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Posts Tagged ‘Housework’

I am about to recommend a product to you that I now find indispensable. But I want to include a couple of caveats before I do so.

The first is this post’s unfortunate proximity to Mother’s Day. I can (sigh) imagine some people (not you, but I bet you can think of the type of someone I mean) reading this post and leaping up and shrieking, “That’s it! That’s the perfect gift for A Mother!” And while yes, I love it because it is extremely useful, and while I do in fact use it during the execution of tasks that are often left exclusively to mothers, I would argue vehemently that products which make it easier/simpler/more efficient/better for a mother to execute her duties should NOT be given at Mother’s Day gifts, but instead should be considered legitimate business expenses, and items required to do the work of a household, and should be categorized with things like cleansers and mops rather than lumped into the gift category. Just as an office would not consider an ergonomic chair or a wireless mouse to be GIFTS for the person using them, an air fryer or a new washing machine or a new zooper should be considered tools that make it easier or more efficient for a homemaker to complete the work of running a household. Not. Gifts.

I know – I KNOW – that sometimes a big extravagant purchase like a washing machine can put a strain on a household budget. And yet I would still argue that it should not be re-categorized as a gift. Unless and only if the washing machine is also counted as a gift for Father’s Day as well. 

So I am not recommending this as a gift. Maybe – maybe – I could see it as a stocking stuffer, IF multiple people of multiple sexes and familial roles received it all at the same time.

Okay. So that is the main caveat. 

The second caveat is that this is a single-use item. At least in my household. I see that the product manufacturers/marketers have tried valiantly to come up with alternate uses, but please note my Raised Eyebrow of Skepticism and Uh-Huh, Sure. I don’t usually like single-use products, but I like this one. It is so effective at its one job (and so small and easy to slip into a drawer) that when I somehow lost mine, I immediately ordered ten more. (To be fair, I ordered ten more only because it comes in a pack of ten.) 

Anyway. All caveats aside: the product is a pan scraper. It is made of a stiff plastic and it is about the size of a credit card. I use it to scrape the egg off of a pan when I have made scrambled eggs.

(image from amazon.com) I don’t know that I ever really noticed the different shaped corners? But sure, whatever.

I do not particularly LIKE eggs, but I eat them a lot. And the egg never fails to form a thin veneer across the top of the supposedly non-stick coating of my pan. A veneer that is so adhesive, it’s a wonder that the folks at Elmer’s haven’t patented it. 

I use a stiff-bristled scrubber to clean my dishes. But my scrubber does not work well on the egg veneer. Sometimes, after several soakings and applying lots of elbow grease, it will come off. But then the egg transfers to the bristles of the scrub brush and refuses to come off. REFUSES. It pains me to admit that I have thrown away more than one scrubber due to stubborn egg scraps.

Even the miracle that is Dawn Powerwash has little effect on the egg veneer. 

But the scraper clears the egg in a few seconds! It is magic! You just… scrape the egg off, rinse the pan, and you’re done. No soaking necessary. Because I like to hand wash things as infrequently as possible, I drop the scraper itself into the dishwasher and I am done. MAGIC. 

As I said before, this scraper is small enough that I tuck it inside the front face of my kitchen tool drawer. It is very unobtrusive and waits patiently until the next time I make eggs. 

(image from amazon.com) The pan scraper marketing team is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here for alternate uses. See what I did there?

The scrapers come in a pack of ten, and they are ten for $9.99 right now. NINETY-NINE CENTS FOR A RELIABLE AND USEFUL TOOL IS SUCH A DEAL. I have already gotten far more than my money’s worth out of this little product, and I measure that by number of stiff-bristled scrubbers I have NOT had to throw away, which are apparently $7.99 apiece, and also in minutes of grumpy scrubbing.

The first scraper I got was from a friend. I went over to her house to pick up Carla from a playdate, and she said, “Here, I have a pan scraper for you.” I was skeptical, and yet it has been one of the most useful products in my kitchen. I use it way more than I use my Instant Pot, that’s for sure. If you bought a ten pack, think of how you could casually hand a few out to friends, and BLOW THEIR MINDS with this tiny unassuming powerhouse?!

Okay, and now I want to know if YOU have any little heroes in your house that I have been overlooking.

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I am sitting in a dark house, staring out at a brooding sky and wind-tossed trees. It is deliciously quiet right now. Thanks to your powerful not-Covid thoughts, Carla is Covid negative and back at school. Hooray!

We were very productive yesterday: in addition to going to the doctor, I did four loads of laundry – INCLUDING folding – and have a last load waiting for me to put it in the washer (I have been trying to see a load through from hamper to folding before I start a new load; reduces the pile up). We also cleaned out Carla’s desk, which had an entire trash bag’s worth of junk in it, and we listened to Project Hail Mary (which I listened to based on Jaida’s excellent recommendation and loved so much that I explained it to Carla, and my enthusiasm made her want to listen to it also), and we watched a very long video of someone who gives makeovers to OMG dolls. Carla subsequently added “liquid latex” and “heat gun” to her list of must-have crafting items. It was nice to have a little extra time with my kid, but she has another day off coming up and I am very glad she is back at school.

After I dropped Carla off, I went to the grocery store and spent all our savings on food. I have not been noticing a huge number of shortages… things seem to have leveled off, a bit. (Although at Costco this weekend, there was no Kirkland-brand toilet paper, and both toilet paper and paper towels were one-per-customer.) Plenty of staples – beans, pasta, flour, sugar, pepperoni. Even Lunchables are available again. A thing that I do find concerning is that Target now has “only X left” on pretty much anything I try to order online. This is true whether I choose “pick-up” or “shipping” as my delivery option. It could simply be marketers playing to the scarcity strategy, but whatever it is, it definitely cues my panic response.

You know a thing that I find unnecessarily anxiety-provoking? When someone can’t hear what you’re saying. The checker at the grocery store had a hard time hearing me, and was really frustrated-acting about it. Which I get! It must be frustrating, to not hear someone! And I am sure that she has to deal with this same situation multiple times per day, what with people wearing masks, and her being stuck behind a plexiglass shield and all. But she did that thing where she shook her head and closed her eyes in an “I am counting to ten” kind of way, and, her tone said “this is entirely YOUR fault” and I felt helpless and defensive and equally frustrated that I couldn’t make myself heard and ugh. I just hate that. Makes me feel shaky and tearful when it should be a simple exchange of, “Oh, sorry! I will speak up!” and “Thank you! That’s better!” instead of disgusted dismissive shrugging like I am purposefully being a jerk.

She also seemed mad at me that I asked her to re-scan my apples. I bought Jonagold apples because a) I can’t remember the last time I ate a Jonagold apple, and cannot remember how they taste and b) because they looked so beautiful and shiny and red. I purposely avoided the Honeycrisp apples because a) they were $0.50 per pound more expensive and b) also looked pale and bloated. So I pointed out that they had rung up as the wrong apple – which she had me repeat twice – and then she said in an angry way, “Well, they come up as Honeycrisp when I type in the number on the tag.” Which. Okay. Either some Honeycrisp apples migrated into the Jonagold section or the tag was incorrect or the computer was reading them incorrectly or she typed the number into the computer incorrectly or I blacked out in the apple section and got Honeycrisp instead of Jonagold… I don’t know, but it didn’t seem to me that I had been BLAMING her for doing something WRONG when that is clearly how it came across. She is never as friendly as some of the checkers, but she sure drank some curdled milk this morning or something.

A package of M&Ms classic mix (M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, and peanut butter M&Ms all in a single bag) caught my eye at the checkout, but I neglected to act on my impulse and buy it. I wavered because I don’t really like plain M&Ms. But I am regretting my inaction now.

