Cleaning

I have a real love-hate relationship with cleaning ladies. On one hand I love them because who wants to clean their own house? (Hint: not me.)  On the other hand, it’s expensive and what kind of lazy bones can’t clean her own house? What am I so busy doing that I can’t scrub it myself? Or make my minions do it? (Oh yes, I’m being a mom to six kids and a Relief Society President). Sometimes we’re too broke to have a cleaning lady. Sometimes we’re desperate enough to pony up the money. Lately it’s been the latter.  Also, I’m the only person in my neighborhood who cleans her own house. Seriously!  But then I watch Downton Abbey and they don’t even do their own hair, let alone scrub their own toilets. So then I feel totally cool with it.

Mister is not a big fan of my lackadaisical housekeeping skills. I’ll scrub toilets til the cows come home–there is nothing grosser to me than a stinky, dirty toilet. Even if I’m about to throw up I’ll be madly scrubbing the toilet first. But my floor mopping schedule is a little more–how shall I put it–elastic. So Mister finally insisted that I find someone to come in every week or two to do the dirty work.

In the past we’ve always managed to have really sexy cleaning ladies. They always come in sweats, though, not in French Maid outfits. Although one time our Russian maid, Tanya, came dressed in teeny tiny hot pants and high heels. It looked like she was going to go dancing afterwards, but those Russians–they can dress oddly at times.  On that particular day I walked into the bathroom while Tanya was bent over scrubbing the tub and wow! Did I ever get an eyeful.  I can now say with absolute assurity that that woman did not have an ounce of cellulite anywhere. It’s probably a good thing that Mister wasn’t working from home.

We had Flavia after that. She was a Brazilian girl with a rocking bod. She’d wear skin tight cropped tank tops and sweatpants rolled down to just under her pelvic bone. Flavia always wore her thick wavy hair cascading down her golden brown shoulders. It was almost waist-length and she never wore it in a ponytail. I can’t imagine that it was very convenient but it looked really pretty while she was wiping off my appliances.  She was a real butter-face, though. You know, everything is fantastic but her face. She was as sweet as sugar and loved babies which I had about a million of at the time.

This week I finally got around to finding a new cleaning lady. Carmen came highly recommended by one of my friends. And she also sounded pretty cheap. Definitely a bonus. Carmen speaks Spanish and that’s all. She didn’t even know the English word for broom or mop–definitely a handicap in her profession, I would think.

The way our cleaning ladies have always worked is that they charge by the house, not by the hour. So cleaning my house is always X dollars, whether it takes them two hours or five hours. Their first visit always lasts a little bit longer since they have to do everything. They won’t be dusting the blinds and cleaning the baseboards every time, but they start out the first visit by getting everything done.

So Carmen (who is not even slightly sexy) came over on Wednesday morning right after my kids left for school. After pantomiming a list of what supplies she needed I scurried off to fill her order. It took three tries of bringing back the wrong item before I figured out she needed a step ladder.  All those years of French have really come in handy. Not.

I let Carmen get to business while I spent most of the day planning my trip to Europe in a couple of months. Hmmm, I guess I’m more of a spoiled American than I thought.  After three hours Carmen was still in my room. Slightly humiliating, I guess. My room was apparently dirtier than I thought.

It got worse. I told Carmen only to vacuum the kids’ rooms. Their dressers are piled with all sorts of random kid crap and some of their beds weren’t made. But of course she made everyone’s beds, straightened everything up, dusted and vacuumed. I half expected her to leave their towels folded into origami animals like when you go on a cruise.  The lady didn’t even take a break and was still at it when Mister got home from work.

All in all Carmen was there for eight hours. Eight hours. She did a great job but compared to our regular cleaning lady (me and/or my slovenly children), it didn’t matter much. I’m not that picky. As long as I’m not the one doing the cleaning, I’m happy. I got over my shame of hiring a cleaning lady right quick.  Now I just need to figure out how to say “mildew” in Spanish.

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I’ll be buying this outfit for Carmen, of course.

 

You know how I finally figured out that listening to an audiobook is the key to painlessly getting your yucky chores done? I know. I can’t believe it took me so long to get this through my skull. I normally prefer reading an actual book (I’m a visual person) but there is nothing like being read to to make the hours fly by (thank goodness for Harry Potter and Jim Dale or we would have killed each other on The Confederate Car Trip last summer). All that cleaning and organizing I talked about yesterday? I owe it all to Augustus McCrae.

