May I Have Fun Too?

Clump #278: Power through bunch of online orders; day six of seven-day holiday kick-in-the-pants challenge.


Here’s a secret: I really don’t like spending a bunch of money all at once, which is part of what most of us have to do at this time of year. Thank goodness for this blog and challenge.  I forced myself to sit down and order some gifts I had been putting off.  In two cases the items were on back-order. Drat!  I have known I wanted them for quite a while.  Why did I wait until peak shopping time?

Don’t be like me!

And speaking of that, I’m still simmering about this advice from Martina McBride in last week’s People magazine.  You’ll notice at the bottom of the page: “Tip No. 1: Plan ahead so you can have fun too!”


So many obnoxious comments flooded my head: “Really?”… “Thank you Captain Obvious”… “Ya Think?” … Sorry to sound snarky, and I’m sure Ms. McBride is a wonderful person and country singer and holiday hostess, but … she might as well have written: “Rewire your brain!”  It’s not so easy for some of us.  And the idea that everyone else is having fun while you are stressing and slaving away sounds sad, but often so true. Thanks for listening.


P.S.  An astute reader of this blog correctly identified the elegant white flower in the previous post as a gardenia (not jasmine). Thank you!  I’m still thinking of (and posting photos from) Longwood, and won’t even guess at the name of the pretty puff flower pictured above.

Reality Check and Dumb Presents

Clump #277: Fifteen minutes of list-checking and strategizing; day five of seven-day holiday pre-crunch challenge.


Today I performed the de-clumper’s equivalent of a douse of cold water to the face: set the timer for fifteen minutes to analyze “the list.”   Confronting my holiday to-do list is now feeling like looking straight at the sun.  Ouch!  Avoid at all costs.  But I did it and feel much, much better.  I don’t mean to scare you, but we’re now in the holiday season … no more smug sense of doing things way early.  It’s time to dive right through.

(As an aside, the photos above and below were taken at Longwood Gardens.  Forgive me, I can’t stop.  Also, If you want to impress a slightly jaded sixteen-year old, tell her/him to smell a jasmine flower, like the one above.  Oooooh!  I wish I had a scratch and sniff app here.)


Speaking of a certain teenager, who I don’t believe reads this blog, I will add a section on “dumb presents I have purchased.” First, a bubble calendar for someone who loves to pop bubble wrap and might have a little problem managing time.  You pop a bubble for every day of the year.  The only question is whether, like eating potato chips, you can stop at one.  I might have to include more bubble wrap to quell that urge. Have you ever seen anything so ridiculous?  Packing bubble wrap in bubble wrap?


Well, maybe more ridiculous might be the gift of soap-on-a-rope I gave to my husband last Christmas, documented in previous posts.  It served its purpose for several hilarious moments.  Now we realize it has an obvious fault line where the rope is, or was.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  And the soap is not very good.  So … sorry, but goodbye.  The soap-on-the-rope is broke.


In conclusion, aim for useful gifts, but, if not, make sure they’re worth their weight in fun.

Bag O’ Barbies

Clump #276: Deliver Barbies to food pantry holiday giveaway; day four of seven-days of holiday to-do list.


Today I got rid of … gave away … a bag full of Barbies to the local food pantry’s annual gift giveaway for people in need. Interestingly, when I went to the register at Toys R Us, the woman who was ringing up my purchase was obviously interested in why I was buying so many Barbies.  I told her that I was donating them to the food pantry’s giveaway, and she said, “Oh, I use that food pantry.”


She tried to allow me to use as many coupons as the register would, well, register.

I’ve heard that Barbies are losing popularity to Monster High dolls, which sound weird, except for their body proportions, which makes Barbie the more unnatural.

