Saturday, March 4, 2017

Silver Linings

Yesterday was as ordinary as an early March day can get. After unseasonably warm February temps, we were back into the teens with a piercing wind chill. A quick snow flurry fell in the late afternoon, causing more than one person in the office to swear upon looking out the window. Wasn't it spring last week?

I wasn't happy about having to scrape the ice and snow off my car. Who would be?  It didn't help that I'd left my gloves at home that morning. My hands were frozen. The drive was mundane. The radio seemed to only be playing commercials. I just wanted to go home, where the couch is soft and the blankets are warm. The car never gets warm fast enough on days like that, you know?

I texted my ex earlier in the day asking him to confirm he'd be doing pick up from the after-school program. He never responded. I have a fear we're going to miscommunicate and leave the little guy stranded, so unless I get a confirmation, I assume I'm doing pick up. I pressed pause on my dreams of the couch, a glass of wine, and the TV remote, as I drove toward the school, futilely searching for some good music on the radio dial.

There are never any close parking spaces when the wind chill factor is in single digits. Still, I made it in the building without suffering any major frost bite.

"Put your jacket on. It's very cold out," I told my son as he gathered his things to leave. We were headed out of the building when his dad walked in. "Sorry," he said, then made some excuse about not seeing my text because he was standing in line at Fed-Ex. I wanted to argue and point out that I had actually sent three texts at different times throughout the afternoon. The first two were a couple of hours apart. The last one was a curt "I'm leaving work now. Who's picking him up?"

All it takes is a couple seconds to respond. "Me," he could have texted. Two letters. Two seconds to save me a longer drive home.

I left my son with his dad and continued home. People are who they are and I'd long since given up on getting respect or even consideration from this person. I turned the radio up (music, finally!) and shook off my annoyance. The bright side is I got to see my son for a couple of minutes. He and his brothers were going to be at their dad's house that night, so stealing a minute or two with him was the silver lining.

As I turned a corner, I realized the snow from earlier in the day was covering the ground in a silvery haze.  It clung to every tree in a way that made them look like they had all been dipped in liquid platinum. I've never seen anything like it. The near-dusk sky showcased a faint pink hue that seemed to be clinging to the last of the snow clouds purposefully, as if the sky knew the effect would be ruined once it let those clouds track east. It looked like a silvery-pink fairy world. It took my breath away. I never knew early March could be so beautiful. Silver linings, indeed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Riding the Wave: Random thoughts While in a Cleaing Mood

Every now and again, an honest to goodness cleaning mood strikes. Does that ever happen to you? It hits me now and again, though it took a long sabbatical for the past several years. Alas, the past is the past and water under the bridge or more like, dust bunnies under the couch. It's 2017 and my cleaning mood has come on with a vengeance. I'm not sure why. But, some things you don't question, you know?

The past several weekends, I've tackled large cleaning projects that have been neglected for years. Mind you, I've lived in this house for about 15 years. That's plenty of time for dirt and grime to accumulate in all kinds of places. Back when I started this blog, I really did do a top to bottom house cleaning. Everything got touched, cleaned, scrubbed, and shined. But, a lot of life has happened since then. Oh, and I live with 3 kids, one boyfriend, one dog, two cats, and a fish. For the record, the fish isn't that messy, but everyone else is, me included.

Since this mood struck, I've been in a whirlwind of activity. Oddly, I'm even going to go so far as to say I've enjoyed it. Weird, I know.

I've cleaned two of my kitchen windows thoroughly. Hidden between the storm windows and the double hungs, I found cobwebs, spider egg sacks, a dried up (thankfully small) hornet's nest, dried leaves, and lots and lots of grime. We had blissfully warm weather last weekend, so I spent a breezy afternoon raising and lowering sashes as I moved in and out of the house to clean, vacuum, scrub, and Windex everything thing, inside and out. I even washed the curtains.

This weekend, I tackled the bathroom window. It was much colder and I was feeling a bit lazier, so I did all my work from the inside. It did, however, involve use of a razor blade to scrap a bit of mold and old glazing compound off the panes of glass. A previous owner really could have benefitted from watching a YouTube video on glazing windows before he or she slapped the putty on there. It was a mess. One I ignored for the last 15 years.

