Digging My Way Through the Day Job

Okay, here’s the deal.

I have been called a perfectionist, a fairly over-zealous housekeeper, and an over-thinker.

While this is sometimes undervalued in the kid-raising environment, I understood it to be a bonus in the work environment. That place called a “real job in the real world”, the place that looks for buzzwords like “organized” on a resume.

“How would you describe yourself?” asked one of the three women who interviewed me.

“Flexible,” I replied, pleased to see the trap and avoid it.

Flexible covers all the bases.

“Um,” suggested another interviewer, “Would you say you were organized?”

I hung my head a little. How did they find out?

“Well,” I admitted, “I am organized,” I glanced up apologetically, “but…it’s just so not sexy, you know?”

Two things happened in that room that day.

I flubbed the world’s worst interview in the history of all interviews.

And they knew exactly who they were about to hire. Not my fault.

Six months down the road, I am standing at the copy machine showing it who’s boss (you get your perks where you find them) and I realize I’m standing in a glorified closet that hasn’t been cleaned since carbon paper was an actual thing.

As you know, I am equally interested in processing purchase requisitions and dusting for cobwebs.

I’m a multi-faceted individual.

I cleaned out the closet before the copy machine was done whining about life, and pleased as punch with the transformation, went about the rest of my professional day. Pinkies up.

You’re welcome, world.

Two days later, our supervisor huffs into the room, “Who took my tray?”

We glanced up from our keyboards, mid-thought.

“In the back closet,” she continued, “I kept a tray of stuff back there so I wouldn’t have to carry it all with me every time I make copies.”

I slunk a little lower in my seat.

“I tidied up the closet the other day,” I admitted, “but I don’t remember any tray.”

She walked over and looked at me, “It was just a small tray of random things. It had my stamps, some paper clips, a couple of…..”

In my mind I saw it, sitting on one of the shelves, a pile of junk surrounded by flotsam and jetsam from years of neglect.

The look on my face was the same one used when Hubby approaches me and asks who cleaned the garage – the dumpster where tools and wires are discarded after a job half-done – and I know full well that telling him his tools are actually back in the toolbox on a tidy shelf will only make him madder.

Her words echoed his: “Don’t tidy any more closets. I need to be able to find things.”

She walked back into her office as I made eye contact with my coworker.

“But there’s a nice little container of all that stuff sitting tidily right beside the copy machine now.”

We shrugged and went back to typing.

I did, however, go after my own files with gusto. I approached each pile of papers like an archaeologist, prepared to find both treasure and trash, and excited to discover which might be which.

You can’t always tell (ahem).

The ladies who had gone before me each left their mark, passing on nuggets of valuable information, email chains that hashed out a big question so that I would not have to, ten years down the road. I appreciate their efforts to blaze the trail for those who may follow, even if the trail goes in circles or directly off cliffs.

They left me sticks of gum and rubber thumb thingys that have nubbins on them.

And also, they left me this.

Not only do I salute the Captain Obvious who put this together in what must have been a time of crisis (I remember that year), but I am delighted to admit that I am, by very definition, the guy who makes this list relevant in 2017.

My girlfriends know exactly what I’m talking about.

Well, Rats

Monday morning we woke up and discovered that we had been victims of a home invasion robbery.

Foolishly, we had left the back door open to the night breezes and everyone knows that a flimsy screen door doesn’t stand in the way of a determined burglar.

The door opens onto a balcony. Only scaling the walls to the second floor will put you a position to know whether the door was actually open. We thought we were safe.

Afterward, my daughter spoke up and remembered that she had seen a movement from the corner of her eye two days prior, a quick shadow in the evening gloom, hanging around our garage and disappearing when she turned to get a better look.

He was casing the joint. Waiting for his moment. Admiring the goodies he imagined were inside.

The dirty rat broke into our home in the wee hours on Monday and took his time wandering around, deciding what he wanted.

