Bin there, done that


This is a problem. A first world problem, granted, but a problem.

All morning long, I have been working on keeping my focus on writing a story that was due. Early on, there were distractions, like food, which I’m ordinarily bad at eating on a regular schedule, and the cat’s litter box. I just as soon would have ignored that one, but I already was emptying the trash, which only happens once or twice a week, and I was concerned about what the state would be if I waited another round.

As long as I had a full trash bag that had cat litter packed into the side and was tearing, I might as well take it out to the bin rather than risk litter leaking onto my floor, I reasoned. As long as I was outside, I might as well roll the bin to the curb in air that was brisk, not bitter — what passes for nice in a Michigan January. As I walked back I thought about taking another two minutes to take the recycling bins to the curb and my brain started screaming at me about sitting down and writing the story, so I did.

(If you have to ask why, when the event I covered was Wednesday afternoon, I did not write the story on Wednesday night, you never have been a writer.)

I’m stumped, so I start about three paragraphs in. There is not only what happened Wednesday to talk about, but some important future plans as well, in a way that’s not clunky and forced. I keep chipping until I’m getting reasonably satisfied.

Phone goes off. Editor. My greeting is, “I’m working on it.” Ten minutes, I say. I think it ends up being 12.

Just as I finish, I see a city truck. No, I think, be the one for the trash. I watch to see if the mechanical arms come down for the next-door neighbor’s bin.

No! Someone hops off to grab their recycling. They will be past my house before I can grab even one bin and make it out the door, let alone both.

We’ve been recycling for a few years now, and I am completely sold. It only took a few months to realize how much of our trash was devoted to packaging. Unless we have deer remains or something, I sometimes don’t even roll the trash out weekly, because it takes three or four weeks to fill the bin.

But the recycling is another story. We are lucky not to have to sort, and can throw cardboard and plastic and paper and glass all together in one glorious party. That helps with the family cooperation.

The down side is that the bins fill quickly enough that skipping a week doesn’t work well. I now have one bin smashed and tamped full, and one empty — plus a third in reserve.

Next week: recycling before breakfast. Writing hours before deadline? Unlikely.

Chores shouldn’t be a chore for ME

I hate being chore cop.
Anyone who’s been at parenting for a number of years knows what I mean. You can’t just tell kids to do household tasks; you have to make sure they do them. So even if all goes well and they learn basic tasks and that everyone is expected to pitch in, you still have the chore of making sure they do theirs. And it is work.
I went through any number of systems, from simple (you do dishes on odd days, you get evens) to handing out lists, to a ridiculous system I barely remember except that it involved different colors of posterboard, index cards and four pockets.
It was way over the top. My kids were about 8, so it was doomed from the start for its complexity. Each child got one pocket, and maybe another one was for jobs either one could do. I truly don’t recall. I do know that the one I eyed most as I walked past was the one for “jobs done.” I had this grand idea that instead of patrolling the house to see if tasks were done, I could just see a card in that pocket and check on that task.
Bwahaha. Not only was it not less work, it was more, because not only did they have to remember to do chores, they had to remember to move index cards around, and I had to police that.
I tried assigning tasks for a while, only to get the whines of “her list is easier.” And I didn’t believe going strictly by days of the week made sense, because one sporting event or heavy night of homework rendered that unfair.
We settled on the current system around a year and a half ago. I made a list of all the chores that needed to be done over the course of a week. Then I asked my two teens to assign a number of points to each one, 1 to 3, depending on how hard or involved it was. Cleaning the microwave is 1 point, for example; washing and putting away all the towels is 2, and vacuuming is 3 points because of the pet hair.
Now they know on weekends to check the white board on the front of the refrigerator. If there are extra tasks to be done, I write them there. Otherwise, I just say for each one to do, say, 5 points of jobs. There’s no “reserving” a task; whoever gets to it first gets to do it. One actually prefers to clean the bathroom. I generally don’t care WHAT tasks they do, as long as they’re contributing.
This works for us. What works for you?

Not 100 things, but mindful purchases

Once upon a time I had read about Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, so I went to his website to revisit the idea.
Hopping around some links also led me to Courtney’s Carver’s Minimalism Misconceptions including a link to mini-missions, which are baby steps to changing not only stuff but thinking.
I don’t know that I ever would have 100 or fewer possessions. I know that as a tween I had more than 100 elephants, and while I don’t have them all anymore I know I’ve gained others, and so “elephant collection” would have to be one item.
On the other hand, I’m pretty good about clothing. This is partly because my home and work wardrobes are so similar, and partly because I don’t enjoy shopping. Jewelry, on the other hand, especially earrings … those would be another group, I rationalize.
Much of this thinking I already had absorbed from FlyLady, who taught me about decluttering and that I only needed to keep items that were useful or meaningful. Those extra dozen or so coffee mugs didn’t qualify, so they’re boxed up in the basement. I’d have given them away, but I have late-teen children who will move out in the next few years, and they’ll need something for their morning joe. Tossing now and buying later would be wasteful, and not being wasteful is precisely what led me to this train of thought in the first place.