I've also taken to setting my timer for 15 or 20 minutes to go through the house decluttering. It makes a huge difference in tidiness! It's hardly any work at all.

After the timer dings, I re-set it for 10 minutes and arm myself with a bottle of Windex and a clean rag. Windex has become my friend. I've long used vinegar as my all-purpose cleaner for surfaces, but lately, I've defected to Windex. I'm not throwing in my crunchy and frugal card just yet, but I'm thinking these days that Windex gives things a shine that homemade cleaners don't. I hate the smell, though. Store-brand Windex (probably not really Windex, which, I'm sure is a trademarked name), is pretty cheap, for the record.

I've got big plans for the next several weekends. I'm hoping the cleaning mood lasts. I need to clean the tops of my kitchen cabinets, clean out my basement utility room, steam clean my rugs, and a million other things. It never ends, but there's something so satisfying about how the house feels after a bit of deep cleaning. What are you cleaning this week?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Stomach Virus Vs. Us

When I was a kid and the stomach virus struck hard and heavy, I would lie down on my bed in agony, towels spread out on my pillow and the floor as targets. I don't know why we didn't have a puke bucket. It was a revelation to me, as a parent, to use a bucket or old pot to catch any and all emissions. Of course, it's not fool proof. Sleepy, sick children don't always have the best aim, but it certainly helps.

The stomach virus is non-discriminatory. It can hit anyone, no matter age, sex, race, or religion. It's the great equalizer on the playground and the greatest excuse ever invented to duck out of social functions. When you drop those two words "stomach virus", you and your
family are exempt from any and all appearances for the time being.

Still, most of us would rather be out there in the world participating in life, than be curled up in the fetal position at home puking our brains out, as my kids like to say. When rumors of stomach virus start circulating around the community, some take measures right away to prevent it from darkening their doorstep. One family I know kept their kids home from school the day before Christmas vacation started and they weren't even sick. That's brilliant, I say. We all know they aren't doing anything but passing germs in class that day anyway.

That's not an option for everyone, like those of us that have full-time jobs away from home. Sick days have to be saved for actual sick days. So, what's a family to do?

What is the Stomach Virus?

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) says the stomach virus is caused by the norovirus, which is actually a group of viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea. It typically runs its course in 1-3 days. They estimate the average person will get the stomach virus about 5 times in their life. Of course, that's just an estimate. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I've been down and out with my head in a puke bucket more than 5 times in my life.

How do we Get the Stomach Virus?

Unfortunately for anyone that's in contact with others (all of us), the stomach virus spreads quickly. It can tear its way through a classroom full of children before a small-town rumor mill has a chance to spread the word. We're all at risk. The CDC states this is how we get it:

  • We consume food or drink contaminated with norovirus.
  • We touch norovirus contaminated objects, then put our fingers in our mouth.
  • We have direct contact with someone who is suffering from norovirus.
How can we Prevent the Stomach Virus?

This is a tricky topic, because, of course, there are no guarantees. You can do your best to clean, scrub, and avoid, and still end up with a churning stomach. Your best bet is to pay attention to cleanliness once someone in your house has brought the stomach virus in the door. WebMD recommends you do the following to prevent stomach virus:

  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Use a bleach-based household cleaner to clean and sanitize any contaminated surfaces.
  • Immediately wash soiled linens and clothing in hot, soapy water.
I can't stress enough how thorough you have to be when you clean and sanitize contaminated surfaces. Don't just get the surfaces that were affected by bodily fluids, but sanitize doorknobs, sink handles, the toilet lever, basically, anything you can think of that either the sick person or the person cleaning touched. Likewise, wash your hands more than you've ever washed them before. I washed my hands 15 times the night I cleaned up my son's vomit. That is not an exaggeration.

Some of us (me) like to do a little more than clean to help prevent a stomach virus from taking hold. Dr. Google lead me to lots of blogs that recommend grape juice, apple cider vinegar, and probiotics. Here's a blog post about stomach virus prevention that nicely sums up the reasoning behind the home remedies. Of course, I check everything out on Snopes before I believe it as fact and Snopes found the grape juice theory unproven. My theory is that it can't hurt, so I drank a glass of grape juice every day for a week or two.

