Last quarter: the quarter that counts

My son Derek #73 goes for a tackle. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
My son, Derek, #73, goes for a tackle. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

I’m an ignorant football mom. Supportive but ignorant. Although it’s the second year of my son playing football, I have barely more knowledge than I did at the beginning of his football career.

A friend who understands football asked me what my son plays. “He has a new role this season,” I answered.

“A new role? Don’t you mean position?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s right. New position,” I said. “I don’t remember what it’s called, but he’s on the line.”

“On the line” means something, although I don’t know what. They all seem to line up on both sides, except for the quarterback. Maybe they’re all “on the line” except for him?

On the line. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
On the line. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

I learned there are people who hold exclamation point-type markers attached with a chain to show the distance the team needs to move the ball. They might be called the chain gang?

Realizing the distance was marked made the game much easier for me to follow.

Staying strong in the last quarter. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
Staying strong in the last quarter. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

Even with my self-confessed obliviousness, I know the last quarter is the most important quarter. Teams can make comebacks and last-minute turnarounds.

The game is won in the last quarter.

When this year started, you had dreams, inklings, whispers, desires, questions and hopes. Find them again. Follow them again. Feed them again.

This is the last quarter of 2014. This is the one that counts.


Lord, bless us with bravery and trust when we hear your calling.
Bless us with patience and trust when we don’t.


Tell me your thoughts!

How will you revive a dream you’ve let slip?

Box baby and my brother’s camera

Boy runningSuicide is hard. The way of death seems to define a life.

Entering the world is also hard; it’s often painful and awkward.

Before I got pregnant, I had the blessing to attend the births of my nieces. What an experience! I could feel a spiritual presence. The lighting was low and warm. Both times my sister-in-law snuggled her baby on her soft chest and rested in a glowy ease.

My own experience giving birth was bloody and medical; it involved screaming—my own. My son’s lungs weren’t strong enough to cry. The lights were bright. The machines were beeping. Six or seven medical professionals ushered my son in the world six weeks early. They placed him on my chest for all of two seconds. Then they whisked him off to intensive care to give him help breathing. His underdeveloped lungs weren’t quite ready to sustain his own life.

It wasn’t a joyous time. I was terrified of losing him. I had been on bed rest during my pregnancy for five months. Finally my baby had arrived, but it was still dicey. Would he live? Would he have developmental problems?

My brother and sister-in-law came to the hospital to meet my son. I took them on a walk through shiny halls to the neonatal intensive care unit. We looked through the window at the small wire-covered baby inside a plastic box. They said he was beautiful. They congratulated me. It was hard to hear them. The sound of my worry was loud in my head.

My brother said, “You need a camera?” He pulled the strap over his head and gave me his camera.

A film camera was an extravagant present in the mid-1990s. I couldn’t have afforded one myself. I accepted the gift with a grateful heart.

I took many shots of my new baby, tiny in his box. I paid extra to have my photos developed in one hour. I could visit my son four times a day in the neonatal intensive care. In between visiting times, I gazed at the photos of him. The camera was the perfect gift at just the right time.

My baby lived. I took many photos of him growing up. Now my son is a strong young man who runs fast.

My brother died of suicide. I remember him, and I work on remembering his generosity. I want the stories of his life to overcome the difficulty of his death. It’s a process.

Right now, you have a gift that is a tiny seed waiting in your heart. Its power will only grow once you place it in the heart of another. It might be the act of giving away a possession like a camera. It could be an act of service, honest words, a homemade meal, a hug or a smile for a stranger. I challenge you to give this gift this week.

Will your gift stop suicide? I don’t know.

I do know generosity softens the world, and our world could use softening.


God, bless us to give
in your name.
Strengthen us to love
in your name.
Challenge us to change
in your name.

Tell me your thoughts!

What is on your heart to give this week?

If Mother’s Day hurts

Beasley girlsI’ve looked, but I’ve never found a greeting card that says, “Mom, thanks for not killing me during one of your hallucinations.”

