain down thousands of acorns on top of them. It’s the ambition of each and every gum-ball and acorn out there to jam the whirling blades of the mower and bring it to a jarring halt.

Maybe we’ll get a goat.

shedding style: resell
destination: the grass that’s greener in someone else’s lawn

Comments welcome … has your “simpler” ever turned out to be much more complicated?


– Grandpa’s frames with still-life prints

Grandpa Elmer and Grandma Trudy, my father’s parents, lived north of Columbus, Indiana, on R.R. #1 (the post office’s abbreviation for “rural route one”). We lived east, on R.R. #4. Only a few miles lay between … indeed, when I got a little older, I once rode to Grandma and Grandpa’s on my bike, and not by the shortest route. I realize now how fortunate I was to grow up so close to them and to visit so frequently—nearly every weekend and holiday of the year. Their house was almost like a second home to me. I still remember every room, its decoration and many of the furnishings.


The cypress knee and piece of petrified wood on the display shelf close to the front door were special and needed to be touched like totems every time I was there. I didn’t ask to handle Grandma’s collection of souvenir shot glasses, but I liked to look at them. Other items were just “there.” They didn’t have anything to do with me or, it seemed, with Grandma and Grandpa. They were just ordinary accessories to a house. Like the framed set of still life prints in their front room.

Not everything that’s passed down in one’s family is an heirloom.

But those, it turned out, meant a little more to my father. Some years later, when Grandma and Grandma’s health declined and they had to move to a retirement home, he took the pictures. “Dad made these frames,” he told me. I looked at them with fresh and appreciative eyes. I’d worked in “the trades” on and off at that point, and I knew a well-executed mitre cut when I saw one. “Do you know anything about the prints?” I asked. “No, I think they were just something he liked,” Dad said.


But they never found a place on a wall of my parents’ homes. Mom is a gifted water-colorist; one of my brothers makes exceptional photographs. Gallery space is scarce. Somehow, somewhen, Grandpa’s frames and prints came to me. The prints don’t please me (they recall the interior decoration of “home cookin’” restaurants), but I always thought I’d mount something else in the frames.

But a truth I’m having to face is that we don’t have anything that quite fits, in size or style. Another is that not everything that’s passed down in one’s family is an heirloom. I’ve repeatedly offered Grandpa’s frames and prints to my brothers and sisters, and they don’t want them either. Maybe a cousin would … but probably not.


I’ve got Grandpa’s big screwdriver, his brace and bit, and his 65-year-old Craftsman ¼-inch electric drill; every time I use them his spirit is with me. I don’t get that spark off the frames. So they’re a hook I’m finally going to let myself off of. If I need forgiveness for that, well, I ask it. He was a good man. I can accept it as given.

shedding style: give away
destination: thrift store

Comments welcome … are you hung on the hook of any un-heirlooms?


– gourd, + birdhouse

Unfinished projects weigh on me as much or more than “stuff,” so I count their completion as a shed. This one has a happy power to make me smile.


I don’t remember how many years I’ve been storing this gourd on a succession of shelves, nor how it came into my keeping. But I’ve always meant to turn it into a birdhouse. It took only an hour of yesterday, half of that pleasant research, during which I learned some about the needs and preferences of cavity-nesting birds. The entry hole is larger than most species like, but that’s how it broke under my grandfather’s old brace and bit. I hope some nesting pair will enjoy a large front door. The dull color I sprayed it isn’t imaginative, but the intended tenants prefer earth tones for their homes. It’s they, after all, who will provide the flash and spark of life.

shedding style: complete
destination: a white oak we can see from our table

Comments welcome … it can be such a gift to finish something; why are we sometimes so stingy and withhold it from ourselves?

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– water garden pond liner with DIY stand

Twenty years ago—how they’ve flowed down what watersheds!—Nimue and I moved to northeast Georgia so she could start her Ph.D studies at the nearby state university. Among our inheritances from the Previous Occupants of the house we moved into was a fish pond. The male P.O. had dug a hole in the side yard, lined it with plastic from an old waterbed mattress, installed a pump, and filled it with goldfish and a foot-long koi.

That arrangement didn’t survive the gap in occupancy between the P.O.s and us. When we moved in, the view out the bedroom window was of a hole in the red Georgia clay, holding a scummy few inches of water, around which a sheet of plastic flapped in every breeze.

As soon as I had a spare moment, I determined to yank the liner out and fill in the scar in the earth. Until I watched as frogs plopped! into the scant water that was there. This, I realized, was someone’s habitat—and it would be a long, hot, dry hop and crawl to reach the nearest fresh water.

Nimue and I researched and re-thought. We could, we realized, fairly easily patch the holes in the liner, rim the edge with locally-sourced stones, add plants and fish and snails, and have—hooray—a water garden! It turned out to be not quite that easy, but it almost was, and it gave us a lot of pleasure until frosts threatened.

The hardy water lilies would overwinter outside, but my goodness, I had all of perhaps $15 invested in the water hyacinths and water lettuce. So I bought a rigid plastic pond liner, built a stand for it, and moved the tender plants and a few goldfish inside for the season.


By moving this today, did I perform a kidney transplant?

That’s how we wound up with our above-ground pond. We’ve hauled it and a water lily to three more addresses since, though none of the places we’ve had for siting it have been ideal. It finally occurred to us we don’t have to do so anymore. We’ve downsized to a modest tub, in which our 19-year-old “James Brydon” can still thrive. I listed the liner, stand, and cuttings from the lily for sale, and today handed them off to their new owners.

shedding style: resell
destination: a new water gardener’s garden

Comments welcome … I think there’s no “less” in this at all, only “more.” What else in our world, I wonder, might wear that mantle if we’d see it that way?


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– water garden pond liners

If you’d given me as many chances to guess as the odds against a talking Cheeto actually becoming the next President of the United States, I’d have never offered up what the purchaser of our water garden tubs said he plans to do with them. “I have two 200-pound mastiffs,” he said. “Their last water bowl broke. These will be great!”


Thirty-gallon water garden pond liners or tubs … that’s 60 gallons in dog H2O.

Drink up, doggies!

shedding style: resell
destination: kennel

Comments welcome … what’s your most absurd re-purposing story?