The Art of Literally Taking Stock

I know many people look at January as a fresh start—the beginnings of new habits, the shedding of old ones, and the promise of a brighter, shinier version of themselves—that is, if most things stick on the list of I’m-serious-about-it-this-year resolutions.

But January has adopted a new meaning for me over the last couple of years simply because I’ve taken over a task no one at work is terribly thrilled to be assigned.

Inventory.

I’m absurdly delighted when faced with the challenge of organizing—of tackling chaos and wrestling it into neat rows of tidy “make sense” portions. Cupboards, pantries, file cabinets—I’ll orchestrate any item with the same military fervor Captain von Trapp had for queueing up offspring.

The snag is that my goods to groupify are not errant children, and the gap left in their absence does not allow me to tenderheartedly sigh and roll my eyes with slight amusement that a bottle, a case, or a barrel of whiskey has wandered off and is likely still up in its bedroom, wholly caught up in a drossy bit of literary drivel.

Instead, there are a couple of weeks of high anxiety, raised eyebrows, and countless vexed but ludicrous searches that include scouring closets, lifting stacks of paper, and requesting people empty their pockets. In the end, most of those absent cannot be categorized as truly AWOL—more like absent without the official paying attention to her spreadsheet.

Sometimes we just have too much stuff. Or perhaps, in my case at work, we have too much stuff that isn’t bolted to the ground behind barred holding cells.

Coincidentally, my library sent me a book suggestion at precisely the same time I was fretfully reckoning inventory. It is called: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.

Disturbing, for sure, but curiously poetic, perhaps.

After reading a review of the book, I’m not sure I’d categorize it as art, or event gentle, but cleaning before you kick the bucket with the bucket you’re soon to kick is pretty accurate. Maybe it’s a Swedish translation thing?

Maybe the meta quality is what appeals to me but being as practical and word obsessed as I am, I would likely change the title to If You Can’t Eat It, Drink It, or Read it, Toss it.

Or better yet, How to Start Losing Your Shit and Have People Thank You for It.

And again, having been raised in the hard-nosed and utilitarian kingdom of the Mid-West, my people would definitely see value in this idea. Of course, many of them are Swedish, so we’re tilting the scale a bit here too.

As I see it, January is a month where myriad people try on the activity of shedding. Whether it’s weight, bad habits, or toxic relationships—why not start combing through the clutter too, right? Dostadning is the Swedish word that blends death and cleaning, although maybe there should be a “pre” thrown in there for good measure and clarity. Hard to reach corners are even harder to reach from the inside of a coffin, right?

And even though I’m a massive fan of spring cleaning no matter the season, the Swedish concept adds a new layer of consideration and thoughtfulness to the activity: do it now so your kids don’t have to. Although, in my case, it might be better stated as do it now because your kids won’t—they’ll just “accidentally” torch it and take the insurance loss.

I don’t want to leave my offspring with feelings of resentment once I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, and I certainly don’t want to leave them with a dozen boxes of high school memorabilia, drawers full of obsolete electrical cords from my Commodore 64 and Atari 7800 console, and that shed full of traffic cones, chamber pots, candle nibs, and “Do Not Disturb” signs from every hotel I’ve ever visited. I’d prefer to leave them each a heartfelt hand-written note, their favorite meal prepared and labeled in the freezer, and enough Tupperware with matching lids to last a lifetime. I imagine with this type of forethought, they would at least raise a toast to my ability to properly assess their busy lives and needs.

So, I have decided to start dostadning this month. I will work to rid myself of files, of furniture and of films that only run on archaic VCR players. I will purge my closet of garments from junior high, my drawers of mismatched socks, and my cabinets of the grass clippings that were once pungent herbs. I no longer need bed linens for bed sizes I do not possess, prom dresses from the 80s, or floppy discs that still might hold banking data from banks that have long ago shuttered.

Hell, I may even shed three letters from my name, as they’re superfluous as well.

We’ll see.

It’s the act of tidying up that aids the pursuit of simplicity—of giving space to only things that still serve you. Yes, it’s the Marie Kondo-ing exercise, and it likely exists in every culture.

No doubt we can all see the benefit of lightening not only our daily load but also the hefty responsibility we pass on to those we leave behind. There is also no doubt that my employer would prefer I not classify missing valuable liquor as the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning, as he will quickly Marie Kondo my ass right out of employment and feel sparkling joy in his own act of KonMari.

For now, I’ll keep working at hunting for the full bottles, and tossing out the empties.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

The Wood Stove Chronicles – Part II

Part 1 of The Wood Stove Chronicles can be found HERE.

