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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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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 CD’s 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 …

Clump #164:  Clear away pile number 23, life insurance paperwork.

Some wives present dessert after dinner; this evening I served my husband a clump of life insurance paperwork.  Lucky guy! Below, left: recycle; right: recycle and shred.  A smaller pile, filed.

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Even if the grass, plants, and trees are not green yet, stores are pushing the color like Christmas decorations in October.  Both silly:

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And sweet:

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Who am I to resist?  The pigment therapy color for today is great, glorious green!

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A trio of photos of green growing things forming passageways …

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through which a few people I love walked …

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we’re moving toward the green!

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I heard a familiar song on the radio yesterday, The Eagles’ “Already Gone.”  These lyrics suddenly jumped out at me:

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains 
And we never even know we have the key 

I made a connection to our self-inflicted paper jam.  The reality of finally setting ourselves free has not fully sunken in.  We’ve had the keys all along. But, soon..

I will sing this victory song
Woo-hoo-hoo, my, my woo-hoo-hoo

I often listen to WXPN, 88.5 FM.  For any music lovers out there, the station has been offering a free download a day “To get you through the cruelest month of February … twenty stellar studio session performances.” Tomorrow, Monday, February 24 — one day only — all twenty will be available to download.  They will disappear at midnight on February 28 … just like my paper piles!

Clump #163:  Clear pile of bank-related paperwork.

One more pile given the drill of shred, recycle, or file.  I’m beginning to think this will be a lost art not too long from now, when we’ll handle every transaction online.  Remember when we all received copies of cancelled checks?

(Ancient yellow dish made years ago by our younger daughter, helping to enliven yet another photo of a pile of paper.  I’m trying!)

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Newsflash:  Spring was in the air and on the front doors of Strasburg today, inspiring the color yellow as the pigment for this post.  Even the Easter Bunny came out to play.

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The town of Strasburg was abuzz with a Mud Sale.  I can’t provide first hand information about it; by the time I got there it was over.  My favorite bakery, OCB, had made creative cakes for the occasion (the answer to the cake question was a resounding “Yes!” with all the melting snow):

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Outside, I heard one of the many Amish horse and buggies coming up behind me.  I was hesitant to invade their privacy with my camera, but I thought, I’ll just hold my iPhone up and snap it when it passes me. Below, a picture of an Amish buggy without taking a picture of an Amish buggy:

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And now for the yellow, in honor of the glorious sun and memories of seasons filled with natural color.

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We are currently enjoying wonderful warmer temperatures …

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And trying to ignore predictions of colder ones next week, even of more snow … deny – deny – deny!

(“Yellow” photos above and below taken last fall.)

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The almost arrogantly regal bird of paradise from Longwood Gardens‘ conservatory a month ago:

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Also from Longwood, a reminder of what will be blossoming in our landscape soon:

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And an accompanying song for the color, “Here Comes The Sun,” by the Beatles.  No truer words:

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say … it’s all right

Clump #162:  Elevate remaining paper piles; clear and file financial statements.

A quick recap: this was — just part — of the massive paper problem I’ve been chipping away at after our younger daughter threw me a lifeline and sorted everything into specific sub-categories back in January. I was still drowning in paper, but holding on for dear life.

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We needed to clear out the above bedroom for guests,  so I transported the piles to the infamous study floor, too often the site of clutter relocation.  Thus began my 28-day-28-pile challenge on February 1st.

Since then, our cat Pumpkin has been entertaining herself by batting around papers and mixing up the piles when she’s not napping.

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Today I took a big step.  No more papers on the floor.  I have eight days left in the challenge, so I re-sorted eight piles and put them on the kitchen table.  How civilized … they’re ready for tea!

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Then my husband and I cleared one pile, which consisted of financial statements.  Filed most, shredded and recycled the rest.

For the daily dose of color, I draw again on photos I took in Chicago while visiting my older daughter.  We were in a huge Whole Foods Market my daughter described as “like a cruise ship.”  I know other people visiting a great city might take photos of the tourist sites (not a supermarket) and further, wouldn’t choose a destination much, much colder and windier than home for a winter vacation. I guess I am not like most people!

I took these photos of funny napkins.  This is especially appropriate for today, since I feel like I am finally seeing the light.  We are actually about to be freed from our impacted paper problem.  I can see it now … it’s a dream come true!