We got the bill for the exterminator, and it was MUCH higher than indicated in our previous infuriating and elliptical conversation. And I can’t decide whether I need to simply pay it and find a new exterminator service or if I should email him back and request an explanation. And I KNOW that prices are rising and costs are increasing, so there could be a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy. But I want to KNOW. I don’t want to just pay whatever he says the price is, willy nilly. We got a nice letter from our snowplow service saying – in advance – that they had a lot of increased costs and so our bill would go up, and I really appreciate that kind of up-front transparency. We will gladly pay the increase. Part of me wants to email the exterminator, just to see what he says. Although I am afraid he will then call me.

My root canal takes place next week. My husband took the day off from work and will drive me to and from the appointment and presumably ensure I don’t die afterward. I am not looking forward to it. But it will be nice to no longer have severe pain in my jaw. (Although I have heard plenty of stories about root canals not “taking” and needing to be repeated. Arrrrggghhhhh.)

This past Sunday, because Carla wasn’t going to school the following day, the three of us watched Cruella, with Emmas Stone and Thompson. There were some men in it, too, but the Emmas were the real stars. It was a decent movie, although it made Cruella a little too sympathetic, and I still am not quite sure I can make the narrative jump to her wanting to skin and wear a bunch of a Dalmatians as a coat. Also, the whole nature-vs-nurture theme of the movie could have done with a little more thinking through, but I suppose what do you want from a children’s storybook villain origin story. Carla was quite taken with her and has resumed speaking with a semi-British accent.

This is a bit of a delicate topic, maybe. But… do you shave your face? I had not done any sort of facial hair removal until a couple of months ago, aside from an occasional plucking of a stray eyebrow hair, or pulling out the hair that insists on sprouting witchily from the mole on my chin. But now I am completely obsessed with these Tinkle razors. I think I have used these enough times now to be able to recommend them with confidence. A little back story: an acquaintance mentioned these to me over the summer, and said she’d gotten a couple extra and she would give them to me. Note that she did not ask if I wanted them. Then the next couple of times we ran into each other, she’d slap her thigh and say, “Oh darn, I forgot to bring them for you!” As you might imagine, after each of these exchanges, I would spend long minutes with my face pressed up against the mirror, trying to determine whether my peach fuzz had graduated into full on facial shrubbery. Surely, my furry outer layer was so evident that this person felt COMPELLED to get me to take action. So when she finally pressed a couple into my hands, I was ready to give them a try. I had never tried any sort of facial hair removal options before because my mother had always given me stern and strenuous warnings about how the hair would grow back thicker and darker than before. A mother’s admonitions are a hard thing to get past, even when one is in her fifth decade of life. So far, I have not noticed this to be the case with the Tinkle razors. There is a period during which the face feels a teeny bit rougher than normal, but then the hair goes back to its normal downy state, and I haven’t noticed any change in color whatsoever. Anyway, these are very easy to use and I LOVE THEM and I am not going back and if you are looking for a facial hair solution I recommend you give these a go.

What are we supposed to be watching on TV these days? My husband and I watched Midnight Mass (interesting and thoughtful concept; Hamish Linklater; too many long-winded monologues) and Squid Game (VERY stressful but impossible to stop once we started) and are of course watching the latest season of Great British Baking Show. But we need something new. I want to watch that murder comedy with Selena Gomez (Only Murders in the Building) and my husband wants to watch Succession and neither of us is particularly excited about the other’s choice. What have you watched recently and loved?

I looked up the person who does the OMG doll makeovers and she apparently makes somewhere around $14,000 a month.

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I have a case of the grumps, and I can trace each grump directly to its source, and they are all very mundane and so silly that my inner critic is standing there with her hands on her hips and her head tilted condescendingly saying, “Perhaps you should be grateful that you aren’t an Afghan refugee instead of whining about your perfectly lovely life, ever think about that, hmmm?” Well. She can eat a bee. Sometimes the only way to escape a particularly irksome grump is to share it, so here we go.

  • I am living in filth. My lovely, creative, crafty daughter has crafted our house into a trash heap. (I trust that you will understand I mean “likes to make crafts” here rather than “deceitful and cunning.”) Her gorgeous brain is constantly coming up with things to make and build and decorate, and I love it. I do. I am astonished by the things she thinks up and astounded by how she can bring them to life with scraps of plastic and bits of cardboard and copious amount of glue. And yet despite my pride and delight in her crafty pursuits, I have begun to feel like I am living in an actual garbage dump. Carla has an entire designated craft cabinet in which to stow her materials, but the results of her work end up everywhere. Little tiny seashells made into crabs. Skewers turned into swingsets and chopsticks and the legs of little clay beings. Cardboard shelving units and apartment blocks. Toys wearing clothing made of paper and string. Purses made out of plastic and cloth and clay. Little bits of paper that now represent dog food, toilet paper rolls, confetti, Barbie workbooks. There is no place to PUT these creations, and of course each one is rare and precious, so we have designated a section of the dining room (which is never, ever used for dining) as the Craft Waiting Area. But do the crafts wait quietly in their area, until such time as Carla deems them ready for the great Outdoor Craft Storage Compartment? No they do not. They migrate. And, with them, creative detritus piles up. Sheets of foam that have been cut into jagged lace. Broken bits of pottery. Plastic baggies. Pencils. Scissors. Sequins. Stickers. Chunks of clay. Slabs of dried glue. Q-tips. Empty play-doh containers. Rocks. Fluffy rainbow pom poms. Barettes. Three sets of needle nose pliers. Pencils, markers, paintbrushes, and pens. Corners and slips and strips of paper. Plastic baggies filled with scraps of paper and broken crayons and tiny rubber bands and bits of yarn. IT IS A GARBAGE DUMP. And, have I mentioned, every single scrap of anything is PRECIOUS and USEFUL and NECESSARY. If ever I suggest moving any of these items into the trash, Carla collapses in tears of betrayal and shock.
This is a photo I took several weeks ago, and it isn’t anywhere near as bad as things were this morning. Picture this doubled.
More detailed look at all the bits and bobs. Note the scrap of masking tape on the wall, there for no reason at all.
  • My family and I continue to require sustenance. Dinner continues to seem like an alien concept. I continue to suffer from meal-amnesia. Since Monday, my family and I have eaten tacos three times: I went to the grocery store with literally only the single idea for a meal this week (tacos), hoping that the shelves would shove meal ideas at me (they did not) (except, I guess, in the case I am about to describe), and when I walked in, there was a display of everything a human could need to make fish tacos, so I bought those things and we ate fish tacos Monday, leftover fish tacos Wednesday, ground beef tacos Thursday, and, on Tuesday, the chicken shawarma that I had planned and purchased for the first week of October. Yes, the broccoli managed to survive that long in my crisper. I have absolutely NO IDEA what to make for dinner tonight. My in laws are back next week (for two weeks), and I doubt that they will be as amenable to Tacos Every Day as my husband and child are, and yet I have no ideas. Food is a mystery. And even though I have catalogued my own meal planning here for several years now, and have multitudes of recipes both in my online files and in the files in my kitchen… and despite having access to both dozens of cookbooks AND the internet, I have no ideas. None. If you were to press a recipe into my hands and say “Make this,” it would surely gradually dissolve into gas and float away on the air.  

