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Archive for the ‘Keep It Clean’ Category

Do you ever buy onions or citrus in plastic mesh bags like these? Do you hoard them under the sink like I do?

More than a year ago now I figured out how to turn a pile of these into a scrubbie and I have been washing dishes with one ever since. I finally gave up the nasty *dish sponge* and I have not missed it. In fact, I still have to keep sponges around for the occasions when My Man washes up, and I am not even tempted to use them anymore. What a gross and unnecessary invention, that nevertheless took me many years to figure an alternative to that I liked using.

(Many people use a wash cloth and like them just fine, but I found them too flappy aroundy. I did eventually find some terry cloth diaper inserts that are a good size for dish washing, and I use them often, but this scrubbie fits perfectly in my hand and has the full force of scratchy nubs to clean the dishes!)

So, to turn your pile of bags into a scrubbie:

Step 1: Cut off all the end closures so you have just plain sleeves of mesh.

Step 2: Starting with one, curl the ends around itself so that it rolls up into a circular sausage.

Step 3: Repeat with each sleeve until you have a big fat wad, much bigger than you think it should be (it will get scrunched up).

Step 4: Reserve you longest, nubbiest one for the last. Instead of rolling it in like the others, tie a knot in one end to reform the bag, turn it inside out (so the knot is on the inside bottom of the bag) then insert your sausage roll. Work the knot up into the center of the roll. Scrunch the wad up inside the bag until it feels like a good scrubbie size and density, then tie up the top of the bag, fold the top back under and tie again so that your outside bag is wrapped twice around the whole shebang. Tie again, but this time attempt to not pull the end all the way through the knot so that the scratchy ends are not pointing up into your hand.

Scrunch the knot down flat and then use with the knotted side cradled in your palm.

 

Didn’t I say it was perfect?

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The last two months have been packed with three different batches of visitors, totalling seven adults and two kids. It’s been a lot of fun, but my desire to get on top of the house really fell away from me, round about visitor #1. Although everyone was very helpful and the basics of clean up were maintained just fine, the behinds and underneaths have really suffered.

oh look, kids! a buried treasure! lucky me!

These next few weeks I really need to take the house in hand. I need to be on top of my game, because My Man has finals starting at the end of the month and next month will be a manic wave of packing and moving, we leave here May 18th! A mere 42 days away!!! Holy fuckorama!

Several people have said that if we’re leaving so soon, why bother cleaning now? But when you have two little kids and a man finishing up his law degree, you simply cannot wait till the last week to start the massive cleaning and packing project that is a family move.

Tackling a really filthy house can be daunting, especially at first. Especially with two littles underfoot.

I take it one room at a time, making a first pass over the house where I do a basic picking up of everything, including all corners and underneaths, clearing of stacks on shelves and tables, and a good thorough sweep. This takes at least a week at the pace I can uphold with kids. When I finish that I make another pass (of course having to pick up a week’s worth of detritus first) giving everything a good thorough wiping/moping/scrubbing/dusting– the sort of stuff I usually almost never get to.

This week I have started the ball rolling with a first pass. I have five rooms done, hallelujah! Here’s my tactic for picking up a ridiculously messy room: I put several boxes or baskets in the middle of the room– one for dirty laundry, one for stuff that needs to be put away in other rooms (if your room is really truly ridiculous you might want a basket for each destination, ie: bedroom, kids room, kitchen, etc), one for give away, and a trash can. Then I make my way around the perimeter, on my hands and knees, methodically chucking shit into the respective boxes. I find this much easier than picking things up one at a time and dealing with them, and the chucking is quite satisfying.

caution: this is a frustrating job to do while the kids are in the room, they will pilfer your carefully organized boxes. but, what else are you gonna do? use your precious kid-free time to clean the house?

When I get done picking every single thing up, I take the baskets and put stuff away, then come back for what is usually some epic sweeping.