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This set also spoke to me.  My life.

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We took way more taxis than I ever have in my life (see punishing weather, above).  In one, I happened to focus on the rate chart in front of me and noticed that the “Vomit Clean-up Fee” is fifty dollars.  I remember thinking, well, fair enough.  And then I wondered how much I would have if I had been paid fifty dollars for every time I performed vomit clean-up.  Maybe enough to take a vacation on an actual cruise ship.  Give birth, change diapers, clean vomit … quite a job description.

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Okay, enough nauseating talk!  Let us cleanse the palate with the daily color palette.

Here is the supermarket, with a multitude of hues:

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Roses and eucalyptus, love that grey and pink:

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A striking arrangement at a coffee shop in the area:

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Tulip heaven:

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Back home, this was the white, foggy world of — melting — snow this morning …

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And the same general scene this evening.  It’s working!  Thinking color is bringing it to our white world!

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Finally, today’s “song” of the day is “Rapper’s Delight” with Brian Williams and Lester Holt on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.  I can’t imagine how many intern-hours were spent to accomplish this … enjoy!

Clump #161:  Papers relating to my parents.

Second day of sad paper sorting.  The handling of clutter from a deceased parent is a chore that carries an added heaviness.  If not for the artificial self-imposed deadline of this project, it would be a task I’d procrastinate forever.  As it turned out, as weighty as it seemed, it was a relatively simple job.  Upon closer examination, I realized these were papers my younger sister had advised me to shred.

The pile in the photo is illuminated by a pair of lanterns I saved when clearing out my father’s possessions after his death.  I don’t know how long he had them, but when I turned them on, the batteries still held their charge.  So like my dad: practical, steadfast, always prepared, keeping us safe.  They’ve sat in a closet for the year and a half since I took them over, but when we recently lost power for almost three days, I grabbed them and the batteries still worked.  And they kept on working for the duration of the three days … and again for this photo.  Papers can go; lanterns will stay.

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A — fortunately rare — danger of clutter build-up.  I cut out this comic, probably many years ago, meaning to give it to my dad.  Now that I’ve unearthed it, he is no longer here.  He certainly wouldn’t have worn a tee shirt with such a boastful slogan, but the caption reflected his strong analytical side:

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And the pigment therapy color of the day is … Purple.

Crocuses last spring on the way to a visit with my mom …

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mainly purple and lavender …

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planted in front of a miniature golf course, in a long block of color:

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From a trip last summer to the Montreal Biosphere:

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Our common iris, jewel-like in a spring rain:

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Purple and red tulips in Manhattan ostracizing a lonely yellow blossom:

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Time to wrap up with another song selection.  Something that touched me this week: Italian skater, Carolina Kostner’s elegantly beautiful prayer on skates to “Ave Maria.” Apparently Ms. Kostner came back to skating after a difficult time “to show her love of skating,” according to commentator Scott Hamilton.  She won the Olympic bronze medal, but if they had given out a medal for sheer artistry, she would have won gold.

Clump #160:  Sort and file documents from parents’ lawyer.

This is why I am dedicating a week to color therapy: below, another stop sign Mother Nature blew through.  Stop — now!  We must remember that color in the landscape will return, must return … return … please!!

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It was just as grim inside as I tackled a pile of papers from the lawyer handling details of our parents’ estate.  I had to lighten up the photo with this book by Pharrell Williams.

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I first became aware of Pharrell Williams when he was an adviser to Usher on The Voice.  I really liked his attitude and style.  Little did I know, he’s a creative genius.  From an article by Mary Kaye Schilling in Fast Company magazine, I learned he’s a “musician; music producer; philanthropist; fashion designer; media mogul; author; furniture designer; jewelry designer; fine artist; textile manufacturer; tech star; gearhead; architect.”  She writes, “Williams’s productivity is remarkable, but perhaps more impressive is his humility.  In the two hours we are together, he takes credit for … nothing.”

