Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into, Loolie

Ironing the bag

So here I am, in the basement on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, ironing paper bags and tissue paper. I checked my list of ‘Wonderful Things to Do on a Holiday Weekend,’ and you know what?

This activity did not appear. Not even as the 159th entry. Thank you, Loolie.

She’s a madwoman, our Loolie. I have known her since we were both yea high–well, she was always just a yea bit high-er–and it’s always been the same. Loolie reads something or hears something and thinks, ‘Well that’s not right. We have to fix that!’

And suddenly there’s this whirlwind gusting through my life.

I say, “Oh, no, Loolie. Not this time. This time you are ON YOUR OWN! I am not going to [fill in the blank.] No way!

But whirlwinds don’t just clear their own path, they suck in all kinds of things–and people—lying innocently tangential.

So I might find myself delivering some kind of earnest, everyone-should- know-about-this, literature door to door. Or cleaning out poopy puppy cages at the pound. Or baking 480 cookies for the Good Cause bake sale.

And it’s not just me. In our group of five old friends, four of us are tangential to the whirlwind.

The other one, of course, is Loolie.

Of the five of us, only Loolie lives in our old hometown, so it’s a challenge to get us all together. This year, by some stroke of luck, we all converged the weekend before the holiday. And–thank you, Facebook,–Loolie figured this out and invited us over for a just-us feast on Saturday night. Our families sighed and said they could spare us.

“I’ll be back early, though,” I assured Mark, who rolled his eyes.

“Uh HUH,” he said. He’s been to this rodeo a time or two before.

So we gathered at Loolie’s house,where she had a pot of make-me-float-on-the -wafting-scent spaghetti sauce simmering. She had made ravioli from scratch, and there was an enormous stack of them–with our choice, she informed us,  of three cheese, meat, and squash fillings –waiting in a colander to dance in the pot of bubbling water.

And Loolie’s beautiful granite counter tops were covered with flour and randomly tossed cloths, a ravioli cutter, and STUFF. My hands started itching to clean and straighten, and Loolie could tell.

“Dining room,” she said firmly, and she steered me by the shoulder to her huge wooden refectory table. Peggy, TJ, and Jeanne were already gathered…and one wine bottle was already empty. Loolie poured me a glass, and I went around the table giving hugs. I grabbed a chair, reached for the cheese and crackers, and jumped into the conversation.

We talked about jobs and houses, gardens, and families. We dug our phones out of our purses and pulled up photos of grandkids, pups and kitties, landscaping, and vacations. We talked about the things closest to our warm and passionate hearts–the locovore movement, programs that help women in trauma, getting whole communities to read, the challenges young adults with disabilities face, the number of unwanted cats in the humane society shelter.

Loolie got up and brought in a huge bowl of steaming sauce and the ravioli. She passed around plates and handsful of silverware and a rainbow of sturdy new washcloths to serve as our napkins. We scrambled for the delicious food, tong-ing field greens into wooden bowls, scooping up snowy grated cheese to sprinkle over our sauce-covered pillowy ravioli.

Conversation died as we tucked into the amazing meal. And then Loolie said, “I’ve been thinking.”

As a unit, the four of us groaned. We put down our silverware, laid our hands flat on the table, and said, in one collective breath, “NO.”

She ignored us. “Do you know how much paper people in the States throw away every year?” she asked. “Do you?”

Can a silence be reluctant? Oh, let me answer that–yes, it can. Finally, after a silence so long it was not only reluctant but awkward, Jeanne ventured, “A lot?”

“Yes, a LOT,” snorted Loolie. “Here, look at this.” And from a stack of paper on a chair, she deftly pulled out an article and passed it around.

It was, of course, about the amount of paper waste generated in the United States yearly. And Jeanne was right: it WAS a lot.

“Can’t you just see it?” Loolie was standing now, so she could gesture without smacking one of us. “Five hundred years from now, researchers will say, ‘They threw out all this paper, and then, at gift-giving holidays, what did they do? They bought new paper to wrap gifts in! So they could then throw that away!'”

Put like that, it was hard to disagree that our society had a behavior that was not just crazy, but destructive.

After we ate, Loolie brought out coffee and cookies–her cookies are right on par, on a scale of one to delicious, with her spaghetti sauce. She swept the table of the dinner detritus, and she set out magazines and scissors and pots of decoupage paste, and she retrieved a teetering stack of boxes from a hall closet.

Soon we were elbow deep in torn paper and paste, turning light bulb boxes into gift boxes for coffee mugs and sturdy shoeboxes into beautiful treasure chests.

Blue and Silver

Then Loolie showed us how to cut strips of paper and make our own matching bows from scrips and scraps of magazine ads. I have to admit we were all enjoying ourselves.

While we were working, Loolie’s daughter, Kerri, came home from a night out with friends. Kerri is smart and funny and porcelain-doll pretty, and I always sideswipe the fact–because it does not seem to be the defining thing about her–that she is physically disabled. She wheeled her chair deftly into the dining room, looked at us all with glue on our noses and a growing pile of sticky, decorated boxes, and she said softly, “Oh, GREAT. You’re joining Mom’s challenge. She said you would!”

Brown paper

It was like that moment in a movie scene, where the hero is in a wood and she pulls an arrow out of a tree, and you see the knowledge dawn: I have just triggered a trap. And the net falls over her, securely, inevitably, and you see the helplessness on her face.

“Oh,” laughed Loolie, “I haven’t told them about the challenge yet! You beat me to the punch, Kerri!”

Read shoe box

And that was how the four of us left Loolie’s house, in just a little bit of a wine-soaked, gluey haze, having pledged that this year, we will not buy ANY wrapping paper. We will make our own from found materials.

So. I have invested in a couple of jars of Mod Podge; I have dug my old magazines out from the basket where old magazines moulder; I have discovered that I am a pack rat when it comes to stockpiling boxes. I have riffled through those boxes and discovered sheaves and crumpled balls and wrinkled sheets of tissue paper. And I remembered that there was a week, not so long ago, when Kroger ran out of plastic bags and gave us all brown paper. I kept those paper bags. I cut them into long flat pieces. I am ironing them, along with that rescued tissue, right now.

The thing about Loolie is not just that she’s persuasive, but that she’s also always so damned RIGHT. So I’ve taken her challenge, and this year, I PROMISE, I will not be buying one bit of wrapping paper.

This could, actually, be fun.

Santa Box

20 thoughts on “Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into, Loolie

  1. That’s the spirit! I was so excited to read this. Of course, we are doing the same and we are prettying up all the empty cereal boxes and turning them into gift tags too! Cutting them into small squares, pasting some newsprint onto them and then decorating with buttons and twine and bits of ribbon. Good on you for accepting the challenge.

    1. Love the gift tag idea! I also have a bunch of those giveaway bags…the fabric ones with pulls that can be worn as backpacks…and I’m playing with ideas to repurpose those. Felt patches with names? If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them! Having fun with this!

  2. Reblogged this on Rusty Nail Upcycling and commented:
    This post is from our favourite blogger and we believe it should be shared far and wide. Not only is this a fun project, but it is also a loving thing to do for family and friends, while saving our environment from loads and loads of gift wrap! If you have a moment, go and pop in at There are some really good food-for-thought-stories to read.

  3. meandcoffeefairy

    Wonderful story, I do use old paper to keep stuff from breaking, that is some reuse of materials, much easier for me to reuse pieces of wood products, I see in my daily travels as a delivery driver.

  4. Mysti

    Pam, I love this story. You are such a great teller that I was able to get visuals of every detail even though I’ve never met these people. What a great project! Please keep sharing your escapades!

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