Here are some “Fast Facts About Barbie” from the Barbie website:

  • Barbie® doll’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts
  • She is from (fictional) Willows, Wisconsin where she attended High School
  • Barbie® doll’s official birthday is March 9, 1959 – the exact date she was unveiled to the toy industry during New York Toy Fair
  • Barbie® first appeared in the now-famous black-and-white striped swimsuit
  • Barbie® doll’s debut look was polished off with her signature ponytail – a hair style representative of the times (1959)
  • Barbie® doll’s first pet was a horse named Dancer
  • Barbie® doll’s signature color is Barbie™ Pink (PMS 219)
  • Barbie® doll stands 11.5 inches tall
  • The best-selling Barbie® doll ever was 1992 Totally Hair™ doll, with hair from the top of her head to her toes
  • The Holiday Barbie™ Doll continues to be the number one selling Barbie® doll year after year. In 2013 the annual collectible line celebrated its 25th anniversary
  • Barbie® doll has had 150+ inspirational careers
  • Barbie® recently announced she will be celebrating women in business with her new role as entrepreneur
  • Barbie® first broke through the plastic ceiling as a business executive in 1985
  • Barbie® traveled into space in 1965, four years before man walked on the moon
  • Although she has never won an election, Barbie® has run for president 6 times since  1992
  • Barbie® has been a muse to many artists over the past 5+ decades – including Andy Warhol and Peter Max.


I love the fact that her middle name is Millicent.  She traveled to the moon before man, but still hasn’t succeeded in winning a presidential election.  Even with 150 inspirational careers!

Looking Back at NaBloPoMo and the Challenge Ahead

Clump #273: Gift shopping with Giving Tuesday awareness; day one of “finish my holiday to-do list” week.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! (?)  How old were you the last time that song lyric felt true?

I completed the 30-day challenge of National Blog Posting Month the day before yesterday.  It was sometimes exhausting, but ultimately rewarding.  The best part about committing to writing (and for me, clumping) every day was the momentum that developed.  It became not a question of whether, but when.  I began to trust that words would come to me when I needed them.

So with the jingle jangle holiday season upon us, I’ve decided to see whether I can call on that momentum to finish my holiday preparations in a week: between now and December 9th, an artificial deadline designed to give myself some breathing room before the usual crunch time.  Is it possible?  We will see!

Today I did a bunch of shopping and made an effort to honor the spirit of Giving Tuesday.  At Barnes and Noble I looked through a box of suggested children’s books one could purchase to donate to needy children.  I really wasn’t impressed with the selection until I spotted The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  I was not a stellar reader as a child, but I remember having been transfixed by the creativity in this timeless (ha) tale. Sold!


Making a list of ways I gave today seems a bit like asking for a gold star for my efforts, which is counter to true giving.  So I will close the way I opened, with another photo from my recent trip to Longwood Gardens, featuring the color blue …


and the observation that joyful gift giving can chase the blues away.

Canning Some Cookbooks

Clump #261:  Clear pile of old cookbooks from bedroom; day nineteen of National Blog Posting Month.


The theme for today is food.  I yanked a pile of old cookbooks out of our bedroom.  Oh dear, the frantic sweeps and nonsensical pile placements I have made.  Here’s what I found, below.  My husband wanted to keep the bread machine cookbook.  Fair enough. Anything to tempt him to make more of his delectable bread should definitely stay.

I didn’t have the strength to toss the Corny Casserole recipe written in my younger daughter’s younger scrawl.  The homemade cookbook from our babysitting coop is also a sweet relic from the past.

The two piles on the left are cooking magazines to toss in the recycling, and two cookbooks for the Goodwill pile.  Out!


All this attention on food made me look back at photos from the Idea Garden at Longwood Gardens from our visit in September.  Up above, some kind of funky, pink-tie-dye bean.  And below, purple tomatoes,


which, while ripening, looked like apples.


Speaking of purple, have you ever seen the flower of the artichoke?  I’m wondering whether it’s in the same general family as the thistle, pictured a few days ago.


The wild, wonderful colors of nature.


Mouth-wateringly gorgeous.  Bon appetit!

Always Ask Yourself: “Is It A Clump?”

Clump #257:  Resist buying clump; day fifteen of National Blog Posting Month.


Once upon a time, on a lovely late summer day, my husband’s two sisters and I were visiting gorgeous Longwood Gardens, a place impossible to sum up with one photo.  Thus, I’ll intersperse a few of my many to illustrate this story.  (I learned that day that the water lilies are actually growing in pots, concealed by black dye in the water!)


