Who’s the Real Pest around Here Anyway?

photoNo fan of squirrels am I. In the abstract, I can enjoy their wild gymnastic athleticism and pranks and admire their elegant plumy tails and all of that, yes I can. But when I hear that familiar thud on the roof when they’re jumping from the red oak to the shingles and holding their miniature NASCAR events up there, what I’m thinking is not ‘how cute’ but ‘rats’.

They are, after all, rodents. The little scarpers have nice sharp claws that scrape bits off of our roofing (see: roof confetti in gutters) and nice sharp teeth that chew chunks off of our siding (see: bare wood fringe appearing on siding near where only birds or squirrels could possibly reach) and not-so-nice habits of eating every bit of bird seed that I put out if they can reach it (see: squirrel hanging upside down by ankles from gutter like trapeze artist while he stares longingly and calculatingly at nearby-but-not-near-enough bird feeder, then dashing back down to the patio below to scarf up every seed, nut, pod and shell left below said feeder before dashing back up again for another recon) and of ‘recycling’ said bird feed onto patio, porch, garage perimeter and paths for me to sweep up after them (see: squirrel excrement scattered decoratively hither and yon).

But there are as many fans of squirrel-dom as there are less sympathetic critics like me, and there are certainly many, whether among squirrel friends or not, who think many other creatures more dirty, pesky, or persistent than I do. Take pigeons, for one. I’ve heard them called ‘flying rats’ more than once, and know that they are at least as frequently cited as disease carriers and civic troublemakers as are squirrels. Other than the remarkably tiny headed (and I confess to thinking them remarkably tiny brained in equal proportion) mourning doves that visit our place occasionally, there are rarely pigeons around there, so it’s probably simple arithmetical odds that make me like them perfectly fine when I’m so prejudiced against squirrels. As long as you don’t swing by for the seemingly sole purpose of eating my food and then expelling it back out upon me and mine when you’ve had your fun with it, I guess I’ll give you a free pass.

I should very likely just cut the poor squirrels some slack, too, in exchange for the hijinks they provide as compensatory amusement. After all, they, along with all of the other critters that call our garden, yard, ravine, neighborhood and planet home, must surely look on me as a dirty, self-centered, gluttonous and destructive interloper on their home turf, and they would not be wrong. And I sure don’t expect to be able to repay the affront by amusingly hanging by my ankles from the gutter anytime soon.

I’d Rather be Clean than Tidy, & I’d Rather be Tidy than Frustrated

It’s possible that, given my genetic descent from a pair of neatnik parents, I keep a slightly fussier house than average. But I must emphasize the word ‘descent’, because the Czarina of Creative Chaos and the Lama of Laziness are my spiritual parents too and often win out in the balance between controlled environment and bombing aftermath. What this means in practice is simply that I often settle (and therefore, my housemate and our guests must, too) for ‘clean enough for safety’. I don’t like any sense of living in the bottom of a rubbish tip, let along canoeing a sewer [the kind with appalling effluents in it, not the kind that makes things out of fabric]. So I think I can fairly claim that I have never–barring being bedridden–let my environs fall into utter wrack and ruin, but there are times when I’d rather let sleeping heaps lie and be satisfied with relatively germ-free untidiness than spend all of my energies on a pristine home.

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Use every tool around, and you may find sufficient space for everything. Shelves, hooks, boxes, crates, and so much more can coordinate to make everything fit together. Pretty is nice, but pretty practical suits me better!

I can’t imagine wanting to have a ‘show house’ anyway. If I can’t slouch around a bit and put my feet up on the furniture (yes, dining surfaces excepted), it doesn’t feel comfortable enough for me to call Home. All the same, I enjoy those times when I’ve been in my cleaning-tornado mode enough to find whatever I need to find without pulling all of my remaining hair out by the roots, and to have the house all spiffed up and looking its prettiest beyond merely being generally non-toxic.

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Plastic milk crates, bound together and bolted to the wall, lined with clean cardboard salvaged from packing boxes, make handy closet shelves that won’t trap dust and can easily be moved and reassembled.

