Epic Quests for Rings

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What do Lacey Chabert and Tom Brady have in common?  More than you might think.

 

Let’s talk Hallmark Christmas Movies. Reading those words, you likely had one of two reactions.  Either your insides went a little mushy, or you rolled your eyes so hard they nearly fell out of your head.

You’ve heard the criticisms: they’re shallow, poorly acted, and way too earnest.  And of course, the most ubiquitous, damning critique of all: Aren’t those movies all the same?

In defense of these flicks, I submit to you a new perspective:

There’s a thin line between Hallmark Christmas Movies and Professional Football.

The HCM and the NFL: two epic quests for rings.

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Let’s start with the charge all HCMs are the same. Sure, nearly all have snowball fights, hot cocoa, and a precocious child.

But people lodging this as a criticism are completely missing the point. That’s the game, baby.  No one watches a football game and says, “Every game is the same.  Why bother watching when all they are going to do is throw, kick, and catch the ball?  And how predictable, they always stay inside the white lines.  Why does every game end with one team winning and one team losing?  And why are there so many damn commercials?”

(Okay, everyone complains about the commercials…but that’s another point in common, no?)

You see my point. Those reasons for criticizing a football game are ludicrous.

So to help your enjoyment of HCMs this holiday season, I submit to you that there are four types of movies, just like there are four types of football games:

  1. The Blow Out (Your Team is Winning): Everyone but Cleveland Browns fans have experienced one of these. Your team gets up early, and you can watch the second half without a knot in your stomach because you are sure of the outcome. While not the most common football game, this is by far the most common HCM. You want the heroine and hero to get together, you know they will, and you watch it happen. Voila! (See Christmas Festival of Ice)
  2. The Blow Out (Your Team is Losing): For Cleveland Browns fans, this is by far the most common type of game, but not so for HCMs. These are exceedingly rare, but they do happen. One of the most common tropes of the HCM is that the heroine starts off the movie with the wrong guy. We as the audience know it’s the wrong guy, and we know immediately, even if she doesn’t, when she meets the right guy. Every so often, I go rogue and decide I want her with the guy who’s clearly been designated as wrong for her. You know it’s never going to happen, but you can’t stop wishing for it anyway. (The best example is The Wedding Planner, not actually a HCM but you know deep down J. Lo would’ve been happier marrying that Italian guy instead of cheating Matthew McConaughey)
  3. Overtime: In football, typically the game ends when sixty minutes expire off the clock. In an HCM, the movie almost always ends when the hero and heroine simultaneously realize they’re in love and share their first kiss under the mistletoe or in front of lighted Christmas tree. But every so often, there’s overtime. After the declaration of love, there might be one more loose end to tie up…the heroine has to thank the mysterious Santa for granting her wish, an orphaned child finds a home, or the hero/heroine reconciles with estranged relatives. It’s short and quick…like winning the overtime coin toss, marching down the field in the no huddle offense and kicking the winning field goal. (Example: Christmas with HollySure, Mark and Maggie fall in love, but the movie isn’t complete until Maggie gives young Molly the Fairy House. )
  4. The Nail Biter: Okay, you kind of got me here. There’s never any doubt that the hero and the heroine will fall in love. But there is sometimes a mystery of what they’ll do after they fall in love. Take A Royal Christmas. Of course Emily and Leo will get married…but will they live as Prince and Princess of Cordinia or go back to life as plain old Emily and Leo in Philadelphia?)

Now let’s talk heroines. The heroine is the quarterback of the movie, and as any football fans know, the quarterback is the heart of the team.

The first type of heroine is the career girl. You’ll know you’re dealing with a career girl because the opening scene of the movie will show her rushing into her office or pouring through papers on her desk, always with a cup of coffee in her hand to illustrate how busy and sleep-deprived she is.  Nobody outworks her.  She’s perfect but something is holding her back from the big win.  She’s the Peyton Manning of HCMs.  (See Miss Christmas)

Then we’ve got the doormat. She does everything for everyone and never thinks of herself.  She lets everyone trample on her, always putting her team/family/office first.  (See A Wish for Christmas) You’ll know her because in the opening scene her best friend, co-worker, or boss is piling their work upon her, ignoring her half-hearted protests.  She is the quarterback who is always getting sacked despite his best efforts, because he gets no support from his offensive line.  Think Ben Roethlisberger.

