Category Archives: Crazy, wandering thoughts

Perfect House?? Puh-lease.

The other day I was blog hopping and stumbled upon 31 Days to Clean: Having a Martha House the Mary Way.  Curious, I clicked a few links and found out the premise: Following a detailed plan to do some REALLY detailed cleaning in your house, a little every day.

I must admit, I felt a little enthusiastic at first.  I’m picturing my house at the end of the 31 days, gleaming all over, and no trace of cobwebs under the dining room table or pawprints on the living room windows.  I’m hosting a party in late October, and the “new and improved” version of my house would be a pleasure to show off in such a state.

I looked a little closer.  At first thought, this sounded like a really great idea.  I peeked at the calendar like it was the Holy Grail.

Day 3: Dust the top of the refrigerator, cabinets and shelves.  Clean and shine outside of cabinets.  OK, I can do that.

Day 9:  Sweep, vacuum, and mop kitchen floors.  Add some fresh flowers to brighten your day.  Sounds great.

Day 15: Wash bedroom mirrors, walls, and insides of windows.  Wash window treatments.  Dust ceilings.  Huh?  Dust ceilings??

Day 24:  Clean out desk.  Clean out and update files.  Organize office supplies and drawers.  Clean out files?  Can’t I just get another file cabinet??

But it all sounded reasonable, so I started thinking about when I could kick off my house cleaning binge effort.  It was about that time that I realized this plan was a couple-hour-a-day plan.  When was I supposed to do all the stuff I already do every day?  Between buying fresh flowers and dusting ceilings, when was I supposed to do laundry, clean toilets, make beds, cook meals, feed the dog, water the plants, and all the other stuff I try to get to every day but manage to fall short??  The last thing I need is another plan to make me feel even less adequate than I already do.

These steps amounted to about 2 hours a day.  Now, if I cleaned my house for 62 hours – with or without a plan – it would be spotless.  So this idea was a total scam.

As I pondered the mission over a glass of wine for a few minutes, I came up with an alternate plan:  31 Minutes to Clean:  How a Real Woman Gets It All Done.

Anthea Turner, Perfect Housewife.

Supplies needed:  a couple of garbage bags, scented all-purpose cleaner, toilet brush, vacuum cleaner, Swiffer cloths, cleaning wipes, and a scented candle.

Step 1 (5 minutes) – Collect garbage.  Nothing screams neglect like garbage cans that are spilling over.  Empty all the trash cans, and roam through the house checking for garbage.  Pay extra attention to the space behind teenagers’ beds.  This is where they like to hide the trash from the snacks they’re not supposed to be eating in their rooms.

While you’re at it, pick up all the dirty clothes they left on the floor and toss them in a hamper.

Step 2 (5-7 minutes, depending on how many bathrooms you have and the gender of your children) – Splash some scented cleaner in the toilets.  Swish it around and flush.  If you have male children, wipe the areas around the toilet, because they can’t aim.

Step 3 (6 minutes) – Pull the covers up on all beds.  You have about 2 minutes per room for this step, so make ‘em count.  Smooth the covers and place the pillows at the top of the bed.  If you have decorative pillows, toss them on, too.

Step 4 (3 minutes) – Pick up the clutter in the living and dining room.  Keep a few decorative baskets around so you can toss things in and make it look like it’s supposed to be there.  Grab a Swiffer and give the horizontal surfaces a quick wipe.

Step 5 (5 minutes) – Run the vacuum cleaner through the traffic paths.  Make sure you go in one direction so the carpet will stand up in a pattern, and visitors will know you vacuumed.

Step 6 (3 minutes) – Throw dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Rinse the coffee pot.

Step 7 (3 minutes) – Wipe the counters with a scented wipe.  Don’t buy the cheap ones, they leave streaks and cause more work.  I like Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Wipes.  They’re pricey, but they smell good.  And a house that smells good must be clean, right??

Step 8 (5 minutes) – Run a vacuum over tile and wood floors.  Spritz tile with a little scented all-purpose cleaner to make it smell clean.

