Clean it up Please

The title of this column mimics the title of a composition we publish in our business.  The content of that piece has nothing to do with dust or household cleaning, but it was on my mind, so here we go.

Rabbits and bunnies; it’s summer and these critters breed and inhabit our rural yards.  My husband has replanted beans thrice, now.  Next, its chicken wire, I guess.

Today, as I write this, it’s a welcome sunny day, after a long stretch of rain, clouds, and darkness.  I noticed in our kitchen, exposed to the morning sun, that dust bunnies have proliferated beyond my comprehension.

There are nooks and crannies from wall to rectangular wall in our kitchen.  Maybe they aren’t technically nooks, but I’ll bet you they could be called crannies.

From a lay person’s point of view, these spaces that collect dust in our kitchen are places where cabinets don’t quite meet the wall or appliances butt up against a cabinet.  It’s probably a finish carpenter’s bane.  At any rate, they exist and there is just enough space for dust, cobwebs, and cat fur to collect, and my ordinary cleaning tools don’t suffice to easily eradicate them.

To some people, dust bunnies are temporary visitors.  But they seem to be family pets in our house.  In fact, they had taken up residence on the dust mop, no less.

Dust on the dust mop seemed unreasonably cruel to me.  I almost cried, but decided to laugh instead.

I’m aware that some folks are in to cleaning in a way that I can’t fit into my list of priorities.  I have friends, acquaintances, neighbors and loved-ones who keep immaculately clean homes.  Kudos to you.

I keep a tidy house and I “clean it up” when messes are made.  I live with a man who spills, daily.  Don’t call the doctor, it’s not an illness; just an atavistic trait he seems to have inherited from his dad.  But I’m used to cleaning up.

Have you ever heard someone say, “you made the mess, you clean it up?”  It seems like a reasonable thing to expect.  But I am the delegated rescue-person, called to the crime-scene to “clean it up.”  If I don’t clean it up now, I’ll have to come back later and do it, when its effects might be worse.

Preemptive cleaning is okay.  I do it to keep things orderly and hygienic, yet don’t take it so seriously as to be considered fanatical.  Our house isn’t dirty, it’s lived-in.

In fact, I’m a tad uneasy around perfection. Show-homes are just that, for show.  One usually doesn’t feel welcome or at home in these places.  Everything is placed.  Nothing is real.  How do you unwind in a place that is so tightly wound?

Have you ever been the cause of a grocery-store announcement, “clean-up in aisle 9?”  I confess I have once or twice been the culprit; darn those flimsy blueberry cartons, or was it grape tomatoes?

So, I’m not always the cleaner.  But somebody must clean up after us in every aspect of life.  It’s as inevitable as death and taxes, as the saying goes.

To clean something up means essentially to free it from a whole bunch of unwanted stuff.  We can free ourselves from dirt, soil, stains, pollution, extraneous matter, marks, roughness, defects or flaws, encumbrances or obstructions.

So, clean it up and set yourself free, my friends.  If someone sets you free by cleaning it up for you, use your words and say please and thank you.  They’ll appreciate it.



Perceptions can be misleading, depending on what you want to see.  Ronald Reagan was known to have repeated the Russian proverb, “trust but verify.”

One of my husband’s socks had been missing for a while; one lone sock waiting on top of the clothes dryer for its mate.  It made me half-heartedly sad as if it were a dove or a cardinal, lost without their sidekick.

I looked behind the clothes washer, as on the rare occasion some item of clothing will end up in that Bermuda Triangle.  Ah-hah, I was sure I had found it.

I got my grabber from the pantry closet and tried to grab it from its dark abyss.  Unsuccessful, I brought a flashlight to the fight.

As it turns out, it wasn’t the dark, missing sock.  It was a black hose pipe.

This was not the first, nor will it be the last, time I’ve mistaken one thing for another.  My perceptions can be as inaccurate as the next guy’s.

