Sunday, April 28, 2013

Building a Better Lint Trap

Last week, a reader accused me of being a navel gazer.
At first I got all “horror movie” and thought she was peering through my windows because I do happen to glance at my stomach quite often. I like to be in tune with how far it might be protruding. In my defense, I was once pregnant with twins. For six months of my life I was nothing but navel. You don’t easily get over something like that.
This particular reader disliked my Cardinal Rue post. It was barely a post, really, just a few words describing a melancholy moment when I missed my mom. I mentioned a red bird and some bushes. Apparently the reader does not like birds. Or mothers. Or people who write about birds and mothers. Oh, how my “drivel” offended her. After bashing me in the head a few times with inappropriate words, she called me fat. Or I thought she did. It was hard to tell with the concussion and all. But when the stars cleared, I realized “navel gazing” was a legitimate literary term invoking the cute little belly button of all things. Being a literary type myself, I looked it up.
It turns out navel gazers are “Eastern mystics who stare fixedly at their own navels to induce a mystical trance.”

MeanGirl thinks I’m a mystic? Well, OK then. I contortedly concentrated on my core, but all I induced was a crick in my neck and crossed eyes. The navel is a pretty awkward place in which to dig for enlightenment. The whole thing didn’t seem very literary-like so I kept looking.

A little more research and I got it. A navel gazer is … a blogger. A narcissistic, indulgent writer who glorifies his life excessively in bursts of purple prose with little regard to proper vocabulary or sentence structure. A blogger.
Literaturely speaking (yes, I made up that word; my umbilicus told me to), navel gazing refers to the writer’s idea that his belly button is the absolute best and brightest in all the land and everyone will want to immediately drop their copies of Dostoyevsky and read all about it in 140 characters or less; or better yet, in fuzzy detail on his award winning blog, The Ins and Outs of Abe Domen.
The concern among literates is that the resulting lint buildup will “dumb down” the process and product of the writer and, by default, the reader. In other words, Abe is destroying the world as we know it.
Well, maybe changing it a bit.
Consider that the average reader reads at a seventh-grade level. If he spends his designated reading time climbing the posts of Social Media, there’s a good chance he might not even reach that seventh-grade rung, let alone anything above it. What standard for reading and writing is being developed?
Let’s carry the concern up another flight of stairs. Amazon is shuttering our bookstores; gadgets are replacing the rustle of pages; and the Great American Novel is suffocating beneath this week’s trending compilation of essays currently topping the Best Seller List.
The grumbles all sound a bit valid when I put them in my own words, the ones I found scrawled on my tummy.
But they also sound reminiscent of the worries wrought when the radio, television, and Information Superhighway were all first introduced.
So do we need to build a better lint trap?
I don’t know. My stomach’s growling (I looked) and Shorty, my roving attention span, just found a recipe on Pinterest I’m dying to try. I’ll post a pic of my plate on Facebook and tell you all about my full and happy tummy in my blog.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mysterious Fate of Barbie's Head

I was a little girl once. I dreamed in pink and purple. I adored fairy tales, Ramona and Beezus and later on, Judy Blume. I wore Easter bonnets and carried straw purses with colorful plastic flowers attached. I loved dress-up dolls and kittens; had a massive sticker collection that kept our local Hallmark in business; and drew an impressive mural on my bedroom wall of a unicorn under a rainbow.

I embraced being a girl.

But my birth order wedged me between four brothers, all of us close in age; a cosmic move that significantly altered my rose colored visions of sugar and spice. I watched my pretty tea set with the delicate hand painted rosebuds become a set of twelve miniature Frisbees soaring across the front yard towards two “goalposts” consisting of one fragile and confused teapot and my brave Breyer Palomino named Randi, with an “i”. I would walk unsuspectingly into the family room only to look up in horror as the blur of a random brother flew off the back of the couch and pinned me to the carpet in a move a’ la Chief Jay Strongbow. My beloved brothers would hide behind the shower curtain and pop out just as I was about to sit down. They spray painted Barbie’s dream house gunmetal gray and, somehow, Barbie' and Skipper’s heads ended up on GI Joe' and Ken’s bodies.

