Friday, February 27, 2009


Fooled by a sunny morning, I promised the boys an afternoon farm trip today. Unfortunately the sunshine couldn't compensate for the blustery 30-degree winds, and it turned out to be a mitten-and-hats outing. These boys didn't even seem to notice, though: they ran around clucking and poking and sniffing contently for over an hour.   
Two gentle calves especially interested Jacob, who nuzzled their noses with his mittens. 
Zachary appreciated that a sheep's bleat actually does sound like the common English onomatopoeia. While baaing at them through the fence,
he even successfully solicited a smile.Here fearless Michael surveys the geese before running down and herding the birds (some twice his weight!) pond-ward.
I was most interested in hearing stories from my grandmother, who unexpectedly met us by the pig pens (she lives near the farm and knew that we would be there this afternoon). 
     As a girl and young mother, Grandma worked on farms in upstate New York. She and her sister would stack bales of hay and drive balers, and one time the two drove through a beehive. She was stung 23 times; her sister, 3. On Fridays and Saturdays the family would go see the Westerns showing in town. After the show and an ice cream treat, they parked on Main Street to get a good view of the passersby. Her Grandmother Hall would often make her new clothes for the occasion: once it was a white blouse, dark skirt, and large red tie.
    Learning to run a farm as a newlywed brought new, challenging experiences. One Christmas the barn door blew off its rollers, and the day was spent repairing it; the seed and fertilizer would frequently become lodged in the seed drill, requiring hours of patience; and stubborn cows would often refuse to let their milk down. Grandma spent the first summer as a married woman learning to preserve cuts of pig. Some brining and smoking processes took days to complete! Newly trained in smoking meat, she once accidentally burned down the smokehouse. I wonder if the accident left her upset or relieved? Sometimes I wish that my needy flower beds would spontaneously combust.  
    Although initially unpromising, this field trip turned out to be one that I'll always cherish. It felt right to be at the farm today, standing in the freezing air and hearing Grandma remember. I love my grandmother; I love the industrious legacy that she offers our family. And I especially love the stories.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On Thoreau's economy and my basement

In the economy section of Thoreau's Walden, he observes that "at the present our houses are cluttered and defiled with [furniture], and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole and not leave her morning work undone." As he continues, he reveals that he once threw an admired pair of limestone paperweights out his window when he realized that they had to be dusted regularly. Certainly influenced by the English Romantics, Thoreau understood that "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." 
     This weekend, in a simplifying crusade in anticipation of our upcoming move, Eric and I relieved ourselves of a trailer full of DI-worthy goods, plus a bulging trash receptacle full of unworthy ones. I keep going downstairs and marveling at the open space, the simplicity of our basement now. It's truly empowering.
     The human need for accumulation must be a learned one, because children seem content with the simplest pleasures. Despite his healthy collection of toys, Jacob found pleasure in these projects this week: designing and creating some pine cone flapper people, 
building a fort out of cardboard boxes, 
and drawing a U.S. map, complete with detailed labels and insets.

So this week Thoreau, a basement project, and a five-year-old have taught me about enjoying life's simplest wonders. And as I took the two younger boys on a long run in the beautiful foothills, these lessons seemed to solidify: satisfaction comes most readily from a glorious mountain view, a time to ponder, and the natural curiosity of the world's littlest people.    

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Domestic matters

No, I'm not talking about the stimulus bill that was signed into law yesterday. In an honest effort to avoid offending the world, I'm keeping my political positions to my dinner table, which is actually the type of domestic matter that I'd like to discuss. This is domesticity in the sense of "domestic chores" and "she's not very domestic, is she?"
     Yesterday in a Firestone waiting room I browsed through a popular women's magazine, which promised "secrets your mother never taught you" about housecleaning. Unfortunately, much of the column's advice bordered on the ridiculous, including a suggestion for easier bed-making: pull your bedcovers up to your chin before arising, and then wriggle out with a "scissor-kick motion." Just think: half a chore completed before you even get out of bed! Every time I think about it I have to chuckle.
     When I got out of bed this morning (flutter kick), I began making a mental list of useful tips that my mother and others have given me about housecleaning. If I had been hired to write the "secrets" column, I would have included these gems:  

1. Move the laundry through
I've often heard my mother say, "It only takes five minutes to fold a basket of laundry. Who doesn't have five minutes?" Right after she sorts a load, she puts it in the washer. It goes promptly from the washer to dryer and from the dryer to folding and to the drawers. By realizing how quickly each of these tasks takes, she doesn't get stuck at any point in the cycle. Generally, knowing how long chores actually take makes them far less foreboding; most take under ten minutes.

