Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Can I Use Instead Of Plastic Straws?

Have you ever thought about how bad plastic straws are for the environment? I never did. At least, I didn't until about a month ago when a friend told me plastic straws are one of the worst polluters in our oceans. We use about 500 million plastic straws in America every day, according to the website Strawless Ocean. Unfortunately, too many of these straws make their way to our oceans and waterways.

"So, why is that a problem?" I asked my friend. Obviously, I knew it was unsightly to look at straws washing up on beaches and such, but I wanted to know if there was a bigger problem. It turns out, there is. Plastic straws are small enough to be easily ingested by marine life. Once a turtle, sea bird, or other animal has plastic in their system, they have a 50% mortality rate. This is terrible, especially for those creatures that are already hovering on or near the endangered species list.

What can we do? None of us want to be responsible for the death of a sea turtle, after all.

Say No to Straws

Really think about your straw use. Do you need one every time you get a fountain drink? Do you always need one when you're in a restaurant? Ok, maybe sometimes you do. But, reducing your use can go a long way towards decreasing the amount of straws that end up in the ocean.

Re-usable Straws

Try stainless steel drinking straws. They even come with a tiny scrub brush for cleaning. I don't know why, but when I look at the picture on Amazon, it makes me want to drink an old-fashioned milkshake. There was a diner where I grew up called The Calico Kitchen. It's not there anymore, but I remember them for their ice cold, thick and delicious chocolate milkshakes always served in a tall glass with a stainless steel cup of the "extra" on the side. I bet a stainless steel straw would make a milkshake taste even better.

Paper Straws

It's a little hard to wrap my mind around how a paper straw would work. Wouldn't it get soggy and fall apart? But, according to the reviews I read on Amazon, they work just fine. Paper straws are biodegradable and come in many different colors and patterns. I'm thinking they'd be a cute addition to a birthday party table setting.

I'm happy to have three readily-available alternatives to plastic drinking straws. Can you think of others? What do you do to avoid plastic straws?

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

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

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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Welcome Back!!!

As I type this first blog post in almost two years, I'm noticing how strange it seems to be back. I didn't expect that! It's like time has dissolved and I'm sitting at my kitchen table, kids home from school, trying to plan dinner, and get in as much writing as I can before the late afternoon/evening rush starts, just like I did before the divorce and the full-time job cast my writing fancies to the very bottom of my to-do list. Truthfully, they didn't even make the list most of the time.

Lately, though, my fingers have been itching to dance across the keyboard again. There are few things I like better than to feel and hear my hands typing out my thoughts onto the screen in front of me. There's something comforting about it.  And, I can't deny how therapeutic it is. My mind can whirl so fast sometimes, its a wonder I don't spin away into the clouds. Writing calms the craziness right down.

I kept a personal journal for much of that time. A writer has got to write, after all. I made some lengthy entries in that thing, too. Good thing there's no max word count in Microsoft Word. I was truly feeling the need to keep things very personal and close to me in that time period as I processed all the changes in my life. In fact, I even made this blog private and locked it down so it wouldn't show up in search engines and only I could view it. Not that I did. I was moving on from my previous life and just wanted to put everything behind me.

The changes were monumental. As I said, I got divorced. One of the reasons I didn't want to blog through that is because I wanted to protect the kids. I had so much anger and resentment toward my ex that I spewed all over the pages of my private journal. I didn't want any of it to creep into my public writing for the kids to view at any point in their lives. I still have a lot of anger and resentment, but it's simmered down to a point now where I can keep it from bleeding out all over the keyboard.

One thing I learned (among many) is that when you are going through a difficult life change, like a divorce, you don't have to explain yourself or your reasons to anyone unless you want to. People just don't understand each other's personal stories. It's easy to get defensive about your choices when people throw things at you about trying counseling (we did), just learning to let things go (I had for 15 years - it wasn't working for me anymore), or staying together for the kids (it's actually not good for kids to grow up in a house with miserable parents). So, I withdrew and only talked about it with a few, close friends and family.

When I look back over that time, I can't believe how far we've come. Not just me, but the kids, too! They are so much happier. Both of their parents are happier and it shows in them. My house is actually pretty close to being clutter free and I finally have relief from all the anxiety the clutter caused me. It's almost comical that I had this whole blog about cleaning up the clutter and, truthfully, it wasn't even my clutter. I was trying to manage someone else's mess and it took a serious toll on me.

It's great to be back. I may stick around for awhile or I may make a fresh start on a new blog. Either way, I've got to keep writing.