Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pre-Visit Moment of Doubt

My in-laws will be here in a few hours. I never know exactly when they will arrive; they usually call when they are 30 minutes or so from my house. They are coming to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, as well as our oldest daughter's 8th birthday. When I say "my in-laws," I mean my mom-in-law, my husband's brother, and his wife.

They are kind people who love my children and make few demands as guests. I will enjoy their visit, and I will be sorry to see them go. But right now, I am at the difficult part of a visit: the hours before they arrive. During this time, I want to get my house clean, even though I know I can't. There is too much. I tried to have more realistic goals this time: I would merely make sure that the stacks of things we are giving to Goodwill actually make it to Goodwill before they come.

Nope. The stacks are still there. The time of day that Goodwill accepts donations are times when I  have my children with me, and I would rather give birth again than listen to them scream and cry or beg to help me or run outside the door and away as I carry box after box to the van. Goodwill errands with children are even worse than post office errands with children.

So I am anxious and feeling like a failure. Which I probably shouldn't, because I have actually accomplished a lot this month. This year I have been determined to simplify our lives in the house, and I have cleaned out all the upstairs closets (hence the Goodwill stacks). I want to have a home where an emergency does not send me into a housekeeping tailspin. I want to stop feeling like I am almost drowning.

So my bedroom is the cleanest it has been in years. The upstairs closets have some shelves that are  BARE.  Currently I am in the kitchen, where I have given the coffeemakers their semi-annual thorough scouring and put them in storage for the week (we will use the party 40-cup coffeemaker while family visits, and it is still spankin' clean from last time I put it away).  The bar stools that always have piles of stuff on them are, in fact, clean. I am sitting on one right now.

But the children have already demolished the living room that was clean two days ago. And I look around and I wonder - where do other people put their junk? I walk into houses that don't have cannisters of pencils and rubber bands on the little shelf under the light switch. Where do they keep them? What do you do with the stacks of papers that you can't throw out but have no immediate use for?

I have worked harder at housekeeping in the last month than I ever have in my life, and you would never know it by looking around my house.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In Mourning for Water Pressure

Yesterday the plumbers came and replaced our water heater. Our twenty-three-year-old water heater had begun to act out, leaving rust in our shower and sometimes failing to keep us warm. So a doughy young man with a powerful scent of tobacco came to my house and chatted with my children and removed our old water heater and put in a new one.

There was a slight hiccup when I mentioned that for a month this summer an eastern milksnake had lived under our water heater, poking his head out to wave at my husband while he sat on the toilet. Our young plumber, apparently, was deathly afraid of snakes, and decided to sit out in his truck and wait for his partner to arrive with the new water heater, rather than be anywhere near our basment, alone with an even hypothetical snake.

But the partner came and the snake did not and all was accomplished within four hours.

So we have reliable hot water and I should be happy as a clam. But I am not. No, dear reader, I am not. Because, you see, before we changed water heaters, our house had very high water pressure. Deliciously high water pressure. Our water pressure was my friend. It scrubbed dishes for me, it cleaned my hair down to the scalp, it filled the tub for children with minimal fuss and boredom for a waiting mother. I loved my water pressure. I could have bought the house just for the water pressure.

But that luscious, wonderful water pressure (110 psi) was much too high for city code, and would have invalidated the warranty on our new water heater. So the plumbers - at my request, mind you, THIS IS ALL MY OWN FAULT - installed a pressure reducing valve that brings our pressure down to code (75 psi) and preserves that precious warranty.

We have lost one third of our pressure.

It is like someone overnight picked up my house and moved it to Britain. My shower is a sad, pitiful thing. Oh, I have hot water, but what good is it when I must stand still as a stone under its weak dribble to stay warm? Where are my clouds of steam? Where is the force that detangles my hair without aid of a comb?

My kitchen faucet used to snap to attention with an audible thunk when I turned it on full blast, but now it is quiet and civilized, a demure, gentle thing. Poor faucet. I have emasculated you. You spray my dishes, but I know you're just going through the motions. There is no enthusiasm.

