Posts Tagged ‘cleaning rituals’

By Judith Ford

My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.

My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.

Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.

I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.

About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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By Teri Blair

This spring I turn 50.

The cleaning on my mind these days is an internal one. 50 is a significant marker, one that won’t be ignored. I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert the year she turned 50. She was playing the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. She called out to the women in the audience, “Don’t be afraid to turn 50! It’s great!” And I could see she meant it, too—not just trying to buoy herself or us up. That was 11 years ago, and I was still in my 30s. 50 seemed like ages away. But it stuck with me. Her attitude.

I went to a 50th birthday party once for a woman who had a ritual to drop everything in her life that had held her back. It was done with drumming and shouting and people. Powerful stuff. She was brave and she made an announcement to her herself that she was turning a corner. A big one.

I don’t feel bad about turn 50. Mainly. There are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t suppose that will every change. There’s some sort of release happening inside. A knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world. And because I don’t, I think about spring cleaning, and what needs to go and what needs to be aired out or left behind or turned over to the garbage heap. I don’t have my internal spring cleaning list completed, but it’s formulating. I don’t turn 50 until May 5th, so I’ve got some time.

I’m not sad about youth being over. That sounds bold and so against the grain of our culture, doesn’t it? I want to be healthy and strong. I want to take care of myself. But I don’t want to be 20 or 30 anymore. Nor do I want to pretend that I am. Nor do I want to watch someone half my age for clues about how I should live my life.

I am watching older women now. Elderly women. They seem far more interesting to me. I met one this month named Gladys—an artist/writer who has made it in the art world. She moves quietly and humbly through life. She listens well. She always seems grounded. Clearly, she had done her spring cleaning.

-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, PRACTICE — SPRING CLEANING — 10min by Bob Chrisman, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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By Bob Chrisman

In my mind it’s too early to think of spring cleaning. As I write that sentence my thoughts veer off in another direction. I never clean my house unless company will arrive within a few hours. Those little cleaning spurts only touch the surface dirt and clutter, not at all like spring cleaning, but sufficient to fool guests into thinking I live in a neat, tidy and clean house.

Spring cleaning to me means days of going after the accumulated dirt of the winter. My mother took down all the sheers and curtains and washed them in the wringer washer. She fed them through the rollers to press the water out and then rinsed them before sending them through the wringer and into an empty wash tub. When she finished she hung everything outside on the clothesline to dry in the sun and wind.

As the laundry dried in the fresh air, she donned her rubber gloves and armed with old rags and a bucket of water went after the windows inside and out as my father removed the storm windows and replaced them with the screen windows. He took the screen windows out of storage in the basement, wiped them down and leaned them against the house. He started the removal of the storms at the front of the house and washed and dried them before he took them to the basement to store until fall cleaning.

Mom climbed the step ladder placed next to the house and washed the window panes and window sills. Then she wiped them dry. My sister and I stood inside and pointed out spots that she missed until she handed us a bucket and a sponge and we became her assistants.

Once the window panes sparkled and Dad had installed all of the screens, Mom would open every window in the house to “air out the place.” This airing occurred regardless of the outside temperature and lasted long enough for her to proclaim that the air inside was fresh.

She washed and waxed the wood floors throughout the house in the early years. After we installed linoleum in the kitchen and wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room, she would polish the kitchen floor until it gleamed and take her Kirby upright sweeper to the rug in the living room.

Just writing about it makes me tired. I think I’ll go take a nap and think about spring cleaning on a smaller scale when I wake up. Or, maybe I won’t think about it at all anymore.

-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, WRITING TOPIC — WINDOW, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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Spring cleaning. Where to start. It’s quiet, late in the evening. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I remember window washing, vinegar and newspaper. I remember dusting with Pledge. The smell of Lemon Pledge, etched in the nasal cavity. I remember Johnson Paste Wax, the rotating discs on the buffer. I remember sand and sandspurs, tearing at my toes, clinging to bits of rug. Spring cleaning is symbolic. A ritual of letting go. It doesn’t have to be deep cleaning. Just the letting go.

The rugs that get hauled out to the clothesline. The rug beater, a wooden stick. Puffs of dirt from the prairie. Not my home. A little house somewhere I can’t remember. I don’t think houses are as clean as they were when I was growing up. Times have changed. Roles have changed. Both parents need to work for a living. And still it’s hard to make ends meet. Spring cleaning leads me to a sunny destination after a long Minnesota Winter. Spring cleaning leads me to Spring.