Pharrell Williams might just be the coolest human on the planet.  Now his fame has exploded with his involvement in the songs Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke), Get Lucky (Daft Punk), and Happy from Despicable Me 2.  In honor of the pink book (a splurge for me, even with a good coupon — but worth it), I give my fellow color-starved winter warriors … pink:

This photo was taken in New York’s Finger Lakes region where my mother’s father lived (remember green greens?):

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Bleeding hearts (how can you not love them), in Lancaster County, PA :

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Another Strasburg, PA scene:

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Pink roses set off by Pennsylvania barn gray:

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A voluptuous Japanese Tree Peony cherished with my mom last spring:

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Let’s all Think Pink!  (From last year’s Philadelphia Flower Show):

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In keeping with the song-a-day with color theme, here is Pharrell Williams’s video of his song Happy from the movie Despicable Me 2, a nominee for the Best Original Song Oscar, by the way.  If you don’t feel happy while watching the video, you should see a trained medical professional.

Here come bad news, talking this and that
Yeah, give me all you got, don’t hold back
Yeah, well I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine
Yeah, no offense to you, don’t waste your time
Here’s why

Because I’m happy…

Clump #159: Clear pile number 18, receipts … and shred.

Today’s pile was tedious, but most of it could just be shredded, shredded, shredded.  I do have a few good habits, and one is putting all my Christmas receipts into a big envelope.  This one was from 2012, so if it ain’t broke, and it’s over a year old, we won’t need the receipt.  There were exactly four pieces of paper in this pile worth saving: the type of receipts we would normally tear the house apart to find.  Big step forward!

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As for the third installment of my week-long pigment therapy for the winter blahs … some of you might remember months ago I posted photos of a floral shop I walked by one night in Chicago.  It seemed magical, and I was entranced.  Here are two photos from back then:

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The store was called New Leaf.

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This winter I was back in Chicago visiting our older daughter and, cheapskate that I am, got a great hotel price on Expedia.  It was one of those steeply discounted deals where you pick the general area you want to stay, and you don’t find out the hotel name until you pay.  I took the gamble, and was very pleased with the resulting hotel and location, especially for the price.

Here’s the amazing part.  Below was the view from my hotel window.  The lit up store is none other than New Leaf.  Chills!

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Since I was right next door, I was actually able to stop by and go inside!

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It was just as magical in daylight.

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Oh, rich and gorgeous color!

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Blossoms from a warmer land.

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Wickedly frigid Chicago became tolerable in this plant paradise.

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I realized that I have included a song every day with the color infusion posting.  In yesterday’s pile I uncovered many notes to myself, and I’d undoubtably jotted this one down upon hearing the song It Goes As It Goes, from the movie Norma Rae, on the radio.

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I looked it up today, and what a beautiful song it is.  From 1979, written by David Shire  and Norman Gimble, and sung by Jennifer Warnes (not Warrens, as I had scribbled).  The song won the Oscar that year.

I was moved to think of this Clump A Day project like the flow described in the lyrics, below.  What we keep and appreciate gets better, while what holds us back gets gone.

So it goes like it goes
and the river flows
and time it rolls right on
and maybe whats good
gets a little bit better
and maybe what’s bad gets gone.

Clump #158:  Clear pile of sentimental mementos.

Whoa!  This was a tough one.  Trying to thin down today’s pile of papers was heart-wrenching.  Photos, programs from important events, special cards:

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Of course, there were also little slips of inspiration and life advice I had cut out.  This one, from a long-forgotten magazine, seemed especially appropriate for the task at hand:

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In ten years, will I still want this photo of myself at a taping of Let’s Make A Deal?  Will my children’s children be interested in seeing how goofy I looked in a referee’s uniform, blowing a whistle?  Possibly.

(Like much of the show, which is controlled by the producers, looks are deceiving.  The photo was taken in front of a green screen.  It was a blast, even still!)

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Below are the keepables.  One pile of photos and one of other special papers.  On top, a photo of our daughter and son when they went out for Halloween as Brother and Sister Bear from the Berenstain Bears book series.  There are no words for how much I love this picture.  Our son might be an illustration for “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Halloween.”  I also couldn’t part with our younger daughter’s old YMCA ID card on which she looks like a porcelain doll.

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And now for the daily dose of color … orange.  From Longwood Gardens this fall:

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And from the conservatory this winter, inside:

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As much as I love the exotic flowers at Longwood, any grocery store contains an infusion of radiant flowers:

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And other gorgeous plants, like these leeks dripping over carrots:

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And beautiful peppers:

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Great song heard today on the radio (WXPN, 88.5): Valentine’s Day Is Over by Billy Bragg.  Couldn’t get enough of the Cockney (?) accent, the raw emotion, the horn section, and these lyrics:

Thank you for the things you bought me thank you for the card
Thank you for the things you taught me when you hit me hard
That love between two people must be based on understanding
Until that’s true you’ll find your things
All stacked out on the landing, surprise, surprise

Love is really the thing to cherish, not the things.

