Saturday, January 21, 2023

It Is I, The Shining Star of Virtue

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Thursday through Friday we had our first heavy snowfall of the season (and if you're thinking that's awfully late for southern Maine, my friends, you are correct.) I had to do some shoveling early to get the car out, but it really accumulated, so I didn't touch anything else except the stairs to the porch until Phil, my plow guy, arrived at 3pm. I had my checkbook at my side, knowing he'd show up sooner or later, and managed to hustle into my boots and trot out with his payment before he'd left. Bill taken care of, and I saved one first class stamp. (Phil is an old-fashioned businessman, as many are here in New England, and he takes payment in cash or check. I'm not sure he's heard of Venmo or Zelle or Square.)

I ducked back inside positively glowing with the sense of virtue, which got me thinking about that wonderful feeling. Now, we all know the usual sources of a virtuous glow. Saying no to that second helping of dessert. Crossing off items on our to-do list. Handing in your corrections/assignment/manuscript on time. (Sadly, for me, I must paraphrase J.M. Barrie on this: "she was looking through the window at the one joy from which she must be for ever barred.”)

But what about those lesser-known moments of shining virtue? Here are a few of mine:

1. Shoveling the snow BEFORE the temperatures drop and it becomes a hardened, lumpy mess. As soon as Phil had driven off, check in hand, the boys and I went out. While they ran up and down the drive, I shoveled my car completely free of snow, so next time I want to go, I'm going to be able to just throw it in reverse and zoom. I did this right away! No hesitation! I felt so good about it, the boys and I all got a treat when we came back inside. (Milk bones and hot cocoa, respectively.) 

 

 

2. Having my taxes ready to go by the end of January. This should be a no-brainer, since I just have to pull together my documents and make a spreadsheet of expenses for my accountant. But you would not believe how many years I've dragged my feet on this. I was better when I had kids in college - competition for that FAFSA money is fierce, and you want to be at the front of the line. Since Youngest graduated last May, I was worried I might fall back into bad habits, ie, stuffing a form to file late and a check for a completely made-up amount in an envelope and driving it to the one big city post office still open at 7pm on April 15th. 

But I'm on track to have everything done by the time I get my last tax document! If I do send my stuff off on January 31st, I will bask in the glow of my own wonderfulness. And maybe have a chocolate bar.

3. Changing light bulbs as soon as they burn out. I dunno, does this make me weird? I always keep a whole bunch of spares in my pantry, so it's, like, the one and only "home repair" I can effect competently and quickly. It feels so good when I snap the new one on.

 

 

 


 

 

4. Washing the dishes. The pots and pans and good stuff you can't put in the dishwasher, I mean. This has got to be the most ordinary household task possible, but I swear, each and every time I set the last wet glass in the drying rack, I feel like I've successfully completed a marathon. 

 

 

 

 

5. Keeping wine on hand. Since the Maine Millennial has moved into her very own, bought-with-her-money house, I've started stocking up my bar again. One of my hacks is to stop at RSVP Liquors in Portland after church and hitting up their closeout wine sale section. (First time I did this I felt a little conspicuous, but I can tell by the outfits of other shoppers I'm not the only person in town who likes their religion followed by a chaser.)

Their stock is always at least decent, so I buy marked down bottles with confidence that, at the very least, they'll be fine to serve after the good stuff has been drunk up (an appropriate biblical reference, come to think of it.) I've been entertaining small numbers of friends at home, and I love not having to think about whether I'm set for wine with the meal - and every time I head out to dinner at someone else's home with a bottle tucked under my arm, I feel the powerful glow of being a Good Guest.

How about you, dear readers? What are the unexpected actions that bring you that glow of virtue rewarded?

85 comments:

  1. The glow of virtue rewarded? I’m right there with you on getting those dishes washed. [We’ll not discuss the snow shoveling lest I jinx it; so far, not even a single flake has fallen here!]
    Getting the library books returned before their due dates always brings a sigh of satisfaction . . . .

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    1. Getting books back before the due date is a phenomenon with which I'm unfamiliar, Joan...