  • My husband is giving me guff about holiday cards. It is no secret, either here or in my marriage, that holiday cards are MY FAVORITE PART OF THE HOLIDAYS. I love to send them, I love to receive them. I love them. I thought this was well-established. I thought that my husband, who doesn’t give a goat’s beard about any of it, had nonetheless fallen in line. AND YET. I requested that we go somewhere pretty this weekend to take a family photo for holiday cards, and he grumbled that he doesn’t WANT to do holiday cards. They are stupid and a waste of time and money. While he is entitled to his own grumps, of course, I am feeling CRANKY AND STUBBORN. This is My Thing. Why is he objecting? It will take an hour, maybe, to find a spot and take a serviceable photo. I will do the card-options-narrowing-down work, and offer him a few to choose from. I will send them out. It is not a big drain on him, time-wise. Money-wise, sure, it’s not super expensive. But it’s not going to break the bank. Why can’t he just bend to my will? Why can’t he just fall in line? WHY????? (We have taken exactly two (2) photos of the three of us since summer of 2020. Neither is holiday card worthy, you will just have to trust me. And I would slap a bunch of photos from throughout the year on a card and call it a day in a frosty second, but my husband always, always hates those kinds of cards when I mock them up, and despite the fact that he is making the whole thing harder than it needs to be, he and I still feel he gets a say in a card representing/featuring him that goes to all our friends and family.)

  • Our health insurance is being downgraded. Oh, excuse me: “improved” and “enhanced.” I get that my husband’s company is a business, and they need to find ways to keep costs down, blah blah blah. And I get that I am very fortunate to have access to health insurance at all, and the means to pay for it. But I am still DEEPLY ANNOYED. Mainly because my husband’s hospital system is trying to spin it as a benefit when it clearly is NOT. They sent out this piece of direct mail giving us a heads-up about one of the changes to the insurance plan, which is that they are going to now “leverage” the hospital system’s own pharmacy system. Isn’t that great?!?! Aren’t we so happy?!?! They alluded to benefits from this change: We are now going to “get the best medication outcomes.” What the fluff does that mean? We will now have the “convenience” of using hospital pharmacies (NOT convenient, unless you are at one of the FOUR ON-SITE PHARMACIES in a 100-mile radius) or mail-order (NOT convenient if you have a necessary daily medication that happens to be a controlled substance and may not be available via mail order). And we will have “one card” for pharmacy and medical insurance coverage. Wowee, what a benefit! (Eye roll.) I suppose they do also allude to lower costs. There is also a black box notifying us that we need to stock up on medications so that the switch to the new plan doesn’t affect our prescriptions. Is this even possible with the medications we have? WHO KNOWS. And then it says to go to the website of the new company for more details. But the website does not have ANY USEFUL DETAILS for non-members. This does not feel like they are “expanding and enhancing” my healthcare benefits, that’s for sure.

  • We still have not completed my gallery wall dream. I have been saying for years that I want to have a gallery wall of photos/paintings in our living room. And my husband keeps jumping on and off board. The artwork and empty frames that I had chosen for the gallery wall have been pushed up against the dining room wall (see above) for months and months now, and I think I may have to admit defeat. It is not going to happen in this house. My husband has no interest in helping me plan, but I will need his help to execute the whole thing, and I just don’t know if I can summon enough umph to see it through. So I am summoning grump instead.

To help counteract the Grumps, I will share two goods:

  • The other day I went to a Work Event. I was very anxious about a) being around a bunch of people at a restaurant and b) feeling self-conscious about all the weight I’ve gained since I last saw these people and c) worrying that my much-increased social anxiety would make me panicky and weird. I went out and bought an entire new outfit; I haven’t had to don Office Wear regularly since 2016, and I have since been hard at work “expanding and enhancing” my size, so I had nothing remotely appropriate to wear. I got a pair of black dress pants and a burgundy sweater at Talbots (for 30% off! plus 10% off for joining their rewards program! plus $10 off for joining their mobile mailing list!), which helped tremendously. I felt like I looked put together and appropriate, and like someone who would be totally competent at doing freelance work in the future. But, even better, the event was GREAT. It was outdoors, everyone was vaccinated, and I hadn’t seen most of the attendees in five years. People gave me hugs and seemed genuinely excited to see me and we had comfortable, easy conversations and the whole thing was super, super lovely.

  • I have hacked away at some of the trash heap. Just now, I got a surge of Living In Garbage-related energy and tackled both the Dining Room Trash Heap and Carla’s craft cabinet, and threw a LOT of stuff away, but also organized everything. It doesn’t look good, but it looks significantly better, and now feel much less Strangled By Junk. Hopefully I can persuade Carla that I kept most of her things and simply organized them all in a way that looks like I threw most of it in the trash (I did throw a lot of things in the trash – but really, WHO NEEDS ten plastic baggies filled with tiny bits of paper and string and the cottony ends of Q-tips? The garbage bin, is who.) I need to take a similar approach to her desk in her bedroom, and then we’ll really be rocking and rolling.
At least it is all contained to the giant slab of cardboard now. If I move the artwork and frames down to the basement, it will look even better.

Tell me your grumps, if you’ve got em.

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Carla has begun third grade and by all reports, it is going swimmingly so far. While I miss having her sunshiny presence in the house, I have been eager to get my days back. I have writing to do and edits to make and housework to complete. 

But I haven’t quite been able to get my sea legs yet. I feel a little directionless, drifting on an ocean of possibility, but not finding anywhere to drop my metaphorical anchor. 

Part of my aimlessness, I think, is that the house is a mess. It’s cluttered with all the flotsam and jetsam a busy eight-year-old produces. So, I think, start there: clear the house of clutter and you’ll feel accomplished and free to sit down and work on all the other items on the to-do list. I did a first pass, pulling things off the walls (Carla’s long-abandoned reading tracker, an old poster from second grade, a few pictures she’d taped to her door) and wiping down the whiteboards that held our summer schedules and to-dos. I did a bunch of laundry and folded much of it. My husband, without being asked, went through the towering pile of mail that clings barnacle-like to the little sideboard near the garage door. 

Somehow, this did very little to free the house of its cluttery, oppressiveness. And even though I have settled in my writing chair, with a good idea about what to write, my brain feels unsettled and overcrowded. I keep thinking of things I could do that I don’t want to do: put the new fall schedule up on the whiteboards, finish folding the laundry, clean out the bucket that Carla filled with exploded water balloon fragments after last week’s playdate, tidy my desk or my bathroom, paint my toenails, take out the trash, get dinner started in the crockpot, finish unpacking the suitcases from our trip of two weeks ago, implement the edits I painstakingly made to my manuscript, exercise. 

I am fretting about a work thing, a family thing, a friend thing. The news is, once again, still, endlessly, terrible and disheartening. I am dreading Carla’s first soccer practice, during which I will surely be expected to talk to strangers. I keep trying to listen for the air conditioner, which decided to stop working yesterday for several hours, until our house was 82 degrees inside. (It came back on just in time for my husband to come home, ask why it was so hot inside, and then squint at me uncomprehendingly when I told him the air conditioner was broken.) I have a head cold, or a sinus infection, or something that makes me feel foggy and drippy and cranky all at once. I have a giant, inflamed mosquito bite smack in the middle of my forehead. Everything feels rumpled, troubled; ill-tempered waves lashing at me from all sides.

I think what I need to do is make an old-fashioned To Do List and start crossing things off. But the prospect of doing such a simple thing makes me feel limp with I don’t wanna. 

Surely you have felt adrift in this way before. What do you do to restart your engine and coax your ship forward, in any direction at all? 

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It’s a dreary, grey Sunday – the kind where the weather is obstinate and heavy but refuses to give into the relief of rain. Everything is Deeply Oppressively Gloomy. I feel like writing (actually, I feel like Avoiding Exercise), so let’s try some medicinal randomosity.

