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Archive for the ‘On the Homefront’ Category

On Working From Home


My Sunlit Office – Life is Good!

Last Monday was just like a typical Monday in my office at company headquarters.  Two computers up and running on my desk.  I’d just completed research on a 200+ line spreadsheet, finished one conference call, and was preparing for another in a few hours.  Busy sending emails to sales reps, employees, and the company CFO.  Just another work day.

But in the background, instead of the click-click-click of other people’s keyboards and the hum of office conversation, I was listening to my husband power wash the front of our house.  Before that, he was mowing the lawn.  Bless his heart, he also watered my flowers.  When he stopped for a break, the sounds were replaced by the pounding rhythm of what was apparently a very loud school-year-ending concert at the elementary school right behind our home.  I was in the same shorts and t-shirt I’d worn to the gym earlier, with a baseball cap over my unwashed hair.  I’d worn the same earrings for three days in a row.  Ah – the joys and challenges of working at home. 

I’m now heading into the third week of my grand experiment of trying to do my corporate job from home, 700+ miles from the office.  As far as actually performing the job, I’m having no problem.  If anything, I’m pretty sure I’m working more than I did in the office, because now I never “leave” the office.  I’m checking and responding to emails at 7AM and 10PM. 

At one seriously over-connected moment during the first week, I was working on both computers, talking to one supervisor on the landline while emailing my other supervisor, and my iPhone buzzed with a text from a neighbor asking me if I wanted to have lunch together the next day.  I’ve fielded calls while contractors pounded away on construction of our patio, while UPS made deliveries, while the dog threw up, during thunder storms, while playing tug of war with said dog (who can be relentless), and while I was grocery shopping (of all people, the company owner caught me there late one afternoon – but I confessed my location and completed the call productively while leaning on the cart in a quiet pet food aisle).   

So, just in case you’re considering (or already are) working from home, let me give you a few tips I’ve learned fairly quickly:

  1.         Have an office:  I can’t imagine doing what I’m doing while sitting at the kitchen table, or sharing the family room with Hubby and the dog and my clients and boss.  I go to my office (a converted spare bedroom) every morning, and I sit at a desk.  It sends a clear message to me (and to Hubby and my friends) that I am WORKING.  This isn’t a hobby.  It’s how I make my living.
  2.        Take a shower (act like a grown-up):  There were several days when I ran home from the gym and ended up working all day in my sweaty gym clothes.  Or jumped on the computer in my PJs. Then I came to my senses.  Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.  What’s the point?  I didn’t feel professional, and it only takes 10 minutes to grab a shower down the hall, as long as you can keep your spouse from announcing to calling co-workers “she’s in the shower, let me get her for you!”  (FYI – I did NOT take that call!) 
    1.      Get dressed – you’ll feel better:  It was a novelty for the first week to start working in whatever I felt like wearing, but it never lasted more than half an hour or so – it just didn’t feel right.  I’m a professional doing a professional job and managing others, and I need to at least be clean and clothed.  I’m not wearing dressy office attire, but now I at least wear clean, comfortable clothing.  And jewelry.  Again, not the fancy stuff, but something that makes me feel like…well, like me.  I’ve always taken some pride in my work wardrobe, and it’s part of what defined me in the “real” office.  I want to feel mature and competent when I sit at my home desk, and clothing selection can help.
  3.       Set a different ringtone for business calls:  It was a little time-consuming, but it was well worth it for me to set one ringtone for business contacts and another for personal contacts.  It helps me get “into character” for the call, and I know which calls should be answered or ignored when I’m working, getting dressed, walking the dog, eating dinner, buying groceries, etc.
    1.      Have a phone with a reliable mute button:  No one on the conference call wants to hear the 80 lb dog woofing in the background, or the neighbor’s lawn mower.  The idea is for callers to either not know or to forget that you’re working in your house.
  4.        Get out of the house:  This one didn’t hit me until late last week.  Late Thursday afternoon, I realized that I hadn’t left my house or yard since mid-day Monday.  I had worked until 7 or 8 each evening.  I instantly felt frantically claustrophobic.  I told Hubby I had to get out, and I made a quick run to the store, just for the change of scenery and the social interaction.  So get some face-to-face social time during the week.  Grab a quick lunch with a friend.  Go out at night, even if it’s just the grocery store.  Play with the dog at lunch time.  Don’t become a recluse just because you work at home.
    1.        Along with getting out of the house, get some exercise:  Sitting at a desk all day will cause a big butt just as fast at home as it will in the office.  But at home, you have the luxury of being able to do something about it more easily.  Lift some hand weights, go for a jog (which you’ll never see me doing, by the way), or make yourself go to the gym in the morning.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been a gym-rat, but it’s worth setting the alarm three days a week, and it’s helping me lose a few pounds even though I’m down almost all day long.
  5.        Walk away:  There’s something to be said for that transitional commute home every night, where you get to physically leave the office behind you.  When you work in a traditional office, you “go home”.  When the office is just down the hall 24/7, you are home, and it’s way too easy to find yourself working lots of extra hours.  Every day.  Just last night, I took a work call at 7:30PM.  On a Sunday.  It was a productive catch-up call with a fellow manager, but I doubt Hubby appreciated it.  Last week, I sent a business email blast out to the sales staff on a Sunday morning, and received several responses saying “why aren’t you in church?”  I replied that church didn’t start for another hour, but it made me realize what I was doing.  Force yourself to walk away and disconnect.  It’s fine to occasionally work after dinner (I’ll be doing that tonight), but make it a conscious decision, not an accident.  Don’t burn yourself out.

