Perfect Cartwheels

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel.

I was a latchkey kid for most afternoons from some point in grade school, on. I was alone for a few hours after school almost every day, and almost always on Saturdays. Every day when I came home from school and every Saturday morning when I woke up, there was a list of chores written in my mother’s recognizable cursive, left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. I’d play all afternoon, watch cartoons and my favorite syndicated shows, talk on the phone with friends and do whatever I wanted, until about ten minutes before my mom was due home. Then I’d quickly do my chores and go upstairs and pretend to be laboring over my homework. One of the things that fell under “do whatever I wanted” was cartwheels. In the living room. Which was, I’m sure, forbidden.

My mother’s living room has always been this vast, unused, somewhat sterile space. Reserved only for the most important of company, we dare not, to this day, enter the room. More recently, my mother quite elderly, has become “lost”, on a couple of different occasions. I’ve been unable to find her. In these instances, both times, I’ve looked everywhere; in her room, her bathroom, the garage, the backyard, the family room where the TV is, her office, which is really where the washer and dryer were intended to go, but the old, oak roll top desk has always resided. The washer and dryer were relegated to the garage. Each time I’ve “lost” my mom, I finally found her, as Jeff Foxworthy would say, in the very last place I looked; the living room. But it stands to reason that it would be the very last place I looked! We never, ever, ever use the room. We’re lucky I just didn’t call the authorities and report a missing person before looking in the living room for her!

The living room is quite large, large enough to do cartwheels, obviously, and has a dining room attached. Fashionable in the 1960’s, the living room is “sunken”, meaning there is a tiny step, say four inches, down into the living room, then back, up, into the dining room. The carpet in the living room has always had a nap, and I think this was a required criteria for the carpet each time the old was replaced with new, which, by the way, was only ever because the color became unfashionable and certainly not because it was worn. The nap of the carpet would tattle immediately, alerting my mom to the fact that someone had trod through the living room. You can imagine what cartwheels would do; handprints and footprints, dozens of them. We won’t even mention the times I roller skated in the living room with the neighbor girl from across the street while our moms were at work!

I just included in my chores each day, a quick run through the living room with the Eureka, canister style, vacuum, carefully “laying down the nap” of the carpet. This was tricky, but I became quite skilled; you simply started at one end of the room and backed your way across, vacuuming in one direction only.

Scarlette Begonia

I was hiking in Marin County last weekend, outside of Bolinas. The trail I sought led to a fresh water waterfall that tumbles onto the beach and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls. This has been on my “to-do” list for quite some time. As I love to take pictures, and especially selfies, I’m a believer in the practice of taking routine, if not daily, selfies, I will frequently dream up opportunities for a great selfie and incorporate it into an activity. Once in a while, I will plan an activity around the idea for a selfie! My idea for a selfie for this particular hike was one of me doing a cartwheel in front of the waterfall and using my miniature tripod and the “Slo-Mo” feature on my iPhone to capture it. I’d then take a screenshot, mid slow-motion video, of the perfect moment of my cartwheel and the most epic selfie of the week would be executed. My hike to Alamere Falls occurred on a very warm, very pleasant, very popular, very crowded Saturday. Though the hike included a quarter mile of crouching through a narrow “poison oak tunnel”, and then required a rather dicey descent down a steep cliff from the top of the waterfall to the beach below, there were hordes of people on the beach. They had all somehow managed to carry umbrellas and picnic baskets and bags of food and blankets and all kinds of crap. It looked like South Beach in Florida during Spring Break. My plans for a selfie were instantly altered from cartwheel on deserted beach to a quick, opportunistic snapshot at the one and only and very precise moment when only the waterfall and I were visible in the viewfinder.

Scarlette Begonia

I still wanted to do a cartwheel, on the beach, selfie or no. But I was afraid. I haven’t done a cartwheel, like Jardin, in a very long time. Am I still capable? Able? What if I tried and failed? I’d be embarrassed. Or worse, maybe I’d be injured and given the state of the trail to the beach, I have to be evacuated to a trauma unit by helicopter! Not likely, I know, but I decided against it and headed back up the cliff, back through the poison oak tunnel, out to the main trail, on to the trailhead where I left my car. Failure.

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

I have similar fears about doing handstands in yoga class. I used to do handstands all the time, in the house, when my mom wasn’t looking. My bedroom door opens up onto a hallway and there used to be a perfectly blank wall right there, so I’d do a handstand and rest my heels against the wall. I did this for most of my childhood and even into early adulthood. As I moved back home, to the same house, a couple of years ago, to help Mom out, I’m back in that same room. However, the wall in the hallway is now adorned with a framed painting by Walter Keane that, for my entire childhood, hung from a wall downstairs in the family room. I often wonder if Mom moved the picture to thwart my secret and unstated desire to practice handstands in the hallway, at the age of 52, so I could hope to successfully perform a handstand in yoga class without trepidation.

Scarlette Begonia

What’s with this fear? And trepidation? What’s with the concern of being embarrassed if I mess up a handstand in yoga class or fall doing a cartwheel on the beach? I know not many 52 year old women are seen doing cartwheels on the beach or handstands, outside of yoga class, but I still want to do them.

Fear and embarrassment. So negative. So limiting. So unlike me.