For that reason, deep cleaning is not saved exclusively for the Spring, and a few spates of active reorganization throughout the year are not only helpful but refreshing. When those bouts result not only in unearthing and offloading unused, excessively worn, dated, or redundant things from closets, cupboards and spaces that ought by rights to be airier or at least better used, that is exceedingly pleasant. When the result is more practical organization, it also means that not only are things pleasanter than before in the short term but they will be easier to maintain in that state and even to return to it when the busyness of the everyday has overridden good intentions and available time for a while. I may never have that DIY-goddess glory of everything in pretty and cute and magnificent containers, all labeled alphabetically with gorgeous calligraphy and stored so beautifully that the cabinets should remain forever open and on display, but I have what I want where I want it. At least for the time being. My putative parents of Chaos and Laziness do come calling, and they’re ever so much more trouble to have around the place than my biological ones. Ah, well; I’ve learned to live with them.

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Necktie hangers and clothespin-style clips work for holding all sorts of other things and can tuck behind the clothes so no extra space is required–and all of the ‘trimmings’ are easily visible.

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 7: Love & Happiness

photoIt’s said that Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, and regardless of your beliefs, a clean kitchen is surely going to keep you closer to the desirable state of ideal health and well-being than a slovenly one. A rotten, filthy kitchen, on the contrary, may well send you off to meet your maker (or annihilation) with unwelcome rapidity. In my experience, Good Eating is Next to Perfect Happiness.

Simply eating well–whether of the most esoteric or exotic or splendidly gourmet meals, or of the handful-of-greens with some impeccably ripe apricots, a speck of salt and pepper and a drizzle of lemon-infused honey pristineness–that act of tasting and enjoying is its own reward. Love of good eating and the happiness that accompanies and follows it are worthy sorts of pleasures.photo

The process by which the meal or nibble is achieved can be grand delights, too. Just happening on the desired food serendipitously, even sometimes without having realized there was a desire at all, is lovely. Planning a dish, a menu, an event can be a satisfying challenge and adventure. Hunting (in field, stream or market) can be your surprisingly meditative, endorphin-brewing action sequence to prepare for the meal making itself.

Along with all of this is the primary joy of dining with others: the communal happiness and yes, meaning that can be cultivated in shared eating. The love of good food is magnified, multiplied exponentially, by the reflection of that affection between those at table. With strangers and acquaintances, it is the magnanimity–the largeness of spirit–inherent in hospitality that binds and bonds us. Among friends and loved ones, the food is both expression and enhancement of the finest graces in our connections to one another. And I can think of no lovelier thing to stock in my kitchen than that.

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Pull up a chair and have a piece of pear-blackberry pie with me!

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 1: Cheap Organizational Tricks

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A selection of inexpensive reusable plastic containers serves not only for food storage but for a multitude of small miscellany–kind of like my stomach and my brain, but probably in a far more effective sense.

Since I spent my anniversary hauling everything out of my kitchen cabinets, scrubbing everything down, and reorganizing about 90% of the kitchen’s contents, I shall give myself the pat on the back of showing off a bit. Mainly, in reality, because I was struck yet again on doing this necessary and not entirely unpleasant (thank you, Results) task at how much benefit is got from the process and how little it needs to cost besides effort and a tiny bit of ingenuity. The sort that comes from use and practice, in fact. And because when I rein in my high-end urges I often find it satisfying that my inner (and too often, very well hidden) miser can make a positive difference in my life.

Let me explain.

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In the lower cabinets facing the kitchen table, a ‘breakfast center’ of the simplest sort for guests who want morning tea, coffee, toast or cereal (the latter goes on the empty middle shelf when grocery shopping has occurred again!). At the bottom is a bucket of birdseed for our avian guest who might appear at any time on the patio just on the other side of the table, a box of lightbulbs and a seldom-used steamer dish.

