How do you measure your life?

I realize it has been quite some time since I have posted anything. I am not gone for good, just have lost my voice for a bit. There have been so many times I have wanted to just stop everything else and get back on this blog and share again. Perhaps soon. In the meantime, here is an early peak at what I wrote for the Faith Finder section of the Northwest Blade in Eureka, SD to be published next week. Hope to see you soon.

The poet, T. S. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” which contains one of my favorite lines of poetry, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” Apparently the speaker of the poem was considering what was important in his life, which in that case was attending social functions.

I think of that line often as I make coffee while preparing breakfast, and I realize that I would probably need to write that I have measured out my life with scoops of potting soil. It seems each year as I trim up my potted plants, I pot a few new ones with the hope of sharing them with others or keeping a new one in place of the old, but the fact is each year there are more and more pots of plants placed here and there around our yard. I have finally realized that with each new pot there is one more spot for the mosquitoes to reproduce and one more place for decaying plant residue to accumulate, and one more spot for me to clean.

Perhaps a better consideration would be to pause and ask with what I have measured out my spiritual life. With what have I measured out my life lived with or my life lived for Christ? Could that life be measured in study? Could it be measured by prayers? Could it be measured in deeds done for others?

As Christians we know that in order to accept God’s love and grace we must believe in Christ. Jesus in Mark 14:6 answers his disciple Thomas, who questions where he is going, with “I am the way the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me.” Yet as we read on through the Epistles of the New Testament, we learn there is more to being a Christian that simply believing. James in his epistle instructs us how to live as true Christians. In chapter one verse 22, James writes, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Then he ends the chapter with, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

If you find the time to consider by what means you measure out your life, I hope you will find something in the way of following Christ and sharing the good news of what it means to follow him, doing it both in what you say, and in what you do for those around you.

Message Feb. 18, 2018

I wrote this message while trying to keep myself from fretting about what the coaches would do in terms of choosing which athletes would be going to the NAIA National Indoor Track and Field meet. Rumor had it that my daughter, who qualified first by the way, would be one of those left at home because she was only a thrower, and not a runner or a jumper. No one had the courage to ask. No one made the “A” standard on the last day of regular competition. We were in suspense. The issue is that God knew. God had a plan that I was too stubborn to wait patiently for. Two of the five qualifiers were in the top 16 so that put them out of the choice and left only three to fill the three spots. All stress was avoided. The choice was not given to the coach, it was determined by a higher power. Trust in the Lord is what I need to get into my head. So, this is what I told my congregation on Sunday morning while I was waiting, not so patiently.

The scriptures we heard were: Genesis 9: 8-17, I Peter 3: 18-22 and Mark 1: 9-15. The title was “God’s Loving Paths.” The songs we sang were: “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” “Great is thy Faithfulness,” and “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound.”

Our scriptures today are tied together by the number 40, and we have already discussed that at length on Wednesday night. The three particular issues of 40 include: the 40 days of rain and flood experienced by Noah and those in the ark, the 40 years when the Israelites wandered around the wilderness, and the 40 days when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

For some reason I am fascinated by the gospel accounts of Jesus facing the temptations in the wilderness. The idea that he was alone in some desolate place trying to figure out what was to come next in his life, what he was supposed to do and how he was to do it, and then he gets harassed by Satan and has to make some hard decisions. My big question for all of us this Lenten season is: “What temptations do we face in our wilderness moments?”

I suppose the list in the poem would be a good start on the many things that tempt us, or maybe another easier to understand word might be distract us. As in distract us away from following God’s path or plan for our lives. What sort of things keep us distracted enough that we don’t do the things we really should be doing like finishing our message, reaching out to others, visiting or calling on those who can’t get out and about, and the list goes on. I see these things as tasks that I don’t find the time to do because I am distracted, led astray, tempted away from doing what I need to do.

And this morning, I was all prepared to say that in the past few weeks I have been distracted, tempted away from doing what I should be doing because James and I have been out and about following after Paulina’s track meets. But after we got home late last night I came to realize that is not the truth at all. Attending those meets have not been the distraction and the temptation for me. In fact if the truth be told, being with her and her fellow throwers and other team members has been a wonderful opportunity to witness by example to a great group of young people.

