Garden Variety Fun

A few years ago, my partner and I decided it would be good for us to have a garden – someplace to putter, to plant, to dig in the dirt and grow pretty things and salad things and mostly, serve as an excuse for us to get outside more often. We’re still not really good at it, but we learn a little every year, and I’m always tickled when we manage to not kill something. So here are a few garden things that have made me happy this year.

This was the first bloom on the clematis vine this spring. I planted it just last year and it stayed very small and bloomed just a couple of times. This year, it went crazy (not long after I took this photo), but I neglected to take a picture when it had a gazillion flowers. My mom always had one of these in her garden, and I always thought this color was the most awesome shade of coolness.

My partner and our youngest son love fried okra so she wanted to grow her own this year. They were the only plants in the garden that didn’t wilt during the wicked heat and dry spell in July. And now they’re producing okra quicker than I can harvest them. These things grow fast and are hard to kill – my kind of plant. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. I do, however, think okra in any form of food is revolting, but look what pretty flowers they have!

As I was hovering over the okra plants with my camera, a bee flew by my nose, landed on a flower, stuffed himself inside it, and didn’t come out. This is him. I think he went into some kind of pollen coma or something. He just stayed there kind of buzzing under his breath.

Thai basil. Also easy to grow and hard to kill. And it has pretty flowers that attract fun insects. This came up all over the front of the garden a few weeks ago. I thought it died over the winter.

Portrait of a tiny, tiny flower.

Sunflowers make me ridiculously happy. These are my first. They’re of the giant variety and so are taller than me and just started blooming a couple of days ago. I went out to take a photo of one and this Spicebush swallowtail was considerate enough to flutter up and plant himself (sorry, can never resist an awful pun) on my flower.

He really, really liked the flower but got irritated at my clicking at him and sailed off over the house a moment later.

Anybody else have fun stuff going on in your garden this year?

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Because Life is Sticky: A Countdown of My Top Five Favorite Onerous Household Chores

via bonanza.com and Erma Bombeck

Disclaimer: If you’re not a stay-at-home mom, house dad, homemaker, or someone else who spends a substantial amount of time cleaning up after your family, you may want to skip this fun little list as its grossness factor is high and its only real entertainment value is in commiseration.

Note:  I have omitted anything involving blood, pee, poo or vomit for being too evident. Everybody knows that no parent likes changing diapers or cleaning up after sick or injured children or pets. This list concerns a few of the disgusting chores that get less attention but may be even more onerous by virtue of their long-term (i.e. well past potty-training) and frequent occurrence.

5 – Scraping fruit stickers off the sink, counter, or furniture. Do your kids do this? Take the sticker off the apple or banana and carefully press it onto the edge of the kitchen sink or other handy surface? This is one of the many things that sometimes makes me wonder what my kids really think of me. Do they really believe I have nothing better to do than to scrape away the sticky left by a Granny Smith apple label? Look kids! Here I am, putting my college degree to use with the dull edge of a butter knife. Thank goodness for Goo Gone, the wonder product that removes all residual stickiness! (And the fact that I just wrote that sentence with genuine gratitude makes me want to stick a fork in my eye right now.)

4 – Cleaning in and around trash cans. Nothing more fun to me than picking up used Kleenex or dental floss off the bathroom floor because our sons just missed the trash can. (Not the only thing they miss, but I promised not to mention that.) The kitchen trash can is even worse.  Ours has a lid because otherwise our dogs would help themselves. How does a kid manage to lift the lid, deposit the item, close the lid, and then manage to spill food on top of the lid (and wall and floor)?

3 – Cleaning out the bottom of the refrigerator after discovering that somebody has spilled something liquid and sugary in the not-so-recent past (giving plenty of time for maximal microbial and fungal growth before I discover the bulk of the spill hidden by the bottom drawer). Last time I think it was a mixture the juice from a can of black olives and some kind of red soda.

