Clump #242:  Finish S’mores Cupcakes; final day of the seven-day bake-a-thon.

So, first off, the marshmallows caught on fire. Funny, now, though not at the time; the parchment paper had been too close to the heating element in the oven.  Oops!  Take two.

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The chocolate part of the s’more cupcake called for chocolate ganache, which I had never made before.  Wow.  Cream and really good chocolate.  How can you go wrong?

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I used about a tablespoon on each cupcake and spread it out from the center.

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After it had set, it was a cinch to wrap … usually a challenge with frosted cupcakes.  Fall Festival, here they come!

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I was missing our younger daughter, the queen of chocolate ganache and other culinary wonders, but this year our older daughter flew in for the festival. She played the bride in an annual reenactment of the first wedding in our meetinghouse, held in the eighteenth century.  I played the mother of the groom:

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An old Quaker selfie.  Time now to rest these old weary bones!

Clump #241:  Bake and decorate Cake Walk cakes; day six of the seven-day bake-a-thon.

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So it all started with the magazine pictured above.  A seductive collection of cute cakes that seemed sooo easy and fun.  I argued for keeping the Cake Walk in our Quaker Meeting’s Fall Festival — tomorrow — and I said I could throw together four cakes for four walks.  For those unfamiliar with the game, a group of kids stand upon carpet squares set in a circle.  Underneath each carpet square is written a number.  Music plays, the kids move around the circle, ideally dancing.  When the music stops, all the players stop.  Someone picks a number out of a hat, and whoever is standing on that numbered carpet square wins a cake.  Whoo hoo!

The cakes are usually snazzy numbers with lots of candy.  I used two boxed cake mixes (they were on sale for 99 cents!), figuring I only needed a half for each cake.

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As they say, “Mistakes were made.”  I thought the lollipop cake below would be a snazzy one, but didn’t realize I needed to wear gloves in order to knead the food color into the fondant.

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I was not happy with the process, nor the color of my hands (even though they were radiant orchid, the Pantone color of the year).

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When I got to the part of the recipe that advised taking off the fondant before cutting the cake, I said, “No, I can not do it!”  Note to self: read directions thoroughly.

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I went to Plan B, the Henry and Mudge cake from Cynthia Rylant’s book Henry And Mudge And The Best Day Of All, wherein Henry has a birthday cake made to look like his aquarium.  A family favorite.

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The others were inspired by the magazine.  Sunflower:

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Car (two halves of a round layer, frosted together with an L cut out of one side):

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And baby owls:

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Wrapped up and ready to go:

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Let the games begin!

Clump #240:  Bake Buttermilk Banana Blueberry Bread; day five of the seven-day bake-a-thon.

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Today I made another recipe from the Parade magazine article: “The Most Popular Recipes on Pinterest in Each of the 50 States.”   Buttermilk Banana Blueberry Bread was the top pin in Arkansas, with the words, “Damn Delicious” under the photo. How could I resist?   The recipe’s author enthuses, A great way to use up those lingering, spotty bananas, and the perfect holiday gift that everyone will love!”   Trouble was, those spotty bananas didn’t linger around this house, so I had to thaw one from the freezer and leave a note on the other two:

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The recipe makes four mini loaves, which I had imagined to be the size of our mini loaf pans on right.  Not mini enough.  The 5 and 3/4 inch size is on the left.

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In other Fall Festival news, I organized the toy room for the Mercantile, the flea market-type sale we hold indoors.  Here is a glimpse of the room before:

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And if you ever want to give yourself an anti-materialism vaccine, a job like this will certainly do the trick.  So many junky little plastic things.  I had some help to make the “after” look like this:

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And here is the “after” for the bbbbread:

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The aroma is decidedly Damn Delicious,  and quite heavenly.  I might just have to buy one myself and get the full effect.

Clump #239:  Bake graham cracker cupcakes; day four of seven-day bake-a-thon: one baked-good-a-day to avoid the usual pre-Fall Festival log jam.

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Some days contain more darkness than light: exhibit my tired, worn down, and shadow-like emotional state.  But even on a day like today, baking was accomplished.

I spent this past summer with the intention of making S’mores Cupcakes from a recipe I saw in Real Simple magazine.  I never got around to it, so the time is now!

Progress alert: I probably tossed the magazine containing the recipe in a recycling bag during one of my paper purges.  But no problem … I easily found it online.  Let that be a lesson.  I really don’t have to have so much paper around me.

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The cake is the graham cracker part of the S’mores equation.  It contains one cup of graham cracker crumbs, or nine crackers.  How many crackers in a package?  Nine.  Very satisfying.

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This was my maternal grandmother’s rolling pin.  It gives me confidence, when using it, to know that she was renowned for her pies.

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Disaster was averted by my husband who managed to finesse the gears back into the Kitchen Aid mixer.  Heavens, is it telling me that I’m doing too much baking?

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And the finished cupcakes, cooling down.  I’ll freeze, thaw, and finish them later.  They smell really-really good.

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Ready or not, October is here and, like my goose friend in Strasburg …

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one must gear-up and get with it!

Clump #238:  Bake Pumpkin Snickerdoodles; day three of seven day bake-a-thon.

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Today’s recipe (or clump, if you may) is a cookie that was featured in Parade magazine as the most popular recipe on Pinterest from the state of Oregon.  All fifty states’ top recipes can be found here.

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The recipe called for a dash of allspice, and I was excited to use teeny little measuring spoons that belong to my younger daughter.  I never knew the difference between a dash, a smidgen, and a pinch before we had these.

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The finished product.  Are they as luscious as the photo in Parade magazine?  Is the pumpkin flavor too subtle to the point of nonexistent?   Purchase a couple at the Fall Festival and you tell me.

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In they go with their cookie cousins.

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Happiness is …  a freezer full of cookies …

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And fabulous Fall color!

Clump #237:  Bake molasses cookies; day two of seven-day bake-a-thon for upcoming Fall Festival bake sale.

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If I were to write an ode to a cookie, it would be to this.  The humble molasses cookie.  Comforting, aromatic, replete with family history.  My mother-in-law began the tradition.  Early in my married life, I was there to hear one of her older granddaughters say, “Grandma, this is the perfect cookie.”   If that memory doesn’t call her to mind, there’s the molasses bottle itself:

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My careless drips fall like a string of beads.

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I’ve made these cookies so many times that the steps feel meditative.  Sifting the dry ingredients:

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I love using wax paper.

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The rolling of the cookies is like sculpting with play dough.

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And the final product, ready for the freezer.

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As Quakers have said through the years: “Simple but of good quality.”

From the Don’t Eat Your Heart Out Cookbook, by Joseph C. Piscatella

MOLASSES COOKIES

2 C all-purpose flour     1/4 teaspoon salt     1 teaspoon baking powder     1 teaspoon baking soda     1/2 teaspoon ground cloves     1  1/4  teaspoon ground ginger     1  1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 C safflower oil     1/4 C molasses     1 egg or 1/4 C egg substitute     1 C firmly packed brown sugar     granulated sugar

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon.  Set aside.  Using lowest speed of electric mixer, blend oil, molasses and egg; add sugar.  Blend.  Gradually add flour and dry ingredients; mix well.

Chill dough 2 hours.  Form into 1-inch balls.  Roll each ball in granulated sugar.  Place on baking sheets.  Sprinkle each cookie with 2-3 drops of water.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  (I always opt for 8 minutes.)

 

 

 

 

 

Clump #236:  Bake chocolate chip and Reeses Pieces cookies; day one of 7-day bake-a-thon.

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Not to mention any names, but a few people in my life might possibly accuse me of taking too many pictures.  Once I start, I find it difficult to stop.  I admit, it can get annoying, but if I didn’t have so many images to choose from, I may not have had the one above, which, now that I see it again, is the perfect illustration for my blog-making machinery in full-stop.