Complicated, striking, unforgettable: my mother. She suffered from schizophrenia and obesity, both conditions that made her a constant target for our society’s criticism. I was her shy, mortified child who trailed behind. With her loud breathing, she could have supplied the soundtrack to a horror film. She dressed in clothes that were too bright and shiny even for the 1970s. The volume of her voice dominated a room.

There was hell to pay if she didn’t receive a card for Mother’s Day. While she was alive, I browsed through hundreds of cards to seek the one I could honestly give. Most were sappy, and included sentiments like “Best Mom” and “Thankful I grew up to be like you”. I sought only the vague wishes that seemed truthful. Most years, I got something floral and noncommittal; “Thinking of you; happy Mother’s Day.”

I’ve been a mother myself for a decade and a half, but I don’t feel like I own the day. Mother’s Day belongs to my mother.

Gone for five years, she is still with me

I think of her most days. She would be so proud. She would delight in knowing that I spoke at the conference in Jeff City. She would put up this photo of my son with his state champion medal. She would love these artificially dyed fresh flowers in the grocery store.

Sunday is a day to celebrate motherhood for what it really is: snotty, competitive, clingy, exhausting, drippy, strengthening, messy, aggravating, holy and more fulfilling than anything else. All at the same time. It starts with babies who both smell like heaven and have a tendency to projectile vomit. It only gets more demanding from there. Motherhood isn’t neat enough to fit on a card.

You might miss the mom you had, or the mom you wish you had, or the mom you wish you could be, or the mom who remembered you before Alzheimer’s took her from you. Give yourself permission to make the day as comfortable as possible. You’ll reminisce. Indulge in what eases your mind. Do puzzles. Binge watch TV. Take a hot bath. Give extra smiles to everyone you see.

To the single moms out there whose kids won’t get it together to bring you breakfast in bed…

To the women who wanted to become mothers, but couldn’t…

To the stepmoms doing their best…

To the women who have lost a child…

To the ones who have lost their mothers…

To those of you who have a difficult relationship with your mom…

To all of you, I wish you an OK Mother’s Day.

If Mother’s Day hurts, remember you’re not alone.



Lord, bring your mercy and forgiveness
to our relationships.
Ease the ones who struggle.
Bless all of us, your children.

Tell me your thoughts!

How is Mother’s Day for you? Do you have plans? Do you have a favorite memory?

Prayers the color of code blue

dandelionsHealth is the great equalizer. Whatever we strive for and however many material goods we amass, it all pales in the face of health problems.

Friday, I woke up with plans to clean the house and put in quarter round. After making myself hot coffee with eggs and toast, the sparkling dew on the spring grass distracted me. I left the kitchen table and took the dogs, Mercy and Cookie, outside. The dogs were content with my change of plans. They accept going outside anytime for any reason. God bless dogs with their moment-to-moment happiness.

I was in a mood of gratitude, feeling thankful for my family, my job and my animals. I marveled at the dandelions, yellow against the new grass. They didn’t seem like weeds, just little flowers hoping to become puffs and renew their kind. Do dandelions dream of their time on the wind? God bless the dandelions.

Inside, I started laundry and began to saw the quarter round. I do not see myself getting hired as a quarter round installer anytime soon, or, if I’m honest, ever. My miters left gaps large enough to stick dandelion stems in. I would call my hammering ability inclusive, as in, I included my thumb as well as the nails. God bless home improvement amateurs.

While I cheerfully bumbled about with hammers and saws, the phone rang. It was the high school. My son had some mild chest pain and due to his history, would need to get checked. I explained that I didn’t have a car, because he had one with him at school and my husband the other. I tried to reach my husband. No luck. The school called back and said my son was being driven home to me so I could take him to the ER, one school member driving my son in his own car while someone else followed to drive the administrator back. God bless small schools and caring school staff.

In the ER, everyone treated us with kindness and expertise. From the desk clerks to the nurses and doctors, we felt our son was in good hands. I texted five friends to pray for my son, and their immediate prayers eased the tightness of my bones. I felt them close to me. My ribs loosened to let me breathe again.

