Cherry Lumber

November 19th, 2018

My neighbor Jim had some cherry trees on his property. His friend Bill thought he might like to make some cabinets out of cherry. So Jim and Bill embarked on a small scale logging operation. They cut down and bucked up several trees, and hauled them out to the bush road by hand, because they didn’t have a tractor between them.

Once on the bush road, the heavy logs were moved onto a trailer and pickup and hauled to Bill’s place. Bill then went to work finding a sawyer to make lumber out of the hard-won cherry.

Things got more complicated, because local sawmills are used to dealing in 40 cord truckloads. Jim and Bill’s few logs were random length… small diameter ones longer and big ones shorter, to make them possible to be lifted by hand. For-profit sawmills want standardized log lengths. Jim and Bill could not find a sawyer interested in their small project.

Jim is Ernie’s son. Ernie, who passed away some years ago, helped me on numerous occasions when I was much younger, poorer, and less capable with tools. Ernie never refused a request from me, often worked with me for a long while, and when asked what was the charge, would say, “Oh, give me a dollar.” I swore I’d get even someday.

Jim (Ernie’s son) called me up and asked if I’d be interested in sawing some cherry lumber for his friend Bill. I was very busy, and my sawmill was not reliable after I replaced some parts last summer. But when Jim asked, I happily said yes. He said his friend Bill would be dropping off the logs.

The cherry up here often grows crooked, which is fine for firewood, but a sawmill demands straight logs. The crooks become firewood as the log is being squared up in order to make lumber. These guys had some pretty crooked logs. Some were quite small. And the big ones were a little short. Short logs mean extra work, because fewer sawmill “dogs” are available to hold the logs in place as the saw head passes up and down. I had an challenging pile of cherry logs to work with.

But the crooked logs also provide some interesting lumber, which became evident as the logs were taken apart. I spent some extra time and “bookmatched” the lumber as much as I could as I stacked it. Bookmatching means I stacked it with contiguous board edges touching, like the pages in a book. So the grains in one board more or less mirror the next one down the log. As I got into the project, I found interesting cherry boards whose mirror images suggested improbable designs.

When I called Bill to tell him his lumber was ready, he came right over, and was thrilled by what he saw. “How much do I owe you,” he asked as he reached for his wallet. “You’ll have to take it up with Jim,” I said. “I’m doing this as partial payback for all the kind things Jim’s Dad did for me over the years.” Bill put his wallet back.

Later on in the season, Jim ordered a 40 ton load of gravel to repair a different section of his farm trail. Before he could spread it out, Bill intervened, and said he and his grandson would spread the gravel, and they did a quick and thorough job with shovels and rakes. When Jim asked him how much he owed him, he said, “You’ll have to take it up with Ted.”

A recent survey asked people how many friends and family did they have in their lives that they could call for help if they needed it. For the same survey question some years back, the most common answer (not the average) was 5. The most recent survey’s most common answer was 0.

My question is, what cements a friendship to the point that a call for help in the middle of the night would be reliably answered by a friend? Had Bill have bought his cherry lumber, all kiln dried, straight, and unchecked, at the Home Depot ™, there would be no story. He’d bring it home, build his cabinets, and that would be that. But the cabinets Bill builds with the Soldan milled cherry lumber will carry a story along with them. I can see grandchildren telling (exaggerated) stories about the trials and tribulations involved in bringing grandpa’s heirloom cabinets to life.

All three of us felt some satisfaction in this project. And I can tell you that if either of these two need anything it is in my power to help them with, I will. I would argue that this “transaction” is reminiscent of the barter system we were all a part of not so many generations ago. I would further argue that while we are perhaps richer in material things than the folks several generations back, we are much poorer in social terms. I think humans are happiest when they are part of a group, as complicated as such a thing always is. Working our way through the ins and outs of our group’s dynamics cements our place in the world. And it gives us the satisfaction of knowing we’ll have help when the need arises.

First Wind

November 15th, 2018

One serious advantage of dog ownership is the walking. I do a lot of walking during the course of my day, but it is mostly on the way to get something done. With the dog, the walk is the task. He is busy using his nose, which leaves me some time for contemplation. I think we all need contemplation.