2 – Reaching into the spaghetti pot soaking in the sink to remove whatever my family has thrown into the water. Do your loved ones do this? Why do they do this? I need to know. I fill the pot with hot soapy water to soak so I can scrub it clean in the near future. But if I leave it in the sink and do not get back to it quickly enough, my family, rather than rinsing their post-dinner dishes and putting them in the dishwasher or other side of the sink, will simply dump every utensil or plate or glass they use into the pot. So now I have to reach into cold, greasy, rehydrated tomato-sauce-water (which now contains a rich, varied mixture of other organic debris) to retrieve a glass that originally just held someone’s after-dinner iced tea but is now coated in a viscous residue from the dirty orange dishwater soup. Ugh.

1 – Reaching into the garbage disposal to retrieve whatever is making the horrible noise. So far I have found spoons, forks, broken glass, bottle caps, lemon or lime rinds, a marble, a handful of pennies, a Lego Guy, and just today, a white jelly-like sack of something that looked like a breast implant with a tough pulpy core that I can’t identify and sincerely wish I had never handled.

Some days, I love my job less than others.

So your turn. What’s your favorite housework to hate? What chores make you feel like an underappreciated, domestic grunt with dishpan hands?

Will You Take a Quarter for This?

“That’s the meaning of life isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff… That’s all your house is. It’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”

“Have you noticed that everybody else’s stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

 – George Carlin

If you haven’t already seen it, you should
watch Stuff on Youtube now.

Stuff is devious. It pretends to be something that will make your life easier or more pleasurable but often ends up being a burden – something you’re tied to and can’t get rid of. Suddenly, pleasure becomes a responsibility. Better not get rid of this stuff. It might be useful again one day. You might be unhappy if it were gone. You might never find stuff like it.

So you relegate it to the garage or the basement or the attic where it fills boxes and makes homes for spiders and becomes forgotten. Even there it creates work. It needs to be moved about so you can get to other stuff, shoved aside so you can get to the Christmas decorations or the summer water toys or the Halloween costumes. It’s in the way, taking up space – in your home and in your brain. Just what was in those boxes, you wonder. Or, why do I still have those lamps or an antique cookie press I’ll never use or boxes of toys the boys outgrew years ago? So I decided it was time to liberate my family from the tyranny of owning too much stuff – by having a yard sale.

Before we moved to our present home, we lived in a neighborhood that had collective yard sales every May. It worked out really well. It became habit once a year to rid ourselves of excess stuff. But four years ago, we moved. Fortunately, I did a pretty thorough job of thinning our stuff then, because ownership is not nearly so attractive when you have to pack all your stuff in boxes, carry it up the basement steps, and load it in a U-Haul. So we trimmed down. Way down. In terms of stuff, we were positively svelte by the time we took up residence in our new home. But that was four years ago.

Some of you may have noticed a series of posts I did about cool stuff I’ve found at thrift stores. (See thrift pick)  I frequent them regularly and drag home odd, old or unusual items that have only one thing in common – we have absolutely no use for any of it. I admit it. I am a collector. A junk store junkie. (See Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie) I regularly troll second hand stores and drag home whatever cast-off catches my fancy – a globe, a green glass jar, 800 Scrabble tiles. Four years is a long time for someone like me to go without thinning out the stuff.

It was time. So it’s a good thing for me that you can haul all your stuff out on the front lawn and put a sticker on it and chances are, someone will come along and buy it. (Unless it’s badly broken or extraordinarily ugly, it which case you put a sign that says “FREE” and it will disappear. American magic.)

So last Saturday, I did just that. After 4 hours of standing in my drive way with nothing better to do than to study the people who stopped to look at our stuff, I was able to identify several types of yard salers:

  1. Saturday morning pleasure shoppers – I like these kind. They’re the type who figure yard saling just means a drive on a pleasant morning, a cheap way to spend time with friends, and the off chance you might stumble on something you think is really cool.
  2. Antique Roadshow wannabees – These are fairly annoying. They’re just hoping to rip off some poor schmuck who’s selling his great granddaddy’s ugly old painting for $5 that’s actually an authentic Picasso. They’re not looking to find treasure. They’re looking to take it from some one else.
  3. Junk dealers – Only slightly less annoying than the Roadshow trollers. They tend to come early and drive big pick-ups with stuff piled in the back. They don’t expect to find treasure, but they want to pay dirt for your stuff.
  4. Grandparents – These can be fun because they’re always looking for something for their grandkids. Some of them will pinch a penny until it screams though and will haggle over a quarter.
  5. Young couples with cute little children – These are my favorite. They often don’t have a lot of money so they really appreciate cheap stuff (especially toys and kid clothes which we always have).  And it’s always fun to give the kids more toys than their parents are willing to buy.

