Teens Learning to Clean

At twelve years old, I needed to learn to take care of myself, including cleaning places I’d been.
I was sufficient at making my bed — no change could be bounced from the mattress I assure you, but it passed maternal inspection.
I kept my room tidy, mostly because of the onset of slight OCD. I didn’t share that tidbit; I took full credit for conscientious behavior and order following, as I did love allowance.
I vacuumed occasionally, emptied the dishwasher, dusted, all upon request. I mean, come on, a pre-teen can find one million things more fun to do than home maintenance. At last one normal Saturday afternoon my father declared it necessary that I learn to clean a toilet. The thought made me gag, but gagging in front of the paternal figure would result in a withering gaze — literally, withering; my head bowed, my shoulders rolled forward and down, all involuntary movements — so I soldiered forward into the Listening portion of the lesson.
Dad crouched in front of the porcelain throne with a sponge and a squirt bottle of undefined liquid.
“Now,” he started, lifting the lid and seat together to expose the bowl. “All you do is squirt…” Here he squirted, misting the white toilet edges as well as forming clouds of droplets that fell to the carpet and beaded. “Don’t forget to get under the lip of the bowl, that’s where a lot of dirt hides.”
And hide it did. I had never before considered any such “lip,” or noticed that water sprayed from beneath that ridge, who knew? Who cared?
I was fascinated.
“Now,” he said again, drawing in a breath. He held the sponge, a three inch rectangle of orange foam far too large for such a small space, but I didn’t know that then. “You stick your hand in and scrub the surface.” He began to demonstrate, thrusting the sponge into the water of the toilet and sloshing so much that the bedewed carpet suffered under a tide of chemical water, an onslaught from above, and my internal dialogue began with, Oh, you did NOT just stick your bare hand into the poo water!
That was the day I realized I am unable to hide emotions, whether they be elation or disgust. On this particular day it was the latter and Dad showed that his face, too, cannot hide emotion.
“It’s just water!” he thundered, his frown enormous, his displeasure scarring his face into permanent frown. “Go to your room,” he finished, at which I retreated thankfully, aware I would suffer a lecture later, and that was just fine, because EW!
Today I needed to clean the toilet and that lesson crossed my memory. I felt revulsed anew; I felt dad’s anger pelting me from the past. And I laughed aloud.
Today I didn’t have an overly large sponge, or carpet to worry about. I had a wand, and tile.
I didn’t need my bare hands to plunge into a field of bacteria and only God knows what else; I had a plastic distance to keep me safe.
Though the task is not fun, it’s certainly less life-threatening than back in the days when antibacterial soap wasn’t an item on any store shelf, but a bar of Ivory, costing 35 cents, was the norm and regularly shared by however many hands, dwelling in a soap dish, when those were a thing, until it dwindled into a rind of leftover scum, filling the dish’s ridges, nearly impossible to remove before replacement with a fresh bar.
Immune systems were titanium back then.
Bubs has learned about cleaning the toilet but not the way I did. I haven’t told him of my lessons with it because he would never forget it, as I haven’t, and there’s no need for such a disgusting visual.
I expanded his lessons to include laundry. I’m appalled at what teenagers consider dirty, and what they do not, because Bubs’ scale is the polar opposite of my own. He doesn’t worry with a smell test, he simply picks up an item of clothing and determines its cleanliness by how either the weight of the cloth feels, or how he feels; it’s a fascinating lesson in animal survival: is this adequate to either eat or wear?
“Feels fine to me.”
Is Mom still looking? “Must be dirty.”
Do I want to mess with this any more? “Wear it.”
Do I want to mess with this any more and is Mom looking? “Throw it in the hamper.” One night, Bubs changed from sleep pants into a pair of freshly laundered jeans, straight from the closet where I’d hung them the day before long enough to walk to the truck to retrieve whatever in the world he needed from the truck.
Besides the jeans, he wore a pair of once white socks, this being probably day 3, but my mind won’t let me think more than day 2.
Once back into the house, he changed from the jeans into the comfortable cotton sleep pants, and promptly housed the jeans within his clothes hamper.
If I hadn’t witnessed it, I would refuse to believe it. Turns out, this is common practice with my particular brand of teen. The socks are worn once but thoroughly, and so badly blackened that one wearing is all they get, but jeans worn for less than three minutes need fumigation.
Such strange logic.
And I cannot be alone in being the only laundress regularly washing wrappers: cookies, granola bar, purloined M&Ms; wrappers galore rotate through the wash and rinse along with everything else. If I counted the calories my boy ate discreetly, I’d be astonished he isn’t ready for heavyweight wrestling.
He’s learning to do his own laundry, but his timeframe for such duties is vastly different than my own. I like to always have fresh clothes around, he prefers to walk into the laundry room carrying bundles of fabric so rank that I Febreze the room once his clothes are safely contained within their bath of water and Gain and the wash cycle has begun.
I take no chances.
Toxic clouds are invisible and I refuse to succumb.