Ahhh, now doesn’t that look good? It makes me feel literally lighter. Whenever I clean my house like this, I enjoy it so much it makes me wonder why I don’t keep it like this all the time.

Oh, right. Now I remember. Because this serenity lasted all of three hours, and that only because I took the kids out for a walk. By the next day, you couldn’t tell I’d done a damn thing.

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It’s hard to take so much time off. What do I come back in with? Part of me wants to write what my ex-social worker friend calls a “narrative” about our last month, to process it all. But, geezus what a daunting project. I thought instead I would break myself back into the business gently, with a delightfully over-obsessive inquiry into something beautifully mundane.

Laundry.

During our very difficult last month I, rather amazingly, kept on top of the laundry. I mostly kept at the cloth diapering, even though I had fortified myself heavily with a stock of disposables. And apart from a few rainy, exhausted days in which the dryer’s proximity to the washing machine lulled me into complacency, I kept up with my chore of hanging all our laundry. I even managed to put a few hampers of clean clothes away.

I am not telling you this in order to gloat. Because let me also fill you in with the parallel truth of my two gorgeous kidlets, sitting brain-sucked in front of Dora the Explorer for 3-4 hours of every day. Or 5, or dear god, 6. On our most rock bottom day, I am pretty sure that the 2yo watched movies during every waking hour.

And, you know how I feel about that.

Would I trade my neatly folded, sweet-smelling, crisp laundry piles for even just a few hours less of that vacuous look in their otherwise earnest, perfect eyes? Oh yes, if I could. If I could have summoned the strength. But while the job of mothering was almost incomprehensible to me, the job of laundry was so attractively clear cut. Open washer, fill with clothes, turn on. Remove wet clothes to basket, take outside into the fresh air and one at a time, pin by pin, hang on the line. A task completed.

For the first week, I was thinking that being a mama was helpful during such emotional upheaval. It helped me keep my shit (mostly) together. Helped me keep up with walks and outings every day, keep putting some form of dinner on the table, keep from crawling under the covers and crying away the day. But as our month moved along, the motherly task of emotionally and psychologically giving, giving, giving completely undid me. I began to have very unmotherly feelings like, get the fuck away from me, you little shit. I will admit to a passing fantasy about a large dog kennel. I felt stingy with my energy, with my self.

A friend pointed out that maybe allowing myself these ungracious feelings, allowing myself to plant the kids in front of the screen for hours of the day while I devolved, will keep me healthy in the long run. Mentally, and even physically. And I can see that. Makes some sense. At any rate, I tried to release all guilt about the screen time. I plugged the kids in, and went to hang up the laundry.

I love hanging laundry. It’s my favorite chore, hands down, and that is the sole reason I am so ‘good’ about keeping at it. The rest of the laundry chores are not so very. Gathering the laundry together? Meh. All that crawling around on the dirty floor, sniffing armpits, assessing stains. Putting the clothes into the machine, that’s neither here nor there. Folding clothes I could do without, and having to put those motherfuckers away, each in their own pile, in their own room, after the whole long process is almost just insulting.

But ah, the hanging on the line. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the stiff feel of wet cloth, the snap when you shake each piece out, the wood clothespins fitting neatly into place, the satisfaction of baby shirts waving in the wind. It’s just lovely.

Do you hang laundry? Do you love it? Hate it? How did you learn to do it? I feel lucky to have had a few teachers. Although it sounds mind-numbingly simple, there are a few tricks to hanging laundry well, things mother would have passed on to daughter in days gone by. And just the fact of respecting it as a chore. I recently put our little flimsy piece-of-shit plastic table at one end of the laundry line, and I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. How wonderful to have a place to set your basket, so you don’t have to bend over each time you pick up the next thing. When you repeat a task every single day, gains in efficiency and pleasure don’t have to be big to add up quickly.

Do you know the trick about using one clothespin to hang up two edges? Four rags can be hung with five clothespins, instead of eight, when you overlap the edges just a bit (we go through a shocking number of rags).

