Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

A house in Huntington, Indiana by Peggy Brown

Picture One: The Translucent Home of Memory

Early in our marriage my husband and I purchased an original watercolor by artist, Peggy Brown. It’s an imaginative rendition of a home in soft blues and greys with tall barren trees surrounding it. The house has a turret similar to the old Victorian-style home my husband was raised in. And amazingly, the artist was from Huntsville, Indiana, the home of my maternal grandfather. When you look at it you can visualize the movement of hearts within. It’s filled with light and thus with dreaming. All these things made it logical that the painting spoke to us and that’s why we wanted to take it home. For 18 years it held a place of honor in our living room. In this house it is now in our bedroom, still a treasure, still able to evoke dreamy thoughts though its colors have faded.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Nana’s Gift, The Girl with the Basket of Grapes

Picture Two: Nana’s Gift

This picture has an amazing story connected with it and it’s my maternal grandmother’s story. When Nana was married in 1909, a friend of hers named Lena, presented her with a watercolor of a woman wearing a bright gold sash and holding a basket of grapes. The subject matter was rather odd for the 1900s in Chicago, but my grandmother proudly hung it in her home. Years later, Lena came to tea. She gazed at the picture on the wall, telling Nana that the real reason for her visit was that she had come for the picture. She said it was the best painting she had ever done and she wanted it back. Nana said no—it was a gift and it would stay a gift. Thus it hung in Nana’s home until she died, moved with my aunts to a new Chicago address and when they died it came to me. A real treasure. It hangs beside two water colors that Nana painted when she was in her late teens.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

A World For Our Children

Picture Three: Two Girls and a Boy

My friend Gay Lynn sent me a card with a rendering of a painting by artist Steve Hanks. I was entranced immediately because it shows a boy and two girls sitting on a pier over the water. The boy is blonde like my son, the girls appearing to be the ages of my two daughters. Again, the art draws you in and you can almost hear the water rippling when the children move their sticks. A bird is singing somewhere and the sun feels so good on their cotton tee shirts. I framed the small card-size and later found a bigger version that I also framed. I dreamed of buying the original art, but never have—though Steve Hanks remains a favorite.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

The Sea Hath Its Pearls

Picture Four: The Sea Hath Its Pearls

Art can call out to you from very unusual places and I found this at a store that has since gone out of business. It’s a reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, women often being the subject matter. I was in a decade of my life when I wasn’t totally sure of my path. Our daughters were gone to university, our son was busy with school and band. Maybe I felt like the woman on the beach, searching the water and the sand for a shell, a stone, some token that might whisper the future.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

I felt this picture calling out to me.

Picture Five: Back to My Childhood Home

This final picture I purchased in Des Moines, Iowa. Again it’s a reproduction and I know nothing about the artist or its title. I was wandering a department store and found myself looking at art. When this picture of a home in autumn, the feathery trees, a reflecting pond and geese came into view, I had a physical feeling, a rush of remembrance. Of course I stopped. I had never seen this painting before, so what was I feeling. It didn’t take long to figure it out. Above the fireplace in our home in Chicago hung a picture of a house, a picture my brothers and I loved. (It’s the one thing my brother Bill wanted and so it’s hanging in his home.) I probably looked at that picture every day of my young life. Its colors and composition implanted on my brain feelings of warmth and security, peace and comfort. And though the composition of this department store painting was different, it echoed those feelings. It spoke to me. I purchased it happily.

Of course most of us have on our walls and tables iconic framed photos of our family members. They truly are the pictures that reveal the dreams of the heart. When I see photos of my children young, not so young and grown into wonderful adulthood I feel joy and gratitude. When I look at my grandchildren, I’m just about as happy as I can be. Photos of my parents and my husband’s parents are absolute treasures, as our photos of our younger selves. Do you have a favorite picture hanging in your home? No matter where it came from or who the artist is the value is in your perception–and the story of how it came to be yours, the story of some little dream that it holds–that makes it a perfect jewel, a memorable treasure.

 Thanks to John Havey and Google Images

P.S. My brother sent me a photo of THE ENGLISH COTTAGE that hung over our fireplace in my childhood home. Here it is.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Your Life Could Use “Addition by Subtraction”

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Addition by subtraction. What does that mean? For Shola, founder of the Positivity Solution it could mean walking away from a toxic relationship. You subtract that person and your life immediately has added benefits. For Dr. Roxanne B. Sukol, who blogs at Your Health is on Your Plate, addition by subtraction means removing certain foods from your diet to improve your overall health. It’s a great concept that can be applied to many elements in our lives. Let’s explore a few examples.

1. Paints. Everyone has cracked open a can of paint to redo a wall or brighten up furniture. The walls of homes built before 1978 were often covered in lead-based paints. Public health departments are still offering lead testing for people living in these older buildings and in many states if lead paint is found in the home of a child under the age of six, the health department covers the rehab of the building.

