Baby, It’s Cold Outside…

It’s cold.

Well, not up-north-where-I’m-from-in-Michigan-and-Ohio cold, but definitely we’re-used-to-90s-here-in-Texas cold.

I’ve been in Texas since 1981, and somewhere along the way, I became a cold weather wimp. We went for a visit at Christmas time in 1989. It was snowy and beautiful, but the wind was fierce and stabbing. I just wanted to be inside with a couple dozen blankets and a heating pad. So it didn’t take long for my body to decide it prefers 90+ degree days to -20 degree days.

But don’t you just love this time of year? We get to wear our jeans, funky boots, warm fuzzy sweaters, fun sparkly scarves, and jackets and coats that cover a multitude of desserts.

And the best part of all, it’s cuddle-up weather! Time to wear our “home pants” (aka flannel pajama bottoms) as long into the afternoon as our day’s activities will allow. Soft, fluffy slippers just beg to be left on as well. And hoodies! Oh the comfort of hoodies! Grab a mug of your favorite hot beverage topped with whipped cream and possibly even sprinkles. Find a cozy spot to curl up in with your favorite blanket, and spend a couple hours with the pastime of your choice, be it with your laptop, TV remote, or for your traditional types, a good old fashioned book. Add the mesmerizing glow of a fire and a loved one to cuddle up next to you, and I dare say, you are as close to bliss as you will ever be on this earth.

Another thing that adds to the yumminess of this time of year is the aroma. Besides the baking smells, for this surely is the time to bake, there are the candles. The candle companies have special scents all year round, but none of them even come close to the candles of autumn and Christmas! The woodsy, spicy, pumpkinny, tobacco-y, harvest smells of autumn candles lure my mind to a cabin somewhere in the woods, full of homey touches like rough-hewn wooden furniture, and overstuffed chairs and quilts in reds, oranges, browns, and greens. Outside the golden glow of sunset and the sound of birds chirping “goodnight” as they settle into their nests for the evening. And oh! The Christmas scents of cedar, red berries, fresh baked cookies and apple pies, peppermint, pine, balsam, and cinnamon! Reminds me of being a child, and carefree days at home with family all around.

So yes, I love it when it’s cold outside, as long as I’m warm inside. And right now it’s cold…sort of…well, it gets down into the mid 40’s at night…sometimes…

Alright. It’s 72 degrees outside my house as I’m writing this, but here in Texas, 72 is on the chilly side…kinda…to us. But Thanksgiving is this week, and if the weatherman won’t cooperate, I’ll pretend it’s cold enough for hot chocolate, warm pumpkin pie, and sweaters.

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Captioning Your Memories (or “You Did What to That Antique?!”)

A couple of years ago, I cleaned out the boxes in our “attic”. I got rid of the stuff we thought we might use again when we put it in the box, but was now obvious we never would. When I cleaned out the memory boxes*, I got rid of all the things I couldn’t remember why we’d saved or what they were. There were little bits of paper, champagne corks, broken toys, pressed flowers, and other things that brought no recollection of any happy time enjoyed with them. I’m sure these objects were important to us at one time. I’m certain that if I could remember when we got them or what memory they stood for, it would warm my heart and maybe bring a tear to my eye. But at this moment, it was nothing but stuff taking up space.

That’s when I started labeling our memories.

I don’t have the best memory to begin with. Thank God for the advent of digital photography. Without the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, I probably wouldn’t have much memory of individual events at all. And here’s where I should be telling you that I print out a small photo of the event that goes with the memory item, and put both in a Ziplock bag so they stay together when I put them into the memory box. Then when I go through the memory box in years to come, the photo instantly brings back a full recollection of the day.

But I’m not that organized. And I just thought of that idea this minute. And it might take too much effort to find and print the photo. I tend to like to do things the most expedient (read: easy) way.