By the time one leaves Longwood Gardens, senses filled with all manner of beauty, an irresistible stop on the way out is the garden’s wonderful gift shop.   While I was purchasing soap and hand cream with an elegant fragrance, the clerk started selling me on the merits of a thick flannel picnic blanket sitting conveniently on the counter.  It had a leather-looking strap and a flap with the Longwood Gardens logo stamped on it (‘Nice souvenir,’ I thought). “It’s waterproof,” said the cashier. (‘How practical.’) “And it’s half off today for members with any purchase,” her trump card. (‘Wow, I’m a member and I’m purchasing something right now!’).


Before I could say, “I’ll take it,” I became aware of my sister-in-law Judy (on the left in the photo below) standing next to me. She was mouthing the word “No!”  I leaned closer to her, and she whispered, “It’s a Clump!” Suddenly the spell was broken. You’re right!  I have any number of blankets and towels at home.  I did not need this one clumping up our linen cabinet or crammed into a drawer.


So today when I asked my husband whether he might want a towel warmer for Christmas, an idea I had warmed up to (sorry), his response was, “What does Judy say?”  My weakness for the idea stems from warm towels given to me in the hospital this year, and the indescribable comfort they imparted.  But I know he and Judy are right.  It would be another piece of clutter on our floor and in our lives.  Even though G. from UT can’t live without it … I guess we can.


So this clump is of the Zen koan variety.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If an item of clutter is not bought, does it qualify as a clump?  I say yes.  I did toss out some actual stuff: a lot of catalogs, including this one.  I’ve been telling myself that I don’t go out shopping and think, ‘I have to go into every store here.’ Same with catalogs.  Just because it was sent to me, I do not have to look through it.  I have been known to call the vendor’s customer service number and ask to be taken off their mailing list.

Admittedly, many catalogs have undeniable entertainment value.  Our son and I got a good laugh at the glove phone below.  He said they should advertise it as a great way to embarrass your kids!


But my favorite catalog photo today was the one below, touting the importance of good sleep during the holidays, thus the need for their mattresses:


And on that note, I’ll wish you a good night and go to bed!

Unworthy Worries

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:


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:


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!


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?


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


Less crass, the lovely lily:


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


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:


Ordinary orchids?  I think not.


Extravagantly worthy.

A Look Back At My Holiday Challenge

My older daughter offered the suggestion that I take a temporary break from my daily clump to reflect upon my holiday challenge.  It was the “No-Sweat November for a Stress-Free December: Operation Enjoy Christmas Challenge.”  (As my son pointed out, a title with the bombastic tone of a segment on The Colbert Report.)  

In short, challenging myself to start on the Christmas to-do list earlier than usual helped me a great deal.  But I was overly optimistic in my visions of a sugar-plum-laden December.  I imagined visiting Longwood Gardens (pictured below) for all their festive holiday events.  Didn’t happen once.  Plays, shows, The Nutcracker Ballet?  Nope.

I did manage a few small victories, which would have been unthinkable in previous years.  I hosted a holiday get together for the neighborhood ladies.  I snuck off to see It’s A Wonderful Life, in a theater, which was, indeed, wonderful.  I took advantage of “Cyber Monday” and got some good deals with free shipping.  I was finally able to order one gift that, for so many years, had eluded my grasp because I would always remember it too late: a plaque with a picture of my father-in-law and some inspiring words my husband wrote on the occasion of his death. For the first time ever (?) friends and family received our Christmas cards before Christmas.


I even had time to have a tee-shirt made for all our Christmas morning revelers.  It was a design we fell in love with this summer in Portland, Maine.  The tee-shirt maker, Ferdinand, made up the sizes I needed, just right for our musical gang.


But Christmas morning was, again, a time of bone-crushing exhaustion. In sad, cynical opposition to the heart-warming coda to How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the exhaustion came even with starting early … it came with wrapping presents in November … it came with getting the cards ordered and written before the 24th …

Yesterday my husband had me watch the season three finale of Louie, the dark comedy by the brilliant comedian, Louis C.K.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It’s a surreal depiction of a parent’s quest to provide the perfect Christmas, and the dreamlike aftermath.