Step 9 (1 minute) – Light a scented candle.  (Using the same scent will help you pull off the illusion.)  A good scented candle can make up for a lot of neglect.

For those of you inclined to check my math, that’s about 36 minutes.  But you get my point.

Real women don’t have time to do dust ceilings or update files.  We’ve got kids to raise, parents to tend to, meals to cook, and some of us even have jobs.  And helping with homework.  Don’t get me started on the homework.

So take my advice.  Forget about having a perfect house while your kids are little. If there’s no dust under your refrigerator, then you probably missed out on something.

Leaving the Storm Behind

With the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, I’ve made a decision.  This will be the last year I mark this anniversary.  I’m willing to tell the story one last time, as a final catharsis to anyone who still wants to hear it.  Then I’m going to declare it in the past.

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

Katrina is still in our daily vocabulary.  We use her as a reference in time.  We refer to her as an experience that reshaped our lives and our communities.  We blame her for our losses.  We thank her for our renewal.

Putting it in the past is going to be a hard thing to do, for every day I drive past vacant lots where families once lived, and empty houses with broken windows and spray-painted first-responder code still on the front.  But I also drive past gleaming new schools, manicured parks, and thriving communities.  Those who haven’t moved forward with rebuilding have obviously made their decision.

This memorial is across the street from the Convention Center. The inscription to the right reads: Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Photo credit: community.devexpress.com

I’m going to be part of the “new” New Orleans.

I’m going to reflect one last time on this event that changed my life.  I’m going to recall a few details, commit the lessons to my memory, and thank those you saved me when I most needed saving.

One last time.

Talk Nerdy to Me — Part I

They’re irritating and overused.  Like the sound of fingernails of a blackboard, I cringe when I hear them.  We’ve all got a few on our personal lists, but there are a handful that are universally accepted as obnoxious.  Annoying phrases are everywhere.

Source: universecityblog.wordpress.com

I know I’m not the only one who wishes many of these phrases and words would go away.  I know there are others like me out there who long for a return to a more genteel manner of speaking.  (Now, I don’t want to swing to the opposite extreme.  I don’t need to ask my son “with whom he will be going to the movies.”)  But I would embrace the renaissance of a few polite and well-mannered phrases to replace some of the ones I feel just have to go.

The number one offender: “(I/she/he) was like.”  Attention teenagers: this is not a verb phrase.  If you want to describe what someone says, does, or feels, there are verbs for that purpose.  Please learn how to use them.

Fusion words: combining two words, then dropping a syllable or two because you’re too lazy to say the whole thing.  “ ‘Sup?” is the number one offending word in this category, but there are many, many more. “Dja-eat?” (“Did you eat?”)  If the statement or question requires two words, please speak them both.  Having a conversation reduced to a few grunted syllables is just rude and makes you sound like a cave man.

Overuse of the word, “Whatever.”  This non-committal word usually means the responder disagrees with what you’re saying, but doesn’t have the energy or vocabulary to respond appropriately.  Parents, beware.  It does not imply agreement.  It’s a verbal tool teenagers use to stop a conversation.

Interrogative words: What happened to them?  Questions should begin with words like how, may, why, or did.  Raising the pitch at the end of a phrase and inserting a question mark does not constitute a question. (“You went to the store?”)

The dreaded “No offense, but…”  This phrase should just be stricken.  No good can come of anything said after that phrase.  This disclaimer does not give you license to say rude or ugly things, just because you’ve preceded the insult with a feigned politeness.  Using the Southern cousin, “Bless his/her heart” (as in, “My aunt is crazy, bless her heart.”) after a put-down is just as offensive.  Don’t do it.

Now, I realize that language is an evolving entity.  Today’s vernacular is significantly different from that of just a few decades ago.  Therefore — as with all things – this, too, shall pass.  I just hope I live long enough to hear it happen.

For now, if you see me around and want to chat, avoid these phrases. Speak in complete sentences and leave out some of the slang.  Let your language bear some resemblance to the mother tongue we learned in school.  Please talk nerdy to me.