So what I did do when I cleaned out the memory boxes was to write little snippets of the memories on small pieces of paper and attach them to every item that might not be remembered the moment it was again discovered. A baby’s shirt might say, “J wore this to the first baseball game he ever attended. Nana & Papa came with us” and the date as best I could remember it. I didn’t write out all the details, just enough to bring to mind the rest of the story.

And just this moment, I decided I’m going to call this “Captioning,” because it is just like putting a caption on a photograph.

Now when I put stuff into our memory boxes, I put a tag on them of some sort, a caption. What use is a memento if you can’t remember what it stands for?
 

I do this on lots of stuff in different ways. My favorite is the wine corks. I only started liking wine on my 50th birthday. Four people gave me red wine, but I wasn’t a wine drinker at all. I wanted them to know I appreciated their gifts, so we opened a bottle at the party. I was surprised to find I actually liked it! Since then, Hubby and I have been exploring wines a little. So when we have a bottle on a special occasion (or a Wednesday), I write the date and what we were doing on the cork, and then save it in our big glass jar. It’s a funky scrapbook of family memories.

Someday someone is going to replace our laminate flooring. When they do, they are going to find the memories all four of us wrote on the sub-floor the day we installed the flooring.
 

I caption the scorecard when we are playing any game that requires the score to be kept on paper, like Scrabble or Password. I write at the top of the score pad who’s playing, what else we did that day, and the date. When we play again, we can go back through the memories of other fun times.

I also (now some of you may cringe at this, especially if you love antiques) write on the undersides of old furniture. Hubby and I love to look at old (especially mid-century) furniture and household things and speculate about the life they have lived. Who owned this? How long did they have it? Was it a happy home? Things like that. So for the sake of whoever owns some of our pieces later, I’ve written some of the history on a hidden part of it. We have a lamp table from Hub’s grandfather’s house from the 1940’s or 50’s, an old drop leaf table Hub bought for me when I was away at a ladies’ retreat in 1985, a clock his parents got when they first got married, and a few other pieces on which I’ve written the history as I know it on some hidden part. Monetarily, it might decrease the value, but historically and sentimentally I think it increases the value.  

So what about you? Do you do anything like this to help you and those who come after you know what made special objects special?

*Memory Boxes: I have always kept a box with a lid on it in each family member’s closet. They are marked with their name, dated, and numbered in succession. When there is a memento from a special event, it’s labeled and dropped into the memory box. It’s lazy scrapbooking, but it works. When the box is full, it goes into the attic, and a new box is started. I only hope is that now that my kids are getting to the stage of leaving the nest, they going to take all their boxes with them!

How to Clean Your Bathroom

“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” – Lord Chesterfield

Earlier, I said I was going to talk about how to clean a bathroom. Today’s the day! I can feel your excitement right through my keyboard as I type. (If this were on Twitter, I’d be hashtagging it #mundane.)

So yeah, it’s not the most exciting thing to talk about. In fact, cleaning the bathroom is my least favorite job in the whole repertoire. But it’s got to be done, or things get smelly and nasty and just plain unsanitary.

I thought twice about posting this, thinking there must be lots of other sites that had this information. When I looked I found that most make the job too hard. Some start with taking everything out of the bathroom that can be removed, including the shower curtain. Really? Every week? Not this girl. I like to do a thorough job, but keep it simple at the same time.

I’ll tell you what products I have found to be best, but really the most important products are elbow grease and a good sponge with a scrubby side. And the order you do things is up to you, as well. I usually start with the toilet, because I don’t want to be kneeling next to a dirty toilet as I clean the tub. Sometimes I start with the shower, because it’s the biggest part of the job, and I want to get it done first. It’s a mental trick I use on myself to make the job seem easier.

Ok. Here we go. (Basic instructions in bold text.)

  1. Remove the rugs, give them a shake or five, and then sweep the floor. It’s easier to sweep before you clean, when it’s dry. The floor tends to get wet when I clean the bathroom. I sweep the bathroom dirt out into the hallway, before I vacuum the hall. Easier than using a dustpan. And yes, you should take the bathroom rugs outside and give them a good shake, but that takes longer, so I shake them the best I can inside without getting stuff everywhere, but well enough to remove all the dirt from them. Leave the rug outside the bathroom until you’ve finished cleaning.
     