 

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Yesterday as I was organizing my shoes I finally finished Lonesome Dove on audiobook. You guys. There are no words. My poor heart.  You just have to read this book. Or better still, listen to it. I know it was made into a miniseries a couple of decades ago but there is so much going on inside the characters heads that it seems a pity to only see the screen version. Lee Horseley (who used to be on this TV show called Matt Houston back in the day) is an excellent narrator. He does such an outstanding job giving the dozens of characters a voice.

This book had me gasping, it had me crying, it had me sitting perched on the edge of my bed holding a paper towel and a bottle of Windex for half an hour because I was so into it that I could barely move. I thought Lonesome Dove was just some cheesy Western and I was in the mood for something like that when I started. This ain’t no Louis L’Amour.  I mean, it won the Pulitzer Prize for pete’s sake! This book features some of the best characters of all time.

The book is 900 pages and the audiobook is 36 hours. Quite an investment of time. And honestly, the story starts off a little slowly. But I’m temped to start the audiobook all over again now that I understand the characters. It would mean so much more this time.

Lonesome Dove definitely earns it’s place into my top 10 books of all time.

According to all the stores. January is the time to organize stuff. And you know what? I agree. After the mayhem of the holidays, it feels good to clean and organize everything. Mister has been getting very put out with the state of clenliness lately. Let’s just call it “laissez-faire housekeeping”. It all came to a head a few days ago when I came home from . . . . I’ve already forgotten. But Mister was having a meeting with his Boy Scout committee and as the house was in disarray, he had cleaned it nicely. Or so it seemed.

This is the main difference between men and women, I think. Most men (mine included) think cleaning up generally means shoving stuff in baskets and boxes and putting it somewhere less visible. I walked into our bedroom while Mister’s meeting was happening and what do you know? There are three laundry baskets piled with everything from shoes to my glue gun to actual clean clothes.

Meanwhile I had several boxes of Christmas decorations sitting in the mudroom because I couldn’t put them away. The attic was a complete mess due to kids looking for winter clothes. Every person woman knows that you can’t put stuff away when everything is already disorganized. First you have to organize, then you clean. And if you don’t have time to organize everything? Well, that means the cleaning kind of grinds to a halt.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done my share of stash-and-dashes when we’ve had company coming over. Having a master bedroom on the main floor means that there is always a place to put things in a hurry and feel fairly safe that nobody will see anything. But if I’m going to clean–like, really honestly clean, I’m going to do it right.

Or course there are superwomen out there who always have things organized and clean. These women perplex and slightly frighten me.

But I’ve been working hard on organizing and especially throwing things away/giving things away (been to Goodwill a whole lot lately). You cannot fathom the huge amount of receipts that I have been storing in every nook and cranny. But you can’t organize clutter, so I’m jumping on the January bandwagon and cleaning out the hidden spots in my house first. The attic is done. My closet is in progress.

Two weeks ago Mister chided me for having two grocery bags full of canned goods sitting in the garage (they’d been there for oh, a week or so). “Put these away already!” he said before he left for work. They were all meant for storage, not the pantry. But the food storage room/closet was thoroughly disorganized and stuff was all over the floor. So I spent the day dragging everything out, cleaning the weevils out of the carpet (thanks to a ripped bag of flour. It’s as gross as it sounds), and reorganizing all the food. Of course this took a million hours longer than I had hoped. Half an hour before Mister got home from work, the grocery bags still hadn’t been unloaded. But I made it just as he pulled into the driveway.

Deep cleaning and organizing is partly satisfying (yay properly organized stuff!) but nobody ever appreciates it like they ought to. (Would it be too much to have one of my kids say, “Wow, Mom, you did a great job placing all the spice jars in alphabetical order, and in order from oldest to newest ensuring we rotate through our supplies wisely.”? That’s all I ask!)

I still have to unload my new shoe shelves from the car, but once I get that closet cleaned the world is going to look a lot shinier.

I am a very visual person. If I want to understand or remember something I have to see it. I have never cared for being read to (at least not since I was a kid) because hearing something means so much less to me than reading something. Also, it takes about a million years longer to listen to a book than to read it yourself.