Living in the land of lads could be pretty cool, too. I collected baby hog-nosed snakes and fuzzy caterpillars. I could give a mean Indian Burn and was not afraid to stand nose-to-nose with any boy and demand my way. I got dirty, muddy, and explored woods for treasures and new trees to climb. I fearlessly shimmied into creepy crawlspaces in search of baby animals. I learned the vital life skill of launching loud and successful bids to support my God-given rights, like watching Little House on the Prairie instead of Monday Night Football on the small black-and-white TV in the study.

I embraced being a girl in a house full of boys.

I always envisioned having a daughter someday. We’d enjoy tea parties with porcelain dishes that weren’t glued back together again; and eat lemon squares with powdered sugar. We’d do crafts on the dining room table while wearing matching headbands and raspberry nail polish. We’d shop for sparkly pink things and she’d sleep under a white, frothy canopy in a bedroom draped in toile. She’d be confident when walking into rooms and secure enough that she wouldn’t have to scan the shower every time she entered a bathroom. She’d devour books by the dozen on the quaint bay window cushion covered in chintz. She’d be whatever she wanted to be in life and she’d be happy.

And she’d look just like me.

When the time came for babies, I was blessed with not one, but two, beautiful boys. I was gifted with twin sons who make me laugh. They’re teenagers now and do all the loud, wild and crazy things that boys do. They breathe sports, eat everything and are most of the time covered in dirt and mischief. They achieve goals and know they can be whatever they choose to be. They are happy.

And they both look exactly like their Dad.

Note: As I was writing this I recalled some of my favorite toys: Do you remember the Lemon Twist, Fashion Plates, the Little Wizard, and that make-your-own-make-up kit called Fresh ‘N Fancy? I loved those.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Growing Pains

I remember a conversation I had with a neighbor back when my children were toddlers. She had two boys, one in middle school and one in high school. I told her I planned to stay at home with my sons during their younger years, when they needed me most. I would go back to work when the kids entered elementary school and the demands of motherhood lessened. 
Yes, I actually thought that. In my defense, though, I had not slept in 18 months, so I can only imagine it was a combination of sleep deprivation and self preservation that led me to the delusion that the demands of motherhood would ever lessen.
My straight-faced neighbor attempted to enlighten me. She told me parenting gets more challenging as the children get older. Teenagers, especially, need more intense parental involvement, although in a much different capacity.
Two years later I connected with a friend who has six children ranging in age from 1 to 16 years old. My boys were four, and again I spouted off my master plan. Again, I was quickly corrected. “It’s easy when they’re young. The REAL parenting comes in middle and high school. That’s when you really need to show up.”
Were these moms hazing the new kid? I thought back to when both babies got sick with high fevers at the same time; and then to that full YEAR they stayed on completely opposite sleep schedules, ensuring I would never get more than three consecutive hours of rest. It gets harder than THAT?
My young children were whizzing through phases every week, each one more diabolical than the next. Colic, crying, fussy eating, biting, potty training, stripping in public, separation anxiety—I took everything that came at me, bending and twisting like an acrobat from Cirque De Soleil ... while dreaming of the day my children hit puberty.
Kids in middle school can fix their own lunches, take their own showers, and fold their own laundry. High schoolers can bring in the groceries and put them away on the high shelves. They can use the oven, ride shotgun, and hold down their own fort if my husband and I want to see a movie. Best of all, they can converse with us, share interests and hobbies, and participate in our lives at a new level.
More difficult than toddlers? No way.
Fast forward to seventh grade and let-me-tell-you I have seen the light. And it’s coming from the IPhone my children are studying instead of their homework. All those chores I mentioned? Yeah, they can do them alright, they just won't; and they use their developing conversational skills to tell me all the reasons why not.
I look back at the pictures of my toddlers, smiling their toothless grins, and I melt. I flip the page in the photo album and, oh my goodness, is there anything more precious in this world than an eight-year-old boy? Those ages were a piece of cake compared to the hormonal bundles of attitude currently stalking my halls.
Parenting definitely gets more challenging as the children get older. I can’t believe I ever thought otherwise. At thirteen years of age, my children’s biggest hurdles are internal, not external. They have angst and relationship issues I can’t put a band aid on or kiss and make better. I see their wheels churning, sometimes grinding and smoking. I see their bodies stretching inches a day. Their bones are outgrowing their common sense. It’s like "Leave it to Beaver" meets "The Fly," with my sweet little babies morphing into alien creatures who crave otherworldly amounts of food, sleep and independence. Their lives and bodies and minds are hurtling at warp speed and somehow I need to guide them through the obstacles, a task so very different from changing diapers and pureeing peas. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tiny Compartments