One of our favorite walks is along the pond dam closest to the road. And my favorite stopping place along the route is the one in the picture. I’m standing on the part of the dam that represents the tallest pile of dirt we made during construction. The old creek bed is around 20′ below my feet.

The most memorable recent walk around that route was a couple of weeks ago. I turned to admire the view, as I often do. It had snowed the night before; one of those gentle first snows of the year that paint such lovely pictures on the conifers. As I stood and stared out at the results of my efforts over the years, I noticed in the distance that the fluffy snow was starting to fall off the trees. I was witnessing the disturbances of the first wind of the morning, and it was coming right for me.

I became enthralled with this event. Tree after tree was shedding its snow, as the wind moved west towards my vantage point. Then I began to see the evidence of the wind’s approach in the tiny ripples progressing along the surface of the pond. Just before the wind hit me, I raised my arms and opened my fingers, so I felt the full force of the day’s first wind.

My Little Buddies

August 10th, 2018

When I was growing up, almost my entire view of the world outside my family was from television. If you are like me, several of those commercials are still stuck inside your head. One that keeps coming back to me is of a woman sleeping peacefully in bed, and then the music comes up, she throws back the covers, pumps both fists into the air, and the singer comes in with,

“Yeah, feel so good it shows
everybody knows
it’s a Sealy Posturepedic ™ morning.”

Even at a young age, that sort of attitude towards waking up seemed implausible. I can’t remember ever greeting a new day with a fist pump and a smile. For me it is more like opening one eye, and hoping I’m dreaming and the alarm is not going off.

One very fine thing about retirement is that most mornings, no alarm needs to be set. I can mellow into the morning, thinking about this or that. Often, it is one thread in that train of thought that inspires me to get my feet on the ground for another day.

The other morning, I can distinctly remember what that thought was.

“I wonder how my birds are doing?”

So I got up and checked the hummingbird feeders before I did anything else.

This year we have been blessed with humming birds, who are my favorite summer birds. I maintain 4 feeders that are placed outside windows on 3 sides of the house. Two of the three sites are effectively defended by birds that allow few incursions into their territories. The third site is outside the kitchen window, and I’ve found I need to keep two feeders there, because it gets the vast bulk of the hummer visits. If there is a bird defending this site, he must have thrown his wings up in the air long ago and allowed pandemonium to reign.

It is hard to get an accurate count, but we believe we’ve seen 12 birds at one time at the feeders by the kitchen window. That coupled with the wasps that also lay claim to the feeders, and the excitement is palpable. Alice commented that the designers of the Harry Potter ™ game of Quidditch must have spent time watching humming birds jockeying for position at their feeders.

If you look carefully at this blowup of the little male in the upper right of the picture above, you might be able to see his tongue is out. By now, most of the males have departed for warmer climates, and it won’t be long before the last little female leaves us for the jungles of Mexico. Until that time, we’ll have the pleasure of looking out the kitchen window and smiling at our little buddies.

One of Those Days

July 31st, 2018

It has been one of those days.

The summer has been roaring by. The evidence of this is my one project each summer that positively has to be done, no matter what else tries to achieve precedence. That project being putting up next year’s fire wood. My goal is always to be done by the end of June. If I have ever achieved this goal, it hasn’t been in the recent past. Last year, for the first time ever, I did not fill the woodshed. We had enough firewood, but this year I started with a deficit.

Here it is the last day of July, and I have been out in the woods only twice, and hauled a Scout load of firewood each time. (Hint: it takes MANY Scout loads of firewood to fill the woodshed.) So yes, once again I am behind. Way behind.

Today the day started, as it often does, with exercises and a bowl of cereal. There are other pet, garden, and house related chores to be done. My plan was to unload yesterday’s firewood from the Scout, then load up my tools and head out to the woods. This project was executed, as most of my outside projects are, barefooted. Things went swimmingly until a pretty heavy chunk of hard maple slipped out of my hand and landed on my left big toe. Beneath that toe was a concrete apron. My toe became the thing between a rock and a hard place. It hurt like a son of a gun. As of this writing, the toe is much bigger than it’s neighbor big toe, and is a different color. The injury is also making me walk funny.

