There's fun to be had in cleaning up after a tough winter

BY SUSAN DROMEY HEETER April 14. 2014 4:52PM

Much as we in New Hampshire moaned and groaned about the snow from this endlessly cold and horrendously long winter, as that white stuff melts, we have something in its wake upon also which to moan: Sand. Salt. Mud. Dog, ahem, repositories. Cigarette butts. Those flip flops I lost last September.

Alas, as we commence the spring cleanup, must it all be a continuation of drudgery? A continuation of the moans and groans? No, dear Down to Earth readers, this mud season, this time of cleanup can be filled with fun and joy and healthy competition. Really. Read on.

I have the glorious opportunity of being in charge of the St. Mary Academy Student Council in Dover. These kids are not only fabulous, they are always ready to prove themselves, to go the extra mile, to serve their community with grace, dignity and energy I wish I could harness for myself.

Each year, these cherubs are in charge of recycling at SMA, of re-using, recycling, even re-wearing just about everything. We recycle as much as we can at Saint Mary Academy: uniforms, paper, milk cartons, ink cartridges and sand.

Sand? Really? Yup, our school yard rests upon pavement and the winter brought with it loads of snow, ice and, yes, sand. And so spring brings the "Battle of the Sands."

Come spring, the St. Mary Academy Student Council gathers its tools and makes a very fierce competition of gathering up this sand so we might re-use it for next year's winter. Teams are chosen and have names, including the Sand Lots, the Sandy Duncans, the Sand Storms, Mr. SandMan, the Sandra Bullocks, the Sanda Clauses. Each team then takes turns choosing tools they will utilize to scoop up this sand. Shovels, brooms, dustpans, rakes are all in high demand. After each team is outfitted, the timer is set and then the clouds of dust rise, the white shirts turn gray, the yard transforms from a sandy, dirty lot to a pristine area with nary a grain of sand or dirt.

And this takes about 10 minutes. Yup, 10 minutes. Last year, the students swept up over 200 pounds of sand we re-used this winter. Yes, 20 kids, a couple of wheelbarrows and 200 pounds of success. The winning team ended up earning a candy bar and were thrilled. Alas, all students now ask, "When are we doing the Battle of the Sands?" It's a big deal, huge fun and this year we'll do another contest asking students and staff to guess the amount of sand we'll collect. The winners will earn a bag of homemade popcorn. Yes, a win/win all around.

But what does this have to do with you, dear Down to Earth readers? Well, just as Tom Sawyer used fun and coercion to get his fence painted, and I've convinced students that sweeping sand can be a blast, perhaps there is some way you, too, could find the joy in this mud season of melting snow, of the "before" picture in the spring. Why not bring back the joy in seeing how much you can rake in 10 minutes? Or better yet, your grandchildren. Or your neighbors.

Arrange a competition where the stakes are high, bragging rights a priority. Bring the fun back in cleaning, the joy in seeing how much you can do in a quick amount of time. And then, dear Down to Earth readers, enjoy the bliss of a job well done.

Happy April clean up! Bring on the joy … and competition.

Susan Dromey Heeter's "Down to Earth" column appears the third Tuesday of the month in At Home. Her other column, Budget Vogue, appears the first Sunday of the month in the New Hampshire Sunday News.

House and home

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