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Posts Tagged ‘laundry’

kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Here’s what I know about laundry, after a decade and a half or so: it’s one of the chores I don’t mind.

Make no mistake: sometimes it’s a pain, especially when I’m not eager to schlep a full hamper down three flights of stairs to the basement and back up again. I also know that it’s easier for me than for many people, thanks to my electric washer and dryer: I don’t have to spend hours scrubbing clothes, or days waiting for them to dry.

That being said, I love a warm, soft pile of clean laundry, heaped onto a bed so I can sort it and put it away. I love a full drawer of patterned cloth napkins, a neatly folded stack of clean sheets. I love emptying the laundry hampers after a trip or a harried week.

As Kathleen Norris has noted, laundry is “one of the very few tasks in life that offers instant results, and this is nothing to sneer at.” Laundry is also one of the ways I take care of myself and my husband, putting a part of our lives to rights, creating (some) order where there was previously chaos. And about once a week these days, you can find me combining laundry with a couple of other rituals: podcasts and scones.

I’m a slow listener to only a couple of podcasts. I love Krista Tippett’s wise, thoughtful, wide-ranging conversations with all sorts of folks on On Being, though I admit I don’t get to them all. And I never miss an episode of All the Books!, which features Liberty and a rotating cast of other women talking about the latest and greatest books they’re reading, or highlighting old favorites. There are frequent digressions to other topics, which is part of the fun, and I love hearing their warm, funny, generous voices in my ear as I putter around the kitchen, washing dishes and wiping counters and watering the thirsty geraniums.

The third part of this ritual is Molly’s scones, which I’ve been eating for breakfast nearly every day for a couple of years now. They’re hearty and delicious and not too sweet, and by now I know the recipe by heart and by hand.

I measure out the flour, whisk in baking powder and salt, grate in a few tablespoons of butter and stir in white sugar and dried cranberries. I can do all these things while I’m listening, and while the laundry spins downstairs. I pop them into the oven and then head downstairs to check on the dryer, or hang up sweaters or corral my husband’s socks. I come back up and pull out the cookie sheet, letting it cool on the counter. And I exhale.

It’s been a fast and full stretch around here lately: change, the only constant of the past few years, has been coming faster than I can keep up with. I’ve found myself scattered and frustrated, more often than I care to admit. But this ritual and a few others, when I can sink into them, help ground me.

As we head into summer – with more change ahead – you can (sometimes) find me in the kitchen, baking and folding and listening.

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ice cream cookie stripes sprinkles

Did I mention that we moved, earlier this month? And that I started a new job, not long ago? And that, perhaps, all these transitions at once (along with the usual responsibilities of daily life) might have been a wee bit stressful?

Well. In case I didn’t, I’m mentioning it now.

August has been a month for hanging on by our fingernails: unpacking the new apartment one box at a time, calling all the utility companies and the washing machine repairman, scraping together dinner from whatever’s in the fridge (which often hasn’t been much). I am looking forward to September, always one of my favorite months, and simultaneously not sure how it’s upon us already.

changes-fortune-cookie

As I wade through transition (aided by a bit of fortune cookie wisdom, above), I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now. Amid the chaos, there is still a lot of good stuff – “lots of joy,” a friend reminded me the other day. “But you have to seek it.” She was right, as she usually is.

So, as we soak up these last hot days of summer (and hope for some rain), here’s what is saving my life now:

  • My daily trips to Darwin’s, for sustenance of several kinds. Chai in the morning, lunch at midday, snacks and/or fresh produce in the afternoon. And always, chitchat with the folks behind the counter. This is my place and I am grateful for it every single day.
  • A simple summer salad, which has been dinner several times recently: tomatoes, mozzarella, peaches, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Good books: gorgeous fiction (Alice Hoffman’s Faithful), smart nonfiction (David Hajdu’s Love for Sale and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures), entertaining light fiction (Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back and Rhys Bowen’s Crowned and Dangerous).
  • A scone and a cup of tea for breakfast, nearly every day. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • The silver ring set with malachite I bought in NYC, which makes me so happy every time I wear it.
  • An ongoing text conversation with a friend about All The Things, which is a daily lifeline.
  • A standing Thursday meeting with other writers from around Harvard, a font of both useful information and witty, sarcastic one-liners.
  • Red roses from my local florist, and a clear surface to put them on.

red roses

  • Having (most of) my books shelved and arranged so I can find them.
  • Our washing machine works again – and doing laundry always makes me feel more in control of my life.
  • Pictures of my nephew, headed back to preschool, and so many of my friends’ kids who are also going back to school. I love those brand-new backpacks and gap-toothed grins.
  • Ice cream dates, with J and with friends, at the place down the street from our new apartment.
  • Photos of a colleague’s new puppy, and interactions with other friendly dogs in Harvard Square.
  • Julia Cameron’s wise words on writing and life in The Sound of Paper, to which I return every summer.
  • A couple of long heart-to-hearts with good friends. There’s nothing like being together.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

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dish rack kitchen

Pottering. It’s a lovely word, isn’t it?

The word makes me think of actual clay pots, or a backyard garden with sprays of flowering vines growing over a wooden fence. It calls to mind lazy afternoons, shafts of sunlight pouring down through the trees, mild breezes and blue skies. And work – but not the backbreaking kind. The gentle, satisfying kind. Moving things around, digging, arranging, fiddling a bit, until they’re just right.

I don’t usually associate “pottering” with housework. But recently I’ve realized they are often one and the same in my life.

As a writer and editor in this increasingly digital age, I do most of my paid work on a computer. After a day at the office, answering emails, writing news features, managing social media, my hands and eyes often long for something tangible. Something I can touch and see.