Cleaning the deck windows until they are crystal clear. Power washing the wood. There is something fun about power washing. This year we will need to replace the trim on the south windows. Weather and woodpeckers have stripped them raw and full of holes. I am fond of the woodpeckers. But they can be destructive. Have you ever watched birds do their spring cleaning? Grabbing bits of feather, lint, moss, and making a nest. Preening their young, mites and ticks. Cleaning rituals are not only for humans.

Spring cleaning means tidying up the garden space, uncovering the rosebush, gathering the old brush and weeds from the end of last Fall and tossing them to the back corner. Spring means transplanting the two pines that have sprouted near the coneflowers, watching the dogwood stems turn beet red with sap, waiting, waiting, waiting for the bloom of the peony. A whole year must pass, that’s how long I wait for the next peony to bloom. Underneath the ash, grubs, a few mice and voles. The white winter squirrel, I haven’t seen her this year. What happened? Maybe a hawk or an owl found her to be easy prey.

Another 18 inches of snow last weekend. I shoveled the driveway hill and raked the roof. I am ready for Spring. In a few days, it will drop to 10 degrees again. The wind will kick up from the North; I’ll zip my jacket a little tighter. All that after a day of sunshine at 32. It’s dangerous to wait for Spring, dangerous to wait for the future to arrive at your doorstep. When all you have is right now.

-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

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I spent yesterday up to my elbows in dust bunnies, paper filing, and boxes of old memories. I have started Spring Cleaning. In the middle of this seasonal ritual, I stopped to read an old letter that revealed a secret, found a bulging folder full of fun city facts dated about the time Indria (our home) was purchased, and discovered a buried file that Liz had labeled Essential Oils and Homemade Air Fresheners. I thought it would be fun to post the old-fashioned cleaning remedies. Have you ever tried Borax, white vinegar, Ivory soap?


Homemade Cleaning Remedies

All Purpose Cleaner I

1 tsp Borax
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vinegar
1/4 tsp dish washing liquid
2 cups hot water

All Purpose Cleaner II

Fill a 32 oz spray bottle nearly full with water. Add a squirt or two of Ivory liquid dish soap. Put the sprayer back on and gently shake the bottle until the soap has been evenly distributed. Use Ivory because most other dish soaps leave behind a filmy residue. Ivory is especially safe for Corion, marble and wood counter tops and butcher blocks. And it’s safe to use on brass or gold plated faucets.

Carpet Cleaner

1 cup crushed herbs (lavender or rosemary)
4 drops essential oil (lavender or rosemary)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp clove
2 tsp baking soda

Shake in a jar to blend & sprinkle carpet.


Homemade Air Fresheners for Household Odors

Cinnamon & Cloves

Boil the spices for a fragrant smell. For ease of cleaning, make a cheesecloth bag to contain the spices, and boil the cheesecloth bag. An excellent alternative when entertaining is to steep spiced tea or cider.

Oil of Wintergreen

Dampen cotton balls with oil of wintergreen and place out of sight, but where air will touch them.


Distribute partially filled saucers of vinegar around the room or boil 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in 1 cup of water to eliminate unpleasant cooking odors.


Place pure vanilla on a cotton ball in a small saucer. Place the saucer in the car or refrigerator to remove odors. Vanilla is renowned to remove even skunk odors. Keep the cotton ball out of reach of children; vanilla has a high alcohol content.

Baking Soda

Place a partially filled box of baking soda on the refrigerator shelf. Replace every 2 months. Pour the contents of the used box down the drain to remove odors and keep the drain clean. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize bottles by filling them with undiluted baking soda and allowing the bottles to soak overnight. Then wash as usual. (To read about the difference between baking soda and baking powder, see WRITING TOPIC — COOKING FIASCOS.)


To inhibit growth of odor-producing molds and bacteria, sprinkle 1/2 cup Borax in the bottom of the garbage can. Empty garbage frequently and clean the can as needed.

Vinegar Or Celery Stalk

To avoid or remove onion odors from your hands, rub white vinegar on your hands before and after slicing. Rubbing hands with the end of a celery stalk will also remove the odor.


