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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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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Clump #193:  Clean out refrigerator and clear out son’s room for company.

I guess it’s been a while since I cleaned out the far reaches of our refrigerator.  I had to make room for the influx of holiday food.
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Clump #192:  Save son’s note cards.

Today I have been acutely aware of the passage of time.  I found myself thinking how great it would be if the clock could stop when one sleeps. Time out?  No such luck.  Easter is quickly approaching and my to-do list is lengthening just as quickly.

I’m reposting the photo above of the beautiful band of spring crocuses I became infatuated with last week. This is what it looks like now:

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The beautiful flowers and their colors … are … Gone.

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All except one lonely daffodil, who seems to be saying, “Hey Guys, where’d you go?”

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I had trouble getting in touch with our son for a Skype decision-session. So I made an executive decision to put his note card collection in the “save” pile.  I gave him the Vincent Van Gogh ones.  I have been increasingly aware of an undercurrent of motherly nagging in the things I have given him.  “Clean your water bottle” (yesterday’s post), “Write thank you notes,”   “Read this book to better yourself.”

Parenthood is always a matter of treading a fine line.  The urge to nurture and make better can easily verge into the dangerous zone of : “who you are right now is not enough.”

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Even when all you want to do is give them is the sun, moon and stars.

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Clump #191: Sort through son’s remaining eating/drinking-ware from college.  Day sixteen of my 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.

Over halfway through the challenge!  Today’s clump is an example of the glacially slow pace of this project.  Our industrious younger daughter dove in to start the job, organizing what had previously been stuffed into our overseas son’s bedroom when making space for overnight guests. She even labeled each pile.  Now what to do with it all?

The plastic cups and aluminum bottles will go in the recycling bin.  I gave him that box of cleaning tablets for metal water bottles … most likely one of my thrillingly practical stocking stuffers.  (Oh boy!  Just what I’ve always wanted!)  I happened to notice that they’re untouched.  They and the bowl and knife can either go in the Goodwill pile or hang out here with his other “keep” items.

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It’s small, tedious piles like this one that make me feel as though I’m not making any progress.  But the fact is, the room is clearing out.  Drip … drip … drip.

I drove to Lancaster County to see my mom today, and saw this:   So wrong!

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The poor, garbed goose of Strasburg was entirely unprepared for the cold snap.  She must have donned the floral number when temperatures were in the eighties.

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I chose to focus on fabulous forsythia, with flowers and stems like rays of sunshine.

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Sometimes my mom will say something so memorable, I have to write it down.  Her most frequent question is “What are the kids doing today?” About one daughter, she said, “This is her sunrise time.”

I relayed her comment to our daughter, and she loved it.  You don’t need to worry about or force the sunrise.  It’s inevitable.

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Inevitable as flowers in spring and warmth returning to the earth.  And, now, clutter leaving our home.

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Clump #190:  Recycle shredder, CD’s and cord.  Reframe old photo.

Today I took a break from the clumps in our son’s bedroom.  With all the paper purging I’ve been doing, we’ve had a casualty.  Our shredder went kaput and couldn’t be revived.  May I have a moment of silence for this fallen soldier in our battle against clutter?  The drops on its top are rain, not tears.

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I also deposited some unwanted CDs and a cord.  This was a big day for Best Buy.  I actually bought something there: a new shredder.

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Then I took the picture below to another shop to get a new frame.  It’s a lovely old photo of two dear family members.  My husband was the photographer many years ago.

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The cheap, plastic frame had a cardboard backing that obviously had suffered some water damage. Disgraceful!  It was in the box I recently decluttered.  Now to take care of it … honor it, or let it go.

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I found a relatively inexpensive ready-made frame that did the trick. Wow!  How much clearer it is through glass instead of ancient plastic!   The “after” picture was difficult to photograph without my reflection looking like a guardian angel hovering over the scene.  Trust me, it looks even better in person.

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Ah, the man in the photo was our wonderful, late brother-in-law.  He was fond of simple jokes that would be groaners if not for his excellent presentation and gravitas.  One was: “What did the snail say while riding on the turtle’s back?   … Wheeee!”  He always pronounced the “h” in Wheee.

Thinking of him while doing errands on a day when it was raining cats and dogs, a similar joke came to mind: “How do you know it’s raining cats and dogs?  … When you step in a poodle!”

The sidewalk to the shop was carpeted in confetti-like pink petals from the tree pictured above.

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There is something so wonderful about pink in the natural world.  It’s the color of cotton candy, tutus … Barbie’s favorite color … it’s an almost frivolous hue …

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But it’s also magical.  Like a silly joke.  It brought delight to hum-drum errands on a dreary day.