The distraction, the temptation to feel anger and have thoughts not worthy of a Christian attitude has come with my fussing and fretting and worrying about why she isn’t hitting better marks or meeting certain standards, and it has been gnawing me to a sick stomach and shaking hands, and it is ridiculous. I have been in such a snit about why she isn’t able to have more success that I have prevented myself and those around me from enjoying the success she has been having. I have missed the friends she has made and the fun they have together. I have missed what is important because of my focus on marks and competition and points. I need to realize that it is just a sport for goodness sakes.

Friday afternoon as we were sitting in the hotel room in Brookings waiting for the team bus (that wasn’t coming because it broke down at the truck stop in Summit for four hours), we heard an ESPN commentator ask why is it that during the Olympics the news media in our country is so stuck on counting medals that we can’t just celebrate the good efforts of the athletes no matter where they are from? That sort of competitiveness can turn into the temptation to feel jealousy, envy, anger, bitterness, disappointment, all those sins that bring us down and make us feel unworthy of anything, especially Christ’s love.

If we didn’t hear it clearly enough on Ash Wednesday, let’s be reminded today that Christ was/Christ is the only person born of a human birth who came into this world without sin. We are all born into sin, but Christ who had no sin died in our place. The sinless Christ died for us sinners. Vs. 18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God…” Peter goes on to let us know that the experience of Noah and his family in the flood corresponds to baptism which is not about removal of sins like a shower removes the dirt of the day from our bodies, but it is an appeal to God that we are willing and wanting to be part of his family, and follow in his ways, and that we are reaching for and accepting that great love that he is offering through Christ.

So, with all of that in our heads, let us look at the words we find in Mark this morning and how it connects into the ending of the story of Noah and that great flood. First off Mark is pretty cryptic, pretty concise or I guess the better term is brief in what we read today. He has packed quite a bit of information into a short amount of space, and yet it might be that he is telling more in what he is not telling, if that makes sense.

Let’s go part by part. What we read in Mark divides into three segments. In the first one we have a very brief telling of the baptism of Jesus. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. We don’t know who is witness to this event, but we hear that when it happened the heavens were torn apart. Interestingly, the author uses the same Greek verb for torn in this story as is used in the telling of when the temple cloth was torn when Jesus is crucified, which is for some experts is a way of linking his baptism to his crucifixion. In this act of baptism which the sinless Christ technically should not need to participate in, we see his acceptance of his path. We see the love he has for humankind and his acceptance of what he is being asked to do.

In this story we also have the spirit of God descending in the form of a dove, which connects to the story of Noah when he releases the dove to see if the waters have receded. In Mark the spirit then sends Jesus to the wilderness to face the temptations from Satan.

Although we learn what those were specifically in other parts of the Bible, Mark chooses to simply tell us that it happened and then it ends with “and the angels waited on him.” This in turn connects to the words from our reading in I Peter today which finishes chapter 3 by telling us that Jesus has gone to heaven are resides there at the right hand of God with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him.

The third part of this passage is after Jesus has returned from the wilderness and he begins his ministry. Interestingly by that time John has been arrested and his time of ministry is over. Jesus now begins to proclaim that the time to repent is now. This sounds a lot like what we heard from the scripture lesson on Wednesday, II Corinthians 6:2 said: “See now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation.” What Mark is telling us here is that after the 40 days, after Jesus left the wilderness and all the temptations he went through, he didn’t falter, he didn’t hesitate, but he got right to work: Perhaps an example for us to follow?

On Wednesday I closed the message with the question of how will we return God’s love, or maybe the modern terminology is how can we pay it forward… because we know of course there is no way to pay it back. Yesterday as I was having one of those mother moments off in the corner of the infield watching the results of the event go less than I had hoped, the opening words of Jeremiah 29:11 popped into my head, “I know the plans I have for you” and it finishes with: “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” God knows what plans he has for all of us, for each of us just as he had plans for his Beloved Son, who came to earth to be our Savior.

We might be tempted to fuss and fidget about why we don’t know what those plans are at this time, but one thing we can be sure of, is that what God wants most for us is to resist the temptations that stand in our way, and to turn to him for comfort and guidance and mostly that love that knows no bounds. As we travel through the rest of these 40 days, may we be constantly looking for new ways to share God’s love with those around us. Amen.

Ash Wednesday message:

I have not posted yet this year because I am pondering the upgrade of my blog. I won’t comment any further than this, but for now, I will post the message I gave on Ash Wednesday and maybe later the one I gave last Sunday. In the meantime, no pictures…

Ash Wednesday message. Scriptures used were: Joel 2:1-2, 12-14 & 17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. The title was, “We are loved anyway!!”