Buy or make your own potpourri from your favorite herbs and spices. Place the potpourri in a small basket or jar or in small sachet bags.


Open windows or doors in the house for at least a short period every day. This will help to reduce toxic fumes that may build up indoors.


We have written about cleanliness and attitudes about staying clean in WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS. But seasonal cleaning rituals set a different tone. What home remedies were passed down in your family? What are your favorite cleaning tools (I’m fond of Wanda Wooley). How clean is clean?

Do you do windows once a year, twice a year? Does your entire family pitch in on the seasonal cleaning of your house, or does it fall to you. In Minnesota, Spring arrives late after a long Winter. Do you start your Spring Cleaning in February, March, April, or May? You can even write about how you hate Spring Cleaning!

Get out your fast writing pen, your laptop, or a spiral notebook and do a Writing Practice on Spring Cleaning. Fifteen minutes, Go!

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 13th, 2011

-related to post: What If Madge Were Chicana?

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Wanda Wooly, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Wanda Wooly, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Wanda Wooly, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Wanda Wooly, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Wanda Wooly, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo
© 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

It’s cleaning day in our household and dust bunnies fill the air. Once in a while, Liz comes home from shopping excited about a new cleaning gadget. Last September it was Wanda Wooly — The Pure Wool Duster.

Wanda has a long, blue metal handle that extends to 75″, is environmentally friendly because you can wash her hair, and by pivoting the handle rapidly between the hands, is ready for her next swipe up spidery corners. Made by Starmax Resources in Ohio, Wanda is fully guaranteed and cute to boot. She sits in the corner of our laundry room, smiling back at us.

We only deep clean about once a month, with light cleaning between. But the three cats require constant maintenance from their various romps and tips around the house. We do have to vacuum up all the cat bunnies, and Liz is forever coming home with the next version of the perfect cat litter. We’ve been disappointed more than once. But this last bag she bought seems to really do what they said it would do on the packaging.

How often do you clean the house? Are you one of those people who has to have a fanatically clean environment, everything in it’s place and spotless? Or do you like a more lived-in feel. What about cleaning gadgets? Do you buy them? Are you always first in line to pick up on the latest trend?

Who does the cleaning in your household? Is it you, or your partner or spouse? Or maybe you’re a person who hires someone else to clean your house. If so, do you feel obligated to pick up and clean the house before the cleaning person comes?

I’m sold on Wanda Wooly. And after I drape her fluffy lamb’s hair across the dusty piano, we’re heading outside to shake her hair in the wind, put the hose away for winter, and rake a few more leaves.

Note: Wanda Wooly runs about $20 and can be picked up at ACE Hardware SuperStores. The price listed there is for a unit of 6. We try to shop local and visit our little ACE Hardware store whenever we can.

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – CLEANLINESS

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I have a picture in my head of Mom. She’s wearing soft denim shorts to just above her knees. Her hair is in curlers, a red bandana tied around the curlers, a cigarette on her lip. Next to her, on the floor, is a flat metal ashtray, the kind that folds like tin when you bend it. We are both sitting on a rug in front of the TV. She’s watching Another World. Mom likes the plain-looking older woman, Ada, but not Rachel, Ada’s daughter. I’m not allowed to talk while the action is taking place; fortunately, commercials come on every few minutes.

Mom watches Another World every day at this hour, shortly before our nap and right after our lunch. She only superficially follows As the World Turns and General Hospital. General Hospital is the hottest thing going on in soap opera drama, but Mom has never been one to follow trends. It is Ada and Rachel she is faithful to.

This particular day Mom has a basket of clothing by her side, and like one of those chowders you buy nowadays that comes in a bowl made of bread, Mom’s basket of clothing never seems to get all the way down to the bottom. She folds, smokes, watches TV. Smokes, watches TV, folds again.

I have had this memory before, and in it Mom is sometimes watching something other than Another World. One time it is John F. Kennedy’s assassination or funeral, I’m not sure which, although I do know I would have been too young to remember either. Yet, the details of that memory are especially acute: the orange cotton jumper Mom is folding, the one she sewed herself for Janet. The white hard plastic of the laundry basket. The cold tiles on the floor where my hand rests. What it is about that spot? Did we sit there often?

