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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

After:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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But vegetables are beautiful, too.

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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.

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

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