Something I did worked because I didn't come down with it. It's been two weeks now and I think it's safe to say I'm free and clear. Until next time, that is.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A House Becomes a Home

EDITOR'S NOTER - I originally wrote this post over 2 years ago. Things were still too raw then, so I didn't publish it. It's going live today, because it's important to me to tell my story as it is.

I've lived in this house for 14 years and it's only felt like a home for about the last 8 months. You see, 8 months ago, this house truly became mine and mine alone. 8 months ago, my divorce was also finalized. I am truly blessed that I was able to afford to refinance this house on my own. I can't stress the importance of keeping yourself debt free - whether you are married, single, divorced, or whatever, being debt free really helps make some life choices easier - but that's another blog post. This one is about the home I now live in with my three beautiful children.

I used to say that I hated this house. It's not the style of home I like. It's a raised ranch, while I've always had a soft spot for old country farm houses or old Victorians with lots of character. To me, this house had no character - zero, zipppo, zilch. I grew up in an old house, built roughly in the 1850's. I've always loved it's intricate woodwork, the plaster walls, the built-in window sills ample enough to support houseplants, and the fact that all the bedrooms were upstairs and the main living area of the house was downstairs. I had romantic fantasies about life in decades and even a century past in my mom's old house. This house just didn't do it for me.

Fast forward to now - the only time that matters. I love my house, or make that, my home. It feels like home. I love the raised ranch style. I love the fact that all four (Four bedrooms! I know, right?! How lucky is that?) are in the same hallway. Each of my kids has their own, albiet small, room, as do I. I love the kitchen and I've got many plans for making this home even homier for us.

They say hindsight is 20/20. I've reflected a lot in the recent months about my shifting perspective. The clutter problem that existed before divorce really gave me such a high level of anxiety. I could never feel at home here when the walls were bursting at the seams with clutter. I just couldn't. I worked very hard at making sure our main living space had little to no clutter, but it still lurked behind closed doors. I was embarrassed to open the garage door for fear the entire neighborhood would see that our garage was packed wall to wall with clutter. Forget parking a vehicle in there. It wasn't happening.

Part of the clutter problem meant that many areas of the house never truly got cleaned. The utility room, which houses the boiler and hot water heater, was so packed with boxes of computer junk and other various things, that the cats were often confused about what was and was not their litter box. When my ex finally packed up all of his crap and moved it out, I was quite disturbed to find piles of cat feces near the walls and in corners where it had been hidden by boxes of junk.. No wonder I could never get rid of the odor coming from that room! It's gone now, though, much to my relief.

Minor repairs didn't happen in my previous life in this house, either. Things broke, as they do in all homes, and they didn't get fixed. I tried sometimes, but I have limited knowledge about home repairs. Still, thanks to Youtube, I learned how to snake a drain, glaze windows, and a few other handy tricks that any homeowner should know. Still, there were a lot of things left undone. The kitchen sink leaked for at least a year. I tried fixing it and failed. In a last ditch attempt to save our marriage, my ex went on a fix-it spree and he was able to repair it. It's still held up. He always had the knowledge to do many of these things, but he just chose not to.

Now, little by little, I'm fixing up a lot of what's broken. It helps that my amazing boyfriend is very handy with a hammer and nails, among other things. He fixed my clothesline, a burst pipe in my garage, and built a raised garden bed for me all in one weekend. I was speechless and on the verge of tears I was so grateful. He looked at me and said, "you know, this is what normal people do. There's nothing special about what I did." It is special to me. I'm not used to it at all.

Sometimes I wonder if the level of clutter that my ex kept here, knowing full well that it bothered me, and the blatant lack of helping around the house and making minor household repairs was a form of abuse. The thought would have never crossed my mind years ago when I was in the thick of the marriage, miserable and trying to put on a happy face to the world. But, now I wonder. It was a subtle form, for sure. But, given my strong reaction to my boyfriend doing what's "normal" for most people, I'm not so sure it wasn't abusive. I know, that's too strong of a word. But, it was a giant FU to me, that was repeated over and over again. I never felt like I was good enough or deserved to have a clean house that was in good repair. I never thought I deserved to have nice things, including a fridge that didn't leak, a garage door that wasn't falling apart, or a washing machine that drained properly. I just didn't. Now, I know that I do.