  • Speaking of medicinal remedies: I plan to make a batch of chocolate snickerdoodles with Carla at some point this afternoon. If the weather clears up, we will have a farewell “party” tomorrow with the three friends she’s been doing an afterschool activity with for the past couple of months. The weather has to clear up because the “party” involves pizza and cookies and will take place outdoors. The cookies will take place either way. 
  • One reason I feel so gloomy is that I am in a phase of poor sleep. I know it’s a phase. I have been in poor sleep phases before. And yet knowing it is a phase does not prevent me from being absolutely certain that I will never get a good night’s sleep again, that this is my life now, and I will live out the rest of my days feeling tired and groggy and cranky, craving carbs and thinking of nothing but strategies for finally breaking the poor sleep pattern that will surely fail.
  • I am not having trouble falling asleep, which is the issue that plagues me when I am stressed. Instead, I fall asleep just fine, but then either a) wake up five hours later as though that is an appropriate amount of time to sleep night after night (it is not) or b) wake up multiple times throughout the night, ensuring that I never get the deep restorative rest I need. The other night, I counted and I woke up eight times. Twice to pee and six times because my husband did something obnoxious like turning over or breathing.
  • My normal get-back-to-sleep strategies are failing me. Nonetheless, I doggedly keep at them. Maybe THIS is the night I will sleep. I keep trying to remember that lying in bed and resting has value, even if it is not as MUCH value as actual sleep. I also keep wishing that my husband – a real live doctor – would say, Wow, you should go see your doctor about this. He does not, which I think indicates that there’s nothing I can do about it except wait for the phase to end. 
  • Things I have tried: Sleeping in the guest room. Making my husband sleep in the guest room. Exercising in the morning. Exercising in the afternoon. Taking melatonin. Taking Benadryl. Eliminating screens for an hour before bed. Taking a warm shower before bed. Wearing socks to bed. Wearing squishy ear things in my ears (they have a name, but all I am coming up with is “ear phones” and that isn’t right; the lack of sleep is already setting in as mental decay). Eliminating soda. Eliminating alcohol. Not eating too close to bedtime. Cutting out all liquids at nine pm. Drinking warm herbal tea right before the nine pm cutoff. Doing soothing stretches right before bed. Going to bed early. Going to bed late. The only thing left to try is giving caffeine up entirely (I drink tea every morning), but I don’t wanna.
  • Okay, I am done talking about my sleep struggles now. 
  • If you are a fan of at-home exercise routines, I would like to recommend Lindsey of Nourish, Move, LoveI found a few of her exercise routines on YouTube, and enjoyed them. And then I found out she has free challenges on her site. I’ve been doing the April challenge, which has a great mix of routines. None of them is too long, and they require very little equipment – maybe a yoga mat or a chair or a set of hand weights if you have them. If you have no equipment, she recommends workarounds. She suggests variations you can do if you want low impact or higher impact, so I never feel like I have to push myself to do things my body can’t handle. I find her routines to be challenging but doable, and they make me sweat and they make my muscles sore and I always feel good when I’m done. And she seems like such a lovely person – she does the entire workout along with you, and makes “oh my gosh this is hard” faces and sweats and shouts motivational things at you. She doesn’t really talk at all about weight loss, at least not that I’ve noticed – she will mention eating a balanced diet once in a while, but really she’s all about feeling strong and powerful. I love that message. Sometimes she has other people join her for the routines, and sometimes she’ll invite advertisers to come work out with her. Like there is one exercise routine where she works out with a representative from the Minnesota Pork Board, or something like that, and I find that so charming – both that she would get a sponsorship from Big Pork and that they would send a representative to work out with her. And so she’ll mention pork a few times during the routine, about how it’s a lean protein that’s great for building healthy muscles. It’s very low pressure and I find it amusing and sort of sweet. Anyway, it’s all free and available on her website or on YouTube and if you want to switch up your at-home workouts, you might want to give her a try. 
  • I am still on the lookout for The Perfect Summer Dress. I have rejected every dress I’ve tried on. Once again, I’m confronted with the fact that I do not look good in a maxi dress. Apparently this is a lesson I am forced to learn annually, because it never sticks from year to year. I really WANT a maxi dress – they seem like they would be comfortable and cool and look cute with a denim jacket – but they are not for me. Really what I want is the T-shirt and jeans equivalent of a dress. But with a waistline. And the sad fact is that I am too lumpy for jersey, which is what most of those dresses are made of. So. The search continues. Lauren says my perfect dress is at Boden, so I am looking there.
  • Reading Lauren’s latest post reminds me that I need to get cracking on my seed starters. So far I have purchased the seeds and seed starter and moved a seed tray into my dining room. That FEELS like progress, but I am really no closer to growing pepper plants and sugar snap peas than I was before. 
  • In an effort to Treat Ourselves (and also treat me, by removing a large something from the freezer), we made schnecken for breakfast. My in-laws had sent us the schnecken some time ago but they ordered us an enormous quantity, so we had some left over. If you have not ever experienced schnecken, it is similar to a cinnamon roll… but with less cinnamon. It also has raisins, which I pick out. It tastes like eating cooked cinnamon roll dough made out of butter. A very decadent treat indeed.
  • Would you like a non-update on my housecleaner situation? As you may know if you read Swistle’s recent post on the topic, I have been eager to call my former housecleaner to see if she wants to return to cleaning our house. Now that I am fully vaccinated, and Carla is out of the house all day, IT IS TIME. After Swistle posted on the topic (and also sent me a very nice, reassuring email), and I read all of the lovely comments, I gathered my nerve and placed the call. She sounded genuinely happy to hear from me, which was such a relief; I had worried that she would be mad that we had discontinued her services (after paying her not to come for several months, it started to feel weird to keep doing so).  When I said, all in a rush, that I would love for her to come back now that my husband and I are vaccinated, I could HEAR the smile in her voice as she said, “I would LOVE to come back!” But of course, you know, it wasn’t as simple as all that. She has, understandably, taken other jobs. And I think she had just placed a new ad for her services. So she said she needed to check her schedule and get back to me. This was nearly a week ago and my confidence in that “I would LOVE to come back!” is now wavering. Also, when we spoke, she said “I think I still have your number” and I SHOULD HAVE said, “Oh, just in case you can’t find it, here it is” but I DIDN’T and so now I am fretting that she has no way to get in touch with me. Plus, I forgot to say that I would want to know EITHER WAY – even if she can’t work me into her schedule now, I would ask her to put me on a wait list for next time she needs to fill a spot. And also, I was so overwhelmed by making the call and talking with her after so many months that I completely forgot to mention that I’d prefer her to wear a mask. Well. There’s nothing I can do about any of it NOW. I suppose I could call back after a couple of weeks go by just to check in. I really REALLY do not want to find and vet and train another housecleaner, especially when my old one is so lovely and wonderful. 
  • Meanwhile, the house creeps further and further toward squalor. Some sort of mental switch flipped, I think, when I heard my housecleaner’s voice. And I just felt Done with housecleaning. Carla is doing her best to contribute, having renewed her interest in various toys with thousands of tiny parts/crafting projects that require her to pull multiple supplies out of the craft cupboard and strew them all over every available surface. My recent clothes buying craze hasn’t helped either; I have “to try on” and “to return” piles all over the place.
  • What are you watching right now? My husband and I just finished Bodyguard, which, in case you are operating under the same misapprehension, has nothing whatsoever to do with the 1992 movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. I got over my disappointment pretty quickly because it was a great series. It was very action packed and made me EXTREMELY stressed, though. Like, heart pounding, gripping my husband’s hand tightly kind of stress. So keep that in mind if you plan to give it a try. The lead – Richard Madden, of Game of Thrones fame – was fantastic, and should probably win an Emmy for his jaw-muscle acting alone. There was also some good hair acting in the last third of the series, but maybe we should award THAT Emmy to his hair styling team. Prior to Bodyguard, we finally watched Little Fires Everywhere, the TV adaptation of the best-selling Celeste Ng book. It starred Reese Witherspoon and Joshua Jackson and Kerry Washington and a whole host of child actors and it was excellent and thought provoking. I am telling you this as though I am not the last person in the universe to watch it. It was one of those rare TV shows that, to me, was even better than the book – but in a way that made the parts of the book I loved really shine… and in a way that made me appreciate the book anew. Reese Witherspoon is one hell of an actress, is one of my takeaways from the show. Also, Joshua Jackson is Full On Dad Mode in this series, which may be upsetting if you are accustomed to seeing him as a teen heartthrob; I never watched Dawson’s Creek so it didn’t bother me, but I could see how it MIGHT. Anyway: two great shows in a row, and now I am at a loss for what to watch next. 
  • Speaking of shows, the next season of Ted Lasscomes out July 23! I don’t know how the second season could possibly stand up to the quality of the first, but I am excited nonetheless. Have you watched the trailer? Ted Lasso (and Ted Lasso) was a real bright spot in the past year and I am really looking forward to having MORE Ted Lasso in my life.
  • Every single time I type “Ted Lasso” I type “Lasson” instead, and then have to erase the terminal N.
  • Earplugs. They’re called earplugs.