I’ve thought about practicing cartwheels on the lawn in the backyard, but have been shy about it. The surrounding neighbors have two-story homes with windows that overlook our lawn. Unless I practice under a tree, they “might see me”. And what, I ask myself, would be wrong with that? They might be impressed, or amazed, or inspired! Or maybe they’d think I was odd or silly. So? So, today, this afternoon, after sitting on the deck, reading for a while, I fought back my fear, my trepidation, my embarrassment, my shyness, and I went down the steps and onto the lawn. Okay, yes, I hid under the cover of the boughs of the tree, and I very cautiously, very pensively, positioned myself to do a cartwheel. I did my little hop, skip, and then, just like being a kid; hand, hand, foot, foot. Perfection. I did another, and another, and another. I felt free, and young, and spirited. I felt amazing, I felt proud. I can still do cartwheels and shall now do them whenever and wherever I please. I will, in fact, now go down into the living room, as Mom has toddled off to bed, and I shall do a cartwheel!

Tomorrow morning, I will quickly vacuum the living room, just to lay the nap of the carpet back down.

Then, I think the Walter Keane will be occasionally removed from the hallway wall, when the TV is very loud downstairs, and I shall practice, to my delight, my handstands!

Because it makes me feel happy!

Eat That Frog. Just Do It.

I’ve been putting off writing this, or any article, all week. My creativity has been focused on other things and I just really haven’t felt the urge to write. Sue me. No, don’t. It’s not that I have nothing to say, I just haven’t felt like sitting down and putting it all into words. I decided I just had to “eat that frog”.  That’s right, eating the frog. The frog is the thing you don’t really want to do, but you should, or must, or ought to, or you really, really, deep down inside want to, you just haven’t focused any intent or energy to it, whatever “it” is. For me, this week, this article.

The concept of “eating the frog”; it’s horrible and slimy and gross, but if you just eat it first thing, it’s over with and the rest of the day is like cake! It becomes a mindset, a lifestyle, even.

Eating the frog is a lot like I eat my meals; I eat what I know is healthiest, and usually least tastiest thing on my plate first, like kale, then move to the next healthiest, like zucchini, and leave the least healthiest for last, like the meat, or the pasta, hoping I might be too full to eat it all. Hardly ever the case. I have the appetite of an elephant, I don’t know the meaning of the word “full”. In several respects; my calendar, my closet, my plate, my glass, my suitcase, my iPhone, my hard drive. I could go on. I shan’t.

I attend a local MeetUp group, WINN, Women in Napa Networking. We are “WINNers”. We have a monthly “Eat That Frog” gathering, at a local coffee shop and we talk about our “frogs”, our obstacles, our hold ups, and we share ideas for resolving our little issues. The next month, we report back on our progress. There’s some accountability, which helps, sort of like having your junior high peers jeering you into eating a frog!

Remember the Nike ad campaign “Just Do It”. Did you? Do you? So simple, how can you not just do it? Whatever it is. Doing it should never be that difficult. The key may be in breaking it down into manageable pieces and prioritizing them, perhaps the awfulest, the frogiest, first. Unless it were a really puny frog, it’d probably take more than one bite to eat it, right? Well, there you go! Take those insurmountable tasks or goals, and break them down into manageable pieces, bite by bite, the frog will be easier to eat.

How much do you enjoy the thing you really want to do when you know you have to follow up with all those things you really don’t want to do? Doesn’t it steal some of the joy? It does, and you know it. How many times have you put something off until it could be put off no more and you missed doing something amazing because you were stuck doing that dreaded thing? The dreaded thing that you should’ve done last night, last week, or last month, or last year.

I’ve been eating frogs for a while, now, and think I’ve got it down to an art form. Mostly. I usually have a frog or two on my plate, but I used to be knee deep in frogs.

What are your frogs? Mine? Usually returning the phone call I don’t have an answer for, the desired answer, or that I know is going to take three hours to conclude. Likewise with emails, returning emails without being able to totally thrill, excite and satisfy the recipient’s request, need, or desire. Another frog, rescheduling appointments! I don’t know why it’s a frog, but it is. Vacuuming is a frog, but dusting is the biggest, ugliest, wartiest frog ever. I’ll do dishes, wipe down the stovetop and scrub the sink after every meal. I’ll clean the shower after every use and keep my stuff organized and in its place. But dust? I’ve given up brick-a-brack and knick-knacks for the sheer joy of never having to move anything to dust. Dusting, for me, is best accomplished if I can sit my butt down on the dusty surface and kind of slide across from one end to the other. Then I just toss my jeans in the wash! Vacuuming? If I had my way, I’d have no carpet and just wear socks with a little lemon oil spritzed on, and dance, all over the house. Then, of course, I’d toss my socks in the wash. I rather like doing laundry. I even like to fold, hand and put laundry away. No frogs there! Mailing birthday cards, another frog. I love to buy cards, but I wait until the very last moment to write the sentiment inside. I have no problem addressing them, and even plastering a stamp on the envelope. It’s the act of mailing the card that presents a problem. I just buy a stack of funny cards, sign them all at once, seal them up and at a family or friend get together, everyone gets their card for the year. All at the same time. I bring extras, even, in case there are unexpected guests!

Eating frogs. An analogy. How about this? Would you rather brush your teeth for two full minutes, at least twice a day, floss every tooth once a day, and go to the dentist for a quick, painless cleaning twice a year, or spend many torturous hours over several days, weeks, months, even, and possibly thousands and thousands of dollars because you just couldn’t make yourself do the easy, little things? Tender little tree frogs or a big, bastard of a hairy toad? The choice is yours, my friend.

On a larger scale; what stands between you and, well, you? Are you all that? Are you really the total picture of who you thought you’d be? Or do you have a list? A bucket list? A to do list? Are these lists, in life, getting any shorter, is anything ever getting crossed off? Why not? Is there a frog, or perhaps a whole pond full of frogs, that need to be devoured?

