Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Invisible Gorilla

In 1906, Mark Twain wrote that Benjamin Disraeli wrote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." But no one else has been able to find that quote among Disraeli's works. Twain seems to have fallen victim to a common human problem: when it comes making mistakes, there are mistakes, damned mistakes, and illusions.

One of the most beguiling examples of how we get things wrong is in the famous short (37-second) video of some students bouncing and passing a basketball.  The question the narrator asks is, can you count how many times the white-shirted players pass the ball?  [If you haven't seen the video before, watch it now before you read on, because I give away the answer in the next paragraph!  Don't let me spoil it for you!]

The researchers who created this video claim that the number of bounces is irrelevant to their study.  The reason this video has gone viral is that about half of the people who watch it don't see the person who walks through wearing a gorilla suit.  (Sorry to spoil that, if you hadn't seen it before).

[By the way, if you'd like to play with further illusions, check out the website that these same scientists put together, with a collection of cute little videos featuring the phenomenon of change blindness (   My favorite video is the one showing the door illusion.]

Okay, so here I am in the middle of my three-part mini-series on books that help me get inside my kids' heads (and mine):
In their book, The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons claim that what is truly interesting about these experiments is not that some people don't see the gorilla or the change of clothing or the different person appearing before us; it's that we think we should have seen it.  Half of the people who watch this basketball video think everyone should have seen the gorilla, because they did see it.  The other half of the people are convinced there was no gorilla, because they didn't see it.  We think we see what we're looking at, even though so often, we don't.

This odd kind of blindness to the unexpected is one of the things that bicyclists and motorcyclists think about, especially when making left turns.  Car drivers who aren't used to looking for cyclists can stare right at a bike and not see it -- the driver will say "the bike just came out of nowhere", and the cyclist will say "the driver was looking straight at me."  We all operate under what Chabris and Simons call "the illusion of attention".

The authors call these "illusions" not just because people get stuff wrong, but because we all believe we shouldn't or we don't get them wrong.  I think my kids ought to see the mess they leave in their wake, especially because they keep walking back through it.  But they don't see it, even when they're looking right at it.  It's the illusion of attention in action.

In addition to the illusion of attention, the Chabris/Simons book describes (and gives some fascinating examples) of several other kinds of illusions.
  • The illusion of memory.    We think we remember things correctly, just because we happen to be able to remember something.  But memories are notoriously changeable -- people change their stories about what happened in the past all the time, even about significant events like 9/11 that they think are seared in our brains.

    (Just the other day, I was gleefully telling someone a story about a co-worker named Mike who had put up a sign saying "These are not my cows" when he used my office on a previous sabbatical.  Mike interrupted, reminding me that he hadn't started working at my college until the year after that sabbatical -- the story may or may not have been correct on some details, but it certainly hadn't involved him.  Whoops on me!)
  • The illusion of confidence.  This illusion has two aspects: first, that many people tend to be overconfident about their own abilities, and second, that we often interpret other people's confidence as a valid indicator of their actual ability.  As for the first, you've probably heard that the vast majority of people think of themselves as above-average drivers.  As for the second, you're more likely to trust a doctor or mechanic who says with authority, "This is your problem" than you are to trust one who says, "Hmmm . . . let me look that up in my reference book."   But it's not true that the majority of drivers are above average, and a speedy, confident diagnosis isn't necessarily better than one that involves a bit of research and thought.

    Tigger is my favorite example of the illusion of confidence, but when he moved in with us J-son became a close second.  The 11-year-old J-son very confidently predicted he could beat me at a running race (he couldn't), that he could beat his dad at biking (nope), that he knew exactly how to use my tools (yoicks), that he'd finish sewing 15 t-shirt bags by the middle of the summer (he made two).  J-son has learned a lot about his own abilities since then, but he still has a wealth of occasionally excessive confidence in himself.  It's optimism taken to extremes.  In many ways, I kind of like it.