All right, Internet. Time for me to go make some cookies and then get through Leg Day. How are you on this, the final Sunday of April?

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The original subject line of this post was simply “Chores,” but adding “Chat” really takes it from drudgey to cheerful doesn’t it? No? Just me?

It is a dreary, chilly morning, which feels like a betrayal after the sunny warmth of the past few days. I was awake off and on during the night due to horrible nightmares involving my loved ones. I have to go renew my driver’s license, which is on the Top Five list of Things I Enjoy Only Slightly More Than Dental Work. Plus, I have postponed Bathroom Cleaning Monday for no reason at all beyond my absolute gut-twisting hatred of cleaning the shower, and it can be postponed no more.

When we are feeling so dreary, what better topic to tip us right over the edge cheer us is housecleaning?

I scrubbed the floors yesterday, which is a very satisfying chore. My back hurts a bit, though, and I think I once again have chemical burns on my fingers from the bleach, will I ever learn, which is both painful and also somehow apt. “Satisfying” is, of course, a far cry from “enjoyable.” I am trying to think about whether there are any chores I ENJOY. (Are there any chores YOU enjoy?) I suppose I enjoy the results when I clean the kitchen: The gleaming expanse of freshly-scrubbed counters. The shiny reflective surfaces of the stainless steel appliances. Everything ready and waiting for another meal to be made. Which will inevitably upend everything into disaster once again.

My mother was telling me recently about her own mother’s cleaning schedule. Every month they would deep clean the kitchen, which involved emptying out all the cupboards and drawers and scouring them with Murphy’s Oil Soap. EVERY MONTH. I do this… quarterly, maybe, on a good year? Is that horrifying? How often do you do EMPTY your cabinets and wipe them down, inside and out? While we’re at it, how often do you empty your refrigerator and scrub the inside of THAT? I do it far less frequently than I should, even though I have no idea what the Ideal Refrigerator Cleaning Frequency even is. There is possibly some sort of checklist available online, that would tell me exactly what to do when, but I don’t care to be bossed. I will instead remain fretful and slovenly, thank you very much.

Everything I know about cleaning, I learned from my mother. Well, that’s not entirely fair: I learned about dish washing from my father. And about scouring the sink with Soft Scrub. But everything else was my mother’s domain. She was much better about sticking to a strict housecleaning schedule than I am; see above RE: the bathroom cleansing delay. We cleaned the whole house every Saturday. I remember being awakened by the sound of the vacuum. My job was a) cleaning my room and b) dusting. (I also did most of the dishes on the daily, and did my own laundry and ironing. I REFUSE to iron as an adult, but as a middle schooler I ironed my Z-Cavaricci jeans. The heart wants what it wants.)

At some point, I did learn how to scrub a bathroom as well, so I’m sure I helped with that on Cleaning Saturdays. I don’t mind cleaning a toilet, really. And there’s nothing difficult or daunting about wiping down a counter (for me, I recognize and support those for whom it is either or both). By the way, my very best (only?) cleaning tip is to keep a toilet scrubber in EVERY BATHROOM. And if your bathrooms have cabinets, keep a container of toilet cleaner, 409, and a roll of paper towels in each bathroom as well. That way, even if your cleaning supplies are all the way in the laundry room, or you aren’t in the mood to do a Full Cleaning, you can do a quick spot clean and still feel accomplished and virtuous. Hot tips like this keep you coming back, I just know it.

My mother used Endust on a rag to do her dusting, so I also use Endust on a rag to do my own dusting. Swiffer dusters were not available back then, and, frankly, are hugely wasteful although I do still use them on occasion.  I have a Swiffer-style sweeper with reusable pads for the floors. We had hardwood floors in the kitchen, so my mother never scrubbed the grout (no grout to be had). But she did use some sort of Pledge-type liquid to mop the floors until they shone. I use Mr. Clean on my hardwood floors because a housekeeper requested it specifically, and then I kept buying it whenever it was on sale, and now we have more Mr. Clean than any one person should. Bleach is my best friend in the bathrooms, and when it comes to cleaning the grout. I like vinegar and baking soda – or baking soda and Dawn – when it comes to cleaning my sinks. I love 409 for counter tops. Who knew adulthood would mean amassing so many Preferred Cleaning Items?

I suppose How to Properly Clean a House is an important life lesson for a child, and sometimes I fret (because I will literally fret about anything) about whether I am On Track in teaching Carla how to keep a house. What kinds of cleaning chores do your kids do? Or, if you don’t have kids, what were your housecleaning responsibilities as a child? 

Carla’s main jobs are tidying: She must make her bed every morning. She must clean her room once a week. She must pick up any toys she leaves out, although this is a moving target; right now, for instance, there is a bunch of play-doh and various play-doh tools out on the kitchen table, which shows you both how good I am at enforcing her tidying responsibilities and how often we eat together at the table. 

I also have Carla zoop the floors on occasion. Most of the kitchen debris comes from her (at what age do children stop shedding crumbs?), so it seems only fair that she help dispose of it. She also has to clear, rinse, and place her breakfast and dinner dishes. And, if we eat together, she clears, rinses, and places ALL the dishes. This is a very pleasing improvement in her Skills and Abilities, now that she is seven. She is responsible for putting away her folded laundry. Sometimes, if she is in The Right Mood, she will help me dust. I especially appreciate her dusting skills when it comes to wiping down the banister and stairwell baseboards.

When I was a kid, I also had to clean out the barn. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed that chore. I would crank up the country radio station and get out a big, stiff-bristled broom, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow, and remove all the manure from the barn to the shelter belt. Talk about a satisfying chore. You had the pleasure of not only seeing something go from filthy to clean, but also the satisfaction of pleasingly sore muscles. And it was nice to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. The horses did not enjoy it as much, sometimes nudging over the wheelbarrow in defiance or pushing past me to dirty the newly cleaned floor with an abundance of scorn. 

My husband does most of the vacuuming, and he takes care of the bathroom floors. (He can vacuum the entire house and clean all the bathroom floors before I finish cleaning the kitchen.) (I suspect that he does not move the furniture to vacuum under it, but one can only ask for so much.) (He will vacuum under the couch cushions if I remind him.) He also does the VAST MAJORITY of the laundry folding, for which I am deeply grateful. I excel at washing clothes, and sometimes even putting them in the dryer, and sometimes even moving the clean, dry clothes up to the laundry room guest room. But unless I am VIGILANT about folding the clothes immediately, I grow overwhelmed and dizzy and choose to shut the door on the ever-growing pile until it threatens to take over the house or my daughter runs out of underwear, whichever comes first. My husband, on the other hand, is never daunted by a mountainous tangle of clothes. He LIKES to fold, and listens to music while doing so, and it takes him SUCH a short time I think he is a magician every time he does it. He is also very good at the mechanics of folding: his shirts are always creased just so and identical in size, a feat I have never been able to master. 