  2. Flush the toilet, lift the lid and seat, and then squirt toilet bowl cleaner up under the rim of the bowl. You don’t have to use a lot, just enough to go around the rim once and cascade down into the water. Use a good toilet bowl brush (good = enough bristles so you don’t scratch the bowl with the metal part, and doesn’t come apart when you use it) to scrub (and I mean scrub) every inch of the inside of the bowl. Don’t forget up under the rim where the water comes out and mildew hides, and down deep where the water leaves the bowl, and along the water line where stains hide. Flush the toilet, and rinse the brush in the clean water. I keep my toilet brush in a plastic cup in my bathroom cleaning supplies box, which I keep under the bathroom sink in one of the bathrooms. It’s much simpler to keep all your supplies together in something plastic in which you can carry them around, than to have to gather them when it’s time to clean.
     
  3. Using a disinfectant wipe or a paper towel and window cleaner, wipe down the entire outside surface of the toilet. Start at the top, because it’ll be the cleanest part. Be sure to turn the wipe over and use clean surfaces as it gets full of dust and hair. It might take two wipes. I start with mine folded, and unfold and refold as needed, and try to just use one. Depends on how much hair we’ve all shed this week. This is, without a doubt, the nastiest part of the job, especially if you have little boys.
     
  4.  Take the shampoo, soap, etc., out of the bathtub/shower and spray the walls with cleaner. Let the spray do it’s magic on the walls for a couple of minutes before you scrub. These cleaners work well, so let them do as much as they can before you start wiping them off. I really like Mr. Clean Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner. I also like the Scrubbing Bubbles spray, but I think the can runs out a lot faster and ends up costing more. I’d love to learn to use vinegar and water, but I have to get over the mental block that it’s not clean unless you use chemicals capable of taking the skin off your hands or killing you if you accidentally mix them and inhale. Scrub the walls with the scrubby side of a wet sponge. Rinse the sponge as it gets dirty. I scrub the walls in with a circular motion, because even though the spray bottle may tell you no scrubbing necessary, soap scum and hard water build up always need a little help. You can tell that by the way it’s a little harder to scrub the parts of the walls the shower water hits. If your perfectionism is flaring, use the edge of the sponge to scrub the grout between the tiles. Rinse the walls. If you don’t have a handheld shower head that allows you to easily hose the walls down, get one. Those things are invaluable for washing dogs and kids, too!
     
  5. When you rinsed the shower walls, you should have gotten most of the tub or shower floor wet. If not, wet the tub/shower floor. Sprinkle with a powdered cleanser like Ajax or Comet, and scrub the entire inside of the tub, soap dish, and faucets with the scrubby side of a really wet sponge. Rinse the tub well. Dry the chrome surfaces with a clean towel so they shine. I actually spray the tub with bathroom cleaner, then sprinkle it with cleanser. I find the two work better together than separately. You could use Soft Scrub, but it doesn’t work as well for me, and it’s more expensive (Comet & Ajax are less than $1 in my area for a nice sized can). Of course, if you have delicate surfaces like natural marble, please use whatever works best for that. Always read the warning labels of any cleaner before you use it. If your tub is extra dirty and weekly methods just aren’t doing the trick, do what I did here.
     
  6. Dust the shelves, picture frames, top of the shower curtain rod or shower doors, top of the medicine cabinet, and the top of the tile where it meets the wall. A damp towel or sponge is good for this. Damp, because in the bathroom dust doesn’t just lay there, it’s stuck there by hairspray and humidity, so it needs a little water on the sponge to get it moving. It’s best to take everything off the shelf, wipe off the shelf, and then dust/polish the things as you put them back on the shelf. This is more thorough and really easier than trying to dust around your perfume bottles and whatnot.
     