Last November, my mother asked her six children to clear out her storage unit. It was Thanksgiving 2012 and the first time in three years all six of us and our families were together in one spot. It was a beautiful blue day on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the view was picture perfect with backyard football games and tabletops and countertops crowded with bowls, bags, plates and platters. Iridescent ribbons of children’s laughter rippled throughout the little red rancher my grandfather built 40 years ago on a small hidden lot tucked up tight against the Chesapeake Bay.

We knew this would be the last time we celebrated this holiday with our family intact. My mother had just been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and we were leaning on each other to make sure this day was wonderful enough to befit such a cruel distinction.

None of us had enthusiasm for the task of sorting through the stacks of crushed cardboard boxes and teetering towers of barely contained chaos. But as we unwrapped each memory and unearthed the long forgotten treasures from our youth, we found ourselves releasing staccato bursts of excitement. Each school photograph, handmade Christmas ornament, dented basketball trophy and beloved broken Fisher Price toy helped fill the jagged hole recently ripped into our lives. 
It wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed and overloaded. The stagnant air in the tiny compartment grew thick, and the already fraying strings heroically holding up my shoulders finally broke, releasing them to fall with a shudder. I clutched a few brittle and yellowed mementos I knew would fit in my carry-on luggage and gingerly stepped over the rusted threshold of corrugated metal onto the hard, dry dirt of abandoned farmland.

It hurt to see all those bits and pieces of our childhood, our family history, unceremoniously condensed to fit inside a cold cement closet locked behind a colorless garage door. But at least it was all in one place. It didn’t escape me that as the six of us were reminiscing about Christmas mornings, birthdays, and summer vacations, we were actively dismantling our shared past once and for all.

I shoved the acidic thought down into my roiling stomach and angled my foot to nudge the protruding corner of a broken box the color of mud. It didn’t budge and I resisted the urge to kick it. My mother packed this box with her careful hands and practiced patience. I would unpack it the same way. 

Read the continuation in The Purses.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Strong

Boston You’re My Home

UPDATE: We've been on lockdown at our home, listening to the helicopters, sirens, and WBZ since late last night. Yet another innocent death, yet another innocent victim in critical care. One suspect is dead, another still creating fear. Through this all, Boston refuses to break stride. To quote our president, "We will finish the race."

I moved to Massachusetts 11 years ago, following my husband, a native New Englandah, and pulling behind me twin toddlers. For the first six years, we lived in one idyllic seaside town after another before finally settling down in my husband’s dream town of Brookline, Massachusetts, a very close-in suburb that hugs and kisses the line of Boston.
There’s no rocky coastline in Brookline, or ocean breezes, or seaside artist colony, or boardwalk arcades. But what Brookline DOES have is … wait for it … Fenway Park.
My husband’s main (only) criteria in choosing a house in Brookline was that its front door be situated less than two miles walking distance to Gate A of America’s most beloved ballpark. We found a cute little Tudor exactly 1.67 miles by foot to the Green Monster and signed an offer that night … before the house even officially went on the market.
My husband’s favorite day is Patriot’s Day. It’s a sacred and unifying holiday in Massachusetts, and nowhere is it more revered and celebrated than in Boston. The Boston Marathon always takes place on Patriots Day, and the Red Sox famously play an 11 am game that morning. This year's Marathon Monday was the fifth Patriots Day spent in our house that sits just up the hill from Beacon Street at Coolidge Corner … or as it is known on Marathon day, Mile 24.
We have a Patriots Day Plan, a tradition. We leave the house at 10 am and head down the hill to watch the first wheelchair racers speed by. Then we walk up to Fenway Park and get settled in our seats just in time to watch the thundering fly-over and other pre-game festivities. We usually leave the game during the seventh inning stretch singing Sweet Caroline as we make our way to the marathon finish line to cheer on the finishers. Then we leisurely head home, rooting on the runners along the way, bumping into friends and neighbors, and relishing in the intense energy that sizzles along Beacon Street.
And so it was two days ago when we once again embarked on one of our favorite holiday traditions. The only deviation from the plan occurred when I wanted to leave the game early so I could stop by Trader Joes on our walk home. For that reason, we had already left the finish line by the time the two blasts ripped through Copley Square, Boston, New England, the Nation, and our hearts.
My husband, still carrying the plastic bag with his new 60%-off running jacket, was well away from the Marathon Sports store where he and my son had earlier purchased it … and where the first bomb exploded, shattering the storefront window and the lives of those in its vicinity.
My husband and I still feel the tremors.
It was a low and cowardly blow to Boston, especially on this holiday when the entire city celebrates as one family.
For my family, it was a too-close call, a reason to lose sleep, and yet another opportunity to thank God for our incredible blessings.
My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by Monday’s horrific events. I wish you peace and strength. Boston strength.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Good Luck Chuck