I feel a little bit more in control of my time and energy heading into this third week of working at home, and that’s a good thing.  Because I really like it.  And I’m good at it.  And I want to be able to continue doing it.


Dogs of Our Lives…

There are many great advantages to not having a dog. 

No bundling up for walks in the midst of a blizzard…



No home electronics destroyed… 





No need for elaborate care plans and pleading for dog-sitting volunteers when you want to have a simple weekend get-away with your spouse.  No worrying while you’re away that your dog is probably trampling through your friends’ vegetable garden with abandon at every opportunity, no matter how many barriers they erect.

No fretting about your horse-sized canine leveling grandma or the neighbors with her enthusiastic greeting, and the lawsuits that could follow.  No dashing home from work to hurriedly walk the dog before you head out to your other evening obligations.  No need for a lint-brush and vacuum in every room and at the office to remove all the dog hair. The. Dog. Hair. Is. Everywhere.

No triple-digit veterinary bills, or monthly double-digit food, treat and toy bills.  And speaking of toys, no tripping over tennis balls, stepping on ragged-edged beef bones in the middle of the night, or listening to the nerve-chilling squeak-squeak-squeak of squeaky toys all day long.

And the greatest advantage to never having a dog – never having to say “good-bye” to a beloved four-legged friend after years of companionship.  Their departure carves a hole in our hearts that never fully heals.

Yes – there are many advantages to being dog-free.  But I honestly just don’t think some humans were intended to be without dogs, and I’m one of them.


Molly was my first – a boxy little Australian Shepherd puppy purchased for protection when I lived alone on a country farm.  A territorial breed, Molly knew her job and did it well.  Then I met Hubby and we moved to the suburbs together, and she learned to be a civilized house dog.  In the process, she dropped me like a hot rock and bonded with my husband.  She would literally brush past my open arms to run to him.  Molly wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack, but she was my (then his) faithful and comic companion for 16 years.  We put her to rest a day after she suffered a violent seizure, and it broke our hearts.  Hubby vowed to “never have another dog”. 

And we didn’t for a year or so…until Jenny came along.  My friend’s mother was moving to assisted living, and they needed a home for her big, black, hairy mutt who had been rescued from euthanasia several years earlier when her neglectful owners left her at a veterinarian’s office.  Back then, she was skinny, sick and hairless, but the vet and my friend nursed her back to health because of her placid, loving nature.  Our quiet routine vanished when Jenny moved in, and she immediately bonded with Hubby (I was starting to get a complex).  He had a retail store in town, and she went to “work” with him every day.  She was even featured in the local paper, and people came to the store just to see Jenny. 