I took the photo at The Mill at Anselma on a recent visit with my husband. From its website: “Constructed in 1747, the Mill stands as the most intact, authentic example of a custom water-powered grain mill in the United States …”

Let the blog-wheels turn again!

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When I last posted, I was riding a wave of adrenaline on a 30-day challenge before a visit from two of my husband’s sisters.  We truly had a grand time together.  Here are the three siblings watching a sunset “down the shore,” as they say around here:

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After a challenge, the question arises, “What now?  How often do readers really want to hear from me?  Does anyone care?  Is posting every day too annoying?”  (Dark night of the soul existential blogging questions.)

My husband and I were skyping with our younger daughter today (she’s the one studying in Russia), and I was fretting over the fact that she will not be here to do her usual amazing baking job for our Quaker Meeting’s Fall Festival.  And I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly.  I have a certain tendency to come up with great ideas for fun baking projects, but lack the time management skills to pull them off.  Not so with our daughter.

She, wisely, told me, “Just bake one thing every day before the festival … One clump a day.”  Oh my goodness, why in the world hadn’t I been able to figure that out?

So here we go!  Day one, starting easy.  Basic chocolate chip cookies made from the recipe on the Ghirardelli chocolate chip bag with Reeses Pieces to add seasonal color and pizazz.  I noticed I was using a potholder with a fall festival theme … tra-la!

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This is what’s fun about baking for the festival.  I’d never tried this before, sticking candies onto cookie dough …

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but it worked!

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Double-bagged and popped into the freezer.

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Voila, indeed!

Clump #235:  Return furniture to carpeted rooms; final cooking and cleaning for guests; bring Dickens collection to car.   Day 30 of the 30 day challenge … baby!

Oh, the adrenaline is flowing, friends.  But one blissful fact lifts me up: Day Thirty!!  Whoo-Hooo!

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Let me make one thing perfectly clear: my husband’s sisters are the greatest.  Fun, warm, down-to-earth, generous … just about any positive adjective you might imagine; I can’t wait to see them.  If they were here, they’d say, “Don’t fuss!”  So my pre-guest anxiety is wholly and completely of my own making, out of proportion to reality.  I guess that’s the puzzle I’m trying to solve in these posts.

Thank you so much for reading and following along this month.  Your support has meant so much to me, whether I’ve heard from you or not.  It’s always a surprise when I’ve received comments.  Really?  You’ve been reading?  How wonderful!  The following message was emailed to me today by a very dear friend.  I want to embroider it on a pillow … after I stop tearing up.

relax and enjoy your sister-in-laws visit.
I’m sure everything looks lovely!
No need to reveal what is hidden or
apologize for whatever you didn’t get to
You have a lovely home.
don’t forget you live there
And its the heart & soul of your family
home is where the heart is
and yours is filled with a lot of love
So please relax & don’t fret
 As promised, Charles has left the building.  The complete Dickens collection is in the back of the car, ready to donate tomorrow morning.  If they don’t sell at Fall Festival, I will give (read, lug) them to Goodwill.  (Sorry the font just shrunk … another puzzle I’m too tired to solve.)
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At the end of this challenge, I’m whittling down my to-do list to what is practical for the very little time left.  But I’ve been keeping up with the mail and newspapers.  (I say with a shake of the fist!)  Yesterday’s Cryptoquote solution, in today’s paper, was so very apt. I can’t expect the house-transformation equivalent of a twenty-year-old tree.  But second best is pretty darn good.
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I’ll end with a photo I took this evening from the car on the way home from visiting my mom.
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The cows were coming home.  I stuck this challenge out ’til the …

Clump #234:  Clear out bedrooms in advance of carpet cleaner; day 29 of 30-day challenge … one more day!

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The clump for today was a tremendous achievement, but not in terms of getting stuff out of the house.  Our son and I had to clear the bedrooms and basement floors of every bit of clutter before a carpet cleaner arrived. Our older daughter’s room had been serving as a holding zone for clumps that our younger daughter had mined from the basement … it was especially grueling. Too late to do the necessary sorting and decision making.

In summary, scheduling a carpet cleaner felt like the best and worst thing I could have done.  Wow.  Up close and personal with our excess belongings.  The previously cleared-out basement storage area is now re-clogged.  Nooo!

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I had taken the photo below of an old Parade magazine during the big paper purge.  This is exactly the way I felt today. We were working against the clock, and at one point, I said to our son, “What would I do without you?”  With a strained expression and pleading tone of voice he answered, “Start earlier?”  From the mouth of babes (or dudes, or gents …).  The truth hurts, as do my sore muscles and back.

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I guess people pay good money to do step aerobics with weights. That’s essentially what the job felt like.  The complete works of Charles Dickens, below, weigh about a gazillion pounds.  I have hauled them from my parent’s bookshelves to our home, to at least two used book sellers (who were not interested in buying them); our younger daughter hauled them upstairs, and I lugged them back down to the basement. Somehow this description doesn’t seem to include enough hauling steps, but you’ll just have to trust me.  Talk about an albatross.  Enough is enough!  I’ll donate them to whoever will have them.  This will be the first clump out of the basement.  I promise.

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I’ve got the motivation, I’m in the Tow Away Zone,

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soon the wheels will be on and the junk will be moving.

Clump #233: Clear and clean downstairs for neighborhood meeting; day 29 of the 30-day challenge … almost there!

Anxiety Alert!  Today I had to get the house in shape for a neighborhood meeting, which was also a good kickstart to prepare for the visit of the Aunties (two of my husband’s sisters).  I will not post before and after photos of our house.  Suffice it to say it was a fairly dramatic change.  I’ll substitute before and after pictures I took this past weekend on a garden tour.  The photo below (held down with a nut?) was taken two weeks before the garden tour and displayed by the owners for all to see:

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This was the way the garden looked the day of the the tour:

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Kindred spirits like me, they obviously needed a deadline to get motivated.  Below, their charming water feature:

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I did a lot of thinking about the unrealistic expectations I set for myself/my house when company comes.  I kept trying to remember that the most important aspect of having guests over is my own state of mind.  Who wants to be with someone all stressed out and frazzled? Anxiety is a bad hostess vibe with which to infuse an occasion.  I will never be Martha Stewart.  HA-ha-ha!  Something anyone who has ever read this blog does not need to be told!

There was one Martha-like garden on the tour:

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Every detail perfection.

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Harmonious, color coordinated, divine.

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So much “wow” packed into a relatively small space.

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I must tell myself that such perfection is not in my nature.  It would make me way too cranky to bear!

Clump #232:  Clear out mail basket; day 28 of the 30-day challenge.

I am so tired.  Before I fall asleep at the keyboard, here’s a small clump I forced myself to sort through.  A pile of old papers is like an archeological dig …  on the top, my Rosamunde Pilcher collection of novels that our younger daughter fished out of the basement for my post-surgical recovery (I actually chose to read Maeve Binchy, also cozy reading, featuring tea-drinking characters from the British Isles), and the “trashy” book my husband bought in the airport for vacation … ah, memories.

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And, after, with a few remaining papers for discussion:

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One reason I’m feeling so exhausted is a bit of work on behalf of our neighborhood association.  When I was in Boston this summer I took a walk through the Beacon Hill neighborhood.  My Fodor’s guide book recommended a tour that took me through Louisburg Square, below. Huh.  I just googled it to make sure of the spelling and found a Wikipedia entry saying that “the square has been mistakenly assumed to be private property but is, in actuality, owned by the City of Boston …” Who are you going to believe, Wikipedia or Fodor’s?  My guidebook said Louisburg Square was the first Homeowner’s Association in the United States.  I got a kick out of that.

It’s a U-shaped collection of very exclusive homes with a small park in the center.  One home is owned by John Kerry.

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Louisa May Alcott died in another (not necessarily this one)

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If, indeed, they do have a Homeowner’s Association, I wonder how much they pay in dues?

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And what issues come up at their meetings?  Doorway beautification requirements?

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Cobblestone maintenance?