I wanted to find that sock.  So, given the possibility that I had, hope and simple longing, made me see the missing sock.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing animals on my hikes, even ordinary deer, snakes, rabbits and squirrels, and I used to set out “looking” for them.  Many times, on these walks in or near the woods, I’ve seen animals from a distance; only, close-up to verify them as a leafy branch.  Or what looked like a giant weasel turned out to be a resting squirrel.

After several of these perceptual mistakes, I made a pact with God to stop looking for animals and just see what I see.  I utter an informal sort of prayer-declaration at the onset of each outing, “I’ll see what I’m supposed to see, today.”

My observations of flora and fauna have become more eventful since this altered expectation.  I’m surprised more often than I used to be, and see as many animals as I always had.

As to social perceptions, I’m thinking of one of those inspirational quotes shared on Facebook.  This one said in essence that everyone who sees us out in public, assigns to us a persona according to their seconds-long perception of us.

In other words, we can have thousands of personalities depending on the perception’s others have of us.  Some of those perceptions will be crisp and spot-on and others will depict us, colored by what they want to see, expect to see, when they see us, or what their tinted glasses affords them.

We serve others better by not relying on our perceptions and concocting a story in our heads about them.  There is a fifty-fifty chance we’re wrong. The best way, I’ve learned to gain perspective about someone, is to ask them. I can be blunt that way.

If we want to know something about someone, we should ask rather than guess; and rely on our ears rather than our inferences.  I’m aware that most of us are from small rural communities and we’re used to the old adage, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, somebody else does.”

In our small towns, people think they know us.  We trade stories about “my uncles best friend’s cousin,” and quite a few people know exactly who is being talked about.  I guess this isn’t all that far-fetched from many of our ancestors who had the same names generation after generation. Somehow, they knew which William they were referring to.

Genealogy can be tricky because of this naming quirk, and small-town life can be fraught with perception errors because of what we think we know about people.  The benefit of small-town “knowing” is that one is never left completely in the lurch.  Someone is always around to lend a hand.

The thing I would like to see heartily embraced by rural folks, however, is open communicationMost of us don’t read minds.  In order to act on our perceptions, with an appropriate response, we need to know what the other person is thinking, “straight from the horse’s mouth.”

This last quote is another of my potential misconceptions.  It may have crossed my mind that the origins of the quote had something to do with the television show I grew up watching in the 50s-60s called, Mr. Ed, featuring a sarcastic, talking horse.

In reality, the saying comes from the idea behind having come directly from examining a horse’s teeth, to determine its age, and relaying that information to someone else.  So, rather than relying on conjecture, perception, or inference, we should go the route of the direct inquiry or research before deciding about a person or a matter.   

Please don’t make me guess!


Back to the heirloom comforter, part deux.  Last year, after I mended about a foot around the perimeter of that blanket, the mood went out the window.

“I’m just not in the mood for this.”  Have you ever said this, and then walked away from whatever task, argument, or entanglement triggered the statement?

I’m not so sure that being in the mood for something, or out of the mood for it, means you’re temperamental, touchy, or emotional.  It might just mean that you know your capabilities, and you know when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to put forth effort; when the effort is worthwhile and when it isn’t.

I don’t know what mood is required to finish mending that comforter, but simple math tells me I have twenty-three some feet to go.  I surmise that my tidiness quotient may be just the kick in the pants I need to get into the mood to finish mending that darn blanket.

These kinds of tasks for me, require a certain mood.  I don’t know if it’s “creative”-types who must be inspired to finish these kinds of projects or if it’s everybody.

This made me think about the concept of mood.  One can be in a good mood.  Or one can be in a bad mood.

Just ask your “mood ring.”  Fitness trackers from watches to rings, tell us about what the mood ring did in the 70s.  But the mood ring made us feel psychic, and thusly good about our powers of control.  Fitness trackers can make us feel guilty if we somehow don’t measure up.

On the other hand, do we really need a device to tell us to cut the attitude, when we’re in bad moods?  Or, that it’s okay to be elated at the report of good news?