All in all, having a yard sale isn’t nearly fun (for me) as going to one. But I have to do it, right? I try to think of it as the ultimate recycling. Just doing my bit to keep my stuff out of the landfills.

And how else would I get to have fun conversations like this:

“Will you take $5 for this?”

“Uh…I don’t think so.”

“But it’s old and ugly.”

“Yes, but I don’t think the neighbors want to sell their cat.”

Or.

“Do you have a dining room table?”

“Yes, it’s in the dining room.”

“How much?”

“It’s not for sale. That’s why it’s not out here. In the driveway. Where we’re selling stuff.”

He looked at me like I had just spit on him and stalked back to his car.

Or.

“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee, too?”

“Uh, I’m not serving…What do you mean ‘too’?!” I spun around. “Alright, who took my cup?”

Okay, I made up one of those. I’ll let you figure out which.

A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 2: All the Pretty Flowers

My mother is an amazing gardener. Her yard is always a lush, flourishing mass of foliage and blooming things and trees that attracts all manner of wildlife from butterflies to bluebirds to cotton-tailed rabbits. Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, their ruby throats glinting in the sun. Tortoises plod through the dappled shadows. Hers is not just a garden. It’s an aesthetically delightful ecosystem that she planned and put together herself.

If there’s a gene for such green witchery, I did not inherit it. I kill house plants. I kill cactus in pots, ficus and ferns and at least one rubber tree plant. I’ve killed pothos. Nobody kills pothos. I’m pretty sure it’s immune to death. But I did it. My cat might have helped by attacking it on a semi-regular basis, shredding its leaves and eventually, I think, peeing in its pot. Repeatedly. But still, the plant was in my care when the cat killed it. So I think, karmically speaking, it goes on my record.

But just the same, a couple of years ago, my partner and I decided we wanted a garden. It would get us outdoors more, give us something new we could do together, and make our front yard look less like a vacant lot. I thought, What’s the worst that could happen? I should never ask myself that. I am very good at visualizing the worst. I saw us buying all the new expensive plants and putting them in the ground and fertilizing and watering. Then I saw plants shriveling and dying one by one until our garden looked like a botanical graveyard.  The neighbors shook their heads. I felt sad and vaguely ashamed. Or, I thought, things might not die. They might grow and flourish. Plants would bloom spontaneously at my touch and neighbors would say, Look at her pretty little garden! I decided to risk it.

So we had prepared the bed (See Part 1). The time had come to populate our little growing space. And this is where, I must say, I’m proud of my mother. She wanted very badly to tell us how to plan and what to pick for a successful gardening experience right off the bat. I told her, No, we have to learn this ourselves. The whole process, from the ground up. (And yes, I’m a little proud of that pun.)

We wanted to choose everything and arrange it all on our own. So we went to Home Depot and wandered the aisles of the garden center. And that’s when I almost had a nervous breakdown. There were so many choices! And variables to consider. And here we were ready to just pop things in our basket willy-nilly and take them home. At least my partner was. She was excited about the garden and ready to dive in the deep end. I had thought I could follow her lead. But I just don’t work that way.

I am a methodical kind of person. When embarking on a new endeavor, my nature is to research it thoroughly, taking all variables into account, weighing them against each other, and eventually making informed, careful decisions thus maximizing our chances of success. Of course, using my method, spring and maybe summer would have passed before I made my carefully-researched choices for our garden. And B knows that.

We’re going to go, she said, and just pick what we like. So we did. She would hold up a plant and say, How about this? I would remove the little plastic tab thingy from its pot and begin reading out loud about the plant’s sun exposure and climate preference, its eventual height and breadth, water requirements, etc. B would listen as far as the name, make a decision, put the plant back or in the cart, and move on with me trailing behind, still studying the little plastic thingy and muttering to myself. Soon I had a whole handful of little plastic thingies and I was seriously starting to lose my shit. B made soothing noises and led me to the checkout line. Once the purchase was made, I was okay again.

