Washing Woes

Just in time for christmas, the washing machine died! Well it’s not entirely dead, but dead enough to cause major problems. It still fills with water, and still drains, sort of, but the clothes are left sopping wet and sometimes the soap doesn’t really rinse away. I’m not too angry with the washing machine, considering it was the replacement for the washing machine that died during hurricane irene (our basement flooded horribly). That was 2011. Given the insane amount of laundry I do- some days I simply lose track, but it can be upward to eight loads a day- this washing machine has fought the good fight. On the low end it has washed 6,500 loads of laundry, and some of those loads contained ghastly compounds (two babies were born over that period).

Right now I put the clothes in, add a tiny amount of detergent, close the lid and hope for the best. If I’m lucky the soap is rinsed out a while later and the clothes are sitting in a somewhat clean puddle of water. Then I hang the sopping wet clothes in the basement until they’re downgraded to very damp, then into the dryer they go.

I’ve gone long periods of time without a dryer but it’s virtually impossible to go without a functioning washing machine. It’s very difficult to wring out clothes by hand and the detergent never seems to really go away when you wash by hand. Plus the constant exposure to detergent is killer on your skin- even if you wear gloves some always seeps in. Someone once told me back in the day daughters never went to school on laundry day because their help was needed at home. I can vouch for the fact that doing large amounts of laundry by hand is an arduous, labor intensive process that probably fomented the roots of feminism.

I advised my husband yesterday on the state of the washing machine. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘There’s not much we can do about it today. Do we have enough laundry to last us a week?’

HAHA… this from the man always complaining on lack of available towels. If I go even two days not on top of laundry it piles to epic heights. Nope, I told him, then showed him the sad situation in the basement where puddles of water spotted the floor like an aerial view of lakes.

We have a family habit of running appliances, cars and shoes into the ground then squeezing yet more breath from them. Right now I have two leaking fridges, a dishwasher that has been repaired five times, a dead stove, a second semi-reliable stove, and my husband was turned away by the shoe repairman yesterday because his shoes were deemed terminal. He’s still wearing them.

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Nothing Strenuous is Strenuous

After 15 years of home ownership in NYC, I finally crossed a line I’d never crossed before: I hired a lawn service to deal with my lawn. In early summer I was forbidden to do “anything strenuous” because I appeared to be on the verge of miscarrying. And “strenuous” includes mowing the lawn, hacking weeds, and hauling watering cans to remote areas the hose won’t reach.

So the grass grew, and grew and grew. The weeds grew, twisting vines and thistles. The ornamental flowers I planted before knowing I was pregnant shriveled and died. A large oak dropped two massive limbs in the yard. They rotted while grass and weeds overtook them. By August, parts of our sidewalk were barely visible through the spreading bramble.

My husband promised to pick up the slack but he was too busy on weekends, and I long ago accepted nagging doesn’t work. My son, unenthusiastic about yard work to begin with, developed a nasty staph infection on his arm putting him out of manual-labor-commission for a month. I began collecting the numbers of landscapers from trucks I saw while out driving, but to our surprise no one called back. I thought the economy was souring and people were desperate for work? Apparently not, or, landscapers are extremely unorganized businessmen.

Finally we caught one, and the estimate was surprisingly cheap. I hired him on the spot. The next day three men spent three hours hacking and hauling debris from our lawn, and by the time they left it looked like a different house. I ventured outside with my almost three year old today- a few months too late- to enjoy the sun and grass while she ran back and forth in a joyous frenzy.

yard

In living paleolithic cultures, such as the Amazon rain forest or Papua New Guinea, pregnant women remain active through their pregnancies, hauling older children, puppies, food, and everything else no matter how rotund their bellies grow.

indigenous

Lolling around and letting other people do the work is unheard of. So I’m not sure taking it easy, physically, really does much to reduce the risk of miscarriage, but here I am still pregnant after months of idleness. The most strenuous activity I’ve done is haul bags of laundry to and from the basement once or twice a day, and technically I shouldn’t have done that.

