Monday, December 07, 2009

The “Take It Or Leave It”

One of my family’s favorite escapes from the city is to the San Juan Islands, which are located in north Puget Sound, and we’ve been particularly drawn over the years to Lopez Island.

Lopez’ history is as a farming community, although in recent decades its primary industry has been taking care of people like us who ride the ferry over for recreational visits. It’s a pastoral place with a small village, a couple restaurants and lots of hiking, cycling, kayaking, and skipping stones.

Typically, we drive straight from the ferry terminal to the grocery store, stock up, unpack, then as soon as humanly possible my wife Jennifer and daughter Josephine get to the local library to check out a stack of books. I, however, must save my favorite part of Lopez Island until the very end of the trip.

Being a small, rural place, Lopez lacks some basic municipal services to which we’ve become accustomed in the city, one of which is curbside garbage collection. This means that everyone on the island must haul their own garbage and recycling to the dump, including the tourists.

Having often been to Seattle’s garbage transfer stations, I appreciate the tidiness and efficiency of the Lopez operation, especially since there never seems to be anyone there working in an official capacity. I used to love taking Josephine with me when she was younger to help sort our green, brown and clear glass, as well as to separate our cardboard from our paper. She particularly enjoyed heaving our garbage bags into the pit from whence it ultimately gets transferred to places unknown – at least to me.

But the highlight of our trips to the dump, and for me the highlight of every trip to Lopez, is stopping in at the “Take It Or Leave It.” This is where the islanders leave their items that they can’t quite bear to throw away without at least giving them a chance at a new life in a new home. I’ve written before about my bag lady tendencies, a compulsion I did not have prior to becoming a preschool teacher, and this is one of the best places to get my fix. Not only have I found tons of great stuff for the preschool, but there are almost always other people to talk with, both local and from out-of-town, just hanging out with the junk.

One time I lucked upon this incredible find:

The guy who dropped it off was actually still there (or maybe there again) and he showed me how to assemble it. The San Juans attract their share of self-sufficiency types and he was one of them, having originally acquired this hand wheat grinder as part of his mission to own the production of his own bread, from the planting to the eating, without even the introduction of electricity into the process. He confessed that he gave up on the wheat grinder after only one loaf of bread, saying, “It’s too damn much work.” And by the look of his hands, I could tell he knew from work.

This naturally makes the hand wheat grinder a perfect appliance for a preschool classroom with dozens of willing hands and energy to burn. We fill our sensory table with hard, red wheat berries, attach the grinder to the side of the table, and let the kids go to town.

Perhaps my most useful acquisition is this interesting tool:

I’m not sure what it’s called, but a parent once told me it’s a tool used by mechanics to retrieve other tools that they’ve accidentally dropped into a hard-to-reach part of an engine. You squeeze the spring end like this,

I mainly included this photo to show that my 
fingernails are sometimes clean

which opens these surprisingly powerful claws:

Look, it can easily handle this newborn sized doll:

Last week we learned that it can pick up a caution cone. The kids cheered when I did it.

The practical uses of such a tool in a preschool need hardly be detailed. Two-year-olds in particular are notorious for trying the experiment of dropping objects into the gap between furniture and the wall or the floor. I especially love when something finds itself in the narrow gap between our loft and the wall. Since the sides of the loft have Plexiglas inserts we can all see the item, but can’t hope to reach it without the help of what we’ve come to call “The Tool.” Once every few weeks children will come up to me with furrowed brows saying, “We need The Tool. We need The Tool.” I first demonstrate how the tool works, then with a gang of kids watching through the clear panel, we fish out the lost object. Last week it was a bunch of chiffon scarves that a 2-year-old had shoved down there the day before (the older kids know that it’s against the rules to drop things from the loft, but the 2’s are still learning). I felt like a magician pulling them out one by one.

I once found a large bag of these objects at the “Take It Or Leave It”:

I’m not a gun person, but someone at the dump told me that these are used for loading shot into a shotgun. I hope this is true because we’ve learned to turn them into flowers:

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Launa Hall said...

Are you familiar with Odyssey of the Mind? I coach my 4th grade son's team. Kids are given an open-ended problem to solve, and they solve it with tons of recycled and repurposed stuff. They take their solution to a regional competition, but the emphasis is on teamwork and creativity and having a great time, with the competition as an added benefit. It's wonderful.

Floor Pie said...

Oh man, I want one of those Tools!

Monkey's Mama said...

That tool is awesome! almost as good as the bug catcher my parents got at a garage sale - put it against the wall trapping the bug, flip over and the little trap door closes - transfer outside and open door. My parents are notorious for getting the best (craziest & cheapest) stuff at G-sales on Vashon. I love "junk"!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Ha! Ha! Ha! That sounds like a great place to find great "toys". I'm sure the kiddos love it when you return after a visit.

Michelle said...

Oh I so need one of those tools. that is SO cool. How on earth could anyone decide that wasn't needed anymore?

I love the informal recycling there. We have a different version in ummm bad Chicago - we put out our trash, and guys with overloaded pickups take the reuseable stuff. This makes me want to be a part of the other side of the equation... maybe I need to go play on freecycle now :)

kristin said...

oh, i love so much about this post.

the flower at the end is perfect.

BellaDaddy said...

Agreed, the flower at the end surprised much in fact, a tear came to my eye...(and honestly, it is you, so I really shouldn't be so surprised)...Wonderful!


Unknown said...

There are so many treasures around. We just have to look. I am glad you rescued the chiffon scarf!

Deborah Stewart said...

One of my favorite places to collect goodies for my classroom, although it is not quite as exaotic or wonderful as the place you describe, is a doctor's office or hospital. They have the coolest sponges and droppers and other items that you can use for all kinds of activities. I am always reminding the parents that work at those places to not throw away the outdated, unused items - just pass them on to me:)