Finally you’ve got the hometown girl, who’s carved out a lovely life running a coffee shop/dress shop/bakery in an idyllic town with quaint Christmas traditions. She’s just waiting to show a stressed-out man from the big city the pleasures of small town living. (See Marry Me at Christmas)  This is your Alex Smith, managing the game and minimizing losses until the right personnel shows up to take you to the big dance.

The similarities are endless.  Shall I go on?

Hero/heroine realize they’re in love only to have it snatched away by a misunderstanding? That’s a holding penalty calling back a touchdown.

Hero and heroine about to kiss before a rude interruption? Blocked punt.

Jealous mother/ex interfering in a perfectly good romance? Pass interference.

Random group of people who sing Christmas carols and are never heard from again?  Halftime show.

No steamy sex? Hey, you can’t rough the passer either.

Finally, no discussion of HCMs would be complete without Lacey Chabert.  She never made ‘fetch’ happen, but she’s the undisputed queen of the HCM.

By my count, Chabert has starred in at least eleven HCMs.  Chabert can play the career girl, the doormat, and the hometown girl.  She always gets the win—whether she’s facing an arrogant business man who won’t hear her pitch, an oven that breaks down just before the big baking competition, or a prickly Queen who doesn’t want her son marrying a commoner, Lacey Chabert always gets her man.

Lacey Chabert is the Tom Brady of Hallmark Christmas movies. Love them or hate them, neither one is coming home this season without a ring on their finger.

 

 

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No One Under 17 Admitted

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I spoiled this story by posting it on Facebook, but really, it’s too good for my ego not to tell it twice.

On Friday night, I went to see Bad Mom’s Christmas with four friends, all of us in our thirties.  Three of us closer to forty than thirty.  We bought our tickets, and chatted happily as we waited in line for popcorn.

The place was crowded. We handed our tickets over to the girl working the door, and she stopped us cold.

“I’m going to need to see some id,” she said.

Our reaction was instant.

“What do you mean, id?” Nina asked.

“Huh?” said Angelica.

“I don’t have my license with me,” said Jess.

Me? I just started screaming like I’d won the lottery.  I realized immediately, unlike the others, that this girl was questioning whether or not we were old enough to see an ‘R’ rated movie.  Which meant she thought there was some question as to whether or not we were sixteen.

(Younger’s Liza Miller, eat your heart out!)

I couldn’t wait to dig out my id. Jess wasn’t nearly as thrilled.  Not that I could blame her.  It was the first frigid night of the year, and she’d left her id in her car.  (Although I’m pretty sure I could’ve gotten out of a trip to my car by pulling my hair back and showing her the brand new gray hairs near my temples.)

“You’re not going to make me go out to my car and get my id, right?”

The ticket girl apologized but said she needed to see id. She was impossibly young.  It was no doubt this was her first job, and she obviously wanted to do it right.  In that moment, I pictured her getting a warning from her boss that she had to check for id for anyone who looked borderline and not take their excuses about leaving their ids in the car.

It was also obvious she was beginning to realize her colossal mistake.

Jess started toward her car, and the ticket girl looked back to us.

“Um, how old is she?”

“Thirty-three,” Angelica said. I was wondering if I could pass myself off as her mother, if this girl really thought she was sixteen, but the ticket girl’s face reddened and she called Jess back.

I think it finally hit her that Bad Mom’s Christmas—a movie that, while filled with bad language and crude humor, was probably not the flick that a group of sixteen-year-old girls would try to sneak into.

Red-faced and embarrassed, the girl checked our ids. I began to feel bad for making her feel so silly.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “You’ve made us all very happy.”

And you know what’s funny? I probably shouldn’t blame the girl that much.  I knew two of the women I was with back when we were sixteen, and we spent our Friday nights in much the same way.  We giggled, we talked, we went to the movies.

The only difference is that when we went to dinner last night, we ordered margaritas.

Well, that and the seven kids, funded 401(k)s, three husbands, and teeny tiny number of early gray hairs between us.