We waited for the cardiac test results and listened to the ER stories through the curtain, stories heard but not seen, heard but not completely understood. Ambulances brought in broken people, overdosed and injured. We heard a code blue and knew someone’s life was on the line.

We listened to a conversation about a child who used to come in the ER often but had died. He wouldn’t ever be back in. Through the curtain, we felt the collective missing of a boy we would never know, and somehow we missed him too.

A volunteer came by and offered us something to drink. The clear soda he brought cleared our minds. It grounded us in the simple act of being alive, swallowing something sweet.

The cardiac tests came back negative. My son was OK.

God bless us to always taste the sweetness of life, whether surrounded by weeds, sloppily sawn quarter round or a curtain in the ER.


Lord, bless our eyes to see beauty
in both hospital waiting rooms and
spring mornings.
Seven days of the week our lives belong
to you.

Don’t let us turn our backs to what
you offer:
experiences to know you,
chances to pray and
chances to ask for prayers.

The end of our days belongs to you.
Before we return, remind us to relish
the sweetness of now.

Oh! The sweetness of now when
we taste it.


Tell me your thoughts!

Have you had a day that turned out differently than you expected? Who can you ask for prayers when you’re worried?

Snow down, you move too fast

laughingI love snow days. I always have. Born in southern California, I saw snow a handful of times during the first nine years of my life.

If we drove far enough to the mountains, we found little patches of icy snow, crusted with dirty flecks on top, in shaded places where the sun didn’t reach. I would run to the snow. It seemed a delight without measure.

One time, a classmate’s father brought a snow machine to our kindergarten. I lived by LA where all things are possible with some help from the movie making industry. He turned on the machine and it made a pile for us on the patch of grass by our classroom. We took turns running through it in our shorts, sandals and halter tops. Take it from my personal experience, snow is even better if you wear summer clothes and scream while you run through it. It makes it more intense.

The first winter we moved to Chicagoland was the same winter they printed t-shirts proclaiming, “I survived the blizzard of ’78.” I was in elementary school. I could not believe the wealth of snow. My father took the snow blower and made a mountain of snow, taller than I was. We carved out a snow dragon and decorated him with icicles. I was hooked.

Fast forward to the future and I was grown up, married and living in California. After my son was born, I wanted to move so he could grow up with four seasons. I wanted us to live with the heat of summer, the color of fall, the snow of winter and the blessed return of spring. Spring means something when you feel like you’ve earned it after surviving winter.

Surrender to the snow. See it as a wealth of nature, painting the landscape with globs and dabs of titanium white. For a thrill, try putting on your shorts and running through it as you scream. I won’t judge you (although your neighbors might).

Give yourself permission to have unlimited hot drinks while watching from the window as the snow collects and swirls. Take a nap. Call a friend. Make flan. Say a prayer for the emergency workers and road crews out working.

Feel the goodness of rest thanks to the white and fluffy stuff.


Lord, thank you for the many ways you decorate our world:

in the sepia tones of winter before the two-tone blizzard palette.

Thank you for shelter.

Tell me your thoughts!

How do you like to spend your snow days?

Electric People

van-gogh-haystacksWe are an electric people. We don’t think about it much until we think of the Amish. Clark, Missouri, is known for its Amish community. I went with some friends this week to visit the shops for Amish goods.

It would be easy to romanticize their culture, as if this is how we used to be. We were more neighborly perhaps. Even today, if we lived amongst our own religious group with a set of common interests and goals, we would have a completely different outlook. Most of us live rather randomly today, picking a community in general and a house specifically.

In Amish country, we drove slowly. About half the traffic were horse and buggies. The road showed unusual wear: if you looked closely, you can see the worn strips from horse shoes. Nothing seemed to go to waste. Even the grass in the ditches next to the road went to use, populated with chickens and horses.

A small investment in the store brought me a basket filled with bulk spices. I stayed close to the wood stove that warmed the store. The spicy smell mixed with a scent of apples and burning wood. They sold potatoes and flour by the 50 lb. bags.

Outside the car window, I saw hay gathered in tied haystacks. It made me think of Van Gogh.