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Tempests in tea pots, all.  And speaking of tea, more tea please!

Clump #231:  Start clearing out younger daughter’s room; day 27 of the 30-day challenge.

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I’m coming down to the finish of the get-ready-for-compay challenge.  Yikes.  It’s time to start cleaning out the rooms where my sisters-in-law will be staying.  This will have to suffice as a “before” photo for our younger daughter’s room.  I don’t want to embarrass her.  She spent a lot of time doing a miraculous job of clearing out the basement.  She also put a bunch of old photos in albums, and this is the corner where she kept the supplies.  I can’t fault her too much for leaving her room in less than optimal condition, given how much she helped out.

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A dear reader of this blog sent me the following quote, which really sums up the essence of Clump A Day:

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.     –Anthony Trollope

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Right now, even a spasmodic Hercules sounds good to me … but I continue to clump step by step by step …

 

Clump #230:  Clear kitchen tabletop (again) (and finally) of all papers; day 26 of the 30-day challenge.

For anyone interested in my photographs, I use an iPhone with no special equipment … just my often-unsteady hands.  Sometimes I’m amazed at the detail it captures.  This was a hydrangea I snapped today on a walk with my mom.

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Admittedly, it was a bit like pulling teeth to conduct the final paper-summit with my husband and finish the job I started days ago.  It’s the last thing we have felt like doing, and there were so many other things to keep us too busy and too tired … good excuses not to do it.  But we got the job done tonight.  Clearness achieved and order restored.  My husband even made two more accounts paperless.  Yippee!

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One paper that caught my attention was this one listing “Mature Driver Safety Tips” that for the first time came with my driver’s license renewal form.   I didn’t keep it, but if I did, I would have to file it under “You know you’re getting old when …” Ugh.

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I can’t end on that note.  I’m finally putting the backing paper from the Cherry Blossom Centennial stamps I referenced yesterday in the recycling, but I have to share one more quote from it:  “Because these spectacular trees flower so briefly, the Japanese often see them as poignant symbols of transience — making every blossom an invitation to celebrate being alive.” (The photo below is not a cherry blossom, but a flower I photographed in Norway.)

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I might be the only person to put cherry blossoms and driver’s license renewal forms in the same category: “symbols of transience.”  I’ll take flowers any day.

 

Clump #229:  Clean out terra cotta pots and donate to Fall Festival sale; day 25 of the 30-day challenge.

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Today’s clump was cumbersome, but easily dispatched.  Old, dirty plant pots saved for possible reuse that, let’s be real, just ain’t gonna happen. How many years have they been sitting in the basement?  Who can remember?

I stuck them in the sink with a few glug-glugs of white vinegar, and … presto … the next morning they looked good enough to donate to the flea market at our Quaker Meeting’s Fall Festival.

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I took the photo below during yesterday’s mega-mailing and couldn’t let it go today.  I had used up the last of the “Cherry Blossom Centennial” stamps I’d bought this spring.  I just love the little poem written by someone who lived in the triple-digit years.

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Soon the leaves will be falling in haste …

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but right now we are in a delicious state of suspended animation.

Clump #228:  Send off clump of mail and clear, right away, incoming mail; day 24 of the 30-day challenge.

First, a moment of awe, please, for the Cardinal flower I spied today. Like an elegant designer gown: devastating simplicity and breathtaking color.

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Now back to our regularly scheduled clump report.  It was a day of getting letters, checks, and packages out into the world.  Phew.  Tedious (especially in the case of the books to Russia), but so cathartic.

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Equally cathartic in its own steady way: keeping up with the burgeoning piles of catalogs coming to our house, the start of the pre-holiday buy-buy-buy drumbeat.  Makes me think of my late brother-in-law who used to say when dealing with left-over food, “Should I throw it out now, or next week?”

Shall I recycle them today, or when they start suffocating me?

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I’ll close with an excerpt from the Tell Me About It advice column by Carolyn Hax from the August 21st Philadelphia Inquirer.  This exchange stuck with me, to the point that I searched out and reread it.  Good armor-toughening advice for “hurtable” people (all people?), something I needed today.

“Question: Can you elaborate on what you mean by controlling “the access we give people to our sensitivities”? I don’t “give” people like this access to my sensitivities, they just know exactly what they are and how to use them to hurt me. Even if I put on a show like it doesn’t hurt, it still hurts.

Answer: I’ll use my experience in reading hostile mail for 16 years, and also in some volatile, now-ex friendships. Both used to upset me deeply, and now the same things barely register. Nothing about the other parties changed, the abuse still comes. What has changed is inside me: I value their (or anyone’s) opinions less; I am more accepting of, less embarrassed by, and therefore less defensive about my own shortcomings; and I learned more constructive ways to handle my hard feelings. Combine the three and I am just not as, for lack of a better word, hurtable as I used to be.  That’s what I mean.”

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The exposure I’ve given myself through this blog has made me a bit more “accepting of, less embarrassed by, and therefore less defensive about my own shortcomings.”  Thank you for reading.

Clump #227:  Tackle “Do” pile and call some guys; day 23 of the 30-day challenge.

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The 30-day challenge doesn’t seem so endless anymore, which means my two sisters-in-law will be here in a little over a week.  Yay!  But, also, hey!  I’ve got to prioritize the to-do list I had imagined almost a month ago.  Gone are the dreams of taking down wallpaper and redecorating the guest bathroom.  But non-negotiable are a couple of plumbing repairs: the pokey shower drain and the broken sink stopper in there.  I got right on it today, and the plumber was able to get here and get the job done in a matter of hours.  Amazing!   Now the new tub stopper (the actual problem) looks so clean and shiny, it’s putting the faucet to shame.

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I also got a lot of papers and bills under control from yesterday’s paper-palooza and some books ready to be sent out, including the long-lost Russian books that finally arrived after our daughter took flight.  Fly away! I shocked myself by immediately filing our invoice copy from the plumber and shooting off an excellent review of his service while I could still remember it.  Who am I?

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I also called a carpet cleaner who will be able to clean the bedroom carpets two days before my husband’s sisters arrive.  This is great for two reasons: first, I’ll have to have those rooms cleared out by then (artificial deadline), and secondly, the rooms will be all ready, better than vacuumed, before my usual pre-company freakout can set in.  My older daughter said she had read somewhere: “Sometimes all you’ve gotta do is call a guy.  But you do have to call the guy.”  So very true.

I’m on a roll, Baby!

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And I’m seeing the light!

 

Clump #226: Sort massive clump of papers and start doing something with them; day 22 of the 30-day challenge.

Just as seasons do not change in a day,

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so, too, our killer paper pile will not be vanquished today.  But my husband and I made substantial progress.

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I’d say over half of it is either filed, ready to be mailed, or …

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SHREDDED!  (In my head I’m hearing a lead guitar shredding out a lightening-fast solo.)

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Yesterday’s comic strip, Dustin, by Steve Kelley & Jeff Parker summed up our previous state of affairs. (“Seriously, Kudlick, what are you looking for in all that mess?”  “My organizer.”)

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The sense of knowing where every piece of paper might be in our house right now is downright thrilling.  (Please don’t laugh … Clump A Day thrills are real thrills.)

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Must hold on!

 

Clump #225: Tackle box of swept-up papers and other clutter; day 21 of 30-day challenge.

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I must confess to a Clump A Day roadblock.  I was dreading clearing out this container of (mostly) paper all day today.  The task was especially onerous because much of it was culled from previous clearings … a core clump, one might say, dense in its stubbornness.  One might say many other less polite things, but I’ll just add that I spent most of the day doing anything else to avoid it.  (“These plants need watering … immediately!”)

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I finally got it pretty much sorted out, but there are a few piles I’ll need to consult with other family members about, and a “Do” pile, which will take a bit longer to make go away.  More work for tomorrow.  But two full bags of paper for recycling are inspiring.