 

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Clump #189:  Decide what to do with bedding from son’s bedroom.

Today’s clump was big and bulky, but easy to dispense with.  Our son said he didn’t need his college back-cushion … so to the Goodwill it will go.  I will launder the bedspread set.  The pillows were as old as Methuselah (do people still say that?), so I threw them out.  Heaven only knows the dust mite colony that likely thrived within.

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In keeping with this color scheme, I thought I’d pay tribute to the tans, grays and browns that are quickly vanishing from the landscape.  We’ll miss you? … Maybe just a teeny, tiny little bit.
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Clump #188:  Sort through three bags.  Day thirteen of my 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge: clear out son’s room before he returns home with more stuff.

Today I had a good Skype-chat with our son and we confronted three piles from his room, including the dreaded “Miscellaneous.”  We’ll keep the pile on the right.  The other two are heading out, one way or another.

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In documenting my visit yesterday to the tea ceremony at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, I failed to mention the most important aspect: the tea ceremony was a physical demonstration of the concept of being in the present moment, of being mindful.

Each movement was so very deliberate.  Each item in the ceremony had its purpose and was handled with care and attentiveness.  The simplicity of the surroundings made the awareness of each item more distinct.

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My friends and I were enamored with the Ikebana style flower arrangements adorning the house.  I looked up Ikebana International when I got home and a definition on the official website read, “In principle, Ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors.”

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I know I will never achieve the austere beauty of the Shofuso House, after all, it’s not a real house where people live.  But paring down our possessions will limit the visual field and allow us to more fully appreciate and honor the things we do want to keep …

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And possibly link us a bit more to the outdoors.

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Clump #187:  Clear out wire basket of assorted junk that had migrated into son’s bedroom.

There I go, anthropomorphizing the clutter again.  Ahem.  I shoved this stuff together when clearing out our kitchen desk.  And it was before Christmas this year, when I was frantically readying for a party.  No need for carbon dating.

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Oh, my poor heart strings!  Today is our son’s birthday, and when I turned over the picture frame on top I was overwhelmed.  It was a photo compilation my younger sister had made for another birthday years ago. Here’s a portion of it, a little blurry, like my eyes right now:

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My memory of driving our son home from the hospital is of all the trees in bloom.  It was as if the whole world was celebrating.  Today was a gem of a day, and I was fortunate enough to go with some friends to a Japanese tea ceremony at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

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We learned about the four elements to strive toward in the tea ceremony: purity, harmony, respect, and tranquility.  They were all present.

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We were served a sweet wrapped in a young cherry tree leaf that had been fermenting for a year …

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and a lovely bowl of bright green macha tea.

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The beauty of the setting was exquisite.

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Even without many leaves.

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One tree was perfectly pink against a perfect blue sky.

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We were all struck by the elegant simplicity of the place and of the ceremony.  No extraneous movements or things.  I include this photo of a musical instrument in honor of our musician son:

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Everything had a place and a purpose.  I will try my best to remember.

Clump #186:  Find the one Billboard magazine our son wants to keep.  Day eleven of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.

This afternoon I was not liking my 30-day challenge.  It’s Friday.  I’m tired.  I want to cut loose.  My editing daughter needs my words earlier so that she can do the same.  Then I received a text message from our son saying there was just one Billboard magazine he’s interested in keeping: “one on DIY topics.”  And I’m off and running, not able to resist the pull of ridding ourselves of a big clump.  I spent a good amount of time looking through all the tables of contents, until — Woo-Hoo — I spotted this one:

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The rest could be stripped of their address labels for shredding and tossed into bags for recycling.  I hope the men who pick up the recycling will be impressed that they’re in order by date (yesterday’s clump).  Big weight out of the room!  Not to mention our son’s life.

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I’ll leave you with a series of photos I snapped while getting my car washed.  Fun and a certain surreal beauty in a commonplace setting.

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And … I’m I out of here.  Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are!

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Clump #185:  Sort son’s Billboard magazine collection.  Day ten of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.

Today’s clump seemed like a mindless waste of time.  Our son had a subscription to Billboard magazine for about two years: 2011 on the right, 2012 on the left.  They are now in chronological order.   I remember asking him quite a long time ago whether he wanted to keep them, and he had said there were some articles he still wanted to read.

Oh my, the apple does not fall far from the tree.  I know that impulse so very well.  I’ve had to assure myself that various articles I’m still interested in, but haven’t gotten to, can be found online or in the library.  He’s not missing the articles in Billboard from 2013 and 2014, because they’re sight unseen … on and on, but logic doesn’t hold much weight.  The stacks of magazines do, however.  I will await his decision.