Why is it that when we say someone is moody, we aren’t talking about their gaiety, delight, etc.?  “Moody” seems to refer to a bad mood.  Or does it describe volatility?

Isn’t everybody moody then, if it is a straightforward fluctuation of mood, related to circumstances?  If this logic stands, then I suppose someone living with challenging or downright awful circumstances might be vulnerable to the moody moniker.

Some of us call a bad mood, snarky.  My husband calls it crunchy.  That word puts me in a bad mood!  Snippy is another word I’ve heard to describe a bad mood.  Pissy, is another one; although not so delicate.

We in America say we’re “pissed off” when we’re angry.  I guess this is a useful connotation of the word given its origins as a release of waste to the outside of the body.

A mood, then, any mood is a release of emotion from the subconscious to the conscious mind.  I think it was Shrek, or was it Donkey, who said, “better out than in?”

The origin of the word, mood, that has stayed around since prehistoric times, is “frame of mind.”  A frame is what a picture is set into.  Have you heard, “my mind is set?”

I think we can have our minds set on positivity or negativity.  We can see a glass half full or half empty.  We can be pessimistic or optimistic.

We can figuratively get up on the wrong side of the bed and our mind is already set before planting our feet on the floor, that we’re in a bad mood.  I don’t know why this is, but I know some days are just that way.

I’ve learned that bad moods and good moods are temporary.  They each will pass.  And we should tread softly around them and let them be.

At any rate, what are you in the mood for today?

What are you good at?

Recently I was mending an old hand-me-down, family comforter.  I had washed the blanket, enhancing its deterioration, and then it laid around for over a year.

Every edge was open, exposing torn and matted batting.  The patterned top had tears, some where there was no more fabric remaining to sew together.  It was like sewing very little of something, to nothing.  Even the batting needed a bit of sewing so that it won’t bunch up when all is said and done.

Last year I had just started mending it when so many other things took precedence for my time and attention.  So, it laid in view, needling me from time to time to “get er done,” but apparently the needles were tolerable enough to delay getting at it, for a long time.  Perhaps the needling was the acupuncture of delay; not that bad.

I’m no seamstress.  In fact, I pretty much know, one, hand-stitch that I learned in junior high, home ec. class, to make an apron, no less, and a simple A-line skirt.  That’s it.  I still have that cute little green apron, in a cedar chest.

Having not one ounce of interest in marriage, children, or domesticity at that age, I tolerated home ec., with sewing the lowest of low on my list of learning-priorities.  But I guess that “survival-stitch” stuck and has served me over the years.  One should be able to sew a button back on a favorite garment and hem a pair of must-buy pants created to fit a giant in a size 10.

I call it a lock-stitch because it knots the thread after every stitch.  And I’ve used that stitch ever since then, to mend torn seams on hundreds of cloth items that have passed through my life.

So, recently, after hours, on multiple days, of mending that blanket, my husband was so appreciative and in awe of my domestic skill, he reminded me that “you know, our favorite spare comforter (at the ready for napping and general winter cuddling) really needs the same thing.”  This is a cautionary tale; in that you really must be careful about what you’re “good at.”  Because like it or not, what you’ve proven to be good at, proper grammar aside, will come back to haunt you.

For example, one can become so good at doing a menial chore, or what I’ve heard called, “scut work,” that no one else even attempts to do it anymore, because “you’re so good at it.”  This can become a catch22 if you’re not alert to its pitfall.

Being “too good at” doing everything might just come back to bite you in the, well, you know what.  And it’s your fault because you wouldn’t let they do the job because they didn’t do it “right!”  You showed them one time how to do that job “right,” and they can’t quite achieve your exacting standard.  Guess what, you’ve locked yourself into that particular chore-prison for life.

I don’t know what sap first said, “if you want it done right, do it yourself,” but if you’ve fallen for it, you’re putty in the hands of those you serve.  Now you’re the only one who can do that job “the right way,” from now to forevermore.  That job is yours alone, because “you’re so good at it!”