This continues to be the hardest part of my Clump A Day journey: I perform a herculean paper purge, feel victorious, and then the tide comes roaring back … and I’m pulled under again.  It’s been especially challenging this summer to keep up with the paper flow while away on vacation.

One such trip was to Boston, where my older sister and I spent a wonderful day at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  In a fairly new “Monk’s Garden,” pictured below, circuitous paths — almost labyrinth-like — wound through beautifully varied greenery …

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evoking lessons learned over and over again in an endless (?) loop.

Clump #224: Clear out catch-all box; day 20 of the 30-day challenge.

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At first look, this box below seemed like a container with a certain logic: mostly office supplies.

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But … No.  It was clearly a soldier pressed into service during a company’s-coming-clutter-attack.  A mishmash of all sorts of junk:

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Since our younger daughter’s summer project to create logical areas of storage in the basement, I find it is satisfying to place office supplies with office supplies; Easter grass with the Easter baskets, etc., in their places down there.  Even a tiny button is now with its compatriots in the vintage 1991 (our son’s infancy) baby food jar.

I considered giving away the Monday through Friday calendar note pad (unopened, unable to help me get organized), but I decided to actually give it a whirl, and placed it on my desk.  Here goes!

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And then came a tough one.  A very old card I had found in a five and dime when I was a college student.  The courtly language and pictures still charm me today, but do I need it?

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It’s not in great shape, so I don’t even think it would be valued by a collector.

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I can’t be so organized and streamlined that I omit things in my world that give me joy, like the one folder I’m keeping from yesterday’s file purge.  It was put together by our older daughter when her hero was Jane Goodall.

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The folder opened to another folder:

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And then opened to reveal a dozen animal fact cards that, I’m sure, were sent to us to entice us to buy more.   We didn’t bite.

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One of the Honest Tea bottle cap quotes I unearthed gives me pause: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  –Charles Darwin.

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I’m responding to change as best I can, while holding on to a few cherished things.

Clump #223:  Comb through and recycle ancient file folders; day 19 of 30-day challenge.

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The photo above of a blue poppy (from a botanical garden in Stavanger, Norway) is for two-year-old twins who, I was told, viewed this blog today.  Crying “purple pretty flowers” over and over for five minutes while resisting a nap is the best “like” I’ve ever gotten.  Babies were the theme of the day, like this shop sign my husband and I passed by, both sweet and creepy:

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But then, it did go along with the general Antiques and Oddities motif of the store:

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So … to the clump!  An old, old, yes, antique, box of file folders, hideous in their out-of-date-ness.

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They contained quaint things like preschool contact lists and actual written directions (before the day of the GPS):

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I saved so many magazine and newspaper articles I know I won’t ever reread.  A good lesson for the present and my continuous clipping habit. And speaking of clipping, a bit of sweet and creepy of our own: hair from our older daughter’s first hair cut (Awww):

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And, finally, the box is empty and a pile of papers is ready for the recycling bag.

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I vividly remember having tried the sunflower house, above.  The idea was to sow sunflower seeds with morning glory seeds to make a cozy little house.  I believe there’s a reason it is shown in a drawn illustration. It never looked this dense and wonderful, just leggy and ratty.  Unlike the flowers that grow wild.

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Purple pretty flowers!

Clump #222: Transport clump of junk to Fall Festival storage area; day 18 of the 30-day challenge.

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So the thing about a big de-clumping project is this: things look worse before they look better.  Exhibit A: part of the pile of stuff that was (past tense) clogging up our older daughter’s bedroom, the current repository for things to be given away. Most of it had been brought up from the basement to be sorted, or was handed over to me by a friend who was moving.

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I filled our car with most of it today, and put it in a storage shed for the flea market-style fundraiser at our Quaker Meeting’s Fall Festival.

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The basket below and its twin lived for years and years in the basement storage area. Why not let someone else have them and put them to good use?  But they caught my heart at the last minute.  I had bought them to fill with flowers to decorate our wedding ceremony.  I just couldn’t give them away.  I told myself if I kept them I’d really have to put them to use, but how?  At this point in my life I’m not interested in containers of artificial flowers, or any such dust-collectors.

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And then it hit me.  What am I constantly struggling to control and corral?  Magazines and newspapers!  Hooray!   It was a “You’ve had the power in your shoes all along” moment.

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The newspaper on the top contained an article called “The angels who care and comfort in worst of times,” from The Philadelphia Inquirer about health care “angels.”  Talk of angels seems to have a new-age reputation, associated with being “out there.”  I loved seeing this biblical quote at the top of the piece:

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Nothing flaky about Luke 22:43.  Reassuringly solid.  May you, as I have, feel strengthened by angels.

 

Clump #221: Clear away piles of paper; day 17 of 30-day challenge.

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Here’s proof positive that a clump can be cleared on a day of lethargy and low incentive.  I really had to push myself for this one, but was rewarded with a few hidden gems:

I hadn’t remembered that I’d put aside the April (!) newspaper section containing an obituary for Mary Scottoline, “Mother Mary,” the mother of my favorite Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and mystery writer, Lisa Scottoline.  I’d read about her for years through her daughter’s column, but I loved learning more facts of her life from the article.  For instance, she was the youngest of 19 children.  Wow.  Understandably, she had to fight for attention.

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This little snippet also lightened the work:

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And the feng shui chi is saying “Merci …

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we may now flow free!

Clump #220:  Get younger daughter off to trip; day 16 of 30-day challenge.

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So the clump of the day is hard to put into words.  How do measure the emotional weight of getting ready and saying goodbye to a child leaving for many months in Russia?  So many items checked off the list: things bought, appointments with all manner of doctors, banking and telephone details straightened out … the list continues to go on in the case of required books ordered nearly a month ago, and still nowhere to be found.

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I guess the one task I will document is the repair in the leg of her pajama shorts (yes, old as the hills and pilly) that our daughter had wanted to pack, but with a gaping hole she felt self conscious about:

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I realized when I found the thread to match the turquoise fabric that it was the same thread I had used to sew her Halloween costume when she was two years old.  <Pang>  Our older daughter was Pocahontas, and our younger daughter was Flit, Pocahontas’ hummingbird friend in the Disney film.  Our son was beyond the sway of his casting-director-older sister, and went as the white Power Ranger.

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Oh boy, why did I look back through the pictures to find this?!  Heart pain upon heart pain!  And adding maudlin to maudlin, now I just need to sew up the empty space in our lives.

Clump #219:  Clear one pile of papers from the party runoff.  Day 15 of the 30-day challenge.

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Oh, the terrible feeling of backsliding on this Clump A Day journey.  With guests coming to our house yesterday, I fell into the old habit of corralling all the loose papers together and shoving them into a currently unused room, in this case our older daughter’s.   This room had recently become the repository of basement stuff still needing decisions and/or to be given away.  A photo of the whole room would be way too embarrassing and overwhelming right now.

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The loose papers on top of the plastic containers were the first to go.  I have to give myself a teensy bit of credit that I did get right to it today, rather than giving way to those infamous good intentions that pave the way to hell.

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I took the photo below when my husband, our son, and I were climbing Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, in Norway.  I had serious doubts about whether I’d be able to make it.  My son said, “Just take it one rock at a time,” and then we both said  “A clump at a time.”  I wanted to remember the exact moment.

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There were sooo many rocks.

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My camera battery had given way by the time we reached the top.  I bought this magnet later on in our trip to remind me that, unbelievably, impossibly, I had made it there …

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one rock, one step, one clump at a time.

 

Clump #218:  Ready house for bon voyage party for daughter.  Day 14 of 30-day challenge.

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Our daughter will soon be traveling to Russia for a school year.  Yes, Russia (I’m used to having to repeat it when I tell people in person). This has been the elephant in the room, so to speak, but now the jig is up on my state of denial.  We had a send-off dinner party for her this evening, which involved a whole day of preparations … too much for this tired old body, brain, and, sore fingers to detail.  Our daughter worked diligently with me.  As much as I appreciated her helpfulness, it was also a painful reminder of how I am going to miss her.