    Sadly, one of the reasons that girls will shy away from scientific and technical careers is that they might be missing out on this illusion in the math area.  When I was in grad school, I read studies that showed that girls and boys were equally good at explaining how well they'd done to date in math classes.  But if you asked them how they'd do in future classes, boys would over-estimate their future performance ("I only got a B this semester, but next semester I'm going to nail the class and get an A") whereas girls would under-estimate themselves ("I got a B this semester, but I got lucky.  Probably I won't do as well next year, because I hear it will be a lot harder.")
  • The illusion of knowledge.  We think we know how things work, and we're surprised as all get out when someone pops that bubble.   You know what a zipper is, right?  Can you explain exactly how it works?  (Actually, I sew enough that that one, I could do -- but I couldn't explain how a key and lock work; I had to look that one up).  You know what a penny looks like, right?  If you think you do, try the penny quiz!

    I'm sure that this is related to my students who struggle in my classes.  They tell me, "I understand the math; I just can't do the problems!"   They suffer from the illusion of knowledge; they confuse familiarity with understanding.  (The book Make it Stick offers an antidote to this illusion, by the way; it's a great book on how to learn.)
  • The illusion of cause.  When N-son was 8 months old, he got an immunization shot.  It was so fast, that by the time he turned his head to see what was happening, the nurse was already putting on the band-aid.  In his head, this meant that band-aids cause pain, and for years afterward he'd holler and cry if I tried to put one on.  When he was three years old, after I removed a splinter from his foot, I put a band-aid on his toe and he hobbled around grimacing for a half-hour before I took the bandaid off, and immediately everything was fine.

    Of course, while N-son's bandaid story is cute, the illusion of cause has a more ominous connection to immunizations, with well-intentioned people relying on factually disastrous reasons to shun immunizations.  Sigh.
  • The illusion of potential.  This is the illusion that somehow there's a magic pill (or a magic video game, or a magic crossword puzzle) that can somehow unlock our brain's true-but-hidden potential.  The book slogs down a bit here.  Again, if you want to get better at something, I'd say go read Make it Stick.

This book is a page turner.  In fact, it was so readable and engaging that I read much of it out loud to my husband on our drive back from the triathalon last August, and it made for great conversations.  For both of us, it gave us a much needed injection of humility; we're more likely to say, "Well, what I remember of the event was this . . . " instead of to say "What happened was THIS!"

 And if there were any bandaged gorillas turning left on their bikes as we drove back home, well, neither of us saw them.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Being Wrong

How does understanding the nature of error help me parent my kids?  Let me count the ways . . .

Kathryn Schultz, the author who wrote On Being Wrong,  says she is "optimistic about error".  As I wrote in a different post (one about stereotypes and my kids), she explains that we often make mistakes for exactly the same reason that we're fantastically amazing at learning new things.   When we're young, we pick up on grammar and social conventions and such from amazingly few cues; that same quick-pick-up ability can occasionally lead us woefully astray.  

An eight-year-old N-son falls asleep on "Elmo",
his favorite stuffed animal.
Here's a cute example of this misplaced generalization:  when N-son was very young, he didn't watch much television at all; in particular, he hadn't seen Sesame Street.  Someone one day showed him an Elmo doll.  After that, N-son called every stuffed toy "Elmo", and his favorite stuffed panda, the one  that hasn't left his bedroom in 15 years, bears--no pun intended--the name "Elmo" to this day, even though it looks to our eyes nothing like the red, fuzzy Elmo who enjoys being tickled.

