What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

– the kitchen cart’s box

“Having stooped to shedding a box on WIST,” I asked myself, “shall I shed another?”

Yep.

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About 15 years ago Nimue and I lived in a house that, to us, seemed constrictively short on kitchen counter-space. One day, pushing a super-sized cart down an aisle at Sam’s Club (a big-box delivery warehouse for way too much of anything I have since learned to avoid), my roving eyes were arrested by an unfinished furniture kit. Why, I thought, there’s the solution to our problem! And it’s on sale, a hundred bucks marked down to $60!

At home I happily carried it downstairs to my basement workshop. Notes: 1. Basements aren’t good locations for anything anyone wants to accomplish unless they are, themselves, nice places that welcome one’s presence. Cold, cob-web-festooned, dimly-lit rooms are birth-labs for several species of unfinishedness. 2. Out of sight is out of mind. 3. If one lives with a partner, it’s really best, when bringing home a project that will require many of hours of assembly and finishing, to recruit her or him as a stakeholder first.

I did start some sanding, but then it languished down there. When we moved rather abruptly, it went back into its box and remained there, mostly forgotten, till we renovated Casa de WIST’s kitchen and in its new order found a spot that called out for the cart.

I excavated the project from a pile in the garage. Long is the tale I could tell of the misguided decision to paint it with 25-year-old oil-based enamel that’s moved with us from location to new location like a curse, of how gravity defies paint and just how many different planes there are on even a fairly simple piece of furniture, and of joints splitting during assembly when the line between “just a little more force” and “whoops” was crossed. But never mind all that. Finally all the steps had been stepped, daily use embraced it, and happiness in the universe was slightly increased.

All that’s left is to take the box to the recycling drop-off next time I go.

shedding style: complete, recycle
destination: our community’s recycling drop-off

Comments welcome … have you ever rejoiced to see the back-side of a box?

 

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– NEC computer monitor box

I’m casting about a bit tonight for something to claim as today’s shed, I admit. But I did let go of a box.

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I was looking in the old monitor box hoping to find my glass cutter so I could cut a pane of glass to use as a hopper feed panel in the old birdfeeder so it would work again and I could feel okay about giving it away. Does that make sense? That’s the kind of day I’ve had. The glasscutter wasn’t in my carpentry toolbox, nor the precision tools box, nor the really-odd tools box, nor the painting tools box. (We have several other toolboxes, but it simply wouldn’t be in them, unless the rules of the universe changed or something.) The monitor box was my last hope.

Ten years ago Nimue and I were about to change addresses when I found myself on crutches for three months. Friends and family rallied about us to pack, load, and unload, bless ‘em. But that narrowed our choices somewhat. Asked where to put anything random in my shop, I answered, “In that box. That old monitor box.”

A great feature of monitor boxes, back in the days when computer equipment felt more like an infrastructural investment than a consumable, was that they were sturdy. And voluminous. The drawback is that they can swallow a lot of your stuff, and it’s a lot harder to get it out than to put it in.

I have been unpacking that box, a little at a time, ever since. Tonight, I finished. I didn’t find the glass cutter, but lamp wiring materials have come out where they can be used, hardware has been sorted into the “nails” and “picture hanging” containers, and old flashlights moved to the going-to-the-thrift-store box. The monitor box will be left at our community’s drop-off recycling facility the next time we drive past it.

shedding style: recycle
destination: our community’s recycling dropoff

Comments welcome … do you find that some containers are much too big for what you’ve asked them to hold?

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– old rechargeable screwdriver

My Dad passed two years ago, but he left me his workshop, in spirit if not the letter, years before when he lost his eyesight. For a long time I was reluctant to change anything, but I’ve worked through that and am slowly cleaning it out. On my last visit I spotted a rechargeable screwdriver plugged in an outlet. It’s capacity to juice up and be used was long gone, though.

The blue big box home improvement warehouse accepts rechargeable tools for recycling. I dropped it in the bin with gratitude.

