Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Cleaning, Shinto-style

Some friends came over for brunch recently—a couple of hardcore DIY-ers who have installed drywall, a toilet, even their own electrical wiring. They just renovated their kitchen. By themselves. 

When they came inside, they looked for the usual pile of coats to throw their stuff. I gestured toward my new knockoff Eames Hang-It-All—a brightly colored, wall-mounted coat hanger.

“Just installed it myself,” I said with only a hint of smugness.

My friends went to hang their coats. The Hang-It-All immediately collapsed under the weight of their spring outerwear. The whole mess—coats, hats and cool, mid-century modern coat rack—hung sadly by a single screw.

“Epic fail,” said our eldest daughter and slouched out of the room.

"You just need better screws," our friends told us.

We invited our friends into the kitchen, where I spent several minutes cleaning bits of crud off the kitchen island and rooting around in the pantry for the bottle of Perrier I’d bought earlier that week.

“I know it’s in here somewhere,” I said.

Meanwhile, one friend (the wife) got busy doing my dishes from the night before. Because I always ask friends to come early to help me get ready for my own parties.

When she finished that chore, her gaze, full of pity, rested on my pantry. Its shelves were filled with a few cans of food nestled in a jumble of eco-friendly shopping bags, empties, boxes of breakfast cereal and a collapsible crate my brother had given me in an effort to get me organized. It was stuffed with old cookbooks I hadn't used since the Food Network began.

“Do you know what we’re reading?” said the husband. “It’s a great book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

I'd heard of the book. In fact, I was number 378 on the waiting list to borrow it from the library. Which was great because that meant I could avoid tidying up for a few months.  

The author, Marie Kondo, is a Japanese home organization consultant who says she has been reading her nation’s equivalent of Woman's Day since she was five years old. (OK, there is probably no Japanese equivalent to Woman's Day. There is no place in the world, other than the US, where it makes perfect sense to have a magazine cover that features weight loss tips and a cake recipe on the cover every month.)

Kondo’s lesson for tidying up is simple: keep only those items that bring you joy, and get rid of the rest.

There’s also good folding advice,  our friends told us. Put socks side-by-side in pairs, rather than folded into sock balls. Stack piles of shirts on their sides, so you easily can see what you have.  

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “I’ll never stop making sock balls.”

“It’s all about the energy of the socks,” said the wife. “They’re on your feet all day. They like to rest in pairs in the drawer, not all bunched up.”


After breakfast, my friends did all the brunch dishes and set my kitchen in order while I poured myself a glass of Prosecco. 

I noticed how naturally it came to them to tidy up. There was no procrastination or argument about who should do what. They just got it done.

When everyone had gone home, I thought about laundry. Because that’s my excuse to watch Netflix while I avoid folding the basket of clothes in front of me. 

But then I thought, why not? Why not make an effort to get a little more organized? It wasn’t like I had anything better to do. It was the time when most people were spring cleaning. Plus, our middle daughter needed her older sister’s hand-me-downs, which were buried deep in the back of her drawer.

Okay, I thought, let’s just try one pile. I went into my daughter’s room and opened a drawer. It was like the pantry—a jumble of folded, piled shirts, empties (in her case, old candy wrappers) sprinkled liberally with eraser dust and pencil shavings.

I folded my daughter’s shirts as she looked on in sullen silence. She doesn’t like anyone to mess with her mess. 

But when I put them in her drawer, the pile on its side, magic happened. There was now a rainbow of shirts in the drawer, filed neatly side-by-side, rather than stacked on top of each other.

My daughter and I looked at each other, both of us smiling, astonished by this feat of domestic engineering. It made us happy—joyful, even. Here’s the weird part. I felt like the clothes were happier too. But maybe that was the Prosecco.

The socks called to me. 

“Please don’t bunch me up into a tight ball. Please let me relax with my partner beside me.” 

Sure I had spent too much time indoors that day, but it was really like these objects had preferences about how to be kept properly.

That whole Shinto animism thing had got to me. 

I texted my friend, which thankfully gave me an excuse to avoid more folding.

“I just spent 20 minutes of my life re-folding shot. I will never forgive you for those lost minutes!”

“I mean, refolding shut. Thanks a lot.”

“That was supposed to say shit! I was refolding shit. Fucking autocorrect. Like socks. For 20 minutes. I’ll never forgive you.”

My friend texted me back: “You’re welcome.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Clicker-training the kids

At the end of the summer, we bought a puppy. 

As these things tend to go with us, we had one or two “maybe” conversations about it first, then just decided to do it one day.

Yep, bought a puppy on impulse. Here’s my advice to you: never do that.

If you’re at all interested in dog breeds (and I wasn’t before this) you’ll know that the kind of puppy we got was a ridiculous choice for our family.

“A Husky?? That’s way too much dog for you,” said my beloved Auntie H. 

And she was right. 

I spent the first month cleaning up toilet training messes, extracting the puppy’s jaws from my son’s shirtsleeves and pant legs, then sewing said shirts and pants. Then sewing them again when my terrible sewing job came apart in the laundry. 

And walking and walking the dog. She needed a lot of walking, and was crazy on the leash. She would zoom into the street, jump up, strain forward and cut in front of me to go after a smell.

At night, exhausted and full of regret, I would pour a glass of wine, cry and watch Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer shows on YouTube.

It was kind of like having a new baby. Except the regret part! I have never regretted having more kids.

I fantasized about taking the puppy back. Thing is, she was so beautiful. Way prettier than any of us will ever be. She would really make our family look great in a Christmas picture. And the kids were having so much fun with her…what could we do?