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The clearing of our son’s room, clump by clump, day by day, has made me think of him even more than usual.  I had taken the photo, above, of a blue flower recently.  It made me happy, not only because I love the color blue, but also because it reminded me of the blue flower in one of the Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Sucie Stevenson.  I checked our “library,” and sure enough, it was in Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble.  Not only that, our son’s name was written on the cover by his first grade teacher.  Ah, the simple days of Henry and Mudge … I had forgotten how much I loved them!  The flower figured in the first chapter, “The Snow Glory.”

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The beginning is balm to the souls of all of us coming out of the deep freeze: “When the snow melted and Spring came, Henry and his big dog Mudge stayed outside all the time.  Henry had missed riding his bike.  Mudge had missed chewing on sticks.  They were glad it was warmer.”

And then they discovered a blue flower.  “‘Can I pick it?'” Henry asked.  ‘Oh, no,’ said his mother.  ‘Let it grow.'”…  Henry couldn’t stop wanting to pick it and imagined putting it in a jar. … “He thought how nice it would be to own that snow glory.”

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Henry finally can’t take it any more and says to Mudge, “‘Now I need it.’  And Mudge wagged his tail, licked Henry’s face, then put his big mouth right over that snow glory … and he ate it.”

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“I said need it, not eat it!”   In the end, Henry can’t stay angry with Mudge. “He knew it wasn’t his snow glory.  He knew it wasn’t anybody’s snow glory.  Just a thing to let grow.  And it was just a thing to let go.  Henry stopped feeling mad.”

The chapter ends, “‘Next time, Mudge,’ … ‘try to listen better.’  Mudge wagged his tail and licked his lips.  One blue petal fell from his mouth into Henry’s hand.  Henry smiled, put it in his pocket, and they went inside.”

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A fitting tale to help me in this mission to figure out what to keep, what to let go, and what to let grow.  What things do we really need to own?

 

Clump #184:  Throw out old Easter candy and give away basket.  Day nine of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge: clearing out our son’s room one clump at a time.

I really can’t remember what year I sent this Easter “basket” to our son at college.  The bunny pasta has an expiration date of 5/08/14, so one of us should eat it up soon.

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So much uneaten-candy … how can it be that I am genetically linked to this guy?  Sadly, at this point, out to the trash it goes.

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In other food news, I made 48 of my turkey, lettuce, cranberry sauce, and mayo sandwiches for an interfaith Lenten service and luncheon held today at our Quaker Meeting.

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If my husband had been around at the time, I knew he would have been singing, “Sandwiches! Sandwiches!”  I chuckled at the thought.  You know you’ve been married a long time when you know each other’s favorite jokes.  And I guess you’re lucky when you enjoy them.  The origin of “Sandwiches!  Sandwiches!” is a play on the song “Savages” from Disney’s Pocahontas.  The movie came out when our kids were young, so we all enjoyed multiple viewings … it was one of the soundtracks of their childhoods.  In the song, both the Native Americans and the English view each other as savages.

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Somehow this theme seemed appropriate for a day when people of many different churches worshiped together.  Too often religions alienate rather than unite us, which has always seemed convoluted.

More than 100 people came together today, worshiped and broke bread.

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This was all the food that was left.  More Sandwiches! next year.

Clump #183:  Clear four items from son’s bedroom.  Day eight of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.

An easy clump, as clumps go.  I had to tell myself that the goal is not always quantity, but consistency — keeping the momentum going. The windshield protector went into a car, the weights into the basement with similar exercise equipment, and the toolbox with other things to save for our son’s collection … it will join the bag ‘o office supplies from yesterday’s clump.

Note to self: get in shape!  Those weights made my arms feel like rubber.

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Each clump seems so small individually …

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but joined with many more, they might really amount to something! (Taking another shot of the ribbon of crocuses today before it disappears.)

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We expect quick results in this super-charged world.  I opened a box of stationery to write an overdue note to a friend, and this quote was on the inside of the box.  It was just what I needed.

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Clump #182:  Sort through two bags in son’s bedroom.

I enjoyed a Skype session with all three of our kids yesterday.  Toward the end of the conversation, when it was just our overseas son and younger daughter, I said, “I don’t have a clump for you to look through right now.”  Our younger daughter said, “There are two small bags near the door [of son's room] that would be easy.”

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Clump #181: Remove trash from son’s bedroom.