I fussed. I fretted. And I fumed over the few “inconsequential details” I’d just been given—rather last minute—by my new woodstove manufacturer’s salesman.

Yes, of course, before we do the install, you must have an insurance approved, certified heat resistant hearth board for the stove to sit on.

Wait, you don’t supply that?

*Laughter.

Okay, fine, you don’t supply that. So, where do I find this?

Beats me. I just work here. And I don’t own a stove.

I am certainly not the first person to be on the receiving end of an exchange where people who have convinced you that you’re about to enter the easiest money-for-goods-trade only to discover that they assumed you could see into their brain and would immediately absorb the biblically thick amount of data that would make that trade a viable one.

I cannot channel such superpowers and, more oft than not, feel hampered when even trying to see into my own brain.

I began calling other stove companies, asking about hearth boards. Most offered some version of my own precious salesman’s response, but a fair number of them suggested I simply head to the nearest DIY hardware store and pick up sixteen handsome cinderblocks so that the stove would fit in with any trucks, trailers, or mobile homes I had scattered about the yard—also held up by attractive bricks of concrete.

Photo by Mathias Reding on Unsplash
Photo by Mathias Reding on Unsplash

I finally found one—the hearth board— and, after a dozen phone calls, I was assured that the requisite piece would arrive definitely, most likely, although it depends on supply chain strikes BEFORE the stove install.

Although with each successive update as to its whereabouts, I was hearing phrases more like:

No one knows where it is, but if you see a trucker, maybe flag him down, hehe.

Likely the railroads are shutting down this week, so don’t hold your breath.

And my favorite:

Pretty sure it’s coming from China, and they’re not working today cuz … Covid.

I looked at all the alternatives—delay the install (next available service slot was near close to Easter), find an alternative fire protectant (phone calls to stone fabricators ensued), or head to the Home Depot and select the prettiest chunks of masonry units for sale (nope, nope, nope).

I scheduled a visit to the nearest marble and granite supplier and took a tour through the slab-stoned graveyard with the owner, who immediately gave off the “I’m bored, I’ve been day drinking, and I’ve run out of porn to watch” vibe. When I finally found a piece I thought would suit and asked the price, the old lecher smiled wickedly and said, “What do you say I give it to you for free if you come on into my office so I can show you a real set of rocks?”

I will spare you the descriptive gesture but, obviously, I was now down to two options, and the cinder blocks were becoming more attractive by the moment.

Shortly thereafter, a new message on my phone revealed that the manufacturer had located my purchase but would only agree to releasing it in a timely manner if a) I paid extra for shipping—which was about the same cost as the object itself, and b) would pick it up where it was currently stored.

I know. I hear you. Clearly this company was being run by Mensa candidates.

Day before stove install, my hearth board arrives. Day of stove install, no stove installers arrive.

I call.

I leave a message.

I text.

I shout out threats, plan a seizure, cast a spell. I do everything and anything that will shift the winds in my favor, and at some point, realize that with all the energy I’ve put into acquiring this contraption, I may not actually need another source of heat for winter, as I am fully fueled by the blaze of anger.

Hours later, I receive a phone call:

“Hello?”

“Gate code.”

Ah, I can see the effort I spent making sure the salesman put it on the paperwork for the installers was for naught.

“0032,” I say cheerfully.

*click

Five minutes later, a white van pulls up and brings with it my new wood stove and two surly men who refuse to speak to me, as they catch a glimpse of a man in shadow on the porch. They shout to him instead.

“Where’s it goin?”

I am baffled. As I am outside. Standing in front of them both. Having literally just uttered the words, Good morning, and thanks for coming. Let me show you where it’s going.

I do not exist.

Dave, my partner, whom I asked to be present—in case there was an engineering issue not a gender one—steps outside and hooks a thumb my way. “Wherever she tells you to put it is my guess.”

I’d hug him on the spot, but wield my best matronly Nurse Ratched disposition and authoritatively point to a corner of the log cabin where the salesman and I had finally agreed upon.

“Not gonna fit,” one man says to Dave.

“I sent pictures,” I said.

Silence.

“She sent pictures,” Dave repeats.

The talker shrugs, and the silent one just shakes his head.

“What’s the problem?” Dave and I ask at the same time, but the response is directed at Dave.

“It’s a roof thing,” the talker says glancing up at my ceiling—a ceiling I mapped out from every angle, inside and out, and sent to the salesman. On two separate occasions because he refused to do a site visit.

“I sent pictures,” I said again to two men who surely were wondering why I was being allowed to talk, since they had not seen the big guy next to me nod my way with permission.