What stood out the most to me was the laundry. We were visiting on a Monday, traditionally laundry day. When we drove through, it was mid-morning and 40 degrees. They must have been washing while it was still dark to have it already hung. I would like to think it was a weekly load that hung out on the lines that often stretched more than 50 feet. If what I saw hanging out was the daily load, then God bless them.

I respect that the Amish have been intentional and made decisions about technology as a community. Amish society 100 years ago probably looked different than Amish society today. But they got together to plan how to change and why. We decide as individuals how much we want technology to intrude but it’s difficult to resist the tide of faster, better, more. Distractions have always existed, but now they are expertly targeted to distract us: Play more! Buy more! You deserve it! Bright colors, flashy lights, doesn’t this thing look good? Click click click!

Electronic screens made a fence between us

Kids moved independently throughout the community. A dark, lanky horse moved out in a quick trot. A boy of around 10 held the reins of a two-wheeled cart. We saw sisters walking to the store, hand in hand. They waved in friendly greeting to us when we passed.

Tonight I watched the news. They talked about the problem of teenagers using Snapchat with untraceable messages. Parents can’t know what photo was taken or what was said. “Your parents don’t know, your girlfriend doesn’t know.” They discussed the lack of accountability.

After our trip to the Amish country, I got home with my electricity. They installed our new dishwasher. I had two loads of dishes waiting. I put them in and the washer was so quiet, I could hardly hear it.

I filled up my washing machine with our clothes. I took a moment to watch them twirl and fall.

With my machines, I have time to write, walk the dogs and crochet for fun instead of income. As I wrote this blog post, I wondered if I’m too dependent on machines. Have I lost my appreciation? I looked up from my laptop to ask someone but my husband was focused on Candy Crush and my son was texting.

We are an electric people.


Lord, let me remember I can survive without
Things of the world are nice but not necessary.
What matters is a birthday meal shared with friends.

Help us see another birthday as a blessing. Because each
birthday is.

Let me pull my attention away from
electronic devices and back to people
who thrive with our eye contact, our hugs and
our listening.

Lord, help me be an emissary of your love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Have you ever visited Amish country? How did it affect you? What do you depend on that wouldn’t work without electricity? What kind of simplicity attracts you? What do you think the world will look like when the teenagers of today are grandparents?

Goodwill or bust!

Making our own adventures in ordinary places

A secondhand cat in a secondhand basket. Love them both!
A secondhand cat from the humane society in a secondhand basket from Goodwill. Love them both!

I found my vintage wedding dress in a thrift shop. A heavy satin from the 1960s, it cascaded down in a shiny ivory pool over my feet. I liked that it came with a history of success. If it had worked once, I figured, it would work again.

The dress held mystery. Who had worn it before? I imagined stories about her. Had her wedding been simple, a get-together at her parents’ house with cake and punch? Was it a formal affair in church with hundreds gathered? When she grew old, did she spend her time crocheting?

With a mom married in a second-hand wedding dress, my son came to thrift store shopping honestly.

I’m an adult convert. I never went thrift store shopping as a child. I grew up going to department stores like Lord and Taylor, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus that smelled of women’s floral perfume and men’s leathery cologne. Everything was new and had been advertised in Vogue.

I remember an early thrift experience when I was 21 and living in Santa Cruz. My housemates took me to a warehouse called Bargain Barn. We waited outside, milling around with other people before it opened. Inside, the workers dumped clothes and shoes on long tables with slight edges to keep the items on top. The mounds reached up to eye level. A bell rang and the doors opened. You paid by the pound for the clothes you bought, whether they were leather or cotton.

We squeezed through the door like a mass of human tooth paste. Frenzy and adventure electrified the air. Everyone moved with speed and determination. I bumped up along the first table and looked over the large number of clothes assembled in front of me as people next to me flung them past.

One of my housemates brought me a pair of white go-go boots. “These would be cool on you,” he said.

They looked authentic. Thick heels and stretchy white vinyl with tall laces. A treasure!

I bought them and was transformed into a secondhand store shopper.

Family vacation destination

One summer, two family vacations, three states, four different Goodwills. Whichever town we are in, we check out the Goodwill. The first trip was up to Minnesota to visit my parents. While we were out running errands, my parents asked if there was anywhere we wanted to go.