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  2. Making the bed. Washing dishes. Folding laundry and putting them away. Getting rid of expired over-the-counter meds.

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    1. Oh, yes, those old medications! You have to put some effort into that one, too, so as not to put them into the trash stream.

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  3. Excellent virtues, Julia! I do get to glow at sending things in on deadline - but I that's partly because I have NOT used the time to pull the tax stuff together. Despite Karen from Ohio advising some of us over the years how to keep on top of the task throughout the year, I don't. And hate doing it.

    I live with someone who drinks beer in a glass. He also doesn't believe in soap or sponges on beer glasses, and I'm forbidden from putting them in the dishwasher. Result - smeary spotty rinsed glasses in the beer-glass cabinet (which has a glass front and is lit). I often sneak appropriate cleaning methods into those babies and put them away all sparkling clean. And I wipe down the granite countertop and buff it with a dishtowel at least twice a day.

    We both believe in the virtue of shoveled sidewalk and walkway and steps and a clear car. But I had no idea being well-stocked in wine was a virtue. I'm way ahead on that!

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    1. Ha. Steve doesn't want his shot glasses washed, ever. I finally found out why a few weeks ago: a friend of his dad's--50 YEARS AGO--never washed his shot glass.

      So, great reason to let germs grow, right?

      Sorry about the taxes, Edith.

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    2. My dad always said “The alcohol will kill the germs.” ;-) Elisabeth

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    3. When I met Ross, he had a pot he cooked ramen noodles and canned soup in. HE NEVER WASHED IT. He said it "seasoned" the meals he was making. :-P

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    4. LOL, Julia. The only pot I kept like that was the reserved stovetop popcorn pot. Long gone now.

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    5. I had no idea not washing beer or shot glasses was a thing!

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  4. Julia, I do love your essays here. Everyone who suggested you compile them is on target but finish the book first;^)

    Virtue is subjective, however I do agree with you on several points, definitely the prompt shoveling of snow! Irwin dresses like he is headed out on an artic expedition. Not me. I know I'm going to sweat. It sure feels satisfying to know my mailman will be able to see the steps.

    I also feel that having a selection of wine is highly virtuous, but let's extend that to nice Scotch and bourbon. Now we are set for entertaining. Perhaps it is time for "Scotch and Stew," my favorite winter dinner party to throw.

    I do feel very proud when I hand over my contribution to our taxes. Irwin wants me to really dive in this year. We are older and it is best if we can each pull together the whole package. I promised to sit and do it with him. Will that earn me a hot chocolate or a Scotch?

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    1. How about Scotch IN your hot chocolate?

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    2. Edith, bourbon in tea is excellent. It can be rewarding!

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    3. Judy, I'd have one perfect ounce of really good single malt, neat, or with a touch of water. You deserve it if you get the taxes done!

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    4. From Celia: Hi Judy, I strongly urge you to embrace tax and other financial skills which embrace both of you. Finding myself as the pandemic struck as our CFO due to V’s growing memory impairment as that had always been his bailiwick has given me a sharp lesson in taxes, spreadsheets, on line billing etc. I would encourage all once they hit retirement to polish those skills. For example V’s employer changed our healthcare provider this year. I’m seriously thinking of going on a comedy circuit - gray grannies talk - maybe and tell tales of convoluted conversations.

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    5. Gray Grannies Talk sounds like an excellent program, Celia. I think you could line up the JRW crew here and have the first 6 months of a daily show covered!

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    6. Karen, I wish you lived close enough to drop by and share it!!

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    7. Sounds like we have another idea for a spin off...

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  5. One more thing about shoveling. I always walk down my street to the fire hydrant and shovel that out, too. Any delay can be the difference between life and you know. I am 75 years old, and am still doing it. You would think that one of the young families in the neighborhood would catch on. Who do they think clears that hydrant?

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    1. That is so important to clear the hydrants. Virtuous indeed!

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    2. You get the gold star today, Judy!

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  6. Well done, JULIA! Fortunately, the building superintendent shovels the snow at our building. We got another 4" (10 cm) yesterday, much less than the 11.5" (28 cm) we got last Friday.