The photo below is not actually from today (who had time to take pictures?), but recently when we were gifted with two enormous zucchini, and she knew what to do with them.

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I took the photo at top when I visited The Church of the Covenant on a trip to Boston this summer.  The interior was designed by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.  The Tiffany windows are exquisite.  I was frustrated that I couldn’t get better images, but I just checked out the church’s website, and you can take a tour by way of a lovely little video here.  It includes  a much better view of this beautiful Madonna and Child which speaks of the longing to hold close a child forever, as unrealistic and unhealthy as that may be.  Taking a deep breath.

Clump #217:  [Finally] finish clearing kitchen table.  Day 13 of 30-day challenge.

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This will be short but sweet.  I delegated today’s clump to our younger daughter …

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and now a kitchen table is reborn.  Kind of a boring photo, but very exciting in person, believe me!  Tea anyone?

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A quote from one of the bits I clipped during my recent newspaper purge has been turning around in my head.  It’s from The Philadelphia Inquirer, the “Side Show, Your Daily Dose of Gossip” (I never miss it), by the wonderful Tirdad Derakhshani:  “Jeff Bridges lays it out   The modern obsession with being positive blinds us to the darkness and negativity all life forms need, Jeff Bridges declares.  ‘Imperfection and perfection go so hand in hand,’ the Giver star tells the Wall Street Journal, echoing his fave author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  ‘Our dark and our light are so intertwined that by trying to push the darkness or the so-called negative aspects of our life to the side … we are preventing ourselves from the fullness of life.'”  Hmm.  Makes me picture the Yin-Yang symbol.

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The table top’s perfection will not last long, soon to be darkened by the endless stream of clutter, but I will enjoy it thoroughly while it lasts.

 

Clump #216:  Clear out box of awards; decide what to keep and why. Day twelve of 30-day challenge.

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This was a gut-wrencher.  The one I couldn’t face yesterday.  The box, below, was collecting dust in the basement until our younger daughter unearthed it during her recent basement-cleaning quest.  The awards belong to our older daughter.  I used to joke that if she liked earning ribbons so much, I would offer her a ribbon for making her bed every day … but somehow that didn’t work.

Does she need to keep them?  And if yes, why?  Some of them are easily dispensed with.  The equivalent of participation medals.  Others she worked really hard for.  Obviously she doesn’t want them in her current residence, or even in her childhood room.  As luck would have it, The Daily Beast today contained a thorough article on the subject, “My Loser Kid Should Get a Trophy,” by Brandy Zadrozny.

As an adult, this daughter is now learning the dangers of deriving one’s self worth from outside affirmation.  We all do it to some extent or another.  I wish I could give her a medal for coming to terms with that important life lesson.  (Ha!)

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So, okay, after a long consultation and photo documentation of the awards for posterity, these were the two worth keeping.  A ribbon from an elementary school environmental contest when she was determined to solve (single-handedly) the global warming crisis, and an important academic medal.  I was an abysmal student, myself.  Maybe I need something to touch in order to prove to myself that a child of mine was able to defy the odds of my genetic contribution.

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When I was looking back for some other photos to illustrate this post (reaching for the brass ring, above), I scanned through pictures from a recent trip to Boston and Cambridge, MA, where there was a crowd waiting to take photos with John Harvard in the Harvard Yard; a line to touch his left shoe for good luck.  I googled the tradition and found out the likeness is not really John Harvard, rather a Harvard student (descended from an early president), since no pictures of J.H. existed when the statue was being made.

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Another misconception is the myth that it’s a student tradition to touch his foot for good luck.  I was horrified to learn from an article in The Harvard Crimson, The Truth About John Harvard,” that the actual student tradition involves peeing on him.  (I truly apologize for the second mention of pee this week.)   From the article:

“Harvard may be an elite institution open only to a lucky few, yet it seems to exacerbate, rather than mollify, concerns about status. The product of this anxiety is frequent displays of contempt for the institution. We pee (figuratively) on things all the time: we skip classes, we are contemptuous of the entire education system, and we constantly bemoan the inadequacy of the social life.”

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I’m just going to go now and wash my hands a few hundred more times.

Clump #215:  Clear off batteries and magazine pile from tabletop.

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To be perfectly honest, I was working on another clump today that really stumped me.  Stumped by a clump.  So these were done quickly to keep the momentum going.  A bag of batteries of unknown origin.  I’ll find out whether the Goodwill takes batteries, since there are too many of a kind we don’t often use.  Did we go crazy preparing for the power outages this past winter?

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Recycle this pile of magazines.

With all that’s been said about Robin Williams after the shock of his recent death, I find myself thinking of our late hairdresser, Cindy.  She was never late, but a few years ago she died of lung cancer.  One of the things that defined her was her love of Robin Williams.  I’m sure it was mentioned at her funeral.  Cindy went above and beyond the call of duty for our family, from styling theatrical hair styles and wigs for a theatrical daughter (no charge), to finding the impossible-to-get beanie babies for us, using her network of client-informants.  What a gem.

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It makes me feel a little better to imagine Cindy and Robin in a realm where labels of hairdresser and celebrity are meaningless.  And both of them recognizing their mutual greatness, but especially Robin starstruck over Cindy.

Clump #214:  Clear one more quarter of kitchen table.  Day ten of 30-day challenge.

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I almost started this post with a different photo, but thought better of it. Our mudroom is the domain of Pumpkin, our cat.  Her litter boxes (yes, plural) are in there, where her rule is law.  One rule is that anything falling on the floor is fair game. I had put a bag of plastic bags on a shelf in there with the intent to recycle the whole bunch, but this morning it was on the floor when I, half asleep, picked it up … too quickly to see the puddle of cat pee that immediately splashed onto my bare feet.  Oh man, the wake-up call from Hell!  Welcome to “one of those days.”

Okay, I just searched back for a picture of Pumpkin, and found this one … another very different morning, and offering, exactly as it was, untouched by humankind.

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I guess what I’m saying is that no matter how bad a day, how many insults and disappointments, a clump can be cleared and a bit of order restored.  More kitchen table clutter:

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And now a full half table of usable space is available.

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I feel the need to pretty-up, or freshen-up this post.  Last week I saw these lovely pink flowers popping out by the roadside:

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I learned they are called surprise lilies, from the amaryllis family.  They bloom after their leaves die, thus, another of their names: resurrection lilies.

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Hope springs eternal.  Tomorrow is another day.

Clump #213:  Start clearing kitchen table.  Day nine of my 30-day challenge (has it only been nine days?!)

Now that our kitchen island is clear of clutter (yesterday’s clump), we may enjoy the abundant fruits of summer collected in its center, a changeable work of art.

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Aaaand … right next to it is the kitchen table, full to bursting with the fruits of our negligence.  ACK!  Is it my imagination, or is Neuroscientist Richie Davidson on the cover of mindful magazine laughing at me?  Or maybe it’s a grimace that says, “How can I meditate in all this clutter? Get me out of here!”

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I found and payed some bills, which felt like detonating land mines, then rifled through part of the daunting task until a clear space was born.  I didn’t want to make myself crazy.  Just one clump … one step at a time. The less onerous the clump, the more motivated I’ll be to tackle another tomorrow.

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Now the reward: two library books that seemed to be put out on display just for me:

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Excuse me while I put the kettle on.

Clump #212: Clear and clean kitchen island and sink; elevate mood.

I felt like a Disney princess this morning.  And not in a good way.

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I imagined Cinderella and Snow White cheerfully cleaning up other peoples’ messes.  How did they manage that singing-with-the-birds spirit?  The closest I came was thinking ‘This is for the birds.’

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Actually, the Disney character I most resembled (just in attitude, I hope!) was Grumpy.

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Here’s a glance at the kitchen island before, with one of my favorite books in the foreground:

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I won’t identify those who might have played the roles of dwarves/evil stepmother/sisters, but a baking project had been taken on that was so big, it depleted energy and time needed for the cleanup.  And now they had gone back to the salt mines (or was it coal?).