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Orange Scones

Aunt Lou was a horror. Mean as a rabid badger, stingy as Scrooge, but without the change of heart in the end, and forgetful, that she was evil and that she had breakfast an hour ago.
Each morning at 7:30, she wanted breakfast, from somewhere out in the world. I didn’t want to cook and she I agreed that didn’t want to eat anything I made, so out into the world we went.
My grandfather joined us, out of kindness for me, I shall always believe. He was a delightful buffer: kind, generous, and he laughed at my jokes. But when it came to the first meal of the day, Lou held sway.
She chose from her two restaurant options — I had no say, leaving my morning mantra to be, “McDonald’s or Panera, Lou?”
She would mull the options while I backed the van out of the garage and winded our way through her closely built neighborhood, then turned right onto a main road that took us to the crossroads: left if she said McDonald’s, right if she said Panera.
One sunny Thursday, she chose the bakery, and right we went.
At the restaurant parking lot, getting out of the van was an easy task. She had full faculty, only needing a cane for stability, and Grandpa was independent. Though they were mobile, they were slow, especially Lou. I watched the order entry line grow as we turtle stepped our way toward the end. And as always I glanced into the display case, its wares on full display.
Scones were running low, particularly the orange flavor, and those were my favorite.
I counted in my head. As long as only one other person ordered a scone, I would be good.
How could I point the ambivalent toward cinnamon or chocolate chip instead of the delightfully glazed orange beauty solely displayed in the middle of a silver baking tray?
“What are you going to get, Lou?” I asked her, trying for small talk.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, per usual.
“Grandpa, how about you?”
“Just a coffee,” he answered, his standard breakfast.
Piping in because she demanded attention, Lou said, “I want that orange scone.”
What?
My hopes were dashed by the very person I’d trucked into this establishment, and now I was required to sit and watch her munch my breakfast between her four natural teeth? And it never failed, she always left half of her breakfast on her plate, so the insult continued. I wouldn’t get my choice, plus I’d have to leave a delicious half of it behind.
It wasn’t fair.
“I don’t know,” I said. “That cinnamon roll looks pretty good.”
Lou glared at me before inspecting the case. “Hmm, I don’t know.”
“Remember how good it was yesterday?”
“Hmm. Yeah, I guess,” she muttered, though I knew she didn’t remember at all.
Finally it was our turn in line and the cashier asked for my order.
Grandpa stepped up to order his coffee, then it was my turn to order for myself and Lou. Fortunately, Lou pointed a knotted finger toward the bakery case and said, “I want that cinnamon roll. And a hot coffee, black.”
The baker retrieved Lou’s selection before turning to me.
“Oh, I’ll take that orange scone, I think.” I tried to sound complacent, insouciant. I nearly drooled just watching the pastry being scooped onto a plate.
And then I nearly passed out when the lady pulled a radiant, brand new tray of gorgeous, glistening orange scones from beneath the counter.
Grandpa laughed outright. He knew my ploy and knew I’d been bested.
It’s been 9 years since Lou died, and my grandfather reminds me of the orange scone story at every opportunity. The man has a steel trap for a brain.
And every time he mentions it, which seems to be every time I visit with him, I blush.