    Hmmm, I don't even think about income taxes until early March. We get our tax receipts in late February/early March.

    But I am good at always doing the dishes (no dishwasher in any place I lived) & promptly doing/putting away laundry.

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    1. Laundry - yes! I claim special virtue in summer when I hang the laundry on the line by person and category (you know, pants together, shirts together, undies together, kitchen/downstairs stuff together, etc.) and fold it as I take it off. Bingo - ready to be returned to the appropriate drawer/cabinet/person. So very satisfying.

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    2. Edith, laundry off the line is a chore I so miss. Haven’t lived anywhere in years and years that line drying is permitted. It is surely one of the virtuous chores! Elisabeth

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    3. Edith, I dry my own clothes on racks all year round. If I could hang out my sheets and towels in the summer, I would do that, too. Most of Irwin's stuff goes in the drier but not any of his shirts except for tees.

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    4. Edith, I'm a summertime line dryer and I do exactly the same thing. Why not take advantage of the possibilities of different technology?

      And Grace, my hat's off to you for a dishwasher-less life. My grandmother lived her whole life without a dishwasher, and in the 90s, when my uncles offered to install one in her kitchen, she turned them down. Her habit was to wash the dishes immediately after each meal, so she never had any laying around in the sink. Very disciplined woman, my Grandma.

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  7. Cooking a meal so that a) I come home from work with a meal all ready and b) leftovers, ditto no cooking after work. Getting those hand-washable dishes done before I go to bed so I wake up to a (relatively) clean kitchen. Getting all of the laundry done. I don't feel virtuous shoveling snow because most of the time, I really enjoy the whole she-bang. The satisfaction comes from seeing how much I can get done before an exasperated nephew chases me inside. This year, my brother fixed the snowblower, gave me a crash course in starting it, etc., and ordered me to use it. Which I will, gladly, when circumstances demand it. I really feel virtuous when I manage, after designing a quilting project, to get all the fabrics I've pulled out put away properly again.

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    1. Oh, Flora, I forgot the thrill of the slow-cooker meal! Putting it all together in the morning (or the night before) and hey, presto, there's dinner waiting for you.

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  8. Yes to shoveling snow, although being retired its easy to get to it and I share the work with my husband. And a neighbor. She is ex-military so an early starter. She will usually take her snow blower down our sidewalk and also do the apron of our drive and the pile the plow leaves at the end of the drive. She did that for us the other day even with rotator cuff damage in both shoulders. We really have to hustle to beat her to it. One time I heard the tell-tale scraping of a shovel down the sidewalk at 2:30 A.M. Yesterday with the big snow, we got out early to get ahead of her.

    Also - trampling a path through the snow on the front lawn for the mailman. Strap on snowshoes if necessary. Sometimes mail delivery people are followed around by an efficiency person, keeping track of their time. They are told to take the shortest route from house to house, which means across lawns. I like to make it a little easier.

    Ditto making life a little easier for critters on a snowy day. I go to the back yard and trample down areas where I put mixed bird seed for the ground feeders - sparrows, juncos, cardinals, etc.

    Did all that this morning and I'm feeling pretty pleased.

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    1. JC, indeed you are virtuous! It's morning so hot chocolate for your reward!

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    2. JC, you are a blessing to all your neighbors - resident, transient, and avian!

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  9. I started January filled with grim determination, battling one provider a week: internet, TV cable, and cell phone company. Thanks to my older daughter's "discussion" with the phone company, I have faster internet at a lower price, which still goes out every time it rains. I handled the cable company myself, after they shipped me a huge box of equipment with a link to do it yourself Youtube videos. I called and they had someone out the same day. The cell phone plan is still under intense negotiation after I learned that what I had signed up for in August had never been applied to my account.

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    1. I'm sending you a virtual salute, Margaret. Tackling the cable and phone companies is akin to girding for war.

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  10. Great job! All of those are tasks related to what the kids call adulting. Even the wine.

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    1. I always thought I'd spend less time making myself adult as I got older, Rhonda, but it seems to be a never-ending battle between 60 year old Julia and 6 year old Julie.