Listen to the (new) Music

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Recently I read a study that claimed people stop listening to new music at age 33. After that, people focus on their favorite artists from their teens and twenties and stop searching out new music.

I have no idea if this study is scientifically valid, and I doubt there is truly magic in the number 33. But nearly everyone has affection for the music of their youth.  Call in nostalgia if you want, but the older most people get, the more likely they are to call the popular music of the day ‘noise.’

Probably this is inevitable. Popular music is tied up with celebrity and youth.  Its themes center almost exclusively on falling in and out of love in dramatic fashion.  As a person grows up, their life is filled with more responsibilities—a job, a home, a spouse, kids—and their time for an interest in celebrity wanes.  And brooding about lost love takes a back seat to getting dinner on the table.  And with talk radio, podcasts, and audiobooks, there are many more options besides listening to music.

Listening to music morphs from something you do to discover yourself to something you do to remember yourself.

This makes sense. But 33!  That can’t be right.  Maybe 53.

So I did an experiment. I’m 36, so I’m three years past my music expiration date.  But I’ve bought plenty of music since then.  I went back through it all and came to a rather unsettling realization:  though I had bought plenty of music, it was all by artists I’d first discovered in my teens and twenties.

In the past three years, I had bought exactly one album by an artist I had not discovered before age 33—and that was The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles, which I bought three years ago!

Which I love, by the way! But instead of searching out new music, I’ve been mostly buying new albums by artists I once loved who are, frankly, past their prime.  Let’s all be honest—without any exception I can think of, an artist’s tenth album is not going to contain their finest work.

I love Mary Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood, Tift Merritt, and even Taylor Swift, but the thought of never falling in love with a new musician depresses me.

So I’m on the hunt for not just new music by my old favorites, but new voices as well.

So tell me readers, who should I be listening to?

(And just so we’re clear, this new resolution will in no way prevent me from snapping up the long awaited album of duets from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill that drops November 17.)

Amazon Sunday

Amazon

Oops, I did it again.

Amazon Prime is one of my favorite things in the world. With one click, I can order nearly anything and it arrives on my doorstep two days later.  If I’m short on but not yet completely out of shampoo or toilet paper, I don’t have to make a special trip to the store.  For me this is a wonderful thing, as in general I dislike running errands.

Most of the time, however, the two day shipping is just a happy convenience and not a necessity.

Which brings me to this morning. I was lounging in bed reading on a lazy Sunday morning when I heard a thump followed by my ringing doorbell.  I winced.  I rolled over, propped up the window, waved and yelled thank you to the postal worker.  He smiled and waved back.

And thus it was that I received three jugs of cat litter and cucumber body wash on Sunday.

These Sunday Amazon deliveries make me feel guilty.

Even though it’s in name only these days, Sunday should be a day of rest. Of sleeping in at the very least.  Of church if that’s your thing, or football, or making soup on a rainy day.  It’s a day of pajamas and living easy and reading the newspaper.  And if that’s not always—or even usually—how it actually goes, it should at least be our aspiration.

Nothing makes me feel like a diva more than the poor postman having to drag himself to work on Sunday so I can get my running shoes and printer ink.

I wish Amazon had a little box you could check that said, “Yes, I’m ordering this on Friday because my boss left the office early so I have time to screw around on the internet. I don’t actually need this on Sunday.  Please just feel free to drop it off Monday with the rest of the mail.”

But perhaps I shouldn’t worry about it. I still get a physical Sunday newspaper every week, and I don’t feel a bit guilty about that.  In fact I got angry when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette began offering an online only version for its Christmas Day edition.  And I’d bet that my newspaper carrier wakes up even earlier than the guy who dropped off my cat litter.

Both delivering the paper on Sunday and no mail on Sunday are just the way things are done.  We get used to things the way they are and don’t always want them to change, even for our benefit.

Heck, for all I know, the man who delivered my cat litter this morning loves working Sundays because he gets out of an awkward extended family dinner and makes overtime in the process.

Wrong Number

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Recently I was in my local library when my cell phone buzzed in my pocket.

(I say “buzzed” of course, because unlike other rude patrons, I know the cardinal rule of library patronage is to be quiet. Hear that Millennials?  That you’re supposed to be quiet in libraries?  Just a little piece of advice from a much more mature Xennial. 