This summer during our Confederate Car Trip we brought along four Harry Potter books. My friend Connie assured me that these would make all the difference between murdering my children and coexisting with them peacefully for two weeks. So I took them, rolling my eyes, but by the time we hit Waco I had put on the first CD. We listened to them for most of the trip and were a very captive–but very willing–audience. We really loved listening to them. I read the first Harry Potter book when it had barely come out and nobody had the vaguest idea how to pronounce Hermione (but I did, being full of trivial, pointless knowledge as I am.)  I enjoyed it but then the books became horrendously popular and I didn’t want to read the rest solely because who wants to wait in line all night to buy a stupid book? I tend to not like things anymore once they’re popular; ditto for the movies. (I did see the very last movie but I had no idea what was happening or why it was a big deal.) The older kids were completely familiar with the entire Harry Potter oeuvre, but the younger ones weren’t.

Listening to the Harry Potter books was wonderful for me because I was completely new to them. All the kids are at a great age to listen to them and Connie was right; they made the 4000 miles fly by.

But still I like to have real live books in my hands.

Last week I saw a copy of the Lonesome Dove miniseries on my husbands shelf of DVDs and he reminded me again how it’s super good and that I really should watch it. But I hate, hate watching TV while my kids are at school because I can’t multitask while I do it (our only TV being in the playroom, away from the dirty floors that should be mopped or the bathrooms than need scrubbing). TV and movies are such a time suck. But maybe I could read the book Lonesome Dove (since reading is easier to do than watching a movie when you’re waiting for carpool kids or in a doctor’s office). But for some reason I ended up downloading the audio book. When am I going to listen to this? I thought. I barely am in the car for more than ten minutes at a time. Then it hit me–I can listen to this while I clean my house.

I know what you guys are thinking: you are the biggest dummy ever! How has this never occurred to you?

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes, friends. But now that I’m about ten hours into Lonesome Dove, let me tell you that cleaning while you listen to an audiobook is the best. Although if you have little kids bugging you I imagine that it would put you in a mighty foul mood to be interrupted constantly (maybe during nap time?). I actually try to think of more things to clean so that I can keep listening. How crazy is that?

Due to the fact that there is an occasional swear and that prostitutes come up pretty often in the story, Lonesome Dove is not exactly kid-friendly. But I’m enjoying it heartily.*

I still have 25 hours to go before I finish this book, but I’m already thinking about my next read listen.  Do you listen while you putter around the house too? What are your favorite audio books? Anything I must listen to next? A book can be completely ruined by a bad narrator, so what are some good recommendations?

 

*To make things even better, I got the book from Audible.com and they have an app that makes each book the size of a couple of songs. It won’t take up your iTunes space like a bunch of CDs will. And if you go to www.audible.com/npr they’ll let you try a book for free. Also, our library also has a couple of audio-books-for-free services. Yours probably does too.

At our house we don’t give our kids an allowance. Many years ago we started to but it just got too expensive. Plus it would kill me when they’d spend our hard-earned money on a giant bucket of Red Vines. I’m not one of those moms who tells their kids how to spend their money; that’s a lesson best left to experience. But it sure did pain me to see them squander it on Pokemon cards.

Now our system has evolved into doing chores because they live in the house. We buy them food and clothes and orthodontia and they have to empty the dishwasher or take out the garbage on regular basis; tis the price of living with such an awesome mom.

If they need money they can earn it doing extra chores like scrubbing out the microwave, mowing the lawn or doing other crappy chores that I hate:  doozies like organizing the pantry or sorting toys in the playroom or straightforward stuff like polishing the good silverware.

The best thing is when the kids really, really, really want something. Arabella is dying for a new iPod and Finn is saving up for a fancy watch. The watch costs $200 and that kid has been working his guts out for months to earn the money. (Yeah, a watch. He is passionate about watches and will spend hours looking at them online. It is the weirdest hobby but whatever. Better that than something pointless like baseball cards.)

Today’s chore: organize all the CDs in the house (alphabetically and by genre). We don’t listen to them very often but it’s nice to have them all put away where we can find them. Surprisingly Finn has turned into kind of a neatnik over the last year and I think he digs the process of organization. I certainly dig his wanting to organize our stuff.