Before we get too deeply into our message tonight, I just want to acknowledge that tonight is the fifth time that we have joined together in an Ash Wednesday worship service. Amazing how time flies, no wonder Diane was able to stay here for 20 years, it just goes by so fast. If I wouldn’t have the computer files and the bulletins to prove it, I wouldn’t believe that we have been doing this together for this long. I actually looked it up because I was trying to determine what we have studied during Lent in the past. I could remember most of them off the top of my head, but not all. We looked at: People around Jesus, Places Jesus went, Things Jesus did, and the Things we do. This year we will take a close look at the parable of the Good Samaritan and hopefully what it means to us and in essence how do we see ourselves in terms of that parable. I don’t want to talk about any of that tonight; I just wanted to give you an idea of what we will do so that you know if it is worth putting on your coat and leaving your easy chair to come to Wednesday night services. Of course if the lunch and fellowship afterwards is anything like the past years, it might be worth enduring the service just to get to that part of the evening. Just saying.

This evening I want to talk about a couple of things and hopefully we will hit on the scripture lessons as part of the discussion. Seriously though, during the past four years we have taken the Ash Wednesday scriptures apart in more ways than one. We have also discussed at length our spiritual practices during this season. We won’t be going into any of that either. We have done those talks today is time for something different.

What I want to begin with is a little bit on this idea of 40 days of Lent. The number 40 is pretty significant in scriptures. For starters, the business of Lent has to do with Jesus in the wilderness enduring the temptation of the devil for 40 days, Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years (in an area that should have taken them what—a few weeks to pass through) before God finally let them cross into the Promised Land, then there is the business of Noah and the flood that lasted for 40 days. Understandably there is something about 40. Maybe it is something we could build on.

Think of what we could do in 40 days, or with 40 things, or by doing something during this time other than just showing up in the basement one night for the next 5 weeks to see what is for lunch. I started to think of what I could find time for. The easy thing might be to collect $1 from myself each day and at the end of the time, I would have $40 to share with someone in need. Or if I felt needy myself, maybe I would reduce that to a quarter or a dime or a nickel…

What if I tried to adopt a new habit? If I worked on this everyday for the next 40 days, I should be able to make it a permanent part of my routine…what if that is exercise, maybe not. What if I decided I should read to improve myself, I could plan to read a chapter a day. I might even finish more than one book at that rate. Maybe I could learn to play a new song on the piano. It would probably help if I could play the piano, but that is a different story. Of course there is always the clean out our life sort of project. Maybe I could chose to sort just one drawer or a shelf or a box each day. By the end of Lent, I could have a pretty good handle on the cleaning that needs doing around my place. Well actually it will take at least 5 more times of Lent to get that finished.

What if I took the time to pray for someone each day? By the end of Lent I could have spent time praying for 40 people. Or, if I choose to do something in service for others, something each day—maybe that random acts of kindness thing: open a door, help someone carry something that seems too heavy for them, call someone just to see how they are doing, share my box of chocolates, bake a friend a cake for their birthday, pay the coffee for everyone at the table… you get the idea. If we did that could we change the world, probably not, but we would change a little part of it. So do we do this now, today, this season of Lent? But we didn’t have time to plan, can’t we wait till next year?

In II Corinthians we learn that it is up to us to do it now. At the end of verse 2 Paul writes: “See now is the acceptable time, see now is the day of salvation.” Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Church for them to read in their time, but each time we gather and read this, we hear it new again. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. This is part of what we need to understand in the next 40 days. It isn’t about all that other stuff that I mentioned earlier. Oh yes, it would be great if we could go out and find 40 people to help in some way or other. It would be great if we made a donation of X-times 40 to help out some group or person or facility in need. But the fact is that Paul is telling us whatever you do, do it now. Today is the day. Now is the time. We don’t know when Christ plans to return; we don’t know our day or hour, what we do know is that the words Jesus left for the disciples in Matthew 9:37 and Luke 10:2 are still true today, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

In the beginning of what we read from this same passage, Paul is explaining to the Corinthian church that Jesus was sent to earth to take on the sins of the world. Jesus was the One who knew no sin/Jesus had no sin of his own, nothing. Jesus was sinless, blameless and had no reason at all to be offered up in sacrifice for the world, but because of that totally indescribable intertwining love of God the Father/God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Christ came to earth and died so that we can receive forgiveness and salvation.