The biggest thing about cleanup and re-org is that it satisfies my inherently neatnik soul. Though I crave tidiness generally, I can be as sloppy and untidy and dirty as the next person, especially when, as now, there are projects afoot–and underfoot. We are having some work done on a widely dispersed set of items that take the mess all around our house despite the majority of the individual projects’ being relatively small. A back door adjustment, where last month’s under-slab hot water leak led to re-plumbing the line to bypass the slab by going up and through the attic, which in turn led to the soil under the slab drying out, settling into the void left by the leak, and pinning the nearby exterior door frame shut. Removal of three horribly outdated and worn countertops and sinks and faucets in two bathrooms for replacement–and waiting, sink-less, for the new stuff to arrive. Getting the living room wall put back together after it was disassembled to run that new plumbing line down for reconnection after the leak about fifteen feet away was repaired. And pulling the old kitchen cooktop out to replace it with new.

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Another set of lower cabinets houses the large pots and the small appliances. It’s amazing how much putting a few of the latter into a clean, open-topped cardboard shipping box can do to keep the space from getting ridiculously cluttered by ‘floating’ parts and cords.

This latter, necessitated by the persistent crabbiness of the mistress of the kitchen about having a wildly un-level cooker, each burner skewing a different direction so that none could offer an even surface for a pan and finally, only two of the four actually, well, burning. So I was more than willing to forgo having any functional cooktop for the short term, thinking that it was not terribly different from having had a barely semi-functional one for the two years since we moved in here. Tomorrow we expect the stonemason and his crew to be in to install our new bathroom sink counters, and he will re-cut the cooktop opening to fit the slightly deeper configuration of the new appliance.

In the meantime, it was essential to pull out the drawers directly underneath the cooker for removal and replacement access. And there you have your ‘trigger’–the moment when it becomes clear that once a half-dozen dominoes of order have been tipped in the house, the rest will soon follow. As they did. The immediate effect of pulling out the drawers was a reminder that as neat as I can be at times, the world and our actions in it fill up the neatest of spaces with bits of detritus; things shift in moving drawers until they are nestled invisibly in odd corners and buried under other things, and stuff entirely forgotten as soon as it was put away and out of sight may be well past its shelf-life, if not the half-life of radium. In short: time to clean and reorganize thoroughly once again.

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Sometimes it’s the littlest things that please me most: having airtight plastic boxes to keep tea sachets together and fresh, and a cheap little plastic basket to keep the boxes proximal and easy to carry to the breakfast table, and a quick scribble on the boxes to remind me what the heck I’ve kept in stock–that makes breakfast time ever so much more relaxed.

Being a visually oriented magpie and loving things to look ‘right’ and living within moderate means can work at decidedly cross purposes from time to time. What I have begun to acknowledge as useful wisdom in my encroaching antiquity is that there are places I can compromise comfortably on having everything look (my definition of) perfect or designer-coordinated or fancy-schmancy or otherwise idealized. One simple rule for me is to remember that what is in a drawer, a cupboard or a closet does not get seen when the drawers and doors are properly closed between uses. If they are neat, clean and practical enough in their order for my purposes when open and in use, they needn’t be expensively or extravagantly stored, only tidily and securely. So although I may cock my glinting magpie eye with a tinge of lust at those magnificent custom closet installations and the exquisitely artful antique containers that fill some people’s pantries and the fantastic item-specific systems adorning someone’s million-dollar shed or garage, I look for a way to repurpose the extant and then ‘shop low’–look at the thrift stores and dollar-an-item bonanzas for bargains before I look elsewhere.

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Another tea-basket, this one with the sugars for visitors’ tea *and* coffee, lives by the first and by the one with the instant coffee–that, more for flavoring my cookery than for drinking, since most guests happily prefer using the French press or drip coffeemakers that I keep handy nearby.

Even this is hardly necessary for the quality of life. I know that plenty of people manage to keep their belongings in check by merely tending them carefully enough and placing them wisely enough that they are where they should be, in the required condition and easy to get and use at all times. I, on the other hand, find that grouping things with their fellows helps me immensely in having a sense of order and functionality and to survive the intermittent bombed-out adventures of a project taking over any part of house or life. So I love to find well-suited containers that fit the occasion and the objects and go forth from there with my space-arranging efforts.