No one is faultless here, I’ve my own list. Believe me, there are some pretty old, big, scary frogs in my pond. But every day, I at least poke at them a little. I’ve got my frog-gigging fork out and I’m taking aim, each and every day. Every now and then, I gig a frog, gulp it down and I start jabbing at the next one. I am sometimes chided for being a compulsive goal setter, for always trying to make progress, for never sitting still, for never just letting go. And to those who notice, I say “thank you, that’s the way I want it, now put the toaster away, we won’t need it again today and I don’t want to have to dust it next month.”

I think a lot of our frogs result from living “beyond our means”. I don’t mean that strictly monetarily, either. Time is money, money is time. I lie. Truthfully, I believe time is more valuable, more precious, than money, in the grand scheme of things. If we live in a home that’s larger than we need, and have more stuff than we require, and commit to more obligations than we can manage, and keep all the catalogs the postman delivers in case we might want to order more stuff we don’t require, pretty soon, we’re buried. In more ways than one. We don’t have the time to catch the frogs we need to eat because we’re over-committed and over-burdened. And the frogs can hide in all that stuff we don’t require! This, in my experience, closely resembles the contemporary, American, family life. I’ve been there. And everyone suffers as a result, whoever is involved; kids, husband, wife, the couple as a couple, the family as a family, friendships, extended family. Cut back, cut out, eat frogs and prosper.

If I had to recommend some resources here, and I’ll keep the list short and manageable, because I know you’ve got other frogs to eat, I’d have to say the three most valuable resources I’ve run across, thus far, would be:

  1. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy
  2. “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay
  3. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Well, it’s 10:36 PM and I really, really want to go to bed. My face is washed, moisturizer applied, teeth brushed, really, really, well, flossed, and my breath is all minty from mouthwash. Oh, but I have a load of wash that just finished up sitting like a big, soggy frog in the washing machine. I washed my favorite jeans, which I’d like to wear tomorrow. Unless I hang them up to dry tonight, they’ll still be wet in the morning and I won’t be able to wear them. There’s my frog. So, nom, nom, nom. Done. And good night.

See, laundry all hung up. Tonight's frog.
Article done AND laundry hung. Tonight’s frog.

Ribbit. Now go eat those frogs.

For the insanely curious, I actually found recipes for frogs, not that this is what this article is really about. I just HAD to know, and now, so do you!

Just Dishing

For something people are so loathe to do, isn’t it amazing how strongly folks feel about how, exactly, dishes are done?

Unless I am completely exhausted, I really don’t mind doing dishes. In fact, I rather like it. When faced with a list of household chores, it is dishes I will tackle first. I am one of those folks who really prefers, okay, insists, that the dishes be done immediately after the meal is consumed. And, to me, “doing dishes” includes, also, the cleansing of counters and stovetops. So, I’m fastidious. In this respect. Dusting and vacuuming? Another story. But, I’m a kitchen person. When I entertain, it is usually the kitchen that becomes the center for visiting and socializing. I may be just a little food-centric.

I have not always felt quite this way. As a child, dishes were one of my chores. I seemed to have many chores as a kid. Both of my parents worked and I always came home from school and woke up on Saturday morning to find a list, in my mother’s familiar cursive, of chores to be completed, satisfactorily, by the time she got home. After dinner, it was my responsibility to clear the table, put the dishes in the dishwasher and clean any pots and pans. I loathed and despised this chore, and rather than just tackling it quickly and efficiently and enjoying the rest of my evening, I would stall and lollygag and take absolutely forever. Of course, after dishes came homework, so maybe I stalled at one to put off the other. I really don’t remember clearly my motives at that time. But, oddly enough, my kids were exactly the same way.

My dad worked every Saturday of my life until he retired, then he did dishes morning, noon and night. My mom, as an R.N., worked many Saturdays. So, Saturday, I did my thing. All day long. I’d make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and bowls of cookie dough and chocolate frosting, which I ate out of the bowl with a spoon. I’d bake Bisquick biscuits and pancakes. And everything would pile up in the sink. Until about 3:00 PM. My mom was due home at about 3:30 PM. At 3:00 PM, I’d stop watching cartoons, or roller skating in the driveway, or doing gymnastics in the living room. I’d turn the stereo down so only I could hear it and the neighbors were, at last, relieved. And I began my chores; ironing my dad’s work shirts, cleaning the bathrooms, all two and a half, vacuuming, dusting, and, last of all, dishes. When my mom entered the house it was as though I’d done nothing all day long but chores. Except it smelled like strangely of pancakes. I’m still under the impression she was fooled. Perhaps not. I don’t know. We don’t discuss it. Her choice.

In college, with roommates, dishes were a source of irritation and disagreements. Living with friends from high school all through college, those friendships would sometimes become strained due to dishes. We all came from different households, of course, where dishes were done (or not) differently, and these differences were not appreciated or understood by anyone else. I came from a home where they were always done immediately after a meal. Others came from homes where they were only done when the cupboards were empty and there was no room left in the sink, on the countertops, the stovetop, in the oven, or the kitchen table. And there was everything in between. And it was always chaos, finger pointing, gossiping, and complaining.