So this was obviously an easy and straightforward clump … call it a mini vacation in my 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge.  Our younger daughter kindly — and willingly — devoted some of her college break to shoveling through the accumulated rubble in her brother’s room while he’s studying in Norway for a year.  She left labels on the sorted-out piles. This one made me smile:

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The trash basket on the left, above, was from our son’s college days. The one on the right stayed in his bedroom at home … fascinating, right?  The truth is, that one does have its fascinating aspects.  It was a relic from my husband’s youth.  He says he might have gotten it in middle school, or junior high, as we called it way back then. Little did he know that it would turn out to be a time capsule. Remember the old computer punch cards that couldn’t be folded, spindled, or mutilated?

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When this trash can was made, the war in “Make Love Not War” was the Vietnam war.  And I guess everyone in every time period thinks they are living through “nervous times,” but …

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the phrase: “Draft The White Knight But NOT Me” (below) makes clear that those truly were nervous times for young people.

“Chairman Mao Is A Fink” is so dated in terms of history and linguistics. When did the word “fink” go out of fashion?

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It was the 60’s, man, even the trash cans were radical!

Clump #180:  Send son second list of book titles.  Day five of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge … moving clutter and chi.

The second box of books included 33 titles.  I have a dream that one day this basket will be used for laundry again:

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The journal on top has the quote below on its cover.  Pretty nice to consider while assessing a load of books; we tend to look outside ourselves for wisdom.

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On another note, I’ve mentioned a few times my guilty pleasure of watching The Voice.  Last night my fellow Voice enthusiast neighbor and I went to see former contestant Matthew Schuler perform locally.  He was known as having the fastest four-chair-turn in the history of the show, and his rendition of the song “Hallelujah” made it to the top of the iTunes charts.  The photo below was taken when he sang “Hallelujah” at the show.  Amazing!

Such a fine young man, and great to hear that his experience on the show was positive.  I even got to talk to his parents who were manning the merch table.  I knew them, too, from the show.  They are both ministers and were super nice.  I asked his mother how she handled the experience of her son going through the incredible ride of the show. Her answer was, “I just said, God, have your way … cover him.”  The concert benefited The Peacemaker Center, a non-profit mental health counseling organization.  Bravo Matthew!

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And today I passed a chorus of crocuses on my way to my mom’s.

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It was difficult to adequately capture how gorgeous they were.

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Each little grouping was more beautiful than the next.

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Hallelujah!

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Clump #179:  Send son list of book titles.  Day four of the 30-day, 30-post Bedroom Blast Challenge. Mission: clear out our son’s bedroom before he returns home and deposits more stuff in there.

I sent our son an email listing all 44 titles from the box below so that he can decide what to keep and what to give away.  I added that I would not mind a bit if he wanted to let go of any I had given him.

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Clump #178:  Clear boxes from son’s room and flatten for recycling.

Day three of my Bedroom Blast Challenge, whereby I clear out the accumulation of stuff in our son’s room one clump a day.  The goal is to welcome him home from a year in Europe without following up with: “Now go clean your room.”

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Clump #177: Sort through son’s DVD collection.  Day two of the 30-day Bedroom Blast Challenge.

We split it into three piles: on the left, music performance videos of some of our son’s favorite groups; on the right, regular movies to keep; and the small pile on top to give away (not much).  You might wonder why George Foreman’s LEAN MEAN FAT GRILLING MACHINE is on the musical video pile.  I wondered, too, and our son said he had been considering projecting it in the background during one of his band’s performances.  Oh … of course … I should have guessed!

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Clump #176:  Start Bedroom Blast Challenge; sort out electronics.

This is a post about stuck-ness in various forms.  Some readers might remember the goose with the rotating wardrobe I drive past in Strasburg, PA on visits to my mom.  During the end of winter, and what should have been spring, I had begun to worry about the goose’s clothier … the outfit hadn’t changed in weeks … maybe months?  This photo was taken a week ago, at the beginning of our last (LAST) snow.

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Clump #175:  Get more cyber-storage space and recycle plastic bags.

Good Lord, I am so thoroughly technophobic.  Loyal readers might have noticed a lapse in my clumping and posting, and it’s because I reached the limit of storage space WordPress allows for free.  I’d filled up my allotment of cyber space in the process of freeing up the storage space around our house.

And then I became flummoxed about how to fix the problem … I eventually figured it out, by myself (not whimpering to one of my family members) (well maybe just a bit).  My younger daughter pointed out that this resolution is its own type of clump.

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Clump #174:  Get a clump to Goodwill.

So far I’ve had a good record for using my tickler file.  My strategy: I’ve promised myself I will look inside the day’s folder before I look at anything on the computer.  The two are close to each other, so it has been a cinch … kind of a habit hook.

Today’s folder contained a couple of Christmas carols that my younger daughter had found in a whirlwind of room cleaning.  I know just where to put them!  And, even better, I’ll know just where to find them next December.