To be Continued!

I have Slain the Housework Monster

It’s not your standard condition, that of being born loving to clean and tidy things. Some of us, as we get older, build up our own versions of tolerance and even gradually, a craving for neatness and blissfully shiny-clean stuff that grows strong enough to not only require that we do the work to make it possible but even, sometimes, to teach us to like it a bit. I’ve been fortunate to meander my way into the latter category, but of course the journey wasn’t without its bumps and twists. Because I was born with a natural aversion to Effort. Besides which, I figure if something is not actively imploding, it probably doesn’t need all that much help from me.

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If it ain’t broke . . .

No surprise, then, if I looked at the laundry basket with something like loathing, even in my extreme youth when it was my mother who had done all of the labor of collecting, washing and folding all of the dirty clothes and filled the basket with them before I ever laid eyes on it. The mere idea of what it had taken to get from Point A (filthy kid coming in from playing in the woods) to Point B (pretty basket of neatly folded clean clothes) horrified me. The very thought of all of the tedious drudgery it would take to remove the neat and clean things from their current attractive assemblage and put them into the proper drawers and closets exhausted and demoralized me. And seeing Mom poised over the ironing board, sweeping at lengths of unforgiving wrinkled stuff with iron in hand–ohhhhh, don’t get me started! I had to dash for the nearest fainting couch at the slightest whiff of laundry. I will tell you right now that I never recovered fully enough to become friends with an Iron, and have not allowed one in my home or vicinity for lo, these many years since.

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The Dreaded Laundry Basket.

But laundry; well, if I don’t exactly go door to door begging my neighbors to let me wash their linens, at least I have learned to simplify and organize my laundry days to the point where there’s a sort of easy rhythm to putting a load of clothes in the washer, going off to prepare a little something and tuck it in the oven, putting the clothes in the dryer and second batch in the wash, going over to organize my desk, taking the food out of the oven, checking the dryer, and so forth–and I don’t find I’m quite so bogged down by the immense weight of one task when it’s sandwiched rather innocuously between several others. By the time I’ve got clean things to fold, I rather like the reverse-zen mindlessness of being very methodical and fussy about putting creases just so and stacking like with like and sorting shirts by color and any other silly pattern that lets me quiet my thoughts or just free them to wander where they will.

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Beware the snarl of the hairy, dragonish Duster! Flee before its smoggy breath!

Dusting has always seemed so futile as to be nigh unto ridiculous. If I don’t make a mark in it, it’s practically invisible, right? [I heard that!] More importantly, any dust stirred up–and you know some will stir up even if you use a duster coated with super-glue–is going to settle somewhere as soon as it can. Where? Directly below your duster, where it came from, of course. Don’t tell me that isn’t simple physics telling me I shouldn’t bother to try dusting. My elders, of course, have never had any particular respect for the laws of physics (as witness, trying to convince this square peg she would be happy learning to fit into any number of round or even triangular openings, at least until said Peg got too full of herself to fit any pre-drilled holes). So there was a regular expectation that I ought to better acclimate myself to the concept of dusting and do it anyway. Not only did I, however churlishly, do it then, I now own a duster as a fully independent adult. Only for the direst emergencies, mind you: I can still recognize the menacing beast’s mane at the end of a duster’s handle, thank you very much. Those jokers can kill you with one wheezy breath.

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The lineaments of lint, in all of their mountainous glory.

I did finally succumb to the duster-buying pressure when I spent a little time contemplating what emerged from my dryer’s lint trap. Because it seemed to me that if freshly washed clothes gave off that much accumulated dust and hair and assorted dismembered insect components and stuff in one short tumbling exhibition, there might actually be a pretty fair amount just casually drifting around right under my nostrils and landing willy, nilly, hither and yon if it didn’t go straightaway into my lungs. Call me a pessimist. [Yes, I heard that, too! Cheez, people, cut me a little slack. I’m trying to keep a clean house here.]

