A Clean House

Since Ginger came into our lives, there has been little time for cleaning. Instead of scrubbing the bathtub, I am giving her a bath. Instead of sweeping the floor, we spend time playing fetch. Ginger doesn’t like it when I tidy up. I know this to be true because she never fails to attack the broom when it emerges from the closet. Also, she does her best to shred every paper towel and cleaning rag she can find, especially when they are in my hands. During the moments when I am most frustrated about the mess, I imagine knocking the whole house down and rebuilding from scratch.

On a related note, I must admit to a mild fascination with the program, Hoarding: Buried Alive. I don’t religiously watch it, but have been known to sit through three consecutive airings unable to peal myself away. Attractive in its repulsiveness, this reality show makes me want to sanitize my entire house after a binge viewing. I cannot help but feel my skin crawling as I see our own domestic clutter. Every pile of familial detritus seems akin to the featured hoarder’s mounds of unsightly waste. In my mind, a newspaper on the dining room table will soon become the highlighted family’s buried surface they haven’t eaten off of in four years. I can imagine the fire department declaring our home uninhabitable because of our disorganized study. Our fridge usually houses only one Tupperware container with week-old leftovers, but I just know that it will soon look like the roach- and rodent-infested one on TLC’s reality show. So after turning off the TV, I will find some project in the house to furiously attack, like dusting all of the bedrooms or reorganizing the bookshelf. I exaggerate, of course, but part of me has always been a minimalist and a bit of a neatnik, and if it weren’t for my other family members, I could happily live in a small space spartanly decorated with dust-free possessions.

My husband doesn’t think watching this program is a healthful activity for me. He is already convinced that I care too much about cleanliness—that I have some sort of addiction to housework, as well as an undying need to throw things away, especially his belongings. Perhaps, he believes Hoarding: Buried Alive will only feed my compulsion, and he’ll wake up one day to discover that I have finally tossed those 20-year-old issues of Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. On the contrary, I feel like my viewing this show is beneficial in the following ways:

1. After watching, I am forced out of my chair to clean the nearest dirty/cluttered area; thus, I am moving again and obtaining much-needed exercise.

2. The house becomes a cleaner, more pleasant place to be, and he doesn’t have to lift a finger.

3. I usually find something that was lost while cleaning.

4. There are certain chores I would avoid at all costs if not for the prompting of this program; therefore we both have Hoarding: Buried Alive to thank for the reorganization of our closets. (Not to worry, somebody will inevitably mess them up again.)

5. After the initial, reality TV-fueled impression of my house being compared to a hoarder’s paradise has faded, I begin to realize that our humble abode is a pretty orderly place and abandon my more ambitious plans. Perhaps, we won’t have to resort to hiring a demolition crew after all.

The Lost Art of Finding the Lost

The lost is found.

The lost is found.

I can find things. No, I mean I am really good at finding things. At least I used to be.

Everyone in my household depends on me to locate their personal effects. I could be away running some errands and pick up a call from my husband who wants to know if I’ve seen his (fill in whatever here). The weird thing about it is that I usually do know where it is. My children will claim not to know where some article of clothing or a book is, and I can march down to their rooms and find it sometimes within seconds.

When queried about lost items, my responses are usually something like these:

“Your thumb drive is on the floor next to the nightstand’s foot closest to the bed.”

“I saw your book under your laptop on the side table next to the striped chair in the living room.”

“Your sun glasses are on the bookshelf, second shelf down.” And/or: “If you mean the other pair, it is on your dresser next to your wallet.”

When my family members express amazement that once again I have located something they swear they couldn’t find if their lives depended on it, I shrug and say something like, “You know I’m good at finding things.”  I’d rather retort, “How could you NOT know where it is, YOU left it there. In fact, it’s been there for 5 DAYS. I’ve walked past it at LEAST 100 times and so have YOU.” Of course, in the interest of family harmony, I do not express these thoughts. Usually.

They think my talent is freakish. To me it’s normal and to be expected given that our house is pretty small, and I spend an inordinate amount of time here. My husband claims that he is not the only male who demonstrates this lack of ability, and besides that, I must have magical powers. My gift works like this: someone asks about an object and a mental image pops into my brain of the item and its setting. No magic involved, just a bit of undiagnosed OCD.