Folding laundry is one thing. But my most hated chore, by far, is cleaning the shower. It requires scrubbing, which is physically draining. Plus, since it’s a small shower with a sliding glass door, it requires some bodily contortions that I don’t love. Plus, rinsing the shower always results in my shirt and socks becoming completely sodden. Plus, it is impossible to get every single bit of either the doors or the track on which they slide fully clean. PLUS I cannot handle hair in a drain. I JUST CANNOT HANDLE IT. Hair on a head, fine. Hair anywhere else, I will pass out or throw up or both.

Well, I had hoped that talking about chores would get me all fired up to go do some cleaning. It has not had that effect. Perhaps you will share what your favorite/most hated chores are, and/or what the breakdown of chores is in your househould, and/or your Hot Tips for cleaning. In the meantime, I am going to trudge up to the bathroom anyway and see if I can clean the shower without getting totally soaked.

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I have a very unromantic recommendation for you today. But it is something that I have had for YEARS and for which I have been extremely grateful these past few pandemic months.

It is a zooper – otherwise known as a handheld vacuum. We always called it a zooper when I was growing up; I don’t know why. Maybe because of the noise it makes? And “zoop” is a verb – you go zoop something up with the zooper. Sometimes we called it a Dustbuster, but I think that’s a proprietary eponym, like Kleenex is for facial tissue or Band-Aid is for sticking plaster.

Anyway, in pre-pandemic times, I would use the zooper approximately once a day. Carla has an uncanny ability to produce crumbs, so I would mainly do a little tour under her seat at the counter, but then I’d give a quick once-over to the kitchen and the entryway.

During These Unprecedented Times, when Carla and I are here all day every day and have nothing better to do than produce endless messes, I am using the zooper twice a day, at least.

Carla is still a crumb generator. Plus, it’s summer, so we are in and out and constantly tracking in playground mulch and grass strands and pieces of dirt. Plus, Carla’s new-since-the-pandemic fascination has been making clothing for her Barbies and stuffed animals, so there are bits of paper and tape and fabric and dried-up fabric glue and yarn and string and beads everywhere constantly. To stay on top of things, I make a daily round with the zooper each morning after breakfast and each evening before bed, with an occasional mid-day zooping if we’ve been particularly prodigious with fashion production or going outside and back in thirty times.

Zooper

photo from amazon.com

My zooper – the Black and Decker cordless handheld vacuum – is excellent. It’s lasted for at least three years – probably longer; I can’t remember when we got it – and it’s still going strong. And it’s helping to keep me sane.

Things I like about it:

  • It has a small charging base that’s easy to fit in an unobtrusive corner. I suppose you could wall-mount it, if you wanted to, but I haven’t checked.
  • It maintains its charge very well. Previous handheld vacuums have gradually lost power over the years, until they have the stamina and sucking power of an aging tortoise. Actually, now that I think of it, I know very little about the stamina or sucking power of a tortoise of any age. Hmm. Well, onward. I shall say, instead, that I’ve had this zooper for years and have never had a single problem with it losing power or suction.
  • It has a nice long neck, which allows you to get into things like the tracks of sliding doors and the space underneath the oven. (The helpful diagram on the product page refers to the neck as a “nozzle” which is a delightful word.)
  • It is VERY easy to clean. You pop out the little plastic container, dump your household detritus in the trash. Pop out the filter, dump it out. You can wipe everything clean with a damp cloth. And then everything pops back together easy peasy lemon squeezy.
  • It’s lightweight (just 2.6 pounds) and easy to hold. My only problem with excessive zooping is that my back starts to ache from all the bending. I am not meant to wander back and forth the length of my house whilst stooped over. But it’s just my back; my arm never gets tired.

Things I don’t like or about which I am neutral:

  • It’s kind of pricey. Amazon is selling it for $72.99 right now, which seems like A LOT to shell out for a handheld vacuum.
  • The neck has a flip-up brush tool that I have literally never used. The brush isn’t bothersome, though; it lives folded down against the neck of the zooper, like a coarse little goatee.

I feel kind of lame, recommending something so utilitarian. But my admiration for its utility has grown so much over these past few months – I really lean on it to help me keep my house from feeling like a hovel in between Big Cleanings.

This is what being An Adult means, I guess. Feeling evangelical about a household item.

 

What silly household things are making your life easier these days?

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Hair

Are you doing your hair as you normally do? I have STOPPED. There is absolutely no point in spending 30 minutes drying my hair and straightening it. Well. I could see how it MIGHT have a point, at some time in the future – if I need to feel Normal, somehow. Or if I have a super-important Zoom meeting (unlikely). This is a time for the least possible exertion, hairwise. My hair is not cooperating, though – instead of settling into beautifully air-dried curls it is still doing what it did in The Time Before, which is drying into drab frizzes that are vaguely curl-adjacent on the right side of my head and straightish on the left side. Very disappointing, hair. We should all be Stepping Up in These Unprecedented Times.

What I have been doing is braiding my hair after I get out of the shower. Usually, I part my hair to the left, but when I separated it into two braids, I parted it down the middle. And immediately remembered that I part my hair left for a reason. Hoo boy do I already have a LOT of grey. Well. It can’t be helped and it isn’t so extreme that I am ready to try an at-home coloring process.

I also remembered why I normally do my hair very simply – braiding is probably one of the easiest hair styles on the planet and yet I can barely do it. I am not talking about French braiding or fishtail braiding or anything fancy. Just a simple three-strand braid. It does not look good, folks.

Clothes

I am not nor have I ever been one of those people who gets fully dressed to work from home. No. Comfort is king. But at least when I had to pick up Carla from school and go to Actual Places like the grocery or Target or Carla’s ballet studio, I would get dressed in real clothes every day. Now… Well, my wardrobe is divided into three primary sections: pajamas (leggings and one of my husband’s old t-shirts), exercise clothes (leggings, a sports bra, and a tank top), and inside clothes, for after I’ve showered (leggings and a sweatshirt or long-sleeved T-shirt). Yes, I have different leggings for each category, and, even though they are all black, I can tell them apart. (The pajama leggings are the softest and loosest.) There’s a seldom-worn forth category: outside clothes (jeans and a shirt which immediately go into the laundry upon returning home). I found A HOLE in one pair of leggings recently, so I may need to expand my attire options at some point. But not now.

Homeschooling

We are on Day 4 of homeschooling – or whatever it is when you are trying to cajole your child into following the lesson plans her teachers have given you – and I am already having to step away and take deep breaths every few minutes. HOW are people doing this with multiple children? And while WORKING? I am ready to walk into the sea.

Shopping

After stalking the online ordering app for four days, I was finally able to get a timeslot for curbside grocery pickup. I haven’t tried this before, and I am expecting that only part of my order will be fulfilled, but I am kind of anxious about it. Will something essential, like milk or taco sauce, be missing? If so, I’ll have to go to the store which I am obviously trying to avoid. Of course, ordering wine is not an option so I will have to go to a store EVENTUALLY anyway.

Passover

In an effort to keep Carla’s Jewish heritage alive and part of her life, I want to observe Passover. But… I feel so out of my element. I am NOT Jewish and a lot of the books we have don’t really explain things in depth. Plus, I don’t really know anything about how to hold a proper Seder and certainly don’t have the right food on hand. Well. I still have a couple of days left to figure things out.

