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Stuff 2 comments

Yesterday morning, as I was making coffee, before I put the clean dishes away out of the dishwasher, I noticed I had only one decent-sized coffee mug available to me for my morning java. It is a shiny, yet old, metal Starbucks mug that was given to me by my former partner’s daughter, back in the day when she was a barista. This was, by my calculation, about 14 years ago … ? There it sits sturdily on my shelf, well and regularly used, still. I thought at one time that the lid might need replacing but it has hung in there all this time.

I really like this mug. I like the history of it, the weight of it, the longevity of it. I have a few other mugs that people have given to me at various points in my life, or that I’ve bought for specific reasons. There are very few mugs that I use daily that don’t have some reason for being on my shelf.

For months, perhaps years now, I’ve felt strongly that I have too much stuff. Scaling down has been a theme of mine for some time, not only of my own physical person, but of my physical impact, my “footprint”, on the earth. I have a basket of things here on the main floor that I put things into when I want rid of them, and then I occasionally stumble across someone who needs something out of my basket of things. Currently, it has more garage-sale type items like jigsaw puzzles and old sunglasses. Next weekend, I hope to empty this basket out at a friend’s yard sale. I also make regular use of the “freecycle” option right here in my own building. Useful things get left and then snapped up out of the garbage room with great regularity. Freecycle, the real version, is a wonderful option for larger items.

Yet, I am as susceptible as anyone else in this consumerist North American society to the lure of the purchase. Of the new and shiny. I “consume”. I buy new things. I’m just more careful, and I hope more thoughtful, than I once was. I bought a watch (actually two watches, one of which I promptly lost and mourned for) last year. It is shiny and “new” but feels, to me, “old” in that it seems to belong on my person in that snug old sweater kind of way. It pleases me to think this is the only watch I’ll ever need.

I’m down to two pairs of shoes for regular daily non-snowy use. I have a few pairs, maybe three pairs, of “good” shoes. And a pair of those water slipper things for swimming in lakes with rocky or yucky bottoms.

So, over time, as I struggle with the tension of “too much stuff” vs. “precious and useful stuff” vs. “new stuff”, I’ve tried to come up with some criteria for the comings and goings of things in my world. I’ve not tried to write it down before … but it would go something like this:

1. Do I still use / enjoy this? Have I really used / enjoyed it in the last year?

2. Is it precious to me in some way, and thus irreplaceable? (This is the trickiest category because, depending on my mood, EVERYTHING might be precious to me in any given moment.)

3. Do I have more than one of these already? Do I really need more? (i.e. shoes, coffee mugs, t-shirts etc.)

4. Can someone else get more use / joy from it than I can right now?

Books are tricky items, as are CDs and DVDs these days. I like the tangibility of CDs, especially ones that contain music of importance to me. Yet, about 60% of my CDs are now on my hard drive so this begs the question of whether I really need the tangible piece anymore, especially since my hard drive gets backed up weekly. When music gets transferred to my hard drive, about half the the CDs wind up heading out the door. About half, I just can’t seem to part with.

I’ve purged my books a few times, with mixed results. There are books that have gone out the door that I now dearly wish I’d kept. I can’t find them now – old editions of film theory texts from my university days are like missing teeth on my bookshelf. I can see, almost feel, their absence.  Yet, there are books on my shelf that I haven’t read, or opened, or even considered in years. The line around books is pretty fuzzy, really. I like “lending” books, usually with the tacit understanding that I might not actually see those books again. I also like doing things like pulling books off my shelf and just giving them away on the spur of the moment. Taking them, or sending them, as surprise gifts.

One of the things that I don’t think we do enough is honour the things we already possess that are serving us well and that may have done so for some time. Things that Do Not Need Replacing, Upgrading or Augmenting. The act of purchasing or acquiring something new is invigorating, often rewarding. What if we got into the habit of celebrating things we already own that totally rock? Would we buy less? Would we take care of the things we own more if they felt less disposable?

Here is a list of ten things that I use / enjoy regularly that I can’t imagine replacing.

1. My mother’s quilt(s). There are two of these, one of which is pretty ragged. The other is a quite lovely summer weight cover. While at the market the other day with J, I briefly considered upgrading to something schmancier, but have since decided that what I have is quite lovely, thanks very much.

2. Wall art. Original paintings / drawings. The signed Stephanie Rayner poster of a diving loon.  The Pam Morris print, . Almost everything has a story, a history.

3. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Complete with magnifying glass for viewing. 🙂

4. Blundstones.

5. The old, yet still shiny, Starbucks coffee mug.

6. The world’s ugliest winter coat. I have a nearly full length winter coat, now six sizes too big for me, that is in the same colours as the Edmonton Eskimos CFL team. That is to say, bright green and bright yellow. It is about 15 years old now. It is profoundly unfashionable. It also keeps me utterly warm during those storms that challenge all other coats. Invaluable.

7. The flamenco guitar. It isn’t old, but it will not ever get replaced.

8. The sofa. Now nearly 15 years old, it has survived storage, mold/mildew and pet abuse. Still the most comfortable pull-out couch I’ve ever sat on.