Addition by subtraction when purchasing paints means selecting those with no VOCs or volatile organic compounds. These solvents frequently added to paint are released during the drying process often causing acute symptoms like headaches and dizziness. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that some VOCs are suspected carcinogens.

Currently the federal government caps the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paint and 380 g/l for low luster and semigloss. But you can find paints made by manufacturers using even more stringent limits—50 g/l for all finishes—set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. These paints include: Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care, and Glidden Evermore.

Harley Farms recently began offering milk paint which has no VOCs and is all natural as you can see from the ingredients: calcium carbonate, flax seed oil, water, milk protein (casein), goat milk soap, pigment and salt. The producers state it is gentle on the environment and creates a suede-like finish. If you drip some on your hands, it’s so non-caustic you could lick it right off and there’s no need for gloves or a mask. Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan is another good choice, very low in VOC’s, and considered a “kind” paint with virtually no odor.

2. Speaking of paint, one of the main things we consider when purchasing a car is its color—we buy a color we like. But using the addition by subtraction concept, we might need to consider safety before good looks. Peter Bohr in his piece Hue and Me researched the safety of autos in regards to color.

Though there have been few scientific studies regarding the issue, one done in 2002 in Spain found that light-colored cars had the edge on not being hit by another car and black cars were the most likely to be involved in an accident. A 2007 study from a university in Australia revealed that white cars had the lowest crash risk, while cars with colors that were low on the visibility index: black, blue, gray, green, red and silver were linked to a higher risk of accidents. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that white may be most visible at night, but not against a snow covered backdrop. And though red cars do stand out during the day, at night they appear black to other drivers.

3. Finally addition by subtraction can definitely apply to our use of medications and subsequently how we dispose of them. In her piece, “Stop! Don’t Flush” Rita Colorito reminds consumers NOT to dispose of unused or outdated medications by flushing them down a toilet or sink. This past practice has allowed drugs to make their way into our drinking water as well as polluting lakes and streams where fish live and wildlife drink. Though what we flush passes through a water treatment plant, most plants are not equipped to clean the water of all pharmaceuticals and even personal care products. Mae Wu, who works at the National Resources Defense Council states that even though the levels in our water are low scientists don’t know what impact they are having on our health. Researchers found oxazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, threatening fish populations as it disturbs their breeding habits. Antibiotics and anti-diabetic drugs have been found in Lake Michigan, a source of water for more than 10 million people. If you can, practice addition by subtraction by decreasing the number of drugs that you take. Remember, antibiotics do not help the common cold as that’s a virus. Plan to contact your local pharmacy concerning how to dispose of unused drugs. You will add to the health of our planet by being smart about the disposal of any medication.

Dr. Sukol stresses the positives of using addition by subtraction: “It’s about discovering that limiting a child’s choices translates into greater contentment. It might seem paradoxical at first, but it’s not. Having too many choices makes things more, not less, stressful…like the time I heard my son’s friend explain how having to put on a uniform every day made getting ready in the morning easier. It’s about taking something away, and discovering that you end up with more. You might even say that you end up the better for it. It’s about eating an apple instead of a cookie and finding that it filled you up and statisfied you with the crunch and the sweetness and the peanut butter you put on it.”

Can you find new ways to practice addition by subtraction?  PLEASE SHARE.

Thanks to Google Image

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Chalk paint wall and chest by Annie Sloan

Dive Into Nature This Spring

Dive into nature.









Spring brings new life to nature–and thus to the rest of us. After a series of tough winter storms that have blanketed the midwest and east coast, lashed the south with ice storms and caused mudslides in the northwest, everyone is searching for spring. Everyone is eager to dive right in.

But a confession: I have been living in California for almost a year now and therefore did not experience the snow shoveling, frigid temperatures, near car collisions and exhausting commutes that many of you have. But for those of you who did, something is about to come upon you that I will miss–true, amazing, poking then blasting from the earth–spring!

I know many of you are waiting, and you know who you are–so get ready!

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” Mark Twain. And you can’t wait to get outdoors and breathe it in–a perfume that no one can bottle, because it’s in the air and it’s inside you. Funny, I keep thinking of a patch of dirt by my driveway back in Iowa–and I’m picturing these green shoots pushing up from the earth–first crocus, then daffodils, then after a while, beebalm and bluebells.

Dive Into Nature This Spring

Bluebells are native wildflowers.

And by the back deck the hydrangeas will slowly begin to flower and there will be sticks to rake up and leaves to remove, but if I were there, the sun would fall on my shoulders so that I really wouldn’t care.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood from the Bluebeard’s Egg

 And as the earth warms and the grass begins to green-up, the redbuds bloom and then the magnolias–spring rains will begin and the cycle of the seasons proceed like a well-remembered friend who has finally returned.

