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December 3, 2010
Ah, me: the lovey red wool table runner with 12 matching napkins, which I use only once a year. The green velvet one my daughter gave me, also lovely and a little more practical. The snowy white cutwork tablecloth I bought in Malta. The cream-colored lace placemats that were my mother-in-law's. The Christmas tablecoth my mother made by hand -- she hated sewing, so that was a labor of love if ever there was one. The crocheted tablecoth our exchange student's mother in Bosnia made for her American family. The kitchen towels Dot Varga embroidered -- silly little scenes of girls with umbrellas, of kittens in flower pots. A quilted table cover with geraniums on it, made by a friend I know only online: I'm not sure it was intended to be a tablecover, but it is now, and it's a favorite.

And then there are more ancient linens: antimacassars made by my grandmother, and some by her mother -- they are well over a hundred years sold now. Table scarves. Linen coasters. Piles of unmatched napkins, napkins who once marched in sets of eight or twelve and now live with other stragglers, alone together with their memories. As we prepare to move from the Farm to a much smaller house, what on earth am I going to do with all those napkins?!?

Still, I am excited at the thought of downsizing. Ceding our possessions feels as creative to me now as accumulating them did: here will be freedom, a chance to endow others with treasures they will cherish, an interesting exercise in understranding and embracing limits. It will be a different kind of living, simpler and more modest. And we will get to do it ourselves, rather than leaving it all to further burden the bereaved when we're gone.

I heard on the radio that a team of scientists has found a bacterium that can subsist on arsenic in place of the phosphorus we and the other life forms we know about must have. This would not work for most of us, I realize, but there's something exciting about it: it seems there is more than one way to be a living thing. Things we have considered essential may not be. When space travel was new, we often talked of which planets could support "life as we know it." The phrase was arresting: Well, what about life as we don't know it? I remember wondering back then. Maybe there are other forms of life besides the ones we know. And now, it seems, we've met one.

A radical change may be scary, but it is also thrilling. Maybe all bets aren't off, but some of them are. And anything can happen. .
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