“But you always do the dishes because you’re so good at it.”  “You change the diapers because you’re so good at it.”  “You talk to the customer service people because you’re so good at it.”  “You clean the garage so much better than me.”  “I don’t do it because you’re so good at it.”

Every household creates a division of labor at the outset.  It’s simple economics of time.  Sometimes that division is fair and other times it just doesn’t add up.  And at each addition of members to the household, including pets, that division of labor changes.

The division of labor changes with age, also.  In our case, it has become even more equitable than at the beginning.

I recall that one of my marriage terms was “I don’t vacuum.”  I think it was around year ten that that particular term flew the coop.  Today, my husband washes some dishes but his limit is, “I don’t do plastic.”  I wash the storage containers.  He feeds the cats in the morning.  I feed them at noon and night.  He cleans up their vomit chunks and I clean up the stains.  I organize the trash; he carries it out.  We both cook.  Off and on we renegotiate these terms. 

I must in all fairness add that my husband dispenses sincere thank-you’s regularly, even frequently, for the mundane chores I sometimes reluctantly perform around our house.  I never thought a thank-you was necessary for doing what has to be done, but he’s a kind man.

Be careful out there, with what you’re good at.

Paring Down

Ever since that Mother’s Day outing with my daughter, when I bought a new purse, “for travel,” I’ve been contemplating “the changing of purses.”  This is monumental for me.

Not unlike the proverbial “changing of the guard” at Buckingham Palace in London, it’s almost ceremonial for me, this change of hand bag.  I’ll explain.

Laugh all you want.  I can take it.

I’m not a hand bag collector like some women.  But I have about a dozen bags, hanging on the back of a closet door and a few more scattered inside bureaus or chest drawers.

Unlike our cats who prefer their canned food flavors alternated from one can to the next, I can eat the same meal for days in a row without blinking an eye.  I like what I like.

As to my purse, I’ve used the same one for over a decade.  It was a gift from my bestie and wowzah did she get it right.  It’s the perfect neutral color.  The capacity is vast, and it has pockets and pouches galore, notwithstanding its relatively small size.

I have received compliments by the hands full on this bag, from women and men, alike.  It must be kinda special.

By the way, do you call yours a purse?  Hand bag, or simply, bag?  Pocketbook, is a popular one in these parts.

I don’t change my purse to go with my outfits, or at the change of seasons.  I only switch out to a wrist-wallet if I have to run to the store for something needed “now.”

Given these facts, contemplating changing my purse is a major change for me.  It’s sort of a permanent change, given my predilection for “the same,” as outlined above.

This is all because of that new purse, “for travel.”  Since the preparation-phase of our uber-trip to Europe in 2008, I’ve learned to pack, light.  As to clothing, the rule is to bring a couple of basics in primary colors and vamp them up with prints that can be mixed and matched, topped off with some personal, statement-making accessories.

As to the travel handbag, it’s about lots of pockets in a concise package of a neutral color, for categorizing everything needed and nothing peripheral.  It’s almost akin to a filing system.

It’s tempting to carry one of those huge, cavernous tote-like bags that has massive space but few pockets, and weighs a ton.  I abandoned this idea with nightmarish visions of a customs agent screaming, “I need your passports and boarding passes now,” while I’m digging to China for the needed documents, and he/she is rushing us along a queue to the beyond.

In this scenario one can’t be fumbling around through makeup bags, a canister of extra strength Tylenol, a measuring tape, sun glasses case, reading glasses case, breath mints to satisfy an army of halitosis germs headed to the dentist, coupon case, tissues, nail clippers, tweezers, manicure and sewing kits, full key rings that a school janitor would envy, a wallet packed with a hundred cards, including store loyalty cards, department store cards, gas cards, pictures of the grand kids, insurance cards, emergency contact and “final wishes” cards, a couple dollars cash, and a coin purse.  No purse of this caliber is complete without wipes, a Tide-stick, antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer, perfume, lip balm or lip gloss, powder and some sort of hair brush or comb.  Oh, and your phone.