Clump #157:  Clear pile of medical expense paperwork; cook rice for 35.

Okay, another victory against the white blight in our house today.  Clearly, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt up to tackling a stack of health expense statements:

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I shredded anything from before 2012, then filed, in chronological order, anything after.  I don’t think a single 2013 statement had reached the folder until today:

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I was in the midst of this boring, but strangely satisfying job, when I heard  Unworthy, by Cheryl Wheeler.  The comic song consists of a litany of  guilty “shoulds,” and the conclusion that “I’m unworthy.”  Priceless.

The song certainly captured my mental state for much of the day.  I had signed on to provide rice for 30-35 people as a part of a Salvation Army dinner coordinated by a member of our Quaker Meeting.  And then the reality hit me.  You can easily ruin rice … so often either too crunchy or a gluey mess.  And that’s in normal quantities. I spent way too much time Googling “rice for a crowd” and other similar prompts.

I ended up with this recipe for fool-proof oven-baked brown rice from a blog called One Good Thing by Jillee.  I made myself crazy worrying about whether it would work as well with aluminum foil pans.  And would cooking three pans at one time throw it off?  I had neither the time nor the nine cups of rice to start over again.  In short, I was feeling unworthy to the task.  But it turned out perfectly!  I would highly recommend the method.  One good thing, indeed!

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I promised yesterday to post color-infused pictures to combat winter and paper white-fatigue.

At another three hour watercolor class at Longwood Gardens today, I was immersed in the mixing of colors … and felt like a blooming idiot (unworthiness strikes again).  I will not post photos of those colors, but of flowers from a recent visit to Longwood’s conservatory:

A selection of purpley-pink and green.  How’s this for color?

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Hibiscus, the ultimate “come-hither” siren of the plant world:

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Less crass, the lovely lily:

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I couldn’t get over the leaves on/near this anthurium, looking like shadows, or imitations, of other leaves:

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Longwood Gardens holds an “Orchid Extravaganza” every year at this time, but we were a little early for the extravaganza.  These were from their every day collection:

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Ordinary orchids?  I think not.

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Extravagantly worthy.

Clump #156: Clear pile number 15 of 28 for each day in February.

This was a pile my husband and I needed to look through together: documents from utility companies.  Like going to the dentist, but less fun.

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My husband looked through water, electric, and gas paperwork to see if there were any big usage spikes.  Three piles remained: shred, recycle, and a few: “investigate this issue.”

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So much paper, like the many flakes of so much snow outside (sorry to be a broken record), which is still falling as I write.

I was photographing the tree below with cotton-ball-like clumps of snow on its branches recently and felt a sense of deja vu …

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I looked through pictures taken last spring and found a photo of the same tree: a diva dogwood who will only appear in white.

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Revisiting spring photos inspired me — I will dedicate the next week to colorful photos.  I am sick of this steady diet of white papers and white landscapes.  Pigment therapy stat!

Clump # 155:  Clear away small pile number 14 of 28; activate Lumosity gift.

Four pieces of paper does not quite fit the definition of a pile.  I admit, I consciously chose an extra-small clump for today.  Here I am at the half-way mark of February, and I’m hitting a wall: tired and uninspired.

The “pile” was a few papers related to gifts we received.  The only one needing action was a gift subscription to Lumosity, the brain training and game site, given to me by my older sister.  It was from 2011.  Yikes.  One of countless things I’ve meant to do … someday.

I was sorely tempted to put it aside again in something like an “action” folder … for another sometime in the future.  I know all too well that “action” folders are paper graves.  The act of filing makes you feel virtuous, as though you’ve done something.  So (drum roll) I forced myself to actually activate the gift.  It reminded me that I tried to do so in 2011 and couldn’t figure it out.  Too dumb for the brain exercises!

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One cause of brain freeze: this was the arctic world I drove through this morning:

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Beautiful, but dangerous.  Even the street signs obliterated.

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Remember this jaunty goose, kitted out in smart outfits?

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This is what she looked like today:

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Remember the hopeful “Think Spring” Snow-maiden?