Jenny traveled to Massachusetts with us (where the grandchildren adored her), and to Florida, and North Carolina.  Because of the neglect in her early years, Jenny had separation anxiety.  That meant she went nuts when left alone, and had to stay in a dog crate.  And she was also completely terrorized by thunder and lightning.  She tore an extra large and very sturdy metal dog crate (and a section of drywall) to pieces during one storm when we weren’t home.  But when she plopped her head on your lap and gazed at you adoringly, you just couldn’t help adoring her right back.  Sadly, Jenny wasn’t young when she came to our home, and after 6 or 7 years, she was showing signs of old age.  She lost strength in her back legs, and the lost control of her balance, and we made another tragic trip to the vet.  Again, there was never going to be another dog – we could barely say her name without shedding tears, even months after her death.

You’ve probably already figured this out – yes, another dog has joined our life. 

February 2011

Last February, when apparently our house seemed too peaceful, we made an impulsive visit to the pound, and brought home a small yellow lab mix puppy who fit into our laps easily and charmed us completely.  Tully (named for the Irish city of Tullamore, one of our favorite places in Ireland) has noisily and rambunctiously taken over our lives.  She wasn’t supposed to be a big dog.  We didn’t want a big dog.  But she is big.  Really big.  And she’s still growing.  When she stretches out on our king-sized bed, she covers it from edge to edge. 


December 2011

While she used to sleep curled up in Hubby’s lap, she now threatens to topple the recliner if she tries it today.  She wants attention all the time, and seemingly never tires.  Her toys cover the living room floor, and her favorites are those that squeak the loudest.  She doesn’t like being alone, but she will resign herself to napping on the bed while we’re gone.  She can destroy an entire box of tissues if we leave them within reach, but rarely destroys anything else (with the exception of the TV remote she chewed up yesterday).  She’s the first truly intelligent dog we’ve had – her wheels are turning all the time, and it’s hard to stay ahead of her.  She’s a goofball, she drives us crazy, and she has brought a permanent form of chaos to our home. 

And yes, I know that my heart will be broken again someday, hopefully many years from now.  Getting a pet means planning on heartache – they rarely outlive us.  But the joy, warmth, laughter, and pure unadulterated love they bring into their lives while they share their time with us is invaluable, and yes, it’s worth the grief, no matter how bitter that grief may be at the time.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the store to buy Tully some new treats, and later today you’ll find me in the backyard, throwing a purple soccer ball over and over and over, just to watch her leap and bound and run.  And she will make my day complete.

Dreaming of Boxes….

I see boxes in my dreams.  Big boxes.  Little boxes.  Boxes overflowing with crumpled newspapers and bubble wrap.  Stacked boxes.  Flat boxes.  Empty boxes.  Heavy boxes.  Piles of boxes.  Everywhere, boxes.

My life reduced to boxes....

While shopping the other day, I heard the sound of someone using clear packing tape – that scratchy, screechy sound it makes coming off the roll – and I shuddered.  

Perhaps it’s my own personal form of PTSD – the result of moving.  Twice.  In two weeks.  Including to another state.  It’s a horrifying fact of life for many Boomers as we downsize and head to warmer climes.  And the current housing crisis is not really helping (but then again, it kinda is).

A long, long time ago (2008), we bought a house

in warm and wonderful North Carolina.  We’d fallen in love with the area while owning a small vacation condo there, and the glut on the housing market was perfect for buying a nice home at a really nice price.  All we had to do was quickly sell our New York house and we’d be heading into the warm sunset of southern living.  Well, that was the plan.  But you know what they say about plans….  The same buyer’s market that gave us a wonderful house in North Carolina made it next to impossible to sell our New York home, which went on the market early in 2009. 

We waited, and we waited, and we waited.  We dropped the price.  We packed away every family photo and cherished knickknack to ‘depersonalize’ the house as everyone tells you to do.  We changed realtors.  I staged the house.  We dropped the price.  We hired a professional stager to reorganize the layout.  We changed realtors.  Again.  We dropped the price.  Again.  We gave up and said “screw it” and put the furniture where we wanted it and let it looked lived in.  We dropped the price.  Again.  And, after a mere 2 ½ years, we FINALLY sold the house.

