Super Chicken

mixed media artworkMy superpower, if I could be said to have any, is being supremely ordinary. Yeah, I’m really, really good at that. Now, you may think it’s not impressive that I’m good at being so-so, and you could be forgiven for thinking it. And yet . . .

Besides that it requires massive numbers of us mid-range sorts to keep nature in a sort of balance with the various human outliers at the top (and bottom) of the spectrum, there’s also the comfort and safety of being able to travel under the radar of scrutiny and pressure to which both kinds of exceptional people are exposed.

What on earth does this mean I am good at doing, at being? Why, I do what’s expected. I go to sleep; I wake up. I eat and I walk and I get dressed and undressed, and the world carries right on around me. And though I don’t at the moment have employment outside of our home, my current occupation being Homemaker, I spend myself and my efforts, rather, on doing the small and yet significant things that might not be essential to keeping the world operational but grease the gears, instead. And keeping the cogs working relatively smoothly is as useful in its own way as being the driver, the engineer or a cog myself. I go to meetings and do Projects, too, to be sure, but mostly what I do nowadays is fix a meal, repair a door-jamb, ferry my spouse and a student to a rehearsal. I do laundry; I prune the plantings near the window. Glamorous? Just exactly enough.

Because the luster of the day comes not from being admired and lauded but from being appreciated, even if it’s hardly necessary to hear that announced constantly–after all, the proof of its value is in plain view if the needful things get done. Any reward lies in the belief that I make life that one tiny iota smoother and pleasanter for that one brief instant, even if only for this one other person. It’s borne on the smile of relief worn by him whose sheaf of office paperwork got filed at last when he couldn’t get to it himself, or whose old slippers have been mended by the time he gets home from the office at the end of the day. It’s in the neighbor being glad to have the excess garden supplies or box of art materials I’ve collected to send to school with her. It’s with me when I arrange the chairs alongside the singers before a rehearsal when I come by to listen to their work. It’s mostly in knowing that the stuff needed to keep quotidian action on course is being looked after, bit by little bit. And that I’m the person for the job.

I don’t do this selflessly, of course, because I would hardly keep it up for long if it weren’t so simply and inherently rewarding. And it certainly bespeaks no genius or courage on my part that I do it, for clearly it takes greater skill and ingenuity and bravery to do all of the shiny, showy things for which I provide my atoms of encouragement from the periphery. Maybe a jot of courage only to admit to being a homemaker and loving it. So many who haven’t the privilege of the life seem to disdain it and misconstrue its meaning, especially if it doesn’t have either children or wealth as part of the equation. I am far more fearful of having no sense of purpose than of being thought unimportant by anyone else; I care more about feeling my own worth than having it validated by any outside agents.

So if I seem to anyone to be afraid of taking a larger role in the Real World as they see it, I suppose I ought to admit that in one sense I am. I know that having this Job for a few years has given me new strength and the ability to go out in the wider world for a so-called Real one again when the time comes, yet I do dread leaving this role that has given me a feeling of vocation more than anything else I’ve ever done and risking the dimming of any of the self-worth I’ve garnered or the value I’ve learned to impute to the tasks of being normal and simple and everyday, which I’ve learned to see as so much deeper and richer than they’d seemed until I tried on the role of their custodian myself. I do, at the end of it, think that if I’m a dull, bland or unimportant grease-monkey to the cogs of the world, I’m a damn good one, and if I’m scared of giving up that high honor, then I at least credit myself with being a superior variety of chicken.

Things from the Dept. of Things (and Some Other Things)

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Here we are, back in Denton, Texas, county seat and home of the lovely old Denton County Courthouse and bold blue skies and ridiculously high temperatures . . .

Yes, we are (sing with me, now:) Back in the Saddle Again. The world does not stand still while one is away from her ‘normal’ realities, nor does the stack of Stuff to Do cease to pile up in its mountainous heaps of glory. Plants continue to grow (and/or die, given the return of NTX to triple digit temps), mail to back up into its magnificent conglomeration of surreal junk plus business to be addressed plus about two pieces of personal mail per month; dust settles in its accustomed murky corners and masks the presence, temporarily, of new dainty cobwebs, and meetings and get-togethers that have been held in abeyance until the return home are now on the immediate horizon, lest they get missed altogether.

