Category Archives: Housekeeping

The secret to sanity

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I usually keep at least one candle lit in the house, saying a prayer when I light it. Candles definitely lend a romantic, mysterious ambiance to any interior. I also keep a candle on the porch; when I'm expecting a visitor or family member who's been traveling, I light the candle to welcome them.

Most parents’ lives aren’t packed with mystery. (“Honey, Baby Bobby’s poopie isn’t so green today!”) But I believe one path to happiness lies through mystery.

I studied Latin with a ballerina named Camille at Indiana University, and I was always amazed at her perfect grades. One day, I asked her how she did it so effortlessly. She confided that she lit candles, played Gregorian chants, and pretended she was a medieval monk translating texts.

Back then, I thought she was a weirdo. Now I think she was a total genius, a visionary. She was using her imagination and embracing humanity’s mysterious past.

The big-deal psychologist Carl Jung lends cred to the need for mystery. Jung said, “Show me a sane man, and I will cure him for you.”

There’s two lessons to take away from this: As a psychologist, Jung exhibited keen business sense by doubling his customer base to include the sane and insane. The second lesson is that it’s crazy to view life totally in factual, scientific terms.

I’ve felt more grounded since I increased my exposure to mystery. I volunteer at the Oriental Institute, a free (!!!) museum in the University of Chicago dealing with adventure and archaeology.

Indiana Jones would’ve studied there–in fact, the character is based on a real OI Egyptologist. At the OI you’ll see artifacts from the place many believe Armageddon will occur, and I’m always relieved to see the end of the world will not occur in a bathroom in my house.

With every artifact I see, I have the same reaction as Chris Farley in Tommy Boy: “That–was–awesome!” Seriously, I stand before a bit of Dead Sea Scroll with my hair blowing like I’m in a shampoo commercial.

If you’re stressed, you may feel you can’t escape an unpleasant situation, but there are many local ways to escape into mystery. Worship and meditation help. So might reading a mystery or ghostly book by Region authors Mark Marimen, Kate Collins, or Scarlett Dean. A drive along Red Arrow and Blue Star highways in Michigan can be mysterious as you wonder what’s beyond each bend.

Museums make you feel you’re investigating a mystery–I love how the fairy castle in the Museum of Science and Industry is deep in the basement, just as the most primitive part of your brain is deep inside.

Turn off the computer, and light a candle. I missed the last issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, but I doubt it featured the article “Kim Kardashian’s Seduction Secrets (Hint: Light-Emitting Diodes!).”

I also think it’s important to lend enchantment to children’s lives. At the OI, I found an Egyptian perfume bottle, where I keep fairy dust to sprinkle on my kids before lights out.

How to win a pickup game

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will.i.am’s mix, above, is an awesome picking up song–and the bass solos are suh-weet!

Today’s topic is tidiness. In the countless conversations I’ve had with my girlfriend Gracia, I’ve felt the most profound sisterhood when we discuss keeping the house picked up. When the house is in order, I feel more well-being and control over life. But with four kids age 11 and younger and an aging Jack Russell Terrier, having a picked-up house is an elusive trophy. So here’s what works for me.

If you pick up throughout the day, you will at least keep up with the mess–over time, you’ll eventually conquer it. Many household managers advocate just picking up once or twice during the day, so you’re not constantly irritated by the repetitive, boring task. Either way, remember: We’re not trying to get your house perfect, just better than the day before.

If you schedule a pickup time, make it during your favorite TV show, so the task is done before you know it. You’ll get exercise while enjoying your show.

Pick times of the day when you have lots of physical energy, though you may not need much mental acuity. You’ll be happier and more productive, picking up more toys in less time and saving time for other chores.

Never go anywhere empty handed. I live in a quad-level house, and my kids drag toys and socks and underwear from one level to another. So when I go downstairs, I take diapers to the garbage. When I go upstairs, I take dirty socks to the hamper. Baskets are a good way to collect items to take from one level to another.

Play mind games. When I look around, often so much needs to be picked up, it’d be easy to get frustrated and give up. So when I pass through the area, my rule is to only pick up three items. I know this sounds a little obsessive-compulsive, but bear with me. Three items takes 15 seconds, gives you a feeling of control–and soon, the clutter is all picked up, which reduces your frustration.

Before you let your kids watch TV or play video games, have them do their homework and pick up. If they made a huge mess, have them just pick up five or twenty items each, depending on their ages.

Don’t forget to reward yourself for all your picking up throughout the day–maybe a cup of green tea at night or a bubble bath.

Write me with your strategies for keeping a picked-up house. That way, we know we’re not alone.