Of course, women in stone age cultures aren’t going to worry about grass growing too tall. I’m not sure they could even grasp such a concept. But it caused me an awful lot of angst and lost sleep over the summer, wishing I could get out there with the rickety lawn mower. All’s well that ends well, or at least it will hopefully end well, soon enough.

Book Murderer

It’s such a painful thing to throw away books. It almost feels like throwing away a living being.

With all these kids, we get a lot of donations. People like to bequeath their old clothes, toys, and books to us. I’ve even had people buy up books at library sales and dump them on our doorstep. While I appreciate these gestures, if you factor in that my husband and I are both book hoarders, and that we already owned thousands of books between us when we got married (many of them obtained for free from library trash bins, or for pennies from library book sales) it becomes a problem.

We have a sun room and bedroom filled with nothing but boxes of books (that no one reads, because they’re totally unorganized). The garage is half filled with massive plastic containers of books. Most of those books are adult books (not that kind of adult) or textbooks. I’ve made every effort, over 17 years of parenthood, to liberate the children’s books into the wilds of the house. Every bedroom except that of my 5 and 2 year olds has bookshelves packed with books. And in the common spaces there are large moving boxes (years old, from when we first moved into the house) overflowing with children’s books.

So I finally took it upon myself today to sort through the cardboard boxes and throw away books. I’d already established rules. Keep in mind ALL these books are in poor condition (up to 7 kids and 17 years of abuse) and couldn’t be donated or sold.

1) Anything we got for free would be tossed, unless it was a truly outstanding book.

2) Any book where I didn’t like the art would be tossed (take that, lousy illustrators).

3) Anything my 2nd grader received through a “special” program would be tossed. It’s amazing how much money is poured into educating the lower achieving strata of students. She’s brought home countless learning kits, parent guides, and learning libraries from her various intervention programs. If only that kind of money were spent on high achieving students. We’d probably have Star Trek technology by now.

4) Any damaged books would be tossed– on an inverse scale of desirability. The beloved Calvin and Hobbes books were in shreds, so they were tossed. But less loved books only needed a missing cover to meet the scrapheap.

5) If I just didn’t like the book, or was sick of seeing it, I threw it out. I guess like living beings, some books just rub me the wrong way.

By the time I was done there were five bags of murdered books lined up by the back staircase waiting for sanitation. I neatly arranged the remaining books along the floor by the wall. That’s another thing– I’ve long held a deep-seated fear of bookcases and entertainment centers ever since becoming a mother. Every year hundreds of children are killed by falling furniture. We don’t have bureaus either– at least not in the rooms of the little kids. Even if a piece of furniture is anchored to the wall, the anchor can fail or lose efficacy over time. We did have one bureau fall over on the overachiever at the old house– it was my childhood bureau and thankfully very lightweight. She was only 5 years old but emerged unscathed. Many children are not so lucky.

So I stand before you a book murderer. Supposedly books are going the way of the dodo anyway, though I personally don’t believe that. Books sales are up in Europe and some distributors have made top profits in recent years. My husband works in publishing and remains optimistic. He foresees a hybrid system where electronic books simply augment paper purchases (sort of like DVDs to theater tickets). This is precisely what his company has seen over recent years, so physical book lovers, take heart.

Mom Walking 2

My mother is visiting this week, and as I’ve mentioned before, every step she takes in my less than orderly household makes my heart skip a beat. Unlike my 90 year old ex-nazi neighbor, my parents haven’t aged well. He can scamper up and down ladders like a monkey and still does his own shoveling; my parents, though 20 years his junior, can barely climb the stairs. And my house has a lot of stairs.

stairs
That’s just one flight.

There’s a certain standard of cleanliness that you devolve to when you have seven children. It’s more a standard of sanitation than “clean.” Are there bodily fluids on the floor? Are the toilets flushable? Is there anything toxic, poisonous, or sharp lying around? If no, yes, then no, it’s all good. This morning as I was cleaning up the sun room where our kitchen table is, I noticed some dried up ice cream all over the wooden bench. No big deal, I thought. It’s not sticky anymore. Then I remembered my mom might sit there.