Dive Into Nature This Spring

I will miss the hydrangeas by the back deck.

But even though spring might bring weather relief, other life issues might still be there, hanging around, causing pain. In fact the aching beauty of spring might make facing some family problem or an illness or a change in lifestyle even harder to bear. But here is another way to think about it:

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral 

And to share a little bit of advice and/or philosophy Deepak Chopra writes: There is a simple spiritual truth that I believe in deeply: the level of the solution is never found at the level of the problem. Knowing this, you can escape many traps that people fall into. What exists at the level of the problem? Repetitive thinking that gets nowhere. Old conditioning that keeps applying yesterday’s outworn choices. Lots of obsessive thinking and stalled action…But the relevant insight is that you have more than one level of awareness, and at a deeper level there is untapped creativity and insight.  

I read those words and think about digging in the garden or taking a walk in a spring rain as a release. Insight and understanding will be born from a new vision, a new way of looking at and dealing with the problems you still face–whether it’s glorious spring or not. For more help read Chopra’s: The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Things Go Wrong,

And as nature must tolerate freezing temperatures to spring once again into glorious new life, consider practicing David Schnarch PhD‘s Differentiation–the 4th maxim of which is: Tolerate discomfort for growth. It’s not easy, but over time, it works. Here are the other maxims on the list:

1. Clear sense of self in close proximity to important partner.

2. Self-regulate anxiety and self-soothe hurts.

3. Non-reactivity to partner’s anxieties. 

Spring can be a time for rebirth, not only in nature, but in one’s intimate and personal life. So dive right in–I am wishing you warm winds and great peace. 

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” AA Milne 

Do you have a spring ritual to share, something that you can count on to lift your spirits?


Downsizing to a New Home? Think Delightful, Not Depressing


Downsizing to a New Home? Think Delightful, Not Depressing

Culling and sorting are the first steps in downsizing.

As a Boomer, one of these days you might face an inevitable event: downsizing. Will it be depressing? No, if from the get-go there are positive thoughts connected with the decision and it’s done at a good time–like when all the signs point to leaving the big house. Because it’s liberating when family members clear out high school keepsakes and memorabilia and that ugly college futon that even your adult children refuse to sleep on. Freedom from clutter and the lightness and openness of the space you eventually occupy (no matter what size it is ) can be delightful. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: The bare beauty of the channeled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions…I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm…

Consider: it’s good to be ahead of the game. What if a health issue arises that limits movement or requires hospitalization. Then this major life-project is either indefinitely postponed or put in the hands of someone else. We begged my 90-year-old aunt to move when she was relatively healthily; predictably, she said no. tAfter a broken hip, the cleaning and downsizing was a painful event–all she could do was agree as I asked “Should we give this away?” “Should we throw this away?” Her life! And I had to dispose of it.

