Focus on One: August

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love the water. I grew up in New Jersey, southern New Jersey, where an escape to the beach for the day was 45 minutes away. Nowadays, with the popularity of the destination and the increase in the local population, the trip takes at least an hour, but the beautiful white sand and the smell of the salt water is worth it. I’ve also lived in Michigan, not far from Lake Michigan, and no, it is not “just like the ocean.” It is big, yes, and sunsets are amazing, and it has incredible, enormous sand dunes, but fresh water is different from salt water and the waves are smaller. It is no less awe-inspiring, just different. And I have lived in Colorado, right on a river in a canyon. Smaller, of course, and I could see the other side, but fast moving and really cold all summer. Again, a completely different experience of water. I love a day in the sun, in and out of the water, and reading a book. Focus on One for August is simply to get to the beach and read a book.

It actually takes a lot for me to sit and read a book if it has nothing to do with what I am teaching in the coming year. I have no problem reading novels I am going to teach, or criticism of works I am going to teach, or collections of essays in search of new things to teach, but pleasure reading is a problem. I have to give myself permission and then stop that voice in my head that keeps saying, “You should be re-reading King Lear.” But reading for pleasure is a different activity altogether. Sure any kind of reading is good for my brain, but reading a novel for pleasure actually reduces stress, improves memory, helps develop analytical abilities, and helps with focus so that when I am reading for work, my mind doesn’t wander.

Another benefit of a day at the beach with a book is getting out in the sun. Oh, I know the cancer risks. But don’t put on the sunscreen until about 20 minutes have passed. While sunscreen protects your skin from harmful effects of UV light, it also prevents your skin from being able to manufacture Vitamin D. The good news is that most people won’t get a sunburn in 20 minutes, the time it generally takes for the body to generate enough Vitamin D for the day. And here’s what is interesting. If you are extremely fair-skinned, it takes less time for you to produce the same amount of Vitamin D than someone who is darker skinned, therefore, 5 or 10 minutes of “unprotected” sun time may be enough. I am not saying everyone should ditch the sunscreen. I am saying that a short amount of time in the sun will increase the amount of Vitamin D your body can produce.

Before the school year starts up, and everything gets crazy again, take a day, or an afternoon, or even an evening, and get out to a relaxing spot with a book.

Focus on One: Clean Up My Act

There are times during the school year when my To-Do list has a To-Do list. I know I need to focus on one thing, but I just can’t clean up my act.

There are times during the school year that I don’t see my children for two or three days. I have events that take me back to school, so I stay at school until the event, or I go home and then drive back to school, but didn’t see my children because they were at after-school activities. By the time I get home, they are already in bed and asleep. And I leave the house before they wake up in the morning.

There are times during the school year that I am so swamped with paperwork that my desk looks like, well, actually, I can’t find my desk, although I know it is under the mess, somewhere.

Things just get crazy. I know you can relate. Everyone can relate to that feeling of being utterly overwhelmed by things. “How are you?” someone asks, and you answer, “Busy.” Because we seem to live in a perpetual state of busy, we never seem to relax enough to focus on what is really important: our people. But our people require time, the one thing that we never seem to have enough of. One year, my mom asked what I wanted most for my birthday and I told her “Time with my family.” I didn’t want any things, just time to hang out together. Every year, at the end of the school year, I tell my seniors that at some point in their lives they should forego that $200 pair of sneakers and take someone they love out to dinner because the memories will last a lot longer than a pair of shoes.

I am addicted to my calendar. Not on my phone, but a paper calendar that I write on with a pen or pencil. Then I write in my planner. The same event. In two places. Sometimes, this writing twice actually helps me remember without looking. All the time, this writing things twice helps me to stay organized. My mother will vouch for the fact that I was never really very organized. My room was a mess, my homework was a mess, and my locker at school was a mess. When I lived in my own apartment, it was a mess to the untrained eye; however, I knew where everything was. My first foray into being organized made me realize that organization may just be in the eye of the beholder.

But I learned that as a mother and wife, I can’t live like that. And while things do tend to pile up around here, I always get my act together in June. Therefore, June’s focus is getting things cleaned up and organized. I received some great advice about how to do this, relatively stress-free, so I would like to pass it along.

Make it into a Game

Every few years, we play a game called, “Let’s Pretend We Are Moving.” This entails everyone making a thorough sifting of possessions. Trash goes right in a black trash bag, and when the bag is full, it goes right out of the house. Donations get stacked up in the dining room. Clothes for hand-me-downs go in grocery bags. Putting things in different types of containers, or in a specific place that is not in the working area helps at the end of the day, because you don’t have to open the bags and see what is in them.  Sometimes we find things we want to give specific people – a book we think he might like, or a bracelet she once admired, so we set those things aside in small bags labeled with the person’s name. At the end of the day, everyone is tired, and sometimes the house really does look like we are getting ready to move, but once we get all of the stuff we aren’t keeping out of the house, it is much easier to clean it all up.

One Day, One Room

Usually, when I would think about cleaning or getting organized, it was an all-or-nothing endeavor. A friend suggested taking things one room at a time, because then I would still have time to hang out at the pool with her and all of the children. It worked out really well, and I still do this. I focus on cleaning one room: moving furniture, wiping down base-boards – all of those jobs I don’t have time for during the school year. And I get my children in to help me out with things, and it goes even faster, and yes they hate it, but they are pleased when they see the results of their efforts. And there have been times when a room took more than one day. And I count a closet as a room.

Make-It-Yourself Cleaners

I happen to like the smell of bleach. Blame it on those years as a lifeguard and happy memories of the pool. And while bleach is a great cleaner, it isn’t the best thing for the environment. Here are some alternatives:

Spray Cleaner

In a clean sprayer bottle, mix 1 cup of white vinegar, one cup of water, ten drops of lavender essential oil and five drops of tea tree oil. Shake well before you use it. You can use this on counter tops in the kitchen and bath, and on the exterior of the toilet. Spot test the solution on natural stone surfaces to be sure it won’t change the color.

Powered Cleanser

You can replace this with baking soda. Just sprinkle it on a damp sponge and use it the same way you would cleanser. Rinse thoroughly. If you have really stubborn grime or hard water stains, add just enough water to get the baking soda to the consistency of that white paste we had in kindergarten. Spread it on the stain and let it sit for about a half an hour, then scrub it off and rinse.

Wood polish

We have hardwood floors throughout our house. I mop them with 1/4 cup of vinegar diluted in one gallon of warm water. I dry them immediately and then spray them with my floor polish (One cup of olive oil, ½ cup of lemon juice, 8 drops of sage oil and 6 drops of lavender oil, mixed well in a clean sprayer bottle), and wipe off with a soft clean rag. Turn the rag over and polish with the other side. And then no one is allowed to walk in that room for about an hour — just so I can admire the clean floor!

So this month, I will focus on getting cleaned up and organized.