“Yes! We’d like to go to the Goodwill,” we said. They looked surprised, shook their heads and humored us.

We walked into the Goodwill in St. Paul and stopped in awe when we got through the front door. Organized by color, the racks were rainbows through the store. It was colorful and full of action. Dozens of red sweaters changed to pink to yellow.

I like to search for three main things: handmade sweaters, baskets and afghans. I started with sweaters while my husband and son peeled off for the men’s section. I found a sweater in my size crocheted with three types of yarn in a Catherine wheel pattern. Fantastic!

The basket section was loaded with different sizes and materials. If I hadn’t been limited by the size of our car trunk, our suitcases and our long drive home, I would have picked out five. Or ten. Or, if I’m being honest and my family didn’t talk me down, 15. But I limited myself to one.

We could have spent the afternoon in the St. Paul Goodwill but out of respect for my parents, we pulled ourselves away from the extravagance.

Our second trip was to Illinois to visit my childhood friend. For this trip, we mapped out our drive so it included a stop by the O’Fallon Goodwill. What a great store! Friendly people. My son found a t-shirt with trained and certified Dating Consultant written in script across the front. I picked out fluffy blue towels, brand-new.

Once in Illinois, we stopped by the Goodwill in Alton. I chose a fancy Christmas dress for my friend’s daughter.

Our home store is in Columbia, Missouri. We like to drop off donations and then shop. A perfect circle.

Used spirituality

What are we in God’s eyes? More like department store items chosen carefully by professional buyers, clean and unused?

Perhaps you have a few worn places, a small hidden stain, or a torn place that can be mended.

All we need is the willingness to hang on the rack, and let God take us home and make us a new creation.

God has a use for you.

A deeper understanding of people and their stuff

Like modern-day cultural anthropologists, we learn about people by looking at stuff. What was thought worth enough to be given away instead of sent to the trash? What did the employees consider good enough to put out to sell?

I appreciate seeing people with disabilities both at work in Goodwill and shopping there. Too often, we arrange our lives to avoid those with differences.

Sometimes we work hard to keep an image of perfection going. Secondhand is all about practicality, utility and getting the most out of what you have. As I walk in the store, I smell the earthy scent of fiber, baskets, stuffed toys, furniture and dusty electronics. It’s the smell of human culture. So much stuff flows through our lives. How good to let it flow instead of clot up for too long! I’m grateful to everyone who takes the time to donate instead of dump their stuff.

As a family, we have fun exploring and shopping. It gives me a sense of reconnecting. We see the trends that were, the items that sold a staggering number and then were discarded. Remember the singing wall fish? Cabbage patch dolls? Beanie babies? My son found a Fushigi magic ball in the Jefferson City Goodwill. If we keep looking, I think we might find a pet rock. Or a troll doll.

My son and I both enjoy tchotchkes. All three of us love bargains. Goodwill was made for us. As a family, we can buy mass quantities of clothes and knickknacks but still walk out only $40 lighter.

As someone who takes months to make a single afghan, I appreciate seeing handmade afghans in Goodwill. I take heart that people respect handmade crafts and donate them, rather than trash them, even if they’re in rough shape. I have adopted three afghans for our house.

I ask my husband to tell me the story of who made the latest afghan I brought home. He humors me and says, “This rainbow afghan was crocheted by an older woman while she crossed the U.S. in a hippie bus.”

I wonder if she wore a heavy satin ivory dress in the 1960s.

 Are you a fan of secondhand? Tell me more in the comments!

Ultramen in handmade sweaters

ultramenMy mother knitted them for my niece’s Barbie dolls. She followed careful patterns to make sweaters, pants and dresses. She counted stitches. She included details of stripes and snaps, elastic waistbands and ribbing on the cuffs.

She must have used tiny knitting needles. The little loops curl around one another in rows, neat as bowling pins with equal distance between each one.

How satisfying it must have been to make the miniature outfits! A whole wardrobe could be finished in a week.