Worse, I was made to feel that I was the one at fault for wanting these things to begin with. I was blowing things out of proportion. I was too sensitive. Mind you, I was never a nag. Maybe I should have been. I would talk about what needed to be done. Sometimes, I'd bring home brochures from Home Depot on garage doors or storm doors. I'd even hired a handyman a time or two. But, things would get pushed under the rug. The handyman would do some stuff, then the ex would declare that he could do it cheaper. We couldn't have Home Depot install a new garage door. He could do it, and, the neighbor up the street had a second hand one he could give him! How lucky was that! The problem was, he never did any of it, not even when materials were free.

More importantly, I know that my boys deserve to grow up in a house that's filled with love, not tension. That they deserve to have a fridge that doesn't leak, they deserve to have the slide attached to their swing set fort, they deserve to have a garage door they can open to get their bikes out without chunks of it falling onto their heads and they deserve to have panes of glass in their bedroom windows.

They deserve to have a home. And, in order to give them that, I had to get divorced.

How to Re-Start a Blog

I wanted to be a professional writer. The only way I knew how to do that was to practice writing for an audience. I started this blog to cultivate a daily writing habit with built-in feedback, fans, and critics. It worked, for a while. It became a springboard to other great writing ventures. I ended up getting published on other websites and in print, including a very small craft article in Highlights for Children. I had monthly, paid writing contracts with a couple of websites.

Eventually, I learned that it's a hard way to make a living, especially once I divorced and had three children and a home to support on one income. I needed health insurance, needed to maintain my vehicle, and keep electricity on in my house. A writing income wasn't enough, so it took a back burner to my full-time job. I tried to keep up with my writing contracts, but had to resign after a couple of months. I was never good at burning the candle at both ends.

Alas, some dreams never die, even if they end up on life support for a time. The only way to improve writing skill is to write. Practice  makes perfect. Slow and steady wins out in the end.

Here I go again, I hope on a regular basis. I'll still be addressing cleaning topics. It's a good way for me to focus in on a topic and not just ramble on like I'm doing in this post.

As a disclaimer, I'm no cleaning expert. Who is, really? What I am is a person who loves a clean home, though I realize that it's not an easy feat. I fight with my own inner nature of being a bit on the lazy side when it comes to housework.

I hope to once again bring you, faithful reader, cleaning tips that make sense for busy people, ways to de-clutter, and ways to stay organized, recycle, and stay sane while raising kids, working, and maintaining personal relationships.

What I don't have time for now is the endless promoting and seeking ads for my blog that I did in the past. I'm keeping my disclaimers up on the "About Me" page, because I have links on older articles that I'm too lazy to go through and delete. I don't care about my stats. If you find your way to my blog, then you did it because the Google gods favored me that day, not because I spent five hours trying to up my ranking in search engines the week before. I don't have time for that.

If you stay and read a bit, I thank you. It really means a lot to me and I appreciate the time you spent here! I know how valuable time is.

I still love feedback. I want to know if what I'm writing is striking a chord, inspiring you, or making you angry. I want to improve as a writer and you can help me do that by leaving a comment. I will not approve comments that are strictly advertising for other websites or businesses, so please don't clog my e-mail. The clutter-free lifestyle includes e-mail and my comments section, too!

The only way to have a clean house is to clean and the only way to be a professional writer is to write. Neither is going to happen otherwise.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sweet Freedom

1985: 15 years old

Mom is taking my brothers to the movies? And, my sister is at a friend's house? Yes! Sweet freedom!

My mind quickly does inventory. There's ice cream in the freezer, that is, if no one eats it before they leave. We've got Footloose on VHS. I've got roughly two and a half hours all to myself. It's going to be a good night!

An hour later, everyone's gone but me and the cat. The house is quiet, but comfortable. I can feel myself relaxing in increments. I seem bigger, in a way, like I take up more space than I do when everyone's home. I can stretch out on the couch and not have a little brother sitting on my legs. I can talk on the phone and not have anyone listening in. I don't have to retreat into myself to feel a sense of privacy. It's all here, for the taking, right now. I can be loud. I can listen to whatever music I want to listen to. I can try on all of my sister's clothes and she'll never know!