Easter

I found an art supplies kit and a leftover rainbow leopardfrom Carla’s sixth birthday in the gift closet. Plus I have a very small amount of Easter candy I picked up from the grocery store. So I think I can make up a decent Easter basket for Carla. (We have actual baskets, fake grass, and plastic eggs in the basement, because I reuse them year to year.) But I am still FRETTINGabout it. Sure, I could explain that the Easter Bunny is practicing social distancing and so asked me to round up what I could… but on the other hand, I want Easter to be Extra Special because so little is special these days. I have filled my virtual Target cart with candy and books and toys that I can pick up curbside… but I am hesitating. Partly because my husband thinks we have plenty of Easter-y stuff. And partly because I feel really guilty about shopping for non-essentials.

Housecleaning

I think I have come up with a rough housecleaning schedule.

  • Daily: Making beds, unloading/loading the dishwasher, wiping off tables and counters, disinfecting high-tough areas, using the dustbuster to eradicate crumbs, tidying up main living spaces.
  • Near daily: Laundry
  • Monday: Toilets and counters
  • Tuesday: Showers and tubs
  • Wednesday: Break
  • Thursday: Windows and baseboards
  • Friday: Dusting
  • Saturday: Bedding
  • Sunday: Floors

Last week, I taught Carla how to clean the toilets. Yesterday, my husband vacuumed all our carpeted surfaces while I scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors. I hate cleaning but it does make me FEEL better. It also makes me feel better to think about my housekeeper returning someday.

Books

I finished all three books I mentioned in this postand have moved on to Jessica Simpson’s memoir. I wish my library had more Agatha Christie books available via ebook – they have a good number, but not all, and so many are already checked out. I want to read them in order and that is nearly impossible to do. I put MANY of your suggestions on hold through my library website, but none of them have come through yet.

Socializing

I have been very pleased by the amount of socializing I’ve been able to do even while quarantined. Two high school friends and I had a happy hour via Zoom the other day that was really enjoyable. And then my husband and I had a FaceTime date with family friends who were supposed to come over for dinner. I was surprised by how satisfying it was to chat with them – it was nearly as good as being with them in person. Not as enjoyable was the family meetup we did with my husband’s family that lasted for WELL OVER AN HOUR. That is too long.

Exercise

Getting “proper” exercise has been a real challenge. My preferred method is walking on the treadmill for an hour, but when I do that, our internet goes out. So no one in the house can do anything requiring an internet connection, which means I can’t even walk on the treadmill while Carla is “at school” because so many of her “assignments” require her to be connected to Google classroom. (This is completely ignoring the fact that, so far, I have to be IN THE ROOM with Carla the entire “school day” or she wanders completely off track ARRRRGGGHHHHHH.) I have done a few Barre3 videos via YouTube, but it’s not the sameas being in the studio with my favorite instructor. I suppose I should resume using exercise videos, but I am resisting for some reason. Carla’s daily schedule has two hour-long blocks set aside for exercise, which mainly consists of us walking over to a nearby school parking lot so she can ride her bike. I walk back and forth a million times across the parking lot, occasionally sprinting. It’s not FUN but it does a mediocre job.

Food

A lot of people seem to be making new and interesting things during this pandemic, especially bread. My own mother has made two types of bread in the past week and my father made a lemon cake. I have made… my typical rotation of dinners. Carla and I are going to make cupcakes for Easter – she wants chocolate cakewith these bunny decorations. We did a Sprinkle Inventory and do not have pink sprinkles – but we do have purple and gold, so I think we’ll be okay. I have flour and yeast, so I COULD make bread. But I am kind of waiting until we NEED to make bread, you know? Right now, we have a loaf of bread in the freezer and I ordered a loaf of bread to be picked up later this week. Maybe if bread doesn’t make it into my actual shopping bags, I will make some. I have been kind of waiting for an opportunity to make focaccia… maybe this is my chance.

Mood

Friday was pretty rough. Saturday, I wanted to drive my family into the woods and leave them there. And I have been waking up at 4:00 or 5:00 every morning, which is unpleasant. However, I had a pretty decent day yesterday, slept without waking all night last night, and am feeling fairly balanced today. I will take the good days as they come.

 

There you have it. Now give me the updates on how YOU are doing.

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When it comes to a big, multi-room tidy, I have a strategy, which I will pass on to you in hopes that it works just as well on your children (I have not tried it on my spouse, so no promises there). My strategy is setting up a Cleaning Challenge. Carla LOVES a challenge, especially if there’s the potential of besting me. And it makes cleaning into a game, and games are fun.

What I do is I get out a big colorful sheet of construction paper. At the top I write Cleaning Challenge! in big cheerful letters. Beneath, on one side, I write out a list of things I need Carla to do (make her bed, pick up stuffed animals, tidy the living room, put her socks and underpants away, etc.) and put little boxes for checkmarks next to them… and on the other side, I write out a list of things I need to do (unload dishwasher, clean toilets, vacuum stairs, etc.) and put boxes with checkmarks next to them. I have found that it helps if my list is longer than Carla’s, because she likes to have an obvious advantage. (To her, it is not obvious that “washing the floor” is much, much more time consuming than “picking up the crayons scattered all over the counter.”) Then I masking tape the Challenge to the kitchen wall, masking tape a marker to the wall as well, and set a one-hour timer. Then we RACE to complete as many of our tasks as possible in the allotted time, checking off each task as we complete it. This is Carla’s favorite part, I think – making a checkmark on the page, while loudly proclaiming, “Checking off another one!” – and taping the marker to the wall makes it extra fun for her for some reason.

Anyway, I haven’t tried a Cleaning Challenge! lately, but I will do so today because it desperately needs doing. (It’s my normal Day Before the Cleaner Arrives technique, and it’s worked well for many months.) (By the way, being surrounded by mess has been making me feel incredibly extra wistful and thankful for our housecleaner, and I am writing her “paid leave” checks with gratitude and hope that one day she will be able to clean for us again because I miss her SO VERY MUCH OMG.)

The Cleaning Challenge! is a good strategy for the type of clutter that accumulates over time, between housecleaning appointments for instance. But I am struggling more, lately, with the HUGE VOLUME of day-to-day messiness. Everything is so much more messy than it was prior to self-isolation. Don’t get me wrong — the tendency of a child to start one project, abandon it, and begin another project while the first is strewn about a different room is, shall we say, a familiar concept. As is the concept of piles gradually accruing on every possible surface. But it turns out that my little whirlwind can make SO MANY MORE messes when she is at home for an additional 35 hours a week. Plus, I am guessing I do a lot more of-the-moment tidying when I am not staring despondently at the news 400 hours a day.

I think the utter relentlessness of the mess is what has begun wearing on me. It was simple enough at the beginning, to breezily say things along the lines of, “Of course it’s going to be messier than usual around here! You have double the people at home all day and one of them is a tornado, so mess is inevitable! But you can live with a little mess!” And this is true. I never claimed to be The World’s Tidiest Person, not by a long shot. But it turns out that a little messiness, while endurable for the short term, over time begins to feel like NOTHING IS EVER CLEAN. And, after a few days of enduing “a little mess,” the mess balloons into a LOT of messiness and then it begins feeling like I am living in squalor and there is no point in anything anymore because we are drowning in a sea of clutter. I am already walking around in a constant state of irritation/distress/anxiety and the added mess is NOT HELPING.

So I am starting to lose it, messwise. I need a new system. Otherwise I may as well lie down on the living room floor and be layered over with magnatiles and board games and construction paper and stuffed animals and remnants of pillow forts and Barbie shoes.

