The Joy of Housekeeping – finding focus, meaning, and gratitude in routine chores

There was a time in my life when I got excited to take a personal day from work just to catch-up on housekeeping. Full-time jobs and kids’ busy schedules meant there were never enough hours in the day to keep up with cleaning, cooking, laundry, and yard work. Now that I’m a retired empty-nester, I have plenty of time for routine chores which have always offered a comforting, grounding rhythm to my life.

As a college student, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room or apartment was spick-and-span. I wasn’t just procrastinating. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. Doing basic household chores can help us practice the focus required for other areas of life.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Shin-Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” It’s a similar lesson to the one we learned from the karate kid’s Mr. Miyagi when he instructed, “Wax on. Wax off.”

After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during that time when I often come up with my best ideas.

Especially as we get older, routine chores can give structure and meaning to our days. My husband and I both love creating a happy, welcoming home for each other, as well as for friends and family.

Since retiring, my husband has taken over the cooking. He plans the menus, shops for the best ingredients, and takes his time in the kitchen to lovingly prepare delicious and healthy meals. My domain is still cleaning and laundry. I have a daily schedule that helps me accomplish all of my housekeeping within the week.

We both have our own interests and hobbies, but cheerfully doing our daily chores is part of our love language, and they get us up and going when motivation is running a little low. During the pandemic, when nothing seems normal, routine chores add some consistency to our days.

Going about my housework, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude. There’s so much for which to be thankful. Floors to sweep. Clothes to launder. Dishes to wash. Pillows to fluff. Leaves to rake.

As we get older, we naturally have more time to take care of our homes and, I’ve found, more appreciation for each and every day of our life. I recall folding my children’s tiny clothes with only a vague understanding of how quickly they would outgrow them. I held the soft cotton onesies to my nose and inhaled their sweet smell, pausing for just a moment before rushing off to do something more pressing.

These days, there isn’t so much tugging for my attention. As I dust the piano, prune the geraniums, and hang up my husband’s shirts, I’m intensely aware of the simple pleasure it brings me.

Our lives go through dramatic transitions, but one thing that never changes is the necessity of household chores. There were times when I desperately needed a maid or a fairy godmother to keep it all together. At this stage in my life, I’m glad for the time and perspective to view housekeeping as something that brings me focus, meaning, gratitude and, yes, even joy.

An Optimist’s Guide to Politics

Politics and optimism seem to mix like oil and water, but formidable British statesman Winston Churchill once said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” Those of us with such dispositions can successfully navigate a contentious election year by clinging to some simple values most optimists hold dear to their hearts.

At the end of the day, optimists just want everyone to be happy. It’s an idea our founding fathers shared, at least in theory. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When optimists vote, they want nothing more than our country to keep moving towards fulfilling those promising words adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Most optimists believe good character to be the most important quality in any person, particularly someone who wishes to hold a public office. Voters who don’t care about a politician’s character, just their policies and party, are probably not optimists. Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Think about the personal qualities you admire and likely insist upon in the people you want in your inner circle. Before you vote, consider how well the candidates hold up against that basic measure.

Optimists have heaps of trust in their fellow citizens and in democracy itself. We have faith in the democratic process and take seriously our right and responsibility to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote after decades of protest and civil disobedience. When we go to the polls we must keep in mind that democracy, the cornerstone of an optimistic nation, is always at stake.

At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, optimists really do want world peace. George Washington said, “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” Here at home, we want to live in a country that’s peaceful and united in the belief that we all deserve to feel safe and respected, despite our differences. Support the candidate who wants that, too.

For those of us who like to keep things light, the next few weeks are going to be pretty heavy. Let’s stay true to our ideals of happiness, character, trust, and harmony. Don’t worry when the cynics call us dreamers, because they will. Finally, remember another thing Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Getting Dressed – a dozen surprising perks of getting ready for the day

Since the pandemic began, I’ve heard a lot of people are having trouble getting dressed. If they aren’t going anywhere, why bother? Believe me, I get it. Like many people my age, I had to learn this lesson for myself.