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Vacu-Man is coming! Hide the children! Save yourself if you can!!

The other answer to the dust problem is of course the bigger beast, the one that can eat larger quantities of dirt and disgustingness with wide slurps of its massive maw. There’s no wonder at all that pets and small children scatter in fear before the ‘Transformative’ power of a vacuum. Have you really looked at that scary mechanical menace lately? Every time I open up the closet and see that grimacing Succu-Droid glaring at me I get a little queasy thinking it’s about to drag me all over the house, growling fearsomely the whole time. Talk about being hauled on the carpet! Making me trudge all through the dark corners of every room, yanking my arms out of their sockets and working me up into a grubby sweat in an eyeblink, but seeming to take forever every time. And for what, to pull up enough loose grit so that it uncovers just how worn and stained and discolored the actual carpeting under the dirt is in the first place? That’s just plain mean.

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Clearly I *am* capable of getting everything sparkling clean until ‘we’re all in our places, with bright shining faces . . . ‘

I still end up evading the vacuum for longer periods than is strictly optimal, keeping it in an intermediate parking spot outside of the storage closet so that it’s in brighter light and can’t pull its scary-face stunts on me so easily, so I can work my way up to grabbing it by the neck and hanging on for dear life until the rodeo’s over again. After all, I’ve got plenty of other things to do. The outside of the windows I can make less of a big deal because I can just jet-wash them with the garden hose while I water the flowerbeds–in Texas the heat dries them so fast they don’t have time to streak much. But the dishes, I’ve yet to find that hosing them down on the patio has quite the same desirable effect as actually putting them in soapy water in a sink or dishwasher. And we don’t have any pets that will lick them clean for us. So I credit any time spent immersed up to my elbows in bubbles or loading up the ol’ dishwasher as time I don’t have to spend vacuuming. It’s not like we have to eat directly off of the carpeting anyway.

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Everything dirty does deserve the occasional bubble bath.

I do like my food to come into and out of a reasonably sanitary place, whenever possible, so I’ve been known to get seriously aggressive from time to time when it comes to kitchen cleaning. Once the food’s prepared, it may be that all bets are off, because hey, I already swept the floor, so how many cooties can already have occupied that little spot where I just now dropped a bite? I’ll take my chances. ‘Thirty second rule’, that’s nothing. I’ll give it a good thirty minutes if I happened to be on my way to another chore and can’t get back to pick up that morsel until the return trip. No wonder I dropped a bite anyway, when my hands were so full of the Good Deeds of good housekeeping! And it all came through a supremely safe and clean kitchen. I’m almost sure of it. I’ve even been known to clean the oven, though of course that’s only likely to happen by virtue of living in a house with a self-cleaning one, so I only had to figure out the arcana of its antiquated workings.

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Look, Ma, no grime! (You may need to put your sunglasses on.)

All in all, I like to think we live in a relatively toxin-free, moderately tidy home and that the various arrangements I’ve made to survive the chores more sensibly contribute to a place that, if not up to royal standards, isn’t utterly slouchy either. When you come to visit me you can go ahead and put up your heels on the coffee table, because we’re big on ease and comfort around here, but I won’t let you stick them on the dining table. If your pants get direly dirty with our dusty red Texas clay, I’ll happily wash, dry and fold them for you, but ain’t no bucking rodeo bull gonna get me to iron them for you. You can fold them under your mattress for the night or even go find an iron and press ’em yourself, but there are some demons of the homemaking variety I’m just not willing to battle any more. I’ve seen enough of that combat in my time.

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Weed or Wildflower? Does it matter? Everything here looks perfectly in order to me!

It’s why I have my relaxed attitude toward weeds on the property, too. If they’ll stand up and look pretty and behave sweetly toward me, I’m certainly not inclined to cut them down just because they showed up uninvited. Why, it’s what I’d do for any good guest.