Signs of Life


a sign

Urgency Day 112

500 Things Item 388: Secretary Desk

  • History: Family piece
  • Value: I think the Antiques Roadshow people would demur
  • Parting Pain: Only in the shipping
  • Un-possessing: A gift

Stop deep breath listen

When you read those words, where did you put the commas? Did you put commas?

Even in the very clutter-free world toward which I am working, there will still be commas. Commas are simply pauses. In fact, I think I will have a few more pauses in the clutter-free world, because I will have more time.

Less time managing my clutter. More time experiencing my life.

Uber-organizer Peter Walsh defines clutter as “anything that gets between you and the life you want to live.” (Natural Healing 3/10. 74) I think this is an enlightening statement.

Clutter is subjective.

I was in my garden yesterday with a young friend who was helping me pull some weeds. He asked what a weed was. I offered him the classic definition: “A weed is anything growing where you don’t want it to grow.” He paused, and– smart six-year-old cookie that he is– he asked, “So if you didn’t want a rose bush right here, it would be a weed?”

“Yes, Luke. Even a rose bush can be a weed.”

We both paused, mid-weed pull, and breathed deeply. Then we both cracked up at breathing so deeply at the exact same time. Six-year olds are great levelers.

The sweet desk I am gifting today has become a weed to me. It is clutter. But, when I offered it to my niece, Laura, she was thrilled. As a newly-minted, first-time home owner, it isn’t clutter to her at all. It’s a sign of starting a new life.

Signs of life. Every scratch, every dent, every nick and scrape on the desk represents a moment of engagement. Even if the engagement was only to catch my mail or store Sam’s music or hold a vase of roses from my garden, there was a purpose. But the desk has long since been replaced as a mail catcher, a music stand, a room brightener. At one time, I was so pleased to have it, and now I am even more pleased to give it to Laura.

I wrote about Laura last year, on this same day, May 5th, Laura’s birthday. Laura is a force of nature who is off right now having adventures, experiencing life. I hope this old desk will brighten her new life. It can’t even hint at the dazzling brightness she has brought to mine.

At one time, this desk held a box of my most beloved pictures. One is a picture of baby Laura, at the beach, delicately handing me a sand crab. But the picture captures the moment just before she places the treasure in my hand. We are paused, forever, in the moment just before. I’ve stared at this picture so often, I can conjure every sound and every smell, and remember experiencing the magic of a small, wondrous life.

Stop, deep breath, listen.

Happy birthday, Laura


The Fourth Force


better than ebay: like-minded friends

Urgency Day 113

500 Things Items 380-87: Star WarsToys

  • History: Lovingly collected; lovingly played forward
  • Value: Priceless (literally in some cases)
  • Parting Pain:Have you seen Toy Story 3? It’s complicated.
  • Un-possessing: Already gifted

May the Fourth Be With You!

Because May 4th is International Star Wars Day! But even more significantly, it’s my mom’s birthday!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Sometimes the Stars align, such as celebrating both my luminous mom and that spectacular movie about a scrappy band of stellar rebels. In case you were unaware, big fan, right here. Big nerdy fan.

But my mom is the coolest mom. She has gamely watched so many years of science fiction movies and TV shows with me and my sister; decades really.  Even now, when she sees Capt. Kirk hanging on through sheer bare-chested grit, we can still get her going with the line, “This is the one where Kirk dies, Mom.”

“Really?!”   “Ohhh, you guys are kidding me!”

You’ve heard it before: The dictionary definition of gullible includes a picture of my mom.

But being gullible is not the same as being unintelligent. Mom is one of the best-read people I know. And remarkably, she constantly marvels at the changes she has seen over the course of her life. We all know people who rue change, who view whatever condition the world was in when they were young as the definitive measure of desirability.  Not mom.

Maybe it’s because she was a nurse and values the wondrous advances in medicine she has witnessed, or it may simply be her transcendent curiosity, but she has never shied away from the next new thing. She wants to understand technology and all the new gadgetry.

Like many grandparents, she will watch her grandson play his various beeping games for hours. “Oh, I just love being with you, honey,” she’ll say. But then you’ll hear her ask him, “How do you move around that video game so fast? I wish I could do that!”

I wish I could do that. I wish I could embody the delight my mom still exudes in the ninth decade of her life. I know she will savor this quote I read yesterday:

“Living on earth may be expensive, but it includes an annual free trip around the Sun.” (anon.)

Happy 84 free stellar trips, Mom!

The Force has always been with you.

my stars

Smart Trees


crouching colleges, hidden ivies

Urgency Day 114

500 Things Items 377-79: Reference Books

  • History: Required reading for efficient applying
  • Value: Gave us some good, insidery strategies
  • Parting Pain: No regrets. Period.
  • Un-possessing: Passing along to the next round of applicants

One time in my high school government class, I used the word “incongruous” in a debate.

Not exactly an A-list word, but one girl raised her hand and demanded to know what it meant and where in the world I had heard it. I defined the word and told her that, well, I read a lot.

If only I’d stopped there.

I went on to say that I also like to consult reference books, such as my trusty thesaurus.

The ensuing howls still ring in my ears. You would have thought I proudly declared that I plagiarize every word I write. “You’re not ALLOWED to use a thesaurus! You end up using words you don’t even know just to sound smart!”

Sounding smart. We won’t have that.

Do you buy it? Reference books just let you “sound smart.” Or maybe they help get you to smart. Or at least smarter. Today, I’m un-possessing the three reference books Sam consulted assiduously during the college admissions process to “apply smart.” Or at least smarter.

By the time you start applying to college in your senior year, so much of the admissions process is already determined. If your grades, scores or intangibles aren’t highly desirable, you have some hard choices to make. Even if they are, you have some hard choices to make.

From the start, I feared we would flounder through the entire process, two steps befuddled at every deadline. Why not, I wondered, apply efficiently? My favorite thing. We did our research and bought three college admissions reference books with

  • Tips!
  • and Time Saving Hints!
  • and Information the Ivies Don’t Want YOU to Have!

And don’t be fooled. College apps. are a family affair. Even if your only job is to cajole encourage, as a parent, you are still involved. As a recently cajoling encouraging parent, here is one of my abiding impressions of this entire exhausting, convoluted process:

When your child is applying to college, you encounter a lot of trees.

  • Trees in the form of paper; oh my sweet lord, paper for everything. Even with electronic submissions. So. Much. Paper.
  • Sure, paper, but also trees as in actual Trees. We met some great trees during this process. Several of the campuses we visited are home to some spectacularly inspiring trees.
  • But don’t miss the forest for the trees. (Interpret as needed.)

I know my darling librarian friends are wondering why on earth we didn’t just use our Award Winning library instead of buying these books. We did. We researched and consulted the amazing reference librarians at Nichols Library: They don’t just sound smart; they are smart. But after we had renewed the books the three-allowed times, it was only August.

August, 2010, when we saw the Red Tree.

And when I still had 384 days before Sam leaves.

Swarthmore's storied Red Tree: Sorry.

Vassar's captivating Sycamore: Oh yes.

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