Of course you all know I’m making a joke from last week’s blog—the Millennials are quiet as church mice in libraries because they are glued to their smartphones and wear headphones. It’s the old men with bottomless coffee cups who won’t shut up!)

But I digress. My phone buzzes.  Unlike a Millennial, I don’t respond with a text.  Unlike the old men, I don’t loudly say, “Is that MY phone?  Did you hear a phone?  Wait a minute, wait a minute, I think it’s me.”  Like a good Xennial, I take the call outside and answer it.

“Hello?”

“Mel, WHERE ARE YOU?”

The woman on the other end sounds breathless. I start to panic.  Obviously I am supposed to be somewhere right now.  And that somewhere is not the Lee Child section of the public library.  More urgently than where I should be, I have no idea who the woman on the other end of the phone is.

“Um, who is this?”

“LINDA!” the woman says.

This is absolutely no help. My mind is racing, jumping through my contact list.  No name came up on my phone’s caller ID, only a number.  I try to think of a way to bluff my way through this conversation, but ultimately I come up blank.

“Linda who?”

She tells me her last name, and that only furthers the confusion. She’s the mother of one of my oldest friends, someone I’ve known since high school.  She always reads my blog and likes it on Facebook.  I see her once in a blue moon when her daughter throws a cookout.

And yet I still have no idea why she is calling me and where I’m supposed to be.

“What can I do for you?” I finally say.

It is then that it hits her—I can hear it in her voice. She’s called the wrong Mel.

I’m so relieved I sit down on the steps of the library. Whatever is going on here, I’m pretty sure I’m off the hook.

It turns out it was her daughter’s—my friend’s sister—wedding day. Someone involved in the big day—the florist, or hairdresser, I can’t remember—was also named Mel.  She pulled up the wrong name in her contact list and there we were.

I realized now her panic was pure excitement—it was the morning of her daughter’s wedding! We talked only for a few brief moments to fully sort out the mix-up.  I offered my congratulations and looked forward to seeing the photographs on Facebook.

It was a little thing, but it made me happy for the rest of the day. We’re constantly reminded about all the bad things that are happening across the country—across the world—at every single moment.  And we should know about all these things.

But it’s good to remember that all kinds of good things are happening too. People are falling in love, getting married, raising their babies, and going about the business of living their lives.  In that moment my heart softened to all of humanity.

Even the loud old men in the library.

No Participation Trophies Will be Awarded for Reading this Blog

Millennials

My name is Melanie, and I’m a Millennial.

Many people my age refuse to acknowledge their Millennial status. And who came blame them?

Millennials get a bad rap—in case you haven’t heard, we’re entitled, narcissistic job-hoppers. Instead of growing up, we play video games.  We’re addicted to social media and participation trophies.

We haven’t moved out of parent’s basement because we believe work shouldn’t just be a paycheck, it should be fulfilling. We weren’t put on this earth to start at the bottom and work our way up.  That’s so Baby Boomer.

We’re not like other generations. We’re special.

Most of this doesn’t describe me, and never did. But the facts don’t lie:  Millennials are those born between 1980-1995.  I was born in 1981.

No way around it, at age 36, I’m a grandma Millennial.

And if you’re in your early to mid-thirties, so are you.

Deal with it.

But, but but…I can already hear your excuses forming. We grand-Millennials aren’t like these spoiled, bratty, hipster Millennials.  We didn’t grow up with technology, you see.  And technology changes everything.  We grew up when the cutting edge technology was the cordless phone.  The smartest thing about that phone was you could hide from your parents while you talked in your bedroom, instead of in the bathroom, which was the only place the cord reached.

Forget social media, we barely had computers. We got our first computer when I was in junior high, and it was a glorified electric typewriter.  I printed my school papers out and then tore the strips with holes in it off the sides.  I didn’t have an Ethernet connection until I went to college, and then I could stay on AOL Instant Messenger all day without tying up the phone line.

You younger Millennials have no idea.

The one thing we did have was that glorious year or so of Napster, when you could download every song you ever heard and talk yourself into thinking that it wasn’t wrong because there was no law against it. Of course, there were no iPhones or iPods, so you could only listen to said songs from your desktop computer, but still.

