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Recycling Christmas memories

Whenever I hear all the helpful ways to simplify our lives, cut expenses and reduce waste during the holidays, I always say it all sounds so familiar.

Not because I read it all last year, but because as a child I spent a great deal of time with my maternal grandmother and her sisters -- frugal by choice.

They were as generous as could be when it came to time spent with grandchildren, ice cream floats and, yes, even gift-giving.

But let the gift wrap start flying Christmas Eve and they swung into action.

"Don't throw out that bow!" "Hand me that ribbon!" I have vivid memories of my grandmother refolding used paper into a neat pile. If someone crushed it before she could get to it, she was crushed, too.

Wrapping with her was another scene. First she cut the paper with the precision of a seamstress cutting drapery fabric. Measure twice, cut once. Then she peeled off a minuscule piece of tape. Often, if that piece was bigger than necessary, she temporarily stuck it to my finger until she needed one that size.

Honestly, my grandmother could make a roll of Scotch tape last 10 years.

She was the same with baking. Here was a woman who never wasted a dot of butter or speck of flour. Pushing an expiration date didn't bother her if it meant not disposing of something.

And when baking her pumpkin pie -- always with Lakeshore -- she would scrape and scrape the can then swirl part of the recipe's 2 cups of milk around in it to make sure she got out every single bit of pumpkin. (I still do that.)

If my grandmother had been a cookbook writer, her recipes would have gone something like this: Beat, pour, scrape, scrape, scrape. Blend, mix, scrape, scrape, scrape. Stir, pour, scrape, scrape, scrape some more.

The Christmas cards she received were never just read and tossed in the trash but rather read, reread, stored and savored for future enjoyment. Any extra cards of her own were saved until next year, at which time she re-sent the same card design to the same people. It never occurred to her to buy new if she did not need to.

Waste not. Want not.

On the other hand, the 21st-century approach to time management and "saving time for yourself" would have been totally foreign to my grandmother and her sisters. Prone to talking all at the same time -- their brother, no wonder, was the quiet one -- hysteria led them through the holiday season.

What? Stay home and meditate while the other option was to cram as many relatives as possible into a car and drive around to "see the lights"?

Driving around to see outdoor light displays in December was as important as driving around to "see the leaves" in October.

Apparently, conserving gas was not nearly as important as conserving tape in those days.

Those tape memories returned to me one day a few months ago, as I watched our 8-year-old daughter and her friend construct a fort out of big, flat pieces of cardboard -- using an unsettling amount of tape.

I offered a few pointers, but after seeing how focused they were on creating a roof and a front door that opened and closed, I let them -- and their roll of tape -- alone.

Somehow, I knew my grandmother wouldn't have said another word about it, either.

But once that fort came down, she would have found a way to reuse the entire mess. Tape and all.


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