Naturally, after all this time on the market, the buyer wanted in right away.  So we started packing.  And we packed.  And we packed.  Every waking minute of every day, we packed.  While I was at work, Hubby packed.   Box after box after box after box after box.  How the heck did two people accumulate so much crap?!  Our time frame made sorting a challenge, so we ended up moving a lot of stuff that we certainly didn’t need to keep.

The day the movers arrived in North Carolina with our belongings, the heat index was 108 degrees.  Hubby went golfing (with my blessing).  Landscapers were pruning our shrubs with power clippers.  Our dog was barking non-stop in protest of being shut in a room (which she escaped from several times).  Lowes showed up to deliver new appliances.  And the moving guys were coming through the door in rapid succession, constantly asking the question “where do you want this?”  After several hours, I thought of several graphic suggestions for them, but I kept them to myself.  I definitely felt too old for this effort.

The tipping point came sometime around noon, while all this was happening, and I was suddenly acutely aware of the pandemonium around me and the sweat pouring down my body.  I had a choice of running from the property screaming at the top of my lungs…..or coping.  I took a deep breath, and told myself “This is one day out of your life, Joanne – that’s all.  Just one day, and you can cope with one day.”

As the afternoon ground on, I told one of the movers firmly that I didn’t want him to bring any more boxes into the house.  Boxes were piled everywhere, and there was barely room to move (did I mention that the kitchen and family room were in the midst of a total remodel?).  The poor guy looked at me and wasn’t sure if I was kidding.  He said “But there are more boxes on the truck!”  I calmly explained that those boxes must belong to someone else, because we surely didn’t own enough stuff to fill all these boxes.  He was still staring at me in confusion as I said “those boxes can’t be ours!”  With a smile, he looked at me and said “Lady, you’re the last delivery – it’s all yours.”  I cussed, laughed, and went back to work.

Once everyone left, and Hubby returned, I sat and looked in amazement at how much junk we owned.  And how sore and tired I felt.  And how much I smelled (I was in the shower shortly after that). 

The next morning, we started UNpacking.  And that was only slightly more fun than packing.  Because it involved boxes.  And boxes.  And decisions to be made.  Where to put things. Whether to keep things.  What to give away.  Where to put the empty boxes.  A-r-g-h!  Those damned boxes!!!

Four days later, we were headed back to New York.  Remember I said we moved twice?  The second move involved clothes (way too many) and a very few possessions to a partially furnished rental house in our hometown.  We’re not fulltime southerners yet.  Why?  Well, with all those price cuts on the hosue, I can’t exactly walk away from my steady paycheck to go freelance right now.  So after partially settling things in North Carolina, we came right back to start unpacking BOXES in the rental house.  More freakin’ boxes.  Everywhere.  Including in my dreams.    

I refer to this as the beginning of phase 2 of our “master plan”.  It’s a temporary phase.  Within a year, we’ll be starting a new life in North Carolina.  And this will all be just a fuzzy, messy, exhausting, and box-filled memory.

How to Fight…errr…Communicate With Your Spouse

Odd subject for Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  But one of the biggest secrets to a successful long-term marriage is figuring out how to argue with each other without irreparably damaging the relationship.

Just to clarify, when I say “fight” or “argue”, I don’t mean the knock-down drag-out verbal battles that pop up (hopefully) very rarely in a good relationship.  I’m talking about the little debates about who’s washing the dishes, which car to buy, etc. that can pile up in any marriage.

Couples who tell me they “never argue” just don’t understand the meaning of the word.  Because I firmly believe that a couple that always agrees on everything every day for years on end is in a coma.  And comas aren’t healthy.  Come on – people disagree with each other.  It happens.  Especially when you’re sharing a bathroom.  For years.  If you can disagree without ever raising your voice, as some people claim, that’s great (and please tell me your secret!), but it’s still a debate/argument/negotiation/fight, at least for the purpose of this post. 

I’d love to give an example of the stupid things we argue over, but I can’t remember any.  Why not?  Well, for one thing, sometimes we don’t end our arguments discussing the same topic that we started with.  And that’s the dangerous part of arguing – a silly vent/rant can become a grudge match if you’re not careful.  The little quibbles over crumbs on the counter or empty toilet paper rolls can easily end up drifting to “you don’t respect me”; “you don’t appreciate me”; or, at its worst, “you don’t love me.”  Fortunately, we’ve never reached the point of doubting our love for each other, even when we’re really ticked off.  Healthy debate is an art, and it’s something married couples have to work at constantly to keep the marriage fresh and balanced.   