Dave held up a finger to the installers. “Give us a sec.” He gestured toward the kitchen, and I followed.

“Do you want your woodsy warm stove, honya? Or do you want to collect further proof that these two guys probably bellyache over the fact that women never have to take DNA tests to prove a baby is or isn’t theirs?

I looked at him. I tried not to laugh, and I also tried not to cry. But he was right. I left the room and went to my tiny office. I fussed. I fretted. And I fumed. But three hours later I beamed because I had a beautiful new wood stove.

I was reminded that sometimes you’re forced to choose your battles, but for now I think the only thing I’ll have to use my battle ax for is for chopping wood.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Lie Beneath the Wood Stove

There are three introductory phrases I begin sentences with that truly define who I am:

The First—I can’t believe I have to repeat this, but …

The Second—If you truly want my opinion …

And the Third—When I was growing up in Wisconsin …

It’s the third, well-practiced utterance that we shall focus on today, as I feel this introductory remark is cemented in my daily speech and appears as often as the hourly Early Black Friday deals have been emerging in my mailboxes.

That said, when I was growing up in Wisconsin, it was an unremarkable experience to walk into anyone’s house—specifically in Northern Wisconsin where I was raised—and immediately feel the blast of a workhorse of a wood stove’s heat hit your face before the door slapped you in the ass.

This was rather welcoming, as most folks were more than happy to have something begin deicing their beard or eyebrows and eyelashes so they could again experience the pleasure and necessity of facial expressions.

Living for the last several years in a log cabin that is about as snug and as well-chinked as a pasta colander, I have finally decided to fork over several thousand dollars to a local dealer of what I’m certain is a large smelting furnace. I now join my childhood brethren in creating creosote worthy of the number of railroad ties needed to get from one end of the state to the other on an hourly basis.

I jest.

I hope.

As I do not venture into unfamiliar territory lightly, a great deal of research has gone into this decision. Yes, I may have grown up with an iron beast that tamed the North Pole snows that spewed down upon us for nearly nine months of the year, but I was merely a cog in the wheel of warmth creation, and not the true operator of the equipment.

My job, as was my three other siblings, was to chop, maul, haul, and stack. Four cords of wood were not going to magically emerge, wood stove ready, from the forests surrounding us. Hence, the true purpose for having a large family: woodworking.

And dishwashing.

Weeding rounded out the trifecta of those drudgeries, but again, as one can decipher from above, it was a small spot of three-month labor which, in truth, provided variety.

Having grown up in Wisconsin (yes, just another variety of the catchphrase from above), you get used to the cold very quickly. Note, I did not say agreeable to because bitter cold is a most lamentable backdrop to the everyday ordinary experiences of life, but one is quickly absolved of the notion that you are free to voice your complaints because, and to quote my dad, “It is not a personal experience.”

I forget, though, how temperate humans will not only note how frosty my home is in the winter but will not give a second thought to the unspoken but undeniably communicative action of refusing to take off their winter gear once entering the house.

Sitting around a table eating dinner with guests who remain clad in their parkas, hats, and mittens is discomfiting, to say the least. Hearing one of them whisper I think I can see my own breath was a sharp but inaccurate poke I was biting my tongue to address—firstly, because the house was currently at a balmy 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and secondly, because that temperature was a full 19 degrees above the true temperature for when one does actually see one’s breath.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

I would know. As my Wisconsin childhood bedroom was the farthest away from the wood stove and, come morning, I could see my breath when first waking up. One could not blame the wood stove though, as it was attempting to fend off the typical 40 degree below winds whipping about outside.

First things first. After settling in with the pricey plan to purchase a humdinger of a heater, a few minor details needed to be addressed.

Where would it go?

Where would the things go that used to be there go?

Do I really need that out of tune grand piano any longer as I hardly ever play it, it’s in the way, and it IS made of wood?

Much shifting of furniture ensued.

Countless pictures flew through the ether for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

Perilous ventures on to the rooftop followed to provide yet more pictures for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

This was a familiar routine of mine until said woodstove salesman and I agreed we had at last found a suitable home for my forest eating friend.

Piano could stay … for now.

Next up, must find food—for the woodstove.

I called my local Paul Bunyan and inquired about pricing—after all, a looming factor pressing me to switch from electric to wood was the announcement from my local electric company that this year, because of price increases, we all may have to decide which days of the week we’d like to be warm, and which days we’d prefer to be fed.

Lord Lumberjack said, that because I shared the same namesake as his new bride, I’d get a special deal for his delivered logs—only twice as much as last year, but only because I was ordering twice as much.

Not much of a head scratching statement out here where I live, I assure you. In fact, rather standard.