Many of us have been in the home or apartment of a person who for many reasons didn’t downsize when they left that house with all the bedrooms. Things are jammed into a smaller space that doesn’t allow easy movement. The home feels uncomfortable, like you can’t breathe. With forethought and good advice Boomers today are likely NOT to do this.
So while getting ready to downsize, consider:
1. Condos are usually on one level, like apartments; accessing a condo on an upper floor requires using stairs or an elevator. Negatives: The ability to get outside is limited; you might have a tiny porch or deck with little to no privacy. Positives: Usually condos provide living space on one level.
2. Townhomes offer the opposite choices, often providing that garden or space to get outside, but usually composed of two stories with stairs.
3. When thinking about choosing a future space, cost will probably be a major consideration–but while crunching numbers, consider comfort too. This might be the last home you occupy and there is nothing better for one’s future than comfort–I don’t need to emphasize why.
4. Once you have found that new home, make a floor plan or template, whether it’s one room or something larger. Have your measurements indicate placement of doors, windows, appliances, built-in shelves, linen storage, heater vents, etc. This will allow you to know exactly the space you will have for furniture placement.
5. Give yourself time, like 2-3 months, to go through every drawer and closet in your home. As you do, make a list of those things that hold wonderful memories and you just can’t live without. Those will go with you. The rest will be sold or given away: things you never use, books you’ll never read, items too big or too old, pillows, linens that are stained or torn, uncomfortable chairs, magazines, and any papers you won’t ever need again.
6. Edit every furniture piece in your home. Measurements will help you to decide what will fit in a pleasing way in your new space. Get excited and have fun doing this. Often your pieces can be used in creative and different ways: a dining table loses leaves and becomes a desk; a couch goes into a den; bookshelves are used for china, glassware and art objects. A table’s legs are shortened and voila, a coffee table.
7. Edit the kitchen, basement and garage with gusto! Kitchen items can often be pared down to 2-4 of each utensil and 2 or 3 pans and bowls. Have you used those four jello molds or that Bundt pan? It’s smart to bring tools for minor house repairs, but condo living and often townhouse living probably won’t require mowers, blowers and shovels. Be green and responsible and donate–don’t throw things in the garbage.
8. Lauri Ward’s Downsizing Your Home With Style offers a list of furniture pieces that you should always bring with you ( though the rule, will they fit, needs to be considered): sofa and matching chairs, armless chairs, chairs that swivel, and items with storage. This last is so important as the newer space might have limited shelving and cabinets and you don’t want to overload and clutter this fresh new home. So bring those treasured items (framed photos, your McCoy pottery, your husband’s rock collection)–but  be prepared to only display some of it while storing the rest. And after you have moved and might be looking for a project, digitize the pictures in your photo albums or buy digital frames that display a series of photos.
9. When placing your furniture in your new home, DO utilize storage in plain sight. End tables, coffee tables, storage benches can all be part of your living experience, yet hold various treasures and necessities at the same time. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases and entertainment units can hold your television and stereo systems as well as books, objects of art and photos.
10. Using a similar color pallet on walls and furniture can stretch your smaller space as can a flowing hardwood floor or wall to wall carpeting. Area rugs chop up a space.
11. Stores today advertise smaller scale pieces that fit tight to the wall and thus again increase the space.
12. Tall furniture can emphasize low ceilings as can wainscotting or chair rails. Paint everything in the same shade to stretch the wall upwards. Other clever ways to increase space is to use furniture with legs not skirts and side tables rather than chests of drawers. Glass tables and mirrors bounce light and a low bookcase can become a divider between the living and dining areas.
The bottom line to all of this is personal choice and making those choices can be exciting. Now is the time to fulfill dreams you had to set aside because of children and work situations. Maybe now you are freed from having to live near the train or owning a home with lots of bedrooms. Great! Look around. Dream and dream some more before you take that next step.
Don’t be down about downsizing. And don’t think small. Maybe your new home won’t have as much square footage, but it can be “big” no matter what: big art on the walls; a big table for family when they gather. Measure and measure again. Make a list of things you absolutely have to have. I had to be able to walk outside and dig in a garden. That helped determine what our new adventure would look like.

And it’s still an adventure–requiring me to be creative and think outside the box. And though once in a while, I wonder about some item–whether I gave it away and why and to whom or if it isn’t in the garage in some box!  But truly, our new home is clean and uncluttered, provides us with what we need–books, music, some art on the walls, pottery and photos that I dearly love, pieces of furniture that are keepers –why I guess this new home is just plain delightful.

So when it’s time, go for it!

PS. For more thoughts on downsizing and reducing clutter read this article in the LA TIMES  A quote from that piece:

“I am impressed by the degree to which outer order controls inner calm,” says Rubin. She recalls the friend who told her, “‘I cleaned out my fridge, and now I can change careers.'”

Thanks to Google Images

Downsizing to a New Home? Think Delightful, Not Depressing

For more ideas visit
Downsizing to a New Home? Think Delightful, Not Depressing

You’ll find creative ways to display your pottery.

Open Your Windows to New Garden Views

Open Your Windows to New Garden Views

Ah for a garden with color, scent, fountains and no weeds.

It’s time to eliminate the boundaries between your home and garden by opening windows to the garden views beyond.  Why do labor intensive work outside if you can’t sit by a window and enjoy the view?  There must be one window that looks onto a rose bush or perennial bed that doesn’t require a curtain or shutter.  There must be one view that allows light and air to bring the perfume of flowers into your home.  We all need windows that open to our garden views.

Garden designer, Judy Horton, uses the maxim of “gardening from the inside out” when working out her own designs or counseling others.  She asks her clients: What do you want to see when you park your car?  Or walk in with groceries? Or stand at the kitchen sink?  Or read the paper in the morning?  Answers to these questions support Horton’s observation that: “When you look at the garden from the outside, you see something different from the people who live inside.”

Every window in Horton’s cottage in California’s Hollywood Hills frames a portrait of a lush part of her garden outside.  On either side of her fireplace are windows revealing mature grapevines, orange kumquats and purple wisteria.

Horton will move plants around to fill other windows with garden color.  The window in her office frames a pink begonia that she placed in a pot on top of another pot so that it reaches the window.  In season, she hangs baskets of pink fuchsia hybrids, purchased at the supermarket, to fill the window in her bedroom.  Her permanent garden flows to and fills the doorway of her patio where she highlights hues of green instead of bold color. “I like a calm, clear, quiet space,” she says.

Denise Horner, a Midwest gardener who works her land for the sheer pleasure and reward, follows Horton’s guidelines.  A large picture window in her living room needs no curtain or blind as year round it frames either a bubbling fountain with water plants in the warm months or mounds of snow set with iron ornaments in the cold.  Her kitchen windowsill holds a row of potted plants that wave at the blooming hydrangeas outside.