When I became a retired empty-nester, I found it difficult to get dressed and ready for the day. At first, staying in my pajamas well past noon felt like a just reward. After all, I’d been rushing to get out the door for school or work my entire life.

However, after a couple of weeks lazing through my days without putting on real clothes, I felt like Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company, famous for her muumuus and slippers. Since then, even if I’m not going anywhere, I have a morning routine that includes getting dressed and ready for the day.

For me, that means putting on a casual but cute outfit that can’t be mistaken for pajamas or exercise gear. Though I’ve never been a fashionista, my charming mother and her friends taught me at a young age the wisdom of being properly dressed.

In her best-selling book, Lessons from Madame Chic, Jennifer L. Scott shares secrets she learned from the matriarch of the family with whom she lived while studying in France. Among other lessons in living, Scott noticed both Madame Chic and her husband remained well-dressed from morning to night.

There is a fashionable trend towards messy chic which has only been exaggerated by the quarantine. I recently saw a young mom at the grocery store wearing pajama pants and a sweatshirt boasting, “Messy hair. Don’t care.”

This week, the impeccably dressed Alex Trebec told Jeopardy viewers they could take the test at home – without putting on pants! There is, thankfully, a disclaimer that contestants are required to wear “out-of-the-house-clothing.”

Cheeky, yes, but what have we come to?

Even if the rest of the world welcomes unapologetic sloppiness, I just can’t. When tempted to remain in my pajamas or early morning walking clothes, I hear my favorite Disney muse, Mary Poppins, firmly say, “Best foot forward. Spit spot!”

Thanks to experience, and the good example of others, mature men and women know there are some surprising perks to getting ready for the day. Whether you are retired, work from home, or are a full-time parent or care-giver, taking time to get dressed each morning can help us ~

  1. Have More Energy – Getting ready for the day gets us up and moving. By the time we’re dressed and looking sharp, the blood is pumping, morning kinks are worked out, and we’re ready to move mountains – or at least tackle our to-do list.
  2. Control Our Closet – With time, we learn what styles, colors, and fabrics feel good and function in our real, everyday lives. What a joy it is to have an organized closet filled with clothes we actually wear and love.
  3. Stay Well-Groomed – If we don’t routinely get ready for the day, it’s easy to ignore basic grooming tasks. Remember the make-over scene in Miss Congeniality? If I let things go, I’m afraid it would take more than an entire warehouse full of professionals to make me presentable again.
  4. Age Gracefully – As we get older, it’s especially important to have confidence in the person we see in the mirror. Getting ready for the day helps us look and feel our best so we can embrace our age and continue living our best life.
  5. Mind Our Manners – As a teacher, I was always amazed at how well-behaved my students were when dressed for a field trip or special event. I admit I’m more aware of using my best manners when neatly dressed than when schlepping around in my bathrobe.
  6. Brighten the Day – Taking time to pop on a cheery scarf or dashing jacket can bring a smile to others. People appreciate it when we dress up a little, especially during the current gloom of a pandemic.
  7. Eat Better – There’s something about lounging around in stretchy pants by any name that makes it easy to skip meals and spend the day snacking. A routine of getting dressed helps us enjoy the ritual of sitting down to healthy meals.
  8. Show Respect – Looking our best demonstrates a level of respect for ourselves and others, including the people in our own homes. Like it or not, we tend to be given more respect when we are nicely dressed.
  9. Accomplish More – We all have things we want and need to accomplish, but if we don’t get a good start, the day can slip away. Active folks know wonderfully productive and fulfilling days begin by getting dressed.
  10. Be a Good Role Model – Grumbling (too loudly) about how people dress these days isn’t a good look for anyone. We’ve learned actions speak louder than words. Dressing appropriately encourages others to do the same.
  11. Sleep Better – At the end of the day, changing out of our clothes and getting ready for bed is a pleasant routine that lets our body and mind know it’s time to wind down. A good night’s sleep is crucial for our well-being, particularly when life is feeling less-than-normal.
  12. Carpe Diem – Life is short. Getting dressed helps us make the most of each day, which means making the most of our lives. It’s impossible to seize the day while still wearing our pajamas.