Making clothing for adults can be tedious. You never notice how big a grown man is until you try to knit a sweater for him! You notice how strange our heads are shaped once you wrestle with the angles of making a hat fit.

Dolls make perfect models. Never growing, they stand ready to pose in your latest fashion. They won’t stretch out the sleeves or wear out the elbows.

A new purpose

My niece grew up. The dolls—no longer needed—waited for a fashion show that never came in southern weather unsuited for sweaters.

Because of my interest in all things yarn, my sister asked if I wanted the Barbie clothes.

“Of course! Sounds fun!” I said.

She mailed me the clothes in an envelope the size of a thin paperback.

I admired them and put them in a box. The sweaters waited.

Meanwhile, my husband’s Ultramen protected the bookshelf from attack. They stood unyielding in molded red plastic armor.

The realization struck me. Sweaters are made to be worn, not stored in boxes.

These Ultramen need sweaters! I got them dressed immediately.

Could my mother imagine her creations would decorate Japanese plastic superheroes from the 1960s? Would she be distressed—or delighted?

After we’ve made something, we can’t control how it’s used. We can make it with joy and give it away with our best hopes. Once it’s out of our hands, it goes in its own direction.

What are you making now that will outlast you?

Her work—with its unintended purpose—continues to produce joy.

Proud Ultramen in knitted glory look out from their bookshelf across the vast bedroom. They are never cold, always cozy, cheering us up every time we see them.

Ultramen in hand knit sweaters—the silliness of it, the wonderfulness of it, life!

Laugh a little more

friends laughing

laughingIt will get you through hours at the hospital, days of hospice and months of hard times. It can diffuse fights and lighten your mood.

It can even help you deal with cranky people. What is it?

A sense of humor!

The $100 Band-Aid

In my family, we have jokes that have been distilled into one phrase. With an injury, we can look at the hurt person and say, “Do we need to take you to the ER for a Band-Aid?”

This refers to the time my son cut his hand on a painting canvas. He was about nine years old. He showed me the wound. By wound, I mean geyser of gushing blood. I couldn’t tell how bad the cut was but based on quantity of blood, I thought it needed stitches. It was Sunday evening and the walk-in clinics were closed. The hospital was our only choice.

We prepared to go to the hospital. We let the dogs out, put on our shoes and got in the car.

We live in the country. A trip to the closest gas station is 15 minutes. The hospital is 40 minutes away with no traffic. By the time we got to the ER to check in, it had been more than an hour since the cut.

We waited 45 minutes for our turn. The nurse led us back to a bed. He asked to see my son’s hand. It had been about two hours since the injury. The nurse peeled back the bloodied bandages. He wiped it and peered at my son’s palm. Our heads formed a circle as we all leaned in to look.

There, near the pad of his thumb, was a cut the same length as a grain of rice.

“Looks OK now,” he said.

“It seemed worse when it happened,” I said. “It was bleeding a lot. I thought he would need stitches.”

“I don’t think there’s enough of a cut to fit a stitch. I can put on a Band-Aid.”

He unwrapped the package and stuck it on.

We walked out, $100 poorer, brand new bandage attached, laughing. Who brings their kid to the ER for a Band-Aid? Us, apparently!

You’ll have times where you make mistakes. It’s clear I lack the ability to diagnose wound severity. But a sense of humor will let you off the hook of dwelling and self-judgment.

Humor for hard times

We need humor more than ever when we have to go through something hard.

You’ll have situations that you don’t know how to deal with. Things like a friend fighting with her ex-husband, a parent dying, a coworker losing a job, a child in intensive care.

Laughter can be a moment of relief, a way to lighten the situation. A joke about the hospital’s terrible pudding or the ridiculous way the ex-husband writes emails can ease the tension.

Our family’s sense of humor gave us the ability to survive hundreds of hours in hospitals (for things more serious than microscopic cuts) with our sanity intact. Laughter warms up the most sterile of rooms and fills up a heart.

Having a hard moment, hard day, seemingly hard life? Look for the ironic, the nonsensical, the cheesiest thing around. Rejoice in the life you have—imperfect, difficult and confusing.