After finishing stacking the wood, paying particular attention to heavy objects above my toes (no I did not put shoes on after the accident), the Scout was loaded up, and I was on my way out to the woods, whistling a happy tune. This was going to be the day I was to make a difference in the firewood arena.

I got out to the logging road where I planned to park while felling a pretty good sized dead sugar maple. I assembled and donned my gear: chainsaw pants designed to save limbs from flailing saws, helmet, and hearing protection. (I always wear steel toed shoes when I’m running my saw. I’m not stupid, for heaven’s sake!) I walked up to the tree, and pulled the rope on my trusty Husqvarna 262. Nothing. Several more pulls had the same result.

This saw has been with me for decades. We know each other. This saw always starts. Today, after about the 6th pull, the cord came out of the recoil. So I lumbered back to the Scout, opened the tailgate, and reinserted the pull rope. Another several pulls on the rope, and still no start. I opened the top of the saw, removed the air cleaner, and poured a small amount of gas directly in the carburetor. Back together the saw went, more pulls, not a sputter.

Another disassembly and the spark plug was removed, and set on the engine. Pulls on the rope showed a strong capable spark. So the machine has spark, gas, and it won’t start. I put the thing back together and drove back home.

I have a spare chainsaw for just such an emergency. It hasn’t been started for several years, because the Husqvarna always starts. So I dusted off the Stihl 041, filled it with gas and bar oil, and gave the rope a pull. It did take a half dozen pulls before I got a sputter, but the old saw did start and run. I’m not done for yet!

I drove back out to the woods, parked confidently on the logging road, put on my gear and started the saw. I had a couple of balsam firs to remove around the big sugar maple. No problem. My chest was starting to puff out. I can do this thing!

Once I’d cleaned up around the big maple, I made my notch, and started the cut. The saw was running great, the newly sharpened chain was tossing chips, and down came the tree. Unfortunately, the tree broke into several pieces when it hit the ground. Punky. This huge tree would probably provide very little firewood for us. Darn.

As I was standing there with the saw idling and disappointment drooling off me, I heard a familiar sound over the sound of the chainsaw and despite my hearing protectors. My pager.

So I had to jump back in the Scout, drive fairly rapidly across the field back home, retrieve my radios and fire gear, and head for the fire scene. As so often happens, by the time I got there, my outstanding crew had the situation under control. I had little to do except start the necessary paperwork, and then head back to the firehall.

When I got home from the fire, it was late afternoon, and I had a choice to make. Should I drive back out to the woods and try again, or stay inside. I opted for the later. I didn’t think I could have handled too many more disappointments in one day.

Isle Royale Sandwich

May 28th, 2018

Until my knees gave up, I used to spend much of my vacation time backpacking. I spent a lot of it in the Grand Canyon, but also quite a bit on Isle Royale. Much of planning for these trips involves gear, and the folks at the backpacking store can offer good advice. One thing we backpackers all have in common is we carry everything we need for the duration of the trip (except water) when we take that first step on the trail. The place where many backpackers differ from each other is food.

What you eat is largely a matter of preference. The experts can help narrow down the choices, but in the end you need to figure out what to eat and how much you want to carry. One fortunate thing for Alice and me is we’ve been devotes of granola for 40 years. We learned what we like and how to make it. So backpacking breakfasts were 1/2 cup of granola and a small handful or raisins. Supper was largely solved for me late in my backpacking career thanks to an inexpensive food dehydrator and a book called “Backpack Gourmet” by Linda Frederick Yaffe. This book detailed the technique for dehydrating food for the trail, but also had some great recipes. Snacks were 2 powerbars each day stashed in the pack and eatable at the total discretion of the hiker. Then there is lunch.

The challenge for backpacking food is it has to be durable, non-perishable, but most important, tasty and nourishing enough to keep the furnace fired. Not having enough food makes the trip into a series of daydreams about what will be eaten first when civilization is reached. This is ironic, because leaving civilization was a major purpose for the trip.