Here is a clip, the doll scene, in which he releases a sob that I experienced viscerally.


And now, just like Louie, all I want to do is sleep.

Just Say Go

Clump #87:  Empty metal filing box … again.

The box, below, was cleared out in a previous clump, but I recently filled it again in a quick-pick-up-and-stash when company was coming. Nature, and this metal mesh box, abhor/s a vacuum.


Comically ironic: two of the items in the pile were a magazine and a newspaper article on transforming clutter in one month!  The magazine article, though very seductive, was disappointing.  It offered a piece of advice for each of 30 days. Day 17 was De-Junk Drawers; Day 19: Paper Purge.  As if!  This was obviously written by an uber-organized person who has no idea what it’s like to struggle with massive clutter build-up.


The newspaper article, written by Lona O’Connor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, was much more useful.  For instance, she wrote, “The on-off switch.  Another component of those piles are matters you won’t make a decision about and therefore don’t handle.  (‘Well, I might go to that convention, so I’ll just hang on to these registration forms for a while.’) Stop.  Think.  Then either register for the convention or throw the darn paperwork out.  Most decision-making is as simple as an on-off switch — yes or no, stay or go — simple alternatives.  What makes it hard is you, adding all those irrelevant ‘maybes’ and ‘what-ifs.’  Make this your mantra: ‘On-off, yes-no, stay or go.’  At least half your decisions will suddenly become simple to make.  Paperwork follows decision-making.”

I said “Go” to most of the things in the box.  I also took the “yes or no” advice and signed up (right away!) for a class I had wanted to take last year at Longwood Gardens.  I had been too slow, not due to “maybes and what-ifs,” just garden variety procrastination.  The class, Fearless Watercolor, had been sold-out before I’d gotten to it.  But not this time.



Longwood Gardens has an indoor plant conservatory which will be beautiful in February.  Maybe by then I will be celebrating better decision making without so much paperwork dogging me.  Here are two pictures from the iphone photography class I took at Longwood this fall:


When I was taking this photo, a woman nearby told me the flower was poisonous.  Seductive yet poisonous, like articles on how to get rid of clutter that become clutter.


Back to the Garden

Clump #45:  Take Shakespeare books to used book store.

I had been really looking forward to today.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.  I’d signed up for a class in iPhone photography at Longwood Gardens, in Kennet Square, PA, a sublimely beautiful place. Afterward  I would bring my parents’ old, complete set of the works of William Shakespeare to a rare/used book dealer in the same area.


I was afraid the class would be too technical for me, but I was fine … until the end, when I felt very, very stupid. And it was not that everyone else was younger — just more tech-savvy. This was a picture I took with back-lighting:


And this is the same photo with an Instagram feature enhancing the colors.  Pretty cool, almost psychedelic.


These are a few simple things I learned before I crashed into dumbland: first, the volume up button on an iPhone can be used as a camera shutter. Wow!  When you tap the camera icon on the screen to take a photo, you often jiggle the phone a little.  The volume up button tends to be more stable.


Maybe everyone knows this?  I didn’t.  When your phone is trying to focus on a couple of areas on the screen (green squares appear), tap the part of the picture you would like it to focus on.


I knew I could get a very subtle grid on my photo screen by tapping Options, then turning Grid on. Our teacher recommended placing subjects on the four intersecting points where the lines meet, in order to add interest in composition.



I spent my time in Longwood Garden’s Idea Garden, meant for home gardeners.  Longwood is known for more elegant areas, with fountains, formal plantings, and an indoor conservatory — all spectacular…


But vegetables are beautiful, too.


After class I went to see the very nice and knowledgeable book dealer. In essence, he said the books were not in very good condition; that he wouldn’t be interested in buying them.  So, though I got a step closer, the clump wasn’t released.  I felt a little personally rejected along with my books.


I think I need to sit at the children’s table, where life is simpler and hopes are renewed.