There are a few philosophies out there on “how to fight”.  One oldie is the idea of holding hands while you argue.  It has merit – how can you stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with?  You can’t stomp away, and there’s no point in yelling if you’re that close.  And trying to stay mad when you’re holding hands usually leads to both of you giggling uncontrollably.  The problem?  Arguments start at the drop of a hat, and once you’re angry (after tripping over his or her shoes for the fifth time this week), the last thing you want to do is walk over and hold his hand!  The hand-holding thing works best when you know a conversation might eventually get tense (“honey, I’d really like to spend our savings on a new flatscreen TV…”).  If you plan in advance, and assume the hand-holding position early on, it can help both of you stay more calm. 

And of course there’s the golden standard – “never go to bed angry.”  I’m not so sure I support this one as much as I used to.   Hubby is one of those guys who just goes to sleep when he’s tired, angry or not.  I’ve been known to poke him to keep him awake so that we can work through some conflict and I can know we’re not going to bed angry, because that’s against the rules.  Which, of course, makes him angry.  Frankly, we’ve gone to sleep mad (or at least annoyed) a few times, and it’s been just fine.  A good night’s sleep does wonders, especially if you’re arguing about something as silly as leaving the toilet seat down.  Just as it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re holding their hand, I’ve also discovered it’s hard to be mad at someone you’re waking up with…for the 5000th time.  We tend to just give each other a bashful “love you” while brushing our teeth, and move on with our lives, because again, who can remember what started the argument in the first place?  And who has the energy to carry it into day two?

One of my favorite tips came from a recent blurb in Reader’s Digest.  It basically said to treat your spouse like a dog.  Seriously.  If you love animals, then you know how well your dog is treated, right?  After Fido chews up your favorite slippers, sure, you’re mad as hell.  But then he looks at you with those puppy-dog eyes and you know he didn’t really mean it, and you forgive him.  Uses the dining room rug as a bathroom?  Smack a rolled up newspaper in your hands and kick him outside, but you know an hour later he’ll be curled up in your lap getting his ears scratched.  Yes, I’m talking about the dog. 

But the same can work for a spouse – really.  It’s all about intentions. I don’t intend to forget to empty the trash.  Hubby doesn’t intend to leave the cupboard door open.  I don’t intend to put his favorite cotton shirt into the hot dryer.  He doesn’t intend to track mud into the living room.  And aren’t those silly things the primary irritants in a good marriage?  If I can forgive a four-legged mammal for its carelessness, then I can forgive my two-legged mammal, too.   

On Saturday, we were driving through some bad weather on the way to a wonderful Valentine’s weekend get-away.  Hubby was behind the wheel, and pulled out to pass another car in some very dicey snow conditions.  I held my breath and grabbed the door (it was admittedly an over-reaction).  He chuckled and asked me how the brakes were working on the passenger side of the car.  I glared at him, and said “I’m picturing you as a puppy right now…”  And we both laughed out loud.

And that’s the best “secret” of all – laugh.  A lot.  If you remain aware of how silly a disagreement is, and bring that silliness to the attention of your spouse, how can you really stay mad?  As soon as one of us slips up and says something like “you ALWAYS…” or “you NEVER…”, the other will just start laughing and say “Really?  Never?  Never ever?  Are you sure?”  It might start with just a smirk, but pretty soon a smile is there, and then a laugh, and then we’ve forgotten whatever stupid thing we were arguing about. 

Communication is the key.  And that includes communicating when you don’t agree.  And that’s going to happen, so you may as well figure it out now.  I’m happy to say that I think we’ve done that pretty darned well in our marriage. 

So, as we head rapidly towards our 15th wedding anniversary….Happy Valentine’s Day, my Love!