Isle Royale elegantly solved the lunch problem for me. I carry Wasa Sourdough Crispbread, cheese, peanut butter, and raisins. Slice up the cheese, being careful to take just the amount you planned for lunch, place on the crispbread, smear a liberal dab of peanut butter on top, and top it off with a sprinkle of raisins. It tastes good and is surprisingly sustaining.

Wasa Crispbread is pretty amazing. We’ve found some that has been stashed away for years, and it tastes good as new. Let us know if you’d like the granola recipe.

Bye Dad

May 13th, 2018

I first discovered the Grand Canyon with my Dad. During my professional years, I travelled regularly to Las Vegas for the Comdex convention, which was, at the time, the largest gathering of computer geeks in the world. I liked to stay in Laughlin, NV, just to get out of the craziness of the Las Vegas Strip. One year I asked my Dad to come along, and he accepted. While I attended the conference, he stayed behind and played at the casino. Then we could have dinner together and do tourist things.

The Grand Canyon is about 3 hours away from Laughlin, and since we’d arrived a day before the conference was to begin, we decided to take a day and drive to the canyon, spend a few hours, and drive back. I don’t think I’ll ever forget looking over that rim for the first time. Have you looked over the rim? Then you understand. If all you’ve seen is pictures, then you don’t.

After my brain settled down a bit from that first look, I noticed an obvious trail some distance below our vantage point (it turned out to be the trail to Plateau Point.) “Someday I’m going to walk down there,” I told myself. I was in my 40s, and had done some backpacking with the Boy Scouts, but had never taken a trip where I was responsible for all the aspects of the journey. With my 40 year old brain, I thought it would be a good idea to do a backpacking trip in the canyon. I asked my Dad if he’d like to go too, and after thinking about it for a while, he said yes.

Dad had been in the military, but had never been bitten by the camping bug. I talked to him about getting some good boots, loaned him a backpack, and suggested he put some weight in it, and do some hiking every day to get in shape. Dad never spent a nickel he didn’t have to. As we were corresponding about the upcoming hike, I asked him if he’d bought his boots. “Yes,” he said. I should have asked him to elaborate.

He’d gotten a deal on some steel toed work boots. I’m not sure how well they fit him either. “Are you hiking with some weight in your pack?” “Yes,” he said. Again, I didn’t ask him to fill in the details.

It turned out that the weight he was putting in his pack was a couple of coffee table sized books. Maybe 10 or 15 pounds. I had something more in mind like 50#, but he was my Dad and I didn’t push it.

The big day finally arrived. He flew from Lansing and I from Houghton. We were to meet in Chicago and take the same flight to Las Vegas. We met up in Chicago with no troubles, and caught our plane to LV, where we picked up our rental car, and made our way to the canyon. I’d booked a room at the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon Village for the night before our hike was to start. When we got there, we spread out all our gear and split things up into our respective backpacks, and set the alarm for early.

The best hiking in the desert is early morning, so we got up very early, loaded up our packs, and drove to the rim. We parked the car near the trailhead of Bright Angel Trail, and started down. Dad did pretty well at first, although we were going a little slower than I would have liked. The Bright Angel Trail is 9 miles long, and our first night was to be at the bottom of the trail. By the time we got to the first rest house, which is 1 ½ miles down the trail, we’d spent over an hour hiking.

Doing the math in my head told me if we kept up this pace, it would take us over 8 hours to get to the bottom, which is a very long day for a beginning hiker. After a 20 minute rest, we pushed on. Dad started complaining about his legs feeling numb as we continued down the switchbacks. Down is the hardest hiking in my experience, because of the jolts your legs get every time you take a step. There was another rest house called 3 Mile just down the trail, so I decided we’d make for that and see how things were going.

I could not get Dad to understand how to drink water while hiking in the arid southwest. All his life his drinks had been in sips, and down in the canyon, you need to guzzle. He told me his mouth was getting dry, so we stopped in the shade and I handed him a liter of water and told him to drink it. He sipped and gave it back to me. I tried but could not get him to understand what I wanted him to do. He was getting dehydrated, but would not drink water. By now we were about 3 hours into the hike and had not made the 3 Mile rest house. I decided we needed to turn back.