I get home, these days, when it’s just getting dark, my hands full of mail and books, my brain often tired and fragmented from the work of the day. I shuck off my coat, drop my bag on the bench by the kitchen door, and often, I plunge straight into some form of pottering.

It’s not what you’d call heavy housework, most days. I save those tasks for weekends, when the hubs is home and can split the work with me. The tidying and maintenance I do in the evenings is just that: tossing a load of laundry in the washing machine. Sorting a stack of mail (often recycling most of it). Pulling on my rubber gloves and tackling a sinkful of dishes. Moving papers, clothes and general clutter back where they belong.

Sometimes I trim the stems on a vase of flowers, or rearrange the stacks of books that cover most of the available surfaces in our apartment. Usually, there’s some cooking to be done, and then I often eat alone because the hubs is working late, saving leftovers for him. After dinner, there are more dishes to wash, or sometimes a bit of baking. At least twice a day – once in the morning and once at night – the red teakettle sings its whistling song.

It’s not always as idyllic as I make it sound. I admit it: sometimes I grumble at the multiplying properties of dirty dishes and balled-up socks. Occasionally there’s a stack of mail I walk by and ignore. The work is never done, exactly, even when the clothes are folded and the sink is empty and shining. But then, the work of making a home is never quite done, either. It is constant, ongoing. A process.

Like so many things, pottering isn’t a cure-all: sometimes I go to bed still worn out and enervated, or I despair of ever conquering the latest list of household tasks. But most of the time, I appreciate the chance to feel useful and productive while also relaxing a bit. It’s good for my brain, my body and my soul to sink, for a little while, into the work of my hands.

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Folding My Way Home

Image from the Flickr Commons

Home is where you do your laundry.

I have yet to see this phrase on any of those distressed wooden boards painted with cheery slogans, so ubiquitous in shabby-chic home décor shops. In my homeland of Texas, the signs often say “Home is where you hang your hat,” adorned with a cowboy hat (or boots). I love the variation I saw on a pillow last year: “sweet home sweet,” a four-year-old’s variation on “home sweet home.” And for the last few years, my husband and I have quoted the line from folk band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes: “Home is wherever I’m with you.” We often feel like foreigners in our suburb south of Boston, but we have chosen, and keep choosing, to make a home together, wherever we are.

There are no signs on my walls about laundry, or washing dishes, or my other daily and weekly chores. But after nearly a decade of washing and spinning and hanging clothes to dry, in half a dozen houses on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve come to believe that laundry is a quiet but essential part of the way I make a home.

I’m back at the the Art House America blog today, musing about laundry and how it helps ground me. Head over there to read more.

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“My Monday nights seem to be about washing things,” I wrote in a recent journal entry. It’s not confined to Mondays, really – even with just two of us, there are always (it seems) dishes piling up in the kitchen sink (someday we’ll have a dishwasher), and mounds of laundry piling up in our two separate laundry baskets. J did his own laundry – quite capably, I’m sure – before I married him, but I am so picky about my laundry that I took over the task for both of us. And, well, it’s never done – no news to any of you who also do laundry, no matter whom you live with or how tidy they are.

I don’t really mind doing laundry – it does itself after I load it in, and then I just have to toss it in the dryer and check on it once in a while. But whenever I get frustrated with the mounds, my thoughts turn to a beloved passage from Kathleen Norris’ book The Cloister Walk:

Laundry seems to have an almost religious importance for many women. We groan about the drudgery but seldom talk about the secret pleasure we feel at being able to make dirty things clean, especially the clothes of our loved ones, which possess an intimacy all their own. Laundry is one of the very few tasks in life that offers instant results, and this is nothing to sneer at.

Several summers ago now, I spent two weeks at Camp Blue Haven, writing and hiking and soaking in the beauty of the Sangre de Cristo mountains (and, appropriately, healing from a tough year). My stay lasted 13 days – in other words, long enough to require a laundry session – and so, on the quiet Sunday between the first week and the second, I sat in the doorway of the spare, simple laundry room in the shower house next to our cabin, reading Norris’ words and listening to the dryer thumping steadily behind me and the rain thrumming down outside. The fresh scent of detergent and dryer sheets mingled with the smell of summer rain, and both scents melded with Norris’ simple, honest, beautiful words to wash both my clothes and my soul clean.

Years later, as I trek up and down the stairs, from the basement (where the dryer is) to our second-floor apartment and back again, I think of those words, and that rainy afternoon, and those two weeks of soul-laundering long ago. And when I spread the fresh clean clothes out on the guest-room bed, and fold and sort and stow away, I breathe in the scent of lavender, and of memory.

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brown socks

Jeremiah, last night, lying in bed, apropos of nothing in particular: “I need some more brown socks.”

Me (having just washed a load of darks which included at least five pairs of his socks, several of them brown): “How many pairs do you have?”

Him: “Two.”

Me: “You mean the only two pairs of brown socks you have are the ones with the gold toes that I just washed?” (Thinking: At least one of those has a hole in the toe. And I could swear he also owns other, darker brown socks.)

Him: “Well, I have several pairs of chocolate brown socks.”

Me, bursting into uncontrollable laughter: “Is there a difference?” (Thinking: This is the man who once didn’t bat an eye at wearing brown socks with black trousers and shoes. And can’t you wear chocolate brown socks and brown socks with the same outfits, theoretically?)

Him: “Yes. The difference is important.”

Me, still laughing: “What about those brown striped socks I bought you that you never wear?”

Him: “Well…I don’t really like them.”

Me: “But they’re brown!”

Him: “Yeah…but…”

Me, breaking into laughter again, “You are picky, my love. But I will buy you some more brown socks.”

Ah, wedded bliss. It’s a whole new way of living.

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