Do you hang jeans upside down or right-side up? How about tee-shirts? I generally hang them right side up, but have had problems with them becoming mis-shapen. Once when my MIL, also a clothes hanging fanatic, was staying with us she went outside and re-hung my entire load of laundry, upside down. I would have been annoyed except that she is probably one of those girls who learned from her mother the “right way” and couldn’t bare to see it done wrong. I considered the tee-shirt issue carefully and tried hanging them upside down for awhile. Now I have given up hanging tee-shirts on the line altogether, since they are so prone to getting stretched out, and started looping them over the stout wood dowels on my drying rack instead. No line, no stretching. In case you care. I for myself don’t, but My Man does.

Then there is the bleaching issue. The sun will bleach your clothes out, quite quickly down here. If I were a better wife, I would turn My Man’s dark clothes inside out when I hung them, and therefore keep the outside color intact. But I have only recently given in to separating colors for the wash. One can only go so far. I have learned to not leave clothes on the line much past dry to avoid any extra bleaching, which I consider progress.

I figured out some time ago that when I can fold the clothes outside, as I take them off of the line, everything runs smoother– the clothes avoid the crumpled-in-the-hamper wrinkles (I have been known to let baskets of clean clothes sit around for weeks before folding and putting away), not to mention that I am much more likely to put said basket away when they are folded and ready to go. Plus the task of folding feels like much less of a task when it is part of taking the clothes off the line, and happens outside in that lovely breeze. This is another enormous advantage to my new ‘outdoor laundry table,’ it gives me a good space for folding. If I take down the clothes in order of where they go– ie: all My Man’s shirts first, then pants, then the 2yos, etc– I save myself from having to sort it out later as well.

Here’s one last good laundry tip. Stop folding your 4yo’s clothes. If she is anything like our 4yo, getting dressed is not a static event occurring once/day, but rather a continuum of dressing and undressing. I set up this clothes bin for her some time ago, and have never regretted it. She can go through the clothes to her heart’s content and pick what she wants, she can even (theoretically) put them away (never happened yet). I don’t have to get outraged that she’s disturbing careful piles, and when it comes time for the reality of me picking up her floor, putting the assortment of outfits away is easy.

Do you have any banal laundry tips to share with us? What makes your laundry rituals more pleasant and efficient? What’s your favorite household chore to set your mind straight?

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My Little Angel just looooves to draw on the wall. Maybe it’s my ‘independent child-rearing’ philosophy (also known as leaving the kids unattended in the other room as much as I can get away with), but at our house it seems to be a simple if/then formula. If there is a crayon (pencil/marker/chalk) anywhere in the bottom 28 inches of our house, then he will find it. If he finds it, then he will use it to draw on the wall.

I have a friend who just rolls with the punches, and lets the house become one big chalkboard. She figures when the kids both top 5 they can paint over everything, and until then, why spend any time worrying or scrubbing? I applaud the surrender, and if we owned our home, I would seriously consider such a tactic. But we rent. That shit don’t float.

After some experimentation I discovered the magic mark-removal method. It’s simple, nothing new or exciting here, but I was excited, and that’s what counts.

  1. Spray marks liberally with pure vinegar
  2. Pour a teaspoon of baking soda onto a wrung out rag
  3. Scrub that SOB till it’s white again

I tried just vinegar, and just baking soda. Neither worked. Gotta mix ‘em baby. Maybe it’s the science project foaming action, maybe it’s the grit of the baking soda reaching down into the textured surface of the paint. Whatever it is, it works. It can take some hard scrubbing though, especially pencil marks.

Make sure to add more baking soda as necessary, you want to be able to see a thin sheen of it on the wall. And yes, you do have to follow this treatment with a clean wet rag to wipe all the soda off.

for scale, this is about 18 inches across. and no our walls are not gray, they're white. lighting is everything, so they say.

it takes a good little pile of baking soda, enough to get the grit factor going

this is an uneventful photo, right? unless you want to get your entire security deposit back, then suddenly it becomes very attractive

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Whoever said that washing dishes is zen did not have screaming kids hanging off their legs.