Until we got home. Now it was time to decide what to put where. We had a row of small shrubs already planted and a big expanse of bare dirt waiting for the rest. I started arranging pots on the dirt thinking about all the variables again. Were they annuals or perennials? How tall would they be? What color? Spring or summer bloomers? I rearranged. And rearranged again. And finally B saved me again.

“That looks perfect,” she said.

“You think I should put the Dusty Miller over…”

“It’s perfect the way it is.”

“Or maybe move the Salvia to…”

“Why don’t you start digging holes?” She said and handed me a shovel.

And that’s how we got all our pretty flowers planted. And miracle of miracle, only a couple of them died and the rest flourished and bloomed.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Killing Tomatoes

A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 1: Dirt

Our dirt

Tomorrow I’m going to buy dirt. I’m trying to make a garden. Dirt seems to be a prerequisite. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t I have enough dirt already? The ground is kind of, you know, made of dirt and all. You’d think that would do.

But our garden is still a baby, and I’m learning as I go along. Last year, I decided to double the size of the garden which extended it into a valley in the yard. When it rains, the valley becomes a mini-river running from the driveway across the yard to the ditch that marks the western boundary of our property. So I was going to have to buy dirt to raise the bed and reroute the river. That’s when my education began.

Buying dirt wasn’t as simple as I imagined. After some examination of the relevant products at Home Depot, I made these determinations: There were at least three major types of dirt and many brands of each ranging in price from 98 cents for 40 pounds of “topsoil” (looks like orange dust with rocks in it) to almost $14 for 2.5 cubic feet of Miracle Gro “potting mix” (apparently the super food of the botanical world). I settled on one of the cheapest “gardening soils” and loaded up my cart.

When I was done adding dirt, the garden bed was high and safe from flooding. But at some point in the last year, it sank like a grave. A really big grave. So we need more dirt. And peat moss. Last year, after some reading, I learned that adding peat to soil that had a lot of clay made it hold water in a way that made it more available to plant roots. That seemed like a pretty slick trick for a humble moss, but who am I to doubt accepted gardening wisdom? I bought the peat and tilled it into the garden with the new dirt.

My tiller

I should mention here that our tiller is kind of a basic model. It is not gas-powered. It has no motor. It is basically a big fork with twisty tines and a handle on the end. It is operated by plunging it with some force into the ground, grasping the handle, and twisting. This process can be viewed as an invigorating workout or as an exercise in pain, depending on your perspective. So I used the big fork to mix the peat and new dirt into the garden. The old dirt is very sticky and clumpy so it was sort of like mixing up a really big batch of cookie dough. Add the butter. Stir. Add the flour. Getting really hard to stir now. Add the manure. (Sorry. I dropped the metaphor a little abruptly there.)

I didn’t actually add the manure. Apparently, proper usage of animal poo is also more complicated than it might seem. There are issues to consider involving the source of the poo, its age and how it was stored. Who knew? Bottom line is, when you add poo to the soil, it’s best to let it “age” before planting. This has something to do with nitrogen in the poo and nitrogen-loving microbes in the soil that sometimes get over-excited by fresh poo and use it up so quickly the plants can’t get at it. Or something like that. Since it was already mid-spring, I didn’t have time to wait for the manure to mature properly. So I skipped the poo.

I went through all this prep work because I needed the garden bed to be a particularly friendly place for plants, resistant to floods and full of rich yummy freshly-turned soil. I needed the plants to have every advantage I could give them at the start, because after that, they were going to have to rely on me. And after a lifetime record of killing all green, leafy things in my care, that didn’t bode well for the garden’s future inhabitants.

Stay tuned. Part 2 coming soon.

What’s in a Weed?

My neighbor’s lawn (taken surreptitiously while I pretended to check the mail).

My neighbor’s lawn is a pristine expanse of deepest emerald, trimmed with geometric precision and fertilized, debugged, aerated and over-seeded into hyper-fertility. No weed dares to intrude among the slender blades. No mole cricket burrows underneath. In the dead of winter, when all the yards have gone sere, his verdant plot defies the season. It’s the kind of lawn that practically begs you to strip off your shoes and socks and walk joyfully barefoot among the blades, digging your toes into its genetically-modified plushness. Except my neighbor would have a cow. Because he is a lawn-freak.

