Archive for the ‘Object Lessons – Stories of Stuff’ Category

Anyone who dinks around on Facebook and Pinterest knows that a simple “hack” to make life easier isn’t always as simple as it seems. But I have one you can do with just a twist-tie, and I learned it from my beloved grandfather.

Grandpa with camera

Grandpa Ed with his beloved camera.

Grandpa Ed was a gardener and a dedicated tinkerer. He earned his living fixing air conditioners, furnaces, and other odds and ends. Tinkering extended into every part of his life. He tinkered in the garden, trying new varieties of onions, peppers and other veggies. He tinkered with his camera, earning himself the nickname “Grandpa Flash.” He tinkered in the kitchen, making his own fruit leather, using a bread machine, and tweaking recipes. He tinkered with computers, learning new programs, creating greeting cards, and even writing his and Grandma’s life stories and desktop publishing them with photos.

After he passed away, I somehow inherited his bread machine and his food dehydrator. When they arrived in my home, they had a tiny touch of Grandpa Ed’s brilliant tinkering attached to them. When I went to plug one in for the first time, I found the cord wrapped around the appliance and secured by a twist-tie. Didn’t look like much until I untwisted the tie. After unwinding the cord, I found the twist-tie attached to the plug end of the cord by a simple twist, leaving the ends free to secure the rest of the cord.

plug hack

Keep your twist tie handy by attaching it to your cord.

This touch of genius means you never have to go searching for a new twistie, nor do you have to deal with loose cords flying around in your cabinets every time you pull out an appliance.

plug hack2

Use the tie to secure the plug end to the rest of the cord after wrapping around the appliance.

While I no longer have either of Grandpa’s appliances (sometimes regret getting rid of the bread machine) several of my small appliances, from my blender to my food processor, sport a twist-tie on their plug end.

Today, I added a new tie to a new-to-me appliance. And I thought of Grandpa Ed.

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It was a modest gift: a hand-painted flower pot. I’ve carted it with me through the years. 21 years now. It was the poem by Emily Dickinson chosen to decorate the rim that has kept this humble item with me for so long.

In 1995, when I was in high school, my best friend painted this small pot in antique gold paint. She scrawled the following Dickinson poem around the top.

If I can stop one heart from breaking/I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching/or cool one pain
Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain.

My friend added this post script: “Do Not Live in Vain. Do Not Live in Vain. Do Not Live in Vain!”


As if she hadn’t yet driven home the point, the pot is adorned with several simple ways to carry out Dickinson’s ideal.

  • Make Magic
  • Make Music
  • Make a child laugh
  • Make a big noise

My friend had moved away in 1994 when we were but fourteen. In 1995, the year of the flower pot, we would grow distant. Letters sent went unreturned. Email was not yet mainstream, and our friendship – or its absence – left a gaping hole.

Yet the flower pot and the poem painted across it stuck with me in deep and powerful ways. This friendship was one of the most important of my young life. And the poem became a guiding principle for me. It was one of the only poems I could ever recite by heart, and it embodied my philosophy for doing good. I knew I was never destined for greatness; I’m no Mother Teresa or future President. But I knew I could make a difference in small ways. I could adopt a cat (or two) from a shelter. I could help a stranger on a train find her way. I could join the board of the Friends of the Library. I could knit a prayer shawl and give it to a friend enduring pain and loss. I may not ever save someone’s life or dramatically alter the course of history, but I could, perhaps, make the world a little brighter for another human being.


Make people believe. (She did.) Or make cookies. (We did that, too.)

My friend and I, after not speaking for four years, had a total falling out in 2002, brought about more by distance, misunderstanding, and perceived malice than by any real wrongs on either of our parts. We reconnected about a few years ago on Facebook, and the warmth has returned to cover the loss, though it is always hard to recover completely across so many years and distance.

During all this time, more than 20 years, I’ve looked at the flower pot as it’s moved around my various homes. I always felt a pang of loss upon seeing it, yet could never bear to part with it; the obvious love, time and effort that went into painting it, selecting a poem, and detailing all the creative ideas has held me captive. Now the friendship has been renewed, so the loss is gone.

And while my friend may never have known it, her small act of giving me that flower pot brought so much to my life. It has always been more that a flower pot, even as it has held bookmarks and doodads; it has been a vessel of inspiration.

If you believe Dickinson, my friend, then you have not lived in vain. By simply giving me this item, you have not lived in vain.

Post Script: I haven’t completely decided what to do with this item. It is certainly not being honored in its current state, but while this blog was meant to tell stories of sentimental stuff in order to part with it, this one may not be destined for the charity box. It may be that in this instance, the point is more to tell the story.