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– dead auto battery

What strange objects these are: heavy boxes of acid and lead we motor-vehicle users haul about for hours and miles each day so they’ll supply the energy for a few seconds of work. And how strange I seem to myself for keeping this one for so many years.

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SomedayStop

I bought it for a project car I never got running … the battery survived the shedding of the hulk. Its cells discharged, of course. Worse, the plates sulfated. But I thought that I might succeed in re-charging it, and beyond that find a use for it. I wasn’t sure what use, but sometimes I cling to hope with a throttle-hold.

I finally realized “first things first,” so I clipped the leads of a trickle charger to its terminals and fed it a few amps an hour for about three days. For awhile it seemed the regimen might work, but then something shorted in there. The circuit breaker that protects my charger said, “Finus! Halt! The end! No more!”

Today I left it at an auto supply store (most of them accept batteries for recycling). As practiced as I’ve become at letting useless stuff go, it’s energizing to notice how much lighter I feel.

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– someone else’s books

These books weren’t mine, in neither sense of “ownership” … I didn’t buy or receive them, and they had no claim on me, to urge me to read them. (Mostly they were an incomplete set of a religious denomination’s periodical from 50 years ago.) But they were filling a bottom file drawer in an office I’m responsible for.

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To the book recycler they go. I imagine they’ll get ground up into post-consumer pulp. But better that than remaining ballast.

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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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leftovers

My parents and I are eating our way through Thanksgiving leftovers. In the outbuilding we call the “tool barn,” I’m sorting through leftovers of Dad’s many decades of home improvement and yard care. I made one trip with a trunk-full today to what the county calls a “solid waste convenience center”: rows of dumpsters for materials that can be recycled and a big hydraulic compactor for what can’t.

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Our family has always saved extra screws, sawn-off ends of conduit, and broken broom handles for repairs and projects. It was good, I affirm, to be resourceful and frugal. But it seems strange that all that care has come now to shelves and drawers overflowing with odd ends, and no place to go with them but an outpost of the dump.

I dream of establishing Little Free Hardware Stores, modeled on the Little Free Libraries, where extra fasteners and building supplies could be given and gotten for the coin of generosity and gratitude alone. My reality today, though, was that I participated in what I call “the toss.” Not all that long ago, consumption was the name of a dreaded disease. People died of it … still do.

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

Comments welcome … what were you compelled to shed today?

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superfluous yellow pages directory

When I got home from work yesterday after a very long day, a telephone directory lay in the drive. I knew its source: three or four times a year, a pickup truck comes slowly along the street, and someone in the back tosses out a bundle at each address. But they shouldn’t at ours, because I’ve told the publishers we want to opt out.

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Indeed, I’ve opted out (or tried to) several times, three different ways. A few years ago the yellow pages publishers, in the face of consumer backlash, claimed they would police themselves and established a website for one-stop opt-out requests. “This is good,” I thought. It bothered me a bit to have to create an account there to use it, but I did so, and clicked all the buttons to stop the flow. I was hopeful enough to write a post on my old blog recommending the site.

Well, I was the sucker born that minute. The directories kept coming. I e-mailed the contact info at opt-out service asking why, but got no answer. So I phoned customer service at the publisher of the most recent unwanted directory to express my concern. Oh, the representative said, they hadn’t heard anything from their industry association for months. She thought it was defunct. They were handling it in-house now. I observed that the front matter of their directories didn’t say so, but gave her my name and address and told her I chose to decline their product.

Still another directory arrived. That time I used the opt-out link on the publisher’s website. I just did so again moments ago (it’s the last option on the “contact us” page). I’ve asked in the comments field why this keeps happening. I never get an answer. I can guess why: we’re not their customers; their advertisers are. We’re their prey.

At least our municipal recycling stream accepts the books. I wish that we taxpayers could charge the directory publishers for the costs of disposal … such measures have reformed other polluters.

shedding style: refuse (I wish), recycle
destination: municipal recycling stream

Comments welcome … if we collected enough of them do you suppose we could build (grin) a shed?

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“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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