His is a trophy lawn. It does not exist for children or dogs to roll and play on. He is retired and I’ve never glimpsed a grandchild. They have a tiny dog, but she walks politely down the concrete walk to the driveway and then to the street every day when his wife takes her for her daily constitutional. No, his lawn exists only to show up the rest of us, to tell his neighbors, look at this. This is how you grow grass. Look upon its magnificence and weep. He is a lawn tyrant and like all tyrants, leaves all the grunt-work to his subjects. Or in this case, his one and only subject, the yard guy.

I hate the yard guy. Not in a he-annoys-the-crap-outta-me kind of way. I usually pass that point before he is halfway through his lawn care ritual. No, by the time he straps his gas-powered, fume-belching, roaring-monster leaf blower to his back and continues to shatter my peace and quiet for another 20 minutes, I am gleefully fantasizing about bloody murder.

In the summer, I try to understand. If my freaky neighbor wants his grass manicured within an inch of its life every Wednesday morning of the growing season, so be it. I’ll grin and bear it (though the grin may closely resemble a rictus of pain. Or rage. One of those.) But yard guy does not simply mow the lawn. He drives a riding mower big enough to carry my entire family around a yard maybe twice the size of a postage stamp for roughly an hour, in case a blade somewhere got missed in the first five passes. The he takes a gas-powered monstrosity of a weed eater and edges the entire yard until the borders appear as if they were cut with a knife and a ruler. Then he gets out the aforementioned leaf blower. And this is when I really have to stop myself from going berserk on the guy.

I think leaf blowers are a sign of Armageddon (and I can’t believe I’m the only one who does). Think about it. The yard guy is using a gas-powered monster that is pouring pollution into our air and emitting a deafening growl that surely violates the city’s noise ordinance and what’s the payoff? In this case, yard guy gets to blow grass clippings off the lawn, where they would eventually decay and add their nutrients to the soil, and into the street. I particularly enjoy this senseless ritual in the spring and fall, when I get to savor the sweet smell of gasoline wafting through my screened windows and the lullaby of the engine’s roar unmuffled by closed windows.

But what really gets me, is when the guy shows up in December, long after the grass has stopped growing, after the leaves have all fallen and long since been mulched or cleaned up, and does the whole routine only more slowly than he would in July. The only thing he manages to blow into the street is a little dirt, but he takes his time doing it. And that’s when I start having graphic fantasies about hog-tying him and locking him in the cab of his own truck with his leaf blower, gassed up and running, in his lap.

All this, because American culture has dictated that every house should have a neatly-trimmed homogenous gathering of grasses in front of it. I was a victim of this arbitrary standard myself for several years. Though I was never so extreme in maintenance habits as my lawn-freak neighbor and his paid minion, I did sacrifice more than a few hours (and dollars) each spring in futile attempts to eradicate “weeds.”

Some of my best clover.

I finally realized, though, that life is short and money is shorter and I have no particular problems with “weeds.” I’m kind of partial to clover really. It’s pleasing on the eyes and bare feet and fun to look through for mutants with an extra leaf. And dandelions are cool-looking when they go to seed. This year, there’s this lovely purple spiky thing blooming all over our “lawn.” I think I won’t mow it until it’s done. It’s pretty. And it’s going to drive my neighbor bat-shit crazy. At least I hope so.

Why My Living Room Looks Like a Cabinet of Curiosities

I ascribe to the cabinet of curiosities school of interior design. Almost everything on display in my living room is something I found on a beach, in the woods, on a river bank, chiseled out of a limestone cliff, or dug out of the dump piles of an abandoned mine.

