Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

A Little at a Time

 

My Buddha by the sink

My mother was an artist. She went to art school and studied sculpture as a young woman. Later when my brothers were both in school she studied painting at the Boston Museum of Art. She had a studio over the garage where she occasionally worked. She also kept her art materials there along with lots of interesting women’s magazines. I loved to go up and read them. From them I learned many helpful household hints. I still remember one that told how to change a bed by walking around it only once. I used to do that. Now Stephen and I make ours together.

It may have been then or it could have been later on in my life that I came across the twenty minute system for accomplishing lengthy tasks. The article suggested allotting twenty minutes daily or whenever convenient, to a chore that was normally postponed because it might take too long or be otherwise tedious. When I tried the suggestion I was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked. One example was that instead of cleaning out all the bureau drawers, or every shelf in the pantry at once, take twenty minutes to clean and tidy one, stop and do another on another day.

At one time I practiced this technique quite frequently, however it slipped into the mists at the back of my mind. Recently I was reminded of it. What happened was this: For a very long time I had postponed cleaning out the refrigerator. Week after week each time I wrote out a new to do list, that particular task was at the top. Still I found reasons not to. Then I noticed how sticky one of the racks on the refrigerator door was. I decided to clean it off then and there. Because there were many small jars to be removed, washed off and replaced, it took me about twenty minutes or so to complete the task.

As I shut the refrigerator door I remembered the household hint from so long ago and laughed. The next day I cleaned off the second shelf of the door. Several days later I washed off the whole bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Today I cleaned the oven, and so it goes. Each task that takes around twenty minutes to complete adds up eventually to a thorough cleaning and tidying. I will probably go through my bureau drawers next, and perhaps after that a couple of other tasks I can think of that need attention.

I remember hearing someone say once that when he thought about what he had to do, it always seemed far more daunting than it turned out to be once he actually began to do it. The same holds true for me about the time spent doing something. Dividing a task into smaller segments works much better for me these days than trying to get it all done at once. As well, it spreads out over all the different times spent, the feeling of satisfaction I get from my small yet necessary accomplishment.

Tasha Halpert

 

Growing Up By Myself

Bed Friends 1

When I was growing up I lived a couple of miles from a small seaside town on a large property that belonged to my Great Aunt Alice. I didn’t have any siblings until I was almost nine. Virtually an only child, I was surrounded by busy adults and often told to stop bothering them and find something to do. A voracious reader, when I wasn’t nose deep in a book, I played games of pretend, making believe I was someone other than a lonely child in an isolated neighborhood with only herself to rely on for amusement.

I had quite a collection of teddy bears, dolls and other stuffed animals. When I was small I was sure they came alive at night. This belief was influenced by Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy books. These innocent stories about a group of toys that had adventures were written in the early 1900s and became even more popular in the 30’s and 40’s. In these stories, ice cream cones grew on trees, cupcakes and hot dogs could be plucked from bushes and lemonade and sodas were available in puddles and brooks.

Raggedy Ann’s magical woods full of “fairies and elves and everything” held all sorts of fun inventions that I yearned to experience for myself. I loved the stories and used to watch my toys to see whether they too might have adventures while I was sleeping. Sometimes I thought I spotted them in different positions than I had left them, though I could never be sure.

Later I moved on to books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then I wanted to be a pirate or have exciting adventures when I became a grown up. I made bows and arrows out of handy branches and tied string to my father’s hoe and rake to make a hobby horse. If my father needed his rake he knew where to look–in my lilac bush “stable.”

My family believed in fresh air and I spent a lot of time all year round out of doors in nature. Where we lived I was fortunate in having a large open area to play in There were all kinds of trees to climb and large fields of tall grass that I made into my private jungle. My pretend life was much more interesting than my actual one. The world I lived in as a young child was without TV or any form of electronic toy or game. I had to use my imagination to conjure up my entertainment.

I wonder if my childhood led me to grow up looking at the world from a different perspective than most. Steeped in nature and in the creativity of my mind, its sights and sounds enhanced my imaginary life. Today I perceive links and patterns everywhere. I find significance in synchronicity and receive messages from the nature around me. The world was and is alive for me in a way today’s youth may not discover. With the current focus on electronics, most children will not have my opportunities. I learned to listen to and observe nature and found there a sense of companionship and of comfort that is with me still.

Shine On Harvest Moon by Tasha Halpert

Onions on Display

Once upon a time harvesting was done by hand. The farmer and his helpers scythed their way through their fields or picked their way through their orchards and gardens, gathering in grain, fruit and vegetables to store away or take to market. Most children today have no idea what a scythe or a flail is, or how to winnow. Yet though the ways of doing it have changed, fall is still harvest time, and we look to the shortening days to gather in what has grown.

In the month of September the harvest full moon shines brightly. At that time there are often gatherings and parties. The bright moon reminds us to say goodbye to the summer growing season and greet the time of reaping. This applies both that which we have planted earlier in the year and been tending, and that which has grown from the seeds we have planted in our lives. It is time to begin to reap what we have sown and tended over the last months.

For children today fall means school and the beginning of lessons. At one time in the past children too worked in the fields helping to bring in the harvest. I remember when I was small, my mother put up jars of fruit and vegetables. She made jelly from grapes and other fruit gathered locally. My great aunt’s gardener harvested and stored root vegetables in root cellar dug into the earth of her garden. In our basement was a small barrel of potatoes also harvested from her garden.

Although i no longer have a garden, every spring I look forward to the swelling of buds and the growth of all the nature around me. I also feel a sense of creativity blown in by the winds that stir up the soil and stimulate the air. In my mind I plant the seeds of projects I hope to accomplish as well as plan what I hope to learn in the months ahead. Spring is a time of promise. In the springtime of life youthful ardor makes ambitious plans for what is to be designed and built.

Then it is time to carry out the plans made and take care of the seeds planted. Tending the garden of my life is a task I have grown into as the years have gone by. In the beginning I was much less organized. I took on more than I could sensibly handle; all too often I planted too many seeds. As I grew to understand the folly of my ways I learned better no matter how hard I tried, what I could and what I could not accomplish. The knowledge and the understanding I have gained has also been part of the harvest of my years.

Friendships both seasonal and perennial are another important aspect of the seeds planted earlier in my life. The bounty of my experience as I have learned and grown is another. My most precious gain of all is perhaps the unfolding knowledge of who I am and what I can do as well as the extent of my potential. As I look back to the springtime of my life I realize how richly rewarding the harvest from my garden is, and how very grateful I am for it all.