To right this injustice of those who grew up without technology being lumped in with iPad Zombies, the grand-Millennials have come up with a new term to describe themselves. Have you heard it?  It’s called a Xennial, and it describes those born between 1977-1983.  In other words, the youngest Gen Xers and the oldest Millennials.

It’s defined as a microgeneration of people who had an analogue childhood and digital adulthood. More importantly, Xennials combine Gen X cynicism with Millennial optimism.  Both cynical and optimistic, huh?  That’s quite the trick.

Xennials are currently aged 22-37. But the important thing you need to remember is they are NOT Millennials.

But you know what, fellow Xennials?

Thinking we are so unique that we need a special sub-generation is about the most Millennial thing that a person can do.

Think about it.

They’re Back…

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My friends trying to come in and party…

 

For the last seven autumns, I’ve had an unwelcome guest show up in my house. He comes uninvited, overstays his welcome, and returns even after I kick him out.

And he brings all his friends.

No, I’m not talking about an unemployed friend, college dropout sibling, or boomerang child.

I’m talking about stink bugs.

Formal name Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, thank you very much.

As soon as the weather chills, these guys are scaling my windows screens like it’s Mount Everest, looking for any crack they can find.

And they find cracks. I don’t know where, I don’t know how, but at any moment throughout the day there are at least two stink buys in my house, and approximately one thousand trying to gain entry.

For the dwindling number of you who have never encountered the stink bug, he is an agricultural pest who is especially damaging to orchards. Native to China and Japan, stink bugs were accidentally brought over to the United States and Europe.

According to Wikipedia, the first documented specimen in the United States was found in 1998 in Allentown, Pennyslvania.

Allentown, by the way, is a scant four hour drive from my front door. Nothing for the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug on a nice autumn day.

So here’s the bad news about these guys: they destroy orchard fruits, and if they get in your house, you really, really, really don’t want to squish them.  Why?  Well, as their name implies, they stink if squish them.  It’s a smell most similar to urine, and it’s extremely difficult to wash off.  Even if you squish them through a Kleenex, the smell lingers on your hands.

Some people flush them down the toilet, but when an invasion hits, your water bill would be through the roof. Others vacuum them up, but you’d better have a separate vacuum reserved just for this purpose, as it too will become infested with a smell you can’t get rid of.

But here’s the good news. While they might be holy terrors to apple and peach farmers, as household pests go, they’re not particularly harrowing.  They can fly, but rarely do, at least in my house.  They don’t bite.  They don’t run away when you try to catch them.

Mostly they just crawl up my walls. They’re ugly, but not scary.  And I’m tired of spending my day dragging a chair around the house to stand on and pluck them off the ceiling.

So rather than waging war on the stink bugs, I’ve decided to make friends.

As long as they stay out of my bedroom and off the television screen, they can stay during the day. I round them up each evening in a plastic jar, then take them out on the deck and dump them out.

If they can find their way back in, they can stay for another day.

And I can finally get some work done.

Rabbit Rabbit

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It’s the first of October. Did you start your day with a declaration of “rabbit, rabbit”?

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?

I first heard of this tradition in junior high school. My English teacher, Mrs. Inglese, told us that we should all say “rabbit, rabbit” upon waking the first day of each month.  The trick was that it had to be the very first thing you said.  If you remembered, you’d have good luck for the month.

I had never heard of this superstition, and I’ve rarely heard anyone mention it since. I’ve rarely remembered to say it since then, but for some reason the idea popped into my head this morning.  I opened my eyes, lying on my back in bed, and said, “rabbit, rabbit!”

It’s the first time I’ve thought of the idea in years.

It’s funny how the mind works…how things from your distant past pop up seemingly without provocation. I’m sure something made me think of Mrs. Inglese, or the rabbit tradition, but I have no idea what.

But anyway, back to rabbit, rabbit.  I did a quick Google search just to make sure I hadn’t made the whole thing up in my mind, but sure enough, there were several articles about the superstition.  There were some variations…some people thought you had to say the word twice, some three times.  Some said you had to say white rabbit.  Or bunny bunny.  Some said it would bring good luck, others said it meant someone would give you a present.

All agreed it had to be the first words off your lips in the morning of the first of each month.

