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Life's Little Lessons

By Day 3 of Winter Storm 2011, my children transformed from snow-loving, trash-can-sledding, snowball-throwing dudes into pajama-wearing, snack-snarfing, mess-making slugs. I could hardly look at them anymore, as they devolved into nearly unrecognizable life forms, mere blobs of their former selves.

Unable to stand another minute of slack-jawed kids wearing various degrees of bedroom attire and moving in slow motion, I busted out my Better Homes and Gardens January issue. They never knew what hit them.

Now before you conjure up an image of me rolling that magazine and whipping them up off the sofas, you should know that I'm more creative than that with torture and motivation. Inspired by the article Cool, Calm and Decluttered , I ran a contest.

It had all the elements of a good game: a grand prize, a time limit, rules and kids calling each other "Cheater!" Believe it or not, they quivered over the prospect of doing something productive.

Goal: Collect the most things for the Salvation Army.

Time: 20 minutes.


$5 for the most items collected.

$4 for the second most items.

$3 for the third most.

$2 for the loser.


No trash. Throw trash away. (They left trash where it was. I chose not to invoke penalties.)

Donate only items over which you have decision-making jurisdiction. (I should have defined that.)

You must participate to win. (I could tell the 15-year-old planned to slink to his room and wait it out until the awards.)

No school books or school supplies.

"On your marks, get set, go!" I said. Up the stairs they scrambled.

Soon, the 13-year-old came down with a handful of stuff, placed it in his pile and resumed sitting on the sofa. "How much time is left?" he asked.

"Eighteen minutes."

"OK," he replied with a yawn and got comfortable, only getting up to steal some of his 9- year-old sister's entries. Shrill screams quickly put an end to his devious behavior, however, and sent him slinking back to the couch. The 11-year-old, seeing his sister distracted, seized the opportunity to hasten to build his pile higher than hers.

I yelled "Time!" and my 13-year-old son breathed a sigh of relief. My youngest son and daughter brought their last contributions, dumped them on the floor and boasted of their anticipated wins, until their oldest brother emerged with four grocery bags filled with tiny objects.

As I began to count, I discovered that my 11-year-old son had contributed all of his underwear, undershirts and church clothes to the cause of winning $5. It was then that I realized that what might have become a shining moment was saved by a shining moment.

(Lucy Adams is a weekly columnist, freelance writer and author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run . She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at and visit her Web site,

Web posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011

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