What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

– old kitchen faucet

One of the frustrations of our original kitchen was its faucet, which poured water out of the valve body onto the counter whenever we turned it on. But we tried to save it when we renovated. Its manufacturer, we learned, has committed to keeping repair parts available even for units that are decades old. I had to visit three stores to find them, but eventually I did and we were able to get it to work as it should … mostly.

All the rest of its parts had nearly 30 years of wear, though, and we haven’t been able to keep the lever-handle on tight. When the faucet started dripping last week, we decided it was B.E.R., Beyond the cost of Economic Repair.

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We could’ve bought a new faucet for what we spent on the repair parts in this one … more tuition paid to Renovating U!

As I draft this post, Nimue is installing a new faucet with simple, old-fashioned double handle valves. I look forward to washing up at a sink where the water runs where it’s supposed to!

shedding style: the repair-then-replace dance
destination: construction-and-demolition landfill

Comments welcome …

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– almond tub surround

Both bathrooms at Casa de WIST had unremarkable, if serviceable, fiberglass tub surrounds in a 1980s almond color. They presented us with a moral dilemma. As we renovate, we try to keep our footprint from growing. We replace what we must, repair what we can, and repaint and cheerfully re-use everything else. But Nimue and revdarkwater, your hosts, are not warm-palette people. Besides, the tub-shower units were starting to show their nearly 30 years of use by resisting our best efforts to clean them.

It took a lot of work, but last year we had excellent results saving our tired laminate kitchen counters with Rustoleum’s Countertop Transformations product, which bonds a new color coat with a durable epoxy topcoat. So we decided to give Rustoleum’s Tub & Tile Refreshing Kit a try on the surround in the upstairs bathroom. We special-ordered our kits from the orange big box home improvement warehouse. A tub-plus-surround takes two, which cost us about $50 total.

If there’s ever a time to indulge in perfectionism, it’s during preparation to paint something. We followed the instructions to the letter, cleaning, de-liming, uninstalling hardware, wet-sanding, and allowing to thoroughly dry. Nimue taped off the unit.

Then revdarkwater pulled out paint spraying equipment, donned a respirator, and applied paint to project. (The manufacturer says the paint may also be brushed or rolled on; we wanted the smoothness of spraying.)

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It’s not perfect. To our horror, while we were waiting to apply the second coat, we realized that some water had seeped out of the supply line, even though we’d made certain the valve was fully off. We don’t know yet what the final effect on the finish will be. Some more “fussin'” may lie ahead. Otherwise, though, it’s pretty good. And it’s white!

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If anyone decides to use Rustoleum’s Tub & Tile Refreshing Kit because it worked for us, please, do use a respirator (most epoxies are frankly toxic), ventilate well, and be prepared to clean a fine dust of overspray off of everything within several hundred square feet.

shedding style: re-use

Comments welcome … here’s a poll: paint or put-up-with?

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+ reel mower

Yesterday we unshed the reel mower.

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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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– 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.

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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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+ a prayer in the middle years of opportunity

A friend shared this with me a few years ago. Now it’s time to speak to me has come. (I find it variously attributed, but I’m fairly sure it appears in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.)

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give You my discontent,
I give You my restlessness,
I give You my doubt,
I give You my despair,
I give You all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

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+ creative destruction (- Sun Mistral rims)

Among the great goods of the bicycle, considered generally, are its longevity. Fifty- and sixty-year-old or older bicycles endure that still serve perfectly well for the purposes for which they were designed. As with the whole, so with the parts, I say. Though I’ll cheerfully change components to adapt a bike to current needs or replace what wears out, I don’t update equipment just to stay current.

On the other hand, innovation has given us better brakes, which are greatly to be desired. For those using bicycles for practical transport, lighting is vastly improving. And though the advance is harder to observe, wheels are lighter and stronger than, say, 25 years ago. Which brings us to today’s shed.


Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction.


