I spent some time on Tuesday reading old stories and blog posts that I wrote years ago, along with other people’s writings on a website I once enjoyed that is no longer active. Maybe it was the damp, chilly feel of a dark November afternoon that put me into this reflective mood, gathering fragments of past selves like autumn leaves fallen from bare branches.
 

Bush with bare branches in front of a brick wall. 

I’ve had similar feelings in the past as winter drew near; but this year they seemed different, more peaceful and natural somehow. Rather than worrying that I had lost my creative spark, moping about the loss of online friends who had found other interests, or trying to force myself to work on current projects, I quietly acknowledged the feelings while knowing that they soon would pass. I didn’t judge the merits of my current writing by comparison with my past efforts, nor did I turn a critical eye on my previous work. All that happened, simply put, was that I spent a little time visiting with myself.

When I started composing this post, I wrote the word “melancholy” in the first paragraph instead of “reflective” to describe these feelings because that was how I thought of them in past years. I suspected they might be unhealthy—perhaps a symptom of seasonal depression? I didn’t know where they came from, what purpose they served, or why they might be showing up at this particular time of year.

Then I edited the post because I don’t believe that anymore. On the contrary, it seems likely that some of the stress I felt in past years was a consequence of not taking enough time to pause and reflect. Because our culture pushes us so hard to be active and productive at all times, it can feel unsettling to step aside from all those to-dos and spend more than a few minutes looking back on past experiences. But now, on these short, dark days when my inner voice speaks of quiet reflection, I trust that it has its reasons.

My husband occasionally buys rubber band balls to put in the desk drawer. When they’re new, the drawer looks neatly organized, with enough rubber bands to last for many years. But they don’t really last that long because as time goes on, the bands start coming off the ball and getting all over the drawer, and the rubber gets hard and brittle.
 

Rubber band ball coming loose and sprawling across the desk drawer. 

Last night I didn’t know what I was going to post for Nurturing Thursday. I started to feel anxious—what if I couldn’t think of anything good? It seemed so much easier last week when I had the post written and scheduled in advance, leaving no uncertainty.

Then I realized that such worries made no sense because a personal blog post is supposed to be a snapshot of where the author is in the present, which means there never can be much certainty. If I wrote everything far in advance like some commercial sites, I would just get bored, and the posts would feel as useless and irrelevant to my actual circumstances as old worn-out rubber band balls!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Various family members (who shall remain unidentified in this post, although I can tell who the culprits are from their shoe sizes) have been leaving shoeboxes and other assorted boxes piled up in a corner of the basement, apparently thinking they might be useful for something one day. Or, more likely, not giving it much thought at all.
 

Stack of shoeboxes in a corner of the basement. 

This odd habit of shoebox-hoarding goes back more than a decade, when we bought Microsoft Encarta every year. My husband put it under the Christmas tree with the other presents for the kids. They didn’t have much interest in opening it, of course, because they already knew what it was. So he started wrapping gifts for the kids in shoeboxes to disguise what was inside. It turned into a game, to see how long they could open presents without picking Encarta.

I got rid of those shoeboxes long ago, after we stopped using them for Christmas presents; but despite my best intentions, more showed up. Because my daughter will soon be moving to an apartment, I’ll leave the boxes there for now, just because I am curious whether she’ll actually use any of them. If I were a gambler, which I am not, I would take heavy odds she never thinks about them while packing, and that stack doesn’t budge in the slightest. After that, they’re going directly in the recycle bin. Shoo, clutter!

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

After saving her money for a while, my daughter is making plans to move out. She decided to take a new job and go back to Cleveland for graduate school after looking into her options for nurse practitioner programs and employer-provided tuition assistance. On Monday, she went shopping and bought furniture for her apartment. Rumor has it that her boyfriend, who also took a new job in Cleveland, has been looking at engagement rings. My husband says that seeing his little girl all grown up is making him feel old!
 

Word art on a background of clouds, saying: The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you're the pilot. - Michael Altshuler 

I am proud of how well she is doing; and although I’ll miss having her nearby, at least her new home is close enough to visit in a day trip. As for feeling old, not so much. At whatever age, there are always more adventures to fly toward and discover!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

In much the same spirit as having a conversation with one’s inner child, I sometimes imagine visiting my younger adult selves. My inner 40-year-old was a bit hard to track down, though, because she had decided to go charging off into battle to right injustice in the world. I finally found her in an imaginary meadow at sunset, with fiery clouds massed on the horizon and shadows lengthening across the muddy path where she was exercising the white horse she planned to ride with the cavalry at dawn.
 