I am by nature, a collector and a natural history buff. I started with seashells when I was a kid on all those summer trips to my grandparents’ house in Florida. As an adult, I lived in and around Austin for 10 years on the edge of the Texas hill country. I went hiking almost every weekend and quickly discovered that Austin sits right on top hundreds of feet of Cretaceous limestone deposited by an ancient sea, and you can find marine fossils at almost every road cut or creek bed in the area. So I collected 100 million year old sea urchins and oysters and ammonites. Later, when my family and I lived in Asheville, NC, on the bones of old mountains chock full of gems and interesting minerals, I began hiking to old mines sites and collecting kyanite and garnet and apatite and beryl. Sometimes, in my travels in the woods, I came across antlers or turtle shells or bird’s nests and I brought those home, too.

Three years ago, we moved to our current home, and I quickly discovered that the rocks of this area contain neither fossils nor particularly interesting rocks. And we’re 3 hours from the ocean, so shells and sharks’ teeth are only an option once or twice a year. So I began collecting bugs and birds by camera. Photos took up so much less room. But still, in the winter particularly, I need something to satisfy my collecting urges so I fall back on a more urban addiction – thrift stores. Here, I comb through the detritus of the culture that spawned me, and drag home whatever strikes my fancy. (If you want to know how it began, see my post, Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie.) And once a week, I post one of my finds, here.

My Thrift Pick of the Week is kind of a double whammy – a product of disposable American pop culture and an homage to one of my oldest collecting habits – a fake fossil of a triceratops skull I got for $3.00 at my favorite second-hand establishment (an interesting collection of cultural flotsam that goes by the name of Everything But Granny’s Panties).

The Bottom Layer of the Middle Class Cake

We’re a lucky family. We own our own house. We have enough to eat. We have cars and computers and pets. And we’re in debt up to our ears. I think that’s pretty much the definition of the American middle class, right?

Here’s why we’re the bottom layer: Our house has a second mortgage and a needs-to-be-repaired list as long as my leg. One of our two cars is into double digits in age and 6 digits in total mileage, but sadly, a single digit is all it takes to describe its gas mileage. Our boys recently hit their teens and became eating-growing machines, effectively doubling our budget for feeding and clothing them pretty much overnight. We buy generic everything at the grocery store, buy in bulk at Costco, and get our clothes (and most everything else) at Wal-Mart or Target on sale, but most months we still end up spending more than we’re taking in.

So, we often have to make tough budgeting decisions. Like, does the dog go to the vet this month to get his shots or does Link get new jeans that aren’t showing his ankles? (It’s a health issue so the call goes to the dog.) Here’s another: do we call a plumber to fix the leaky kitchen sink or do we call a handyman to replace the rotten siding? Trick question. The answer, of course, is neither. I will attempt to repair those things myself. I love home repairs (sarcasm) and I’m really good at them (bald-faced lie). And I always end up with funny stories to tell our friends (depends heavily on your definition of funny).

Basically, the budgeting hierarchy goes like this: children, adults, pets usually in that order except in cases of medical emergency. This list is integrated carefully with a second list including the cars, the house and everything else we own. Priority of the first list over the second list is determined by its category (is it a health expense, an essential need, or just a wants-really-bad?) versus the immediacy of the second list issue which is determined by a series of simple questions, like: Are both cars dead or just one? or Does the home repair issue involve water that is, at this moment, flooding some part of the house? Is that water incoming or outgoing? (Either one is bad but the second is a lot grosser. Especially if it’s filling your basement.) Depending on the answers to the questions, the car/house/possessions issue can then be assigned a metaphorical weight that may or may not give it precedence over the needs of the people and pets in the household.

Sound complicated? It is! The average middle class adult has to endure a deluge of potentially portentous decisions every day. And if that adult happens to be baked into the bottom layer of the middle-class, then the whole decision-making process can be about as fun as juggling fire batons in a high wind. While riding a camel. And being swarmed by angry bees. So, of course, all this stress affects our moods, emotional welfare and physical health which often leads to higher medical bills thus helping to perpetuate the whole process. It’s an infinite, and inevitable, loop.

So I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure that by assigning proportionate numerical values to each of the decisions the head(s) of such a household has to make in the course of an average day that are directly related to money (or the lack of), that I could prove, mathematically speaking, that, for an otherwise mentally healthy person, money does indeed lead to happiness. Or, at the very least, it is a prerequisite. And we’d live longer too. And probably have more fun doing it.