So I’ve been scurrying around all day trying to neaten things up. Two hours later things looked a little better.

livingroom
The cleanest it’s been in months.

When my husband complains about the house being messy I point out he didn’t marry me for my housekeeping skills. By cruel stroke of fortuna my vacuum cleaner died over the weekend, so my rugs are looking, to borrow a phrase from the 80s, grody. You can’t see the ground up cookies in the rug fibers in the above picture.

This afternoon my mother told me when she was a young girl and would vacation on Cape Cod with her family (this was before it was a tourist area) the cottage they stayed at had no electricity, so an ice vendor would make the rounds of the homes selling large blocks of ice slung over his back. This was put in an ice box that had a drainage mechanism for water runoff as the ice melted. She says the large blocks lasted forever and the food was kept perfectly chilled. Boy do I feel old having a mother who remembers ice boxes.

Routine

I spent many a sleepless night this summer obsessing about the morning routine of the impending school year.  Who would I take where, and when?  And with my oldest in school there’s no one home to watch the toddler, so she gets drug along for the ride (where I grew up, they say “drug” instead of “dragged”).  But it hasn’t been so bad.  It’s taking me about an hour to get everyone packed up; I first chauffeur my oldest daughter to high school, then ferry the elementary girls to their destination.

Were it not for a treacherous parking lot (I can’t just drop them off– we have to park and then walk the gauntlet) and obnoxious drivers, it would almost be enjoyable.  And then I’m back home with just the toddler, where I can actually be productive instead of having my skirt tugged at every three minutes. Just yesterday and today I cleaned up the biohazard rooms of my teenagers (they share by choice), my five year old and my eight year old.  I discovered all kinds of strange and horrifying items, namely, hundreds of cardboard toilet paper tubes neatly squirreled away in a drawer (some had been slipped inside the other for greater storage efficiency).

hoarding

An adult member of our household, who shall go unnamed, is a compulsive hoarder, and at least two of our children have inherited this trait.  One is messy and open about it, but the other is calculating and squirrelly; cardboard tubes and writing utensils are her specialty. When she was five years old, I discovered hundreds of neatly ordered, unsharpened pencils lined up in her closet.

I threw out eight bags of clutter, garbage, broken toys, and useless oddities.  I would go so far, as of this posting, to say the house is clean.  So the soul of my paternal grandmother can rest in peace, in her icy grave.

Rags Instead of Paper Towel

rag2

About a year ago I realized I was spending nearly $20 a week on paper towels.  There are nine people in our household and between the various spills, cleaning, and hand drying we were burning through countless rolls each week.  I would buy one of the “mega packs” at the grocery store each week, and by the end of the week we would be lucky to have one roll left.

So I decided to cut up old towels to use as rags.  I’m not sure if I’m saving money, because I do end up doing more laundry, but, I’m pretty sure I’m coming out ahead.

If you are interested in following the same path, don’t make the same rookie mistakes I made.  Don’t cut any kind of fabric into a rag.  Cleaning rags need to be absorbent and made from towel or towel-like materials.  I have not had luck with cutting up old socks or shirts as rags.  Don’t cut the rags too small.  If you are using them in place of paper towel, make them at least the size of a good sized paper towel piece.  And, don’t use and reuse a rag over and over again.  This is a health risk, especially in kitchens or bathrooms, because bacteria loves moisture to grow.  I actually never made this mistake but I don’t understand why people will never use and reuse a paper towel piece, but they will use and reuse rags even for disgusting cleaning jobs.  Yuck!  Use the rag once and throw it in the laundry.  We have about 200 rags in our rag box.  We grab them as we need them and throw them in the dirty laundry when done.  I wash them along with the regular clothes, unless they’ve been in contact with bleach, in which case we wash them separately.