My mother knew how to grow things. She successfully grew thousands of beautiful things in her exquisite flower gardens that artfully encircled the bustling brick home where the six biggest and best things she had ever grown … grew.
I’m not so talented I fear. I never inherited my mother's remarkable patience, one of her most defining and admirable characteristics.
But I still try, and every now and again a miracle happens.
On a rainy, shivery day two Octobers ago, my husband, sons and I went to a neighboring farm to pick out pumpkins with character and personality enough to become our official Jack-o'-lanterns. The three boys waded through a clumpy sea of orange, while I searched for a few fluffy bundles of mums and a welcoming fall wreath wide enough to cover the chipped paint on our front door.
Although we set off in different directions to complete our missions, we all bumped into each other a few short minutes later inside the cozy, fragrant barn where they produced spicy apple cider, frothy hot chocolate, and chewy molasses cookies. Seriously, how do they expect us to focus on the frozen pumpkins outside when they keep the warm pumpkin BREAD inside?
We stood together talking with our mouths full when I noticed a sad little tree in a red, cracked plastic pot toppled over in the corner of the shed, lost among the twisted gourds, cornhusks and dried fruit. It was a literal stick in the mud with a few straggling leaves hanging on for dear life. I would never have known it was an apple tree if I hadn't read it on the stretchy, white tag that rippled in the cool draft as if announcing the sapling's surrender. But then again, I couldn't identify any apple tree unless it was fully laden with completely ripe apples — such is my agricultural acumen.
As it happened, we were in the market for a tree to plant in honor of my grandparents who had recently passed away. When my son christened the tree, the "Charlie Brown Apple Tree", after that iconic little spruce-that-could in A Charlie Brown Christmas, we were sold. We are a family that always roots for the underdog, afterall. 
Of course, my expectations were nil. Very rarely do I put something in the ground and watch it spring back up again.
Once home, we realized the only place it would fit was our front yard. Not good. On that cold, wet October afternoon — a prelude to one of the coldest Boston winters I have experienced since moving here — I was pretty sure planting season had already passed and this poor sap didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t want the neighbors to witness the inevitable demise of our deciduous tree.
But the boys had so much enthusiasm for the project that I let them dig full steam ahead and excavate a big, gaping pit in my tiny front yard, while I stood back and watched the gentle drizzle settle into shiny pearls on their black hair. My sons exuberantly plopped Charlie Brown in the hole and we heard the greedy ground suck it down way too deep with a satisfying slurp. We filled in the empty places with the remaining muck and some potting soil I found left over from the previous spring when I murdered some perfectly innocent impatiens.
Good luck, Chuck.
I took off my sodden gloves and watched my sons; two unbelievably filthy, muddy messes, laughing and battling each other with the sharp ends of the shovels; a trip to the ER waiting to happen. They seemed so gangly and unbalanced with long limbs sprouting from trunks that were getting taller and thicker by the minute. Oh, how I worry I won’t successfully grow these boys. If I can’t cultivate something in dirt, what odds do I have of getting these boys to adulthood? The responsibility seems overwhelming at times.
Four feet of crusted snow encased our little apple tree for most of the winter, while my sons busily plowed their way through fifth grade. That spring, my children emerged a few inches taller and the tree developed tender new growth and bright green leaves — that quickly turned yellow with dark spots and curled brown and crumbly on the edges. Darn. But we were busy with baseball, MCAS, impossible school projects that involved building things, and, well, growing.
It seemed months passed before I noticed Charlie Brown. My neighbor came up to me and said she’d never seen a tree so small bear so much fruit.
What, huh?
I looked over and sure enough our little Charlie had apples all over everywhere. Round apples. Red apples. REAL apples. Apples that were GROWING. It was amazing to see so many apples on such a little tree. Cue Snoopy and the angelic Peanuts choir. This tree was a Christmas miracle.
How did it grow so big, so quickly, against all the odds? I don't know. I look at my children every day and wonder the same thing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Cardinal Rue