At second thought this is not a purse, it’s a portable office.  Were you a girl scout?  Prepared for every possible eventuality?

Or maybe you’re simply a mom or partner, at the ready to fix any mess your kids or partner might make, away from home.  Better yet, you’re a woman, an equipped woman, dressed for success or for battle, with your purse as your brief case, armor and shield.

Most husbands these days will wear a pink shirt and are happy to hold their wives’ purse while they are otherwise engaged.  They know this thing holds the lifeblood of their unit.  It’s not just a purse.

So, you get why I haven’t changed my purse yet.  It’s because it’s loaded, not just literally. 

You’ve heard, “there’s meaning to my madness?”  I intend to pare down, in the purse department. 

First comes the thought, right?  I’ll do it because it’s time, but like Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Suit Yourself

During one of my outdoor adventures, which I variously call walking, jogging, or hiking, it occurred to me that my walking attire isn’t posh, fashionable or even what some might consider appropriate.  After all, once upon a time a passerby thought I was a bag woman and asked, did I have a home.

When I walk in the summer, I carry a security alarm, my cell phone, antibacterial soap and a stick to combat spider webs and gnats.  Clear, big, shooting glasses to prevent bugs from connecting with my eyes, round out the stuff I don when heading out.  Oh, I guess I should include, the baby oil lotion applied to exposed skin, which also supposedly keeps mosquitoes at bay.

These outings range from a local and familiar three to five miles and take around thirty minutes.  I don’t take water with me because I might feel that it’s distasteful for a girl to urinate in the woods.  I tank up when I get home.

I wear long, lightweight, linen pants, this time of year, secured by socks to prevent ticks from making contact with my skin.  All kinds of bugs like me, as do plant oils.  Considering the summer heat, I’m probably considered by onlookers as a bit covered up, or over-dressed, with this hiking costume.

I usually select one of my husband’s tee-shirts with pockets for my tissues, which are always handy when walking outdoors. Does your nose run when you work, or otherwise exert yourself, outdoors?

My footwear is an old pair of Sloggers, the kind they no longer sell.  If you’re unfamiliar with Sloggers they are rubber slip-on shoes.  They suit my bunions and the rubber soles take the pounding of my feet to the varied terrain I encounter from grassy soil, sometimes muddy or wet; to gravel, sticks, pavement, rocks, acorns, and whatnot.

Diehard hikers would have me court-martialed for this getup.  I’m unapologetic, however.  I rest my case on the precedent-setting Grandma Gatewood.

Some years ago, a sixty-something woman set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, wearing garden-variety, cheap sneakers.  Why?  Because they felt good on her feet. She conquered the famous trail, not once but several times, all the while wearing (and replacing multiple times over) her comfortable sneakers.

Her attitude, as is mine, at this ripe age, is “suit yourself.”  When I was mulling over this column while jogging and I came up with the “suit yourself” title, I wondered about the origins of the phrase.  I anticipated finding it to have a metaphorical meaning that went back to the daily suit-wearing of most men in the 1920s and maybe annoying the tailor with too many prickly demands, who may have replied: “suit yourself” then.

But, no.  “Suit yourself,” does not have such a fanciful metaphorical meaning, it simply means to do or think as you please; please yourself.

When one gets to a certain age, one feels, “I’ll do what I want.”  We tend to have veered away sometime in the last decade, from people-pleasing.  Although we haven’t abandoned common courtesy and kindness to others, we don’t live to please them.  We suit ourselves.

There is a song on my jogging playlist, called Here with Me, by Dido.  In it, she sings, “I am what I am.  I’ll do what I want…but I can’t breathe until you’re resting here with me….”  These lyrics seemed a little contradictory to me at first.

Suiting yourself, or doing what you want, however, does not discount others in your life.  In most healthy relationships, independence is intermittent as is dependence.