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I developed the other part of my strategy on day two, when I skipped looking in the folder because I knew there was nothing inside.  It occurred to me that I need to know there will always be something inside a day’s folder in order to maintain the habit … thus, a second promise.  I will put my to-do list for the next day (using discarded pages from a page-a-day calendar) in its folder the night before, and do it before I turn on the television, pick up something to read, or otherwise chill for the evening … a nightly habit hook bookending the morning one.

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On today’s list was a trip to the Goodwill.  My husband had weeded a bunch of clothes out of his closet , and my younger daughter was galvanized to do the same, adding books and other sundry items …

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including the cage and hamster toys for her dearly departed hamster, Steve.  I had no idea he had a “HAMTRAC.”

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Giving these things away felt good and made walking into her hamster-barren room much easier.  Let’s all imagine Steve enjoying an awesome HAMTRAC in the sky.

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It was a perfect day for spring cleaning and crossing off errands from the list:

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warmer temperatures, bright blue sky, and puffy clouds like bright white linens snapping in the breeze.

Clump #173: Finish “do” tasks; take down red outdoor decorations.

I might just have to post a running tally like the industrial “__ Days without an Accident” signs to keep track of the number of successive days I have checked the tickler files pictured yesterday.  I can crow that I checked my “Day Eleven” folder this morning.  One Day!

In it was an old bill causing creeping discomfort.  (Radioactive!)  One of those, “I’m-pretty-sure-we-paid-this…” bills, and it turns out we had, but in the onslaught of neglected paper, who could tell for sure?  Well, now I know.  It was a great comfort to speak to someone in the billing office and hear, “You’re all paid up.”  Phew.  I stared down and removed several similar items from the list.

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Driving through Lancaster County today, not only were the farm fields predominantly brown instead of the all-pervasive white, this was the vibrant scene of businesses opening again:

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And then this!  My first flower sighting of the season!

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Hallelujah!  Sunshine to the soul.

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I was inspired to take down our Valentine’s Day wreath featured in an earlier post:

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Also the red ribbon threaded through window boxes before Christmas:

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Soon enough will be spring pansy time here.

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I put up a wreath made of paper roses …

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which I found at a paper shop that was advertising half-off Valentine’s Day merchandise.

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So wonderful to be in an old-fashioned stationery shop.  I’ve noticed we no longer have “stationery” aisles in grocery stores; it’s now “office supplies.”  A significant cultural shift.  I marveled at the shop’s rainbow of snail mail products:

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I’m sure this wreath was meant to adorn an indoor setting, so I sprayed it with a water repellent before putting it out.

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It will proclaim to the world that a Paper Clutter Conquerer lives here!

Clump #172:  Fly through “Do” pile.

I’m experiencing a bit of whiplash right now.  My younger daughter pounced on the “Do” pile today and said, “Let’s just sort this into different sections.”  Three categories presented themselves: items that could be taken care of in the house (phone calls, etc.); items that needed to be taken care of outside the house (errands); and things I needed to send out.

I thought sorting would be a good start, and imagined chipping away at the pile in the coming week or weeks.  But my younger daughter’s energy and perseverance drove me to take care of most of the pile today!  It was like having a personal trainer by my side.

She even tore through tasks I’ve been meaning to get around to for an eternity.  Here she is entering the packing list for our annual week at the lake into Excel.  She wrote up another list for holiday dinners at my mom’s place. Now we won’t forget that one thing … one year a corkscrew, last Thanksgiving a carving knife, etc.

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The mail came in, and we tore through that, too.  I had the perfect file waiting to save instructions on how to handle electronic recycling.  The car registration and sticker went directly out to the … car!  For once, not set aside to fall into the paper void.

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I was amazed at how quickly and easily, with the right attitude (okay, the right helper with the right attitude) things I’ve put off for so long just magically got done.  I had cut this article out of The Philadelphia Inquirer ages ago about volunteers who perform Reiki for cancer patients as a part of Gilda’s Club.  I had been interested in volunteering, and suddenly all the barriers to do so fell away when my daughter found the application and background clearance forms.  I was able to get the criminal check done online, almost instantaneously (“No Record”), and could print out the others.

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We also resurrected a filing system I’d previously failed to keep up.  It’s sort of a tickler file for items that will need attention in the future, and — ideally — keeps them from becoming lost or forgotten.  The file for tomorrow (eleven) holds a paper that’s a “to-call” reminder for an office that was not open today.  Each day of the month has its own folder …

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As do the months of the year, for papers and reminders for the months ahead.  The system is only successful if I consult the the files every day. Will I be able to do it?  We shall see.

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While at the post office I asked if they had any pretty stamps.  The postmaster showed me these flowery ones.  I had to get both:

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The vintage seed packets seemed appropriate on a day when my daughter and I dug in with a host of actions sure to reward us over the coming months.