In my own household, married and raising a family, I preferred dishes to be done immediately after a meal, and in the manner I was accustomed to. My husband was not of the same ilk, his mother having passed away when he was a fairly young boy, he was “raised” by his father. And his twin brother. May as well have been raised by wolves. And yet, for someone with no real guidance in the kitchen, he had some very deep seated and non-negotiable kitchen “cleanliness” requirements I just never accepted, appreciated or respected. This, truly, may be one of the irreconcilable differences I list on the divorce papers. Dishes. And in particular, the dish brush and the sponge.

For a time, we lived together, before nuptials. And, for a time, we had roommates to help offset the rent expense. And, for that time, we had one of two problems; dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table and none in the cupboard. The other problem, no dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table, or in the cupboard. No dishes. Anywhere. How could that be? One day, home alone, I sought to investigate this mystery. I carefully and quietly entered the bedroom of our only remaining roommate, Bob, suspecting I might find dishes on his desk, dresser, bookcase, etc. Nope. No dishes. How can dishes just disappear? And then suddenly reappear, dirty, in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, and on the table? Bob’s closet was slightly ajar and as I passed I caught a glimpse of something suspicious. A dish. I ever so quietly pulled the closet door open and found, to my disgust and dismay, every dish we owned, crusted with food, some of it in various states of decay, on the shelf in his closet. Ew. Bob was pissed that I’d entered his room to find such a horror. I was pissed to have entered Bob’s room to find such a horror. Luckily, I won the pissing contest and Bob moved out.

I have observed many friends and their dish doing habits, and everyone seems quite married, or at least betrothed, to their way of doing things. I have one dear, dear, long time friend who has an absolutely perfect, always ready to entertain at a moment’s notice, Sunset magazine kind of home. She lives a completely charmed life in about every way imaginable, but that’s a story for another time. I hate her. I love her. It’s complicated. But really, I love her. No, I hate her. Never mind. It’s complicated. Anyway, when she had her first child “we” (all the girlfriends, spouses and our babies of various annoying ages) visited her, at home, just as she came home from the hospital. This was not my idea, but, rather, that of one of us who did not yet have children and probably, the well-meaning saint she is, thought this was okay. A fantastic meal for many mouths was prepared in her flawless kitchen and a gigantic mess was made in the process. When the food was devoured and it came time to do dishes, the new mother, infant in hand, became Beelzebub himself. She has always been a little “temperamental”, but this was beyond temperamental and more like a tempest. This was the first time, ever, that I became acquainted with the fact that some people really, really, truly, deeply and passionately care about how, exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher. For me, the dishes went in however they fit and they came out clean. End of story. No, not so. The forks go here, this way, the spoons, the dessert spoons, here and that way. The soup spoons here and another way. Bowls here facing this way, plates there facing that way. I need a fucking diagram! I went and changed my son’s diaper. For the fifth time. Though he didn’t require it. Just before the dishes were done, having run out of diapers (how did that happen), we retreated to my mom’s house for the night where the dishes just got put into the dishwasher, the button was pressed and they came out clean. That, too, with time, has changed. With mom. And me. Sort of.

More recently. I have a friend whose house is always a deplorable mess. I have a hard time even entering her house, and yet, she unapologetically continues to invite me into her home. I have actually had the dry heaves a time or two, which I’ve cleverly disguised as a sneeze. It smells like animals she doesn’t even own in there. It smells like dead animals she never owned in there. What did a dead dinosaur smell like? Maybe that’s the odor. I cannot begin to describe the horrors within, except that Bob’s closet did not even hold a candle to all that is her house. The kitchen is the worst. Or maybe the bathroom. Or perhaps the living room. No, the kitchen. I never ate anything at her house or anything that came from her house. Once, when visiting this friend, she was making a “protein shake”. She offered to make me one. I told her I was allergic to protein. I don’t think she believed me. She put the ingredients in a dirty, crusty, opaque with slime blender bowl, placed her hand over the top as a lid, turned it on and poured it into some random and visibly dirty vessel on the counter and licked her hand. She grabbed the cleanest appearing spoon she could find, one positioned disturbingly close to a half full, dried up can of canned cat food and stirred the concoction. Then, to my horror, she licked the spoon, opened a drawer and threw it in like it were clean. I would cringe when I saw people eat things she’d prepared for a potluck. I would tell them, later, unsolicited, but out of a sheer sense of duty, “I have Imodium with me, if you ever need it.” They’d eye me like I was selling street drugs, but on more than one occasion I was sought out for this remedy.

I really don’t know how my parents got me to first of all, consent to do the dishes, dutifully, each and every night, nor do I know how they enforced this request. With my own kids, it was requested and yet, never happened. Perhaps it was because I grew up not really caring about homework, and the struggles that ensued later in life, as a result, I wished my own offspring to avoid. So, when I asked them to do dishes all they need say to ensure their release from such duty was “I have a ton of homework”. That meant, simply enough, I had a ton of dishes to do. Myself, while my spouse sat, comatose, in front of the television, doing finger aerobics with the remote.

Interestingly enough, when my daughter and I went to Girl Scout camp together, we always, always conspired to volunteer to do dishes. And I swear it was her idea more than mine. By doing dishes, you got your required chore done early and fast AND, most importantly, your hands got clean for the first time all day in that wonderful, warm, soapy water. And, if you did the dishes you didn’t have to clean the BIFFY (bathroom in (the) forest for you). Once we returned home, with nice clean, soft hands, though, it was as though she’d never learned to do dishes. Nor could I convince her to clean the BITHY (bathroom in the house (for) you). How did she have homework in July? I’m such a schmuck.

