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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.

Lift & Separate 5 comments

More contributions to the Canadian economy this week.

First, my frustration with two appliances in my house reached breaking point about mid-week. These are two items that you don't really notice until they don't work properly. I've had my rather stylish Sony clock radio for years, maybe as long as 10 years. It was subtle, grey, mimicked the design of the Bose radios but at a fraction of the cost. I mastered the overly complex task of setting time and alarm. I only used the CD function maybe once or twice in its lifetime. Let's face it – waking up in the morning is a routine and CBC One's Metro Morning, as much as Andy Barrie makes me grit my teeth, is mine. I guess it takes an officious, dull, insensitive oaf to get my ass out of bed in the morning.

In any case, my beloved Sony started making a faint electronic buzzing sound, 24/7, several months ago. It sat on my night stand along with a lamp and a phone. I would inspect each of these in turn, regularly, to puzzle out where the buzzing was coming from. It was definitely coming from the radio and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop. Furthermore, the thin wire that comprised the aerial was making me crazy, as was the FM signal drift. CBC is famous for many things, one of which is not always having the most reliable signal even if you are living mere blocks from CBC HQ. I guess the cutbacks have meant that they are using a cheaper brand of tin foil to repair the broadcast antenna. The signal is fine one day and then it gets all fuzzy the next, often depending on where I am standing in the room. Annoying and getting progressively worse. Finally, I realized that as much as I don't want a neon display of the time glowing at me all night, I really need something more than black LED on a beige background. This is especially true at 3:26 a.m.

My second appliance failure was, sadly, the toaster oven given to me by wizzy and her partner as a condo-warming giftie. (No, I did not "earn" it with lezzie points.) The much-storied toaster oven simply stopped toasting several weeks ago. I'm on this low carb eating thing so I can't really pinpoint when the lack of toastability began. It would heat bread to a nice warm temp, but no actual "toasting" occurred. The state of affairs became really apparent when I set the toaster oven to cook a frozen President's Choice Blue Menu Chicken Breast Stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach. Most toaster ovens can knock this out of the park, no problem. Mine barely thawed the thing, even when given twice the allotted time to complete the task. Something had to be done.

Besides the fact that I don't like tossing out a gift, I also don't like tossing out something like a toaster oven. Shouldn't this be repairable? I'm sure that all is wrong is that an element has died. Yes, of course it should be repairable. If I were a skilled small appliance repair person – if such people still even exist – I'd happily order the parts and do it myself. I'm not eating that much toast these days anyway. But I am not such a skilled person. The best I can manage is speaking sternly to the toaster oven and telling it to shape up. That didn't seem to work.

I feel very conscious of throwing these kinds of items out into landfill but, happily, our building has developed its own peculiar internal recycling program:

1. Place used item prominently in garbage room.
2. Check often to see if it is still there.
3. If it is still there in three days, no one wants it. Next, try FreeCycle.

Happily, it would appear that both the toaster oven and the old Sony have found new homes, and new life, with people in the 'hood. Perhaps with people who possess repair skills beyond finger-wagging.

Thus, on Wednesday, I did some research online before shopping, and then arrived home with a new toaster oven (Bravetti, on sale @ Canadian Tire for $39.99) and an RCA Clock Radio. I don't know why you can't buy a clock radio without a CD player anymore. Although I am a creature of repetition, why would I want to wake up to the same song or same artist every day?

This reminds me of Bob Seger. In 1971, he released the album Brand New Morning and the first track is the title track. This is an acoustic album unlike anything he did before then or has done since. My brothers bought this record and rejected it out of hand for not having any fuzz or feedback. I was eight years old when it was released and I loved it. Years later, when I was a teenager performing with a touring children's theatre troupe, the manager/director of the troupe asked me to put together a tape of music we could all listen to each morning as she led us through our warm-up routine – part yoga, part meditation, part breathing, etc. We needed about 20 minutes of music and I led off the tape with Brand New Morning. The troupe loved it – for about the first four mornings. After then, they all started to resent Bob and his cheery, hopeful thoughts about this new morning as he strummed on his guitar. I hated to admit that I also tired of hearing the same music each time we started stretching. So I'm pretty sure that waking up to the same thing every morning would not work for me.

But, as usual, I digress. My new toaster oven totally rocked the PC Chicken lump test and does a nice even toast on Weight Watchers Whole Wheat English Muffins. The new clock radio is smaller, way easier to set, picks up and holds the required CBC signal, and lets you select what colour and how bright you want the display to be. Not surprisingly, I picked green. I am now bathed in faint green LED light when I sleep. Cool.

(I just want to say that I was over at wizzy & co.'s pad a few weeks ago and they still lead the pack in the chic and cosmopolitan toaster oven category. I have no idea what the specs are on that thing but who needs a new car when it looks like you should be able to just get in your toaster oven and drive it around town. That's all I'm sayin' …)

Yesterday was a red letter day for me. I went here and got properly fitted for bras. Clearly, I have been misguided for most of my 44 years (well, about 31 bra-wearing years) regarding this foundation garment. The fitting process took about an hour and 20 minutes and I'm sure I tried on at least 20 bras in the process. Apparently, this is normal. A very sweet young thing was helping me out which certainly helped the time pass smoothly. Let's just say that all my old bras are gone (really gone – you can't re-use a bra – yuck!) and have been replaced by the new girls. I am a new woman … my only concern is that as I continue to drop poundage, these bras will also need replacing, likely in about six months. Expensive, but worth it. Secrets From Your Sister is a funky, politically attuned store with staff trained in the dual arts of bra-fitting and helping people feel at ease about bra-fitting. I highly recommend a visit there to anyone who needs to lift and separate.

Hm, come to think of it, wearing a new bra really makes me want to sing Brand New Morning … maybe I'll go against type and name one of them Bob.

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Freecycle Click Here To Comment!

Does everyone know about FreeCycle? If not, you should … no, this has nothing to do with bicycles, unless you have one to give away.

This is the Internet being put to good use, in my opinion. FreeCycle simply offers a means for people to circulate stuff amongst themselves without it winding up in landfills. Last week, I got rid of some perfectly good horizontal blinds that no longer had a purpose at my place, and a box of Star Trek videos. Interestingly, the same guy took both items.

This is a worldwide concept, with highly localized cells, so you can likely find a neighbourhood FreeCycle through this link. For example, I belong to the Toronto CabbageTown FreeCycle list. I receive postings of things on "offer" or "wanted" – it works both ways. You get to ask for stuff and also to monitor what is being offered. This service is particularly useful for people "in transition" from one place to another.

I have used this exclusively to get rid of stuff and I've never had to wait more than a few hours for a response to my "offered" items.

Weirdest thing offered lately? An opened box of granola. Specifically, the message read: one almost-full box of Dorset Cereals granola, Cherries and Berries flavour. This was followed by a story involving preferring homemade muesli but not finding the ingredients, etc.

Weirder still? Someone took the granola in less than 12 hours.

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