The Fling

11/23/2010

some bling to fling

Urgency Day 269

500 Things Items 223-27: 5 Necklaces

  • History: Assorted attempts as fashion
  • Value: I prefer scarves
  • Parting Pain: Actually, happiness, because…
  • Un-possessing: I gave them to my Laura!

Alaska is hot!

I don’t mean climate-change hot, or sexy hot; I mean Alaska is popular.

Whether you follow the fortunes of the Last Frontier because of recent political shenanigans, or for other less divisive more delicious reasons—think Baked Alaska!— the 50th state seems to be on our collective radar.

Years ago, there was a TV show set in Alaska called Northern Exposure. My family adores this show. It had an offbeat sensibility, a great soundtrack and Peabody Award- winning writing. A typical episode might riff on Hegelian dialectics, the fallacy of free will, truck driving daddies and Russian Vodka set to Etta James’ At Last and Ojibwa native chants.

So really, just your average programming, say Real Housewives of Anchorage.

One plot line resonates particularly meaningfully with me right now. The town radio disk jockey/resident philosopher wants to create a performance art piece for the community by flinging a cow through the air using a catapult (well, trebuchet, but you know). When he’s told that the Monty Python guys beat him to it in The Holy Grail, Chris petulantly abandons his artistic vision.

But he comes to have an epiphany about The Shared Moment transcending the details of performance. Ultimately, he catapults a fire-damaged upright piano through the remote Alaskan sky, recognizing that:

“It’s not the thing you fling; it’s The Fling itself.”

I know I get caught up in details and precision; in wanting to control the minutia believing that attention will assure the outcome. Over the next few days, the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I, like many holiday hosts, will be managing scourings and arrivals; shopping lists and seating charts; expectations and events. It won’t be, it can’t be perfect: The dog will chase the cat; the turkey will roast too slowly; the bourbon will disappear too quickly; the brother will lose a band-aid in the stuffing. True fact.

And I’m going to smile and remember: “It’s not the thing you fling…”

I wish everyone, everywhere a fabulous fling.

And an extra piece of Baked Alaska.

I'm hearing a certain Sesame Street song...

Urgency Day 275

500 Things Items 218-222: Five Glass Redundancies

  • History: After a while, does anyone really remember?
  • Value: Some, I suppose
  • Parting Pain: Zip
  • Un-possessing: Donations

This hasn’t happened very often. Today, I pulled an item out of the “To Be Downsized” box.

I keep a box for my 500 Things project. As I come across things I can easily imagine living without—usually while I’m having to dust, clean, store or otherwise maintain them—I put them in the box. Time in this holding box varies based on any of several factors:

  • Scheduled donation opportunities
  • Blog worthy moment still needed
  • One last hurrah desired

So far, not many things have fallen into that last wistful category. Probably as I approach the end of the 500 days, as we downsize into smaller digs and the Self-Contained Unit takes up residence in his ivory yet-to-be-determined tower, I will find it necessary to downsize many more things that, with a less minimalist sensibility and a different life course, I would have kept.

But for now… I still have a lot of crap!

My holidays start on Sunday with the arrival of my beloved niece Laura. If you refresh your memory by reading the birthday tribute I wrote for her last May, you’ll understand why “It’s a Jolly Holiday with Laura.”

Then, a few days later, the rest of the par-tay arrives: Sister Donna, brother Jim, Mom and Charlie the Dog. We won’t be an excessively large group for Thanksgiving, but that’s in keeping with the theme of my project, isn’t it? Still, this wonderful group can hold its own, “spirit-wise.” <ahem> We will certainly miss my niece Erin and Phil, Erin’s husband of exactly one year last Sunday. And Bodhi. We will all miss Bodhi.

Well okay, Mel our cat will not miss Bodhi, a VERY ENTHUSIASTIC! Vizsla our Mel doesn’t find quite as manageable as Charlie the zippy back up Dog.