I hiked out with my backpack. I left him all the water we had except for what I needed, and all the powerbars. When I made it to the top, I dropped the backpack off in the car and turned around. I got back down to him a couple of hours after I’d left him, and he was in much better shape. He’d walked a short distance until he found a good place to rest, then had some water and a snack, and did it over again. He told me he’d asked a couple of guys that walked by if he could pay them to carry out his backpack, but he didn’t get any takers.

I shouldered his pack and we hiked out without incident. We got a room for the night back at the Yavapai, and left the canyon the next day.

Dad and I made one more trip to the canyon as tourists after that, but never tried another backpacking trip. He was in his 70s and just didn’t have the will for it. I understood. I made several trips into the canyon after our aborted trip together, and I count the times I spent below the rim among the best in my life.

Fast forward to May of 2018. I’m staying in a hotel room in Tusayan, AZ. Dad passed away on April 4, 2018. It was such a busy time for me that I felt I had not grieved properly. Looking at the calendar, I saw a hole in the second week in May. We had the frequent flyer miles, and I had the time, so I booked the trip. I’ve spent my days rim-hiking, which I’ve never done before. My knees preclude me from backpacking, but I can still rim hike, and hike I have done. There have been tears and smiles. I feel as though the cork has come out of a bottle and all the contents have shot out. I can not imagine a better place to say goodbye to a constant force in my life. Thank-you Howard Soldan for bringing me into this world, bringing me up, and sticking with me through my numerous foolish escapades. I miss you more than words can say, but at last, I feel as though I’ve said a proper goodbye.

Picture 1 was taken shortly after I arrived at the canyon and had my first look. Notice that I have my hat on backwards. I was sad but happy, if that makes any sense.

Picture 2 was taken on my last hike on my last day at the canyon.

Peak Experiences

March 23rd, 2018

As I was growing up, I remember coveting Peak Experiences. It was a feeling I got when I figured something out; when something in my brain clicked into place. “Wow,” I’d say to myself. “That was awesome.” These experiences were pretty rare, but I remember finding myself looking forward to the next one.

At age 65, I still feel that tingle in my spine occasionally. It seems as though the high isn’t as high as I remember it though. Maybe the dream I had the other night was based on some nostalgic longings for those peak experience days.

In my dream, I was in a typical social situation when I encountered a person from my past. This woman would have been a teenager at the tine when our son was a teenager. We knew and liked all of our son’s friends, and I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing how many of them have blossomed as they’ve reached middle age.

The young woman in the dream was an amalgamation of several of our son’s friends. I did recognize her immediately in the dream, but when I woke up, I couldn’t place who she was. She smiled in recognition of me, and I smiled back. Then she looked down at her laptop and said, “Name a country.”

I said, “The Dominican Republic.”

She answered by referring back to her laptop, and giving me a person’s name. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what that name was. (Shucks!)

Then I woke up. The fact that this dream snippet has stayed with me these several days seems significant to me, and I’ve spent some time going over it.

Given those two seemingly unrelated pieces of information; a random country and a person’s name, my task was to figure out how they were connected. I’d probably sit down at my computer, and do something I’m pretty good at… search around until I get an interesting hit. And from that hit, I’d generate a peak experience. But how would that work?

Thinking about it, I determined that now more than ever, facts about me are knowable and classifiable. Imagine if someone would have gone to the trouble to determine all the books and articles I’ve read, all the classes I’ve taken, how I did on the tests and quizzes, what I’ve written and said. In this modern world, it would be trivial to store all this data, and search against it.

And that, as near as I determine, was the meaning of the dream. A 3-D matrix of all knowledge would have my name on it, and tendrils corresponding to my experiences would be snaking inside it (you might have to zoom in a lot in order to see my tendrils!) Once this structure is rendered in 3-D, it would be easy to see the deficiencies… places I haven’t visited yet, but are approachable because of my previous experiences. A catalyst is necessary for me to visit those musty corners of knowledge, and that catalyst was provided by the intersection of a country and a person.