I shudder to think we were all deep asleep and heard nothing. What if our bedroom doors had been open? What if we had heard footsteps and gone to investigate? I can only promise you one thing for sure: I would have taken one look and run into the streets shrieking. To my shame, I would have left my family in the house asleep and hailed a cab in my onesie, headed for anywhere else.

I’m helpful like that.

Instead, I staggered into the kitchen seeking my morning revival and saw the destruction left in this guy’s wake. He obviously took a joy ride through the place, leaving a trail of rat scat that was impressive, if marking your territory is what rats do. There were big, fat rat droppings everywhere, and puddles that glistened in the early light.

I did an about-face and shrieked for the Hubby. Bad enough I had valiantly fought the ants all summer, now we had rodents. Maybe roaches are next. We did find that scorpion once. And termites are common here.

Best to burn the house down and start over with a concrete tilt-up and a gallon of caulk.

What’s the world coming to when you risk dying of plague to relax in your own house?

My sweet Hubbs went into the kitchen while I showered even the thought of rats off of me, and he covered everything in sight with Lysol. All of it. To soak. The droppings got fatter.

He threw away the food that was on the countertops and wiped most of the rat bits from crevices and told the kids that making peanut butter sandwiches for school was totally doable on our new, clean sofa. Probably. Then they all left.

I threw everything made of fabric and all of the laundry into the washing machine on the hot wash/extra rinse cycle, and pushed the go button. Shrink if they must, but I’m not carrying leptospirosis into the gym on my spandex and starting a pandemic.

There was no police report I could file. I had no witnesses, no suspect in cuffs, no video surveillance, and our alarm system hadn’t been activated that night. Certainly not at three inches above floor level.

What if the rat was still in the house? What if he was hiding under the washing machine waiting to jump me with his sharp little incisors and scratchy scrambly claws when no one was around to save me?

The thought kept me motivated. You’ve never seen such discipline.

I poured a gallon of Lysol and an ounce of water into the mop bucket and shined every bit of floor. The ants were very confused. I considered washing down the walls and ceiling. If the ants can get there, maybe a rat can? Then I remembered the painters would be painting all of it. I could slip some bleach into the paint cans, easy.

Then I power washed the front porch, the back porch, the walls, windows, doors, and doubled the chlorine the pool, in case the burglar had gone for a casual night swim.

I’ll have to look into a brute squad.

If the police can’t help me, I have the right to bear arms myself.

When we visited the shelter three weeks ago, I looked around for an anteater, which is definitely my first choice of pet, but they stock cats and dogs mostly. They did have a horse outside.

And a cage in the lobby.

With a rat in it named Ginger.

In the Hot Seat

When we moved, we had a “pivot”.

Our old house closed escrow three weeks before our new house did, and we were officially homeless.

Into the gap stepped my beloved mother-in-law. Her empty rambling house would fit us all, and would you believe it, she had booked a three week trip to New Zealand months ago for that exact time frame. Now we were house-sitters.

I had learned by this point to not even be surprised.

I had been high-fiving God on an hourly basis since the whole moving process began.

This is how He rolled.

The first week in my mother-in-law’s home was lovely. Everything that could possibly be done, was done. There was nothing left to do but get the kids to school, sift through paperwork, wait for the phone to ring.

I wandered through her sunshiny house, reminding myself that the calm before the next storm of activity was a chance to be on vacation. After putting our property into tip top condition, it was a welcome chance to rest up. (If you think we had “movers” or “housecleaners” or “gardeners” or “leprechauns” doing anything for us, you haven’t read enough of my blogs. You’re cute. No.)

When the second week of waiting began, I found myself looking sideways at the living room. We were, of course, not making messes around the house, and being tidy in general.

But maybe mom wouldn’t object if I just dusted out one row of bookcases? If I put everything back exactly into the position it’s in? She won’t notice, will she? Just to pass the time a little.

I was halfway through the den when I came to my senses.

I forced myself to put down the cleaning supplies and step outside for some fresh air.