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  11. Excellent, Julia! You get the virtue star for sure. Since I'm doing a 'dry January', I feel virtuous because I haven't gone to the Mom and Pop Wine Shop (4 blocks away, such nice people, and you can order on line and have it delivered). I've had a friend over a couple of times and bought mini bottles so he could have a glass and then take the rest home.

    I've started my taxes too and am determined to do it early this year. I always get irritated at tax time, because I like to do it myself, but don't want to have to pay to file my taxes. Why in the world do we have to use a third party tax software? I should be able to just fill the form out and hit enter. So I print it and mail it. Last year I sent it off a couple of days before the deadline in April and didn't get my refund until September. This year, virtue will prevail.

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    1. Thank you Judy! I too thought it very appropriate--after actually listen to her spout her opinions in an interview, I was left shaking my head.

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    2. Gillian, that's another great reason to file as early as possible - the Washington Post ran a story on how refunds would be VERY slow getting out this year. The IRS (as much as we all like to grumble at it) is desperately short of personnel, so the sooner you get your returns in, the sooner you'll get your money back.

      (This never applies to me. I don't know of ANY self-employed people who have refunds - my goal is to have gotten close enough with my quarterly payments to not have to send in a $$$ check in April.)

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    3. Julia, last year Catherine Rampell wrote a piece about the struggles of the IRS and took a picture of an IRS cafeteria filled with boxes of paper files. I thought, "That's where my taxes are!"

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    4. Oh, Gillian, my initial reply to you has gone away. It doesn't even say who deleted it. My, my.

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  12. From Celia: well done Julia, you are a shining example for self sufficiency and I salute you! I wish I didn’t find household chores/tasks such a bore. I’ve tried to think positive, put accomplishments on a list, meditate while doing laundry but I’m a tough nut to reason with. So I work off of my priority list and if a household task is delayed due to another sudden event, so be it.

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    1. Podcasts, Celia, podcasts. It's my special treat while doing chores, and it makes a huge difference, because they are boring, aren't they?

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  13. You're a rock star, Julia! The Barrie quote--and your comment--cracked me up.

    I completely agree with Gillian about our ridiculous tax system, so weirdly complicated that it takes software that we have to buy separately, and spend even more to file electronically. It's a wonder more people just don't bother filing.

    However, if you use a credit card or checking account for every single transaction it is not hard to do taxes with tax prep software and a good money management program like Quicken. Once a month just download every transaction into the MM program, then compile them into preset categories once a year. Honest, it isn't difficult once it's set up.

    True story: Scott Cook, who invented Quicken and founded Intuit, was an employee of Procter & Gamble here in Cincinnati in the late '70s and early '80s, and he casually dated one of my best friends. And because of that connection I was his insurance agent, briefly. He was married to his coworker by the time he came up with the idea for Quicken, and moved to the PNW, too.

    So I've used Quicken since the MS-DOS v.1, and TurboTax, too. Usually I'm scrambling around on December 30 to figure out where we stand, estimated tax-wise (self-employed people can never really predict the final income figure, right?), and making most of our charitable contributions at the last minute. This year, oh, so virtually, I had that done by December 14, since we were leaving the country on the 16th.

    Please hand over my halo now. :-)

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    1. Karen in Ohio, some people are not computer people so they look for paper tax form copies at the library.

      Love your story about Quicken. That is totally cool! Some people are good at using the computer.

      Right now I am extremely frustrated because after the software update to my iPad, there is NO way I can watch Apple TV anymore so I had to terminate my Apple TV subscription, I am NOT going to pay for something I cannot use, right?

      Diana

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    2. Diana, it's hard to imagine that in this day and age. Even my 93-year old mother is computer (and iPhone) savvy. I wonder if certain ages fell through the cracks between using typewriters and learning computer use in elementary school?

      So sad that you can't watch on your iPad. Not even with Genius Bar help?

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    3. My 96-year-old uncle is, too, Karen. Although you can bet he got lots of training from my two tech-savvy cousins who don't live far.