There is a third way of relating to others, it’s interdependence.  Interdependence allows one to weave back and forth between independence and dependence, to do what you want sometimes, do what they want on occasion and do what suits you, together, other times.

This defines relationship.  Connection, disconnection and interconnection in our interactions, allow us to relate to others yet, “suit ourselves.”  It’s a win-win.

More than a piece of paper


The fact is, there are significant numbers of people who live together, “as if married” and they feel that their relationship does not require a “piece of paper.”  I get it.

Recently an acquaintance told me that she doesn’t need to be married, that “it’s just a piece of paper,” and she doesn’t need said piece of paper.  I agree with her that the piece of paper is unnecessary, in one sense.

If my acquaintance were “married,” in spirit, the piece of paper is secondary.   Some people are clearly married, without the formal piece of paper; others are not.

My take is that marriage is not a piece of paper.  It’s more than a piece of paper.

None of us needs a piece of paper to define our marriage.  However, legally, that piece of paper provides benefits, privileges, and penalties, if unadhered-to.

Marriage, has been called Holy Matrimony.  In fact, many of our church-based wedding ceremonies were predicated upon the fact that we were being united together as one, in the sight of God “and this company.”

This unity that embodies Holy Matrimony reminds me of the saying, “marriage of minds.”  Several biblical sayings testify to this power of unity, which defines marriage as Holy Matrimony.  Symbolic of our marriage-intent, and spoken at ours and many other weddings are, “a threefold cord is not easily broken,” and, “where two or more of you are gathered in His name,” Jesus, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is with them; “and there is love,” is how the song goes.

The social reality of marriage is reflected in this Scripture from Ecclesiastes, “Two people are better off than one for they can help each other succeed. And if one falls down, the other can lift him back up.  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”

Notice the back-to-back reference.  It speaks to the fact that if you have a marriage-partner you will be less vulnerable to outside attacks, your back is never exposed to an enemy or predator because they “have your back.”

“Love covers sin.”  This is another reference to having your loved-one’s back.  It’s ironic that we’ll overlook the lifestyle choices of one we love who has engaged in what we would otherwise define as wrongdoing, but vilify someone else who made the same choices.  That’s because our love for them, covers them, protects them, forgives them, defends them.  Would that we could make this kind of love more expansive and inclusive than our immediate loved-ones.

Paul McCartney, in one of my favorite songs, Let It Be, sings “when the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer…”  Leave it to the Beatles to reveal an important key to finding answers to our problems, agreement.

Some papers are symbols.  Our marriage certificates symbolize our commitment to fidelity, unity, and to the long-term.  Just because some have broken their commitments in some fashion, doesn’t mean they intended to, wanted to, or expected to and nor should they be blamed or vilified for doing so.

Many of our broken commitments have been mended, altered, healed, glued, or pasted back together, for the sake of some piece of paper.  Because a piece of paper can be torn, burned, shredded or otherwise obliterated, doesn’t make null its purpose, or what it stands for.  In the “rock, paper, scissors” form of decision-making, paper, although fragile in one sense, can still win – paper covers rock, even if you’re “between a rock and a hard place.”

Even when a marriage is dissolved, another paper takes the place of the marriage certificate.  A divorce decree or death certificate.  It stood for something; thus, another paper is needed to replace it.

Symbols are representative of something that is often immaterial.  The marriage certificate has meaning in and of itself.  It represents a marriage covenant; the word covenant meaning among other things, agreement.

In essence, we sign an agreement to do our best to stay in agreement.  Sometimes our best isn’t enough and the agreement must be severed.  This is relatable, if you admit your humanity.

It is known that the first year of marriage, whether the couple has been together days, months, years, or even decades, is one of the most challenging.  Without this agreement, on a piece of paper, it was somehow easier to be together in part, yet remain unbound.  The option to part ways, before we agreed on paper, was less complicated than after the piece of paper was signed.

Having accomplished the first year of marriage, we symbolically celebrate our first anniversary, with paper.  Imagine that.  It turns out that marriage is a piece of paper, but so much more.