The book is far-ranging and philosophical.  Some other tidbits from the book that delighted me:
  • The word "error" comes from the same root as the Spanish word "ir", or "to go".  Erring is etymologically the same as wandering.  
  • Many people confessed to Schultz, as she was writing the book, that they had often been wrong.  But when she pressed them for a quick instance of a specific example, almost everyone blanked.  It's much easier for us to remember instances of being right than to remember the specifics mistakes we've made.  (Guilty! I am very good at forgetting my own mistakes, but I hang on like velcro to the times I correct other peoples' mistakes).  
  • Depressed people have a more accurate view of the world than happy people.   Delusion makes us happier and more productive.  (Think of Don Quixote, who was very happy until he turned sane, at which point he dissolved into a puddle of misery, poor guy).  Schultz argues that our goal shouldn't be to hold more accurate beliefs, but rather to hold more functional beliefs.
But for me, the most illuminating chapter, from my child-rearing perspective, was her chapter on Confabulation.

Confabulation -- making up stories, or making up fables -- is what happens when people don't know the answer to a question, so they make up an answer on the spot . . . and then believe it.  Schultz gives some rather amazing examples (a blind woman who confidently described a book her doctor was holding in his hand, even though of course she couldn't see anything and he was actually holding up a comb).  She also describes more mundane but closer-to-home examples (people who assertively choose one set of pantyhose as better than all the others in the sample, giving all sorts of reasons for their decisions, even though all the pantyhose were identical).

Why do we confabulate?  Because we search for answers; we are story tellers; we try to make sense of the world.  If the sense isn't there, we make it anyway.  We think that if someone asks us a question, we answer it by searching our brain, figuring out which of the many facts in our brain gives us the answer, and then either give the answer or admit we don't know.  But in fact, often the process is more like this: our brains first create a story from the odds and ends floating around in our head, and then we fact-check it.  Evaluating (and then possibly rejecting) the story is a second layer on top of the first, and it's a harder task than the act of creation . . . so sometimes we just skip that part.  

And this make-up-an-answer-and-then-believe-it scenario describes my sons so well.  When I ask them a question that they really want to give me an answer to, they just give me an answer.   Any answer. 
"Where are your glasses?"  "They're in my bedroom".   (Except they're not.  My son lost the glasses; he just didn't know it yet). 
"What happened to your retainers?  Why aren't you wearing them?"  "I gave them back to you, remember?" (said a half hour before he found them under the radiator in his bedroom).
It'd be easy to think of these as deliberate lies, but I think they are really just self-deceptions.  They slip out of the mouth too quickly for the child to have deliberately thought them up -- I know how hard it is for my boys to come up with an answer that they actually have to think over.  But, having said the answer out loud and hearing themselves say it, they begin to believe it.  

Do armadillos eat cheese?  This is a question Schultz asks by way of example.  We're suggestible people, and the mere fact of hearing (or reading) the words makes people more likely to believe that whatever those words said is possible.  My boys, answering my questions off the top of their heads, begin to believe their answers.  They've created their own reality by stating it out loud.

I've learned to back off of these questions quickly rather than to challenge the kids with more pestering.  I don't want to cement the answers in their brains or to begin an argument that will just be a He Said/She Said volley of words.  If my kids answer too quickly and glibly, I change tactics.  I go with their words ("The glasses are in your room?  Good!  Go get them and show them to me!") or I put an end to the conversation ("No; I didn't get your retainers.  I think you need to clean your room just to show me they're not there.")  I try to turn words into action.  

What kinds of things do my children (okay, and me, and for that matter probably you, too) make errors on?  We make errors about what we see, about what we remember, about what we understand, about our own abilities, and about how things happened.  That's a lot of areas to be wrong about!  More on that when we get to the Invisible Gorilla.

But to sum up:  the basic lesson that I got from this book (reinforced by the other two books in this series) is this:  if I doubt the answer that I'm hearing, I should stop asking questions and try something else.  An error gives us the chance to go wandering for the truth -- to be knights errant.  Quests are probably more successful than questions.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Three lies and the truth

One of the Get-To-Know-You games that students play at Orientation at my college is called "Three Truths and a Lie".  Each person in the gathering states four facts about him or herself, and the other people in the group have to guess as to which of the four statements is false.