Which phrases make your head spin?  Please share if I’ve left out the one that makes your head spin!

Coming soon: Part 2 – Nerdy words, and how to use them.

Random Acts

I remember the first time I saw the slogan.  I was living in Texas at the time, and was in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding.  We were at the local hangout, and it was plastered on the wall behind the bar:

PRACTICE RANDOM KINDNESS AND SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY.

I was amazed by its simplicity.  I was inspired by its power.  I committed it to memory.

{ Source: OptimisticMinds }

Now, this was the 1980s.  There was no internet to fuel such a concept.  It was a grassroots movement, forced to travel by bumper sticker and magazine article.  By word of mouth.  By deed.  It was slow going.  If it was going to catch on, I was going to have to do my part.

I went back to work the next week and remember being excited by the concept, and sharing it with co-workers.  A few thought it as silly.  A few thought it weird.  A few thought it was as wonderful as I did.

And so began my journey.

Over the years I’ve paid people’s tolls, bought the coffee of the driver behind me in the Starbucks window, bought groceries of the young couple with the baby in the stroller.  I’ve given blankets to a homeless man, and picked up hitchhikers (I don’t do that anymore).  I remember sitting on the side of the road on Christmas Eve with an old lady who had car trouble. (Before cell phones.  You had to get someone to drive to the next exit to make a phone call for you.)  I sprinkled flower seeds in the empty field and watched them bloom.  I cleaned the statue outside my church.  I carried candy around at Christmas and left it in the tube at the bank drive-up with a note.

But mostly I just tried to Be Nice.  To as many people as possible.  A genuine smile, a cheerful hello, a simple “How are you today?”— while making eye contact and waiting for a reply.  Learning to be friendly, learning to listen, learning to care.

Talking about it seems a little strange to me.  One of the points of a Random Act of Kindness has always been that it should be anonymous.  (Touting them here is only for the purpose of explaining the concept.)  When the recipient of one of my Acts tried to thank me, I always asked for the same thing: for them to pay it forward.  To be kind, or generous, or helpful to another.  I had this pyramid scheme in my head that one day, people would go about their business, constantly being nice to one another.  My version of Utopia.

Twenty five years later, I’m trying to keep up the momentum.

Which brings me to 2011.  A few days ago I came across a website called JustBeeGenerous.com.  The concept was familiar: being anonymously generous.  But this added the ability to push the movement forward using a card, explaining the act of generosity, and urging the recipient to pass it on.  I was so excited!

As things now travel at the speed of Google, it took only a short time for the web site to pop up o a friend’s Facebook page and for me to learn that its creator is someone I know, the niece of a dear childhood friend of mine!  I ordered my FREE cards and exchanged emails with her, and am watching the mailbox for my JustBeeGenerous gear.

Her version of the concept added the missing piece – the message of the act, and the request to keep it going.  I’m so proud of this little girl I used to know, for making such a substantial difference to our world.

So, according to one calendar, Monday is Random Acts of Kindness Day.  (According to another calendar it was yesterday.)  Whichever day you choose to recognize, I challenge each of you to join the movement.  Practice Kindness.  Make the world a more beautiful place.

You never know whose life you may change.  Might even be your own.

This day has been brought to you by the Number 1

One:

  • The number of doctor’s appointments I had today, but forgot about.
  • The number of children I forgot to pick up from school.
  • The number of self-indulgent things I did, which did not get anything checked off my     To-Do List.
  • The number of things I actually checked off my To-Do List.
  • The number of times I dropped my phone in water.
  • The number of tomatoes in my garden.
  • The number of wine glasses I’m about to go fetch from the cabinet.

Tomorrow’s another day!

It is Meat and Drink to Me*

As I’ve already professed to the world that I consider myself a Nerd, it will come as no big shock to hear that I love to read.  As a nerdy kid, my social skills were a little lax, so being with 3-dimensional people was sometimes awkward.  Thus began my friendship with the local librarian.  The Wagner Library was about 6 blocks from my house, and (back in the day when you could let a little girl roam about unsupervised) I went there almost every day.