I am told that I will notice a difference when I get my next water bill. And I suppose our new state of European flaccidity is better for the environment. But oh, how I miss the surge and power of yesterday. Everything is changed forever.

Farewell, water pressure. I am glad I knew you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Housekeeper, Interrupted

I have been married for fifteen years. I have been a stay-at-home mom for eight years. If I count from the time I gave up on the PhD, my profession has been "housewife" or "homemaker" for five years.

And I am really, really bad at it.

I am a good cook and a good mom. I don't doubt those things, for the most part, except on emotional-trainwreck days, and we all have those. But the homemaking and housekeeping part of this life? I consistently stink at it.

In terms of career, if I had worked part-time and then full-time at the same job for fifteen years and the end product were this bad, I would feel obligated to look for a different job. Clearly this is not the one I am suited for.

I have friends who keep very clean houses and I often wonder how they do it. After a moment's consideration I usually remember that one or both of these things are true: 1) they have fewer than four kids at home or 2) they don't read books.

Maybe I am maligning those friends. Maybe they clean furiously without rest for eight hours each day and still take an hour to read Proust in the evening (full disclosure: I have never read Proust either). But when I compare my home to theirs (which, I know, is a deadly stupid thing to do - no good can come of it), it is slightly mollifying to remember that the things I would have to give up to be that tidy are things I would never be willing to give up.

But. But, but, but...

I am still really bad at this. My kitchen is always cluttered and seems to always have cocoa ring stains on the counter. For days at a time, my floors are actually crunchy. My mom-in-law, who is a lovely and generous person, always makes the place more orderly when she visits, and always does it without (verbal OR non-verbal) comment, though I am sure it must exasperate her (another full disclosure: her son, to whom I am married, is even worse at tidiness than I am, so clearly sometimes it skips a generation). My own mother refuses to go into my basement because the tasks to be done there overwhelm and depress her, and she often gives me gentle pep talks about how I need to address certain chores immediately and regularly so they don't pile up and feel too big to ever finish.

I clean, of course. We could not function if I didn't. When I wrote up my NaNoWriMo schedule, I became aware of how much I clean. I don't rest much. My kids get very excited if I sit down before evening reading time. But while I do enough to keep us clothed and relatively non-germy, it is not enough to be tidy. Here I am at 39, a decided lackluster performer at my chosen career. Maybe the house will be cleaner when all the kids are in school, but only if I never homeschool, and part of me still holds on to that dream. And I am wondering what comes next.

What about you? Are you of the cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness school? If you could give up cooking or cleaning, which would it be? How does the state of your home affect your life in general?

Friday, November 11, 2011

7 Quick Takes

I told myself that today I would do Conversion Diary's 7 Quick Takes as a way of getting the old blog rolling again. So here are seven things going on in my life.

1. I have been keeping the iPod under my pillow at night. No, this is not so I can play Angry Birds while my husband is sleeping (*avoiding eye contact and whistling*), but so I can read scripture on the Kindle app before I get out of bed. Nothing too heavy, just five or ten minutes reading the Epistle of James. Have you read the Epistle of James lately? "Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, because the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God." If I could master that one sentence of behaviour, my life would be radically altered.

2. I continue to work on NaNoWriMo, but have had a major hiccup. I have been working on the novel for 45 minutes in the morning before the kids get up. That seems to be my most productive time of day for writing, even though it means getting out of bed at 5:45. But something about the writing process has started giving me migraines, with light splotches and blind spots in my vision. So far the vision problems have subsided if I sit in darkness for twenty minutes while the kids watch a movie, but the last two days I have not written at all because I did not want to bring on another one when it was time to take the kids to school. I had finally found a writing schedule that worked for me, so this is very discouraging. It feels like the ability to write keeps getting taken from me.

3. I have been hooked on Downton Abbey, thanks to Melissa Wiley and Wrath of Mom. Currently, I am stopped where Mary sabotages Edith's marriage to Sir Anthony - I just couldn't watch that much spite. I am too involved in the characters and then I get heartbroken. But in a few days I will not be able to suppress my longing to know what happened, and then I will watch again.