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Today’s slap-in-the-face to such thoughts:

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This is more like it:

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Thanks very much, but you can stop now.

Clump # 154:  Clear paper pile number 13 of 28; make paper valentines.

Lesson of the day: so easy to tackle paper when it has been pre-sorted. Today’s pile was medical forms pertaining to either our younger daughter (the diligent paper-sorter) or to our cat Pumpkin; both easily filed.   Below, one from 2009 with a photo, and the new “Pumpkin” folder.

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Confession time.  I previously posted about the clearing of our pantry, in all its scintillating detail.  One item I removed from the pantry floor was a box of valentine craft supplies, which had been stuffed in there for about a year. Here we are on Valentine’s Eve, and I cannot for the life of me find that box.  Very disheartening. Pun intended.  I have to remind myself that I’m in transition, and home organization (or lack thereof) might get worse before getting better.  Sigh.

Not to be discouraged, I purchased a pad of construction paper and made simple valentines with one sheet, each, of white and and red paper.  Cut each in half, then folded the red halves and cut out hearts.

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Glue the hearts to the white background, like so …

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And write a very simple poem.  Our family always exchanges hand-made valentines.  Our mom created the tradition that we continue. Simply start out the Roses are Red rhyme, think of something about that person, especially notable in the current year, then come up with a word that Violets are … to rhyme with the word you want at the end. Easier done than said.

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For instance, if your valentine, Mary, has really gotten into yoga this year, you might write, “Roses are Red/ Violets are Ecru/ Our Mary has become/A Yoga Guru.”  The sillier the better.  When I see clusters of people crowding around the valentine card section of stores at this time of year, I always wish I could tell them how easy and personal this method is.  I’m a big purchaser of cards, but somehow a holiday celebrating heart-feelings deserves something from the hand of the sender.  My parents would write a poem to each other that could be a bit clumsy, not great literature, but very touching.  We have so many years of paper hearts that document the big events of our kids’ lives, and it’s a sweet record.

I hope everyone reading is safe, warm, and I guess, if you are reading this, you have power!  Here is my hard-working husband snow-blowing for the second time in a few hours this morning.

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Some friends in snow suits kindly shuffled their way to the front door of a neighbor who hadn’t been shoveled out yet, so that I had a path to get to her door and visit for tea.

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She made it worth my while.

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This planter in her kitchen window seemed to be saying: Spring will return and melt the snow!

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I do not know many sights more welcome on a cold winter day than the one below.  Note the bubbles forming a heart:

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A very warm and happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Clump #153: Change holiday wreaths; shovel out pile number 12 of the twenty-eight pile challenge for February.

Today, while bracing for another big nor’easter, I took our Christmas wreath down …

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And put up the trusty Valentine-ish one I bought for $14.99 at Target ages ago.  I have a distinct memory of my younger, now college aged, daughter welcoming a friend from kindergarten for a play date, and her little friend telling me, “It’s time to take down your Valentine’s Day wreath.”  The rest of the play date didn’t go much better, but I’m happy to report that the friend turned into a very nice young woman.  I, however, remain slow to transition holiday wreaths.

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Today’s pile from the study was an accumulation of junk I had not dealt with after Christmas.

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Most of it consisted of bags and boxes.  Out to the curb you go with the paper documented yesterday.  Health starts here … yes!

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The only items left were Christmas gifts I had bought that needed to be exchanged or returned.  Wow, out of sight, out of mind.  I had completely forgotten about them.

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I have been doing a fair amount of whining over our incessant winter storms this season.  In the spirit of “Love what you’re doing,” I present the photo below.  The car is one I often pass when traveling to Lancaster County. I adore this car.  The snow on it right now just adds to its allure.  Tomorrow it might be buried in the predicted snow-ice storm. By springtime it might be all rust, or much more disintegrated …

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So I’m loving this moment, this day, this winter.

Clump #152:  Pile number eleven of the twenty-eight paper piles in February challenge.

Today’s paper pile was petite.  It was a bunch of papers addressed to our older daughter, who no longer lives with us.  One ancient newsletter, bank rate notice, and tax forms: easily filed or shredded.

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And speaking of shredding, as much as I’ve been marveling at how easy this project is turning out to be (in direct opposition to the dread with which I approached it), the proof is in these bags waiting to be kicked to the curb and picked up by the recycling truck.  Mama Mia!  That’s a lotta shredding!