In short, life goes on, and we need to trot at speed to catch up with it again.

So in the great tradition, I spent much of today doing laundry, unpacking everything I didn’t unpack on arrival yesterday, sorting through some of the mail that my husband had kindly presorted to remove the things that were only his to deal with, and beginning to schedule the numerous activities that need to happen in short shrift. There’s the clearing of drawers, cabinets and rooms that  I need to do tomorrow and Friday to prepare for our bathroom reno, the lunch meeting Friday with my weekly lunch-partner, the skylight installer who is now set to come on Saturday afternoon, the retired friends who will come for dinner Saturday before they move to Pennsylvania, the Sunday schedule at the church and then coming home to finish whatever prep I need to finish before the reno crew’s arrival, and Monday those dears will show up to wreak short-term havoc on house and home and (ultimately) make our lives better.

I am trying to keep the Big Picture in mind as I plow on into and through all of the things that need to be tackled, but you know me, I am always prone to be sidetracked by every interesting little thing that comes my way, catches the periphery of my view, or beckons me to take off on the next tantalizing tangent. Which, of course, is in turn additionally tiring and requires more frequent and longer naps and whenever possible, and a nice piece of chocolate to nourish me upon awakening. Okay, that last pair of doings will have to wait until I’ve at least crossed a few necessities off the long and ever-growing lists, or I’ll never get finished.

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Meanwhile, you never know what will show up directly in my path as I do my duties . . .

Foodie Tuesday: A Little Latin Love

photoIt was Tapas Tuesday today. Since we were having the Collegium crew over after their performance of the exquisite Requiem that concluded the compositional career of the magnificent Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria, it seemed only appropriate to feed them some Spanish-influenced food and drink. I am neither a Latina–though much of my Norwegian ancestry did come from the southernmost part of Norway, so that makes me virtually Mediterranean, no?–nor knowledgeable about Spanish cuisine, but I took my usual loose and playful approach and didn’t get any complaints.

It’s wonderful to start learning a cuisine by means of a party rather than a full meal, to be sure. Numerous bite-sized dishes offer a much more forgiving palette for pleasing a large number of guests. Among the attendees were some who needed vegetarian, peanut-free, and gluten-free options, a couple of underage visitors and a nursing mother, all of whom would be needing non-alcoholic drinks–and then there were those for whom none of that was relevant. Again, the variety of items possible in a tapas party easily lends itself to such flexibility. It’s no wonder hors-d’oeuvres and cocktail parties and bar menus have remained tremendously popular since their inception.

What I don’t wish to do is to attempt to be all-things-to-all-people. It’s futile. It’s overly precious and annoying anyway. I’m just not willing to attempt that in any aspect of my life, least of all when I rather hope that people are visiting us at home because they actually want to visit with us, not because they’re looking for some mythic party experience. The funny (and not at all surprising) thing about it, of course, is that it still took me all day to get ready for the shindig before my husband got home from school to get ready and head over for the performance before 6 pm. Because, large or small, food and drink items take some prep work.

I did want to squeeze in some time for house tidying, at least in the rooms we were using tonight, and of course there was a load of laundry to be done and a kitchen-full of dishes to be washed and put away, a batch of bone broth to set to cooking, and oh, yeah, some errands, some garden watering. You know, the usual. Which is all to say that there is a reason or two that it’s a shade after midnight, and yes, I can tell time, so I know it’s not Foodie Tuesday, strictly speaking, anymore. Therefore I’m just posting this with a teaser photo or two (murky and fuzzy at that) to assure you that tomorrow I will tell a bit more about what I made for today. Come to think of it, perhaps I’ll get to eat some of it tomorrow. Because as you all know, when you spend the whole day fixing things for a party and then have fun people show up for the event, chances are pretty good that you’ll go to bed without having actually eaten any of what you fixed, other than a quick taste here or there while in mid-prep.

But I got to meet a few new people, or at least visit with some I’d not yet gotten to chat with before, and hold the exceedingly charming 5-month-old daughter of one of the singers. So I’m not complaining in the least! Still, it’s past my bedtime and well past when I would like to have posted this, so I’ll just bid you all a good night and sign off until tomorrow. Stay tuned, my friends!photo

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.