Is that a streak?

Most of the time, one of the joys of telecommuting is the relative freedom from distractions.

I read today that office workers get interrupted an average of once every 3 minutes, and I believe it. When I’m in the newsroom, I sit near someone who feels compelled to share a running commentary aloud – phone calls she needs to make, stories she needs to work on next, etc.

One day she asked, after a morning of complaining aloud about her computer, “Why do I yell at my computer when I know it doesn’t do any good?”

“I don’t know,” I countered. “Why have I been bringing in my iPod all week?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because you’ve been yelling at your computer.”

She’s a dear person, but with a habit that makes it harder for me to be productive

Working in my living room means far fewer distractions. Let the dogs out occasionally. Let the cat in. Try not to allow fights during the crossover.

That’s pretty much it. The kids sleep through deadline most days, so there’s not even muttering about not having the TV on. The compromise is it can be on during afternoon work, but I exercise more veto power than usual, such as no Fairly OddParents, particularly not obnoxious episodes like the musical one that appeared the other day. (Seriously. Who decided, “Hey, we have a show full of characters with annoying voices; why don’t we have them all sing?”)

Tonight, though, I was waiting for someone to check my wire pages so I could send them to film, and all I could think about was the sunset light forcing its way through the grime on my west-facing window. I had noticed earlier, but the wait made the buildup unbearable, so out onto the porch with cleaner and newspaper – ha, product placement! – I went, vertically on the outside and horizontally back on the inside (in case you didn’t know that trick).

So now I’m sending the last of my pages, and much happier because my front window is gleaming. Of course, now I see how the south-facing ones look dusty by comparison. But they require a ladder and more daylight than I’ve got left, so I can put them aside for now.

Come the morning deadline, of course, they’ll be bugging me again. But quietly, very quietly.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

The glory of raking

My children think it’s weird that I love yard work.

My husband is understanding in his own way. As he left Sunday for a meeting he said something about how I could go out and rake, and when I replied along the lines of “thank you for planning my day for me,” he was a little taken aback and explained he just knew how badly I’d wanted to get outside and start cleaning up the yard.

It’s true. When we were looking at this week’s weather report, he was pointing to the temperatures and I was counterpointing to the rain clouds that would make the temperatures pointless. “One shower and I’m done for the day.”

So Sunday, I raked. I filled the single yard waste bag I had left over from last year, and left piles to deal with later.

Monday, my son raked. This was unusual, because the children have no use for yard work. But apparently when he and his dad were fishing Saturday, there was talk of setting camp chairs out in the lawn, for lazy evenings of chat and reading and dog play. The boy was headed out to scoop up puppy presents and when I said the rake likely would be more efficient, he didn’t hesitate.

He tried to get his sister to set out the chairs, with no luck. “You’re just reading on the couch,” he said. “You’re the one who wants them,” she replied.

He wasn’t motivated enough to actually unfold them and drag them off the porch, but he is thinking about them. The puppy hid under them last year, he noted; at 80 pounds, she probably can’t manage that now.

Maybe today the chairs will make it onto the grass. Then he and his dad can lounge in the front yard, watching traffic and waving at the neighbors, calling to the dogs and making plans for the next fishing trip. Spring is truly here.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

So this is spring break at our house

My son laughed in his sleep on the floor. He and his sister both are camped in the living room right now because their bedrooms are getting painted – and they’re doing the work.

Their rooms have been the same colors since they moved into them as toddlers. They have flat paint – BIG mistake – and very, very pale colors, green in one and blue in the other, but so light they are nearly white. The kids hate their walls.

(They also hate the texture, both way bumpy and knockdown, on their ceilings and walls, but we are not changing that. I expect soon my son will be expressing great gratitude because some of his walls are flat, where we ran out of texturing materials, and his sister will be expressing great envy.)

Curiously, they ended up choosing green and blue again, after my daughter long had threatened a deep red color and my son kept mentioning orange. (He did briefly entertain a gray and neon green Xbox theme.) There was a lot of angst involved (“Dad won’t let us get all black, will he?”) but I kept assuring them I didn’t care what they chose, if they moved out in a few years and I didn’t like the colors I’d just paint over them, sure patterns were OK, yes more than one color was OK (although not the four different colors the boy was pondering at one point, please).

Thanks to the ever-handy, the wall o’ color at Home Depot and the adjacent paint picturer, we finally came home with four gallons of paint: Thyme Green and Emerald Coast for her, Happy Camper and Neptune Blue for him.

