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Pandemic of cleaning

If you’re vacuuming more or organizing closets or wiping down door knobs and switchplates, you might be stressed out.

Well, you might be using Lysol wipes like they’re a hot commodity because of CDC guidelines for avoiding COVID-19, but you get my point, right? Some people go into cleaning mode when they’re anxious.

Cleaning is a real response. A study published in Current Biology found a link between anxiety and obsessive cleaning. It’s an effective response, too, because your carpet or closet or door is clean you’re done. If you’re only wringing your hands in worry, all you’ll get is tight shoulders and a headache.

So it is for my Beloved and me in our new condo where we’re sheltering in place. The first thing we do when we move into any new place is clean; even without CVOID-19, we’re not fans of other people’s germy dirt. One reason we chose this particular piece of real estate is because it’s part of rental program; lake lovers can vacation here during the summer when we’re enjoying southern Wisconsin’s temperate climes. To avoid horrible online reviews of how dirty this place is, cleaning is even more imperative so we’ve spent our first few weeks here obsessively cleaning all the weird things in a house you tend to overlook when you’ve lived there a while. It’s just a bonus that all this cleaning helps dissipate anxiety about skyrocketing infection rates and plunging stock portfolios.

If you’re looking for ways to turn your anxiety into purposeful effort here are a few things to clean that are not as obvious as the junk drawer or your bedroom closet:

  • Molding: Before anything was moved in, we washed the walls and molding first to prepare surfaces for the painter. The tops of the window and door molding were covered in years of dust! Also overlooked, the shelves above the hanging rod in closets.
  • bathroom vent

    Bathroom fan vent

    Bathroom vents: This is typically the most disgusting thing in a hotel room, and they’re not that difficult to clean. Remove the cover and scrub it in soapy water. Run some compressed air in the vent.

  • Dryer vent: This might be a whole afternoon project if your dryer is already in place. We installed a new dryer, so it was easy to run compressed air through the house vent. My Beloved also used the air compresser on the vent in the dryer (when the dryer was still outside, waiting to be installed). 

 

  • room vent

    Room vent

    Furnace and air conditioning vents: You’ll probably need a screwdriver to remove these. Scrub the vent, and clean the duct. My Beloved spraypainted the ceiling vents from the bathrooms because they were a little rusty (he performed this messy project in the garage). They look better than new now.

  • Furnace filter: Have you changed yours recently? These filter the air and you need that more than ever right now.

 

stovetop vent

Stove fan filters

  • Vent screens above your stovetop: These are greasy and gross, but ours are removable. I just ran them through the dishwasher. 
  • Ceiling fan: Are you sensing a theme here? If it’s a fan or a vent, it’s probably dirty. Get out a ladder and proceed with dusting it or, if it’s really gross, use soapy water.
  • Refrigerator coils: Yes, this means moving the refrigerator so you can get behind it. Air compressor to the rescue again (I think you could use a vacuum, too. Don’t depend on Minnesota Transplant for this one; best to google how-tos). We don’t think ours had ever been cleaned. My Beloved also removed the grate beneath the refrigerator door and washed it in the bathtub.
  • Kitchen appliances: When was the last time you washed the rotating plate in the microwave? The inside of your oven? How about your blender buttons (tip: cotton swabs)? If vinegar isn’t too dear to you right now, run some through your coffee maker (and then make a few pots with water only or you’ll ruin your morning java).
  • Kitchen garbage can: When was the last time this thing saw soapy water? And if it’s stored in a cabinet? Yeah, it’s probably revolting back there in the dark. Remove everything, vacuum up the coffee grounds and dried peas, and scrub thoroughly.
  • Air conditioner: A professional offered to do this for $400, which was too steep a price for us so my Beloved used his own power washer. Be sure you turn off the power before you try this trick.

cupboard cleaning

  • Cabinets: The knobs on your cabinets are probably disgusting but you’re blind to it. Look closely. Gross. Fill a new pail with soapy water and get scrubbing. If you’re really enterprising, remove the cabinet doors and knobs, sand them down and re-stain them (that’s what my dad is doing with his extra time these days). My Beloved doesn’t have a workspace like Dad, so he used a product called Restor-A-Finish. Just rub it right into the wood and let it soak in. Our cabinets had been so neglected, it took two coats.
  •  The deck: The power washer got another workout on the tile on the deck. Careful! Slippery when wet.
  • Window screens: Windexing the windows, that’s obvious. Removing the screens and hauling them into the shower, now that’s special. My Beloved used a scrub brush and dishwashing liquid.
  • Door bell: Lysol wipe and a Q-tip should do the trick. While you’re out there, look up? Got any bugs in your front light?