And is it because we deserve it? Actually it is quite the opposite.

We are given this opportunity because God loves us. God created us out of love and God redeems us out of love, and it is up to us to accept that love and share it with anyone and everyone that we are able to. This morning when I sat down and opened up my copy of The Upper Room I was struck by just how much God loves us and just how silly it is for us to think that we need to be worthy of that love. We can’t be worthy of God’s love, but the truth is that God gives it to us anyway. The Upper Room today referenced the human lineage of Jesus, and in the lineage we see that Boaz the man who married Ruth and was the great-grandfather of King David was also the son of Rahab the prostitute.

The issue is that God accepts us as we are and gives us a place in the kingdom if we are willing to do what we are asked to do. God accepts us and loves us and forgives us when we turn back from our sinful nature. The words of Joel that we read tonight confirm that forgiveness is ours if we ask, vs. 13 “rend your hearts and not your clothing, Return to the Lord, your God for he is gracious and merciful.” God loves us even in our unworthiness. Seriously there is no way we can ever be worthy unless we accept Christ.

I want to share the jest of something I found in some of my digging in boxes a few weeks ago. I had torn the page out of the back of a Woman’s Day magazine. It was a one page article by Salley Shannon. She writes: “Little Things that Matter Big.” It begins with a story about how she had been given a large bottle of Chanel No. 5, a perfume that she really liked, but she did not use it much because she wanted to save it for “good.” Sometime after she received it, her mother passed away, and she had to stay at her mother’s home during the time of the funeral, and she ended up staying in her mother’s room. While she was there, she found that her mother had been using an old night gown that was falling apart while the new ones that the children had given her for Christmas and birthdays over the years were all in the drawers still in the gift boxes. She also found that the towel she used in the bathroom was falling apart while the new fluffy ones were in the closet untouched. It made her believe that her mother felt unworthy of the pretty and nice new things that her children had given her. Later in the article the woman wrote that when she got home, she realized that her bottle of perfume had dried up from lack of use, apparently because she wasn’t worthy of wearing it. At the end of the article she writes that she has changed and now eats her everyday snacks on her fine china.

I share this story with us tonight so that we can think about the concept of worthy. No one is worthy of God’s love, but we have the opportunity to experience it anyway, that is how much God loves us. Matthew chapter 6 lets us know that God is not looking to reward or to call the righteous in fact at the end of verse 2 it says, “they have received their reward.” Matthew is telling us what Jesus says about those who practice piety, those he calls the hypocrites who ring bells so others see their donation in the offering plate or see their grand demonstrations of prayers. We are not called to make grand gestures. We are called to humble ourselves before God and to store up our treasures in heaven.

The bottom line is that starting today, for the next 40 days, we are called as a congregation to consider the fact that Christ came to earth to endure temptations, betrayal, beatings and even death on the cross not for status or power or wealth or personal gain. Jesus came so that we, us, the people who might be like the women in that story who never quite feel good enough. Jesus did it all for us not because we are worthy, but because we are loved. The question is how will we return that love, or maybe the modern term is how can we pay it forward… because we know there is no way to pay it back. Amen!

Home again, home again

“To market, to market to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again jiggity jig.” It felt good to wake in my own room this morning, but it was not without its problems. My legs hurt like crazy thanks to my wonderfully cuddly cat who insists on sleeping against my right leg. She is also so heavy that I have a tough time moving her in the middle of the night. I finally shifted and then she proceeded to plop right up by my left arm. It is really a no win with her. Both Roger and Sophia were pretty happy to have me home and they stayed with me throughout the night. James said the week I was gone, he barely saw them.

Owl bird feeder

Flocked evergreen

Ice crystals on the chokecherry trees

This morning when I finally was awake enough to look out the window, it must have been around 8:30 a.m., I saw the fog rolling in and the trees were starting to look like they had been flocked before being set out. I quickly dressed and grabbed the camera. This first picture is from the upper deck facing to the east. For the others, I actually went outside and walked in the snow and found objects that were hit with the fog. It was interesting because when I took the first picture the fog seemed to be in the distance out of town or across the creek. By the time I made it downstairs and pulled on a coat to go outside, the trees had been hit and the frost on the clothes line reminded me it is time to remove the clothespins for another season.

The day turned out to be a sunny bright day, and while I am not out and about, I am in middle of trying to sort out the events of the week to pull together a message for church tomorrow as we light the candle of Peace. I will try to post that message so you can see how I have found the events of the past week to sort of throw a little irony into that whole idea of a Peace candle. Perhaps we should all stand shoulder to shoulder with lit candles protesting for the world to be at peace.