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Here’s the “after,” our imitation granite (the secret is out!) formica, all shined up.  Notice the darkness outside; it took a long time, what with all the grumping.

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Kitchen sink before:

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(I think it might be bad feng shui to have a dead bug, legs-up, inside a wishbone.  Jimminy Cricket!)

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And the much-better after:

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With the center of our house’s universe clear, and my mood restored, I read a moving article in The New York Times called What The Sparrows Told Me, by Trish O’Kane.  Ms. Kane wrote, “I tell [my students] that the birds are a gift to get them through the day.”

Maybe those princesses were on to something!

Clump #211:  Help friend move.

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The photo above was taken outside our Quaker Meeting this morning. The plant belonged to a woman who recently passed away; her friend adopted it and is being richly rewarded.

My good friend is moving soon and needed help.  In the fifteen years we’ve been friends, occasionally she would mention her habit of sneaking various purchases in the house, away from her husband’s eyes.  As we were clearing out her kitchen today, I reached for what I thought was a pretty ceramic bread box.  I lifted the top, and found a pile of receipts inside.  Whoa-Ho!  This was her secret hiding place.  We laughed about the fact that I had found what her own husband had never noticed.  I asked her permission to take this photo:

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Tomorrow: back to my own clumps and guilty secrets.

Clump #210: Power through paper pile — part two.

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I figured I’d put a photo of a tree on this page to commemorate the trees who gave their lives to make the newspapers I scanned through today. I started timing myself to keep up the pace and sense of urgency.  The photo, below, was a misfire, but it’s actually a good impression of the way the process felt: scan, scan, skim, and toss:

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I dutifully cut out the sudokus for my husband …

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and bagged the whole lot for recycling.  Four of the bags already contained shredded paper.  With any luck, the piles on top will stabilize the shreds and prevent them from escaping and turning our street into a ticker tape parade on trash day.

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Oh, Mo’ne, I hope you have your head screwed on tight!  Front page of The Inquirer?  At age 13?

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The urgency part of getting through the clump quickly was the need to get out to a screening of the movie “Mean Girls” tonight.  It was a benefit for the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center, with a live interview with Tina Fey by TVGuide Magazine Writer and fellow Summer Stage Alum Damian Holbrook.  Tina Fey was just as funny and down-to-earth as you would hope.

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Another great female role model and Philly girl setting the bar high.

Clump #209:  Rake through and recycle newspaper pile — part one. Day five of 30-day challenge.

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Okay, enough with the basement clumps … for now.  While we were staring down monsters from the depths, our actual living space has become atrocious.

I’ve experienced a surprising behavior change since my surgery in May: a decrease in television watching (to almost none) and in newspaper reading.  For anyone who knows me well, this is shocking.  I find I don’t want to get wrapped up in all the negativity and brought down by the junk.  I really don’t want to hear about Iraq, Gaza, the President, Congress, or any of the other cast of characters I used to closely follow as my favorite soap opera.  You might accuse me of being superficial or not caring about the world’s problems, and you might be right.  I can’t seem to get out of my protective bubble.  In the meantime, the pile of newspapers continues to accumulate, like weeds or dust.  It has been a clump I never have enough time to take care of in a day, so I started with just one stack.  Why not toss them all out, sight unseen?  I still have a need to scan through and find those gems that, for me, make the whole enterprise worthwhile.

Here’s a great example: today I read an article that filled me with hope. A team from Philadelphia, the Taney Dragons, is in the Little League World Series, which is exciting enough.  And like the lone pansy in a field of petunias, above (sorry, I’ll do anything to include one of my flower photos), their ace pitcher is a girl in a “boy’s field.”  Mo’ne Davis, below (next to a dour Meryl Streep in an unflattering wig), certainly gives lie to the taunt, “You throw like a girl.”

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Excerpts from the article: “Tai Shanahan, one of the team’s outfielders, said she ‘is one of the guys that just happens to be a girl.’  Davis said her teammates’ acceptance of her as a girl player ‘makes me cry.’ ‘Just kidding,’ said Davis. ‘I don’t really feel anything.'” …

“Mo’ne has to ride an hour and 20 minutes on the bus each way to from her home in South Philadelphia to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Chestnut Hill, where she has been given a generous scholarship and received an award for academic achievement. ‘She is the leader without trying,’ Bandura [her coach] said.'”

Well … the uplifting story does not balance out the one below it about Ferguson, but it helped.  Here’s the first clump (looks bigger in person–really):

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Late-breaking news:

Mo’ne Davis becomes first girl to throw LLWS shutout

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 Go Mo’ne!!!

Clump #208:  Clear out basement toys; decide what to keep.  Day four of 30-day challenge.  No time … no energy?  No excuses!

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This has been one of those days I found myself wishing I had never declared a 30-day challenge. “Let’s face it, I’m tired.”  (Thank you Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn.)  I pushed myself through a pile of toys and games from the basement (I’m barely able to hold the camera steady, I’m so pooped):

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All except the two below will be donated to our annual Fall Festival at Meeting.

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I couldn’t let go of the Party Bingo.  It doesn’t matter that I can’t remember the last time we played this game. I’m just happy (not as happy as the girl on the box on the right, certainly) to own one of those spinny-things (does it have a name?) that randomly selects the number balls.

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I also kept the magnet blocks.  I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law gave them to us, and I remember thinking they were the greatest thing since sliced bread: somewhat open-ended for creativity, but satisfyingly easy for very little hands to snap together.  Oh, yes, and I managed to keep all the pieces through three children and many years.  A miracle!

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It was a day of fanciful, childlike things, from the goose of Strasburg, PA (at top) looking like Mother Goose, to a tiny fairy home at a garden store:

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…to a woman, where my mom lives, who offered to teach me her clay art.  I promise to get photos of her amazing creations.  This was just a very primitive example:

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Oh that nostalgia, the bane of the de-clumper.  The framed polaroid photo below stays, also.  Our kids made it together when we were in the gigundo Lego store in The Mall of America of Minnesota on a Father’s Day long ago.  <Sniff>

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Of course, the real issue with this clump was feeling like I was letting go of pieces of our kids’ childhood.  Plus, I hope we’ll be lucky enough to have grandchildren someday, probably traveling in by jet pack, and that they might enjoy the old favorite toys. The Magnet Blocks and Bingo game are at the ready.

Clump #207:  Clear out kids’ activities container; take basement clump to Goodwill.

I saw this roadside display today!!  Not. At. All. Ready.

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Here’s one payoff for confronting clumps of long forgotten stuff.  I looked into the box below, and — lo and behold — alongside pumpkin-decorating materials, there was the Santana “Supernatural” CD we’ve been missing for years!  Hooray!  The contents of the box dated from the time I was in charge of kids’ activities for our Quaker Meeting’s Fall Festival.  Santana and Rob Thomas’s song “Smooth” was my choice for a cake walk song no one could resist moving to.  “Man, it’s a hot one…”

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This magazine photo (Martha Stewart Living?) had been my pumpkin decorating inspiration:

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I loaded up the car again for another trip to the Goodwill.  Along with the non-yard-waste contents of the box were three cleaning devices I had bought in hopes that they’d charm our house into spotlessness.  Like Cinderella’s coach after midnight, they ended up, not pumpkins, but more clutter in our house.

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I felt so much lighter after depositing this stuff at the Goodwill.  It reminded me of my Catholic upbringing and the way I’d feel after going to confession, even though I usually made up my sin list (is that in itself a sin?). “Take these, brother, for I have over-bought.  It has been two months since my last donation.”

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The grace I seek now is forgiveness of myself … with God’s help.

Clump #206:  Sort basement clumps and take vinyl records to Goodwill.