Clump #171:  FINAL sorting, filing, shredding, and recycling of household paper.

Okay, folks … this is the last call.  All hidden piles of paper secretly stashed away during bouts of insecurity before guests arrive — come out into the light of day!

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This is big … really, really big.  My darling younger daughter (who, you might remember, made this job manageable by sorting through the mammoth paper-glacier on her winter break) is now home for spring break and, fittingly, helped me finish the project.

In an effort to give each piece of paper a home, these were new file folder titles that my papers fell into: How-To; Possible Purchases; Spiritual/Mental First Aid; Travel; and Writing.  I have separate accordion folders for Recipes, Sheet Music, and Instruction Manuals, plus a box in the basement for “Posterity.” (I know, a deferred clump for a future day.)

Once again, the “Do” pile received some more entries.  I won’t need to wonder what to “do” for my next clumps.

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Funny and ironic findings kept us laughing, like the to-do list with “bedroom piles” on the top (not crossed off, I might add) …

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And a book I had ordered from Chinaberry called Clutter Busting.  I even read it, to the end.  I am much more apt to read about a problem than do something about it … until now, that is!

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Another note about the egocentric sense I’ve had that my slow paper-clearing project has been synced with the insufferably long winter we’ve been enduring.  As of yesterday, I am calling that winter finished.  I say this not only because my piles of white have been eradicated or tamed into submission, but because nature is telling me spring is really coming. I drove by a small herd of cattle on the way to see my mom, and they were definitely feisty:

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I couldn’t get a shot of one doing a skip and a hop, which happened several times while I watched.

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I was also hearing lots of birdsong.  The animals know.

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Poor, salt-sprayed roadsides are finally giving way to brown.

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An old gentleman with whom my mom and I dined yesterday started a conversation, in a soft, Georgia accent, with: “Did any of you ladies ever go possum hunting when you were in high school?”  It was that kind of a spriny, spunky day.

Sorry for my (even imagined) part in prolonging this way-long white season.  We might get April-fooled by another snow, but it won’t stand a chance.  The living forces have been stirred, and there’s no turning back. 

Clump #170:  Sort out papers stuck in basket.

So this was the shove-it-all-together basket from last weekend.  Let’s call it my anxiety basket.  Company was coming, I needed to make these things disappear, and I had run out of time to sort them and put them away … my achilles heel habit. On the top, I noticed a business card from a friend who is a professional organizer whose business name is Sorting Things Out.  A little wink from the universe?

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Since then, I caught a bad cold and have been feeling under the weather (which is a feat these days!).  But I gave myself a kick in the pants to bust through the basket.  The biggest pile (left) were all  easily recycled, and next to it, a pile of our address labels ready for shredding and recycling.  The other two piles are for my husband and me to look at and decide what to do with.  Since we are both recovering from colds, this seemed enough for now.  I had broken through.

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Another little wink was the card now on top of “my” pile:

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And briefly, here is today’s update on our endless winter.  Even the snow is trying to form itself into plants and trees:

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And a t-shirt vendor’s warm, bright colors defied the jaws of a snow plow:

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Victory will be ours!

Clump #169:  Another (!) paper pile is cleared.

Yesterday, while preparing to have company for dinner, we found a bunch of  — PAPER  (Dun-dun-dun!)  — needing to be dealt with.  It was almost more than I could bear.  This is precisely the genesis of my paper problem: get ready for company and, in the cleaning process, sweep together excess papers hanging around, shove them into a hidden space (closet, basement, etc.), and vow to get right to the clearing and sorting as soon as my hostess duties are over.  (Yeah, right.)  Thus the cycle: stash and repeat, stash and repeat … I end up with a paper jam the size of which I just conquered in the month of February.

I had diligently kept my blinders on the twenty-eight piles I’d vowed to get rid of, but other paper had weaseled its way into our house.  I was so discouraged after all that paper-work to find myself in the same darn place.

I came home this evening to find my dear husband starting to sort yet another pile:

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Do you remember the song “This is the song that never ends”?  It came on at the end of the television show Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, with Shari Lewis and her puppets.  This is how I feel right now.  (Good Lord, when I googled the song, I saw a youtube video that boasted ten hours of it! Oy!)

I have also been feeling as though there’s a psychic connection to my paper purging and the endless winter we’ve been experiencing this year.  Right now we, and possibly you, are bracing for another big snow.  When will it end?  I thought that instead of a bright color for pigment therapy today, I’d wave the white flag.  Snow on our street looking like threatening waves of ice:

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I’m fighting back the tide with my own whites, magnolia:

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Iris with just enough color:

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Same with a ruffly orchid:

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A flower that reminded me of exploding fireworks:

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And ballet slipper-colored roses:

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My new motto: don’t fight the endless snow (or paper) … grin and bear it.