Of course, when you're raising children or dealing with shifty co-workers, figuring out which statements they tell you are the truth and which statements are . . . well, warped versions of reality . . . that's not quite as much fun, and there's usually no big "reveal" to help you check whether you guessed right.

Partly because I'm really interested in pop-psychology, and partly because I happen to be raising one or more reality-challenged children, I've had the fun of reading a series of books about why people get things wrong, why it's so hard for people to know that they're wrong, and how to increase the likelihood that people will tell you the truth (as they know it).

So I figure it's Book Report time; time to share a bit about what I've discovered and how those discoveries fit into rearing my kiddos. Get ready for Miser Mom's take on these three page-turners:  Spy the Lie, The Invisible Gorilla, and Being Wrong.  They're all about lies (or at least about mistakes and errors), and they all give me insight into the minds of myself and my kids.  Today I'll do a super-quick summary; over the course of the week, I'll blather on a bit more about the details.

Spy the Lie helped me -- in a major way -- work through how I talk with my children (particularly J-son) when I suspected he'd done something he shouldn't have: something he knew he shouldn't have done, and that he didn't want to tell me he had.  I found this book super helpful for these conversations;  I used the book to work past those instinctive cover-ups and toward a communication style where he'll confide in me, even when it's uncomfortable to do so.

Of course, when my kids distort reality, it's not always that they're deliberately lying.  Sometimes, it's just that they don't have a firm grasp on reality.  That's where the other two books come in.   Being Wrong helped me to finally get why my kids will happily tell me nonsense and then believe it themselves.  Also, why after they've been wrong over and over again, they never seem to remember that they'd made a mistake.  How the heck could that be?

And The Invisible Gorilla was just what I needed to hold up a mirror to myself, to enjoy the many ways in which I, myself, get reality all wrong. It's a book about illusions,  those versions of wrongness that somehow delight us rather than embarrass us -- even though the illusions the book describes can be embarrassing, and serious, and possibly even fatal.

Along the way, I'll make cheery noises about Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. This book isn't as useful for parents as it is for teachers (and possibly for learners), but it is a good book for those two groups, I think.    

And just a little side note; I'm not writing these posts about deceit and detection because of impending disaster.  In spite of our nervousness at the beginning of the summer, things are going swimmingly here.  My husband is doing lots of bike riding, which is what he wanted to do.  The boys seem to find lots of good things to do with their time (including Miser-Mom-School and chores, but other fun things as well), and I'm expecting that at some time this week I'll actually finally transition over from paperwork to mathematics.  Life is good in this neck o' the woods.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Storm window cherries

A few years ago, I bought a couple of fruit trees and planted them around my yard.  These trees have generally been a lovely treat . . . especially for the squirrels and insects in our neighborhood.  I haven't gotten to appreciate much--if any--of the fruit myself, except in the theoretical and aesthetic sense.   Still, I appreciate the general idea of having fruit trees around, even with no actual edible fruit.

So imagine my surprise when I went around the corner of my house this weekend and saw this:

Look a little closer . . .  see this?
. . . and this?

I decided to grab a canning jar to put the cherries in, but then decided, what the heck? why not just bring out the colander? And good thing I did, because I pretty much filled the entire colander up. Wow, what a surprise harvest!

Using a paperclip*, I pitted about half of the cherries in a half an hour.  N-son joined in the fun and showed me that he didn't even need any tools at all; he did a squeezing/squirting kind of motion to eject the pits from the cherries.  He was way more efficient than I was, and with me and my paperclip and N-son with his squirt-eject method, we finished the rest in 10 more happy minutes.   A bit of taste-testing made the shared time even sweeter.
* With many thanks to Brigitte for this suggestion!  
I like the paperclip method even more than the eraser-less-pencil method!