Two cords of freshly hewn oak showed up on my driveway a few days later, and the days of fawning about with nothing to do and no sawdust in my hair came to an abrupt halt.

Norwegian roundhouses (this year’s being more of an oval house because of two cords) are standard in the Northwoods of my youth. Not so much the engineering aptitude required to make successful roundhouses, as this typically is accrued over one or two years where a great crumbling collapse will make you take pause in the whole worthiness of warmth, or life in general after you spent so much of it building a blunder to be.

But at last, site selected, money exchanged, wood stacked to perfection, it was now time to count the days until the crew arrived with my new climate controller.

But when I was growing up in Wisconsin, we never whistled before we were out of the woods.

Hence, next month: the install.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up

This Too Shall Pass–Maybe Like a Kidney Stone

The moral of this story is that you should stop eating, and teeth are really just expensive chunks of enamel with an agenda of pure evil.

Or possibly it’s Go slowly.

Wait—no, it’s Research.

I don’t know. Maybe you can figure it out by the end. That all withstanding:

I love food.

Except when food doesn’t love me.

And except when food becomes a sharp and wicked thing that tries to eradicate pleasure, induces pain, and entertains eliminating the ability to draw breath altogether.

Every sip and each forkful begs the question Good? Bad? Russian Roulette?

I think my words are not hugely off the mark to a lot of people reading this essay, as most of us are likely aware of the relationship we have with sustenance. There are foods we are told to eat, many we’re warned to avoid, and some we’re scammed into giving over treasure troves of cold hard cash to with the promise that it is the answer to all that ails us and may even turn back time.

We scratch our heads in wonder at it all because the ground is always shifting. The data today is irrelevant tomorrow. The expert right now proves to be a charlatan in a week when we discover they’re funded by someone with a vested interest, or only attended half of medical school. The truth is ever evolving, and that evolutionary rotation is enough to make our heads spin and our stomachs swirl with nausea – which of course, requires some sort of comestible balm to repair it.

Recently, I made the switch from mostly vegetarian, to mostly vegan.

I did so for a variety of reasons; namely, I have a somewhat overzealous attraction (read addiction) to cheese (I believe this to be a spurious genetic mutation from being Wisconsin born), and because I want to eat less food that once had a face (or came from a source with a face). It’s complicated. And I think making that decision is a complex one for most people, as there is likely more than one reason to make these changes.

But the shift should not have gone as it did. The upgrade became problematic because of my all or nothing approach to life, and that “I can do it” attitude had me fall flat on my face and then kicked me in the butt to boot—er, maybe back (you’ll find out why in a sec).

As my life’s motto is CHANGE EQUALS DEATH, if I must make change, I do it swiftly, and wholly, and try to convince myself that I’ve always been in the boiling water—that there was no “dip in a toe and turn it up a notch bit by bit” type of scenario available. All or nothing.

Since I was in the middle of my second big bout with our planet’s plague, and couldn’t taste or smell a thing, I figured this was the perfect time to make that leap, as while food could not bring comfort, at least it might participate in restoring health.

I upped the ante on just how much kale and spinach, carrots and tofu I could muscle down my gullet. My meals were full of lentils and seeds, and broccoli and beans. Absent were all my friends from the dairy world—the melty, nutty, stinky cheeses, the shocking tang of sour cream, the soothing balm of silky gelatos. Bye-bye eggs. So long scrambles. Adieu my coddled, crepey, deviled friends.

I replaced them with versions that promised texture, that advertised congruence—we’re so alike you’ll never know! the packages of almond cheese or coconut yogurt, or cashew cream swore.

How would I know? I chewed, I swallowed, I sighed at the loss of sensory pleasure.

And the little pleasure I did possess was further lessoned because of the dastardly drilling from a wretched root canal. Make that TWO root canals. Masticate on one side, and don’t forget your meds!

Had I glanced across the landscape to view the turbulent churning clouds amassing, I may have given pause to question my participation in the rotation of said clusters.

Also, it would have been nice if someone told me about oxalate toxicity.

A weird little disorder I might not have ever uttered before had I continued on my merry veg and very lovely cheese routine, but apparently, I was untutored in the careful maneuvering many vegans must put into practice in order to retain renal health.

Mainly, make sure you have balance.

Many fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains have high levels of oxalate acid within them—a naturally occurring compound within plants that use it to help protect themselves against predators—insects, grazing animals, and come to find out, vehement vegans. I think of it as seedling self-defense.

Humans are quite capable of eliminating the body of oxalates they ingest from their food, but these compounds are, in my mind, a little bit like having your errant 22-year-old son move back home and set up an apartment above your garage.