Enough for now, hope you have had a restful day!!

Evening sites/sights

Moon above the clouds

Moon in the trees

This past Sunday was the big Super Moon of 2017. As fate would have it, Paulina and I were driving on Sunday when the moon was rising and to top it off there was such a heavy cloud cover that the only thing we could see of the moon was a dim light through one of the clouds in front of us. Fortunately I had captured the almost Super Moon on Saturday night right after we had supper. I looked out the east kitchen window and there it was peaking over the horizon floating up through a ribbon of clouds. It was very pretty especially through the trees and with the blue background. It helped that it was not totally dark. As my late great-aunt Mandy would say, “It was not quite dark, dark.” So the pictures above and beside and around that have anything to do with a moon are from that night to the east of my house across the dike.

Sunset on the campus of University of Jamestown in ND on Mon., Dec. 4, 2017

On Monday evening, I went up to campus to check out practice with Paulina and her friends. It was wonderful to be greeted by many of the other throwers. Of course I expected a hi from Alex (former LHS athlete) and Katie (Paulina’s roommate) and Becca (has thrown with her for two years) but when the sophomore from Mandan came and gave me a half hug greeting, I was quite touched. I stayed on the bench just watching and eventually talking to Coaches Clark and Lemm for a good part of the practice. I sure enjoyed the time there and had a wonderful visit with both of those coaches. They have really been great role models and good examples of how to be coaches for these young men and women. As we were leaving the Larson Center to go to supper, I took the sunset picture that you see to the right. Hopefully I have been able to cut the license plates off the bottom of the picture. I really wish I had a filter to take out the things I don’t want shared on the blog. Perhaps that will be one of my Christmas wishes, if not to get the filter, than to learn to use what I already have. Ha!! Often with us old foggies that is more of the problem. At any rate, I went along to eat with the throwers and it was great! Later I went to Paulina and Katie’s room where we watched The Voice to hear the performances of the Top 10 hoping to make the Top 8. By the time I returned to Jessica’s place, I was tired enough to go to sleep and rest up for the second day of twins.

Lily in the bouncer

Marshall holding his own spoon.

It is Thursday as I am writing this, and I have only one more night to sleep here and get up to the twin’s  voices of squeals and giggles and grunts. I have sure enjoyed this week and can’t wait to see them at Christmas. I suppose by that time Marshall will have figured out crawling and Lily will be near pulling herself up. For starting out as premature babies, they have advanced leaps and bounds and they won’t be little babies for much longer. Of course there is always that weekend in Bismarck if we can swing things around to get there. We shall see…. Wishing all of you safe travels and happy days of preparation for the upcoming holiday season!

Twin pictures

Hey Lily look how I can tip sideways!

Playing “Touched you last.”

Yesterday I took a few pictures of the twins doing some things around the house. Of course I could not resist starting with their little chairs. A legislative friend of Jessica’s gave them the chairs and it is a great gift that will continue to be a great gift as they grow into them more and more. Lily already tried to crawl up onto the chair and then when on slides out as if going down a great hill. I bet next year they would love to come to my house and ride sled down the dike. Of course we officially never, ever do anything like that because of the rules and regulations surrounding the dike, and especially because I am the first to complain if anyone else does it. Ha!! All true! So at any rate hope you enjoy the pictures and the captions.

Playing on the blanket. Lily crawls and Marshall rolls and between the two of them it is a race to see who can get into more items off the blanket or off limits.

Between bites I was having them suck pacifier as I was trying to feed both at one time.

Marshall is wondering if Lily is ever going to finish so he can eat more.

Chilling out watching Sesame Street.

 

In Jamestown with the twins

This week I am taking some time to visit my family in Jamestown. I am specifically spending time with Jessica and watching Lily and Marshall this morning. What personalities! I still have that way old idea that at age 7 months babies should be about eat, sleep and some diaper changes. Marshall let me know when it was time for food while Lily crawled over to the toys and pulled out the one she prefers. What outfits. He has finally decided to nap and she is rocking in her swing. I made a dash for the bathroom now might find a snack before round two. I will try to enjoy this week as much as possible. Although the view out the window pretty much says housebound for now. We are being hit with the first December snow. I wonder if that counts as Christmas snow like in Frosty the Snowman

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