Hope springs eternal - and so do seasonal projects

More than any other time of year, spring is the season for projects.

Gardens need planting. Lawns need mowing. Houses need refurbishing, inside and out. Closets need cleaning. No wonder garden centers, hardware stores, and home-improvement mega-stores hum with activity

on May weekends as shoppers stroll the aisles, busily filling carts and checking off lists.

Birds are clearly not the only ones nesting these days.

Whoever coined the phrase "spring fever" to describe a seasonal laziness got it slightly wrong. "Spring fervor" is more like it - a time of high energy, purpose, and determination. While projects on lists of New Year's resolutions often focus on self-improvement - lose five pounds, read Proust, get organized - spring projects tend to be domestically oriented.

Evidence is everywhere. A friend in Pennsylvania sends an e-mail describing a new brick patio in progress. Another friend in Germany writes enthusiastically about his "Gartenarbeit" - garden work.

And in the suburbs of Boston, building projects are sprouting like crabgrass - everything from new family rooms and bedrooms to decks and garages. A passerby can imagine all the winter evenings these homeowners spent, poring over designs and refining plans. Now their dreams are coming to springtime fruition.

Whatever the season, in fact, projects serve as dream-builders. One post-college friend believed so strongly in the value of projects that she proposed them as a solution for almost any need. Sad? Bored? Lonely? Her advice was always the same: You need a project.

She had a point.

Project is a word filled with promise and purpose. A project offers a reason to get out of bed in the morning or to leave work on time in the evening. It can provide an outlet for creativity. It promotes self-discipline. It has a definable beginning and an imaginable end. It also promises a measure of satisfaction, if only to be able to check it off a list of "Things to do."

Even young children can warm to the possibilities. A former neighbor, another project enthusiast, would regularly put on her best cheerleading voice and say to a group of preschoolers, "Let's do a project!" Young eyes would dance in eager anticipation. Later, young hands would proudly carry home the fruits of their effort, getting an early taste of the satisfaction projects can give.

No wonder school-age children may groan at the word "homework" but listen attentively to an assignment described as a "project." Even so, they can easily underestimate their time. How many parents have burned midnight oil with their offspring, helping to finish a project - a papier-mch volcano, perhaps, or a diorama of Bunker Hill - that is suddenly due tomorrow?

Then again, adults can be guilty of the same misjudgments of time. A new survey in Britain finds that TV home-improvement programs, however useful, come with an unexpected downside. Kim Howells, the minister for consumer affairs, warns that "people are always overreaching themselves. It looks easy on the TV, and they assume the job is not going to take as long as it actually is."

Whatever the ultimate goal, a project needs to be more than just an assignment. To be successful, it must include an element of play - to have a freshness like spring itself.

The poet W.H. Auden describes spring as descending like "a fresh hand with fresh power." The same words could describe the projectmakers of spring, energized with a "fresh hand" and "fresh power" as they roll up their sleeves and go at it.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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