English: Giant Wood Spider Nephila pilipes at ...

Lying in wait for unsuspecting homeowner.

One more example to push my point: My partner and I recently shared a unique bonding experience in the crawlspace under our home while attempting to correct dryer venting issues. It consisted mostly of me stuffing myself through the door under our back deck and firmly directing my spider-phobic partner to immediately exit the web-infested space before she fainted, because I was by no means certain of my ability to drag her unconscious body away from the monster arachnids that were certainly lying in wait just outside the reach of the flashlight beam. (That last part got her moving.)

And all this happened because of money, of the lack of it. My partner’s stress about our account balance in conjunction with the inoperational state of our dryer (a serious problem in a family containing a child with fairly severe OCD) actually overrode her extreme anxiety (i.e. blinding fear) of spiders long enough for her to get herself under the house. She couldn’t even wait for me to make myself available (I was writing), so she was actually alone under the house and very close to a full-blown panic attack before I realized what she was doing. She’s a very stubborn woman. I’m proud to say, though, that we actually managed to resolve the dryer venting issues and that relatively few spiders were unintentionally harmed in the process.

So there you have it. I could go on for another thousand words about all the things my partner and I have done to save money, but I think I’ve made my point. Proof of what we in the lower layer have always known to be true: Money may not make happiness inevitable, but it certainly does make the road to get there smoother, shorter, sweeter, and very probably spider-free.

Please Don’t Anger the Deli Gods

A shopping cart filled with bagged groceries l...

 

“Smile,” she whispered urgently.

I pulled my attention away from the two toddlers climbing their mom like a tree as she tried to choose a loaf of bread, and focused on my partner. I wouldn’t get credit for accompanying her on this outing unless I stayed present and attentive. But my stamina was flagging. So I said:

“Huh?”

My partner’s smile widened to a disturbing dimension. She whispered through clenched teeth.

“Smile at the lady or we’ll never get out of here.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I smiled anyway. Or I tried. Unfortunately, my forced smile looks very much like a rictus of pain (if years of photographic evidence is to be believed) and my partner visibly winced.

“Nevermind. Stop that.” I relaxed my face in relief. “Just try not to make eye contact.”

“With who?” She gestured in the direction of the two ladies in hair nets manning the meat slicers behind the deli counter.

“The deli gods. If we anger them, we’ll be here all day. But if we smile and say please and thank you, and never ever get caught looking impatient, we might get out of here in a few minutes.”

I eyed the hair-netted pair and knew she was right. The ladies at the deli counter had all the power. Our cart was groaning under the weight of a week’s supplies for our teenagers, this was our last stop before the checkout line, and I really wanted to go home.

One of the hair nets turned toward us. I panicked and tried smiling again. My partner elbowed me. I stopped. The hair net approached the scale, laid the offering on it, and spoke:

“It’s not quite a pound. Is that close enough?” My partner’s smile could have lit the heavens.

“That’s perfect. Thank you so much.”

“I thought you ordered a half a pound,” I whispered when the hair net turned away.

“It’s close enough,” my partner hissed and smiled again as the deli god handed the meat now wrapped, bagged and labeled across the counter. My partner glanced at it, then handed it to me to put in the basket. I did.

“You know that was smoked turkey, right?” I whispered. “Didn’t you ask for the Cajun chicken?”

“Do you want to go home sometime today or not?”

“I like turkey. Turkey’s fine,” I asserted.

I went back to watching the young mom with the two toddlers. The taller boy had just dropped a box of donuts into the cart while the little one was endeavoring to scale the opposing side. Mom turned back from the shelf she had been perusing, noticed the teetering cart, and made a frantic lunge for her youngest just as gravity began to assert itself. Righting the cart, she pulled the little one off the side and settled him on her hip where he clung like a koala bear.

I felt a little guilty for being amused. Just a few years ago, I was that woman. So I knew that shopping with little ones is not for the faint of heart. I had learned the hard way that the key to food gathering with small children was to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible, before they had a chance to ransack the shelves, slip too many things into the cart while I wasn’t looking, or to poke at each other until one of them inevitably melted down before I got halfway through my list.