Boys and Their Toys

Zero-turn mower (no, that's not my house in the background!) {photo: Joseph Barillari}

What is it with men and power equipment?  Have Ryobi power drills replaced swords and spears as symbols of a man’s prowess?  Do men think women are impressed when they wield a “saws-all” and cut a hole through a wall?  And you gotta love the way they swoop in when they see a woman trying to use power tools.  “Oh, let me get that, honey.”  “Honey, you’re not holding it right – let me take it.”  “You’ll never get it done that way – let me do it.” 

In fact, most wives learn pretty early on that the easiest way to get our husbands to do something that’s been on our “honey-do list” for days (weeks, months, years) is to grab a power tool ourselves and fire it up while they’re nearby.  Oh, there may be a curse word or two, but trust me, in the end, the job will be completed…by the husband. 

Disclaimer:  My own Hubby is sometimes conflicted in how to balance our roles, but to his credit, he usually falls on the more enlightened side of things.  Some of my sweeping generalities here are based on other guys I’ve known in the past or have worked with, and other womens’ husbands.  My own beloved at least tries to let me do things on my own, but he still gets twitchy when I grab the Ryobi. 

I don’t think for a minute that guys grab tools away from us because they’re all that concerned for our safety (although, I must admit, I can’t be trusted with any sharp objects, and Hubby knows it).  I just don’t think they want us to learn how much fun they are.

I lived alone for more than fifteen years, including ten years on my own horse farm (with a house that was a hundred years old).  So I had to learn how to make a few basic repairs.  Simple little things like…patching the roof, snaking the pipes, fixing the toilet, thawing out the sump pump, driving a farm tractor older than I was, bailing water out of the basement by hand…just a few little things every girl dreams of doing someday.  So Hubby took on a wife who didn’t expect him to fix everything, and a wife who had her own opinions on how to fix things.  That has occasionally led to some….uh….stress, but overall it’s been a successful match in handling day-to-day tasks.  He refers to my occasional proclamations of “I can do it myself” as my “I am woman, hear me roar” moments, but I think he quietly appreciates that we share the workload.

I’m not in love with running the snow blower, but I can certainly do it when he’s not around.  I’ll bundle up in twenty layers, and I’ll waddle into the garage and open the door.  I spend a few seconds staring at the snow-covered driveway in annoyance.  I’ll push the choke three times and start hauling away on the pull-start rope.  If it doesn’t start on the first pull, I’ll warm the air with a few four-letter words.  If it doesn’t start on the second, I’ll graduate to 5- and 7-letter words, because I know I’ve only got one pull left in me.  But once that sucker starts, I’m off!  Our driveway is three cars wide and 90 feet long.  It’s a bear to clear, but I can do it.  When I’m done, I’m tired, and aching, and usually still annoyed, but I also have a sense of accomplishment and independence that feels pretty good. 

And maybe that’s what guys love about their power tools.  They really do make you feel powerful.  That’s their little secret.  That’s why they snatch them out of our hands so quickly.  It’s not about the operator, it’s about the machine.

I discovered this recently when I finally learned how to drive the “man-machine”, which is what I’ve dubbed Hubby’s new zero-turn lawn mower.  I could drive any lawn tractor around, and I’ve had some doozies, including a big old clunker on my farm that I bought at a garage sale – it would smoke and backfire regularly, but it got me through my last couple years of farm life (before I came to my senses and sold the farm and tractor).  I was even okay driving a 1950 farm tractor and operating the bucket loader on the front.  But just because I could do it didn’t mean I loved doing it, and I was more than happy to let Hubby take over the lawn duties once we settled in suburbia.  And as long as we had a lawn tractor, even the one with the big 4-foot mower, I knew I could help out in a pinch. 

And then he got the man-machine this year.  Hubby coveted this mower for three years, because he drove one at the golf course where he worked part-time.  You sit in front of the engine, not behind it.  And you sit directly over and slightly behind the mower.  No steering wheels here – these things drive with two handles/levers/arms that operate independently of each other.  That means if you pull the left lever back, you turn left.  If you pull the left lever back, and push the right lever forward, you turn left really fast!!!  I’m talkin’ throw-you-off-the-machine fast.  The least little movement on those levers, and you are careening into the garage wall, or the car, or over the top of that little maple tree behind the shed.  Hubby is a zero-turn master.  Me…not so much.  I was more than happy to let that be a man-job.  Until we realized that I would have to mow the lawn at least a couple times while he was out of town this fall.  Uh-oh.