One of the benchmarks of motherhood for me is the concept of being downright thankful for the opportunity to wash the dishes, all by my lonesome at the end of the day, while My Man is playing with kids in the other room. Ahhh. I’ll concede that that there might bring me closer to enlightenment.

Lately though my almost 2yo has been thoroughly enjoying dish duty. I remember when the now 4yo went through this phase– washing dishes would actually fix a bad mood for her. Those are the good days, happy toddler by your side, discovering the properties of water and gravity. Another kind of enlightenment.

Little Guy stands up there on his stool by my side, pouring water from one cup to another, with occasional success, on the very edge of the sink. I am so thankful that I let go into the Mess long ago. I was thinking of you new mamas today, as the puddle at our feet grew into a small lake. I just want to make sure you have some good mama friend who’s given you the key. Have you? The key to open the Mess Lock in your mind. I guarantee you will not regret it.

So what if a literal gallon of water hits your floor, half cup at a time. It’s water. Just a good start to a floor mopping is what I always say. Helps combat the other more righteous messes. I guess if you live in a desert and water is truly precious, it would be wrong to waste it. But anywhere else, just give it up baby. Give it up now. Water is boss.

A friend pointed out recently, as we watched our kids play with the hose for half an hour, how much water goes into making toys? Kids toys and adult toys alike? Should we begrudge our kids a little via direct line? Screw the toys, my little man can play happily with water for at least an hour a day.

Combine that with standing up next to mama while she does some real live grown-up chore? Involving brushes and bubbles and clattering? Awesome. He can splash, pour, fill, dip dirty dishes in the rinse water, try to nab the scrubbie, it’s a haven of trouble to get into. If he can break a dish while he’s at it, why that’s pure nirvana.

Breath deep sister. Another day, another load. More neurons fired. All’s well.

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dish Jenga

I was rabidly anti-dishwasher for a long time. When we moved into our new house in Alaska, some 8 years ago, I unhooked the dishwasher so we wouldn’t use it (well, actually I unhooked it because it was on the same water line as the ice maker for the fridge, and I wanted to move the fridge out to the garage… Hey, I was coming from a tipi in the woods with no running water or electricity, cut me some slack.) My anti-dishwasher morality went like so: If people don’t have to clean up after themselves, then they are allowed to be distanced from the true consequences of their lives and actions. If I cooked too much and had too many dishes, it was my own fault for having luxurious expectations for my diet, which would be better off simplified anyway. It’s unrealistic in the scope of humanity to expect complicated, feast worthy meals, and baked goodies almost every day.

As you know if you follow this blog, I’ve blessedly grown up and out of this self-righteousness a bit. I still believe all that stuff to be true, but I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to a radical life than just black and white ideals. Like translating them into a practical lifestyle that you can sustain over the long haul, whilst still feeling a part of your community.

The reality of my “radical life” is that I cook almost everything from scratch, and despite my best efforts at a Zen-like refusal, still expect to eat the lush and varied diet of a modern first-world human. This means I make a lot of dishes.

As we got our Alaska house ready to rent before the big move two years ago, we hooked the dishwasher back up. And since it was hooked up, we started using it. I was 6 months pregnant, with a very two year old, busy packing a zillion boxes.

I was a bit smitten.

You just put the dishes in. And…. it…. washes them. For you.

I admit I was a little disappointed when our New Orleans rental house didn’t have a dishwasher. But I buckled back into washing a family’s output most days, with My Man making up the extra.

Until last May.

My MIL is one of those treasured people who remembers what having two small kids is like. This is not necessarily always the case, I’ve found. Many people seem to have blocked it all out. They give me quizical looks when I lament the challenges of my life, as it stands. They seem surprised, and the surprise betrays a judgement. But my MIL, bless her heart, remembers these crazy days and has full empathic sympathy.