Check out that first edition Bobbsey Twins novel! It's OK to be jealous!

5 was the number of books you were allowed to check out in one day, and 5 was the number of books I went home with most of the time.  Several times a week I’d trot back for more.  After exploring the library and reading different things, I determined that I liked non-fiction best, and after exhausting all the books that “interested” me, I set out to read the entire library.  That proved to be a little ambitious (even for me), so I narrowed my scope down to Sections 920 through 998:  Biographies and History.  And I started reading them in order.

My love affair with reading continued through high school, and when it came time to declare a major, I stumbled on something in the curriculum guide that seemed too good to be true:  A Liberal Arts degree, with concentrations in Literature and History.  I studied Shakespeare, Moliere, and my favorite author– Emerson.  My husband fell in love with me over Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown(He’ll probably deny that, but I know the truth.)  I delved into Russian and European history with zeal, and actually worked as a research assistant on a book called The Artist as Politician, relating the role of art in the politics of 19th century France.

A few of the "Little Kid Favorites" we keep on the shelf. The rest are in boxes (many, many boxes) in storage.

Then something happened.  I had kids.  And the pursuits I loved so much before took a back burner to their pursuits, and I stopped reading.  Well, I didn’t stop altogether.  I just stopped reading books with big words and no illustrations.  I read what they read.  We started with Dr. Seuss, and worked our way up through J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket.  One summer I read the entire Lloyd Alexander series, The Chronicles of Prydain (which I highly recommend!) with The Middle Child.  Reading and sharing it with him gave me great joy, and I vowed I’d start reading again, but it was a promise I didn’t keep.

Then a funny thing happened.  The kids grew up.  And I rediscovered my favorite pastime!  Now I have 20 years of catching up to do, so I’m taking it kind of slow, but I’m proud to say that in the last few months I’ve finished TWO BOOKS!  Actual hardbacks, with no pictures!  The kids had to fend for themselves a couple of times, and I left clothes in the dryer overnight.  But I finished!  (Sounds like a small feat to those without kids and a house and a dog and a mother-in-law, but it’s a huge accomplishment for me!)  So What I Read will become a part of The Lucky Mom’s new world, and I’ll be accountable to my followers to keep it interesting!

(In case you’re interested, the two books, Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox and Tina Fey’s new memoir Bossypants, will be reviewed under the tab at the right, What I Read.

*  *  *  *  *

*“It is meat and drink to me…” — William Shakespeare, As You Like It (1616)

The perils of growing up…

After construction on the tree house began, I had the following conversation with my oldest son (College Boy):

Me:  Hi, honey, how are you?

Him:  Fine, what’s going on at home?

Me:  Dad’s been working on the tree house.

Him:  (Silence)  The WHAT?

Me:  The tree house.  You haven’t heard about that?

Him:  Nooooo. 

Me:  We moved the fort over to the tree, and dad’s adding on to it to make it a real tree house.

Him:  (In a strong, sarcastic voice)  MY WHOLE LIFE I WANTED A TREE HOUSE.  I MOVE AWAY AND Y’ALL ARE BUILDING A TREEHOUSE….  They (his younger brothers) get everything!  I suppose it will have power and a full functioning kitchen…  What else am I missing?????

Me:  (Laughter.)  Well, maybe if you’re nice, they’ll let you in it.

The Great Tree House Project

Phase 1:

It seemed like an easy enough question for a parent to handle.  The kind that gets asked all the time, knowing full well that the answer will be ‘no,’ but gets asked anyway.  “Can we build a tree house?” 

I assumed that without a hesitation my husband would step in and deny the 10-year old’s request, divert his attention to all the cool things we already have, then pick a fight about eating vegetables to ensure the subject was changed for good.  But my ears heard something else.