9. My mother’s valise. If my memory serves about this, when one worked as a nurse in the 1940’s, there were overnight shifts that required an overnight “bag”. My mother used this hard-shell case – it has her initials (maiden name) stamped near the handle. It is now where my sheet music is stored and transported when required. It smells of must and mothballs a bit … and, thus, so does my sheet music!

10. Travel Trunk. I have an old, hard-sided 1940’s era travel trunk, a big blocky cumbersome thing. Right now it stores stuff in my bedroom closet but, in its history, it has been a bookshelf, a prop in a play, a useful thing to move linens in, and, now, a storage unit. It has years of usefulness yet.

So … over to you … can you name 10 items that regularly appear in your world that will not be replaced anytime soon by the shiny and new?

Intense 3 comments

My March break is ending now, just as so many other people are starting theirs. It has been a pretty intense couple of weeks, actually, including the so-called “break” week. It didn’t feel much like a break to me, between stacks of grading, meetings, and quick turn-arounds on proposals and such. At least I managed to keep up with hockey and gym commitments.

Speaking of which, I was really pleased to learn my BMI has shifted considerably, even though my weight has not dropped since before Christmas. I’m actually okay with staying exactly the same for almost three months in a row. It proves that I can maintain a weight once reached. I have 21 more pounds to go to my target weight. Anyway, in terms of my BMI, I’m down three units of whatever-those-units-are since last time this was done, yet I believe my actual weight is close to the same. This means that fat tissue has been converted to muscle, which is very encouraging indeed.

So, in periods of intense and demanding activity like this, I have these little recurring mental motifs, like little pieces of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. I’m going to take a few minutes to jot them down here so maybe they’ll stop bugging me. My life is about to get even more intense, so this may be my only chance for a while to be in a blogging kinda mode.

Where Did All These People Come From?

I’ve said this before, out loud, many times. It always takes me by surprise how many damn people there are in the world. How can I walk around downtown, through familiar streets, and not see a single person I know, and yet pass literally hundreds of faces? I just returned from a trip out to Brampton to watch a hockey game and there were still more strangers there!!! How is this possible??? I bet if I went to any one of the hundreds of small towns and cities across Canada to watch hockey games, THOSE arenas would be filled with still more people I’ve never seen!

Of course, I’m being facetious, sort of. It really does take me aback how we can float through our lives, essentially surrounded by strangers with whom we have no connection. Yet, we count on them not to drive across the yellow line in the road and hit us head on, to keep a civil tongue in their heads in public, and to fly planes that we trustingly board.

It is a little weird when you think about it.


Me’n’molasses go way back. On the farm where I grew up, there was a barrel of molasses sitting by the outside corner of the barn, near the entrance to the silo. It was used as an additive to the silage (corn stalks and field corn cobs and other materials left in the silo to “mature” as feed for the cattle) to aid its fermentation. But I loved to dip my fingers into the molasses as I walked by the barrel, if no one was looking. I just love the stuff.

My mom and I used to make popcorn balls as treats, especially around Hallowe’en. Our recipe involved boiling molasses, corn syrup and a dollop of vinegar until the medium ball candy stage. Then you pour the mixture over a bowl of popcorn, slather your hands with butter, stir the mixture around with your hands and then form popcorn balls. If you can keep yourself from eating the stuff, that is. Can you imagine? Two of my favourite things in one place – popcorn and molasses … HEAVEN! So much fun for kids to do, this recipe. I remember one year, grade seven or eight, I took popcorn balls to class for the Hallowe’en party. The teacher somehow dangled a row of single popcorn balls on strings from the ceiling. I think this was offered as an alternative to dunking for apples ~ we had to race to eat the popcorn balls, no hands. That was fun.

I haven’t had any molasses on my shelf for ages. This past Christmas, when I was doing all that baking, I saw a jar of blackstrap molasses at my new favourite bulk food store and it somehow fell into my cart. Molasses is an excellent source of a wide range of minerals, most especially iron and calcium. So, once or twice a week I’ve been enjoying a teaspoon or two as a treat. Yum.

I sense popcorn balls in my future.

Construction Zones Not Good For Tires

In order to get to the entrance to the underground garage for my building, you have to turn down one of two lanes. Each will take you by a construction zone.

In the past three months, I have had three “soft” tires, each turning out to have been punctured by a screw or a nail.

Hm. It is getting expensive to be living beside active construction projects. Add this to noisy and dusty and one could get quite irritated by it all. I am endeavouring to be zen about it rather than irritated. Four could send me over the edge, though.

Too Many Things

I still own too many things. I have felt strongly about this for a while now. I keep giving things away, or leaving them for others to use in the recycle room downstairs. Yet, I had a bout of consumerism this week, resulting in a new hockey bag for my gear, and three new small appliances in the kitchen. I couldn’t get the boxes and old appliances out of my place fast enough for my taste. It feels embarassing to feel like I “need” things like a griller with removable plates, or a slow cooker that I can actually clean properly. Yet, I crave pot roast. What’s a girl to do?

One of the tasks that I had hoped to do this March break, but did not get to due to the unforeseen intensity of the week, was a pass at removing yet another sweep of clothing from my closet and drawers. This kind of purge always feels wonderful, and it is easy for me to do as some stuff just doesn’t fit anymore. There is a clothing drop off for students this week at my college. They are looking for business type clothing that students can wear on job interviews. I hope I can get this done in time to drop some clothes off for this effort.

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