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Clump #168:  Sort out and file final paper pile — number 28 of 28!

The last of the 28 piles is finally put to bed.  It was one I had feared.  So many articles clipped from newspapers and magazines through the years:

(“The Role of Radical Acceptance” is staring at me from the top.  Its subtitle, “You can’t fix the ones you love, so focus on fixing yourself,” could be the subtitle for this blog.)

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I did toss out a considerable amount I was not as interested in anymore, like the latest diet recommendations that change at least every year:

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The rest I sorted into categories. I was surprised at how happy I was to see many of these, like getting reacquainted with old friends.  I did take the suggestion from a commenter to make a “One-of-a kind” folder, where the birdhouse certificate will reside:

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This pile I didn’t file.  As I’ve said previously, “Action” folders turn out to be the complete opposite.  Better to label such a file: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

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And speaking of labels, I’m going to have to get some more for the folders I assembled.  For the time being, I used post-it notes.  Now when I’m trying to remember an article about the neat place I want to visit someday, I will simply look in the “Travel” folder.  Wow … imagine that!

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Proof of the table cleared and ready for people to use it:

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I turned the calendar page over today, and this was the March message from Thich Nhat Hanh:

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Twenty-eight steps did, actually, produce a miracle for me.  The lotus blossom pictured on the calendar reminds me of photos I took when I was at a garden center last year:

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I was thunderstruck by the sublime beauty …

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in such a commonplace setting.

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Clump #167:  Sort piles 26 and 27 of 28 … almost there!

Yesterday’s post was so long and rambling, I’m condensing the next-to-last two piles into one.  The first contained medical statements and bills; on the right are the ones we’ll keep and, as usual, the bigger pile is the one going to the curb.

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Second pile, for which I could have almost used the same photo, contained paperwork from charitable organizations, and a dash of EZ Pass statements.  Most we shredded and recycled, while a few, detailing gifts, we filed in the appropriate tax folder.

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In both cases, so much was easy to do away with, but each contained just a few items requiring action, or papers about which we would definitely be saying “Where did we put the …” for an immediate need. Now — we know just where they are!

The pigment therapy color for today is red.  Below, my younger daughter at the Montreal Biosphere, spotting her mom at it again with the camera.  She’s the most beautiful flower of all!  (Said with complete objectivity.)

One thing I’ve been noticing about red is that a little goes a long way.

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Like these berries artfully arranged on a shed door:

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Or this red barn roof:

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Sparking up a field of taupe:

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Or white:

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Or white and blue:

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Like the William Carlos Williams poem, The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon 

a red wheel
barrow 

glazed with rain
water 

beside the white
chickens. 

Clump #166:  Sort through pile number 25, another mixed bag.

The following post, and the clump it describes, were yesterday’s work.  I was a little too ambitious in the array of subject matter I wanted to cover.  At the end of the night, I cared too much about what I was writing about to click the “Publish” button without feeling that I had gotten it “right.”  This has been edited down several times, as long as it is.  For something so close to my heart, there probably is no “right-enough.”

Here, below, is today’s pile deconstructed.  I am in the final stretch of my paper pile challenge: 28 piles in 28 days, and I have a confession.  Many days during this month I have been tired, time-starved, or both.  I’d pick and choose amongst the piles and say to myself, ‘Oh, I can’t do that one today’ … or, ‘No, certainly not that one!’ … but the jig is up.  It’s “heartbreak hill” in the Boston Marathon for me.  I only have the difficult piles left.

Two revelations came to me this morning.  First, the papers from yesterday’s post had been unusually difficult to get through, and it wasn’t until today that I realized that the solution was in the very quote I had posted from Oprah Magazine, about assigning everything its own home.  I found the papers difficult because they didn’t have homes.  Many items are things I should file, but they would be the only item in the file.

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For instance, a certificate of authenticity for a bird house made of recycled parts from the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May NJ, as well as an article about the man who crafted it.  I want to save it … but where?  I don’t want to set up a file for bird house, or certificates, or even miscellaneous.  So a small sub-pile is forming with other such items, with the hope that larger categories will become obvious by the time I finish.

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The second revelation involves the actress and singer, Elaine Stritch.  Stay with me.  She was in a dream I had this morning.  In it, I wanted to tell her how much her role in Stephen Sondheim’s Company meant to me, and later the dream involved my searching online for a particular video clip of her.  I woke up wondering what the dream might mean.  I might have let it go, but in my paper purging I came across the article below in The Wall Street Journal Magazine.  She was one of several guest columnists writing their  definitions of Love.  And there was Miss Piggy, too, writing, primarily, about her love for Kermit The Frog, who I featured in yesterday’s post.  It seemed like a sign.