I have thought seriously about putting this skill on my LinkedIn account and on my resume. Where would I list such expertise? Under “Weird Stuff That I’m Good at, But No One Will Ever Pay Me for”? Perhaps in my cover letter I should compose a short appeal like, “I look forward to hearing from you soon about this position, and if you grant me an interview, I’ll find that favorite pen you misplaced in your office.” The job market being what it is, maybe my resume will then rise to the top of the pile. Why is it that employers value SEO capabilities so much more than my special competency? After all, they’re kind of the same thing, aren’t they?

The entropy in the household has increased significantly since Ginger became part of the family. Disorder rules, and I can’t seem to remember where everything is. It took several minutes for me to locate her favorite ball. In fact, no image flashed in my brain when I went to look for the toy. I found this occurrence quite disconcerting, and was so relieved when I found the ball under the striped chair.

I have developed the following hypotheses to explain my declining skill level:

1. I am so sleep-deprived after over two weeks of insufficient slumber each night that I spend most of the day in a haze of subpar cognition.

2. My finding skill has been replaced in my neuroanatomy by an obsession with puppy elimination and a nascent mental map of every spot that she has employed for such purposes.

3. When I walk through the house, I am looking down to avoid stepping on her (see “Canine Foot Fetish and Other Topics I thought I’d Never Write About”), and my brain is no longer registering the surrounding items and their whereabouts.

4. Puppies are like toddlers in their ability to generate chaos.

5. It is really hard to find stuff while holding a puppy, who is trying to bite my head, when I crouch down to look under the couch.

6. I am getting old.

After considerable thought, I reject all of the above (especially the last one) and will practice a little role reversal with my family members instead.

“Hey kids, have either of you seen my . . . ?

On Ants and Other Pets

Kevin and Ginger
I have always loved animals. All kinds of animals. At one point when I was a kid, I wanted an ant farm. Yes, you read that right. An ant farm. I envisioned myself spending hours watching them as they scurried to and fro carrying food, pupae, and eggs. The farm would be large and have glass walls. There would be hundreds of productive workers, and I would be in control.

When I broached the subject with my mother, she looked at me as though I were clearly insane and no doubt was wondering how I could have possibly emerged from her womb. You see, she was pretty, stylish, and talented. She made my wedding dress from scratch with no pattern and sang soprano in the church choir. She was feminine and knew what shoes to wear. She belly danced and made crafts as hobbies, and her house was always clean despite housing our numerous pets, five children, my father, and my grandfather within its walls.

I figured, why not an ant farm? I reasoned she would surely appreciate the value of studying a genuine ant society right in my own room. I would be able to see all of the activities of the colony’s industrious inhabitants. I would observe these Formicidae, take copious notes, and discover something really important. My mother, (voted most attractive and most versatile in her high school class) was no fool, and informed me, in no uncertain terms and without further elaboration, that she was not going to buy me an ant farm to decorate my room with. And she went back to cooking dinner.

Frustrated, but still determined, I returned to my book on ants (obviously, what else should I be reading?) Not too many days after that conversation, I stood in the driveway watching the insect wildlife when I saw a huge, very obviously gravid, black ant lumbering across my path. The solution to my dilemma had presented itself.  Assuredly, the source of my mother’s objection was the expense of purchasing the farm. If I provided my own queen laden with eggs and made my own enclosure, she would not only capitulate, but be thrilled with my ingenuity. I captured it in my cupped hands and ran inside. Frantically, searching for the perfect container in the kitchen cupboards and finding none, I ran upstairs to search for something suitable. First, however, I stored my ant in the kitchen sink, by removing the dishes and then plugging the drain. The heavy queen was unable to scale the slippery walls.

Desperately, I rummaged through my and then my brothers’ rooms looking for something that would properly accommodate the most awesome ant farm science had ever known. Nothing seemed like it would work. I peeked downstairs and saw that my ant had not escaped, and continued to search. Just a few minutes later, I heard a loud exclamation and the swooshing noise of the sink spray hose. Panicked, I ran to the kitchen; my mother looked at me and said, “You will never believe what I found in the sink. The biggest ant I have ever seen. That creature must have been almost an inch long.”  Crestfallen, I explained that the queen had been the proposed progenitor of my ant project. She was to have been the Eve that would have informed my intellect with knowledge on ant-kind.