About a year or so ago, I loaned out my dehydrator to a former student.  I do like dehydrating food, but she needed a dehydrator and I was ready to share mine.   Why ready to share?  Well, I tend to get twitchy about (a) using electricity to (b) run an appliance that makes a blowing sound to remind me that it's on while it (c) simultaneously heats my house in the summer, so I have had a sort of conflicted relationship with that appliance.  But this past weekend, I just got the craving to dry the cherries for future granola batches.  I wasn't in the mood for a batch of canning (plus, we still have a few jars of cherries from last summer in our basement).

So I decided to make my own solar dehydrator.  Here's the design of my dehydrator, made in layers.

  • Bottom layer:  a garden table, to keep everything off the ground.  
  • Next, something black and flat.  (Day 1, I used a black garbage bag; after that I used baking pans that had turned black from years of use).
  • Next, a frame of pieces of wood -- two-by-fours work well for the four sides.
  • Then an old window screen, no longer needed, laid upon the wooden frame. I scrubbed the screen very well.
  • Another frame of wood, on top of the first one.
  • Put the cherries inside the upper frame of wood, on top of the screen, and top off  the entire shebang with an old storm window.
I didn't nail or glue anything; I just laid it on the table.  This dehydrator was not even remotely air sealed, which I figured was okay because a dehydrator needs some air flow.  It's just a pile o' stuff. Voila!

The cherries started out looking like this, round and red.  After an hour or so, I decided to slice them in half for better drying.

And how did it work?  After two days* in the sun, I had dried cherries!  

* Overnight, I brought the cherries in and stored them in the oven, 
mostly to keep them away from cool temperatures and also from potential bugs.

Whoop!  These will go great on my granola.  They look a lot like raisins, don't they?

Some advantages of drying food this way:  well, of course, it costs nothing and doesn't heat up my house the way canning or electric dehydrators do.  I am grateful for a sunny spot in my yard that stays sunny pretty much all of the day; that is a crucial free (to me) ingredient that I know not everyone has.

When the cherries were done, I just stacked back up the wood,the screen, and the storm window and stuck everything back in the garage for other projects.   (My very clean and de-cluttered garage, better yet!!)  So the second advantage is that I don't need to store a piece of specialized equipment.

And lastly, compared to freezing or canning, dried cherries take up very little space.  Here you see the previously-full colander, together with three-and-a-half cups of dried cherries, stored in air-tight canning jars for long-term safekeeping.  These dried cherries are tiny compared to their former selves, but they really pack a punch!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What I did with the clothes you donated

This past week, we've taken a break from home-bound chores and schoolwork.  J-son has spent the week with his former foster mom; N-son and I have been volunteering with his church youth group at a giant place called GAiN.   GAiN is a relief organization with a giant warehouse about 8 miles from our home.  What goes on at this warehouse? People pack up food, prepare seed packs, sew things, and pack clothes and blankets.

The sewing was sort of fascinating to me.  Here's one group of sewers making reusable menstrual pads.  This kind of activity is so right up my alley.  We got to hear all sorts of warm-hearted testimonials about how giving these to girls allows them to remain in school, how women who got these danced and clapped because they wouldn't have to sit all by themselves on a pail one week each month.  Good stuff.

There were other large groups of people sewing quilts to send to refugees, both for refugees in camps and for those resettled.

Okay, but that's not what *I* was doing.  I was working on sorting donated clothes to send overseas.  This was personally incredibly fascinating to me. I'd heard about how many, many clothes Americans discard, but I hadn't gotten to see redistribution myself.   If you're curious, too, here's what I got to see.

When we say "lots of clothes" . . . well, this is what "lots" looks like in the warehouse. There are rows and rows of these "Gaylord boxes" -- triple thick corrugated cardboard boxes, about four feet tall.  Each one is full of unsorted clothes or blankets.  

To sort the clothes and get them ready for packing, a forklift would bring four or five of these over to the prep area. How do you get the clothes out of these giant boxes?   You throw several small and enthusiastic children into the Gaylords!