So for my birthday last year she bought me a free-standing dishwasher. It’s not plumbed in, instead it has a long hose that attaches to your sink faucet (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either). This is a great thing if, like us, you are in a rental. And it was only $200. Of course, it’s just a standard, bottom of the line dishwasher, nothing fancy, and not particularly efficient I’d guess.

the beast

Both My Man and I quickly developed a real love/hate relationship with the dishwasher. On the one hand, I sure liked having it wash the dishes for me, a task that had become mind-numbingly difficult in that first, insane year after the second baby. I liked that the counters stayed cleaner too, instead of always piled with dirty dishes on one side and the clean dish Jenga on the other. But I was disappointed at how long it took to load. Like all those modern conveniences I have this feeling like it should remove all burden of work from my shoulders, and I’ll just float free. But of course, no. There’s the rinsing, the bending way the fuck down there to carefully arrange every dish for maximum efficiency. The rearranging when you just want to fit that last one dish in.

But mostly what ticked me off was that my dishes weren’t clean. I mean, maybe 50% of them were truly clean, 40% were reasonable, but not up to my handwashing standards, and the last 10% were ridiculous and needed to be washed again, with a scrubbie and a strong elbow because that filmy white shit was really stuck on. I was often too proud for this, it made me feel like I had been beaten into submission by a mere machine, and I would stubbornly put these filthy looking dishes back into our cupboards because, fuck you mother fucker, I was going to have the last word.

exhibit A

exhibit B

exhibit C

I thought it was our dishwasher at first. Then I started asking around. From what I understand dishwashers used to work, and still do, in some states. Specifically, in the states that haven’t outlawed the high-phosphate detergent. My MIL explained that she would smuggle the illegal kind back from Montana whenever she went, and then cut the Washington approved stuff with it, because otherwise her dishes were as bad as mine. Other people I talked to seemed to have just accepted the double-edged sword of having not very clean dishes, and having to rewash the worst ones.

It seemed to me like dishwashers were just a big dupe, the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes while we kept right on asking for more. But, my life was pretty crazy, as I may have mentioned. I’d take any help I could get, even if it was bad help. So I kept on using.

But, when we got back from Christmas at the MIL’s illegal detergent household, and I opened our cabinet for a glass, I was repulsed. The glasses were almost all covered with The Film. (Since it goes on the dishwasher, but never comes off without hand scrubbing which I seemed to proud to do, it had just multiplied over time. Plus I think that once The Film is on there, it attracts more Film to it, building up with every wash.) I had had it.

I went cold turkey. Fuck that mother fucker once and for all. I worked through the cabinets one sink-full at a time, feeling a new-found joy at the sight of sparkling clean glasses and jars.

All throughout this entire process My Man and I had speculated how much time the dishwasher actually saves. I suspected it was not as much as I wanted it to be, or as much as most people think. Finally a few weeks after making the switch, I was overcome by curiosity. It was time to break out the barely concealed Type A personality and do an experiment.

The Great Dishwasher Experiments

When I was feeling in a good place, and had a Saturday ahead of me for the latter part of my experiment, I started by loading our dirties into the dishwasher. I timed myself loading, in four separate batches, which is about how I would usually do it. It took a little more than a day to fill. Then, recruiting My Man to keep kiddos at bay and allow me an uninterrupted time block, I unloaded that same batch of dirties and hand washed them in the sink.

I know. I know. But aren’t you glad I did? And guess what, due the tarnish of the shocking conclusion by a few inaccuracies, I did it again. And then again.

The first (flawed) experiment yielded this score:

  • dishwasher- 13 minutes
  • handwash- 17 minutes

I was blown away. I had been expecting to be surprised, but this simply couldn’t be right. That it had taken me 13 minutes to load the dishwasher wasn’t too surprising, but a mere 18 minutes to hand wash that enormous pile of dishes?!?!?!