Have I missed anything? What strange element of your surroundings is now sparkling because of your anxious elbow grease?

Spring flowers

bluebonnets in ditch

Bluebonnet is a name given to any number of purple-flowered species of the genus Lupinus predominantly found in the southwestern United States.

A sure sign of spring in central Texas is bluebonnets blooming in the ditches.

The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. Back in the ’70s, Lady Bird Johnson encouraged the planting of native plants along Texas highways in a highway beautification effort. Like cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., or tulips in southern Wisconsin, bluebonnet blooms are a common sight in the springtime.

Our condo is located near the end of a winding road that makes the most of one of the bends in Lake Travis. Bluebonnets thrive along this road, and they make me happy every time I have to make a run to the post office or grocery store.

bluebonnet closeup

The shape of the petals on the flower resembles a pioneer woman’s bonnet.

Location, location, location (and the view)

Back when COVID-19 was just an obscure outbreak in central China, my Beloved and I spent time with a real estate agent (within six feet of her!), driving around Lake Travis (when driving around was socially and medically acceptable) and looking at property (touching countertops, flipping light switches–we were gutsy back then).

Lake Travis is a reservoir lake on the western edge of Austin, Texas. After spending winters for a decade glamping in various locales in the southern United States, we had determined the Austin area to be “the one”: the one place in which we might consider spending multiple winters. Affordable, geographically and culturally interesting, not too humid or too hot (at least in the wintertime) and the people here reminded us of the good-hearted Midwesterners with whom we’d grown up and spent our summers.

Just before the pandemic was officially declared, we closed on a condo on the north side of Lake Travis. It was one of the first properties we viewed, and we kept coming back to it for its location, price and view.

Oh, the view!

View from the deck

Even on a cloudy day, the view from our deck is impressive.

We’ve now been sheltering in place here for two weeks. We’re quite content keeping ourselves busy unpacking, repairing various doodads and decorating. If we’re going to be stuck somewhere, March in central Texas is lovely. I’ll share some of our condo updates in a future post, but for now, I’m sharing a sunrise. Here’s to the sun rising tomorrow.

Sunrise over the lake

Truth is stranger than fiction

Strange times, indeed.

As the COVID-19 pandemic overtakes America and the world, I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling like I’m walking through scenes in a catastrophe movie.

titanic couple

In the 1997 movie “Titanic,” Isidor and Ida Straus were depicted holding one another in bed as the ship sank. Fortunately, I’m sheltering in place with my Beloved, and between us, we’re not socially distancing.

I’ve been vacillating between feeling like the Titanic couple awaiting doom together in bed and feeling giddy that I have almost nothing on my to-do list.

I don’t know if I should be savoring every breath or if I should be behaving as if everything is going to be OK. This week, I required a blood test for a doctor’s appointment scheduled for May. The doctor already emailed to say he would be conducting telephone appointments for the foreseeable future. So I scheduled an appointment for a blood draw yesterday. Everything will be OK, right? The appointment will occur as scheduled, I assume. Proceed as planned.

The roads to my appointment were strangely empty (I’m living in a shelter-in-place county). Besides the phlebotomists, I was the only one in the office. The technician was all business until the end of my visit. I told her I was praying for people like her, and she said, “It’ll get worse before it gets better.” Then she described in vivid detail how all the stores near her home are boarded up and she heard we should all stock up two months worth of food.

I drove straight to the supermarket and bought $300 worth of food.

Buying groceries was surreal, too. The toilet paper aisle was empty, of course, but so were the aisles of canned vegetables, canned fruit and dairy. Unless I was interested in cake or ice cream, the frozen food department was wiped out, too.

It’s been months since I felt like blogging. After having blogged nearly every day for nearly seven years, the well was dry last June, and I just quit writing. It felt pointless. But then the world is turned upside down, and my mind churns blog topics up from the depths as I watch the news, as I make dinner, as I fall asleep and as I lay awake. Life has urgency again, and writing feels what a writer should do.