Just look at her pretty gardens, I mused. Her hummingbird feeders glowed ruby red and roses competed with multiple arrangements of succulents.

Five minutes later, I was washing windows.

It just felt like it should all sparkle at the same time, like a fireworks show.

In the third week of our pivot, things began to shift back into momentum, and I could not help moving into the faster currents with them.

I started scrubbing shower tiles and deep cleaning refrigerators and if Hubby had not physically restrained me, I likely would have become a chimney sweep.

Mom was coming home the next day and we were leaving simultaneously, and I surveyed the house that night with more than a little dread. There was no way she was not going to notice that her house had been turbo-cleaned by a crazy person.

I really couldn’t remember doing most of it. It just sort of happened.

I looked, aghast, at the shiny stovetop and the organized tea canister and wondered if maybe I should scatter some laundry around to distract her.

Rats.

I am so sorry.

I need a hobby.

Here’s how to clean your stove. In case you need a hobby, too.

If you already crochet or ice sculpt or watercolor, you are exempt from cleaning ovens and reading the rest of this blog. You’re welcome.

For the two of you left, do this before you go to bed at night:

  • remove knobs, top racks, overhead vent mesh and run in the dishwasher with the dinner dishes
  • remove the inside racks and lay them out on an old towel in your bathtub
  • fill the tub with hot water and a half cup of dishwasher detergent until they are submerged
  • give it a swish, then soak overnight
  • remove and wipe dry in the morning before Hubby needs a shower
  • no? use a tub in the backyard or do the process inside sealed, doubled plastic trash bags
  • inside the oven, scrape out the big chunks of burnt gross with a rubber spatula
  • make a paste of baking soda and water and smear it everywhere except the heating element
  • rub it in a little if you like to play in mud, be careful to not cut your fingers on the back where the element ties in….ask me how I know this
  • remind me to install a new light bulb in there, it’s been out for months
  • smear it on the inside open oven door, too, but not the sealing gaskets

In the morning, after everyone is out of your way, take a wet cloth and wipe out all the gunk which has turned from white to black literally overnight. You can clean in your sleep! You are that good!

Just keep rinsing it all down the kitchen sink, because now it’s on it’s way to clean out the pipes too, you Wonderwoman, you.

Once you hit bedrock, there will be some smaller spots still stuck to the bottom. Stop making pizzas in there, people.

Put a little fresh baking soda paste on it, and spritz with some vinegar. Give it a rub till it comes clean. You didn’t run out of elbow grease, did you? Stop whining.

If it makes you feel better, empty the clean dishwasher and put the shiny bits back on.

There. See? Better.

Once you’ve done your worst, take a look at that window. The one you still can’t see through, even though it doesn’t matter because the little light in there burned out and you are too lazy to replace it. Ahem.

We can’t have that after all our hard work, can we? No ma’m, we cannot.

I use a razor blade to scrape out what’s still stuck to the glass window and also to remove the black rings around the burners up top. I’ve used it on glass top, stainless steel top, and traditional enamel top, muttering to the slime, “You’re not the boss of me!”

So far it’s worked out. But try a small spot in the back before you go nuts, just to be sure. Anything plastic will be scratched forever and I don’t want to hear about it in my comments section.

High Five everybody!

 

The Jello Mold

When Hubby and I went through a bad patch that lasted, oh, about ten years or so, we finally got it into our hard heads to try counseling.

This is huge for ‘do-it-yourselfers’ like us.

After all, if you can completely re-wire your home or produce school-wide events for hundreds of kids, how hard can it be to stay married?

*sigh*

My Great Aunt Ruth once said, “Being married is like nailing Jell-O to a wall.”

It has a built-in level of frustration for certain activities, and you don’t know what they are until you’re shrieking at each other over the correct placement of the microwave.

When the Jell-O hit the fan, we decided we needed professional help.

Not admitted, mind you. Decided.

No one was about to admit to anything this side of Paradise.

And by “we”, of course, we meant “you”.