I am always young in my memory of that place, as is Mom. We are both earnest, both willing to be the best we can be at our respective roles. Mom is still willing to take her laundry basket with her to wherever she goes to sit; she still folds the clothes into piles while smoking her cigarettes and watching her soap. She is still kind to me, making me lunch, trying to show me the ways of moms.

Later on, in a newer house, she will keep all the clothes in a basket underneath the ironing board perpetually set up, but rarely used, in the master bedroom. The basket will get so full of clean clothes that a second one will be employed. All my clothes and those of my sister and brother will be stuffed into those two baskets, shirts on top of socks, pants on top of shirts, occasionally a set of clean sheets or a bedspread thrown on top of the entire heap. By the time any of us pulls out an item to wear, it will be so wrinkled from the weight of every other item that no amount of ironing, not even with steam nor the spray of a water bottle, will take out the indentations that soon become the hallmark of our fashion.

By then I will be sassy and sarcastic towards Mom. I will snarl at her, call her names, become an unruly teenager. I will throw a bottle of nail polish at her when she makes a snide comment about my boyfriend. But in that one long-ago memory, the one where Mom and I sit on the floor together, I watch her with big eyes. I notice how well she maneuvers her many devices — the television, the clothes, her cigarettes, the ashtray. I love everything about her, especially her smell, which I now realize is exactly the scent of clean laundry.

I wonder what it is about folding clothes that repeats itself, like a little ballerina doing pirouettes in my mind. Why not washing dishes or dusting, or scrubbing floors on her hands and knees? Mom wasn’t the kind of housewife who wore an apron. She didn’t whistle while she worked, nor did she sing. Mom didn’t buy into brand names — Tide and Palmolive (“you’re soaking in it!”). She called all powder disinfectant cleaners “Ajax,” even when she bought Comet. (Comet…it makes you vomit…so buy Comet, and vomit, too-dayyy…)

When I think of Mom and cleaning, I think of conflict. I think of anger and resentment. She hated to clean. She was so impatient she wouldn’t even allow us to clean. “I’ll make your beds, just get out of my hair,” she told us. Mom was a nervous wreck (her words) when I was growing up. She had too many kids, and eventually things started to happen. Teen pregnancy, drugs, smoking, drinking.

She wasn’t a controlling woman; she only cared that things were “clean enough.” But cleaning was just one more chore she never really wanted to sign up for. Mom was happiest when she was sitting over coffee with Tomasita from across the street or playing poker with her friends or watching her soap opera.

Maybe that’s why this particular memory of folding clothes while watching TV comes to me again and again. And this, always this: She asks me to go get her a glass of water. I jump up and run to the kitchen. There on the counter is an open package of windmill cookies with almond slivers. I take a piece of a broken cookie, put it my mouth and let it melt while I fill up her glass. It is quiet in the house for once, just the sound of breathy voices coming from the television, and that stark sensation that daytime TV produces. While the the rest of the world is out doing what they do and Mom is here with me, doing what it is we do.

-Based on a ten-minute practice from Topic Post, Cleanliness.

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Just in case you’re spending the weekend cleaning house, we wanted to give you a writing assignment that might make all that dusting and sweeping and scrubbing and vacuuming feel more like research than time wasted. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who never feels that cleaning is time wasted. 

Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.     
                                                        ~Christopher Morley

What exactly are your cleaning habits? Do you make your bed every morning? Does laundry pile up until you’re out of clean underwear? Is your nickname Neat Nick or Sloppy Joe? Do you make a conscious choice not to clean, ever, or do you delegate the cleaning to others — a kind and loving partner, your roommate, the kids, Mini Maids?

Cleanliness is almost as bad as godliness.     
                                                         ~Samuel Butler

For this writing practice, do a slow walk along the perimeter of the room in which you spend most your time. Start with your right foot. Walk slowly. You’re not in a rush to get anywhere. Let your eyes move around the room but don’t grab what’s in front of you. See it, let it go. Try not to mentally note what you see. Instead, take it in the way you might take in air. Breathe in, breathe out.

Cleanliness is next to impossible.
                                                         ~Author unknown

Then go sit down and do a ten-minute practice on the topic “Everything I know about cleanliness…” Talk about where your notions of cleanliness came from. Talk about the products you use. Describe your grit in as much detail as you can. Air that dirty laundry.

Now go!

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