I saw a beautiful cardinal in my back yard yesterday, blissfully warming itself in the indulgent sun, sitting so stunningly stark against the barely budding Forsythia branches that my breath caught.

I had no one to tell that to.

Cardinals were among my mother’s favorite birds. When I was young, a chatty family of cardinals lived in the fat holly bush scrunched beneath our kitchen window. My mother loved to watch the handsome male come and go with wiggling insect legs sticking outside his beak, while the more subdued female tended the home. My mother considered them honored guests. She’d lift her youngest children onto the kitchen counter and the rest of us would carry over dining chairs to stand on so we could peer through the large panes above the sink and witness the tiny, grey-green eggs nestled in the prickly cushion of leaves. She’d hold her finger to her lips and her eyes would crinkle in excitement as she’d usher us over en masse to hear the first peeps of our scrawny, hungry neighbors. She’d thrill when she'd catch those babies eventually flying out, one by one, radiating the same pride I’d watch her exude decades later when my twin sons staggered their first steps.

After I left the nest, I found myself calling mom whenever I caught a glimpse of brilliant scarlet perched in a tree or bush. I’d verbally paint her a detailed picture of the scene and we’d ooh and ah as if we were on the highest mountaintop gazing down. Through my mother I learned to recognize great joy in the smallest drops of beauty.

When I became a mother, I called my mom every evening while I made dinner or, more often than I should admit, waited for the delivery man to knock on the door with a stack of steamy goods. Mom and I talked about the little things, the nothing things. I’d go on about how I liked clovers because they made my yard green with pretty white flowers. Where I didn’t have clovers, I had burnt grass or dirt. Although my mother was a gifted gardener with ten emerald-enameled fingers that cultivated an acre of thick lawn each summer, she couldn’t have been happier for me and the common weed that brought color into my life. For my birthday last year, she sent me a small, crystal clover so I could have the green “all year round.”

Will there ever be a greater champion in your life than your mother? 

Who will celebrate my peculiarities now? Who will send me a CD of Christmas music in July because she knows I miss it? Whose voice will right my slanted world with a simple “Hi, Sweetheart”?

Who am I going to tell about the cardinal?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Words for my Mother to Read

Mints in my pocket: Enlightenmint, Enjoymint, Achievemint, Wondermint

It was my mother who introduced me to books and instilled in me a love of reading and the written word. My mother always had a book in her hand or within easy reach. Growing up, I remember her reading late into the evenings on the comfy armchair that was conveniently located beneath the built-in bookcase of our wood-paneled family room. That bookcase housed the tomes that fed and shaped my mother’s life. Books on horticulture and roses lined the shelves facing large windows that overlooked my mother’s extraordinary rose gardens. My mother studied those books and created a lush and fragrant back yard paradise that showcased more than 100 varieties of rosebushes, many chosen in honor of her six children. Instead of a lemonade stand, my sister and I would sell rainbow bunches of roses by the dozens to neighbors and passersby.

My mother’s faith in God and quest for spiritual understanding was pronounced in the multitude of titles dedicated to theology and diverse cultures. She was active in her church and cultivated a faith and innate desire to learn that allowed her to delve into the structures and foundations of a broad range of beliefs and values. Her own value system evoked kindness, patience and above all, acceptance. 