The dish brush and the sponge; twenty years of yuck and one of the (many, many, many, many) straws that finally broke the camel’s back. Perhaps being raised by wolves would have been an improvement, but, somewhere along the line, my husband decided it was proper, heck, absolutely, positively and non-negotiably, required that the dish brush be kept behind the faucet. You know, that little trench of potential disgustingness between the faucet and the wall? Sure, let’s put the slimy, greasy, food encrusted dish brush there and create a miasma in that impossible to clean area. And, let’s just keep the festering sponge next to the faucet on the rim of the sink, until it falls into the sink, in which case, we’ll just pile the dirty, food laden dishes on top of it until we “deep six” the dishes. To “deep six” the dishes, we just fill the sink with hot soapy water and bury the dirty dishes until someone else (me) comes along and puts them in the dishwasher. Meanwhile, the sponge is at the bottom of this science experiment, in now cold, greasy, dirty dishwater and has to be dug out, wrung out, and then, filthy and contaminated, used to “clean” the dishes.

When the dish brush, the sponge and everything else got to the point that I could stand no more (and, really, it was the everything else), I left. I moved to my very own apartment. All by myself. And for the first time, ever, I was in complete control of my environment. I was in heaven. Bliss. Bliss squared. Bliss exponentially an exponential number or times. I embraced this sense of control to an almost unhealthy point. Not a single carpet fiber was out of place. I’ve always liked to make my bed as soon as I got up, but I actually learned how to make my bed, pretty much, as I climbed out from under the covers. Dishes were done the instant the meal was over, including pots and pans, casseroles and serving dishes. The counters were cleansed and so was the stove before, during and after each and every use. And sometimes more often, just because I loved the smell of my “Method” lavender spray cleaner. I began to load my dishwasher in a very specific manner; forks here, spoons there, knives thusly, plates this way, bowls that way. I ran my dishwasher every single night, even if there was only one plate, one knife, one fork and one spoon. I unloaded my dishwasher promptly each morning, after making my bed, while the hot water heated for my coffee. After doing my dishes I actually cleaned and dried out my sink so there would never be those annoying stains I’d have to clean with an abrasive. Same with the shower, as soon as I was done showering, I cleaned and wiped down the shower so I’d never actually have to clean the shower. I loathe and despise, with a passion, shower mold. This was my world. This was my heaven. This was heaven on earth. Then my daughter moved in.

Bless her heart, returning “home” from college to a home she’d never lived in, but a welcome relief from the home we’d lived in for many years beforehand, this new intensity of cleanliness was both welcomed and a bit overwhelming. But, as a result, and with some initial struggle, in her own home now, it is ship shape and tidy and clean. She, ever the entertainer, and now married to her high school sweetheart, their home is much like my dear, old friend’s, who, ironically, also married her high school sweetheart, spotless and always ready for friends to visit, invited or not.

After living in my own apartment for a while, I moved in with my son when his roommates, all friends from high school, moved out to transfer to other schools. Left with a full size, single family dwelling and the full sized lease payment, I decided not to renew my apartment lease, pulled up my perfectly clean and tidy roots and moved into a house that had been occupied by four college boys for a year. It was like a horror movie. There were, literally, footprints on the nine-foot ceilings. Somehow. And the chemical equation for an illegal substance drawn on the plate glass window with a Sharpie. That’s before we even broach the subject of the kitchen. Over the months I was able to slowly transform the trashed house and small yard into something that almost resembled an abode for quasi-normal people. Almost. Even after the house was tidy, though, there continued a small battlefield. The sink. And the stove. Okay, and the refrigerator. We’ll just say the kitchen, to be all-inclusive. And, again, with my son working nearly full-time and attending school full-time, and with him being an adult and, every now and then, paying his portion of the rent, it was difficult to “require” him to do his dishes. But, really, his dishes usually consisted of a coffee cup, a bowl, a spoon and rarely, a pan with greasy taco meat and a taco meat encrusted plate. It was when the girlfriend visited and “graciously” cooked dinner that things got way out of control. My control. And, bless her heart, she had strict parents, and a curfew, so after dinner was “quality time”, which didn’t consist of “you wash, I’ll dry”, so every dish, pot and pan I owned were strewn across the kitchen. If, as on one or two rare occasions, the dishes were done, they were just placed into the dishwasher, un-rinsed and crusted with food. Our dishwasher was, really, only a dish sterilizer, and that I even doubted. You had to completely wash the dishes before washing the dishes or you’d have to re-wash the dishes. And then, there was the china and the crystal and all the cast iron and all those things that just don’t go in the dishwasher. You guessed it, they’d end up in the dishwasher and I’d cringe. And apologize to my dishes in the morning. I don’t know which was worse, when she didn’t do the dishes or when she did. Either way, I was doing the dishes, for the first time, or again. And I don’t know who taught her how to stir, but it looked to me like she tossed everything like green salad. All over the stove. All over the countertops.  All over the floor. And guess who ended up cleaning all this up because she couldn’t stand it? Or because she needed a pan or a plate or a clean stove to cook with. Me. They’ve broken up now, which is sad, of course. And I hope some day, when he is ready, my son finds a nice girl to settle down with who knows how to do dishes. My way.