I looked back at the deli to check on our progress. One of the hairnets was handing another package to my partner. That should be the last one. We were free! My partner pushed the groaning cart over to where I was standing.

“They’re adorable, aren’t they?” she said nodding at the young mom and her boys. Her voice had a wistful tone. Now that our boys were teenagers, this happens to us sometimes. It starts with this poignant, bittersweet pang when you see a young parent with little ones and graduates to a lump in your throat and teary eyes as you remember that you’ll never again rock your babies to sleep or fix their boo boos with a kiss and a Band-aid.

A few feet away, the young mother had paused at the intersection of her aisle and the bakery area. The little one was now firmly ensconced in the seat in front of the cart a kiwi in each little fist while his brother was standing next to his mom waiting, calmly and patiently. They looked like angels.

“Do you miss it?” I asked, knowing the answer. The little one chose that moment to twist in his seat, pull back his arm, and launch a kiwi at his brother’s head. His aim was remarkable. The older boy burst into tears and starting wailing like a mad foghorn. The little brother looked shocked at this reaction and then started wailing too. The mom heaved a sigh, scooped up the older boy, kissed his head and carried him to his brother who looked heartily sorry.

My partner’s wistful look was gone. She looked at me, grinned, and said:

“Not so much.”

And we headed toward the checkout line and home.

Evolution of a House-not-wife

Possible things have endings – you know, that time that comes and tells you that you have done it, that you have accomplished something. It doesn’t happen when you are trying to maintain a livable home. Housework is not a possible thing because it is never done, not for long enough to count anyway. After twelve years of keeping a home for my family, I’m still not really okay with that. These people (my partner and kids) just keep messing up my house.

But for sanity’s sake, my attitude about housework has evolved over the years:

12 years ago:  It’s my job to create a safe, fun environment for the kids to play and live in. I’m smart and resourceful.  It’s just a matter of getting organized and using my time efficiently. How hard can it be?

11 ½ years:  God must hate me. I don’t think I’ve slept since April. The kids don’t even give me time to go to the bathroom. I have Play Doh in my hair and I’ve been wearing the same sweats for three days. I’m a failure.

11 years ago:  I did it! Look, I did it! The house is clean. The clothes are clean, folded with socks all matched and put away. The pantry is well stocked and I remembered everything at the grocery store. The children are clean and happy, the toys are put away, and supper is on the stove. My Partner will come home from work to a happy, peaceful home. I’m a little nauseous and that 9th cup of coffee on an empty stomach was probably a mistake, but my house is clean!

What was that noise?

10 ½ years ago:   This is hopeless. It doesn’t matter what I do because 20 minutes later or tomorrow, I’m going to have to do it again.  And just when I almost have everything done for the day, somebody spills something. Or vomits. Or breaks something or dumps out all the Legos on the stairs or climbs a baby gate and ransacks the kitchen while I was picking up Legos. If I have to get up and do it all again tomorrow, I think I’ll shoot myself.

10 years ago:  The degree of order and cleanliness in our house is NOT a reflection of my competence as a parent or a measure of my self-worth as a human being. At least that’s what my Partner says.

She also says it’s okay to let some things go. A home with children is, by nature, chaotic. And chaos is okay. I can learn to live with chaos.

So today, I’m letting go of the housework. Look, this is me, letting go of the housework. It will keep. The boys are going to remember when I sat down and played with them not how clean the house was. I want them to remember me playing Legos with them and making sock puppets, not mopping the floor. That sounds good.

But who is actually going to mop the floor?

5 years ago:  The most intellectually challenging thing I did today was try to figure out how to remove a red Kool-Aid stain from car upholstery. I have dishpan hands. I smell bleach in my sleep. I haven’t read a grown-up book in months. I’m pretty sure I can hear neural pathways shutting down in my brain. I’m going to be a vegetable by the time the little boys get to middle school. I really need a hobby.

yesterday:

Middle Boy:  “I think the cat vomited in the living room.”

Me:  “Oh. Just put a paper towel over it. I’ll get it later.”

Middle:  “That’s what you told me yesterday. It’s still there.”

Me:  “Then it’s not going anywhere, is it?”

Middle:  “But…”

Me:  “I’m trying to write here, sweetie.”