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    4. Karen, I'm a paper person, and I chuck all my paid bills/receipts/etc. into an antique tin picnic basket. Celia was HORRIFIED when she saw my "system!" I've improved on it, based on her suggestion - I've always used manila folders for each category when I prepare my spreadsheet, so this past year, I left the folders in the basket and every quarter, I sorted the loose papers into them. Hey, presto, January rolls around and I have almost no sorting left to do!

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    5. Diana, I agree with Karen - try the Apple Genius Bar nearest you. I've found them to be very helpful (although the first time I walked in and was approached by a guy with full sleeve tattoos and multiple piercings, I did blink!)

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    6. Wow Karen, you definitely deserve a halo. The possibility to use software to collect data throughout the year is tempting! I spent a couple of hours going through my debit account to pull out health care expenses and charitable donations--that's the most time-consuming part of it, already done.

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  14. Making the bed and folding laundry. Two completey mundane things that make me ridiculously proud of myself for doing.

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    1. Liz, do your characters make their beds or fold their laundry in your books? Just curious if you use the mundane for those introspective moments your characters have.

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    2. Judy, that's a really interesting comment. When do authors have their characters doing those mundane tasks? I had a scene with a woman washing dishes in one book, but that's because she pulls out a wet iron skillet and brains someone with it. I got several emails pointing out you should never put a good iron skillet in soapy water! :-)

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    3. That reminds me of a terrific scene in the movie Chocolate with the quote, "And he said I didn't know how to use a frying pan." Great scene!

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  15. I'm with Liz -- it's doing the mundane household chores that make me pleased with myself. Including cleaning the cat's box BEFORE I have coffee in the morning...

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    1. Oh, extra points for that, Amanda. I keep trying to make litter scooping a daily chore. So far I haven't mastered it.

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  16. Must feel great to file the taxes before the deadline, right?

    Julia, your story about shoveling the snow reminded me of a story about my grandmother. In those days, I think EVERYONE had servants, unless I am mistaken? Even the middle class had servants. My grandmother saw snow outside my grandparents' house. The servants did NOT shovel the snow. My grandmother went outside to shovel the snow. When she finished, she came back inside and ate all of the cinnamon rolls. This grandmother was NOT a big eater. She was hungry after all of that hard work.

    When I do household chores, I feel like a grown up.

    Diana

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    1. Diana, your grandmother eating all the cinnamon rolls made me laugh out loud. Yes, it is appetite-making work!

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  17. I am the person in the drive through line at the post office just before midnight on tax day. I fear it will never ever change...sigh. That being said, I'm on a diet this year -- oh, not for me but for my house. One bag of "stuff" must leave the premises every day either to good will or the garbage but I am decluttering this empty nest with a vengeance! And every time a bag leaves, I have the glow :)

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    1. One bag a day is such a good idea. That would also give me the glow.
      Irene

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    2. I would be happy with one bag a week! I need to get to it.

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    3. Oh, Jenn, that's an amazing feat and well-worth a virtuous glow! I still haven't finished clearing out the Maine Millennial's bedroom, and she moved in June!

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  18. Shoveling the walks, stairs, and around the dumpster before breakfast always makes me feel like I've done something virtuous. Our neighbor plows out our drive and hubs does fine tuning with the snowblower, but neither can get close enough to the stairs or dumpster to make a flat surface. Then there's making the bed, folding the laundry, and baking bread. All give me a mental gold star!

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    1. Bread, indeed! I must get back to that.

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    2. There's something about that first-thing timing, too, isn't there, Kait? Amanda said it was cleaning out the cat pan before coffee. Maybe the US Navy was onto something with their old "We do more before 9am than most people do all day" slogan.

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  19. This is so great! Yes, those little things are marvelous. I love folding towels, perfectly, and they stack up so nicely. Doing the laundry, makes me feel great, and making the bed. Because no one is making me do it, you know, I’m just doing it because it’s the right thing to do :-) Taxes, however, another story, which we will not discuss — but I will be in the line with Jenn .
    I also love having a back up thing to the thing. A second bottle of olive oil, another jar of peanut butter. So there is no panic if “someone” forgot to mention that we were almost out.
    I wish I could clean out the refrigerator, you know? But I can’t.