I have five siblings, so it was always a special treat for me when my mother and I could go together to the little book store up the street called the Book Nook. It’s where I discovered Judy Blume, "A Wrinkle in Time," and the evil White Witch who resided on the other side of that infamous wardrobe. I’d devour a book in a day or two, and my mom would happily take me back to buy another. I’d browse the shelves while my mother chatted with the store owner about new titles, authors and current events.

My mother greatly enjoyed fiction, especially crime novels and mysteries fraught with political intrigue. She prefered the heft of hard covers to paperbacks, and would NEVER consider a Kindle or, ironically enough, the (Book) Nook. It was simply unthinkable. 

Whenever my mother finished a novel, she added it to an ever-growing pile destined for donation. When her mother was alive, she’d pack the books in a box and mail it to her in Baltimore. Together my mother and grandmother would form a book group of two, discussing the characters and plot lines for hours over the phone. My grandmother kept a log of each and every book she read, a long and remarkable record of a passion that has been passed down the generations like a priceless heirloom.

As much as books shaped my mother’s life, my mother’s love for reading shaped mine. It is perhaps the greatest gift she gave me.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sing. The Next Thing You Know You'll be Dancing.

"Sing. The next thing you know you'll be dancing."

My mother gave me this suggestion during my first, very long winter in New England, after I had been housebound with two toddlers for too many snow days and I had threatened to bury my head in the nearest 12-foot snow drift to end it all.
I still take that advice when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here's my latest, A Middle School Mother's Lament, sung to the tune of "These are a Few of my Favorite Things." 

Sing with me, and feel free to dance.

Boys in clean clothes without food stains or huge rips,  
Waistbands in place that don’t slip down past their hips,
Drawers that are empty of damp, stinky things,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When we’re in public a smile on their faces,
Dentists that nod and say “no need for braces,”
Boys that don’t scream out the window bad things,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the school calls, 'cause my son falls, broken arm in a cast. I give them assurance that I have insurance, and hand the phone to their Dad.

Sons that take showers without re-peat orders,
Clean and neat closets and kids that aren’t hoarders,
Rap songs that highlight appropriate things,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Math books and textbooks that actually make sense,
Homework that won’t cause our lives to be so tense,
Words on my wall that spell “We Do Hard Things.”
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the school rings, 'cause my son flings, applesauce at a lad. I just close my eyes and dream of wine and pies, and place the blame on their Dad.

You don’t need make-up you already look good
Why are you trying to ruin my childhood?
I think I’ll sell ads tattooed on my head.
These are some things that they actually said.

When my sons balk, at my mom-talk, tell me I’m never right. I simply remember, they’re my kids forever, and thank God with all my might.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Patches from the Past

Each week I'll post a tiny swatch of a past Patch article that still makes me smile ...

From The Dinner Things in Life: (2011)

I guess the biggest hurdle I face is that my children want dinner EVERY night. And they usually anticipate a meal in the morning and afternoon as well. Seriously. I’m not making this up. I could break my back making Rare Roast Beast for dinner with homemade who-pudding and an exceptionally satisfying who-hash, and still, the very next morning, my children would emerge from their little who-beds expecting MORE FOOD.

From Law Abiding Citizens: (2011)

My 11-year-old sons are two things above all else.
  • Thing one: They are die-hard, obsessed, over-the-top-committed, wake-up-in-the-morning-singing-Sweet-Caroline-oh-oh-oh, Red Sox fanaticals. (Thank you, Dad.)
  • Thing two: They are hungry. All the time, every time, five minutes after dinnertime, they are hungry.
I’m convinced no matter how much money we pump into their overpriced educations they will ultimately emerge as food vendors at Fenway Park.

Hmmmm, seeing a trend here ...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Cleaning ... in ... the Twilight Zone

Did you know you're supposed to clean the legs of your chairs? You can be honest, no one’s judging you here. I didn’t know, until I came home from work to find our housekeeper smoothing lemon-fresh Pledge across the curvy-carved, fake veneers of my wannabe French Country chairs.