It made me wonder what sort of a life we would live if we could tap dance rapidly from one peak experience to the next. Where our knowledge and training could be guided by a process free from human weaknesses. What sort of folks would we develop into? I don’t know the answers, but I have a sense that the technology to accomplish this is either just around the corner or here already.

The Next Big Thing

February 21st, 2018

If you are like me, you’ve noticed your attention towards ™ increasing as the years go by. What started with a couple of orders per year has morphed into over a hundred for us in 2017. Amazon Prime ™ is so darned convenient, prices are good, and the selection is astronomical.

If you share my concern for the environment, and if you see the increasing trend of online ordering as I do, one major flaw in that system becomes glaringly obvious; the waste. Retail packaging is designed to intrigue a customer with some room on the credit card that is strolling down the retail isles. Catchy packaging can make the difference between small and large sales. But if the customer is strolling down e-isles instead, I would argue the flashy packaging is mostly irrelevant.

Once the e-order is placed, your item, securely bundled in it’s irrelevant plastic, will be put inside another box along with some packing material to keep it from wobbling enroute. The ratio of disposable packaging to useful product is surprisingly high.

So here is the next big thing — reusable packaging. Industry will standardize on certain sizes for product containers. These containers will be able to have a label slapped on them, and will ship safely as they are. When the customer receives their item, the empty package will be broken down and placed on the porch. The next time the UPS truck stops by, there will be an off-load and an on-load. The packaging will be returned to the manufacturer for cleaning and reuse.

Then we can go to work cleaning the plastic gunk out of the oceans without us throwing our hands in the air. The rate we are creating and disposing of this useless one-use packaging will go down to zero. And some cleaver entrepreneur will be fortunate enough to design and sell this packaging system to the world, and get very rich in the process.

Wouldn’t have believed it

February 15th, 2018

Our little 2007 Pontiac Vibe is a good car for us. Besides being just the right size for 2 people, the hatchback allows for a versatile array of gear hauling, including the crate for our 90# German Shepherd. We have also modified the Vibe with a front attachment that allows us to tow it behind the RV. This car works out so well for us that I started looking around for a replacement in case the miles pile up to the point we have to retire it.

It turns out that Pontiac no longer exists, but the car this is based on, the Toyota Matrix, is still made. It is getting harder to find manual transmissions however. So I broadened my search to see if we might be able to buy a winter car, and store the Vibe away with the RV each winter. This should cut the miles the Vibe drives each year thereby extending its life.

While I was doing all this research, my elderly parents were reaching the point that they could no longer drive. They happened to have a car they no longer needed. My brother took the car (a 2010 Cadillac CTS) to the local Cadillac dealer, and they determined that since it had 80,000 miles on it, and needed some work, that it wasn’t worth very much money. None of us siblings were interested in the car, and we were a whiskers breath away from accepting their offer. Then my brother mentioned in passing, “…it is all wheel drive.”

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.

As I was growing up, Cadillac made cars that I felt could have doubled as aircraft carriers. They kind of lumbered down the road. They had a lot of room inside, and a huge trunk, but I wouldn’t have characterized them as nimble, or good in the snow. Also, Cadillac’s cost a LOT of money… more than my budget. Perhaps it is snooty of me, but I also felt that people that drove them were trying to make it clear that they were pretty special folks… not the sort of message I try to convey in my life.

All wheel drive though. Hmm. To make a long story short, Alice and I decided to buy this car from our parents and drive it in the winter. And for the umpteenth time in my life, I learned I was wrong. This car is great in the snow. It is low to the ground, so you wouldn’t want to plow through snow drifts with it. But if the snow is not too deep, this car performs nearly as well as any 4-wheel drive I’ve owned.

One plus we discovered on a trip a few weeks ago that was unanticipated, was the excellent brakes. We live in white tail deer country, and on a recent trip to Escanaba, we were driving along after dark when 2 deer sauntered across the road in front of us. I had to stab the brakes. That car stopped right now. We were seriously lucky we had our seat belts on or the G forces would have tossed us forward. We missed the deer by a wide margin, and I accelerated away from the incident with a new respect. This is a well engineered car that is good in the snow, accelerates well, gets surprisingly good gas mileage, and oh yes, it has heated seats.