4. It is Veteran's Day today, and my girls plan to make cards for our next-door neighbor, whom they love, and who is a veteran of five military campaigns. If you have a neighbor with a similar history, a few moments of kids with construction paper and crayons may make a big difference in his or her day. Even if it's a day late.

5. Books I am reading:  I finally bought a copy of Shusaku Endo's Silence, a book I have been wanting to read for ages. I read the preface and then I stopped, because I know it will be emotionally stark, and I want to read it courageously. November is probably not the time to do that; too many distractions.

Instead, I am reading our book club's selection of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a young adult fantasy novel. So far, it's pretty good, though I have not reached the central mystery of the plot yet.

The kids and I continue to read aloud through Elliot and the Pixie Plot. They loved the first of the Elliot books, and are enjoying this one too, though a couple of confusing editing mistakes in chapter eight diminished our joy slightly. We read the book aloud at the dinner table before they finish dessert. Only the oldest two reliably listen, but I still count that a win.

6. We have finally settled into the husband's five-day-a-week work schedule and the girls' school schedule, but the result is that I get almost no time away from the children. Even my solitary work-out at the YMCA (which has free babysitting!) has been absent from my life this week because of my back injury (which is almost all healed up, thank you). I am a classic introvert who needs time alone, so this much constant company begins to tear me down. I desperately need a break from the kids, so the husband and I decided that a solo overnight trip would be a good thing for me in early December. I have never done this before (not since becoming a parent, anyway). I'm a little nervous. I think I will be going to the Cleveland area, but I haven't entirely settled that yet.

7. Once again, my in-laws are visiting for Thanksgiving and my mom-in-law insists that we eat our big meal at a restaurant (which she pays for). On the one hand, this is very generous and I love that there is no clean-up. On the other hand, this has happened so many years now that my kids don't really have a sense of what home Thanksgiving traditions are. There is also the added wrinkle that my mom-in-law respects my abilities as a housewife more when I cook (which she hates to do).  When I don't cook, she tends to see only my catastrophic failures at tidiness (unlike her house, which  is always tidy). So I am wondering if I should insist on a home meal next year. Your thoughts?

Aaaaaaand in the brief moments it took for me to write this post, the children knocked over a cup of cocoa on the bookshelf and now I have about twenty books to wipe down. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Further Evidence That I Am Secretly My Father

I have hurt my back. I am an overweight, 39-year-old woman who started working out two months ago, and now I have injured myself. And I thought I was being so careful. Now instead of acquiring a fit physique, I've got a new hobby of cringing and groaning.

It is not a surprise that I have hurt my back. It is one of two body parts that makes me feel that I am secretly a 60-year-old man. And if you think I'm going to tell you the other one, you are out of luck. But I will say it's not a prostate.

My three year old keeps asking where my back hurts, and when I point to the lower right side, she assures me that she will only touch my shoulder if I carry her. She is convinced my boo-boo is like her scraped knees, and as long as she doesn't touch it, it shouldn't hurt. She does not understand why I don't want to carry her adorable thirty-pound self around. And when she does not understand something, she is EXTREMELY VOCAL about it.

So between my "OOF" and her "MOMMY!" our home is an exciting, musical place to be. Wanna come over? There's something on that top shelf I need.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


It is almost midnight on the first of November, which means it almost the end of of the first day of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel-Writing Month. The idea is to write a 200-page novel from scratch in one month.

So I set aside the novel I have been working on for the last two years, I made myself a writing schedule, and I started up. To complete it in one month, you would have to write almost seven pages a day. Today I got one. And I ate an obscene amount of Halloween candy, which did not add to my feelings of success. This is going to be a rough month.

But I will keep trying. Even if I only get a page a day, that's still thirty more than I had at the beginning, right?

But writing out a weekly schedule makes me aware of how little free time I actually have. How little rest time. How little time away from tiny people who whine/sob/shriek their dissatisfaction at me. I can squeeze out a scattered two hours to write, and that's assuming no one gets sick and the housekeeping stays at scandalous minimum.

This is going to be an ordeal. And I don't just mean for me.