My son moved out to live with some college kids. Thankfully. We were good roommates, but it is better for him to be with peers, having a college experience. So, I moved home, with Mom, who is nearly ninety and needs a little help around the house. But not with dishes. Mom has her way with dishes and, by golly, they’ve changed dramatically since I was a kid. Now, the dishwasher has to be loaded in a very specific way. She loads in a painstaking manner so unloading it will be easier. What she fails to understand is that, either way, you’re spending about the same amount of effort and time. If it takes considerable effort to load the dishwasher in a very specific manner, it takes less time to unload it. On the other hand, if you just toss the dishes in in any old manner, it takes no time to load it but more time to unload. It’s all the same in the end. This was the logic I tried to apply to my friend and her tyrannical dishwasher-loading tempest many years ago. And, truthfully, I get it now. When it comes to silverware. Categorizing the silverware going into the dishwasher makes unloading it so much easier, you can do it in a couple of handfuls. But applying this method to plates and bowls, which you generally unload one or two at a time anyway, I still don’t get. Do you? But, this is her home, so I play along. Besides, she is hard of hearing and any kind of conversation is difficult enough and if I start to talk about dishes we get off topic on fishes, or wishes, or things that are suspicious. Sigh.

Now I have a wonderful man in my life. Funny, or not, my man is so much like my mom it is almost creepy. Oh, he hears well enough, but he enjoys watching the news. And he has very strong dishwashing preferences. When it comes to dishes, there are definite boundaries. I respect that. If only I had a diagram, though. His dishwasher is his pride, his joy and his kingdom. The plates face this way, the bowls that way and the silverware goes in exactly according to the instructions supplied by the folks who translated the instructions from Chinese into English. I’m cool with that. Just tell me how and I’m happy to do. The funny thing is, since his dishwasher is the shiz, thou shalt not rinse thy dish before placing in thy washer. I struggle with this. I actually feel remorse when I get busted rinsing a dish before placing it precisely so in the dishwasher. Every dishwasher I have ever encountered required the dishes be completely washed, or pressure washed, or maybe just rinsed really, really well, or at least swished a little, under running water. And, bless his heart, as I was doing dishes last week, upon inquiry from the neighbor, I heard him say something about “trying to be more tolerant” of the whole dish thing when others offer to do dishes. I should pay closer attention, I am happy to do the dishes, but I prefer there be peace and harmony in the dishwasher kingdom. I need a flowchart. This is a man who, among other many other things, is an ace in the kitchen, who not only knows who Jacques Pepin is but loves Jacques Pepin and who doesn’t keep a dirty dish brush behind the faucet, but, rather, a clean dish brush in a beautiful, dedicated, ceramic bowl next to the sink. A man who distrusts sponges as much as I do. A man with a container of butter next to the stove for sautéing. A man who will run the dishwasher when all the wine glasses are dirty but the plate rack is still empty. Did I mention I am in love?

So, how is it that we are all so different when it comes to dishes? We are either anal retentive, militant, dish overlords, or we simply don’t see the need to ever cleanse the implements with which we prepare and serve food? Somehow, we even have generational differences. And dishwashing habits can actually cause relationship rifts and can contribute to irreconcilable differences. How does this happen? Are there therapists and psychoanalysts for dishwashing? Should we all just use paper plates? Or perhaps embrace a more minimalist and environmentally responsible mode; a spork and a bowl and one cast iron Dutch oven in every kitchen. The recipe for contentment. How will we ever find peace, harmony, tolerance, understanding, acceptance and the ability to coexist in this world if we can’t even agree on how, or whether, the forks should go into the dishwasher? Is there hope for the kitchen? Is there hope for the world? I don’t know, but I’m hungry. I think I’ll microwave leftovers from the restaurant to avoid having to do dishes tonight. I seek peace.

Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there ... Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there … Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.

Slavery

slav·er·y  

1. The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household.

2.

a. The practice of owning slaves.

b. A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.

3. The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.

4. A condition of hard work and subjection

 

Slavery. I’m against it on every level. I am a proponent of personal freedom, independence and autonomy. My very strong beliefs go well beyond just the exploitation of individuals for the benefit or gain of another.

I am also opposed to enslavement by possessions or by lifestyle. I realize it is not possible to be completely free of your possessions, or of your lifestyle, but you are in control your level of enslavement to those things. And a lifestyle that may seem enslaving to one is an expression of freedom to others. To try to explain:

I have worked full time, or nearly full time, for most of my professional life, spanning over twenty-five years. My work hours ranged from thirty hours a week, in the good old days, to upwards of sixty or seventy hours a week in many years, some quite recent, like most of last year, and probably the remainder of this year. When evening rolls around and I finally turn my back on my work for the night, or when the weekend comes along and I have the opportunity to be home, rather than travelling to or from home for work, the very last thing I want to do is housework and yard work. I do thrive in a clean, neat, tidy, organized home and loathe and despise an unkempt yard. How to manage? One must be both clever and extremely well organized.

There was a time when my children were small and my husband and I were both working hard building our young careers. We cherished our “free time” with our children on evenings and weekends. The house was getting messier than I liked, the yard was overgrown, and tensions were high. During a “discussion” of the state of things, sort of a “state of the household” speech, by yours truly, my husband declared that he would “take care” of the yard and I should take care of the house. He hired a gardener. Never one to be outdone, I hired a housekeeper. Our weekends were ours, and the house and yard were always neat as a pin. This peaceful balance and accord lasted for several years.

I know this isn’t always possible. For instance, it is not a possibility for me now, as income, while more plentiful, my expenses are far, far greater. A college education for two grown children is not cheap and my disposable income has been disposed of for a very long time into the future. So, how to manage both my time and my home? Simply by making the appropriate choices based on my resources and my preferred lifestyle.