Our “vintage” 1988 Cannondale tandem has given us much joy, but the weak link has been its wheels, which were built of Suzue 7B hubs laced to Sun Mistral alloy rims. Granted that tandems carry more and are subject to more stress than solo bikes, we’ve experienced more than a typical share of trouble where the rubber meets the road. We’ve broken spokes, snapped a rear axle, and had more flats than I can count—often because we blew the tires off the rims.

That, I’ve come to understand, is because the Sun Mistral rims are straight-sided. Even in their day, they were an anachronistic design. All but the lousiest rims are “hook-beaded” now; they have a lip that helps hold the tire on the rim. Consequently, today’s clincher tires don’t have to clench as hard as yesteryear’s. Pump them up to maximum pressure and weigh them down with a tall tandem team, and sooner or later they’re going to come off straight-sided rims with a report like a gunshot as yet another tube is laid to waste. I imagined what we’d go through if we tried them with a touring load and didn’t like the picture at all.

Last summer, I’d had enough. We bought “Early” the Burley to serve as a temporary tandem while I tore down the Cannondale for a total rebuild. I didn’t get started on that as soon as I’d hoped … but now I’ve begun. Over the last couple of days, I’ve “unlaced” the wheels—unscrewed the nipples that secure the spokes to the rim and pulled them out of the hub flanges.

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction. Even though I long for what’s on its other side, I find it hard to set foot upon it. What’s known is, at least, known. Can I build better wheels on the old hubs with new Velocity Dyad rims? Only trying will tell, an attempt that had to begin with breaking something.

I’ll toss the old Sun rims into the metal recycling collection roll-off out at the county landfill on my next trip there. Old bicycle spokes make good probes and picks. I hardly need 80, though. Want a few? I’ll gladly share.

shedding style: demolish, recycle
destination: community metal recycling collection

Comments welcome … what might you destroy today?

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

More than once during the decade of my twenties, as I attempted 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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+ a Christmas WIST

A merry and happy Christmas to all from Nimue and revdarkwater!  In silent nights and days of light to come, may we all shed some fear so there’s more room for love!

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+ persimmons

I didn’t shed anything today, but in the late afternoon I went for a walk. To stay whole, I need regular visits with the wide world spread under the sky. Across the highway and past the old B & M Milling Company mill, good views of the mountains open up. They were blue at that hour, reserved and removed. I followed Jockey Creek to its mouth at Big Limestone Creek. The waters flow on to the Nolichucky River, but I turned away onto a road that jumps up onto a low ridge. Across from the little geodesic dome house at its crest grow some American persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana). I like to visit them in autumn after a few frosts. It looked like they’ve had a good year; lots of flat brown seeds lay by the road. I didn’t see any fruits, though.

I walked along the slowly descending road to another that leads back toward home. Just beyond the railroad crossing, my eyes fell on orange and blue-purple fruits on the ground: persimmons! I’d forgotten that particular tree. I ate two and gathered a handful.

A ripe persimmon is a little scary on a first trial, because it looks and feels like it might have gotten a step too close to spoiled. But each is a bite-sized custard that tastes subtly sweet and of the earth. I’d felt a bit depleted when I set out. I returned nourished on sunshine, rain, and old, old hills.

Mom says if you open a persimmon seed, you may find a picture of a fork, knife, or spoon. A fork predicts a mild winter, a knife a cold and icy trial, and a spoon lots of snow to shovel.

Mom says if you open a persimmon seed, you may find a picture of a fork, knife, or spoon. A fork predicts a mild winter, a knife a cold and icy trial, and a spoon lots of snow to shovel.

Comments welcome … what have you found in a fruit?

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a thanksgiving for what I shall not shed

I don’t make them just the way my great-grandmother did, and she almost certainly didn’t cook hers in vegetable broth. But, continuing decades of tradition, homemade noodles will appear at my family’s Thanksgiving meal!

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