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    1. Oh, yes, Hank, the back-up item. I added "kitty litter" to the shopping list as soon as I opened the most recent box, and felt a glow of satisfaction.

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    2. Exactly. Black tights, then back up black tights, then back up to the back up, because what if??

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    3. One must maintain the "stores" - an extra of everything, bought on sale, of course.

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  20. "It Is I, The Shining Star of Virtue"
    I love that line. Now I'm thinking about using it as my entry line at an upcoming dinner party.

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  21. I am absolutely shining with virtue when I fold the clean clothes and put them up instead of dumping them on the guest bed and pulling things out as needed. And, yes. Dishes and items that need handwashing tend to pile up until counter space is compromised. If I do that chore while there is counter space, well, what a good girl am I. People have brought up taxes. Unfortunately that is my department. I have to wait until everything is in. It'll be interesting this year with half out info coming here to Virginia and the other half to my husband in Texas. I won't have to take care of any other family taxes though for the first time in over twenty years. What a relief. I am ready to be virtuous with a brand new snow shovel but we've seen no snow yet. I figure as soon as Frank heads back to Texas in a week we'll get a snow storm.

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    1. Oh, yes, Pat. You know the weather gods are waiting for you to have to handle it on your own.
      My sympathies on the two-state tax conundrum. There were a few years when I was working in DC but living in Virginia - and this was when I was brand new at filing taxes. Boy, did I get confused!

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    2. Pat D - So I am not the only person who uses the guest bed as a way station for the laundry?! (We had a guest using the guest bed last week and I am determined to not clutter it again! I feel myself on the verge of faltering, but must stay strong! - Pat S.

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  22. The glow of virtue? Let's see. Keeping my book reviewing up-to-date, written right after reading the book and posted soon after, gives me a glow. Having more than one review ready to go gives me the ultimate virtue glow. Having my dining room table clear is glow worthy. Paying bills online and it being over and done in a click makes me feel quite efficient. Having clothes washed and put up is kind of glowy. I don't get a virtue glow from housecleaning very often these days, but when I do manage to convince myself to clean, it is quite the virtuous glow.

    And, Julia, I have a question for you. Why do you have dishes that won't go in the dishwasher? Hahaha! Actually, I do sometimes wash pans instead of running them through the dishwasher because of space in the dishwasher and wanting to have the pan accessible whenever I need it.

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    1. Kathy, I have very hard water, and it leaves smears on glasses and some of my silver-metal pans. I've tried running them through the dishwasher, but I just wind up re-washing them by hand because it bugs me so. So now I go straight to the sink with them.

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  23. Loved reading these! A little virtue is NOT washing the last half load that was in the hamper ... not until I have enough clothes in need of washing to make a full load. Remembering to take plastic bags to the supermarket for recycling. Now that I have a cleared-out garage, remembering to put my car in there on nights when there's a threat of ice or snow. Freezing leftovers rather than waiting for them to turn green. Replying promptly to emails from friends from whom I am genuinely delighted to have heard. I do get tired of patting myself on the back ;-)

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    1. I see a common thread for a lot of these, Hallie - it's present-us doing things future-us will be thankful for. Maybe the glow of virtue is just time-bending gratitude!

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  24. Playing with my dog and two cats twice a day, no matter how I feel. Oh, and, yes, number 5, having wine on hand.

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  25. My mother always said to feed the animals before you feed the people. So we do that with the birds now.

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    1. That was Ross's rule as well, Hank - from his mother.

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  26. Making the bed right after stripping the sheets off. No need to groan about having to take the time to do it before collapsing into it at the appropriate time.

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  27. Good for you, Julia! My husband shares your virtues. Alas, I can't say the same for myself but I do make sure there's a stock of wine. I did have the virtuous (escapist?) idea that we leave Minnesota in January for plowless Florida.

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  28. What is this tax deadline thing of which you speak? (Mine is in September when the corporate extensions are due, lol.) And also this white stuff which you are shoveling?

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