Anyway, in anticipation of my darlings who are very very partial to their morning coffee and afternoon tea (and midmorning tea and late-afternoon coffee), I was thinking about our downsized collection of coffee mugs and its possible inadequacies. Loyal readers of this blog may scratch their heads trying to remember when I culled our mug collection. Please, stop scratching. Our collection has been “downsized” in a very traditional way:

By the too frequent dropping of mugs down onto the floor which changed their size.

I, however, decline to purchase new mugs and certainly reject any paper or Styrofoam option. But I also hate the idea of the endless dishwasher loads of mugs and glasses used only once. The easy solution came to me when putting another item into the to-be-downsized holding box. I saw that a while ago, I had put in the box some of those stemware baubles people use at parties to help guests identify their misplaced beverages.

Eureka!

I retrieved them and intend to use them constantly with my visiting family, so everyone can keep track of their mugs, wineglasses, cocktails and anything else I can attach them to in hopes of downsizing our holiday washing and purchasing.

And maybe I’ll even attach one to the dog’s tail.

Lord knows the cat may try to “downsize” him.

Charlie waits for his turn on Facebook.

Penny Wise

11/11/2010

Brass or copper, worth every penny

Urgency Day 281

500 Things Item 217: Brass or Copper Kettle

  • History: Purchased by Paul’s parents in England after the war
  • Value: Under investigation
  • Parting Pain: A twinge
  • Un-possessing: Gift to family

When you see a penny on the ground, do you pick it up?

See a penny, pick it up,

All the day you have good luck.

Back in Virginia where I’m from, we thought the good luck was finding money, even a penny. As my grandmother would say, “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” It wasn’t until I moved to the Land of Lincoln, that I was told another part of the penny rhyme:

But if you give your luck away,

It comes ten-fold another day.

Today, a neighbor credited her daughter and me with having good luck come back to her two-thousand-fold after leaving a penny on the ground.

My friend told me I had inspired her to start walking when possible to our local grocery store instead of driving— an option I really enjoy. She and her husband miss their days of living in Paris where walking is far more de rigueur. One recent and very blustery day, she was walking to the store to pick up a tasty baguette for dinner when she spotted a penny on the sidewalk. Reaching for it, she remembered her daughter telling her that by flipping it over and leaving it for someone else, she would get even more luck later.

So she didn’t pick it up; she flipped it over. She did pick up the pace as it was an extremely blustery day. Several blocks later, as she turned a corner near the store, she happened to spy not a penny, but a twenty dollar bill! The bill was being furiously buffeted by the wind, and she just managed to stomp on it and capture it. Now the hard part: What do you do? What would you do? Seeing no likely owner nearby, and figuring she could parse the ethics under less distracting conditions, she pocketed the twenty and finished her errand.

No. She did not use the money to pay for her baguette. For my friend, the solution was quite simple. She gave the money to one of the caretaker’s of her autistic son, a young woman who is a student at a local college. Think back to your college days: the sudden appearance of twenty dollars was a huge windfall! I tell Sam all the time:

In college, having a full tank of gas and twenty bucks in your pocket is unrivaled freedom.

Actually, I still feel that way.

Now, here are my dots:

  • My habit of walking to the store
  • Inspired my friend to walk to the store;
  • On her walk, she leaves a lucky penny for the next person–
  • And moments later finds $20,
  • Which she gives to a very deserving person.

Maybe the second part of the penny rhyme never caught on in Virginia, because that’s the land of Jefferson (nickels) and Washington (quarters). Few people would pass up a nickel or a shiny quarter for a promise of future good luck. But luck, as I am finding now, does ebb and flow.

Luck is very process not product.


As Is Life

11/09/2010

An As Is relic.

Urgency Day 283

500 Things Item 216: Small Ikea Dresser

  • History: Originally for Baby Sam’s stuff
  • Value: Has also held off-season items, VHS tapes and DVDs
  • Parting Pain: Since it’s been emptied, none
  • Un-possessing: Donation

Alarms should sound in your head when you see the following words: AS IS.

This warning should apply to:

  • Cars
  • Houses
  • On-line Purchases
  • Potential spouses

It takes a lot of money to fix an As Is situation.