After attacking my scientific method, I had to dispense with such pedestrian techniques as simply watching the clock. I discovered my obnoxiously useful iThing has a stopwatch, and I employed it during my next two experiments.

The other compromise to my results came in the rinsing department. I am a negligent rinser when loading a dishwasher. Another power trip thing. If I’m gonna pick up the dish, hold it under flowing water, and wield a sponge or brush, I might as well just wash that son of a bitch. But, you do have to at least knock the chunks off, and I realized that I had unfairly counted that time with the dishwasher segment, and then put the pre-rinsed dishes straight into the sink for handwashing.

So, round two and three followed, with more accurate results.

  1. dishwasher 7.5/handwash 13.5
  2. dishwasher 6.5/handwash 12

While the first flawed experiment suggested a ratio of 1:1.3 (1 minute of dishwasher loading to a mere 1.3 minutes of handwashing), the second offered a more comforting 1:1.8, and the third almost 1:2.

Phew, dishwashers are at least worth something!

I still find these results shocking though. Not the ratio as much as the actual minutes involved. I mean, even the first 18 minutes to handwash blew my mind, let alone the following 13.5 and then 12?!?!? Before washing that first batch, I told My Man I expected it to take about 40 minutes. That was my, I liked to think, educated guess. I have washed an awful lot of dishes in my life. When I finished and looked at the clock, I couldn’t believe it, I kept rechecking the piece of paper I’d written the start time on, and re-calculating the math.

When I did the handwashing, I consciously didn’t race. I proceeded at my usual pace, though I will admit that is pretty quick. I used to dawdle over dishes, when I was younger, and time was a deep pocket from which I endlessly dipped more than I needed. Nowadays, I do hustle a bit.

What this whole experiment has pointed out to me is, not that dishwashers are useless exactly, but that handwashing dishes only takes an additional 6 minutes a day! That I can wash an enormous load of dishes in 12-17 minutes! Who knew?

Like most women, and even a (very) few men I’ve know, when I wash dishes I also tend to clean the kitchen. They are kind of wrapped up in my mind. I had never taken the time to extricate dishwashing from the whole clear the table/put the leftovers away/scrape the plates/wash the dishes/wipe the counters and stove shebang.

Not to mention that when you have kids, 15 minutes of dishwashing can easily become two hours of trying to get back to the now tepid sink full of dishes in between retrieving snacks, mediating fights, wiping tears, wiping asses, wiping spilled milk and generally cleaning up after the implicit 15 minutes worth of unsupervised play.

None of which that goddamned dishwashing machine helps with one iota.

So. The conclusion. Is saving 6 minutes a day worth a cupboard full of filmy dishes? I’m sure it will depend on the day. In general, for now, I am sticking with handwashing. But I don’t regret having had the dishwasher during that not so long departed Year of Insanity.

For one thing, at the end of a long day (and they are all long) loading the dishwasher sure sounds a hell of a lot more tacklable than washing the dishes. Dishwashers offer the ellusive possibility of easy clean, even if they don’t deliver. If I could just find the right machine, or the right detergent, this time it will be different….

I like what Eric Knutsen and Kelly Coyne say in their book Urban Homestead. After discussing whether the hype about dishwashers being more efficient than handwashing is true, they own up to the fact that either way, they love their dishwasher, “it has saved our marriage more than once, and you’d have to pry it out of our cold, dead fingers.”
Those guys kick ass. I love their candor.
Though I have to add, did any of you read Kelly’s recent post about cleaning a coffee cup stain with baking soda? I hate to say it, but that filthy build up would have never happened in the first place if the cup had been regularly washed in a sink with two hands and a scrubbie.

where all my best thoughts go

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Well friends, I have some exciting news…

No, not that. Hopefully you won’t be hearing that exciting news from me, ever. We hope and intend to keep it to two. Two parents, two hands, two whirling dervishes. It’s simple math. How do you mamas of three survive?! I’d like to know.