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Today was a day my younger daughter and I switched parent and child roles a few times. Recently she heroically dove into the vast, dark abyss of our basement storage area and sorted out piles. Now my husband and I have to make the tough decisions about what to keep, throw away, or give away. Too hard!  She wouldn’t let me off the hook, no matter how many lame reasons I might have had to run back upstairs. We got the vinyl albums sorted and a whole bunch into the car to bring to Goodwill.  (Sorry Perry, you didn’t make the cut.)

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No matter how bad we might feel about our cluttered basement, this article from The New York Times, about a Brazilian man driven to own all the vinyl records in the world, is proof that it could be much, much, worse.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

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As I was marveling at the spirit and drive of my daughter, it dawned on me that she might have been avoiding a few important items she needed to cross off her own to-do list to get ready for a year studying abroad.  My turn to crack the whip.  The Art of Procrastination by John Perry spells out this phenomenon whereby “The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks … as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”  He calls it “Structured Procrastination.”

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As loyal readers know, I often include photos of what I’ve called “the goose of Strasburg, PA,” which I see on the way to visits with my mom.  I’m now wondering whether she is actually a duck … a very dapper duck.  The most recent of her snappy ensembles was this green and white check, with matching sunglasses.  Tucked into her collar was a postcard (has she been on vacation?) from Long Island, with a photo of The Big Duck in Flanders, NY.

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Happy tails … er… trails!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clump #205:  De-clump ironing pile.  Again.

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Oh dear!  I thought I was back over a month ago.  Turns out, the hazy, lazy days of summer made it irresistible to take a blogging break.  Can I claim busyness and laziness as excuses?   The resulting build-up of clutter in areas I had previously vanquished is now annoying and discouraging, not to mention downright embarrassing.  Oh, and I forgot: I was really going to try to be more accepting of myself.

It occurred to me this morning that I should start another 30-day challenge.  Two of my husband’s sisters will be visiting in September, which is a wonderful thing.  I blithely thought, “I’ll just start the challenge a month before their arrival date.” Then I realized … uhhh … that would be TODAY.  Nothing like a deadline to snap me out of this rudderless-boat-in-the-middle-of-a-bank-of-fog world I’ve been inhabiting.  I’ve had a particularly bad time with calendars ever since my surgery. I’m afraid the surgeon mistakenly took the calendar-awareness part of my brain out by mistake.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

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I had meant to jot down an appointment, and instead this, above, actually happened.  We wouldn’t want to forget that it’s June 11th on June 11th!  (Help me!)

For those very precious longtime readers of the blog, you might remember a certain struggle with a very large clump of ironing in days of yore.  Well … laundry mountain rose once again:

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To get myself moving, I watched a favorite ironing movie while I worked, “Sense and Sensibility,” starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Nothing like a Jane Austen story to sooth the raging clump devouring our chair, clothing, and peace of mind. Something was wrong with the movie player/television (????) (technophobe alert!), and for some reason I could only get it to play in black and white.  I ended up really enjoying it, though.  The images of Regency England costumes and countryside were elegant in two colors.

“Judy, dearest, how long has it truly been since you put iron to cloth?”

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I’m always tickled by the look of despair on the faces of this family upon first sight of the house that represents their reduced circumstances:

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Such a terrible pity!  Such a hovel!  The inhumanity!

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At least they could still employ two servants…

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who, presumably, did their ironing.

 

 

Clump #204:  Clean out two neglected kitchen shelves.

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I guess I have a bit of explaining to do to those dear readers wondering where I’ve been.  In my last post I mentioned that a medical condition I was suffering from was “something fixable.”  Once again, to avoid over-sharing and the downright gross, I had many tests, and the results and prognoses kept changing.  The “fixable” aspect was not as assured as I had understood.  The universe works in strange ways: turns out I had internal clumps that needed to be surgically removed. Thankfully, all was deemed benign.  I think “benign” might be the most beautiful word in the human language.  The light and love of many people reading this blog lifted me through the scary experience.  You have my endless gratitude.

Phew, it’s difficult to get back on board after so much time away … the expected two weeks that turned into two months.   I took very seriously my doctor’s orders to rest.  I amassed a pile of cozy books and gave myself free reign to read them all.  Addictive!  Usually I have a photo to tell the story, and this one below is about as close as I can get.  My beloved soft, fluffy, pink bathrobe (in one of the rare times it was not enfolding me) next to a beautiful arrangement of peonies a dear friend brought over during my recovery.  If you don’t own a peony bush, at least know someone who does and who might gift some to you.

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And, oh yes, the clump.  Ahem.  It all started when our younger daughter needed some chocolate chips and had been gently urging me to get back to de-clumping and blogging.  This was all she could scrape up from the mess in the cabinets:

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She had already set the wheels in motion before I had a chance to take a proper “before” photo of the wayward shelves, but their contents splayed on the counter effectively tell the story:

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We set right to work sorting and tossing.  The waste is amazing when you can’t see the contents of a shelf.  Three bags of shredded coconut!

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And the much improved, clean and orderly after:

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We then went out to buy some more chocolate chips.  Life is good!

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To those wondering where I have been this week, after all my trumpeting about 30-clumps and 30-posts, I fell shy of my goal the last two days of the challenge.  I ended up in the emergency room with severe stomach pains Tuesday, and after a few days of pain management and becoming fused to our couch, I am better.  Without going into TMI territory, I’ll just say it is something fixable.

Even still, I will be taking a two week break from Clump A Day.  Thank you for your support and energy that have kept me going.  I look forward to getting back on track!

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from The Week magazine, that itself was an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in Slate.com, entitled Skiing with the Dalai Lama.  I’ve been turning it over in my head since I read it.  The author relates his experience in the mid ’80’s when the Dalai Lama visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he served as his press secretary.  After a trip up a ski lift after the Dalai Lama expressed a desire to see skiing, the party went back to the lodge.  A waitress there sat down and asked the Dalai Lama:

“Can I, um, ask a question?”

“Please.”

She spoke with complete seriousness.  “What is the meaning of life?”

In my entire week with the Dalai Lama, every conceivable question had been asked–except this one.  People had been afraid to ask the one–the really big–question.  There was a brief, stunned silence.

The Dalai Lama answered immediately.  “The meaning of life is happiness.”  He raised his finger, leaning forward, focusing on her as if she were the only person in the world.  “Hard question is not, ‘What is meaning of life?’  That easy question to answer!  No, hard question is what make happiness.  Money?  Big house?  Accomplishment?  Friends?  Or…”  He paused.  “Compassion and good heart?  This is question all human beings must try to answer:  What make true happiness?”  He gave this last question a peculiar emphasis and then fell silent, gazing at her with a smile.

Thank you, she said, “thank you.”  She got up and finished stacking the dirty dishes and cups, and took them away.

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Clump #203: Confront cleaning products; sort and disperse.

Recently we had to move our cleaning supplies from under the sink due to a leak, and since then they’ve been schlepped to the dining room, down to the basement, and, finally, of course, now to the study…the overflow room.

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I reduced the products to two bins.  The items on the left were all I’ve really needed in the past months.  On the right, more cleaning products than I really need, but I will store them below the sink again, nonetheless.

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These ones I’ll store in the basement, as back-ups to the ones above which, again, is more than I need.

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Under the sink, amidst a number of dried-out tea bags that had missed the trash can, I found this Honest Tea bottle cap:

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I hereby vow to change one thing: No More Buying of Cleaning Products until I use up all of these.  I will remember that buying a cleaning product is not the measure of a good housekeeper.  It’s putting them to use.

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Clump #202:  Deposit son’s coins; glue catch-all; keep emotions in check.

I was on the verge of tears several times today.  I could blame it on the weeping cherry tree, clinging onto its last flowers today, that grows beside our Quaker Meeting.

Next, I saw an old photo featuring our son when he played a wise man many years ago in the Christmas Nativity (a poor photo of a poor photo). Ahh, with the little impish grin, he bears the gift of sharp nostalgia.