Hubby gave me an impatient lesson last week (I didn’t come that close to hitting the car on my way out of the garage).  I tried to ignore his protests and shouted suggestions and anguished expressions as I ran zigzags around the yard.  You see, I was thinking the man-machine needed a man’s firm hand to steer it.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that the key was subtlety.  A light hand on the steering levers allowed you to move around the yard with ease.  Push them forward together, and you go faster – cool.  After a few herky-jerky attempts to mow around some shrubbery without mowing it down (Hubby’s face was priceless!), I figured out the man-machine.  And I liked it.  The neighbors were watching me, and that must have been admiration I saw in their eyes as I wheeled around and spun that mower in a (relatively) tight circle to head back the other direction.  I felt awesome!

I now know the secret of men and their toys.  The toys are fun!!  And the toys are cool!!  And they don’t really require any special “manly” skills.  Okay, men have got more practice running drills and operating zero-turn mowers than we do.  And they often have more upper arm strength to hold that power tool and its heavy detachable battery pack steadier than we can.  But the reason men love those toys is because they get a heady sense of power and accomplishment from using them.  Women should give it a try more often.  And if by chance you don’t like it, just act like you’re going to drop the tool, or bump it up against the wall, or tell him you think you stripped a screw.  He’s sure to grab the power tools away from you with a tsk-tsk and take over the task.  And he’ll be thrilled to have his toys all back to himself again.

The Three Best Products for People Who Hate to Clean

No, a major corporation has not come knocking at my door, asking for my very influential endorsement of their products.  I’m not sure why, since the several dozen people who read my blog posts every week (thank you, by the way) are clearly well-heeled and savvy shoppers who would rush to the store to purchase anything I recommended (right???). 

But I found myself in a conversation this week about Magic Erasers at the lunch table at work.  That’s not necessarily big news, but it was the third such enthusiastic endorsement of the product I’d given in two weeks.  Since I was beginning to sound like a product spokesperson anyway, I figured I may as well put it in writing.  Anyone who knows me knows that “clean” is a very subjective term in my world, and I’m not known for my Suzy Homemaker skills.  I have one hanging tile which accurately states that my idea of cleaning is to sweep a room with a glance…..

So the thought of me getting excited about cleaning products is a bit bizarre, and therefore newsworthy.  The incredible Magic Erasers are one of three cleaning products I’ve discovered that are heavenly for people like me who don’t like to clean, or don’t have time for cleaning, or have some physical limitations that prevent them from the old-fashioned hands-and-knees approach to scrubbing floors, sinks and tubs (even if that physical limitation is just that you are of Baby Boomer age or older).   

1)       Mr. Clean Magic Erasers:  This product is not only effective, but it’s actually kinda fun to use.  These little foam sponges remove dirt from just about any surface, including those that are notoriously hard to clean, like painted walls and porcelain sinks.  You just dampen the eraser and go to work.  The more you clean with it, the more it “dissolves”, until there’s nothing left.  I did a little research, and it turns out that the name “eraser” is appropriate – the product actually wears away the same way a pencil eraser does, leaving a tiny bit of residue behind (but I’ve rarely had to rinse after using it).  It’s made of melamine foam, which has been used for decades for things like pipe insulation and soundproofing.  Then someone discovered that it cleans, too, acting like really fine sandpaper to remove dirt, scuff marks, food splatter, etc.  I’ve yet to find anything I didn’t love using it on – doors, counters, sinks, walls, faucets, stove top, back splash, bathtubs, painted kitchen cupboards,  hardware – you name it, it’ll clean it.  Just moisten and go!  No mess.  No hard scrubbing required.  I love it so much that I was actually excited to see that they’ve finally come out with a Magic Eraser MOP!  Woo-hoo!  The Magic Eraser isn’t very expensive (around $3 for 2), and they last quite a while.  If you don’t use it up in one bout of cleaning (that takes a lot of cleaning, but I’ve done it), just tuck it back under the sink and let it dry.  Then pull it out and remoisten when you’re ready to clean again.   And for anyone who’s received any spam emails about this product being “deadly” and “poisonous” – it’s bogus – they’re non-toxic.  Some trivia, courtesy of Wikipedia:  Mr. Clean was born the same year as me, 1958.  A true Baby Boomer cleaner!  Mr. Clean’s first name?  “Veritably”.  No wonder he doesn’t use it much.  His name in Spanish?  Don Limpio.  Seriously – hardly has the same impact, does it?   