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Remodeling During the Middle Ages

A book club friend discussed remodelling her kitchen. She’s tried three times for the perfect green tint for her kitchen island.
“Will you try again?” I asked her, to which she replied, “Eh, it’s good enough.”
Pause.
“Twenty years ago would you have gone after the elusive perfect tint? Would you have tried again?”
“It’s such an odd color,” she thought out loud. “It’s the perfect color in the hallway, it makes me so happy, but in the light of the kitchen, it isn’t quite there.”
“Close the windows in your kitchen. Maybe try some blackout curtains,” I teased.
She laughed, preceding a discussion of window blinds and how infuriating they could be. So difficult to clean, never to be white again, certainly.
“I clean them in the tub,” remarked the third of us.
“Me, too!” exclaimed the fourth. “I use a Clorox bath and wipe each slat.”
I died inside, thinking the tedium of that task would bore me to tears.
“How do you dry them?” someone asked. “I hang them, let them dry.”
How quickly conversation devolves when you age. Our topics of conversation are now domestic, never discussed during book club before. Usually we talk about kids and how fun it is to be away from them for a while — how we love them, love them so, but boy, a tiny bit of alone time is a beautiful thing. Racy jokes; smutty books; silly indulgences when the kids are asleep. Where do we eat next? We’re foodies, I tell you. And if the restaurant includes a bakery, well, let’s go there two months in a row.
I returned the conversation to the original topic, this observation of aging ladies. “So, would you paint the island again, if you were younger?”
To which she paused. “Maybe,” she said after consideration. “Probably,” she affirmed a moment later. “But now, the current color will work. I’m not worried about it.”
“But will you peruse the color swatches next time you head to Lowe’s, just in case?” She considered the question. Her brow lifted, her eyes cast downward while she thought. “Yeah, probably,” she conceded, sadness in her tone. She’s had an ongoing project, adding two closets to the interior of her home. She used dead space to create storage, a brilliant solution. But with the construction came the decorating, with paint, lots of paint.
“I try to do the walls, for the feeling of achievement, but then there’s the trim.”
We groaned. The trim, ugh. Talk about tedium.
“I listened to seven audio books while I worked,” she added, her eyes wide, disbelieving. “Seven!”
Because one can’t read when painting, they must have it read. A great arrangement, if one enjoys the reader. Usually the kiss of death is an author reading their own work; authors are writers, not actors, an important distinction. “But no, not this time,” she assured me. “He’s really good.”
Giving in on projects was certainly an aspect of aging I had not considered until my onset of ripening. I didn’t know my arm skin would fall to sweep the floor, either, though I had visual cues all my life; my grandmother’s arms, when bare, were a spectacular harbinger that perhaps a few chair dips wouldn’t harm my triceps.
Did I do those dips? Heck no, those are work. They require things like moving a chair, clearing a space, doing the dip. Moving a chair exposes dirt; clearing the space requires a dust mop at least, a warm sudsy bucket of Pine-Sol Rain is preferred; doing a dip means sweat, which means a shower, taking more of my precious middle-age-lady time when I have this singular day away from the job each week to play out the rest of my life, the house stuff, the teenager and all of his stuff, bills, pets, and the ever expanding pile of laundry tames and beaten into submission.
Sometimes Tuesdays can’t come soon enough because Mondays leave me exhausted. Then I do it again seven days later.
Seems I am truly gerbil-like.