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I watched a recording of SNL Shorts, short films aired on Saturday Night Live through the years.  The show ended with scenes of people meeting each other at an airport, set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.”   Cue the waterworks. (The only place I could find it was on “BUCKNACKT’S SORDID TAWDRY BLOG.  Not sordid or tawdry at all!)

Today’s clump was depositing coins in our son’s bank account … over thirteen dollars!

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They were stored in a broken, molded vinyl record he had been using as a catch-all.  I thought I’d have to throw it out …

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but I got some krazy glue and put it together.  The last little piece almost had me in tears … and my fingers have a gluey coating now, but I finally succeeded.

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Not perfect, but still useable.

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Two dear friends generously gifted us with lovely cut daffodils. The ones below resemble clusters of yellow butterflies.  In the corner, looking on, are the remnants of the other, earlier gift.

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I know I have a bit of a problem holding on to things, but you have to admit they do possess a different kind of beauty.

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My broken record message is: life is fleeting!  Told vividly by kids, trees, flowers, even money.

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Soak it up while it’s here.

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Clump #201:  What’s in this basket?

Below, a basket of stuff clogging up the study … another instance of the old dash-and-stash before company is about to arrive.  It’s the root of clutter-evil for me!  In the case of this basket, much of the contents are Christmas (!) (I know) presents that weren’t quite right, needing to be exchanged or returned.

At first it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” then eventually, when it did enter my mind, I had the aversion response: “Oh, I’ve left them too long, it’s probably not possible to return them now… bad me!” which, ironically, leads to more procrastination.

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So today I dug in.  I called TOM’S, where I purchased the “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” tee shirt.  I spoke to a very nice young man, and when I mentioned how small the sizing  was, he explained they are “California sizes.”  “Everyone is smaller in California.”  I had never heard that one before!  He mentioned that there, he has to buy a 3XL, and so he really can’t find any clothing. Huh!  Good experience number one.

Next I returned a pair of slippers for our younger daughter, who had kindly told me she does not wear slippers.  Yet another chapter in my life-long quest to get her to put on something warm and her life-long quest to make me understand that she is not cold.  When will I learn?

I had bought them at Lands’ End, so I took them to the L.E. department in our local Sears.  Piece of cake.  No time limits, no problem.

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Approaching basket clearness!

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Clump #200:  Sort out small bag of toys; take a big batch of stuff to the Goodwill.

I didn’t really see this coming, but — hey — 200 clumps!  I always feel as though there should be a balloon drop at times like this, but I’ll settle for a leaf drop with rain drops, seasonally appropriate or not.

I sent the photo below to our son, who said all he wanted to keep of the “games, etc.” pile was the kite and the Knot Tying kit.  I packed the rest up with a bunch of other items designated “give-away,” and gave them away.

I stumbled across this quote today and it seemed highly appropriate to the challenge:

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” –Confucius

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It’s been a learning experience trying to anticipate what will be kept (knot tying kit?).  The things we keep tell a story about ourselves.  Going through our son’s books told a story of a musician with very deep thoughts and an appreciation of humor.  I hadn’t remembered the book pictured below.

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I flipped through its pages and this quote stopped me in my tracks:

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Sending the power of love to you.

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Clump #199:  Clear out accumulation of clutter in study; throw out Christmas flowers.  (Yes, that’s Christmas flowers … stay with me.)

The study … you know, the subject of several previous clearings and relapses?  This week it was the receptacle for sorted piles from our son’s room.  Oops … I did it again.

Three non-family members visited today, two repairmen and a friend. Wouldn’t you know both visits required time in this cluttered study, the least picked-up room in the house?  Groan!  I decided to rid the room — again — of all the piles.

First up: the exploded bag of shredded paper.  Ugh.

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The day before yesterday was Earth Day and I’d picked up this hand-decorated bag at a local grocery store.  Good tips!

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It heroically contained the mealworm-like paper shreds and saved both the corner of the study and my temper.

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Funny how the presence of outsiders makes you see things you can’t believe you’ve let go.  Case in point: a pot of paperwhite bulbs given to us at Christmastime.  I guess I was so grateful for their promise of spring, fragrance, and life, even when dried out.  Out they go.  The pot is soaking in water with white vinegar, which will clean it right up.

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Also going out, the poinsettia.  I’m tired of the dropping leaves, even as beautiful and shell-like as they are. (Photo taken on the top of the stove.)

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It’s daffodil and tulip time now, after all.

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Clump #198:  Sort through bag of gadgets in the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge: clear out son’s room before he returns … soon!

Not that anyone would necessarily notice, but I’m clearing out the pile labeled “Technology 2″ before “Technology 1.”  Why?  Well this was the less scary of the two technology piles — scary, in this case, referring to my anxiety while facing an array of gadgets I can barely identify:

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I noticed that the Easter hen was positioned as if watching the sorting process (“keep” on right, “recycle” on left).  She, with all her eggs gone, was an apt symbol for my bereft state, recovering from the final exodus of our holiday guests.  From this lonely place, out of the blue, came a phone call from our son, who was ready to help with another clump. The perfect antidote!

What followed was a technophobic mother trying to describe different gadgets and gizmos to a techno-savvy son: “Well, it’s a black cord.”  “Is it a guitar cord?”  “What does a guitar cord look like?” … Good grief!  It was like the blind leading the sighted.  But we got through it.

This was the sky tonight on my way home from doing an errand:

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Light in the darkness.

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Clump #197:  Write and send two procrastinated cards.

Scheduling a Skype session with our son didn’t work out today, so I turned my attention away from his closet for today’s task.  I took care of a clump of small size but heavy psychic weight: two cards I had bought but had not gotten around to sending out.  One condolence, the other, get well.

I’ve developed a new view on the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  The hell is a state of mind you develop right here on earth.  The more time slipped away, the worse I felt … to the point that every time I looked at these two cards, the guilt was deeper and more dreadful. Read the rest of this entry »

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Clump #196: Sort son’s shoe collection; day 21 of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.

Simple, straightforward and swift was this clump.  Our son was able to eliminate three pairs from the remaining shoes in his room.  I put up his shoe holder and placed the keepers there.

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Done.

The beautiful eggs I documented in the last few posts are now just a memory.  I took this photo right before clearing and cleaning the plate.

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It brought to mind Buddhist sand art.   While googling the images below, I found this description on Wikipedia:

“The Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from colored sand.  A sand mandala is ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.”

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This, in turn, brought to mind some flowers I’d photographed at the dentist’s a few weeks ago…

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One blossom looking finished, the next in transition:

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Enjoy me now!

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Clump #195: Clear two bags from son’s room via Skype.

Our son Skyped with us from Norway today.  He and I got through a clump, then I turned the reins over to our younger daughter and youngest niece.  My younger daughter was the one who initially sorted his stuff into piles by subject matter.  As she took over the process, she said, “It’s so nice to see my clumps realized!”

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Read the rest of this entry »

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Clump #194:  Prepare for Easter.

I was feeling down in the dumps this morning when I was ordering corned beef and swiss cheese at the deli for ruben sandwiches.  The clerk kept asking me question after question: “Is this the right thickness?”  “Would you like to eat this slice?”  Much more solicitous than usual.  I kept feeling as though he sensed my funky state of mind and wanted to help.  Finally, as I was about to leave the counter, he asked, “Do you celebrate Easter?”  I said, “Yes,” to which he responded “I hope you have a Happy Easter.”  I was touched by his sensitivity.

In our family we hold a jelly bean hunt Easter morning.  This was a collection artfully arranged last year:

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I just found a photo of unknown date that I took, of course, before I became perfect and would never have dust bunnies on my floors.  But, honestly, I did not touch or alter this little guy.

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The air right now is redolent of clementines, my niece’s favorite:

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She’s gotten so good at peeling them, all in one piece … this one looks like a pumpkin.

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The eggs are dyed, the beans are laid, and my mom’s hen is calmly presiding over the scene.

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Whatever holiday you celebrate, I sincerely hope you have a happy one!

 

 

 

 

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