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A little backstory.  When my sisters and I were young and wanting to get our ears pierced, my mother’s cousin Sally decreed that when each of us turned sixteen, we would get to visit with her in New York City and have the deed done.  It was our own coming of age tradition.  Cousin Sally was a psychiatrist who lived well, and she treated us to tickets to the best shows and meals at fine restaurants for our weekend.  She also gave us each our first set of earrings, made with our birthstones.  When my turn came, the show she took me to was Company.  We even made a skirt for the occasion, below, which will serve as today’s pigment therapy:

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My mom was horrified when I came home and she saw the skirt.  “She cut up Aunt Jenny’s pillows!!  To make a mini skirt!!  I can’t believe it!!”  Indeed, Cousin Sally had cut up her mother’s beautiful crazy quilt pillow covers to make the skirt.  I will never forget walking into that Broadway theater and feeling as though everyone was looking at the coolest skirt in the world.  Aunt Jenny’s gorgeous antique fabrics were at once perfect for those hippy-dippy days, and elegant, too.  Here’s the back:

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My bright pink stitches along side my Great Aunt’s:

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The fabrics are incredible, though through the years some have deteriorated beyond repair.

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I would love to have seen the original garments from which the pieces were salvaged.

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In the spirit of Cousin Sally, I let my two daughters wear the skirt when they were teenagers, allowing it a little extra life and fun.

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Company was a revelation to me.  I had never seen anything like it … funny, poignant, profound, slaying social conventions, cutting to the bone … brilliant.  At intermission, Cousin Sally’s brother, a Catholic priest, expressed his heated disapproval that Sally was exposing me to such dicey material.   When I went home I immediately bought the soundtrack album, played it incessantly, and told my sisters what happened in every scene.   I was nuts about it.

So, back to Elaine Stritch and the meaning of the dream.  She played a cynical, hard-bitten woman named Joanne in the show.  The video I was trying to find in my dream was a seven minute clip of a documentary made about the recording of the soundtrack.  I couldn’t believe the struggle she went through recording the song, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”  She was performing the song on Broadway, for heaven’s sake, and the director of the soundtrack recording says, “Okay, once more from the top, sung, please.”  She says while watching the film, of the experience, “I know they’re right, and I can’t do it, and it’s breaking my heart; but not my spirit.  You cannot quit …”  It is heartbreaking to watch.  I dare you.  But it has a happy ending.  She comes back the next morning, “matinee day,” coiffed and in make up, and just nails the song I heard and played a trillion times.  She looks the part … like one of the ladies who lunch, who can skewer the other ladies who lunch.  As superficial a change as it was, I suspect the spiffed-up look made a difference.

I needed to remember the indomitable spirit of a fighter who does not give up when the going gets tough.  Also, I have been wondering about what I want to get from all this de-clumping.  I don’t expect perfection.  I will never be that (much more crazy quilt than orderly blocks). But the seemingly superficial aspects of the organization of our home seep into our consciousness, affect our sense of self-worth and the role we play in the world and in life.

Clump #165:  Shred, recycle and file assorted papers.  Only four piles to go!

The daily paper clump was served with tea today.  (Tea and clumpet?) It was a pile of ornery things that hadn’t fit into one category … must have been put together by our cat.

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I got around to reading the latest Oprah Magazine which, fittingly, was their “annual guide to clearing some space in your head, your heart, your sock drawer.”  I admit to a high degree of skepticism about such articles (as often as I buy and read them), since they usually contain little more than spiffy new things in which to store your clutter. But, I have to say, these “New Rules of De-Cluttering” made sense.

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Here’s an example, Rule Number 10:

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Inspired by the Oprah magazine and my green tea, above, I’m devoting another segment of pigment therapy to the color of growth: green!

Even when everything else is dying back, brilliant green moss carries on:

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Where might you guess I took the photo below?  If you guessed New York City, you’d be right.  Lovely that the leaves of the forget-me-nots are heart shaped.

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Incredible, the tiny buds that grow so large …

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For maximum sun collection …

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And in amazing variety:

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In honor of our son in Norway, a Nordic god from a Montreal Botanical Garden display, whose fine antlers seem to join with the branches of the green, green trees:

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After compiling these photos, the song of the day was suddenly obvious: “It’s Not So Easy Being Green” by Kermit The Frog.  Ah, it gets me every time.

But green’s the color of Spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean, or important

Like a mountain, or tall like a tree …

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