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In other news, we are so ready to show winter the door.  Another big storm is predicted for tomorrow and Thursday.  Enough!

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I was shopping in a store yesterday and a salesman there said to me, “I fired Mother Nature last week.  She didn’t get the memo!”

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We’re getting a little winter-weather-wacky.  Help!  (Another Strasburg, PA snow creation:)

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Hope you are faring better!

Clump #151:  Purge paper pile number ten of twenty-eight.

Most of pile number ten of my project was easily filed in the 2012 taxes folder.  Why had 2013 been efficiently taken care of, and not the year before?  A mystery we may never solve.

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My younger daughter had sorted a few other items into this pile, and one paper was clipped to an — empty —  legal pad.  YAY!  Easy peasy. Once again, the idea of confronting the chore was worse than the reality.

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I watched the Olympics last night and haven’t been able to stop thinking about something I heard during the women’s figure skating event.  I’m fascinated by the words a coach says to his/her athlete right before they go out on that unpredictable ice, the final bit of mental programming.  When Gracie Gold was about to skate, her coach Frank Carroll said, “Love what you’re doing.”  I was so impressed by the profundity of those words.  I ended up writing down her interpretation of it during the post-skate interview:

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Sportscaster Andrea Joyce: “Frank told you to enjoy your skating, love your skating.  How important is it for you to embrace that?”

Gracie Gold: “Really important.  We’ve been reading Phil Jackson’s book [Eleven Rings The Soul of Success, by Phil Jackson (legendary NBA coach) and Hugh Delehanty] and … when you let go of all the fear, that’s when you find the love — not just sports, but anything in life.”

So often you hear people say, “Do what you love.”  But “Love what you’re doing” makes so much more sense.  It might just be my new mantra.  There are unsavory parts to even dream jobs.  Mundane shopping today was imbued with beauty in that frame of mind.  What’s not to love about this sky?

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Love what you’re doing … letting go of fear and skating through one pile at a time.

Clump #150:  Clear paper pile number nine from floor of study.

It’s the Flippin February Paper Pile Purge.  I’m still plowing through the piles my younger daughter sorted out to help us with our paper-pile-up. And I’m flippin out over another snow coming down over the previous snows and the ice, now like broken glass.

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Today’s paper pile was fairly easy to take care of.  As I document this project day after day, a trend is becoming obvious: I feel the need to apologize for the small size or effort of the day’s clump.  But really, by processing papers on a daily basis, it is … easy.  Will the lesson be solidified by the end of February?

Our clump of magazine subscription invitations and other similar items, before:

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And after, split into shred, recycle, and two papers needing phone calls:

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Another lesson learned today: a clump this size is doable even when one is very, very tired, as I am now.  I went to a three hour watercolor class at Longwood Gardens, and all that mixing of color has worn me out.  I can imagine how lame that sounds … so arduous!  Watercolor painting is something I’ve long wanted to do, and was feeling stressed about the reality of making it happen … and, I guess, not measuring up. My clump-by-clump clearing has given me courage to do what I have previously feared.

Our watercolor teacher follows the method of a man named Michael Wilcox, who wrote the book Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green.  He posits that all the colors an artist needs can be made with six shades, two each, warm and cool, of red, blue, and yellow. Here’s my misshapen color wheel:

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So many great life lessons from a good teacher:  “It’s only paper!” “Stop futzing!”  These in response to students, really the whole class, trying to be too perfect.

Since this is the ninth pile of my month-long paper project, I was reminded of The Beatles, their song, Revolution 9, and the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  I, like many, have a vivid memory of the event.  I was lying on my stomach in front of the television.  My father was saying over and over, “Isn’t that ridiculous!” to all the screaming and carrying on.  I agreed with him, but inside I was screaming and carrying on too!

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It’s hard to believe now how long those haircuts looked to us then.  Revolutionary.

Clump # 149:  Sort and clear paper pile number eight of twenty-eight (only twenty more to go!):

Love was the theme of the day today!  And I’m not just saying that to spice up yet another picture of a pile of paper (well, okay, maybe a little bit).  My younger daughter had sorted the last few piles so specifically (all the Time magazines; The Week; People magazines filed together within the same bigger “magazines” pile) that I can only assume she designated the one my husband and I tackled today as “miscellaneous.” A mixed bag, destined for various file folders.