“Maybe.”  And he stared out of the window into the back yard, eyeing up the oak tree.  That was the beginning of what I have come to call the Great Tree House Project.  The next day the two of them surveyed the back yard, pacing and looking, and making notes in a tablet.  They come inside to give me the synopsis of the new plan:  to move an existing structure in our back yard next to the tree, and add on to it to make it a proper tree  house. 

The existing structure I’m referring to is what we call the “fort” in our back yard.  A decade ago, it was the main part of a big play set that we built when we moved to this house.  It had a center structure, with monkey bars, swings, and (I think) at one time a slide.  Hurricane Katrina did a number on the wings coming off of the fort, leaving only the small center structure.  It gets climbed on occasionally, but for the most part just sits there, reminding me of a time when my kids were younger and our back yard got a lot more action.

Over the next few days, my husband started sketching.  He’d sketch for a while, then walk around the tree and the fort, then sketch some more.  Now, my guy’s a wonderful guy, and an amazing father, but in the 28 years I’ve known him, I’ve never really fancied him an architect.  Or a contractor.  But that was before.  Something in him had either snapped – or awakened.

We collaborated a bit to get an idea of how to proceed, and broke the project up into two phases:  Phase 1 would be to move the fort across the yard to the tree, and Phase 2 would entail the addition of the second floor deck that would wrap around the tree trunk, qualifying the structure as a tree house.  After MUCH discussion about whether the second floor should be enclosed and covered, we decided to call that Phase 3, and reserve our decision for that part until later.

Knowing how little spare time we have these days, we were hoping to get Phase 1 (relocation) done in one weekend, then give ourselves some time (a month or so) to work on the rest.  We made our first haul to Home Depot, and a couple of Saturdays ago, and The Great Tree House Project began.

I was really impressed with our technique for moving the fort across the yard.  Using simple levers and a set of PVC pipes, we lifted it off of the ground and put the “rollers” underneath.  Then using the levers we inched it toward the tree, moving the pipes from back to front as it moved forward.  It’s simplicity was beautiful.  (The mom in me seized the opportunity to remind my kids of the simple machines they’d learned about in school, and to point out that there was a time when all buildings were made this way.)  In less than an hour we’d moved the behemoth across the yard and turned it to nestle in the tree trunk. We were quite pleased with ourselves!

 

Dad immediately got to work on the frame for the upper deck, with the little guy’s help.  Usually, when we’ve got a project to get done, and the kids want to help, we indulge them for a few minutes, then shoo them off so we can get the work moving.  But since it was “his idea” he engaged the little guy fully.  I hovered nearby assisting when needed, but mostly eavesdropping on the two of them in their discussions about what the tree house would become.  I can definitely see this becoming the social hub of my guys’ world – all of them.  They’ve got some grand plans.

Now, I learned some things about my husband that afternoon.  Evidently he always wanted a tree house, but never got one.  (We had one when I was a kid.  My most vivid memory of it is of my brother dropping a hammer on a neighbor kid’s head, and the resulting trip to the emergency room and stitches.  After that, the tree house came down.)  But as I saw him in action I realized he still had some childhood left to live out, and he was ready to do it.

So every spare minute of daylight has been spent working on this thing.  The first weekend we got it moved, and the framing for the upper deck in place.  A couple more trips to Home Depot for supplies, and it’s starting to take shape.

More on Phase 2 soon!

The best laid plans…

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is just what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans.

— John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

Last week was a blur.  The boys had exams, we had elder care issues, and just a generally busy week.  When it came to its end, I pondered how the coming week would be a “break.”  The start of a new grading period at school usually means lighter homework for a few days, the laundry was caught up, the house relatively clean, the weather nice and the universe seemed in harmony.  While I knew it wouldn’t last long, I was looking forward to a comfortable week, and making plans to get ahead on a few things.  God must have laughed.