But who doesn’t love Ikea’s As Is Room? My mom and I adore an Ikea outing—sharing a lunch of Swedish meatballs and a long amble through Ikea’s showroom and marketplace. We enjoy the casual catalog atmosphere and each other’s good company.

One visit could have gone terribly awry, however, when we heard the URGENT ANNOUNCEMENT! for an immediate 15 minute sale in the As Is Room.

We took off for that remote corner of the store, and when I say took off, you must imagine my mom summoning all of her stroke-affected speed– bless her heart—grasping with her one good hand an inexplicable all-directions-at-once cart, beady-eyed with determination, and yelling at me to “run ahead!” and get all the good bargains!

Look out Sweden: She has a cane, and for a bargain, she’s won’t hesitate to use it!

As Is. No doubt it is possible to get a good bargain with an As Is tag on it. I just think it takes an abundance of self-control to pause and consider if you are in the presence of a real bargain or just some cheap crap with an alluring sale tag on it.

We all have stories of not pausing and considering. Our If-Only Tales:

  • If only I had waited;
  • If only I had walked away;
  • If only I had cared about the flood damage in the scary basement next to the piles of raccoon droppings.

But the house was an As Is bargain!

The small dresser pictured above didn’t come from that amazing race Ikea visit with my mother. I got it when the Self-Contained Unit was a much smaller and needier version of himself. For years, it held diapers and blankets and onesies by the score.

It went on to store off-season items and then VHS tapes that faded and broke long before I parted with them. The drawers fall out when pulled too hard; it’s made from that hallmark of cheap furniture, ubiquitous white almost-wood; it still has the glue marks from the As Is sticker. And, for all its flaws, I have a soft spot for this crappy little dresser. It only cost about $20.

Well what do you know: an un-cautionary tale.

Mom and I ended up laughing too hard to buy anything that day. One thing about As Is shopping: you cannot waffle. Stake your claim or get out of the way. Even of sweet little old ladies with canes.

Or maybe, especially…

recipes for reduction

Urgency Day 284

500 Things Items 214-15: 2 lbs. of Recipes

  • History: Years of clipping, copying and even some cooking
  • Value: A few meals, a few mishaps; much mind-changing
  • Parting Pain: None, and I hope no future regret
  • Un-possessing: Recycle bin

It’s become a cliché:

If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it. Here’s a variation to try:  If you haven’t cooked it in a year, get rid of it. The recipe, that is.

Back in June, I reported the weight of my 6 recipe albums. Albums, not cookbooks:  My scrupulously organized, individually-sheet protected, lovingly annotated, ridiculously cumbersome collections of printed recipes and clippings which Paul and Sam know I will risk life and culinary limb to rescue in a fire.

26.2 pounds.

In June, my recipes weighed 26.2 pounds. On November 6th, they weighed 27.1 pounds. This is not a sustainable trend.

Last weekend, while watching old movies (It’s a Wonderful World with Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert) and sports (I finally like that punk, Landon Donovan), I spent about 8 hours pouring over my recipes. I had one goal in mind: reduction. I intended to be ruthless, to trim the fat—so to speak—in my culinary collection:

  • Just because Gourmet magazine no longer exists doesn’t mean I have to be its archivist;
  • Old splatters and smudges wouldn’t tug at me;
  • Achingly seductive food photos? Well, let’s just say it’s much easier to stare them down on a full stomach— which I happily maintained the entire time.

The only things off-limits were family recipes. And they weigh a combined 1 ounce, not counting the 12 ounce one from “Grandma Nestle Tollhouse.”

Easiest category to reduce: Beef

And not simply because of my recent adoption of a vegetarian diet; I am still feeding 2 carnivores. Even when I was eating beef, we didn’t eat that much of it. I’ve saved a few classics such as beef stew, pot roast, and Mom’s vegetable beef soup— my family’s traditional Christmas Eve supper. But even conjuring them now doesn’t make me salivate. I think I really must be shifting taste-gears.

Most difficult category to reduce: Mexican

Didn’t I read recently that Mexican cuisine has overtaken Italian as the one most preferred by Americans? [Is anyone else seeing the irony?] Besides being delicious, Mexican recipes are fantastically adaptable for our resident meat and plant eaters.