As usual, we peeled away one shred pile and one recycle pile, below. Little by little, as I/we do this every day, I am losing my-what to-do-with-important-paper-phobia (fear of becoming an adult?).  My husband’s help with this project has been better than roses and chocolates any day.

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I was visiting my mom in Lancaster County, PA today, and I have to report: Love was in the air.  And not just in the unfailingly loving person of my mom.

At almost every visit, I stop at a bakery called OCB Cakes, (Out of the Cake Box), in the town of Strasburg, for a cup of coffee and a few of the delectable treats they offer.  The owners, at this point, feel like family. Like the Cheers bar, they know me by name, what days I usually come in, worry when I’m not there, and ask about my mom. They are the best. This is Joanna:

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Right now she and her husband, Scott, are gearing up for Valentine’s Day.  (So cute: two hearts buttoned together.)

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I am endlessly fascinated by the Amish people who live in that area.  Maybe especially today, coming out of my “terrible” time without electricity.  Which brings me to kind of a love story that is most likely all in my imagination:  I was uncharacteristically late to have lunch with my mom, and stopped at a Wawa for a sandwich, knowing I missed the time for ordering food in her dining room, but wanting to eat with her nonetheless.  Wawa is a revered institution around here, a place for coffee, hoagies, free (no fee) ATM machines, gas, etc. The term convenience store does not really cover how much people love their Wawas.

I noticed a youngish Amish man at one of the touch-screens, ordering lunch, too.  An Amish person at a computer is not something you see every day.  He then asked the person behind the counter where [woman's name] was. The clerk said, “Oh she works at a different location now,” to which the Amish man said, “If you see her, tell her I said ‘Hi’.”

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(Photo, above, not mine.)

Well, I can’t help thinking and wondering about that exchange.  How forbidden was it for him to be patronizing a Wawa?  How often had he visited to know the missing clerk by name?  What were his intentions toward her?  How forbidden is it to have feelings for an “English” (non-Amish) woman?  The questions and unfounded assumptions swimming in my head about this poor man had no end.  Too much People magazine reading, perchance?

One thing about our recent camp-outage: my husband and I were stripped of so many of our usual electronic distractions.  It was a bit of a test of whether we still like each other after all this time and the arrival, nurture, and exodus of three kids.  As my husband and I were walking around in our dark house the other day, holding lanterns, the sound of our next-door neighbor’s generator was buzzing like a lawn mower on continuous idle.  I said “Ah, the [neighbor's last name]‘s generator.”  To which my husband responded, “Yeah, more power to them.”

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Two of the characteristics I’ll always cherish about my beloved: a quick wit and a kind and generous heart.

Clumps #146, 147 & 148:  Clear three piles of paper clutter from study floor.

I’ve been out of communication for three days!  We had a bad ice and freezing rain storm Tuesday night, causing a power outage that lasted until this afternoon, Friday.  It was like living in a snow globe … a beautiful but lonely winter scene.  And here I had made such a big to-do about my Flippin February Paper Pile Purge, wherein I honor my younger daughter’s gift of having sorted all our problem papers into what, miraculously, turned into 28 piles. One for each day in the month of February.

But I did clear the promised three clumps.  I have to resist chastising myself for how small they are.  I’m beginning to realize that this is the point:  small clumps, confronted and cleared every day, make for non-dreadful tasks. What’s more, they actually go away.  Here’s the before:

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And after, what wasn’t shredded or filed ready to go out in the recycling bag (a corner turned!):

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In a recent post about our last big snow storm, I included this photo of river birches, taken from our house:

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Here was the same view Wednesday morning of the poor, stressed trees:

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We were actually quite lucky that our trees didn’t suffer as badly as many in the area.  Even the ones pictured above look much better now.

As heavy as the ice was, it was also beautiful.

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And we were lucky to have a gas stove in the basement to keep us cozy.  I was able to make tea, thank the Lord.  Here is my husband mixing up some hot chocolate for us, with cell phone in hand, one of his must-haves:

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I also had two new good books that, with all the time in the world, I was able to finish, each in a day.  What a luxury.

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My three little clumps were easy to dispatch.  I found I could keep to the program without disturbing a quiet time that I still got to devote to tea and reading by the fire.

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