There is a certain sound a knife makes as it is rubbed smoothly and slowly across a sharpening stone. I spent countless hours of my formative years sitting on a webbed lawn chair in my grandparents’ garage, listening to my grandpa talk about anything and everything while he repeatedly sharpened pocket knives, kitchen knives, and lawnmower blades. The quiet but rough woosh always ended with him lifting his hand like a maestro ready to signal an orchestra. Then he repeated the motion until whatever he was honing was deadly sharp.

Grandpa was a stickler for taking care of things. His yard was nothing less than the picture of perfection.  His vehicles were regularly washed; his garden was thoroughly weeded; his paperwork was in impeccable order.

It seemed as though he kept all the plates spinning in life and in business and in farm and in family.


My plates, on the other hand, have a tendency to wobble. There’s always at least one approaching peril, mere moments from crashing and shattering.  Just when I get it back under control, a different area usually decides it must offer some challenge.

It has taken me a long time to figure out that some plates are worth more effort than others.

If you’ve ever watched a performer actually keep a row of plates spinning on their sticks, you know that it sometimes seems like they have too many.  It could also be that they are ignoring some on purpose for dramatic effect.

For me, paperwork is that plate spinning at an impossibly slow speed, all the way at the end of the row. Grading. The intricacies of elder-care and my mother’s never-ending medical papers. Bills. The paperwork plate regularly hits the floor, because spinning it almost never makes me smile. I don’t even like to acknowledge it’s there.

My grandpa would not approve.  He maintained meticulous records about his finances.  He could drop numbers from the morning farm reports without even consulting his notes.

I, on the other hand, have over 20,000 unread emails in the account I use to sign up for everything. I don’t care to delete them.  I only go swimming in that account when I want shipping confirmation or to check the status of an electronic hold at the library.

I am spending Saturday at a chess tournament with my youngest, tucked away in a quiet corner, blogging and grading all day long.

But entering those scores… well… I’m going to say the actual grading was enough attention for that plate for the time being.  It won’t crash until the end of the week.