First, my preferred lifestyle; I want to be free when I’m not working. I want to go places, visit with friends, dine out, wine taste, travel, run, hike, work out at the gym, etc. I do not want to clean house or do yard work. I do want my house to be spotless and ready for friends to drop by at a moment’s notice. Yes. I want it all. And I’ve got it ALL figured out. Normally. Up until recently, I have chosen to live in places where the yard maintenance has been included with the rent or payment. As far as the inside of my home, I like a more minimalist lifestyle, no clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place. I have given away and sold most of the things I no longer need, want or use. I am vigilant in identifying things that are eligible for purging. I make frequent trips to Goodwill and to the dump. I clean my bathroom and kitchen after every use, vacuum now and then, and have a strict no knick-knack policy. I don’t mind running a dust rag over a nice, sleek surface. I do mind having to dust little bits and things, removing them, replacing them, and having to dust underlying surface in the few brief moments it is exposed.

To further my blissful, stress-less home environment, I don’t even bring junk mail into my house; I enroll in paperless statements and billing and shred anything that HAS to come in paper as soon as I’ve scanned it. Stephen Covey in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that you only ever touch a piece of paper one time. That is my goal, if I have to touch it at all.

I am reading an awesome book right now that I highly, highly recommend for anyone trying to live a more organized, less cluttered, life; “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. Everything the author says resounds with me. I have accomplished much of what she recommends in advance of reading the book, but, of course, could evolve a little more in my efforts to be freer.

So, if I already have a plan, I already have it ALL figure out, what could my dilemma possibly be? I’ve moved in with Mom. She is in complete, total and bonded slavery to her house and her yard. She always has been. Whether by choice or out of duty, I don’t know. She does seem to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from vacuuming for hours on end. And she should really consider wearing a tool belt from which she could hang her Windex and 409 bottles and holster her roll of paper towels. True, I did move in to “help” her, but I don’t remember signing any kind of agreement that said I would be available to clean house and do yard work, to her standards, which, by the way, are impossible to meet and even harder sustain.  Her “system” is impossible for anyone, an able bodied person, but especially for a frail, octogenarian. It is absurdity.

Let’s start with the yards. Front and back. Both really large. Mostly lawn. She has a gardener, now, finally, that comes once a week and mows, blows and goes. For any extra fee he will trim fussy hedges, forming them into right angles unnatural to any growing thing in nature, he’ll prune trees into unrecognizable stumps and things like that. The yards, front and back, both look good. Good enough for company. In fact, her yards look like something straight out of Sunset Magazine from the 1960’s, and therein lies the problem. Her yards, while they do have automatic sprinklers, they harken back to who knows when and are wholly inadequate. She lives in a city with outrageous water rates, and has landscaping that requires “hand” watering several times a week. Which she does with a cane in one hand, the hose in the other. Windex and paper towels close by, I’m certain. She has all kinds of planters and areas that require constant and diligent weeding. This is not the type of yard someone who travels 70% of the time (me) can even begin to maintain, even with a gardener.

The house has always appeared very neat. To guests. When guests are not scheduled to arrive, the house is under constant attack from paper and organizational systems that have never been completely thought through or fully implemented. Things have places but aren’t always in their places, or the proper place for a thing has been forgotten because it is infrequently accessed. Every closet, drawer and cupboard is packed full of items that never get used, but for some reason get kept. Then I move in, and even with my pared down pile of possessions, they look overwhelming piled in the middle of the garage and in the middle of my rooms. I have been provided one very small closet, mostly, and two partial shelves in a cupboard in the garage with the warning that rat turds have been spotted in the vicinity. I keep my food with the rats and have hung clothes in the closet. Everything else remains in boxes. There is a dresser in my bedroom I could put clothes in, but the drawers are completely full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since I vacated the drawers thirty some years ago to go to college.

The house is large, for its era. It was built in 1967 and is probably upwards of fifteen hundred square feet. It is a split-level, so two partial flights of stairs, one seven steps, one eight steps. I count steps. This I learned during my wayward teenage years, trying to sneak in and out after curfew without being detected, interrogated and grounded. The front room is Mom’s “formal living room” with a “formal dining room” adjacent to it. We have never been allowed to set foot in there. Ever. Unless there is company. Then we pretend like we use it all the time. She actually takes one of her four vacuums and “lays the nap down” on the carpet, so if anyone does set foot in the living room or dining room, there is, literally, a trail. There are shelves in the living room and a library table, a coffee table and three end tables, all with decorations on them that require dusting. The rooms do look nice, in the way a furniture catalog does, but they are just big, uninviting, uncomfortable and useless spaces that require way too much effort to maintain. I’m thinking warm, wood floors, large comfy couches and chairs, a coffee table with an interesting book, a picture and a flower.

The guest bathroom is also “my” bathroom. It is always appointed for guests, in that, there are towels on the towel rack that are not to be used or touched, and like the couch and chairs in the “formal living room” are dreadful to touch or use, anyway. Very uninviting, very firm, very uncomfortable.  In addition to the fussy, stiff towels I don’t dare touch, there is a basket that occupies one corner of the bathtub. It is lined with a crisp, eyelet napkin or handkerchief or some fussy bit. Inside the lined basket there used to reside little bottles of shampoo and lotions my parents schlepped home from all three vacations they took in their lifetime. Now those pretty little bottles are aged and yellow, and to them have been added the little squeeze packets of free shit that comes in the mail, and weird stuff that was brought home from the hospital after each and every one of my father’s numerous admissions in the latter years. There is also an odd, gold encrusted bottle full of water with bright green food coloring added to it stationed in the other corner. And a candle perched on the ledge, even though we aren’t to ever burn candles. My mom believes that all candles are made of intuitive napalm that will explode into gelatinous flame the instant we turn away for a moment and will take the house down in a furious infrerno. Hey, at least we wouldn’t have to clean! We just buy candles for the edge of the bathtub and the back of the toilet, I guess, to look like a “normal” house on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. All of these oddities require being moved and replaced every time I shower. The shower is tiled, the original, from 1967. It is in fairly good shape considering I used the shower daily as a teenager and didn’t follow the rules. The rules; you have to first squeegee the shower immediately after use, then towel it down. And, truthfully, I am fine with it. I admit, though, just toweling it down is fine, I’ve been doing this for years and I never, ever, ever have to clean my shower or bathtub! It’s the odd decorative inhabitants of the shower, I guess, that I am objecting to.