We went for six months, every two weeks with diligence, and guys…we got flunked out.

Who gets kicked out of marriage counseling? Who does that?

I imagine the counselor had never seen anything quite like us.

The first few times you meet with a counselor, you are on your very best behavior.

I channelled Oprah, Buddha and Mother Teresa.

I helpfully explained every one of Hubby’s flaws in a buttery velvet voice, professionally regretful that we had to take up her time like this, but quite ready to hear her list of “how dare you”s and the rational consequences for his behavior that would set our marriage back on the right track.

I counted silently to 100 over and over as Hubby took his turn, efficiently expressing his disappointed feelings in polished tones that conveyed, in more words than were strictly necessary, my nagging, defensive, contrary and unhappy ways.

By the time we drove out of the parking lot, there was such deep resentment between us, it’s a wonder the car didn’t spontaneously combust.

We held grimly on, reshaping that Jell-O and reaching for the hammer, waiting for something to change.

Certain that – eventually – we could nail it to the wall.

Several sessions in, I cracked.

Just a tiny bit.

I said what I actually felt that very moment without censoring.

It felt good.

It felt honest.

I relaxed a little.

Big mistake.

“Do you realize that what you just said was really sarcastic?” asked the counselor.

She was excited to finally do my censoring for me.

I left feeling chastised and immature. But only until I thought it through.

Then I realized she had finally found some truth. Sarcastic is who I am.

If you can’t see the complete irony in a situation and lay it out there in all it’s ridiculous snarky glory, then you are living a very alkaline life.

I have to add a little piss and vinegar once in a while, or I’ll go crazy.

Sometimes things get stuck. You try to shove the round peg into a square hole and it’s obviously not going to fit, so you take a hammer to it instead of removing the peg and starting over with a new plan.

Marriage counseling didn’t work because we expected someone else to do our dirty work for us.

We threw the Jell-O out. We put the hammer away.

I know how to clean an oven, or a shower stall, or the gunk that accumulates over years of marriage, the crusty bad habits in the corners and the slimy residue of a million words that were spoken in frustration.

But it’s dirty hard work.

It’s not easy.

And no one else is gonna do it.

You can ignore it and hope for the best…but sooner or later, you aren’t going to want to live in that house.

Throw out the trash of useless habits or words or expectations.

Then roll up your sleeves and clean what’s left; layer on some baking soda common sense and flood it with the stinging, clarifying, preserving vinegar of honesty.

Be lavish with the air freshener of kindness.

Reapply until you are back to the bedrock of the marriage, the solid bits still holding possibility.

Things get cleaned up that couldn’t get clean any other way.

And the little bubbles are fun to watch.

 

Living in an Ant Farm

Dear Ants,

Uncle!!

We live in an ant farm now.

It’s escape proof. I can’t seem to get out of it.

The ants are the dominant species and we are their playthings.

They are the movers and the shakers of planet earth – one teensy grain of sand at a time – and if they want to travel up to the balcony, into the rafters, through my walls, out the electric outlets, around the sofa, down the staircase and into my son’s backpack just to bring a piece of leftover PB&J sandwich to their anthill three miles away, they can.

In 2014, NASA launched a formicarium into space.

Because no one was cleaning up the International Space Station after making a PB&J.

And they needed some motivation to keep the peanut butter out of the cruise controls.

(Who were they kidding? Ants invented zero gravity.)

Those little “engineers of the insect world” have redesigned my habitat.

All of my attempts to persuade them to leave have come to naught.

I spray poison.

They move two inches, literally, to the left and proceed full speed ahead.

I put out an ant bait party.

They party.

They bring friends.

They stagger around, drunk on borax, and go home for a week to sleep it off.

Then they come back for more.

And bring the neighbors.

Oh, at first I thought maybe I could wait them out. They gave me an excuse to buy some shiny new containers to keep the cereal in. I had no idea ants were a fan of Life cereal.