Another reason for this creativity spurt is time. I have time on my hands. I’m not working. I’m not renovating or decorating. I’m not driving all over creation. There are pauses, and I have blanks, finally, my mind is inspired to fill.

I’m not actually waiting for the boat to sink, but I am savoring time. Time to think. Time to Facetime with my parents in rural Minnesota (which I did for the first time today–why did it take so long?). Time with my Beloved.

Here’s hoping you can find the upside to these strange times. What are you savoring?

Travel Tuesday: Sculpture parks

 

St. Louis 003

“The Way” by Alexander Liberman at Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Mo.

Summer is the season to visit a sculpture park wherever you may find it.

Sculpture parks, sometimes referred to as sculpture gardens, offer art fans the opportunity to interact with art and nature. For me, sculpture — found object or otherwise — is more interesting than any two-dimensional art like drawing or painting and if I can enjoy it while enjoying a stroll in the sunshine, all the better. Sculpture parks are a great destination for families because they appeal to all generations.

After writing about Nyberg Park sculpture garden in central Minnesota recently, I was reminded of a visit to the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis a decade ago.

It is an intellectually stimulating and beautiful place that you should visit if you ever get a chance. It’s an outdoor sculpture garden with all sorts of interesting sculptures made of wood, iron, steel girders and even dirt (I would have thought a sculpture made of dirt would be landscaping but apparently not).

Lots of different kinds of people were there when I was, not just art aficionados: Kids flying kites, women walking dogs, lovers enjoying the art (or each other, I’m not sure), siblings arguing about which direction to take at the fork in the road in the woods.

Like many sculpture parks, Laumeier’s was free. Can’t beat free!

If you’re interested in working a visit to a sculpture garden into your next vacation or family weekend, check out the worldwide list of sculpture parks on Wikipedia. The list is segmented by country and state. Many of the listings are hot-linked to the park’s own website so you can get all the details.

Enjoy some art and fresh air this summer.

 

Thanks for being my unbiological brother

My Beloved and I called our brother-in-law at 7 o’clock this morning to sing him happy birthday.

He didn’t answer. He might have been sleeping or working or fishing or just ignoring us (but I don’t think so–we’re excellent singers).

He’s the type of guy who makes May 30 worth celebrating. I love him almost as much as my sister does. He likes catsup by the gallon, a good deal, Apple stock, the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings (for which we forgive him) and a good boat ride (which might mean a relaxing putt-putt around the lake or a raucous one dragging water skiers behind).

He’s an excellent pilot, a great dad, a capable remodeler and the voice of reason in most conversations.

Here’s to deserving brothers-in-law!

 

Travel Tuesday: Crater Lake National Park

Just when you might think you’ve had enough of winter (or an interminably wet spring), you’re reminded of a place that is still measuring the snow on the ground in feet.

And it’s beautiful just the same.

SNOW

The snowbanks at the visitor center towered over the cars.

Two years ago in May, we visited Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. The caldera in which the lake is cupped is at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,000 feet and therefore chilly, even in May; we had to climb a 20-foot snowbank in order to catch a glimpse of the lake. And that was after a 90-minute drive through winding roadsit’s as remote as it is stunning. Forty-six feet of snow—feet, not inches—fell at Crater Lake that year; in February of this year, the park experienced the second biggest monthly snowfall in nearly 70 years at 154 inches. Road crews use rotary plows equipped with fans that can shoot snow 75 to 80 feet in the air, but Rim Drive (the road circling the lake) remains blocked at this time of year.

cRATER lAKE

Awe-inspiring.

But forget about the snow; the real show is the lake. At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the world’s deepest volcanic lake. Replenished only by rain and snow, Crater Lake is widely considered to be the cleanest, clearest large body of water in the world.

When my Beloved and I were there two years ago on a calm, sunny day, it was the bluest reflecting pool I’ve ever seen. It was so calm, it was like a mirror of the shore and the sky. Those white streaks in the water? Those are the reverse images of the wispy contrails in the sky.

Crater Lake, resting inside a caldera formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano collapsed, was established as a national park in 1902 and has been protected from lakefront developers who might sully its rugged shores. As I mentioned, it’s a remote National Park but it’s worth the trip if you find yourself in southern Oregon. As a destination, I would recommend visiting it later in the summer (when there’s less snow and easier travel).