2012: 43 years old

My husband is at work and my two older boys are at school. I dropped my youngest off at preschool and came home to an empty  house. I told myself over the summer that I'd use those two and a half hours productively every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I'd exercise. I'd clean. I'd write.

But, I find myself acting like I'm 15.

I have the whole house to myself. It's quiet, but comfortable. I eat leftover birthday cake without having to share. I watch whatever I want on TV. I've had enough Power Rangers, Curious George and Harry Potter to last me a lifetime. Game of Thrones looks good. Maybe I'll give that a try. There's no need to worry about the rating. 

I can sit on the couch without children pressing into my personal space. I dearly love them, but, man it's good to stretch out.

Editors note: This post was written 3 years ago and published for the first time tonight.

Code Brown: The Septic Back Up

"I didn't sign up for this," my handy and very sexy boyfriend said as he came out of the laundry room with a putty knife in his hand. He'd been using it to scrape linoleum glue off the floor. We had to rip the linoleum up after our septic tank backed up all over the floor. There are no words to describe the utter level of grossness I feel right now.

Actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Every now and again, I hear people talking about so and so's septic backing up. It never happens to anyone you know directly. It's always the guy down the street from your work friend or the illusive Great Aunt Marge. Your mom remembers Marge from way back when, but the last time you met her, you were wearing diapers. People talk about septic back ups the way they do about rare diseases. It's done in whispers and a look heavenward with the hopes that the evil septic spirits will visit someone else, but not you. Dear God, not you! If you're Catholic, you quickly give the sign of the cross when the words "septic back up" are spoken. 

The laundry room floor and a small bit of carpet in our finished basement were sacrificed to the septic gods on this fine June Sunday. I was doing a load of laundry, went down to check it's progress, only to find what I thought was a washing machine malfunction. Upon closer inspection, I saw evidence that the problem was a bit more serious. Specifically, pieces of poo and toilet paper floating in an inch of standing water on the linoleum. My first thought was "how the heck am I going to get the laundry done?" I spent the next two hours in the laundromat while my handy boyfriend was at his parents' house installing a screen door. He got home before I did.

"Ok. We've got some issues here," he texted me as soon as he got home and surveyed the damage.

We made arrangements for the boys to spend the night at their dad's house. Then we started calling emergency plumbers. Call number one couldn't be here until tomorrow between 10:00 and 12:00. That's not good enough when the toilets won't flush. Call number two was very helpful, but he thought we might need our septic tank pumped and he didn't have the ability to do that. We struck gold with call number 3. He'd be here in an hour with equipment. He could pump and snake our main line, if needed.

The boyfriend and the two septic guys talked guy talk. I heard the f-bomb dropped a few times. By the time they left, I had working toilets, was a little poorer, and had gotten some advice on a long-time plumbing problem that we'll fix by moving our washer and dryer to another part of the basement. (Basically, the pipe the washer drains into is too small. It needs a 4-inch pipe, but only has the 2-inch pipe that was standard in the 1960s when my house was built.)

The septic work was pretty cheap as far as these things go. I'd braced myself for major work costing thousands of dollars. I was thinking about loans and the fact that I have a child starting college in a year. I was getting ready to check Pinterest for outhouse plans (who needs indoor plumbing anyway?), when the fabulous septic guys gave me the good news.

The septic problem is fixed and you don't have to re-mortgage your house!

We're left with major clean up duties in the laundry room. Linoleum has been pulled up. Sexy boyfriend and I have scraped linoleum glue off the concrete. He's pulled down old, water-stained ceiling tiles (not stained by the septic back-up, but a leaky tub in the upstairs bathroom years ago)  and ripped off a piece of 1970s paneling just to see what's beneath it. A laundry room makeover was on our long-term list of home fix-it projects. With the septic back up of 2016, it's moved to the top of the list. If we're going to do a part of it, we're doing it all. That's the way he rolls.

Stay tuned for laundry room updates. Our goal: utter grossness will be transformed to the nicest room in the house. It'll no longer be a laundry room, but rather, it will be our half-bath with a good-sized storage closest.