February 4th, 2018

I watched George Carlin’s routine on “Stuff” the other day. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend doing a youtube search for it. Much of his work makes you laugh, but it also makes you think, and my thought was, “this winter…” during which there is bound to be some down time, “I will go through all my stuff!” If I see stuff I no longer need, I’ll make other arrangements with it. If it is junk, I’ll throw it out. If it is still useful, I’ll take it to St. Vincent’s ™ or the ReStore ™.

“How’s he doing?” You are thinking to yourself.

“Poorly,” is my answer.

I had decided to start with the file cabinet in the basement. For most of our married life, I’ve kept all the bank statements, credit card statements, receipts from purchases, bills, etc. Each category had it’s hanging folder bursting with stuff. My criteria was going to be, if it is older than 7 years, out it goes. Still, I made myself look at it before I tossed it.

It took me an afternoon to get through the top drawer in the file cabinet. I generated a good sized box of paper that no longer fit my 7 year criterium. Why 7 years? I think it has to do with the biblical story of the 7th son of the 7th son, indicating a rare individual. Can you imagine what the mother and grandmother of this rare individual must have looked like? Seven sons in the household, with some assorted daughters sprinkled in for good measure? Those poor women must have been wrecks!

This big box sat in the entry way on the table for some time. These documents had sensitive information in them, like the account numbers from banks that have changed names several times since I closed the accounts out. Still, they couldn’t just go into the recycling, so I determined that I’d burn them in the outside burner barrel. I put this off for a while, for a pretty good reason. The old burner barrel is something I walk past all summer, but in the winter, slogging out there is not something to be taken lightly. Besides getting my body out there, I also had to get the box of papers, something to light them with, and a dry place to put the box. Once I figured all that out, I had to sweep out all the snow from the barrel, drop some paper in the bottom, and then get a fire going.

Once it started to burn (“Are you sure about this,” Jiminy Cricket whispered in my ear) I dropped a few papers at a time into the fire so things would burn completely. It took some number of hours to get the job done. I now have one drawer of my 4-drawer file cabinet mostly empty. And that, my friends, is about the extent of my project to go through my stuff. Except one further project.

The other day I used the last of the bar of soap on the bathroom sink. I started to unwrap a fresh bar, and stopped mid-wrap. You see, for years now, when we finish a bar of soap, we put the left over soap chips in a coffee can under the bathroom sink. There were a lot of soap chips in there. When I queried my brain about a plan for the chips, very little came back to me. So I embarked on a plan to make new bars of soap out of these soap chips, thereby converting some more of my stuff into something useful.

I emptied the contents of the coffee can into the top of a double boiler, put it in it’s water filled mate on the back of the stove, and then did something else for a while. When a project like this is on the back burner (ha!) it is useful to leave the room for a while. Otherwise, your sense of smell might just adapt. As the structure of hundreds of old soap chips were changing due to the heat under them, the house did not smell great. Alice, bless her long suffering heart, wrinkled her nose, but said nothing as the hours slipped by. I added some water and stirred the mess until it started getting kind of sticky, and then spooned the slop into some old soap dishes we’ve accumulated over the years (more stuff!)

The results are interesting. As you can see from the picture, bar one of three is not beautiful. If your nose were nearby, you’d also think the bar smells interesting. The mixture of decades of soap made a bar that looks a lot like congealed puke, and smells like a freshly opened can of locker room disinfectant. The bar is a little too big in my hands, and it surely does not lather like a freshly opened bar of Ivory ™. But it does work, and I feel a little sense of pride every time I use it.

I now understand a little better why we have so much stuff. The pleasure I took from converting some useless stuff into a marginally useful thing was small compared to the pleasure you get when you decide you need something, choose what you want, bring it home, and put it someplace where you’ll find it when you need it. All the trouble of actually putting something to use that has been sitting around for decades provides a smaller amount of pleasure, at least to me. So the stuff piles up. Winter is more than half over, and I haven’t put a dent in my stuff yet. Maybe if I watch George Carlin one more time, I’ll feel better about it.