Horton is so dedicated to eliminating the boundaries between in and out, that she lets a California grapevine creep into her living room right through the window.  Many gardeners dream of that flow, though insects, bees and heat prevent it from becoming a reality most seasons of the year.

But gardeners are adaptive by nature.  We have to be as some plants make it at one corner of the garden where they didn’t at the other, and some rules apply always and some do not.  INVENTION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME.  So have fun examining Horton’s principles below.  See if you can incorporate some of them to recharge your garden and your garden views.

  1. Follow good garden design: like good interior design, gardens start with the bones: floor, walls, ceiling, paths.  These are “vital” Horton says.

  2. Fill the foreground: start by placing a plant that changes with the seasons or gives off a pleasing scent close to a window or a door.
  3. Create a side yard tableau: in many urban areas, windows look onto a building next door.  Think of ways to improve the view with a fence and vines or taller plantings.  Horton bought an old Gothic window frame and hung it on the fence, trailing a vine over it.
  4. Consider multiple points of view: when planting a hedge in her front yard, Horton viewed the plan not only from the street, but from her living room window to get the curve of the hedge just right.
  5. Rethink color: again, ask yourself what mood you want to create when looking out your kitchen window, for example, and plant flowers that reflect that mood.

I hope you’re getting up from your chair right now and looking through your windows for new garden views.  If you have a photo, please share.

Thanks to the LA Times, Lisa Boone, Michael Robinson Chavez and Destination Magazine

Open Your Windows to New Garden Views

Judy Horton allows a grapevine to grow through her living room window.

Thanks to Gay Lynn who shared a series of photos working from the inside out. This one

is from her living room window. Her garden is 32 years old, filled with love and care.

Open Your Windows to New Garden Views

Gay likes to read in this room, pausing to enjoy her garden.








Here is a photo of my back patio from the dining room window:Open Your Windows to New Garden Views


Open YOur Windows to New Garden Views

This is tropical and lovely. Thanks to Susana De Leon!

The Grass Is Slowly Growing, My Mother Is Slowly…

If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

My mother died Tuesday morning.  My brother and I had traveled to see her and she knew us, beamed when she saw us and throughout the afternoon was able to communicate her needs to us.

Her dementia was far advanced, but my mother was able to say in halting sentences that she had to go and was afraid.  Of course we assured her that we would stay by her side.  Within 12 hours, Sunday morning, she had started her journey with rapid breathing, finally entering into a semi-conscious state.

Hospice came and started oxygen and wrote up orders for morphine which depresses breathing and of course deals with pain.  My brother and I stayed with our mother every moment for the next two days, sleeping in her room and sitting by her side.  Often we talked to her to assure her that we were there.  Mouth care is important for someone in this condition and we helped with that.  The nurses at the senior home came in frequently to check on our mother.  Our dear caregiver was also there at her side.

The process was difficult, but eased by the numbers of aids and nurses from her home who knocked gently on the door and came in to say goodbye.

Spring is slowly coming to the midwest.  My mother loved flowers and trees and in her last months was cheered by the sight of one bright yellow blossom or a single white rose.  New life will come into the world that she loved and we know that her life, so fully lived, will bless us and guide us all the days of our lives.

Writer Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley Jr. and Patricia Buckley wrote The Last Goodbyes, a book about losing his parents.  When asked whether that bond ends with death, he said: It never goes away, and they never go away. Your parents are your ultimate protectors, and no matter what difficulties you’re having with them when they’re alive, you can always pick up the phone and hear their voices. They provide a certain level of comfort—just knowing they’re there. They’re like fire extinguishers mounted on the wall behind glass. You know if it really comes to it, you can break the glass.  And now they’re gone. 

My father-in-law died one spring.  I remember thinking, as I was planting my flower garden, that he would be gone even as the tiny plants I was plunging into the earth grew large, produced flowers—still lived.  I know now that often when I plant a garden my mother will be there, in my mind, feeling the warm sun as I do and loving the idea of growth and expansion.  She was the flower in my life and what she taught me and the power of her love will keep me growing until it’s my time.

The grass is slowly growing while other life ebbs away.

Thanks to jainaj     and     Madame Kno  photostreams

The Art of Cleaning–with some zen help

We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.   Lao Tzu

I’d rather clean than grocery shop.  Here’s why.

Cleaning your rooms is an art.  It can satisfy your creative urges and appeal to the senses, all five of them.  It has a longer staying power, most times, than cooking, for the labors of the kitchen are often consumed within minutes of the completion of the task.  Cleaning can last—at least a little longer.

Cleaning is good for the soul.  It reflects organization and conviction on the part of the person in control of it.