“You brought a queen carpenter ant into my house?” was her simple response. Seeing the look of disbelief on my mother’s face, I slowly began to realize that she did not share my excitement about the ant farm. I think that I must have looked quite pathetic then because she suddenly began apologizing while explaining that carpenter ants are generally not welcome guests in houses made of wood. (Who knew?) Feeling a tad guilty, she distracted me with a chore or a story. I don’t remember which.

I look back on this and other instances now, and I realize how truly indulgent my parents were when it came to their children and pets. At various times my parents’ house and yard sheltered three dogs, seven cats, seventeen rabbits (not all at once), many tens of fish, and a gerbil. Not to mention the hundreds of birds my many bird feeders attracted or the frogs my brothers brought home in buckets after their adventures in the woods.

So did we deprive our children by only having one cockatiel, three parakeets, one hamster, and a 16-gallon tank of fish? Or perhaps my parents truly overindulged my siblings and me. Either way, this spring finally seemed the right time to welcome a dog into our midst.

My son lobbied for a dog for about three months when he was young. I seriously researched dog ownership and decided instead on a cockatiel, who turned out to be a wonderful, smart, and loving addition to our family. Fast forward 10 years later, and I had to break the news to my son that my husband and I had decided to become dog owners, and that we had already chosen the puppy and a name. Preparing for an explosion of pent-up emotion regarding his childhood’s being deprived of a dog, I broke the news to him while sitting in the RER in Paris as we rode to Versailles. He was surprisingly calm and accepting. So at long last, he has a dog. We all do; and everyone is thrilled, and she is settling in quite nicely. Somewhat like the carpenter ants that the exterminator discovered in my house siding a few weeks back. I finally have my ant farm after all.

Twenty Reasons Ginger Is Good for Us or the Zen of Owning a Puppy

Zen GingerRecently, someone found my blog by searching for “why is ginger good for you.” No kidding. This search string made my day for two reasons. First, someone actually Googled a topic that resulted in my blog showing up. Yay! (I Googled this phrase myself, and my blog’s post was at the top of the fourth page.) Second, Ginger IS good for you or us, I should say. Below is a list of reasons why Ginger has been good for our family (nutritional benefits of ginger root aside, of course.)

1. Ginger makes us smile and laugh every day. Laughter has proven health benefits.

2. In bending down to scoop her up, pet her, or put her leash on, I do at least 50 leg squats per day. My quads and hamstrings thank her.

3. Add five more legs squats to the above for poop patrol.

4. It’s hard to take myself too seriously when I have a bag of poop swinging from my hand.

5. We are increasing our pulmonary capacities when we run around the yard with her.

6. More of our friends want to come over to visit so that they can see her, I mean us.

7. She might help my son get a job. My son has hypothesized that he will be offered the super competitive internship he applied for if he brings Ginger along to the interview. Her charm will so distract the interviewers that they will offer him the internship on the spot. That strategy could work . . .

8. We hope to make new friends because all kinds of people come up to us to comment on how cute she is.

9. There are few more soothing activities after a stressful day than cuddling a sleeping puppy.

10. The other day, my niece unexpectedly wanted to participate in FaceTime when I was on the phone with my sister, so she could see the puppy, I mean me.

11. I have more to talk about with other dog owners. Trading tips on house training is a great conversation starter. (Suddenly, I am transported back in time to my children’s toddler years and talk of Pull-Ups®.)

12. My children are offering to help with the chores more, if the chores involve Ginger, that is.

13. I need to sweep the kitchen floor less frequently since Ginger is so good at helping me keep it clean.

14. Ginger is helping us to bond as a family. Because Ginger is at a stage where she always needs to be watched, we are forced to spend more time together at home.

15. We love Ginger, and she loves us.

16. Ginger is thrilled to see me, no matter how I look, feel, or am behaving. She wants to be with me that much. Amazing.

17. She helps me find time to write, something I’ve wanted to do for years.

18. She contributes ideas for my writing just by being herself.

19. We take pride in our puppy’s progress. For instance, she is no longer harbors any suspicions about her food bowl (see “On How Food Bowls Can Be Evil”) and knows three commands.

20. Our new dog has helped us live in the present more. How perfectly Zen of her.