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Still Focusing on Focusing; It’s Tough

This morning after a workout at the gym that I pay but hardly visit, I felt fractured by tasks for the day. I have one day off for the week and it’s full. Grocery, car wash, laundry, book club meeting, pick up the boy and his friend after school, take them into town for minor errands they don’t want to make but hey, if they’re together, it will ease my pain — misery loves company, especially from the video game department, so if Bubs is happy, I’m happy in my solitude, perusing store shelves and indulging the impulse buyer within.
On my way to the truck, I realized I was too scattered to think straight. I needed a new mindset in order to focus.
Cue the meditation app I seldom open. It was a day of unique experiences, I guess.
So in the truck, on the road, I’m listening to a silky British voice floating from my phone to help me focus: breathe, let calm reign, settle the disquiet; it’s a full blown 20 day course, it seems.
“Focus,” he coaxes, but I’m mulling my list: grocery, carwash, school, et cetera. Mindfulness is helping only in that I realize I’m not mindful.
Therefore, I pushed Replay on the app and swore to focus, on his words, his instructions; his focus was solely my focus. Oh, except I was driving.
Still, I refused to turn the app off entirely, because, British accent.
I took deep breaths as instructed, mindful of my breathing and his voice; thus I was calmed. And focused. On breathing, and listening, so though my mind was still separated into bits, it was mainly only two bits, floating over the slightly subconscious To Do list. Oh, and driving.
Later, back at home, I sat at my desk to finish a report, finish an episode of The Crown, and design my latest drawing. All at once.
Laptop warming, waiting for instruction to go to Google docs.
TV warming, ready to queue into the next Crown episode, and me, staring at blank Bristol board, placing figures in my mind to draw later.
Scattered. Fractured. Again. But still breathing, though unconsciously.
After the enlightenment, for the rest of the day, I’ve tried to work one task at a time. So while I type, I have one ear open for Bubs as he plays his video game — moms know to listen at all times, even if only halfway. Netflix is on Pause, scrolling advertisements for new shows I need to watch; Netflix says so. Occasionally I peer toward the monitor. And I type, halfway, with lots of typos, because I’m attempting to finish. The quicker I type, the quicker I get back to the Crown and her realm of fascinating shenanigans.
So, still scattered, still fractured, but taking deep breaths now, because I’m focusing on at least one thing if it kills me, though, ironically, it keeps me alive. This is the gerbil wheel my mind rides every day. It’s exhausting. Yet I don’t sleep well, because though my gerbil tries so hard to rest, the wheel turns, distracting the rodent enough to, if not hop back on, then at least watch it spin.
I’m off to my meditation app, for the sleeping lesson. Forty-five minutes of sounds from a laundromat, that’s all I need to focus upon.

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Bucking the New Year Resolutions

I decided to get the New Year Resolution — eat less, exercise more, blah blah blah — out of the way before 2020. It’s December; why ruin a perfectly good January with self-loathing and guilt?
So I went to the gym two days after Christmas, stepped on a treadmill, started running at a good 4.6 mile clip, got distracted, and was thrown four feet backward by my own feet and automated machinery.
Yes, the treadmill bucked me.
I’ve seen the videos on America’s Funniest, and on YouTube — I think there’s an entire section set aside for just such inanity, and I’ve now spoken to one other person in the flesh who’s also been tossed aside. His empathy did not add salve to my bruised ego, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one in the Yukon Isle to have been bested by technology.
Interesting: after a thorough inspection and a good but slow walking couple of turns around the gym to show people that ignominy will not set me scampering towards the car to nurse wounds — “Can’t stop me, I got no pride left, I’m not hurt; ignore the whimpering” — I realized I made a seven-point landing in my escapade.
Seven.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t counted the giant bump, contusions, and road rash myself. Seven. Must be a record.
Plus, I broke three fingernails.
When I make a resolution, folks, I do it big.
Now I’m done with this pesky Take Care of Myself nonsense, and I’m on to the Don’t Wound Myself Further Until I Get Better Insurance portion of the year.
Aaaaaah, 2020…gonna be a slow, safe, steady kind of year.

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Fortunate Future

I don’t know precisely how to take this.
I ate my meal and trusted in a dessert of future well wishes but opened the cookie to find…nothing.
Hm.
After bandying several ideas, most of which were pessimistic, I landed upon, “Hey, Michelle,” — because my cookie wanted to know it cared enough to learn my name — “Your future is open to all possibilities; the universe is endless and it is yours. YOU choose your fortune.”
Then I ate the cookie…because…cookie.