The view of kids in Gaylords from my Quality Control table.
Those baskets of clothes are getting ready to come to me for the first sort.
These kids were totally aDORable, and they had a fantastic time. For them, it was sort of like being in a ball pit or a trampoline park, because they took off their shoes and went playing in these boxes. In addition to throwing piles of clothes into laundry baskets for easy carrying, the kids did a lot of treasure hunting. "Look what I found!" They had infectious energy. (And when their energy flagged, we'd pull them out, send them to work somewhere else, and toss a new kid into the Gaylord).

From there, the baskets of clothes went down a series of tables:  quality control, sorting, pre-folding, and packing.  In the photo below, you can see the unsorted clothes in the Gaylords on the right.  The Gaylords on the left are "special cases" of clothing, and the tables where we sorted and prepare clothes are in the middle, hard to see because they're covered with clothes, too.

My job (with about a half-dozen other people) was "quality control".  I'd pull out some clothes for special treatment:  costumes, new clothes with tags still on them, non-clothes that had somehow made it into the clothes piles.  Those went into the Gaylords that you see in the left above, headed for (??  not sure, but probably somewhere appropriate, I hope).   I also pulled out clothes that were unsuitable for sending overseas for other reasons: any image of an American flag, or camouflage, or nasty stuff (skulls, obscenities).  Those clothes (which could make their wearers targets for attack in other countries) went into another Gaylord, I'm guessing for domestic use.

And then I checked the remaining clothing for quality.  Any missing buttons at all, and the entire garment went into the rag bin.  Zipper doesn't work?  Rag.  Any tears or tatters, including "fashionable" tatters, rag again.  (In a refugee camp, tattered clothing isn't a sign of wealth or fashion).  I checked for stains, especially under armpits and on white clothes -- rags again.

I know that when I've given clothes away, I've occasionally had the mindset of "well, someone could fix this", or "well, even though it's not perfect, surely there's someone out there who would appreciate having something to wear."  The people who trained me kept pointing at the rows and rows of giant Gaylords full of clothes:  shipping is expensive, and nobody wants to pay to send damaged clothes overseas when there are so, so, so many boxes full of nice clothes to send.

I asked some of the teenagers working at the Quality table with me what this experience made them think about their own clothes: does this make them want more clothes?  Or fewer clothes?  They all were wide-eyed at the incredible excess, and said it made them want to have fewer clothes.   We were at the anti-Mall.

The rags weren't destined for trash, by the way:  they were still going to a marginally useful future.  They'd be torn up and turned into rags, sold (one person told me) for 10¢/ton.   If you care that your donated clothes will actually be useful, it's probably worth cleaning them and fixing buttons, but if that's impossible, the clothes are still probably worth donating rather than putting in landfills.  Bea of the Zero Waste Home recommends that if you have damaged clothing you want to give away, to clearly mark it as "rags".  I don't know if that actually works, but I think from now on, I'm going to try.

What happened after Quality Control?  My fellow QC'ers and I passed the clothes along to the next table--the sorting table--where the next round of volunteers sorted clothes into adult sized, child sized, winter ("Siberian winter", we were told, not "chilly African evening winter"), and a few other categories.  They passed clothes along to either the appropriate Gaylord or to the "adult" or "children" table.

The next table of volunteers "pre-folded" each piece of clothing once lengthwise, smoothing it out.  The last table was the skilled workers; they finished folding and packing the clothes into wooden boxes about the size of a hay bale.  This folding and packing was done very carefully so as to fill the box as completely as possible.  Because from there these hay-bale-shaped boxes went . . .

. . . to the baler.  Below there's a fuzzy picture of N-son working a manual fork-lift with pallets and boxes.  He, too, loved his job.  The balers would dump the packed clothes out of the wooden boxes into the baler machine, which would tie the clothes into a bale with just two plastic strips holding it all together.  This bale was wrapped in plastic sheeting for protection, labeled with contents, and stacked.  The minimal amount of packaging helps to keep shipping costs down.