White horse with bridle standing on bare ground, with grass in background.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

Dressed in armor like a Valkyrie, she looked down at me from her lofty perch atop the virtual warhorse and spoke, her tone tinged with impatience. “So, you’re supposed to be a future me, or something like that? Got any tips on what’s going to work best to destroy the evil enemy horde?”

“Well, you—that is, we—successfully organized activists on the Internet and ended up as a board member of a nonprofit organization. But that’s not what I came here to talk about.”

Both horse and rider tossed their heads dismissively and went trotting off without further response. After a quick circle around the field, my younger self returned to stare down at me again. “You don’t look much like a warrior. Except maybe your hands,” she observed, noting the calluses on my palms.

“That’s from rowing, actually. Very peaceful—lots of wildlife along the river, herons and otters; if you went out at dawn you’d see beavers.” I dropped the subject of the river when I saw how bored she looked.

“Uh-huh. Well, I’m pretty busy fighting a war here, you know—lots of strategy to plan and details to work out. So unless you’ve got something of practical use to talk about in the here and now, maybe you should just go back to—when was it you came from, anyway?”

“November 2015, and I have one question for you before I go.” Beyond the meadow, a sliver of moon rose above the darkening hills. An owl hooted as I spoke. “What’s the best plan to win a boxing match?”

The horse stamped a hoof impatiently, and my younger self looked as if she’d have liked to do much the same. “Land a knockout blow,” she said absently, with most of her attention on the horse.

“Wrong. Professional boxers never go into a match planning to get a knockout. They conserve their energy and make sure they’ll have enough endurance to go the distance, if necessary.” Around my feet, the tall, swaying grass whispered secrets in the chilly breeze. “Not wasting resources is how you win a war, too. There’s an old saying that goes something like this—recruits talk of glorious battles, ordinary soldiers talk of strategy, and experienced commanders talk of logistics.”

The horse’s flattened ears and bared teeth mirrored the rider’s annoyance as she answered shortly, “Well, I haven’t got much in the way of resources, in case you hadn’t noticed. The enemy are rich, they control the media, and their hateful propaganda is everywhere. My soldiers are full of zeal for the cause, but they’re mainly just peasants with pitchforks. So I have to throw everything I’ve got into the fight—what other choice is there?”

Not far away, a small stream meandered through the field. Little more than a trickle of dark water in the scant moonlight, the stream looked like it would dry up entirely if a few weeks passed without rain.

“See that stream over there?” I raised a hand to gesture toward it. “Doesn’t look like it has much force, does it? But if you followed it down far enough, you’d find that it goes into a broad, strong river and then to the ocean, because that’s the nature of streams—they always flow downhill. In much the same way, stories obey the law of gravity when they’re flowing into the broader culture. Remember that Curious George storybook where instead of delivering newspapers, George made paper boats?”

Although my younger self evidently had no idea what I was getting at, the deep worry lines that creased her brow softened, just a little, at the mention of a favorite old picture book. The horse looked more relaxed as well, letting out a gusty breath that rose as a pale mist in the cooling air.

“You don’t need to fight for control of the river,” I explained. “Let gravity work for you instead. Anything that won’t fit into modern-day culture, such as a newspaper full of senseless old prejudices, naturally sinks of its own weight. Under the murky water, stuck in the mud, it will rot away while the current moves into the future. And those peasants don’t have to go into battle with pitchforks, but instead can fold tiny paper boats to carry their own stories. True stories of real people’s lives may not seem like much; but you’ll find that when enough of them drift down from the little streams where they began their journey, it’s a huge flotilla.”

Now that it had grown too dark for riding, my younger self slid down from the horse’s back and stood holding the reins. Her voice still held some frustration as she answered me. “Well, okay, maybe you can talk about the course of history and all that, and it might even be true, but real people are hurt and angry right now. They want to fight for justice, and I want to channel that energy to make lasting changes in the world.”