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Listing to the Past

In order to learn Focus, a problem for me in every regard, I keep a daily journal. A day runner, not a diary, though I list anything relevant that happened during the day.
My most recent entry: “Dog threw up on my bed at 2:30am, watch him for signs of illness. Don’t kill him.”
As a pathway toward Focus, I make lists. Sunday evenings, I pen a schedule of To Do for Monday, my one proper day off work, often finishing a few before going to bed. (I can’t stand an unfinished list; it needs Doing immediately.) Then I have to make a new list.
Vicious, vicious cycle.
An example of Focus: each November, when I tackle the National Novel Writing exercise, I won’t stop writing without knowing what I’m going to write about the next day. It’s comforting to know. Stewing on topics is stressful, uncertain, and under NaNo pressures of jotting 1,667 words per day, calm is a blessing. My wee brain mulls on the next day’s activity while I contemplate vacuuming the floor until Netflix loads.
Days when I absolutely have no concept of how to proceed, I falter, flailing in my chair like an angry toddler forced to sit. While I panic that I have nothing to write, I organize my pen caddy for the eightieth time because that helps with thinking. (Nibs down, for best ink flow.) Though the ink pens are tidy, I waste half a day  and kick myself for doing so.
Thus…lists.
On the internet yesterday, I shopped for a new yearly log, a fresh slate for 2020 throughout which to jot things, because jotting is fun.
Oh, and make lists.
But while I was searching, I learned I’m not blazing new trails, that lists are not a Me Thing.
Ridiculous, I say!
Seems the internet believes focused lists like mine not only exist, but have a name, and it’s not mine! It’s called the Ivy Lee Method.
Who’s this Ivy Lee gal? I thought, indignant that she took my idea.
Ivy is a guy, for one, and he lived a hundred years ago, pointing out to high powered businessmen that making a list of six items — six, specifically — to focus on the next day centered the mind and got crap done.
Brilliant.
Simple.
Effective.
I know! I railed at my computer monitor.  I’ve been doing it for years!
Unlike Ivy Lee, I did not receive the equivalent of 400,000 dollars for my genius, which is galling. I’ve channeled the bodiless mind of a smart humble man of Yore — “If it’s successful, pay me what you will,” he said, in my paraphrasing brain — whose simple idea has saved my day a thousand times.
You can do it, too.
Here’s the premise:
Before leaving work, write down your top six must do’s for tomorrow. Number them in order of priority.
The next morning, work on only your number 1 item until it’s complete.
Work the rest of the list the same way.
At day’s end, move incomplete tasks to the next day’s list.
Repeat every day until you retire, then do this after that.
That’s it.
One caveat: don’t wind down with a meditation app before getting down to business. I still struggle with a course in my favorite app, Headspace, and its aptly titled Focus course. I get too relaxed after forty-five seconds, then think about something else, and/or fall asleep.

But I’m no quitter. I’ll get through the course somehow. Because it’s on my list.

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Recycling by Returning a Tree from Whence it Came

Readying for a fundraising event for our public library, I need ten live Christmas trees.
Each year we offer a fresh wreath-making class. All supplies — wreath frames, bits and pieces of trees and other area indigenous bushes and decorative flora, and ribbon — are included in the nominal fee that goes toward library operations.
But, as always happens when working with the public, not everyone who signs up to take a class will show for the event. I’d guess the attrition rate to be around thirty percent, unless it rains. If it rains/snows/mists/clouds up, all bets are off. Call it a “snow day” and cancel the whole mother until next year, because no one will set foot outdoors.
To have enough tree parts for wreathing, I calculated that for each four wreaths, I need one seven-foot fir tree. (No pine, especially Loblolly pine. They are no good for our purposes, I’ve been told over and over, because they shed quickly. You don’t want your wreath to shed, you know.)
Math is not my strong suit, but with thirty attendees on the roster, I need seven and one half trees, which is not a likely prospect as Home Depot frowns upon selling only a portion of any previously acquired merchandise.
I feel that holds true for all items, not just sawed-off fresh greenery.
Still, I wasn’t certain. If I bought, say, ten trees, and cloud cover derailed my event, could I return the corpses to the store for a refund?
Hmmm.
Management at the Depot said, “Yes, just bring your receipt and you have thirty days to return the tree.”
Silence.
“Thirty days?” I asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
The date being December 8, I utilized my weak math ability to calculate that Christmas occurs in seventeen days.
Just to be certain, certain, I clarified. “So if I return the trees within thirty days…” Thinking, I have until the 38th of December, I continued, “Then I am refunded?”
“Yes,” she confirmed yet again, patiently and with no irony.
“Is there a restocking fee?” I asked, to which she replied no. “And is there a partial charge for cleanup, like removal of wayward tinsel or vestigial ornaments?”
I did not ask the last question, though it was very much on my mind. No one likes a smart aleck.
Except other smart alecks.