No, our exciting news is of the big, boxy, constructed of wood variety. We’re moving! Not far away, and to another rental, but a single! We currently live in a ‘half of a double shotgun,’ New Orleans speak.  Which means a classy, 100 year old duplex. Worse even than a regular duplex, because both sides are completely linear. Seven rooms all in a row, no hallways even (the story is, if all the doors were open, you could shoot a gun straight through without hitting anything). Which means that every room is one wall away from your neighbor. Who is a 50-something confirmed bachelor, not particularly fond of kids, and worst of all works at home. The first year went okay. But… we grew tired of each other.

Funny thing is, he has never complained about the (copious) screaming, he claims he doesn’t hear very well. But what he has always complained about is the running. We have old wood floors, and the sound does really carry. I guess he hears the low vibrating floor sounds better than the high pitched, air-borne banshee screams. But what are you gonna do, right? Kids don’t walk, life is too short. The 3YO has finally learned to “run on her toes” but the 1YO walks as all toddlers I think, bang, bang, bang on his heels.

In August of last year, I suddenly was just over it. I didn’t want to feel the stress of keeping my kids quiet in our own home. And as soon as I realized I wanted to move, I could hardly think about anything else. I was obsessed. I scoured craigslist 4 times a day. We didn’t want to leave the incredibly walk/bike friendly part of town we’re in now, and we didn’t just want to move to another double in hopes of a more understanding neighbor. We needed our own place.

But there wasn’t anything. I mean, not anything. Granted I was looking at a small area, about a mile square. And we have a pretty small budget for a single family home, $1,500 was our top limit. One place came up, soon after I started looking. We applied, but didn’t get it. And then, nothing. For four months!

I had given up. I was resigned by now. We only have another 16 months here. The neighbor’s not that bad. It’s perfectly livable.

But then a friend had a friend! With a house! A single! We’ll be able to run and jump and scream all we want! And it’s not even a shotgun! It has separate bedrooms, that you don’t have to walk through to get to another room! The baby can nap!

Yes, I am a bit excited. It’s just as nice as the place we’re in, though lacking the very old house charm. The location is not quite as ideal, but it’s still perfectly good. It’s about ten blocks away. The yard is a lot bigger. And it has central AC and heat (our current place has window units, loud and obnoxious). The rent is pretty much the same as what we pay now, $1,200, even though it’s a single family home. I think that’s because the neighborhood is slightly lower income. Read: Less pristine white yuppie-ness. Which is good, we’ve always been a bit too trashy for this well-manicured neighborhood. But sadly, as cities go, lower income can also mean less safe. We might have to cut out the night walks.

The only problem with our glorious new digs is that we have to wait till the end of the month to move. Darnitt! I want to move right now.

(Well, okay, the other problem is that it puts me half the distance to the chocolate croissant bakery, La Boulangerie.)

In other news, I’ve been excited to share my latest wood butchering project. A friend here got the Learning Tower for her 14 month old, and I was jealous. It’s basically a large, semi-enclosed stool, so that your little helpers can get up to the counter without fear of falling. When the 3YO was bitty I always just put her up on a chair. She fell a few times, but I didn’t worry too much. For some reason this time I was having a harder time letting go mentally. Maybe it’s because the 1YO is a daredevil. The 3YO was always very adventurous, but she was cautious too. Not this one. He’s a classic boy, I must admit.

Anyway, the Learning Tower looks like a great investment if you’re at the outset of your parenting years. But I just couldn’t pony up the $200 myself. Especially since I had a small stack of scavenged wood under the house (for no particular reason other than that I can’t help myself), and a reasonable amount of building experience under my belt.

This was pretty simple to put together, if you know your way around wood. It took me a couple of hours, and that was with “helpers.” The painting took another hour or more. But I felt it looked a bit too ghetto pre-paint, even for my crude taste.