 2)      Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner:  Okay, this one is a little more expensive (about $23 for the starter set, and $3 for refills).  But I hate scrubbing the shower, and Hubby has a bad back and knees, so I can’t delegate the job.  And dirty showers are yucky.  And this stuff just plain works.  You hang the machine on the shower head, and push the button when you’re done showering.  Beep-beep-beep, then it starts spraying (get out of the shower first!).  Twin sprays (noisily) go around and around the shower, and as the product runs down the wall, it cleans.  This keeps the shower so clean that it always looks like you’ve just scrubbed it.  The machine will last a long time (our first lasted almost 4 years), but you’ll have to replace batteries 2 or 3 times a year, and the refill bottles have to go in every 3 – 5 weeks, depending on how often you’re using the shower (we’re  daily showerers).  So it’s an investment.  But we love it.  It’s painfree cleaning that happens without us putting any effort or thought into it.  Scrubbing Bubbles trivia?  They debuted as the mascots for Dow bathroom cleaner in the 1970’s, so they’re not as old as Mr. Clean, but they are a childhood memory.  The bubbles became so popular that the product name was changed.  The voice of the “bubble leader” in the commercials back then was that of Paul Winchell, who was also the voice of Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh animated films.

3)      Swiffer Sweepers and Dusters:  Swiffer sweepers are fast and easy and effective.  What more could you want?  If you remember to use it regularly (which I rarely do), they can make a huge difference in the amount of pet hair and tiny particles on your hard floors.  Some of my pet-owning friends use them twice daily to keep up with the hair.  If the pad (dry or wet) gets dirty, just flip it over and use the other side (that’s not a corporate recommendation, but I do it all the time and it works just fine).  Then throw the pad away.  The pads (dry or wet) work well on hardwoods, too, and eliminate footprints and scuff marks on the wood.  The Swiffer duster is pretty cool, too, especially on blinds and ceiling fans.  Swiffer sweepers aren’t as exciting as Magic Erasers or Scrubbing Bubbles shower cleaners, but Swiffers are convenient, and the low profile lets you get under low objects – even the refrigerator.  They’re lightweight and inexpensive (starter kits can be found for $8).  It’s a no-brainer.  Conversely, I do not like the Swiffer WetJet cleaner – it’s clumsy and awkward and I didn’t think it cleaned all that well for all the hassle.  We gave ours away after a few uses.  A plain old mop is easier and cheaper.  Swiffer trivia?  Well, for one thing, Swiffer WetJet Cleaner won’t kill your pets, as those spam emails claimed for years (who writes that stuff, and why???).   They don’t really contain anti-freeze, and the product is actually endorsed by the “Dog Whisperer” – Cesar Millan.  Introduced in the late 1990s, Swiffer’s a relative newcomer to the cleaning business, but it’s a subsidiary of mega-corporation Proctor & Gamble, which has been around since 1837.  That’s a lot of cleaning history.

So there you have it – cleaning tips for (and from) the lazy housekeeper.  Are there any cleaning products that you just love to use that I haven’t discovered yet?  If so, please share!

Disclaimer:  These are my opinions alone.  I am not a scientist.  So don’t be stupid – follow the directions on the packages if you’re going to try the product.  It is NOT MY FAULT if you’re dumb enough to try a Magic Eraser on your grandmother’s priceless sterling silver punch bowl, or decide to use Scrubbing Bubbles in your $20,000 solid marble shower.  I am NOT recommending that Magic Erasers are edible, or that you should add Swiffer cleaner to your next recipe.  Non-toxic doesn’t mean they won’t make you ill.  If you buy one of these products and don’t like the way it works – tough luck.  I am not reimbursing your money, because it was your choice to make the purchase.  I did not coerce you into doing so.  Did not.  DID NOT!

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