25 August 2013

Small Accomplishments

I try my best to be productive each summer.  Looking back over the little notebook I keep—an attempt to prevent abject laziness—I'm relieved to say that this year I did manage to achieve more than I reckoned. None of it was very taxing, mind you, but there was still a sense of having accomplished something... beyond the usual brewing/drinking iced tea, that is.

Perhaps my chief accomplishment was having knitted eight socks... none of which matched and all of whom found lovely homes with friends who enjoy the recent mismatch craze in footwear. There were also several days spent poring through things in the cellar and disposing of items I will never use again. A similar trip to the attic resulted in putting out some chairs for passers-by to take.  (They were gone before I even came indoors again!)

Some days were spent reading through an amazing assortment of magazines that had started to stockpile—Teatime, Victora, MaryJane's Farm, and Writers Digest, to name a few. Vanity Fair is another favorite but it's such a commitment to read every article it's almost like having a second job. Still... where else can you learn about the titillating dramas of the Agnelli family, the workings of the Hubble Telescope, what went into designing the new FDR memorial on the East River, and the physics that allowed a man to free base jump his way into the record books... all in the same issue? (Great for someone like me whose attention span has been compared to one of those strip firecrackers.)

I also spent several days sorting through paper.  Lots of paper.  Odd bills, receipts, and various items I'd saved because of course I could never do without them.  (Why do I take a business card from every possible retailer I visit, knowing I will never really use it?) In fact I had quite a collection of business cards for places that don't even exist anymore.  I hesitated over the bin with many of those, feeling I was holding history in my hands. But then common sense won out. There were also old menus, visitor maps, and pre-21st c. tour books to throw away.  I don't own a shreader so there were a few days of aching knuckles from taking papers 4 and 5 at a time and tearing them into tiny pieces. Although for the most part I found the chore quite meditative and mindless.  (It's always lovely to accomplish something whilst being mindless...)

Continuing on with the "less is more" theme—a policy that is usually anathema to me—I was fairly reckless in winnowing out my less-used books for the first time in my life. This was, by far, the most difficult and heart-wrenching of chores, so I tried to make it easier by beginning with the non-fiction books and was relieved that it wasn't as painful as I'd anticipated.  (Let's be honest.... when will I re-read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian Wars?)  There were quite a few volumes that I was able to pass along to friends or colleagues, but most found their way to the library or local donation center for someone else to purchase and enjoy. 

Time was also spent organizing items I'd either collected or made to give to friends and family at Christmas and birthdays. I find it useful to buy or make gifts when I can, regardless of how early it might be in the year. Easy enough to keep them in boxes under the guest room bed and fish them out as needed, and how clever I feel when I have something on hand when a birthday or anniversary is suddenly upon me! But as time passes, I sometimes forget that I have certain items, so once a year I go through the boxes and try to make sense of what's there.  (Who was that for again??) Occasionally I'll realize that something I thought might be nice for one person, is really much better for another. And then there are the times I invariably come across something that might have been intended as a present but which is now something I'd rather keep for myself.  It takes all my will power to slip it back into the box where it belongs for its intended recipient.  

One of my favorite summer chores is saving and washing out all my Quahaug shells—that's clam shells to non-Atlantic Coast folks. I spread them around on the ground by the little pergola and then wear heavy shoes to crackle them into small pieces, making a sweet garden pathway.  I do love the look and sound of them as I make my way through the garden.  An old family friend who lived in the country had a long driveway that was entirely covered in clam shells... the way our car sounded as we rolled up to her door is still a sweet childhood memory and I'm happy to be able to capture a bit of that in my own garden now.

Of course the primary summer chore around the cottage is gardening and there is always plenty of weeding and pruning to do, or simply toting water from the rain barrel to keep everyone hydrated. Alas, there were no perennial newcomers to dig into the beds this year, but I did purchase the usual assortment of annuals for the patio area.  Impatiens,  Petunias, Morning Glory, Moonflower, Lobelia, Sweet Potato vine, as well as all my favorite kitchen herbs—Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, and Sage.  

In amidst this gentle productivity there were days that were entirely idle, meant to accomplish nothing more than feeling at peace:  jaunts to the ocean and watching as waves crashed over the sand and scattered lovely shells and rounded pebbles at our feet; trips to coastal clam shacks to devour chowder and clam cakes and watch seagulls circle overhead with hopeful beady eyes; a family reunion by a shimmering lake in New Hampshire; and a journey to a friend's farm for several days of total isolation, with breathtaking views of the nearby ridge, the peach and apple orchards, and the gardens where we harvested our meals.

There were certainly other tasks I'd hoped to accomplish this summer.... painting more of the interior cottage walls, including the inside of the verandah; firing up the sewing machine and working on a few projects; clearing out more of the attic and cellar.  Alas, it was not to be.  And yet, despite this, the summer was just right.  And that's what matters after all. 

"Just right" is the very best outcome one could desire for pretty much everything I think.


  1. Lovely reading about your summer putterings... I'm doing much of the same now that I am home. I winnowed two bags of similar books to unload somewhere. I like Vanity Fair too, but can't subscribe because it takes up too much time. I reserve my reading for airplanes. My little ritual is to pick up the latest issue just before boarding,and it keeps me occupied during the whole flight no matter how long! I love the advertising just as much. Your shell crunching sounds lovely! We have a gravel drive that may have a similar sound. . .

  2. Gravel and shell paths make such a lovely sound, Jacqueline. I've made pea gravel paths in the rear garden and love to walk there in the mornings. I still have MANY books to go through, but that will be a good winter chore. "Puttering" is my speciality and despite feeling inherently lazy I find one does accomplish a lot over time!