Don’t downsize the frijoles!

Someday, I hope, I will have a laptop in my kitchen. Then I can simply log on to Kara’s An Hour in the Kitchen for the recipe I want to prepare. No sheet-protected paper required. And I know I really should scan my recipes and put them all on a flash drive. They would certainly be safer from Devastation and would definitely be less burdensome—at least after 26 pounds of scanning was accomplished. Someday, probably, this will happen.

The final reduction came in at approximately 210 recipes, or 2 pounds of clippings plus the weight of sheet protectors. It feels liberating, similar to the culling I’m doing of my kitchen tools, not to mention the rest of my stuff. Streamlining, simplifying, downsizing to what I truly use and value.

Recipes, it seems, are a lot like clothes: we use 10% of them 80% of the time.

So why do I still have 25 pounds of recipes?


Three other raincoats might be enough...

Urgency Day 288

500 Things Item 213: My 4th Favorite Raincoat

  • History: Purchased on sale despite being too large
  • Value: Hardly used (see above)
  • Parting Pain: None
  • Un-possessing: Donation

I have been discontent for awhile.

Dis: A prefix meaning not.

I am discontent with our employed situation, vis a vis, it being in the category of “un.”

Un: Also a prefix meaning not, apart, asunder; a reversal.

A reversal: I love being dis-contented:  becoming “un” with my contents.

English majors—again, yours truly– enjoy hyphenating words to see if new meanings are revealed. Dis-cover was especially popular in Shakespearean-feminist criticism, with its slightly naughty innuendo and meta-suggestiveness. As we oh-so-clever grad students liked to say, “I never meta-hyphen I didn’t like.”

I knew I was going to love an article I spotted in The New York Times this morning, “Accumulation And Its Discontents” by Penelope Green. If you are interested in the subjects of collecting, hoarding and/or the fear of un-possessing possessions, I highly recommend this article to you. Here’s a section that discusses the very mindset I am considering in my 500 Things project:

I got this from Aunt Maria: I can’t get rid of it. I spent a lot of money on this; I can’t get rid of it. I wore this a year ago, I might want to wear it again; I can’t get rid of it. If I get rid of it, I’ve lost all these opportunities.

It’s the old Rainy Day trap:

  • Just in case.
  • What if…?
  • I might need it.

Some unforeseen event might finally compel us to use something that’s been utterly and completely neglected for months or even years. It might. There’s no getting around it:  It just might.

Or. What I believe happens more often at moments of need or desire? Shopping.

If “mights” speak to you, I truly think you should be content with your stuff. If hyphens are more your thing, you might enjoy dis-covering your inner dis-contenter with me.

Once and for all, I want to be un-possessed of my discontent.


Bubble Likes

11/03/2010

Play it forward again, Sam.

Urgency Day 289

500 Things Items 203-212: Ten Toys!

  • History: Various celebrations
  • Value: Mostly pretty good
  • Parting Pain: None
  • Un-possessing: Donations— and now the project is caught up!

Do you have guilty pleasures?

Yeah– me, too. The movie “Knocked Up” is one of mine.

No one should ever justify their guilty pleasures. It’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny. And I’m not going to explain this slight aberration in my usually predictable affections. Nope, not gonna. Except for this one little thing.

There’s an exchange between the characters Pete and Ben, when Pete says,

“I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.”

It just makes you ask yourself:  What do I like as much as kids like bubbles?

Everyone should quickly be able to name four things they like as much as kids like bubbles. And you can’t say your family and friends (this actually saves some people some awkward conversations). Here are mine:

  1. Friends (Ha! The TV show)
  2. Walking to my neighborhood stores in different seasons
  3. Riding my bike with Paul
  4. Cake

Why four? No reason, four just came to me quickly. If you have more than four, I am delighted for you. If you have fewer than four, bubbles are cheap.

I could also add writing, cooking, organizing and listening to music, but then I start to wonder if these are really bubble-likes.

Also, I do like bubbles, and I bet you do, too.

Champagne.


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