Monthly Archives: March 2013

Spring Cleaning for Mad Dogs and Englishmen





Who came up with the term “Spring Cleaning” and can we find him and hang him out to dry?  Yes, pun intended, though it’s possible it was a “she”. Spring is for getting outside, for gardening, for planning trips to get away from the later searing heat of summer, when all these lovely outdoor activities need to be done at five in the morning or nine at night by anyone besides mad dogs and Englishmen (I picked up that wonderful expression while living in the tropics of North Queensland, Australia, and I try to find excuses to use it).

Before I had children and while living alone on Leavenworth Street, I liked to have a clean and orderly house. I liked to walk in the front door and see all that beauty and order in front of me. It made me feel good, understandably. I still like it. Very much. The trouble is, something has to give when your life gets fuller. Some standards have to be lowered, to allow the rest in. I want my house, the beautiful country house I live in now, to be cleaner and less cluttered than it is, but I hate that I let that goal burden me, weigh me down as if the unsorted pet paraphernalia and too small sports equipment and now the boxes brought from my mom’s house (these deserve my time in the future) are actually resting on my shoulders, causing more frequent trips to the chiropractor. Why do I feel I should be telling myself that writing this blog is an “excuse” for not doing what is on my list for this Tuesday morning.  Things like clean the floors upstairs, including large balls of dog hair surrounding unused exercise weights lying somewhere under the bed.  Like remove at least two buckets of dog poop from back pen and throw somewhere not too close to creek (there seems to be a dog theme here).  Why are those cleaning jobs somehow more important than putting these thoughts on paper?

When I was growing up in Topeka, Kansas, we lived in a small house that my stay at home mother kept fairly clean and uncluttered. Of course we had a lot less stuff to clutter up the rooms. But there was a neighbor woman down the alley, a stay at home mother as well, who couldn’t seem to keep her house clean and neat, which was even more looked down on during the Leave It To Beaver days of the 50’s. My mom liked to mention that about her, but not for the reasons you might think. She liked to tell me, “Virginia never let the state of her house keep her from inviting me in, having me sit for tea and a sweet snack, and finding time to talk about our kids or whatever. I will always remember that about her…I admired her for that.”

Helen arrived 15 years ago, or rather I went to China to bring her back, a 20 month old toddler.  Then Rose 4 and 1/2 years later,  only 4 months old and from Vietnam.  My clean and uncluttered house on Leavenworth Street, over time, became something else.


I Miss My Old Living Room

one quilt draped
over the sofa

two novels
the current Newsweek
and drafts of my latest poem
the only things on
the coffee table

the corners with a lovely bareness
filling the room with a sense of
and space


my new old living room
has no empty corners

the coffee table so full
coloring books
math tests
cut out flowers
glued to the backs of
my used computer paper
walking by it’s easy
to cause a landslide

a large dog crate sits in the
middle of the floor
occupied by Bobcat
the injured abandoned kitten
we found at a truck stop
lured to our cardboard box
by goldfish crackers
taken to the vet school for a tail amputation


I didn’t think there was room
in this house
but here she is
taking up the only open space left
in my new old living room

I hear her soft meowing
as I sit on my sofa
covered with an old blanket
not artistically draped

and the sound filters
into every corner
and is absorbed
by the fullness.


January 8, 2004


I suppose that spring cleaning isn’t really such a bad idea and I just hope by age 62 Merry Maids can be in my budget and they’ll drive this far out of town. But when someone tells me that so and so’s house is so clean it looks like nobody lives there, I cringe and think thank goodness it’s not my place they are talking about.

And now back to getting a photo uploaded of my messy morning work space (actually a room that looks pretty good, but I do have some pride concerning public display). The two buckets of dog poop in the back pen can wait. It comes from sane dogs, and that makes all the difference in the world.

A Seed Order of Saint Flowers

seed catalog








Today I checked the 10 day weather forecast, as I did yesterday, as I will do tomorrow.  I’m looking for rain.  Spring rain, the rain that soaks the ground, the rain that all my trees and bushes and flowers are thirsty for.  The rain that will get me excited about gardening again.

It’s past time to make up my yearly seed order.  The catalogs are all here, have been here for weeks.  It’s a late winter ritual.   I look through my favorites and circle possibilities.  I add up the amounts, figure the shipping cost, recalculate to get the best for my money.  I find a few unknowns or untried that can give me a rush—picturing them outside, me stooping down to admire them, picking just a few to set on the table, mixed in with white daisies and  pink cosmos and yellow coreopsis and blue bachelor buttons—for in my usual late winter high gardening spirits I see all these in my garden, a lush paradise of color surrounding my house.

It’s a wonderful ritual and I’ve let it pass by.  It’s never easy to garden on the prairie—not for the faint of heart, I like to say.  Which makes it all the more wonderful when the things I’m growing are doing well.  Last summer they did not do well.  It was hot.  Not just hot, really hot.  Day after day after day.  And it was dry.  Hot and dry.  Of all the packets of flower seeds I planted, only the zinnias came up.  Not many and not great looking, but they came up.  It’s almost as though they had a mission to make sure I didn’t give up, that I would keep up that hope of the prairie people before me.    They’ve always been like that, even when my care was not the greatest.


Saint Flower


Zinnias are like some special kind of saint

smiling in the face of my transgressions.


They forgive me when I don’t water them

though the Kansas sun beats down like hell.


They accept it when I uproot them

to some godforsaken spot I need to brighten.


They keep face when I cut them down in full bloom

and let them slowly wilt on my sunroom table

while the cat nibbles at them

and the vase water begins to smell.


They even seem to nod their approval

as the compost pile becomes their final resting ground.



I see some now

from the front porch swing.


They are cheering a spot

in a made-over bed

their yellow, orange and red petals

barely faded

by dust from the road


and I have little to offer back


save the salvation they give me

on this late July afternoon.


July 14, 2007


I have opened one catalog to “Zinnia Mania”—Orange King, Cherry Queen, Purple Prince, Lilliput Mix.   I likely won’t have a mania of anything floral out here in the wind and drought and heat.  But I need to put that order in.  Maybe this year I’ll get The Zinnia Collection—-“If you like them all but can’t decide on your favorite”.   It’s true—I have no real favorite.  They all are saints to me.