The Joy of Proactive Healthcare – 12 tests I promised my dad I’d do

My dad, one of the greatest of all time, died when he was 78. He was loving life and shooting his age in golf when his body gave him an impossible-to-ignore sign it was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer.

A beloved dentist for more than 50 years, my dad did not routinely visit his doctor – a fact he mentioned every time we sat together during a year of chemotherapy treatments. It was during those precious conversations that I solemnly promised to be diligent regarding my own healthcare.

The following annual health screenings are recommended for women over the age of 50, according to the sources indicated. Please consult your doctors, as personal risk factors and other considerations must be made by medical professionals.

  1. Blood Pressure Test – According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. A blood pressure test is the only way to know if a person has hypertension, the most common risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure should be checked by a professional at least annually. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, or less.
  2. Blood Tests – When a doctor orders blood tests as part of a routine check-up, the goal is to learn how your body is functioning overall. Harvard Medical School says four blood tests are particularly important for women over 50: blood sugar, lipid panel, thyroid, and Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about recommended blood tests.
  3. Body Mass Index – The BMI score can raise attention to health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. According to Mayo’s Clinic, a score over 30 indicates obesity, which can lead to serious health issues. Obesity among women in the U.S. is 65% for those between the age of 45 and 65 and 75% among women over 65.
  4. Bone Density Test – The Cleveland Clinic says women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men, partially due to the loss of estrogen after menopause. Screening for osteoporosis typically begins at age 65 with a low-dose X-ray called a DEXA scan. Those with risk factors, such as fractures, smaller frames, or family history, may be screened earlier.
  5. Cholesterol – This blood test assesses the risk for developing heart disease or stroke. Mayo’s Clinic says total levels should be less than 200 (milligrams per deciliter). Women’s cholesterol levels can fluctuate and increase after menopause, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
  6. Colon Cancer Screening – According to the American Cancer Society, about one in 24 U.S. women is at risk for developing colon cancer. Most people should get a colonoscopy at least once every ten years beginning at 50. After 75, your doctor may recommend against the procedure.
  7. Dental Check-Up – Changing hormone levels during menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can raise the risk of oral health problems for women. The American Dental Association recommends everyone have biannual dental check-ups, including teeth cleaning and necessary X-rays.
  8. Immunizations – According to the Center for Disease Control, Covid-19 makes getting an annual flu shot even more important this fall. It also recommends those over 50 get an annual shingles vaccine and a Tetanus Booster every ten years (along with a one-time pertussis vaccine for whooping cough). People over 65, should also get an annual pneumococcal vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia.
  9. Mammogram – Mammograms are a series of low-energy X-rays that screen for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have annual mammograms beginning at age 45, with the option available at age 40. Women over 55 may have mammograms every two years, or choose to continue yearly screenings.
  10. Pap Test – A Pap smear looks for cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the cervix and usually includes a screening for HPV (human papillomavirus), which can lead to cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have a Pap test every three years beginning at 21. At 65, some women may stop having the test, if their doctor determines they’ve had several years of consecutive negative Pap and HPV tests.
  11. Vision Exams – While eye problems and diseases become more prevalent with age, many can be prevented or corrected. The Cleveland Clinic says all adults should see an ophthalmologist at least every two years for a complete eye exam with pupil dilation. At age 65, eye doctor visits should be annual, or as recommended.
  12. Skin Exams – Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States according to the American Association of Dermatology. It’s recommended to do a monthly self-check for new moles or changes to existing moles. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about any changes and about the frequency of in-office exams.

My dad passed on so much wisdom to my sisters and me, but his last lesson was the importance of being proactive in our own healthcare. The current pandemic reminds us the value of good health. Your community and loved ones need you to live a healthy life for as long as possible. Please make your health a priority and talk to your doctors about these screenings and other recommendations.