I’m not really sure why I thought it was going to be an easy week.  Lacrosse practice begins today for the middle son, which complicates things in many ways.  First, the gear required for this sport is bulky, heavy, and smelly.  It can’t be lugged around all day at school, and it smells too bad to leave it in the car.  (For those of you with sons who haven’t yet gone through puberty, get ready for the smell.  It arrives one day like an unexpected houseguest with rotten luggage, and doesn’t leave.  But I digress.)  Practice is not at school, so it requires a drive across town to pick up the player from school and drive him to City Park, where they practice.  Then another pick-up two hours later when practice is over.  We try really hard to work out carpools and reciprocal arrangements with other parents, but I live the farthest away, so there aren’t a lot of options for me.  And since no two families have similar lives any more, it’s really hard to get into a groove with this.  My husband and I juggle the tasks of picking up and hauling gear, but we never really manage to get a system in place until the season is practically over.  We always figure it out, though, and our kids are the better for it.

My little guy is in dress rehearsal this week for the school play.  It’s his first big speaking role, and he’s working really hard on his lines, his cues, and his performance.  This week he has rehearsal every day after school until 6:00 P.M., which makes for really long days for him.  We’re still working on the research project (due next week…) and the regular load of 5th grade homework for a child with dyslexia is a major undertaking without all the add-ons.  (Proud Mom alert:  He did really well on his first-ever exams last week!!)  But I felt confident we could handle it.

My college-boy is coming home this weekend.  He has Fall Break, and is coming in to see his brother’s play.  I’m resisting the urge to have a list of chores ready for him when he gets here, because I know that will cause a further delay in his next visit home.  He will have some big brother duties, as we are planning an adult night out on Saturday.  He’ll be in charge of transportation for the performance that night, as well as the cast party afterwards, but he knows that in advance, so it can’t be used against me.

Knowing what kind of schedule we’d have got me thinking ahead.  I planned a few meals, got out my old friend Crock Pot, and was ready.  Then, Monday morning, I heard the dreaded words, “I don’t feel good.”  The little guy is prone to sore throats, so I don’t overreact when he says he feels bad.  I gave him some Tylenol and got him to school on time.  But by last night he was full-blown sick, with the sore throat, fever and body aches.  The thought of having the flu in the house this early in the season made me want to cry, so I was relieved when his fever came down with more Tylenol.  He fell asleep in his favorite chair, and Dad carried him upstairs to his bed, where we hoped aloud he’s stay for the night.  God laughed again.  He lasted a few hours, and the restlessness that precedes the throwing up started about midnight.  We heard the call, but got to his room about 10 seconds too late.  (Readers without kids or with weak constitutions are warned:  I’m going to talk about puking.)

There’s an interesting dynamic between me and my husband.  We can be stressed out, disagreeing, or in other states of discord, but when one of our kids needs us, we are a terrific team.  We instantly went to work in tandem, without even realizing it.  I started comforting the child, holding his head up, dad grabbed a garbage can and some towels.  Once the episode was over, I stripped the bed, changed pajamas and got clean sheets ready.  Dad got the fun job of cleaning the carpet, which he did without complaint.  In about a half hour, we were ready to try to go back to sleep.  After a few hours, round two ensued — but being better prepared, there was less mess to clean up, and we managed to have our heads back on the pillows after about 15 minutes.

When the 5:30 alarm clock sounded to begin our day, we played our game, “Who’s more pathetic than whom…” to see who’d get cut the slack.  I won.  So I got to sleep for a little longer, while my soul mate started the process of beginning another day.  Instead of attending the leadership workshop that has been on the calendar for months, I’m spending the day serving popsicles to my little guy.  Of course he’s feeling better now, so he’s ready to watch TV and play Wii, while I’m trying to be the responsible adult, and hold my eyes open a little longer.

Having one grown-up son, and one almost grown-up, I don’t get to feel “needed” very often any more.  In fact, about the only time they want me in touching proximity is when they’re sick.  So I think I’ll sit on the couch and share a popsicle with him, and doze off while he watches his favorite episode of Sponge Bob for the millionth time.  I’ll make a few phone calls, rearrange my duties for today, and try to figure out how we’re going to tackle tomorrow.  I’ll do it quietly, though, because I don’t want to make God laugh.