What an experience this was!  We were surrounded:  surrounded by things, surrounded by hundreds of volunteers, and constantly being reminded that somewhere outside the walls of this warehouse we were in a world with almost 20 million refugees.    So much, and yet not enough.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Things to love Thursday: An old leash on life

It doesn't cost much, but oh, what joy it brings.  A leash!  A leash!

Plus, whenever I walk the dog, I think of this wonderful verse from the Muppets Movie:
Rowlf:Ah, but what could be better than a saucy Irish setter
When puppy love comes on strong?
Or a collie that's classy, a laddie needs a lassie,
A lover and wife gives you a new leash on life. 
Kermit: (spoken): Uh, Rowlf, was that a new 'leash' on life?
Rowlf: (spoken): Oh yeah...sorry about that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Talkin' Trash again

Here's a view from my curbside earlier this week:  two medium-trash cans (one for here, and one so beat up that it's "to go"), plus a side helping of four recycling bins.

It's a pretty typical picture on trash day, for most people.  But (and now here I'm going to do my little braggy thing) this is the trash result of a major (as in HUGE, top-to-bottom) clean-up of our garage.

And (more braggy stuff) we hadn't put out any trash cans at all since May.

And (even more brag-erations) is that what you see here are our fifth and sixth trash cans for the year so far -- to date, we've put out only six trash cans in the year 2015.  Yes, even with five people in the house, we're averaging about one trash can per month this year!  I'm feeling a little bit like we're really starting to get this low-trash lifestyle down right.


Where did the rest of the stuff in the garage go, then?  A lot of our cleaned-out material was stuff we're trying to get into the hands of people who can use it.   I've been using the garage as a place to store all of our "to donate" items.  When we finally got around to cleaning this out, we took a car-full of Arts and Crafts items to a non-profit on the other side of town -- it's a thrift store for craft stuff only.  I love this place; its mere existence finally convinced me that I can store my "I-might-be-able-to-use-this-someday" kinds of items "in the cloud" instead of in my own closets.  I gave away fabric paints, glass paints, fake fur, scrap books . . . all knowing full well I can go find similar items again for cheap, should I ever decide I need them.

We've been saving up books to donate to our local library book sale.  Those filled the trunk on a second car trip, while the clothes and other household items bound for Salvation Army hitched a ride by filling up the entire back seat.  

I sorted through all sorts of scrap wood, including some leftover from the Elephant-Mother-Chair.  I kept only the wood I could imagine using in the near future (garden renovation projects are planned for October), and I bagged/boxed the rest up as scraps for K-daughter, who just received a fire-pit from some friends and who wants to burn something it.

Plastic bags. How the heck do we get so many plastic bags, especially in my trash-phobic household?!? I took a fully-loaded bike trailer worth of those to the grocery store to recycle.  Sheesh.  Seriously, how do these bags keep reappearing at my home?

There is a still a pile of use-able but not donate-able items (roof shingles, plastic gardening pots, sleds, and other miscellany) in one corner of the garage.  I'll bring out this entire pile for display at the next neighborhood yard sale, which will be coming up in about a month and which attracts hordes and hordes of people.  I will probably sell most of this for $0.00.   I love free boxes!  

A milk crate and a cardboard box of hazardous household waste (motor oil, a can of oven cleaner, burnt out cfl lightbulbs -- some of it from cleaning out my dad's house and my ex-husband's house) will go to our local hazardous waste place later this week.   Or maybe I'll put some of it in the free pile instead -- might as well put it to use, right?  

There are a few hardware items I'll eventually take to our Habitat Restore, but I don't have enough stuff to make a trip worthwhile yet.  

Sweeping out the garage, I did my best to put the dirt-dirt (as opposed to styrofoam-dirt or plastic-dirt) in the compost instead of in the trash cans

Aannnnd . . . that leaves one recycling bin full of plastic bottles, three recycling bins with paper and cardboard, and two trash cans with a bunch of who-knows-what kinds of damaged goods and discarded packaging materials.