2. Clean the bathroom daily
When Eric and I were staying at a hotel once, he said, "Wouldn't it be great if our bathroom were this clean every day?" And I thought, why not? So now every day I wipe down the counter, sink, faucet, and toilet with a Clorox disinfecting wipe (the Kirkland brand is also good, and some people make their own wipes with an empty container, paper towels, and a cleaning solution). Then I Windex the mirrors and shine the faucet with a dry rag. The routine takes less than one minute, and it makes the weekly deep-clean a breeze.
3. Designate a give-away box
It's absolutely freeing to deliver a load of things we don't use to DI (our local charity). Designating a Rubbermaid container for donations keeps them out of our closets and ready for delivery if we're running an errand near the drop-off center.  

4. Use products that perform
My curious son recently poured four ounces of liquid foundation onto the hallway carpet. After spending half an hour scrubbing with hot water and generic household cleaners, I remembered that I had some Rug Doctor Spot and Stain Remover downstairs. In under five minutes, the stain was perfectly gone, my carpet salvaged. If only I had saved myself the time by going for the "performance product" right away! This bottle is absolutely gold.
5. Institute tidy time
When I was in elementary school, my mom began "four o'clock pick-up." At four each afternoon, we were all to gather in the family room. Then we moved from room to room, spending five minutes tidying each. My mom carried a laundry basket for things that were to be put in other rooms. Young children usually enjoy this game, especially if there's a timer involved.

6. Schedule regular chores and be spontaneous for deep cleaning
To prevent chore pile-ups, schedule a few regular chores every day. On Mondays, vacuum upstairs and clean the glass. Tuesdays are for dusting and mopping. Each day has its special chores. These regular tasks take such little time that you can complete them without much hassle. Scheduling baseboard scrubbings, on the other hand, can make for a depressing every-other-Monday. Plus, you might not have time for the task on that day. But if during a regular mopping you get motivated and scrub the baseboards, now that's something to be proud of! Deep cleaning is much more satisfying if done on the fly.  

7. Use motivational strategies
When I don't feel like cleaning, I eat half a Dryer's lemonade bar, brush my teeth, and put on fresh lipstick. This usually gets me motivated. If I still don't feel like cleaning, I pretend that someone is coming over in 20 minutes, and I hurry and get it done. If this still doesn't work, usually some upbeat Oldies do the trick.  

These ideas make housecleaning work for me, and I'm always looking for new ideas. What works for you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to normal...sort of

Even though Eric and I are still functioning at about 70%, this week has been a birthday party compared to last! On Monday (presumably after they had witnessed our literal lameness at church on Sunday), several concerned friends called or stopped by to offer help. This overwhelming response both humbled and strengthened me. And so I've come to the bottom of a small loop in the "Gratitude Cycle": this is the part where I resolve to view my life holistically, with an appreciation for my comparatively abundant blessings. Today I loved these moments:

1. Sunny little Michael wandered out the backyard to look at the snow, and then he glanced back at me and grinned. 
2. Zachary and I spent a good hour completing a ridiculously fun (and messy!) craft this afternoon. 
3. Eric organized a s'mores night for us, and 
even though Michael lit a dishtowel on fire, Jacob quickly took it from him and threw it on the hearth so that Eric could extinguish it. The excitement never stops around here, and I'm grateful for that, too.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When the only direction is up...

8:11 a.m.
A father and mother lie in bed. One is recovering from recent back surgery, and the other is suffering from overwhelming nausea. A child calls from another room. The father stirs, but pain tethers him to the bedsheets. The mother sits up, becomes dizzy, and slowly reclines. The child's calling continues, and higher, punctuated babbles chime in via the baby monitor. Yet another child's voice joins in. He asks for toast. The parents rise up briefly, then fall back in unison, as if rehearsing some pathetic, mournful dance. The mother giggles into her pillow.

6:53 p.m.
A mother kneels in the kitchen. As she scrubs purple from the tile, fluid fills her throat. The children ask for dinner. The mother pulls out a pot, fills it, and has to sit down. One boy mixes malt and milk in a cupped hand, and a speckled mixture winds down his arm. Sounds of a distant spill echo the first. The father comes from his room, steadies himself on the couch, focuses on a blank wall. The mother cries into her dishcloth.  

And so it went, and went, and went, until we were convinced that our children were legal orphans. Then on Saturday morning, I woke up feeling like a normal person. Even though Eric remained practically bedridden, at least I could tend to the family's needs. My tender Zachary was the first to notice a change: I overheard him say to Eric, "Mom is my girl." Yes, my dears, you officially have one functioning parent. Here's hoping that it lasts!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Right Back at Him

During the last seven years or so, Eric has been sure to remind (read: tease) me about how I'm younger than he is: 

"You'll learn that when you're older."
"I remember feeling that way when I was your age."
and, of course,
"Oh, I'm not worried about raising teenagers. I've already raised one!" 
(I was 19 when we got married.)

I knew that the tables would turn sometime, when I would be able to playfully tease Eric about his aging. Yesterday I had my first chance when he had to have back surgery, which seems to me like a procedure for senior citizens. He is recovering well, although he can't bend, twist, or lift anything over 10 lbs. I have to go now to get the old man some bread and milk.