Cleaning can be so zen, so in the moment.   Cleaning allows you to immerse yourself in a task (if you don’t have interruptions) because it is you deeply involved in something physical, but most times its simplicity allows your actions to run on automatic pilot while you dream, plan, sing or organize your next move. (This is a great choice. You can plan the rest of your day, or the next cleaning task.)

You are the boss, the ruler of all you survey, the decision maker, until maybe you come upon your spouse’s desk or your children’s clutter.  Then you might have to step back and allow them that involvement later on.

But as you proceed moment to moment YOU are increasing the pleasantness of your surroundings.

The obstacle is the path.  ~Zen Proverb

But in order to go there (that dream, focus) you have to meet the organizational challenge of cleaning.

You need:

1. A mental map and time.  Know where you will begin and end in the amount of time you have; know how detailed you plan to be.  Changing and washing linens and towels and decluttering while cleaning??  Block out more time.  What if you are vacuuming and dusting six rooms and cleaning a bath and a powder room and kitchen?  That’s a lot.  You will probably need at least three hours of uninterrupted time.

2. Love for your rooms.  Whether you live in an apartment, house, mansion, cottage, for this to work you have to invest uninterrupted care and pleasure into your cleaning time.  No phone calls, emails.  Your children are at school or with a sitter or your spouse.

3. Supplies. Choose from: bucket, mop or floor sponge mop, dust rags or cloths, vacuum, broom and dustpan, garbage bags, possibly Swiffer for wood floors, paper towel, water and cleaning fluids like window cleaner, wax or cleaners for wood surfaces and scouring products for toilets and sinks.  Want to be green?

Gorgeously Green All-Purpose Spray

32-ounce plastic spray bottle

2 cups water

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon pure castile soap (peppermint is a favorite)

3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide

20 drops tea tree oil

20 drops of lavender or lemongrass essential oil

Simply fill a large 32-ounce plastic spray bottle with the water. Add the vinegar, castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and lavender or lemongrass essential oil. Lavender is lovely for the bathroom spray and lemongrass for the kitchen, so make two separate bottles at the same time. In the hot summer months, add about 10 drops of citronella essential oil to the spray, as it is an excellent insect repellent.

This spray is suitable for acrylic, ceramic tile, wood, marble and granite. Sophie Uliano .

4. Something creative/fun or new: scented candle, garden flowers, pillow, new pillow cases, decorative tissue box, storage container—let your needs and your mind flow.  Determine how much time you want for this part—thirty minutes to make a flower arrangement from your garden or yard, or one minute to place a pillow. Twenty minutes to rearrange a bedroom or one minute to place a candle on the kitchen table.  Your choice, your needs.

5.Your Five Senses: enjoy the scents of flax soap, polishes and the candle you light when you are finished.  Play music, dance and sing if you want to.  Or just enjoy the whirling of the washing machine drum, the click of the dryer, or the whoosh of the dishwasher.  Immerse your hands in the warm water and suds of your bucket or feel the cold air on your face when you open a window to wash it.  Taste a protein snack as you move through your tasks and finally enjoy the sights of completion when you stand back and see what you have accomplished.

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.  ~Robert M. Pirsig

Cleaning is not a repetitive act when you are constantly creating new visions (how your rooms look) or thinking of ways to keep order.  Yes, it might be a constant struggle, but it can be fun meeting the challenge and you might just conquer it at some point and feel tremendous pride.  (From experience—I finally bought the right toy collectors—not one big toy box whose lid could thump my child on the head, but a series of smaller boxes that are easy to load when toy time is done.)

  • Final notes: it’s fascinating to see your life from a different angle—try looking at the reflection of your room from a mirror, or stand on a ladder and look down into your rooms.  I do this when I am outside, looking in while washing windows.
  • Change is good—moving a chair or a table keeps life more interesting.
  • And finally, partnership in other rooms of your home, not just the bedroom, is good for your sex life.  Yes, research shows that men who do housework have more sex.  Psychologist John Gottman discovered that men who help out doing housework frequently, have more and better sex with their spouses because they are showing their partners that they care and understand all these responsibilities and how they must be met.  If your spouse is doing the work, you have more time and space for sexual desires and feelings.

“I have done my best”, that is about all the philosophy of living that one needs.  





When You Won’t Be Home for Christmas

When You Won't Be Home for Christmas

There are things you can do to feel the spirit of the season on a smaller scale.

Raising children means change—isn’t your middle name flexible?  But when it comes to holiday traditions and customs obstinate might substitute.  But we’ve always had the holidays here–that’s the way we do it! A logical response when grandma wants you to travel across the country with your four children.  But then one day your empty-nest life is confirmed–the kids are now calling you and saying they just can’t get away.  It’s your turn to travel.  Change springs eternal.

Once you get your head around it, it’s no big deal.  But sometimes snowfalls and melodies bring back those old emotions and you want the same old traditions to remain right here at home.  You struggle for a sensible balance.  Actually there is one.