  7. Scrub the sink, faucet, and area around the sink with cleanser. Dry the faucet and area around the sink with a towel and make ‘em shine! I always save this for almost last, because I need the sink to rinse out my sponge when I’m doing the other things, and to wash my hands after I clean the toilet. Oh, didn’t I mention that part? Please wash your hands, or your rubber gloves, after you clean the toilet!
     
  8. Wipe down and polish the knick-knacks around the sink. I have a cup for holding toothbrushes, a decorative liquid soap dispenser, and a three ounce Dixie Cup dispenser around my sinks. I use very hot water and some of the liquid soap to wash the toothbrush cup, then I dry it and fold a paper towel to put into the bottom to catch water that drips off the toothbrushes, so the bottom of the cup doesn’t get slimy and mildewy. I change the paper towel when I clean the bathroom. Then I refill the Dixie Cups and soap, as needed. Put out a fresh hand towel.
     
  9. Polish the mirror. I use Windex and a paper towel to clean the mirror, but this is another area where I want to learn to use white vinegar and water. Someday. Cleaning a mirror is hard, because it tends to get streaky. Here’s how I do it. Fold a paper towel in half, then in half again. This gives you several sides to work with and gets the most use out of that towel. Spray the mirror (or half the mirror, if it’s a big one) with a quality window cleaner like Windex that contains ammonia. Clean the mirror with the paper towel with big, sweeping motions. Wipe with one side of the paper towel to clean it, and then turn to a dry side to polish it. It may take two spray/wipe sessions if the mirror has toothpaste splatters on it, or turns out streaky. So one turn to clean it, and one turn to make it shiny and streak-free. The key to no streaks is to leave the mirror a little wet. So if you have streaks, spray lightly with the window cleaner and then wipe it lightly. Another thing to try is to polish it with no window cleaner but lots of elbow grease and a microfiber cloth or dry towel (not a fluffy one. A worn out towel works better.)
     
  10. Mop the floor. Be sure to rinse the mop really well after you mop around the toilet, otherwise you just push that stuff around the floor. Ideally, we would mop the area around the toilet last, because it’s more sanitary to clean from cleanest area to dirtiest, but the toilet is seldom by the bathroom door, so you’d have to walk over your wet floor to do that. It’s not like you’re going to leave dirty footprints, so you could do that. Just be careful and don’t slip on the wet floor. When the floor dries, put the rugs back.
     
  11. Stand back and admire your work! After you put hard work into any job, you should always take a minute or two to pat yourself on the back. You’ve earned it!

Once in a while, you should also wash your decorative towels, rugs, and shower curtain. You can also make your shower curtain liner last longer by putting it in the washing machine with some towels to clean it.

So how do you know it’s time to clean your bathroom? Ideally, you should clean it once a week. At least, those are the parameters my mom set up when I was cleaning our 1.5 baths at home as a teenager. So I strive for that, but there’s not always time to do a thorough job. When that happens, just clean the toilet bowl and shine everything else up real quick with a paper towel and window cleaner or a towel. The goal is to keep nature from letting you know you haven’t cleaned it in a while with mold and mildew growing in the toilet and shower. Don’t ask how I know this happens.

And when that does happen, tell your family it was a test to see how long it would take them to pick up a toilet brush and clean it themselves. Then go into a rant that if skillfully done, will end with them sending you to a spa for a much needed day off while they clean the whole house for you. Yeah. That never happens, but a girl can dream!

Everything to Everybody (or We’re All Superwomen, Right?)

When I started this blog, the idea was to post three to five times a week. Hubby thought that was a tad ambitious, but I said I wanted it to be alive and consistent. Well, consistency has never been one of my strong suits, and here it’s been a week with no posts at all.

Remember my mom? Being about as coordinated as I am, she tripped over her ottoman and broke her wrist. So for the past couple of weeks, especially last week, I’ve been playing chauffeur, nurse, helper, maid, etc. to my mom.

She has kept me very busy.

That’s what kids are for, right? …to take care of their parents in their old age? I think I read that somewhere. And I hope when it’s my turn to be the one who needs help, my kids will happily and not begrudgingly do the same for me.