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In Which We Bake

My Bubs and I have become addicted to a little thing called season 10 of “The Great British Baking Show.”
Seen it? It’s a TV delight during which two hosts and two judges entertain and bulldoze through dozen or so British bakers who are appealing, funny, sweet, and addictive. I’ve become fanatical about each and every one of the contestants and I never want any of them to be voted out of the tent under which they bake because they’re all wonderful. And each week, when one must say so long, I weep internally and lust for the next installment so that I may root for victors and cry for the valiant fallen.
It’s high drama each Friday evening on the prairie for the Bubs and I.
I also wish for Smell-o-Vision — was it  The Jetsons  who had that? — or Taste-o-Matics because I want to try all of the bakers’ efforts. All of them. Sure, I can pull recipes from the internet but that is  not the same thing, I assure you. I have black hands when it comes to kitchen activities like using pans or pre-heating things.
But the bakers make me want to try!
Thus was Family Bake Night born, from British bakers and their enthusiasm for all things sugar infused and chocolate covered.
Each weekend, the Bubs, the Sire, and I hunker around an internet-printed recipe and make that thing.  We started with cinnamon rolls from Cook’s Illustrated. (I love cinnamon rolls, the gooshy, overly cinnamon’y, dripping-under-icing kind.
Cook’s Illustrated did not offer that particular brand of roll.
Thus, week 2 came along and boom, a second recipe offering gooey goodness was followed to a T — to a T, people! —  and alas, I messed that up, too..
No matter! A third week came along and because of persistence and the need to utilize an overwhelmingly large bag of flour, the third batch of rolls evolved atop the middle of my very own kitchen island and booyah, it was a WINNER!
Cinnamon rolls conquered, we moved on to meringue cookies — because the Great British baking people made us believe we could do it — and doggone it, we did it.
What’s next? Who knows. We haven’t followed the show’s pattern, we haven’t followed along and made the incredibly hard things they are attempting during their quest for baking fame and hopefully a cash prize — because it’s me and I know my limitations — but we ARE baking, and we ARE succeeding in gaining at least three pounds each weekend.
IT’S A WIN!
Plus, baking is cheaper than wrenching, following the mandates of our previous fascination, “Fastest Car,” in which car enthusiasts spend small fortunes in turning slo-mo vehicles into racing machines that blow asphalt away from turf.
I think I’m dangerous in a household kitchen. I’d be dead in minutes if I attempted to go into the garage and “better” the Ram 1500. I might make a fortune, though, on the YoutTube, following along with the shortest mechanical/maintenance/instant-car-death that would ensue. Bubs would have an inheritance from residuals; maybe I should consider the idea further.
Anyway, I’m hanging with the bakers and praying there is a way each of them get their own program so prairie dwelling stalkers — admirers! — may follow their journeys.

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Parenting 101 — Nailed It

My teenager hates Sam’s Club.
I’m flummoxed.
I remind him repeatedly that I wheeled his adorable sleeping form for miles and miles, up and down every aisle, so that he could sleep.
Read that as: So I would stay awake and not lose precious hold on new-mom sanity while in the depths of fresh produce and free samples.
He loved the white noise, I tell myself. Even now, when he can’t sleep, I hiss like an ocean wave into his reclining ear.
(Not really. That’s creepy.)
M

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