When we moved from Chicago to Iowa, we lost the chance to celebrate Christmas at home.  Family was scattered throughout the USA and despite the over the river and through the woods feeling that Iowa has, there was no way we could lure family to us.    No Christmas brunch around our tree, no turkey in the oven.  We would be traveling at Christmas.  And a decade of doing so now makes me somewhat of an authority.  Have a question about Fed-EX or postage rates, packing for four, finding economical lodging—I have answers.  No regrets.  I got on with it.

Now it’s you going to Disney World for a vacation, or to Maine because your sister needs you, or flying to be with grandpa.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays at home before going on the road.


  • put up an artificial tree; this allows you to decorate on your own schedule and enjoy the season in your own home before you’re off and traveling.
  • limit your decorating;  garnish your tree, a mantel, and one or two rooms where you spend lots of time;  free yourself from the competition of outside lighting by spotlighting the front door and adorning it with your favorite wreath; note to empty-nesters—whittle down your supply of decorations, keeping those that are precious to you.  Box up the best of the rest for your children so that they can decorate their homes with memories of their childhood holidays.
  • keep your focus simple;  if this change is going to be routine, spend your money on a few outstanding decorations—a carved angel, a ceramic tree, needlepoint stockings bearing your children’s names, a must-have Santa Claus—things you will grow to cherish.
  • decorate your car;  I love seeing a sporty sedan or a soccer mom SUV adorned with a wreath.  If you drive, your décor travels with you.
  • purchase holiday clothing; maybe it’s just pj’s, but buy something for everyone in the family that highlights you’re celebrating the season!

Buying and wrapping gifts:

  • limit what you bring with you; hauling presents via car isn’t too bad, any other way is a nightmare.   TSA will not let you carry wrapped gifts on board.  My son-in-law used his golf club bag, packing it with all their gifts—a great idea.
  • send things ahead; this is your best option. My brother sends most of his gifts ahead to one address.  When he arrives he buys a roll of white shelf paper and colored markers and creatively labels each gift.
  • shop the Internet; food and drink, fresh aromatic greens, and every kind of modern gadget that exists are there for your choosing.  You can pay extra for wrapping and the purchase will be labeled and shipped.
  • other ideas; my friend Linda doesn’t have time to shop in December, so when she finally travels to be with family, she wraps up photos of the gifts she will send after the holidays when she has more time.  Sue brings just a small gift for each family member, often an ornament or a photograph.  And Jane has created a special night when she and her husband exchange gifts before they travel.


  • do your own thing; if having seasonal sweets in the house is the essence of Christmas for your family, spend some time preparing your special cranberry bread or gingerbread cookies.  Consumable gifts are perfect for many on your list.  However, if traveling gives you the excuse you need to steer clear of the baking pans, great!  Start a new tradition—use the time to see a concert or holiday play or take a walk in the snow.  At some point during your holiday you might find yourself cutting out sugar cookies with your grandchildren or helping your mother frost a Yule log, and that will be your best baking experience of the season.


  • host a holiday get-together; your traditions are in flux, but you might prepare a holiday meal for your friends before you leave.  You can use your Christmas china and show off your tree.  A small ornament gift exchange or a large holiday open house is a good idea.  Let your friends each bring something so your departure plans can still proceed smoothly.  Keep in mind, you may be creating a new tradition!

Christmas cards:

  • send out a Christmas photo; traveling makes this ritual even more attractive–family and friends you won’t be seeing can still share your Christmas home when your card has a photo of your tree or mantel.
  • take photos of your home with your smart phone; bring photos so you can continue to share some of your traditions;
  • post Christmas photos on your Facebook page; just because you are no longer geographically  close to some of your friends and family doesn’t mean you can’t share your holiday life with them.

Though traveling at the holidays has its stresses, they are outweighed by the hours of relaxation–the time you will spend sitting by the fire with your parents and children, or enjoying a different climate, or watching your grandchildren’s eyes light up as they open your gifts.  And when you come home, it will only take a few hours to pack away the tree and your carefully chosen decorations.

When You Won't Be Home for Christmas

A fresh wreath on your front door speaks the season and in colder climates lasts a long time.

Hospital Corners and Home Ec

Hospital Corners and Home Ec

Just follow the directions!!

Recently, Barbara Brotman, a Chicago Tribune writer that I have admired for many years, wrote a column about the talents that we still have, but often do not use.  She challenged today’s young generation to read a map, rewind a tape of your favorites to the right song, and defrost a refrigerator.  But the skill that she still uses often is this one: I still make a bed with hospital corners, as if no one had invented duvets. When I tried to teach it to my daughters, they looked at me as if I were starting dinner by rubbing two sticks together…this little domestic ability deserves respect…isn’t it possible that the rarity and frequent uselessness of old-school ways also give them a kind of cachet?