Really, I don’t mind that much. We have fun. I mean, I’d run her all over the city three days a week, and relax and love the weekends with Hubby and the kids and pets…if the house and laundry and bills and everything else magically kept themselves up.

But they don’t. I have to find a way to do everything and be everything to everyone who needs me. (Cue the laughter/big sigh/guffaw/head shake/etc. of all those who read this and feel the same way, at the same time knowing it’s impossible, and that we should just cut ourselves some slack.)

I love being with people, and I love to help people, but I also LOVE to be alone. I can’t get any work done if other people are here. I’m too easily distracted. I have to be alone and in the zone. I’m a Mary who loves to just hang out, but with a Martha in my head making me feel guilty for all the work that’s not getting done while I’m being social. (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” but I often wonder, if Martha had sat at Jesus’ feet instead of cooking, and in a little while everyone was hungry…what then? They couldn’t call for pizza delivery.

I’m guessing Martha was a perfectionist (and a bit of a martyr) and Jesus was telling her to get her priorities in order, not to be so consumed with making everything perfect to exclusion of fellowship with those around her. The keyword is “Balance”.

Balance sounds good, but my gears take a real long time to shift. Hubby tells me I should do a little of this and a little of that every day. I can see where he’s right, but I don’t operate that way. It takes me so long to get started on anything that once I do, I don’t want to stop. But I’m working on this balance thing.

So here I am, on one of the two days I have by myself at home this week, and I’m putting on the blinders and not seeing the mess to do some writing. And then the plan is to do some cleaning. And some laundry. And some organizing. And some ironing. And some…well, you get my drift.

I need a clone.

Dirty Soda Cans Hazardous to Your Health?

I was all set to blog about the dangers of drinking from soda cans before you wash them off. It has to be hazardous to your health to drink from a can after rats have peed on it and cockroaches have scurried across it in the warehouse, right?

Turns out, there aren’t really that many dangers. I mean, it’s unlikely that you will die or even get sick if you drink out of a soda can that you didn’t wash off first. At least, according to two trusted sources, Snopes and Myth Busters. Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC) don’t have anything on their site about what I presumed might be a health hazard.

And that’s good. One less thing to worry about.

I mean, I wouldn’t neglect at least wiping the top of the can off before I drank out of it, just to be safe.

At our house, we keep the soda cans that won’t fit into the refrigerator on the floor of the garage. I don’t think there are many rats in our garage (I hope not!) but I know there are a couple of mice, and just possibly a few (dozen) bugs. And they might be walking across our soda cans when they take their midnight strolls. Maybe even stopping for a potty break atop one of the cylindrical aluminum insect outhouses. Even if our garage was free from creepy crawlies, it’s pretty dusty out there.

And who knows when the stock boy at the grocery store who stocked the shelf with my Vernor’s Ginger Ale last washed his hands?!  *shudder*

So I wash the tops of my cans, and the side where my mouth is going to be, before I open the can, just for my own piece of mind. Even if it just gets the dust from the garage off, a little soap and water never hurt anyone or anything.

Except…be sure to rinse it well before you open it. Last Tuesday I didn’t, and soapy ginger ale ain’t no good for nobody. Yuck.

It’s a Kind of Magic

From time to time on this blog, I’m going to talk about products I’ve used and really like or disliked.

In my lifetime, no product has blown my mind like the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I’ve never seen anything work like these little babies do! I’m convinced they either have some kind of acid in them that is taking off a layer of the surface of whatever they are cleaning, or they really are magic! Since they don’t ask you to wear gloves when using them, and they have not taken off a layer of my skin, I’m thinking the former explanation is out. That leaves magic.

Now I know you don’t believe in magic, not the actual Bewitched style wiggle-your-nose-and-it’s-clean kind of magic. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?!) But whatever these things have in them really works, and I’ve got pictures to prove it.

I told you about cleaning my son A’s bathroom in my last post. Well, let me fill you in on the details of that one, specifically the bathtub.