I had to have The Talk with my husband last night that I need more help with the housework… But man, I feel guilty about that. He is working all day, and putting his health at risk to help other people, and he is exhausted and anxious all the time, so I WANT to be able to take the pressure off at home. But also I am here ALL DAY EVERY DAY, doing nearly all the childcare and housework and meal planning/preparation, with maybe five minutes to myself at a time and… it sucks.

For those of you who have multiple children in your care all day every day… for those of you who have multiple children AND spouses who are now ALL at home with you nonstop… for those of you who are working from home WHILE your children and/or spouses are at home with you… well, you have my deepest, most sincere sympathy and compassion. My one cheering thought is that we are ALL dealing with this right now, with our own varying levels of tolerance and manageability. Additional people in our spaces, additional maneuvering required, new levels of irritation and stress, new strategizing and planning and letting things go.

I asked a fellow parent what she was doing to keep the mess down, and she said she was trying to clean a bit every day. Well. Yes. As am I. This is a tried-and-true strategy. Every single day, I do the dishes and wipe the counters and straighten and try to get Carla to move things off Obvious Surfaces. Every single day, I try to do at least one Other Thing — a load of laundry, moving all the collected water glasses from my husband’s bedside table to the sink, moving a bundle of precious artwork from the overcrowded craft cupboard to the trash. But it’s NOT ENOUGH. The mess is a rising tide and our house is a leaky boat.

If you, too, are just trying to clean a bit every day, what does that MEAN? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a rotation of Big Items? How are you enlisting the other members of your household? If you have young children, how are you helping them get into the habit of cleaning up after themselves? I am TRYING, believe me, but a) I don’t have the energy/patience to supervise all the cleaning that needs to be done and b) it feels like just one more source of potential tension between me and Carla when we are already getting on each other’s nerves and c) sometimes the ONLY WAY I can get a few minutes to myself is to ignore what is certainly a HUGE mess in the making.

So. What are YOU doing to Keep the Clutter at Bay?

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We had been stepping over it for DAYS (two). My daughter and my husband had each mentioned its falling – and finally, I was able to swoop in and do The Job That Only I Could Do! I applied two circles of masking tape to the back of the fallen artwork and pressed the art firmly into the cupboard/gallery space. Voila! Fixed! Alas, no one was around to see my heroic act. No doubt they will throw me a parade when they notice that the hall is now clear of artwork and the art is once again properly displayed!

Okay, okay. I tend to get irritated and snarky when I tackle the household work that Only I Can Do. But when I really think about it, I KNOW there are many jobs that Only My Husband Can Do. So it’s not like it’s a one-sided thing. It still rankles, though, because it FEELS like I am overloaded with tasks that could so easily be shared by one/both additional members of the family.

When I begin to feel put upon and beleaguered, it helps me to list all the things that my husband DOES do. And, once I have regained my sense of equilibrium, I can think about how fascinating it is, that housework can be divided in so many ways. There are the things that we both do – laundry, dishes, caring for the human – and the things that one of us does FAR more often, but not always, and then there are the things that one of does so often that I am going to say “always,” even if there have been very, very, veryvery rare exceptions.

Like cooking. I make dinner almost every night. On the nights I don’t make dinner, we go out or fend for ourselves with leftovers/cereal. But that’s not to say my husband doesn’t EVER cook. He does, but it is (now) very very rare. So I would feel comfortable putting “cooking” on the “Only Me” list.

A similar task on my husband’s side of the list would be sorting mail. I do it very occasionally, but really, I think of it as His Task. If he were to get fed up and shout at me that he hates sorting the mail and I never ever do it, I would have to concede the point. “Never ever” except for maybe twice a year doesn’t count as a shared task.

The things Only My Husband Does are really his and his alone. He is the financial supporter of our household. My freelance income is so vanishingly small next to his that it doesn’t really count; if he expired suddenly, I could not support our family on what I currently make from freelance work. (Aside: This is a hard topic for me. I know many, MANY people make it work, but for me, I always feel… inferior. Like the lesser contributor. Maybe if I had more children I would feel less so? I don’t know. But I feel hateful for feeling frustrated by all the work I DO have, which is menial and so EASY compared to what my husband does each day. He finds CANCER. He improves people’s QUALITY OF LIFE. He works SO HARD. And yet I STILL get frustrated and Oh Woe Is Me and feeling I’m-the-only-one-who-does-anything-around-here-grumbly. I don’t have any Soothing Thoughts or Coping Mechanisms to apply to this mental difficulty, I just wanted to note it.)

He pays all the bills. I have offered, but (to my great relief) I have never once taken over this task. He also researches Big Purchases – washer and dryer, new car, new whatever. The only time I’ve ever taken up that mantle is with the window situation, which proves that a) I am fully capable of researching major home expenses and b) I hate it.

Tasks that are firmly in the Only Me column include bafflingly simple things like making sure Carla’s rest blanket and pillowcase (and, in the winter, snow clothing) are laundered over the weekend and folded in her backpack by Monday. Occasionally going through her backpack and removing crumpled artwork, rocks, leaves, sticks, plastic “gems,” contraband toys she smuggled to school from home and forgot about, and so much dirt. Washing/filling her water bottle each day. Making sure that the guest bathroom hand towel gets changed/laundered on a regular basis. Wiping down the counters. Replacing the toilet paper (how, just, statistically, does this always fall to me?). Periodically cleaning out the fridge. Decorating for holidays (aside from some help with the Christmas tree). Planning/hosting/attending playdates. Making probably 99% of appointments and other phone calls. Managing our social calendar. It feels like ALL of these are dumb/frivolous which makes me cranky.

I am primarily the grocery shopper, but sometimes my husband will do it. My husband is primarily the person who researches and makes plane reservations, but sometimes I will do it (if FORCED to). The trash used to be primarily his job, but he made some frustrated noises about that a year or so ago and so I do it more than he does on an even split. Most mornings, I make Carla breakfast, but my husband takes over probably on average once a week. School stuff overwhelmingly falls to me, but my husband joins in on drop-offs/conferences/pickups when he can; okay, upon reflection “school stuff” probably belongs in the Only Me category. We split bedtime duties (teeth brushing supervision, reading, tucking in) although I help with clothing choices more often than not. I made my husband promise, when we decided to have a baby, that he’d take care of vomit; he’s been pretty good keeping up his end of the bargain, although I’ve been on Vom Cleanup twice in the past year which is an acceleration of my duties that I’m not comfortable with. We both participate in giving gifts to other family members, although I am most definitely the initiator. I’d say we refill the kitchen soap dispenser about evenly.

It is so very easy, in a marriage, to feel like you are doing ALL THE WORK. Especially, I might (with great bias) add, if you are in the homemaker role. I am reminded of my mother’s wise words, that in a marriage, you must give more than 50%.That’s just part of it. It SUCKS sometimes. But, for one thing, maybe you aren’t giving 51%. Or maybe you aren’t seeing the invisible things that make up your partner’s 51%. Surely, there are many times when you are only able to give 30%, or 10% or even 0%, and your spouse makes up the difference. And probably there are YEARS when one person is giving 70% and the other is giving 30% and that can still be a fair and good way to split things up. There are so many ways to make a marriage work. But I know feeling malevolent and resentful because I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES DISHES AROUND HERE AND NO ONE APPRECIATES IT is not the key to longterm happiness. Not that I’ve FOUND the key to longterm happiness; I am just muddling through, day by day. I just know that listing out all the things that my husband does helps when I am feeling like my More Than 50% is endless and unmatched really, truly helps.

I would be very interested to know the things that Only You do in your household, and, likewise, the things that Only Your Spouse does as well. And, if you have it, the key to longterm happiness.

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