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I’m sentimental about books. Anyone who knows me knows I love to read. It goes beyond that: I love the feel of a book in my hands, of turning the pages, of getting lost in them. I love to learn. Books carry their own kind of memories, the ones you make in your life while you read them. And Because you read them.

Reconciling my faith with my world.

It was spring (I think) 2001. This was the textbook for my college class by the same name, Religion and Science. It was not an easy read, but it was fascinating. It opened my eyes to so many possibilities about how God could work in the world than I ever imagined. Who knew that the laws of thermodynamics actually left a “space” for God (IMO) when they break down into entropy? I was never one to believe that God cared much about what I ate for breakfast, but those who believe in determinism – that God controls everything – ascribe to this. They find it comforting that their lives are not their own to screw up. I always felt like that was just an easy way to make God the dick for one’s own bad behavior and choices. Or for the rotten chances that occur in life, like car accidents, SIDS, and tripping on a stair and breaking your leg. With determinism, it’s all God’s fault.

On the other hand, I reject the notion that the world was created by chance, and the laws of physics and chemistry control our human nature, because really, isn’t that just another form of determinism? If the laws of nature say that it is natural to cheat on my spouse, should I? Even if God is the one to have set those laws in motion, it’s tough for me to swallow that this great being left us on our own to fend for ourselves? And if you don’t believe in God, well, then that is a different ballpark, one in which humans make and break the rules, so science becomes God.

This book opened me to a new possibility, that chance is built into the system that God created, that chaos is integral to the design. Chaos is where God left himself room to play, to intervene, to push one molecule into a new place and make something else happen. That free will really is free, but God can help choose what outcome comes of it, one of an abundance of choices that follow the laws of physics…or not. God can choose to create miracles at this level and bend physics to do amazing things.

This class was held at 7:45am, an ungodly hour for most college students. It was a lousy time for a discussion class because most students weren’t awake enough to engage. The class was team-taught by a chemist and an Old Testament scholar. The chemist tended to monopolize the lecture a bit and his tangents were hard to follow. The day we discussed this idea of chaos, half the class was asleep and the chemist had droned on for a bit before finally asking a question. I raised my hand and offered my theory that, rather than being scary or contrary to the existence of God, I felt the chance, the chaos, actually brought more “proof” for God, that it gave God a creative place to work in the system, to be the glue that holds the world together from flying apart at the molecular level. The chemist’s face grew grim (he was a determinist) while the OT scholar marched from the back of the room to the front of the room to grin at me. It was a college moment I have always looked back on and cherished because I think I woke the room up, if just a little.

The book that changed how I change books.

It wasn’t just this expanded viewpoint that I got from the book. The book was difficult enough to read and full of interesting ideas, so much so that I broke one of my personal book rules for the first time: I marked it up. Up until that point, I had never highlighted in a book, never underlined, never wrote notes in the margins, never purposely dog-eared a page. With this book, I made it more mine. I still only used pencil, but I underlined and wrote notes and questions to myself. I had finally, at last, recognized that books were not sacred, that they could actually become more by marking in them. Granted, I still tend to treat books with utmost respect, but I’m much more willing to go a different direction than before.

I’ve kept the book for over ten years, always thinking that I would someday revisit those moments, those passages that opened my eyes to something new. I finally recognize that there are too many other books out there yearning to do the same thing. I’ve donated the book, along with several others, to my local friends of the library for their book sale. Perhaps it can do for someone else what it did for me.

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I was young and stupid. More accurately, naive. In 1997, it was still scary – really scary – to meet someone online. But I was “in love.”

In 1997 the Internet was still an infant, and I was probably one of the first in my class to get an email address. Over that summer, between my junior and senior years of high school, I started frequenting a poetry chat room. There, I met a boy, or rather a man.


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A collection of medals and awards from high school.

I was a star student. I’m sure people hated me for it, but I have always been me and I don’t apologize for that. I remember with both pride and embarrassment the number of school assemblies during which I was called down to the floor to accept some kind of medal or award.

What I’m struggling with now is what to do with them!


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Round table with chair

Over 30 years old, this table will now go on to serve meals to someone who really needs something solid right now.

It was not my intent that my old dining room table be my first Object Lesson. It was not a table I treasured, nor did I photograph it with the quality I’m intending for future posts. However, it was a table with over 30 years of history in the family, and it has a new home as of today, a home where it will likely be more appreciated than it has been in a long, long time.

There was a horrible fire in town last weekend. A mother, two children and a baby were in the house. Rumor has it the mother got the two older children out of the house, ran back for the baby and became trapped. The fire department made it in, but not before both had suffered severely, and it sounds like the baby didn’t make it, and Mom is in the hospital.

Today, some folks in town are setting up an apartment for the family, and filling it with donations from people in the community. Our dining room table and chairs will be placed in their new home.


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