All three bedrooms have lovely hard wood floors that have been all covered up with the most hideous floor coverings money can buy. Rugs. Strange area rugs that require care and vacuuming. As do the floors underneath. Twice the work. There are shelves of every shape and size, desks and dressers, all burdened with an army of odd little knick knacks that sort of make the house look like the Goodwill store, or Dollar Tree. There are strange little plaques “decorating” the walls that must have been crafty little gifts from well meaning and not terribly talented friends that remind us that we are “special” and such. All of these artifacts require dusting, individually. They need to be removed from their station to dust beneath them all, and then they have to be replaced. Dusting, alone, must take eons.

Windows; there are lots of windows. I think windows are great! I love natural light. Mom has a compulsion with windows that I fail to understand. I know windows need to be washed, inside and out. I think once a quarter is about right. She has washed them, inside and out, three times this week, because company is coming two weeks from today. I’m quite certain the “smudges” she sees are where the glass has been worn thin from the years of exuberant window washing. I’m quite certain of this fact, I really don’t remember being able to hear everything going on outside from inside, while growing up in the house. I think the glass windowpanes are actually thinner! I can hear everything! Well, perhaps the forty six year old windows just need to be replaced, but that’s a subject for another time.

I decided to flee today; the Windex fumes and the relentless roar of one of the vacuums were not conducive to working, even with the door shut. There must be some expectation of shared enslavement to this inefficient lifestyle and compulsive Sunset magazine cover status. I did not agree to this. I am happy to clean up the kitchen to a sparkling shine every time I use it. I am delighted to clean up my bathroom, all the way down to replacing the fussy little basket, the grotesque green liquid filled bottle and the decorative napalm candle after my shower. I will vacuum on occasion, sooner if I notice a rat turd, which, thankfully, I haven’t. I think the Windex fumes probably killed them. I will dust sleek surfaces I am in control of. I do not have clutter to chase, as long as I have dresser drawers and a closet floor for my clothes and shoes, that currently reside in boxes I have to stack and restack to access the contents of. I will even wash windows, inside and out, once a quarter, with non-toxic and Earth friendly products.

So, I moved in to help, and here I sit at the Oxbow Public Market, across town, I’ve finished my work and have chosen to write from here, too, rather than return home. So what happens when Mom can no longer care for the house to her liking, be that next week or in another decade? If we keep it, it will become mine. I’m about ready to call the realtor now! But, if it were my house, or I were placed in charge of the house, I would break the chains of enslavement. Beginning outdoors, assuming I didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to replace the lawns with an attractive, low maintenance, drought tolerant yard, I’d at least re-do the sprinklers. I’d replace the planters requiring weeding with low maintenance patios that could be populated with chairs and a container garden, maybe, with easy to care for and very hardy plants. Maybe a fire pit and a water feature. The rest would be left to nature, as there is a creek full of oak tress that offers a lovely, serene and natural backdrop. I would leave the leaves on the ground, rather than pay someone to make them go away, so they would provide a natural mulch in that area, preventing the growth of weeds and nourishing the soil, keeping it moist without as much water. The hedges and fussy trees would be replaced with things that didn’t require constant pruning into weird, contrived and unnatural shapes for growing things. When have you ever seen a shrub with right angles in nature, let alone an entire fifty-foot row of them?

Indoors. I would rent a dumpster and conduct a knick-knack holocaust. I would have the industrial shredding company pull up their largest truck and haul away every scrap of paper. Every closet, drawer and cupboard would be completely emptied and only those items that have been used in the past year would be replaced into them, and then, only after very careful consideration. It if isn’t loved, it isn’t kept. We owe no duty or obligation to any inanimate object occupying a space in our home.

Sounds great! I’d like to do that now! But it is my mom’s home, her pride and joy, and I think a very real reason she is still ambulatory, I think it provides her a sense of purpose. So, out of respect for her, I don’t want to force any issues. Tensions are rising, though; an air of martyrdom has developed relating to her “having to clean the house”. The house is as clean as it’s going to get for the impending company. We just need to stuff all the shopping lists, catalogs, and scraps of newspapers into one of the drawers, cupboards or closets. The carpet couldn’t be much cleaner, the windows most definitely are not capable of becoming any cleaner. I could offer to mop the floors, I have no problem with that. But, I really, really doubt that my mom’s twin sister and her husband, who are failing in sight, are going to notice that the floors aren’t waxed. Personally, I think it’s borderline criminal to wax floors when ninety-year-old people are going to be walking on them!

So, with that, I suppose I’d better head home and get to mopping. It’s Friday night and I’ve been working hard all week. I’m ready to relax with a glass of wine and a good book before getting a good night’s rest before a very long training run very early tomorrow. Is it bad I have plans other than vacuuming, mopping, dusting and washing windows tomorrow? The dirt, real or imagined, will wait. I’m no slave.