Is this something people do? Sure, if a glob of spaghetti sauce dropped on the chair, I’d give it a swipe, but otherwise I’d never give those appendages a thought. Do they even get dirty? I did what I always do when I’m stumped. I called my mother. Sure enough, dirt and dust accumulate there just like anywhere else. Who knew? Not me.
That is why I use a professional.
Celia started cleaning our house eleven years ago and the twins were only two. I had quit work to stay at home with the boys and we had no money and I had no sanity and the house was such a disaster that FEMA had set up a trailer in my back yard. My choices were Celia or Social Services. 

My children adored Celia because she left a chocolate on their beds and artfully arranged their stuffed animals in adorable poses. She taught them words in Portuguese like soap and water, and tell-your-mother-to-pick-up-a-broom-once-in-a-while. One time I found her teaching them how to use the vacuum, probably in the hopes they would eventually teach me.

I adored Celia because she cleaned my house. And she came back, no matter how bad it got. She also crafted paper roses out of our toilet paper and folded geometrical designs into the top layers of our Kleenex.
I know, right? She's very good. Sometimes too good.
I hang decorative ceramic dishes on the walls of my kitchen and dining room. It never occurred to me I should clean these plates, which, let me stress, never get used. They just hang there. If a plop of spaghetti sauce were to land on one of them, (which in my house is a distinct possibility), I would definitely wipe all the red off. Otherwise, the plates stay put until they ultimately drop to their demise when one of the kids throws a balled sock or other makeshift missile "by mistake;" or stampedes on the floor above them with such admirable spirit that earthquaking vibrations ripple downward to send those dishes soaring and FEMA calling for backup.
So imagine my surprise when I came home and saw that Celia had taken all the plates down and washed them. They were, admittedly, very bright and shiny, and some of them were even different colors than they were that morning. That familiar feeling of despair came over me. So we're supposed to clean these too?!
Time to call mom. By this point, I could easily visualize her shaking her head dismayingly.
"Yes, dear, of course you need to wash those plates."
"But they don’t DO anything. They just sit there."
"It doesn’t matter, they still get grimy, especially if you're using the broiler or fying on the stove."
Well then I'm in the clear, I thought. My broiler's been broken for five years and I know full well not to take on a pan of boiling oil. No chance that would end well. I don't think my children have ever eaten a piece of fried chicken that hasn't come out of a bucket.
But I was beginning to see a trend here, and this trend was trending high.
One spring day I came home to find the silk curtains from our dining room removed and placed neatly into plastic bags. The cotton curtains from our sunroom had all been taken down, washed and dried. Celia, because she knows me all too well, had set up the ironing board and placed the mountain of folded curtains on top of it, along with the iron, in a not-too-subtle hint as to what my role in this crazy escapade was to be.
Scott gleefully came round the bend, his eyes bright with joy at what he was about to tell me. “Celia says to have the dining room curtains drycleaned and to iron the other ones.”
 “Dry-clean?” I asked stupefied. “Iron? I don’t understand.”
 “They need to be cleaned.”
“The curtains?”
“But why?” I whined. “Is there spaghetti sauce on them?”
My husband merely shrugged and went off in search of a snack, as if we hadn't just entered the Twilight Zone.
I twitched in horror at the sixteen panels laughing at me from their lofty perch atop that singed and sinister surfboard and did the only rational thing I could think of.
“Come on, Mom,” I literally cried. “This can’t be something people actually do?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” she patiently confirmed. “Curtains absorb odor.”
Odor? That's what all this silliness is about? I stopped caring about smells right about the time I gave birth to twin boys! It's called self preservation, my friend. My sons are now teenagers. Stinky wall hangings are way down the list of offending odors. How about I dryclean their feet?
But by this point I had started to worry about things I don’t know. I don’t mean things I don’t know like trigonometry or geometry or any “ometry” for that matter. I mean things I don’t even KNOW I don’t know.
I can see my poor family now, suffering from a rare form of lung disease brought about by a no-good sneaky bacteria that grows exclusively on chair leg dust, ceramic plate grime, or whatever it is that makes a perfectly good curtain need cleaning. The doctors would scramble to find an antibiotic to save our lives but would be stymied as to the exact course of action. They’d congregate in a circle in the corner of the hospital corridor whispering how no one’s ever gotten this particular strain of disease before. After all, who doesn’t dust their chair legs?

Mints in my Pocket: Enlightenmint, Improvemint