I decided to make it attach to the counter. In order to be free-standing and stable enough for an adventurous toddler (who would likely grab one side and shake/rock as hard as his little arms could manage, to try to tip it over) it would have to be quite a bit bigger. Also, making wood projects free standing is always harder. You have to make your measurement and cuts perfect, and that’s just not my style. But if you simply attach your slightly wobbly whatever to a stable, stationary thing like a counter, voila!

I happily found some semi-locking hooks and eyes, which work perfectly. I have two sets, one for a station at the counter, and one at the sink, so he can help with the dishes.

I’m quite pleased. It works well, and really cuts down the stress in the kitchen. It’s small enough that it’s not too unreasonable in our little space, especially since we pretty much always had a chair in there before anyway. The 1YO loves it. Unfortunately the 3YO is also quite enamored, there have been a few sadnesses over it already, even though I was careful to stress as we built it that it was his stool.

When I built this, I started out taking a bunch of photos, thinking I would write a How to Do Basic Carpentry for True Beginners post, with this as the project. But as I progressed, trying to think from a true beginner’s standpoint, I realized this project would be a little too complicated if you were really at the point of learning to use a saw and screw gun.

But I really feel that a lot of women have missed out on these basic skills, and they are ever so useful around the home for little projects like this one. If you’re like me, you have trouble learning from a man. I was thinking of maybe doing a tutorial on it, with really in-depth descriptions and photos of how to use the basic tools for a smaller project, like a simple shelf. What do you think?

This would take me quite a bit more time than a regular post. I have seen some tutorials online that work like a class, and cost a small fee. Would anyone be interested in paying $20 or something for an online class like this?

Last order of business is the spiderwebs. Ah, yes.

I have a post-in-progress (post-out-of-progress is more accurate) about kids and messes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Remember the cute story about the 3YO asking if I was the “Cleaner” and proclaiming herself the “Messmaker?” She used to occasionally throw everything on the floor for fun. Not too bad. Well, since I started my Cleaning Obsession, she picked up the pace a bit. Then a few weeks ago I made the fatal mistake of yelling at her for it, laying on a big, dramatic guilt trip and generally making a scene. Aha. A whole new game.

This is the kind of Little Bit I’ve got, anyone else blessed with this kind?

Even as I yelled at her, I knew I would regret it. And regret it I have, man oh man. She started doing it every couple of days. And when I say she throws everything on the floor, I mean everything. She often does it right after I’ve finished cleaning the house. Making null and void my hour of picking up in a mere 6 minutes.

In an attempt to get at the root cause, I took our big bags of recycling out from under the house the other day and set them in the backyard. I gave her the green flag to throw them around, and she did, but there was no glee in it. The point is to be bad mama. What fun is sanctioned chaos?

But the spiderwebs. I’m not sure why I told the above story, they are related in my brain. But is it because making spiderwebs provides a healthy release for chaos, or because it drives me almost as insane as the throw-everything-on-the-floor game?

Spiderweb making is something she started ages ago, after a Curious George episode. It’s probably hugely educational, challenging one’s physical and mental dexterity. And that’s why I’ve let her continue it as a semi-regular habit. That and the fact that she adores it.

The web construction goes like so, I give her a ball of string and she winds, hooks and twists it around over under and through everything in the room/house/yard/whole fucking world.

Don’t forget now that our house has no hallways, and you have to walk through every room to get to any other room. Talk about claustrophobic. Yeesh.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this to you other mamas out there. But I feel like I can’t not recommend it either, it’s such an infuriatingly healthy little excersize. Maybe if you start out with a rule about spiderwebs in the yard only, you’ll do better than I, who has learned by experience what it’s like to be a fly.

Then again, what the hell am I doing??? Stop making messes you damned curious, inquisitive, passionate little monsters. Can’t you go watch TV?

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