Yes, Barbara, they do. And your piece made me remember that in seventh grade my best friend Jean and I organized and ran a Home Economics Schoolfor the younger, sorry to say, just girls in the neighborhood.  I don’t think any boys asked if they could attend, but our consciousnesses were not raised yet.  It was 1960!

We taught our five pupils how to make a bed, using hospital corners, how to dust and vacuum, how to sew—that was a big challenge and my mother had to help—and how to cook a simple meal.  Jean’s mother, who had eight kids of her own, was the hero for this class.  She let us turn her backyard into a small restaurant where on a balmy summer day we fed the neighborhood children PBJ sandwiches, chips, and milk.  For free!  What were we thinking?

We actually had a graduation ceremony on my front porch where we gave one of the five pupils, Sherry, an award for being the best student.  Thinking back, I see it more as a subtle bribe—she was the neighborhood handful.

The entire process, brochures listing the classes and dates, assembling things we needed, getting parental permission, was a huge undertaking.  And our own dear mothers were so cooperative, interrupting their own work to accommodate our classes.

I ask myself now—what if I had run with this idea starting right then?  Maybe I would have become another Martha Stewart.  But there were just too many wonderful things to learn and explore.  Why settle on one?

Like Barbara Brotman, I too still use hospital corners.  As for sewing, forget it!

Thanks to Google Images

How to Catch a Critter, or Live with Them

How to Catch a Critter, or Live with Them

My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles.

Originally published under the title: Tales of Insomnia, Darwin, and Liquid Fence in the Des Moines Register 2007

In 1997, we moved from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa.  We were excited about the deck and our many oak trees.  We got into the habit of opening our windows to the night air and falling asleep to the sounds of the woods—the chirps of crickets, the hum of insect mandibles chewing.  Ah the country, a little bit of heaven.

Think again.  One night I was awakened by a piercing screech so intense I couldn’t sleep.  I knew it would keep up until the owl had killed its prey or the neighbor’s cat could free itself from the local fox.  Tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest, was alive and functioning just beyond my fence.  But the point was I had a fence.  I had my territory and they had theirs and we could just keep it that way.

Then my neighbors explained to me that the reason my hosta plants had morphed into razor-edged sticks was something called browsing—a word that meant the deer were enjoying a salad.  This was all so new we spent the evening watching deer from my son’s treefort.  We counted the points on the male’s rack and called the folks back in Chicago bragging about our amazing wildlife.

Then there was the large doe finishing off my impatiens.  I clapped my hands, shouted, picked up a stone and lobbed it at her.  Inner-city deer.  She kept on chewing.

The mythology of dealing with deer bloomed.  “Put out bars of soap.  Scatter human hair.  Let your son relieve himself on your plants.”  Whatever!!!

The gardening center had shelves of products.  I read the labels.  Apply frequently; apply when it’s not going to rain; apply and cover each frond of the plant!  I had about 90 hostas.  And this stuff wasn’t cheap.  I bought something called Liquid Fence which when applied leaves a stench that will keep the deer away and your best friends.  But I sprayed.  And I had my fence, right?

The deer were jumping my fence.   And the rest of nature was just beginning to gear up.  The word had gotten around in the critter community—we’ve got fresh meat living in the grey house, go for broke.

There was scratching below our deck.  Then I saw a creature scuttle to its new home—under that deck.  I found a picture of my critter—a woodchuck.  Go ahead, start singing the old rhyme.  But like skunks, you don’t want one of these things living with you.  They are more territorial then I was surely becoming.  Oak trees, acorns—this  woodchuck was set for life.

The critter-catcher set up three traps.  We caught two possum, two raccoons and the neighbor’s cat.  Finally one afternoon I actually saw the critter walk right into the trap.  I was so excited I called my husband at work.  I had gone over the edge.  The critter-catcher wasn’t far behind.  He brought a camera .  “I’ve never caught one of these,” he told me happily.  We were a pair.

Then at two a.m. there was the bat, fighting the circles of the ceiling fan above our bed.  And me with a broom and a baseball cap and a towel—you use the towel to throw the bat to the ground.  I was learning!

Now I’m definitely dreaming of a condo—no trees, no animals.  But can I give up listening to the sounds of nature as I fall asleep?

A few nights ago: bump, thunk!  It’s four a.m. and something has just knocked over the bird bath.  I’m awake.  Is it deer in the hostas?  I haven’t sprayed.  A raccoon?  My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles.  He’s starting to crack too.  I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the yard below swarming with wild life, every inch crawling with nature, vivid with its slither and instinct, its hunger and need.

In the morning, the lawn was full of squirrels and chipmunks.  For even if the legal documents for our dwelling has the name HAVEY on it, we now know who truly owns the place.

If you have any critter problems, please share.

Thanks to Google Images