The only thing I still use paper towel for is to change baby diapers.  I never got on the cloth diaper train, and I don’t want to clean the kitchen counter with the same rags with which I clean baby poop.  When we use rags to clean a bathroom, we always wash them in hot water and bleach, and run them through a hot dryer.

rag1

Rags are born.

Restless Ghosts

When my children ask about my life before their existence, I tell them I don’t remember anything.  What was school like, what was my favorite color, did I watch the Snorks?  I tell them I remember nothing, it’s all a blank, and not to bother asking.  But the truth is, I remember everything.

When my parents moved us, we rented a house while our home was being built.  The rented house was enormous, surrounded by woods on one side, facing a dirt road on another, a colonial cemetery steps away.  I had never seen the wild, had never seen snow, had never heard coyotes or seen changing autumn foliage.  Stone walls, built centuries ago, lined roads and properties.  Our neighbors kept horses.  I sometimes approached the horses, watching with amazement. They returned my stares with angry eyes.

We had no friends.  No one visited the house.  The rooms were tremendous to my seven year old vantage and seemingly endless; once my sister and I unlatched a door to a section we’d never explored; the rooms were stacked with antiques draped in heavy cloth.  When our parents learned of our explorations the door was locked and we never saw those rooms again.  There were empty stables beneath the house, built into a slope.  The stalls still smelled faintly of straw and we imagined restless ghosts of horses kept there.  And there was cold, terrible cold, winter swooped down and around the house like an angry god, chilling us to the bone.  We burned fires in the fireplaces, I sat near, watching the flames, never having seen fire so close.  Occasionally we poked at the crumbling logs and embers with long brass pokers, watching the wood systematically destroyed by fires my grandmother set.

My grandmother cleaned.  She cleaned without ceasing, like a cloistered monk prays without ceasing.  Only in afternoon, she’d settle down, all sighs, into the sofa to watch three hours of English speaking soap operas.  Despite her weak English she was able to follow the plots’ minutiae, and despite her otherwise icy opinion of men, she attended thirstily to the cast’s liaisons.  And once it was over she was back to cleaning.  The house was cleaner than a hotel, my bed neatly made and tucked each night when I climbed under fresh covers, each toy lined up with museum precision, each article of clothing hung or folded with scientific accuracy.  Every corner of the house was vacuumed, swept, washed, disinfected, polished, waxed.  My sister and I were never asked to help, in fact, we were hardly asked to do anything; it seemed our sole purpose in life was to attend school and endure my father’s volatility.  We endured both with all the stoicism as we could muster.

I’ve searched for that house on the internet; it had a title and was landmarked, but I’ve never been able to find it.  The town was so small that our phone number had five numbers, which I still remember: 66771.  There was a horseshoe shaped flowerbed in the backyard, long overgrown with weeds; had we remained in that house my grandmother, an avid gardener, would have weeded and restored it.  She hated the snow, the winters, the cold, and always spoke of one day moving to warmer climes.

She is buried there now, in a graveyard bordering a river that ices over in winter in thick and broken sheets, bare trees overhanging like sad attendants.

The Lazy Person’s Guide to Mopping Floors

Note: don’t try this on wooden floors, which are not supposed to get wet.

Depending on how much floor area you need to clean, place bath towels on the floor.  If you’re a natural organic type, mix up your earth friendly floor cleaner.  If you’re like me and think all that natural stuff is a marketing scam, mix up your generic pine sol and neatly pour it on the towel until it’s completely saturated and very wet, but not dripping water all over the place.  Then let is sit there for 5-10 minutes while you eat a cookie and contemplate life.  If you have a 19 month old, let him or her crawl around on the sopping wet towels.  They’ll think it’s great fun.  You can also step on the towels here and there to squish them against the floor.

floors

After the allotted time, pick up the towel and move it to the next section of the floor. Quickly take a dry rag and wipe clean the area where the towel had been.  Any dried up gunk and grime should come up effortlessly.  And there you go.  Who needs mops?