“That’s all right. I’m not saying you shouldn’t.” I gave her an encouraging smile and raised a hand in farewell; now that I had made my point, I was ready to go home. “Just be careful to conserve your energy, and that of your activists as well. It won’t do any good to push them so hard that they start collapsing from stress and exhaustion, you know. And as your future self, I’m the one who has to deal with the health effects of your stress, so I would appreciate a little consideration of the fact that the human body has its limits. Get more rest, have some fun, eat healthier foods.”

“You sound just like Mom,” she muttered, as my imaginary self faded out of her time.

A few days ago, I put on a long-sleeved shirt and brown leather vest that had been sitting at the bottom of a dresser drawer for several years. Although I seemed to have lost interest in wearing them, I was not sure why. They had been a gift from my husband; and as far as I could tell, nothing was wrong with them.
 

Greenish-brown long sleeved shirt with leather vest. 

But as soon as I had them on, they felt all wrong immediately. Although I still wear the same size and these clothes were not actually too tight, they seemed constricting in an emotional way. I felt like I was wearing armor, which reminded me of stress from old attitudes about having to tough things out (as described here). So, because they give me no joy, they are now in a bag for the thrift store, along with my blessing that they will help someone going through tough times.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

The frigid winter two years ago was hard on my roses. Three bushes, weakened by the extreme cold, caught the rosette (also called witch’s broom) virus last summer and died this year. I ordered bare-root replacements and planted them with fresh topsoil and mulch last weekend. Here’s a photo of one:
 

Bare root rose freshly planted. 

Next spring I’ll have three tiny new bushes in the same flowerbed with larger existing ones, which will look peculiar at first; but I expect it won’t be long before they grow big enough that I can’t tell the difference! That’s often how things go. Even if something happens that is bad luck and a nuisance, there’s no reason to get stressed about it because in a year or so, it will all be forgotten.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I had an odd dream Friday morning in which people started wishing each other “Good baby steps!” That meant making slow and steady progress, without time pressure or worries. When I woke up, I realized it was just a dream and our busy, fast paced culture had not really changed. But it left me thinking—what if people really did expect to go through life in a spirit of adventure, with plenty of time to do anything we might want, as if we were babies just learning to walk?
 

Toddler taking steps on a brick walkway.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Instead of rushing to get through our projects, we would see them as fun opportunities to create and explore. We wouldn’t obsess about money and status, but would simply trust that the world was full of abundance and that we’d always have enough to meet our needs. If something didn’t work out, we would pick ourselves right back up again and keep on going, without any self-judging thoughts about failure or whether we should have done better.

If we wanted a toy, we would just think about how to get it, rather than worrying that we might not be good enough to deserve it. And when we got it, we wouldn’t be self-conscious about being happy in the moment. We would feel comfortable with taking breaks when we needed them, napping when we got sleepy, and looking around when a pretty bird or an interesting idea flew by.

Yes, it was just a dream; but I’d like to believe that it gave me a tiny peek into a more joyful future. So I’ll say to all my readers today: Wishing you good baby steps!

I knew I’d have to get around to this one eventually, whether I wanted to or not—the stuff that lurks in the closet under the basement stairs. Christmas stuff is stacked up on the left, there are sports bags including some road race freebies to the right, and my husband’s old boxing gloves and other sports gear are heaped up in front. I have no idea how a mini vacuum cleaner, which hasn’t been used in years, ended up in there.
 

Cluttered closet under the basement stairs. 

Rather than nag my husband to clean up his junk, I’ve been working on other areas of the house and leaving that closet for another day. That day will soon arrive when it’s time to take out the Christmas decorations. I plan to take everything out of the closet, give it a good vacuuming (the mini vacuum might turn out to be useful after all!) and tell my husband that if he wants to keep any of the old sports stuff, it needs to get bagged up neatly in the freebie sports bags.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

The credit for this week’s self-nurturing topic goes to Elizabeth Gilbert. In her bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, there is a scene in which she describes going to a soccer match in Italy and taking notes on a spectator’s colorful cursing because she loves the sound of the Italian language so much. She mentions that there is no good English translation for “che casino,” which literally translates as “what a casino,” but has a meaning closer to “what a mess.”
 

Bright neon casino sign at night.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

After reading that book, sometimes when I realize that I’ve let myself get into a “what a mess” mood, I say out loud “Che casino!” in my best fake Italian accent, dripping with exaggerated pity. That’s almost sure to leave me giggling and take the seriousness out of the situation! Although we all get into bad moods on occasion, humor can be a very effective way of dealing with them.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.