It’s noted as a British and North American superstition, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a strict adherent. But the internet is murky on the actual origins.  It stems from the general sense that rabbits are good luck—carrying a rabbit foot, for example.  But beyond that, the origin is unclear.

Still, if you’re reading this early in the morning and you haven’t yet spoken aloud, give it a try.

And see how lucky October is for you.

You Too Are Becoming Your Mother

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Now that’s what I call dinner!

 

When I was growing up, we ate baked potatoes three days a week minimum. If you grew up with me, you know I’m not exaggerating.

My mom would sell it as a big treat. I’d walk in the door from school, dump by backpack on my desk, and she’d say, “Guess what?  We’re having baked potato bar for dinner!”

Now, if you’re a normal person, the words baked potato bar conjures up an image of abundance.  Bacon, gooey cheddar cheese, maybe even some mushrooms.

That’s not how Mommie Dearest defined the term. Baked potato bar meant we were eating baked potatoes, and only baked potatoes.  Baked potatoes were the appetizer, side dish, and entrée.  You want dessert?  You guess it…more baked potato.

And the toppings? Sour cream and chives.  That’s it.  Always.  With water to drink.

I’m pretty sure the inmates at San Quentin eat better.

But Mommie Dearest loves baked potatoes. In her mind, this was the ultimate treat.  Her Dad was the exact same way, though he liked his potatoes anyway he could get them…mashed, fried, au gratin, you name it.

In the beginning, I had no beef with baked potatoes. But seriously, at times we ate them for days on end.  White potato with white sour cream, the blandest dinner plate you ever saw.  Even it if did have a few green chives sprinkled across it.

I swore when I moved out that I would never eat another baked potato again. And mostly, I stuck to that.  I’d eat one with my ribeye when dining at a steakhouse.  But otherwise, forget it.

But recently I started having second thoughts. It started when I was having some mild tummy trouble and needed to eat bland foods for a few days.  Baked potatoes was on the short list, and I gave in.

I made it just like mom used to do. Scrub, poke it with a fork, and toss it in the microwave for ten minutes.  Garnished with sour cream and chives.

Reader, it was damn good.

A few days later, I ate another one. And another after that.

I’ve eaten half a dozen baked potatoes in the past month.

When I want to visit my mom this weekend, she asked me what I had for dinner the previous night (no one in the world except your mother cares what you ate for dinner last night), and I sheepishly admitted, “A baked potato.”

My Dad’s eyes popped out of his head. I thought my mom was going to say, “What?  I thought you hated baked potatoes?”

But she didn’t. She just looked at me and laughed and laughed.

Because she knew the truth.

All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are slowly becoming our mothers.

One Perfect Moment

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Household chores are simultaneously uplifting and demoralizing.

Do you know what I mean?

I spend yesterday cleaning and doing household chores. Not the quick vacuum around the litter box and scrub the toilet, but the full deal.  I vacuumed and dusted.  I sprayed chemicals all over this house and scrubbed every surface.  I dug the cat litter out of the treadmill belt, wiped down the baseboards in the bedroom, and scrubbed the kitchen floor.

But I was just getting started. I cut the grass.  I scrubbed mildew and leaves off the back deck.  I hosed down the deck furniture.

I washed every piece of dirty laundry in this house. Well, except for the sheets.  They’ll have to wait another few days.

And when I was done, I surveyed the place and felt damn proud of myself. The kitchen sparkled, the bedroom was camera ready, the yard picturesque.  There are few feelings as satisfying as a clean house.

That’s why it’s uplifting. Today I feel energized, productive, and ready to take on the world.  A clean house can do that.

But.

It doesn’t last.

Because as soon as I was finished, I showered and threw my dirty clothes into my hamper. The laundry was officially starting to pile up again.

The grass is growing, even as we speak. The dust I whipped up into the air is resettling.

I made oatmeal this morning and spilled blueberries all over my perfect kitchen counter.

Jasmine found a prime spot to deposit a hairball.

The cycle is never-ending. Usually, I’m cleaning a bit here and there, and I’m in a state of equilibrium with the dust and dirt of life.

But we you do a full housecleaning, you get the satisfaction of perfection.

Even if it is only one perfect moment.