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Last year York organized one of our closets that’s dedicated to food storage. Lots of stuff had to be stacked high but never fear–York made a map of where to find everything.
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When my kids were tiny I really dreaded having teenagers; probably because I was thinking of horrible I was at that age. But it turns out teenagers are pretty cool–especially when they do great stuff like weeding the entire backyard

I remember my grandmother in North Carolina complaining about weevils all the time. Despite her lamenting that there were weevils everywhere I never saw one. Not, of course, until I moved to Texas.* I don’t know if they love warmth or humidity or what but this past year we have been taken over by weevils.  They are tiny little squiggly bugs that are especially fond of grains. So basically they eat everything in your house but pure sugar. They even climb into air fresheners and my wheat grinder!

I have gotten out the airtight bin that I keep oats in only to find it crawling with weevils. Same for the hot cocoa, spaghetti and dried lentils. It has been starting to chip away at my sanity.

Last month I went to make a lemon truffle pie. It’s my very favorite pie and requires the crust to be blind-baked first. My little trick for pre-baking an empty crust is to use an oven-safe bag filled with rice. After 15 minutes of baking I remove the bag of rice and continue to bake the crust til it’s golden brown. It works super well and I always reuse the same bag of rice since it’s never eaten. I’m sure you can guess what the bag looked like when I pulled it out of the cupboard.

weevils rice

Weevils all throughout! After throwing up in my mouth I checked to make sure there were no weevils on the outside of the bag. There weren’t, so being the pragmatic person that I am I decided to use the bag of rice anyway. A nice trip through a 375° oven should murder them all.**

Wrong. So, so wrong.

After being in the oven for 15 minutes they were still crawling all over the place!  WHAT???? How is that even possible? These stupid things are worse than cockroaches.

We tried bug-bombing the house.

Failure.

We tried spraying some sort of bug killer all around the baseboards.

Failure.

So I got out the no-pest strip. It says it is only for using in non-habited places: attics and empty rooms and such. Faced with the choice between a pantry crawling with bugs and harmful poison I did what any self-respecting American would do. I went for the poison.

I left the no-pest strip in the pantry for 24 hours. Voilà! Dead weevils everywhere! We’ll probably all develop cancer now or perhaps grow a third arm. But I can at least use that third arm to kill more weevils.

 

*For almost three years we had no weevils. But they started showing up after I bought some dried beans at Walmart. Seeing as how both weevils and Walmart are of the devil, that only makes sense.

**Putting stuff in the freezer also kills weevils. But I can’t exactly fit every item in my kitchen into the freezer so that option is a little impractical.

I pretty much vanished for the last couple of weeks. Partly due to relatives in town (we know who loves us by how often they visit. Hint, hint, relatives.) Partly due to being the Relief Society President when half the ward decides to move at the exact moment the other half goes on vacation. I know you guys really love it when I complain about how busy I am and thus how exhausted I am. But I will spare you the details. Here are the highlights of the last two weeks:

My mom moved back to Utah after living here in Austin for two years. People always ask what it’s like having my mother live close by since she is rather . . . high maintenance. It  is a million times easier than having her come and stay with me for two or three weeks. When she stays with me for a long amount of time there are invariably fights; she and I, she and Mister and sadly Mister and I as well. There is stress involved for all parties (well, probably my mom isn’t stressed). She likes to have things just so and just so is always something very strange. Like half-drunk giant glasses of cocoa sitting around all day. Said cocoa must be drunk through a straw. And not just any straw. It must be a really fat straw that is also somewhat translucent so that she can see the cocoa going up. Not sure why, but that’s how it is. No doubt my mother will answer this question in her blog reply.

There is also her bizarre schedule of staying up late, sleeping in and various naps. Our family doesn’t really work that way and it gets complicated when she visits. But when she lives in her own place nearby she can sleep whenever she wants, leave strange beverages sitting on her counters and it makes no difference to us. She is one of those people who finds plenty to entertain herself and doesn’t come over all the time. She’ll drop by for dinner, have a nice time and go home. It’s lovely for all of us. So it makes me sad that we won’t be getting pleasant mini-doses of her any more. Instead she wanted to be near my sister in Utah who, with three small children, is in the part of her life when she really needs grandma Boppie around.

We spend last week packing boxes, throwing away as much of her junk prized possessions as we could get away with and loading up her moving van. She and my sister waved goodbye on Saturday morning and pulled in to Utah County last night.