There was an odd peace in the house as they helped each other move furniture. At that point, the boy abandoned the project and preferred NCAA basketball, NASCAR, Xbox, anything but taping, knowing his painting would be limited until his dad got home and patched the mui holes. His sister, on the other hand, went into her “I can do this all myself and if you help even 3 percent it will be RUINED for me” mode, consenting to my help only with arranging drop cloths and pouring paint. She taped all the trim and windows herself, made the edge cuts for the green half of her room, wrapped everything up in plastic and asked to watch “Finding Nemo” when she was done, to which I consented, rewarding her with the couch for her efforts. Her brother, who had declined a sleeping bag at first in favor of a recliner, dug one out at some point and remains there still.

There likely will be muttering today because the senior fisherman was tromping in the river yesterday and won’t patch holes until tonight, but there is much that can be done anyway – which I will point out as repeatedly as necessary. My role is more a supervisory one, I have decided. People who think they are old enough to drive surely can handle a little painters’ tape.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Trickledon, and all over the floor

My home page at home is set to The Onion now, just for some variety. I stumble across random amusement that way, so I was tickled to find Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man this morning. I never was a Reagan fan, and was stunned when I visited Washington to find the homage still lingering (flags at half-staff for a MONTH?), so it was nice to be reminded I wasn’t the only one saying, “Mmm, you’re not helping ME.” Trickledown, no. Trickled ON, maybe.

As I type, heat swirls around my feet. When I had to remove a skim coat of frost from a windshield at 6 a.m. yesterday, I knew it might not be long, and it wasn’t. I dread paying for it, but 58 degrees was just a bit too chilly for the house. And as I expected, when it kicked on yesterday afternoon, the smell was less than delightful.

We have a humidifier. I forgot about it, which means it didn’t occur to me that the drain hose likely had been moved over the summer. But last evening, someone went into the basement and came back up noting there was water all over the floor. I promised to remember next year. Add this to the list of reasons we don’t keep anything of value in the basement – all reasons water-related, of course.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Vacation, all I ever wanted

I returned to work from vacation yesterday.

Where did I go? Nowhere, except the movies once to bask in Johnny Depp and this fabulous Daliesque sequence.

What did I do? Not a whole heck of a lot.

Seriously, in terms of accomplishments, there weren’t many. I did reorganize my pantry and some kitchen cabinets. I did yard work, but I tend to do that on the weekends anyway, so it wasn’t anything extra.

Mostly what I did was not work. It took some effort, especially the first couple of times I realized I hadn’t touched the computer in a couple of hours and should be checking for opinions on news stories. Nope, someone else’s job for nine days.

It took about a day and a half before my body stopped drifting toward the den when it seemed I’d been away from the computer too long. After that, I signed on only for personal e-mail, Sudoku and Sims.

I did think about work occasionally, but it was largely along the lines of, “Hmm, 10:30 a.m. What work am I not doing right now?” I’ve enjoyed that exercise for years.

It must have been a good break. It’s my second day back and I’m still happy in my head.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Cough, rake and vaccuum

Once upon a time I lived in a more humid place. Each spring, when the famous blue rains came, I would get bronchitis for six weeks or so. Then I moved 500 miles north and got much healthier.

No more. I am just ending what I think was my third case of bronchitis and upper respiratory infection in four years.

I didn’t like the doctor Saturday morning asking questions that required me to think, like about dates. I did appreciate that she cut to the chase and asked what medicine I took the last time I had this. Three prescriptions later I was shuffling to my car, clinging to the clerk’s promise I would feel better in about 24 hours.

On a very up note, I started feeling human again just in time for that glorious weather the other day. I had entertained thoughts of working on the bedroom paint job, but then I stepped outside. Five yard waste bags were hauled to the curb, and the November leaf piles were no more.

And the bedroom? Finally all the painting, sanding, painting, touching up etc. is done – rare sienna and wild porcini – and tonight we can vaccuum and move back in. So next time we have 70-degree weather, we can open the living room window our box spring has been propped up against for a month.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

LOOKS like spring

It doesn’t feel as springlike as yesterday (72? What was THAT about?), but it sure looks like the season switch was flipped.

My neighbors cattycorner have the glider dragged to the sidewalk and the wheelbarrow tooling about the yard. The 23ish guy next door is in the same mode he’s been the last eight or so years – a car project with his best buddy.

My guess is that as soon as the shift worker across the street wakes up, he’s firing up the lawnmower. You know the guy on every street who is a compulsive mower and makes everyone else look bad? He’s ours.

I love that the snow has melted, except that now I can see those leaf piles from fall. Maybe tomorrow. Today I have ceilings to paint, so if you see me, no, it’s not more gray hair.<P>

<em>This post originally appeared on <a title=”Midland Daily News” href=””></a&gt;, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.</em>