They contribute nothing, and they bleed you dry of essential elements.

They need something that will take them by the hand and lead them far away from that which houses your goods and assets—away from your bones, blood, muscles, and major necessary organs. They need a girlfriend. Let’s just call that girlfriend Calcium.

Calcium sees that your functionless freeloader is about to offer you the unreturnable gift of kidney stones. Not a particularly valuable set of gems, but I understand they’re still considered “collectibles.”

Sadly, I did not correctly appraise Calcium’s true value until it was too late, and she simply and casually gave me a shrug of, “He’s your problem now.”

Also, to ditch my allegory, it appears I set up my kidneys for a big one-two punch by utilizing the jumbo-sized container of Advil (as directed by my endodontist) to fist fight all the root canal carnage. It’s like I welcomed a battle with the bucket I was kicking. That offal feels awful if you pump it full of products that prove poisonous.

I just didn’t know.

Hours on the bathroom floor curled up in the fetal position, a costly trip to the clinic, a round of nausea-inducing antibiotics, and countless sympathetic conversations with nutritionists and vegan friends later I gleaned two things:

It might be time to donate to the National Kidney Foundation—maybe tip the karmic scale of good deeds in my favor.

And I do a piss-poor job of cleaning my bathroom floor—no pun intended.

Ultimately, kale and I have decided to go into therapy.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up

How Badly Do You Want to get to the Root of the Problem?

There are a few words or phrases that universally send a shiver down the spine of most people. Examples like Internal Revenue Service, or gerrymandering, or even the never-appreciated advice to calm down.

But I think this month I’ve got those entries trumped with two words I’ve had to utter with great frequency and usually in a sphincter-clenched whisper.

Root canal.

I’d place a bet with high odds that you just shuddered whilst reading them, right?

I’d never had one before, although I knew precisely two people who have—one who refuses to speak of it, and the other who won’t keep quiet. Therefore, my data pool is rather sketch, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when after four days of increasing tooth pain, people began to raise their brows in some knowing gesture and then pre-diagnosed my endodontic needs.

Now I say the phrase “tooth pain” but find the need to course correct that inaccurate description, as distress was initially coming from the area where most of my teeth exist. I think by now we’ve all been exposed to a clickbait headline or two that shrieks of the frightening story of teeth growing in someone’s brain or eye or lung (referred to as teratomas)—not that this was the case—rather, I could not precisely identify the “where.”

The where was sometimes an “I can’t chew on this side,” statement, or a “I think I’ve broken my jaw—does it look broken to you?” question, or even a “why the hell is my eye socket throbbing?” type of demand for answer.

Yeah, not at all helpful to friends and family, but apparently those descriptors fall neatly under the category of “I know what this is, and it’s going to be expensive” to your average dentist.

Visiting an endodontist was not unlike visiting my regular, favorite dentist who is overwhelmingly aware of pain in any manifestation and will work like a gladiator to slay the existence of it, except my endodontist possessed no aware of pain part. Maybe it’s just that the physician who was about to drill into the bone structure of my body had grown tired of telling people, “Aww, it’s not so bad,” because patients come back and egg his office or set his car on fire in the parking lot on their way home.

The whole root canal procedure would not have been half so bad if in the middle of it the endodontist had not said, “Yeah, we gotta stop and do the second half of this in a couple of weeks. I just don’t have enough Novocain.” (Or maybe he said patience, or competence, but I think I recall him mentioning there was a Harry Styles concert he had to get to.)

So, in the interim, I’ve been ginning up by reminding myself that I birthed TWO babies. And the old story women always tell other women who are pregnant for the first time is, “If it was that bad, we’d all be creating “only child” families, right?”

Bullpuckey.

A good number of us are going through the agony of childbirth because we know that at some point we’re going to finally have help with the housework.

A root canal makes no such beneficial promise.

It’s not like I even have at least nine months to eradicate the memory of what I just went through, as half of the problem is still buried beneath a crown sadistically reminding me of what I have to look forward to once the grains of sand run through on my timer. It’s like the ER doc discovering you broke two bones in your arm—both upper and lower—putting a cast on one and tying a yellow ribbon of remembrance on the other so as not to forget where to do the rest of the reparations once he returns from his golf trip to the Bahamas.

The advice of “Remember to take your Advil” does not hold much of a candle to the urge to find the nearest pair of pliers and complete the job oneself. But for the sake of wishing to show my teeth for any future photo shoots and selfies, I shall hold off on any autodidactic dental care for now.

Wish me luck with the fun follow-up, but if none appears on my doorstep, watch this space for part two.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up