Also, I spent days cleaning and organizing my house. If you have out-of-town guests and clean your entire house, except for one small part, that is the part that they will invariably see. So I cleaned everything including my huge messy closet. Here’s the flip side of that rule, though: if you clean something super well, nobody will see it.  I cleaned my closet and bathroom within an inch of their lives. And nobody ever went in there. But at least they’re still clean. I’ve been trying to stay on top of it and keep the rooms from turning into the trash barge of my house. They’re my favorite place to throw things when I have to do a stash and dash because company is coming.

My husband’s brother, his wife and their teenage daughter came from Portland for an entire week and we ate like pigs and did fun touristy stuff and it was great. They had to sleep in the boy’s bunk beds but it’s a lot nicer than making them stay in the guest room and share one lousy full-sized bed.

Probably the most exciting news around here is that it has rained! A lot! And often!  But because this is Texas it rains like crazy for a little while, the rain goes away and it’s sunny and warm. And then the next day it’s sunny and warm for a couple of hours, a storm rolls in and then it’s sunny and warm again. It’s really a lovely way to have rainy weather. None of those days of dreary, cold weather like in Oregon. Our relatives were very impressed.

A few days ago I went to a book signing by Alexandra Fuller whose books I recommended here a while back. In the tiny picture on her books she looks very pretty. But most female authors look relatively pretty. That’s kind of the point, I guess. Alexandra Fuller was, in real life, drop dead gorgeous. Model gorgeous. She’s also terribly clever and skinny so I felt utterly out of my league and didn’t say a single word to her as she signed my book.  I very rarely get tongue-tied, although I did ask if I could take a picture with her (I especially like the way my arms are twice the size of hers.)

 

AFuller and me

Also, my laptop is still broken. Mister has taken pity on me and given me a real computer with an actual monitor. It’s pretty lame. Laptops are way better. I hate being on a computer where I am trapped in one place. Due to my computer situation and all the other stuff I’ve done, I have read zero blogs. I feel really bad about this. So if I haven’t commented on your blog, I’m sorry. One day I will get my life back.

I just swept under my sofa. This is what I found:

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I have to see the silver lining here: a complete pair of shoes?!? I can’t recall two of the same shoes ever ending up under the sofa at the exact same time. These happen to be water shoes that haven’t been used since, um, well, it’s been a while. And they don’t currently fit anybody. But still . . . .

I can’t tell you how much I am digging this “all my kids in school” thing. You should know by now that housework is not my favorite thing to do. I’m not one of those lame people who says that and then spends all her time cleaning anyway. No, I really, truly hate cleaning my house. I avoid it as much as possible. I have to tell you, though. Cleaning your house when the kids are all gone is great. Like, super amazingly great.

I turn my ipod up to 11 and get to work with a garbage bag and scrub brush (with a little dancing thrown in for good measure).

Yesterday I gave the kitchen a big fat spanking while I listened to The Ting Tings (highly recommended music for cleaning and generally getting your groove on).

The house actually stayed clean for a whole two hours until the hordes returned. But two hours is good. Normally as I clean there is a wake of people pulling things out and tossing toys everywhere. So you can see how even a few hours of cleanliness is a miracle.

Do you have a tile floor?  If so, stop (STOP!) what you are doing (reading blogs, obviously) and go get your credit card.  You need to buy this broom:

I know what you’re thinking: “Uh-huh. Sure, Jennie. That looks totally lame.”   But trust me.  This will become your new best friend*. Plus it’s only $10.

Do you have obnoxious grout?  Does it mock you with its bionic crumb-hording powers? Can you simply not get all the dust and junk out of the nooks and crannies?  This broom is the answer! (it works on any floor: hardwood, even carpet.  It’s brilliant at removing pet hair.  But tile is my bête noire, and I’m guessing if you have it you hate it too.)

You can sweep with this thing, mop with it, whatever.  It’s made of rubber (I know. Weird.) but I like to say it’s made of pure awesomeness.

Get it at the Flylady shop for $10 (I think shipping is another $6 or so.  Just pay for the shipping.  Don’t be a cheapskate and try to find something similar that costs less somewhere else.  Because that’s a waste of your time.)

P.S. Extra brownie points if you know where I got the title for this post.

*O.K. It probably won’t be your best friend, but you might try to sneak a kiss once or twice.