They forced me to keep to my routine of running the laundry and the dishwasher every night before going to bed. Both places are swarming with ants by then. It gives me great pleasure to get those little buggers squeaky clean.

I don’t have trashcans anywhere in the house now. If my kid blows his nose, he has to carry the tissue through the garage and out to the main bin. Otherwise, he will find ants creeping up his legs to relieve him of the tissue still held in his fist. They’re very helpful like that.

I vacuum every day.

I’ve gone from wiping the countertops every 15 minutes to making everyone go out on the patio to assemble their sack lunches. And eat dinner. And make toast.

It’s fun for the whole family!

We had company over yesterday.

The house has never been cleaner.

“Go to the ants, you sluggard,” says the Bible, “because they will make you work harder than you ever thought possible, just so they will stay out of your ear.”

Someone set their empty glass on the coffee table in the living room and had all of a three minute conversation. When we reached for the glass, it was covered in ants.

Not a scout or two. Covered.

Ninja ants. They’re everywhere.

I feel my skin crawling with them, even when they aren’t.

My daughter with the ecology degree informs me that these ants are genetically identical.

I’m holding the Clone Wars right here.

Any chance I can send these little buggers to a galaxy far, far away?

Because I’m exhausted.

When the family has to live outside and the ants get to live inside, something somewhere is rotten in NASA.

It’s Lonely at the Top

I was in the kitchen all morning, cooking and cleaning and once in a while grumbling to myself. Two things had occurred for a whole week: writer’s block and me going on strike.

I was tired of cooking glorious (ie: not out of a frozen box) meals that no one was even home for. And tired of the dishes not washing themselves because no one was available to wash them. Or put them away.

We ran out of spoons.

Twice.

Still no one got the message.

We ran out of all the food that you could take from the shelf and insert directly into your mouth.

After that it was, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!” while staring into the cupboards.

I had to grocery shop and of course, if I want to know what I need besides milk (a gallon a day keeps the boys at bay) I had to completely gut the pantries and clean the fridge and undo the chaos.

I was in a zone when I accidentally did something so awesome I have to show it to you right now. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and look at this:

Here’s the background:

Problem 1: I bought three sizes of silicone muffin tins online but only use the regular size, ever. Because I’m stubborn, I kept the other two sizes for “someday” and they stare at me all the time, laughing because they got to stay but have no purpose.

Problem 2: I get the tea kettle and Hubby gets the Keurig. His cute little K-Cups fill a shallow drawer just below the beast and as he uses them up, I refill the drawer from the massive Costco sized pallet of K-Cups he bought. They roll around and you have to fiddle with them to find the flavor you think might be in there.

I talk my OCD down regularly with “Girl, you don’t even drink this stuff. It’s his annoyance.”

But there it is.

I had just had the thought, “Fine. I’ll break down and actually pay money for the little trays that hold these cuplets,” when I looked up and saw this cheeky red mini-muffin tray smiling at me.

The. End. I’m. Awesome.

And all the little cups stay facing the right way and pop right out when you reach for one.

AAAaaaaand…when I ask the next guest which coffee she prefers, I can lift out the whole tray and show it to her.

I’m going on Shark Tank with it.

Remember, you saw it here first.

In the meantime, my daughter was downstairs getting ready to leave for work. She was the last man out. I could hear her down there, speaking sternly to herself about something, and I felt so happy about it. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but knowing that my little quirks live on in my kids is a comfort.

The benign quirks of course, not the freaky ones.

I jumped right into a speech to myself about the greatness of clean kitchens and how I’m going to award myself the Medal of Honor for the last five hours of standing on my feet getting it done when in walks my girl.

“Mom, who are you talking to?”

“The same person you were of course, myself.”

I turned around, dishtowel in one hand and tea mug in the other.

She had her phone to one ear and was frowning at me with deep concern.

“Mom, you are one day closer to the nursing home. Think about it.”

And then she and her phone chatted their way out the front door.

Polly put the kettle on.

I have some heavy drinking to do.