Take her to obedience school.

At our local pet store, we signed up for a class. On arrival, our puppy was already out of control with the smells and new puppies to play with. 

“Tssht!” I said, correcting the dog. But the trainer, Izabel, was having none of it.

“None of this Cesar Millan stuff,” she said. “No ‘Tsssht!’ Only Cesar Millan is Cesar Millan. You need you use a clicker.”

She explained the basics and we got to it. Click, treat. Click, treat. Then you say the dog’s name, and when she looks at you, click and treat. In this way, she learns she’s done something right.

It worked. Within a week, she had learned to sit on command and to come when called. The next week she learned lay down and shake a paw. Our walks to the park calmed down.

It was a revelation that a beast could be controlled with a click. So I immediately thought of how it could work for our children.

Our middle child had been struggling with homework. She absolutely hated it and refused to do it, week after week. 

“Let’s try the clicker!” I said to my husband. He looked at me sideways.

“Yeah, no. But I get your point.”

He went to the cupboard and found a stash of chocolate chips.

“Now,” he said to my daughter. “You are going to do each one of these math problems. And each time you do one, you’ll get a chocolate chip.”

Guess what? It worked. Within ten minutes she had done her homework and had a big smile on her face.

It’s no less busy now that our puppy is seven months. I still need to keep training her, and her exercise needs eat a huge chunk out of my day. I still sometimes regret taking on this new responsibility but I have to admit she has brought a lot of joy to our family—not to mention the miracle of clicker training.

I’ve still got to get that Christmas photo organized, though. Just as soon as I’m finished walking the dog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gratitude Challenge

I was nominated for the gratitude challenge trend this week—i.e. challenged to list things I’m grateful for. While I usually like to thank the Universe in private, other moms were throwing down. They listed stuff like “my beautiful children,” “my amazing husband,” or “my thigh gap.”

So it’s on, bitches. Here’s my list:

 1) Two “super push-up” bras for $8.99 on the clearance rack at Joe Fresh. I do not care about a 1-inch gap between the bra and the boob or the overly-ample padding, which resulted in my 6-year-old calling them my “booby pillows.” You can’t beat that price.

2) Weird phobias. My friend has feared fish and buttons for 20 years. My daughter was afraid of ferns and mushrooms until she was eight. These sorts of fears make me feel better about myself. And they also make me laugh and laugh. Every time.

3) My husband doing grocery shopping, even if, in a frenzy of frugality, he bought a month’s supply of discounted diet yogurt and waterlogged, No Name ham.

4) Losing 5 lbs this week, despite not running, drinking wine and eating tortilla chips at night. (Possibly this was due to husband’s grocery haul.)

5) Coffee pods delivered to your door. Whenever I feel down, bored, tired, unsure, insecure, muddled, afraid, resentful, or that disorienting, bottomless feeling that life is a pointless journey toward a black void of nothingness? I just pop in a pod and feel peppy again. I’ve gone through 42 espresso capsules this week. I’m typing 200 words per minute, getting heart palps and my magnesium levels are in the toilet but who cares? I’m just feeling so fucking grateful right now!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vitamix vs. Vaporizer

At a ladies’ brunch recently, I caught up with a friend. It was 10 a.m. We were knocking back Mimosas and talking green smoothies.

“Guess what I got?” my friend said. “A Vitamix!”

She did a little happy dance.

A Vitamix is where blender meets power tool. It liquefies anything in its path. The toughest, most resilient kale turns into green juice. Beets turn to borscht, carrots to carrot juice and almonds to almond butter at the touch of a button. Some people even use them to mulch food scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells into instant compost. 

Ah, to own one. 

It would bring this pasty, land-locked city mom one step closer to fulfilling my dream of living in a beach hut and becoming a tanned, clear-eyed raw foodist with amazing skin and a squeaky-clean intestinal tract.

On my wish list of ridiculously expensive household appliances, that blender has been sharing the top spot—above a dishwasher—along with that other essential for stressed-out parents everywhere: the vaporizer. They may not scream "take charge of your health" like the name Vitamix. But what the Pax, Magic Flight and Whispr do connote is relaxation.

“Forget the vaporizer,” said my friend. “Get the Vitamix. It’s life-changing!”

“A regular blender can’t be that different,” I said. “Sure, my kale smoothies do have a bit of texture. But I’ve learned to live with it.”

“Do your kids drink them?” 

She had me there. 

First chance I got, I dashed away from the party and went home to revisit my $40 Hamilton Beech. I was going to challenge that sucker. Push its limits. Take it into uncharted territory. With my finger firmly on the “Pulse” button, I knew I could provide the calm-assertive energy it needed to blend up the most tooth-loosening veggies I had in my fridge. 

I tossed in the driest winter carrots, the stringiest parsley stems, beets that had rattled around in my crisper for weeks, ginger root. And of course, kale. 

I added water, and blended. It became a murky sludge I was afraid to taste. I added dates. I blended and blended and blended. I blended for several minutes. When I smelled rubber burning, I stopped.
I poured the smoothie into a glass and forced it down, chewing the mulched, liquid salad. Tried to think of it as a gazpacho of sorts. Sweetened with dates.

“This is really good for me,” I said between gulps. But after my stomach refused another sip, I had to admit I had probably just made myself some really expensive compost.

I had made my decision.

Feeding kale to my kids in liquid form just wasn't that important. 

Maybe that isn’t life-changing. And I still have chunks in my smoothies. But after a hit on my new Whispr? I don’t really care.