Find a way to laugh more and get through it!

What tough things has humor helped you through? Tell me about it in the comments!

Easy organizing tips from a basket case

tiny duck basketI’ve never been known for my homemaking skills. We are not what you would call disciplined people. But we have made a positive change in what our house looks like this summer. You’ll hear our story and find out how we made it happen using a party, a plan and prizes.

I don’t possess natural or learned talent at running a household. After you read my upcoming memoir, you’ll understand why I never got basic household skills. To make a long story short, I’m someone who prefers poetry to picking up. The result? People have described my home through the years as “lived in” or “cozy.”

My husband worked in a bookstore for years and he told me that the people who buy yachting magazines are not yacht owners. They’re the people who dream about owning a yacht.

Who do you think are the people who buy organization books? I have so many books on getting organized that they clutter up my bookshelf. Some take a feng shui approach (“chi needs to flow”), others a hard line (“don’t be lazy—scrub that toilet with a toothbrush!”). Some suggested “easy tips” that I failed at following, either proving that they weren’t as easy as promised or that I am incapable of doing easy things. “I’ll take the hard way, please, full chaos.”

A case for baskets

We live in a singlewide trailer that is 16 feet across by 66 feet long: 1,056 square feet for three people (who have clothing, shoes and toiletries) plus two dogs (who need toys, blankets, beds, food and treats) and two cats (with their six-foot-tall cat tree, toys, food and catnip. Need cat organizing tips?).

Just all this everyday stuff might give our house a “pleasantly plump” feeling but on top of that, we’re collectors. We collect comics, books, board games, plastic horses, magazines, electronic devices, Playstation games, craft items, mismatched tea cups and plastic Shakespeare’s/Heidelberg cups. (I reached my goal of 100 plastic cups a while ago but just added one more today. Why do we do it??)

I also collect baskets. At last count, 48. Because, as you can tell, I need someplace to put things.

beet pulpAlthough most of the stuff for the horse and pony is in the barn, we keep the saddle, bridle and beet pulp in the house. Don’t you have a bag of beet pulp by your front door?

Holding onto so much stuff means that we’re living in the future or the past. Part of our stuff is memorabilia. This was a gift from so-and-so. I went on a trip and brought back this mug. My iMac G3 was the coolest computer ever (also by our front door).

Then we hold onto things we might need for the future. I have 190 skeins of yarn because all the yarn stores in the world might DISAPPEAR WITHOUT WARNING. I need to be ready for the yarn apocalypse.

In the middle of all this stuff, I know I’m not living according to my beliefs. So much clutter shows that I’m putting fear before faith, materialism before transcendence.

I believe God works in the present. If I am aware and my space is open, God has room to move in my life. I can let go and trust that God will provide my daily bread. And yarn. And baskets for me to put my bread and yarn in.

A party, a plan and prizes

How did we turn it around this summer?

First, a party. A party motivated us to move the dozens of shoes out of the foyer so we could open the front door for guests.

Second, a plan. We found a book with a weekly checklist of household chores divided up throughout the year. Who knew we were supposed to vacuum under the couch cushions? I love a good checklist almost as much as a nice basket.

Third, prizes. Using the checklist in Stephanie O’Dea’s Totally Together, we give ourselves a prize for making our cleaning goal five out of seven days. We decide each week at our family meeting what our upcoming prize will be. It might be a visit to a store we like to (window) shop (like Itchy’s Stop and Scratch) or to a café for a boba drink.

How has our new way of neatness affected our lives? We come home and it feels like a sanctuary, not a storage shed.

I used to think cleaning was a burden. Now I see keeping the house clean is a kindness to us. We wake up to open space. We find things when we need them. We have room to move. At night, we climb into a made bed and the covers welcome us.

If you would like more order in your life, whether in your home, your office, your shop or your barn, try the party, plan and prize method. The party can just be one friend stopping by. The plan can be as simple as 10 minutes a day picking up. The prize might be a pack of gum.

We have a long way to go. But if we can make a good start, then I know you can too. Leave your tips and troubles in the comments. Let’s get organized and get energized together!