The condo A shares with two other boys who attend the University was purchased last year by one of the boy’s parents. From what I understand, prior to their buying it, another houseful of students lived like…well…college boys, in it. It was a mess. When we came to help move A into the condo, Mrs. Condo Owner was scrubbing the bathrooms, a job I did not envy her and would not have attempted without a hazmat suit.

I know for a fact that Mrs. Condo Owner scrubbed her heart out in those bathrooms. She scrubbed until they were clean and shiny and sanitary and smelled like bleached white springtime. She used most of the same cleaning products I use at home and the same scrubby sponge, and I could tell from the sweat on her brow and the huffing and puffing that she put some serious muscle into it. But the bottom of the bathtubs laughed at her in resistance, and held tight to their black stains.

It’s that coating the manufacturers put on the tubs to give you a little traction so you don’t slip. That coating grabs hold of every bit of dirt it can and never lets go. 

And that, my friends, I took as a personal challenge.

That is why I was so anxious to have some time alone with A’s bathtub. I wanted to show it who’s boss. I wanted it to say hello to my little friend, Mr. Clean. I knew he’d do his Magic, and that tub would have to give up its hold on those stains.

Here is how the tub looked before I sought to bring it to justice. This is not dirt, but stains.

My first strike was with another product I love, Mr. Clean Disinfecting Bath Cleaner with Febreze Freshness, which is quite a mouthful to say, but works well. I like it better than anything I’ve used for cleaning showers and tubs, because it gets the soap scum that traps the dirt and the dirt without needing a separate soap scum spray. I also used my old standby, Comet Cleanser .

First, I cleaned the shower walls with the Mr. Clean spray and the business end of a Scotch Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponge. After I rinsed the walls, I sprayed the tub with the Mr. Clean spray, let it set for a minute or two, and then sprinkled Comet on top of it. (Manufactures will probably tell you not to do this, but I didn’t notice any fumes from it.) Then I scrubbed that tub to within an inch of its life…or mine.

It was like night and day! Or actually night and dusk. The Mr. Clean spray combined with the Comet cleanser had really tackled the build-up. But it was still stained quite a bit.  

Time for the finishing touch, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Bath Scrubber. I actually could have cleaned the entire thing with this product, but I thought it’d be easier to take it in stages with different products.

There are a couple things you need to know about the Magic Erasers. As you use them, you actually use them up. The sponge will get smaller and smaller, and pieces will fall off of it. Just gather up those pieces, stick them under the rest of it, and get as much out of every bit of that sponge as you can. I’ve even stuck the small pieces under a regular sponge and scrubbed with them that way. It gets a little awkward towards the end, but it’s worth it to use up every molecule of each Magic Eraser as best you can. Even the tiny pieces clean better than anything else. All you have to do to use them is wet them with water, and rinse them out when they get dirty. Also after you use them, rinse or wipe the surface you used them on, as they sometimes leave a bit of a white film or pieces of sponge behind.

So I scrubbed the tub I had just scrubbed with the spray and cleanser, but now with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I scrubbed until the Magic Eraser had completely disintegrated, and the tub was whipped entirely into submission.  

The tub looked like new! It was a miracle! Well, a miracle wrought by human hands and chemical products, but a miracle nonetheless. I stumbled out of that bathroom sweaty, sore, and TRIUMPHANT!  I had risen to the challenge and conquered those stains. And I proved to myself that Mr. Clean products can clean just about anything. Nice to have products in my arsenal that work so well.

To add a disclaimer, this post is not sponsored by any of the products mentioned, so you know I’m telling it like it is. I have nothing to gain from this, but the weird pride I get from showing off that shiny bathtub. 

I believe that a godly home is a foretaste of heaven. Our homes, imperfect as they are, must be a haven from the chaos outside. They should be a reflection of our eternal home, where troubled souls find peace, weary hearts find rest, hungry bodies find refreshment, lonely pilgrims find communion, and wounded spirits find compassion.

Jani Ortlund