Sunday, June 24, 2012

Messy is the New Clean

I was reading the new issue of "Real Simple" magazine when I came across this ad for Clorox:

I don't know about you, but to me Clorox is synonymous with clean.  And when I think of clean, I don't just think "germ free," I think, "pristine," "immaculate," "in order," and "perfect."  So when I saw this ad, I noticed immediately that the towels were rumpled and obviously used, there were toys and kleenex stacked on the back of the toilet, the toilet lid was up, there were toys and loose toilet paper on the floor, and yet this bathroom is being modeled as Clorox-clean.  How can this be?  Am I missing something?  Like, a generation or two?

In my day, we were taught not only to sanitize the toilet, but to hang the towels straight, pick up the toys from the floor and put the toilet lid down.  But that just isn't in style anymore.  I must be getting old, because I am constantly surprised when I look at pictures on Facebook of young 20- or 30-somethings in their homes, which are a merry mess with clutter and a general untidy look that doesn't seem to phase them a bit.  When I take a picture I make sure that my house is clean before I snap the shutter.  If it isn't, either I don't take the picture or I'll reposition my subject to a more tidy location.  I would be completely ashamed if that picture of the bathroom in Real Simple was mine.  But obviously, the times they are a changin'.

When I was a kid, this scenario was a common occurrence in our home:  My brother, sister and I would be contentedly watching TV, reading, doing homework or playing Barbies on the floor when suddenly we'd hear a car pull into the driveway.  My mom would come rushing out of the kitchen to peer out the window to see who it was.  If it was a salesman, everything remained calm...but if it was someone we knew she would hiss, "Kids!  Get up!  Put your toys away!  Grab those newspapers!  Get your jackets and backpacks and take them upstairs!  Take your glasses into the kitchen!  Run!  It's So-and-So!  Hurry!  And TURN OFF THE TV!!!"  And, boy, you should have seen us fly!  We practically ran into each other in our haste to turn our living room into a proper parlor.  By the time So-and-So had got out of the car, walked up to the front door and rang the bell, we would have made everything in that room perfect...including plumping up the throw pillows and lighting a candle.  Then we'd be sitting quietly on the couch as the door opened, with my mother's "surprised" voice welcoming So-and-So into the house..."Well, hello!  What a surprise!  How nice to see you!  Come in, come in!"  I always wondered what people thought when they saw that spotless living room and three children sitting empty-handed and silent on the couch staring at a blank TV screen!

But that training stuck with me into my own adult life.  I downplayed the perfection a bit by allowing my kids to keep out one toy each so they would at least look like they were busy and halfway normal when someone walked into our home.  But it wasn't just my mom and I who were clean-freaks.  I remember complaining to my mother-in-law once about the problem with not having a dishwasher was how just as soon as I finished the dishes, someone would pour a drink or eat a snack and there would be dishes in the sink again.  She gave me this sage advice:  "Oh, I always kept a dishpan in the sink and all the dirty dishes that accumulated between dishwashing would go in there.  Then, if someone came over unexpectedly, I would just pick up the dishpan full of dishes and put it in the oven!"  I thought that was about the smartest trick ever, and quickly added it to my good-housekeeping arsenal.

If anyone challenged me on my obsessive-compulsive cleaning frenzy, I'd staunchly defend myself by saying that no one ever had to write a book on how to mess up your house in 10 easy steps, but there were certainly whole shelves devoted to cleaning and organizing it.  And, of course, I had Martha Stewart to back me up.  Her magazine was full of gorgeous, picture-perfect, even staged rooms...nothing out of place and every item visible had a purpose, even if that purpose was just to look stunning.  For my generation, she was the Golden Standard.

But then came my daughters's generation.

I first noticed the subtle differences in the catalogs of their favorite stores....the mismatched, slightly rumpled clothes and the tousled bed-head hairstyles, bedrooms that were ultra-casual with jewelry draped over the dresser mirror, throw pillows scattered across an unmade bed, clothes draped over a chair, an eclectic combination of old and new furniture, and wall colors that clashed with the curtains.  Then on new movies, it was suddenly cool to have personal products spread out over the bathroom counter, and working girls switched from neat little purses to big bags that contained half their apartment.  This new trend quickly took hold in our house, and it seemed I was forever telling them to clean their rooms...or at least shut their closet doors and dresser drawers!  But it's a losing battle, because not only are they not ashamed when someone sees their messy room, they are actually comfortable...and so is the friend who is visiting!

And so I face a losing battle, not just against my kids but against the whole "messy" movement.  Grunge clothes, messy hair, rumpled beds and dirty bathrooms have replaced matching clothes, sleek hairstyles, crisp bedding and sparkling fixtures.

And now even Clorox is against me!

So if messy is the new clean, then it's time to let my hair down...or at least pin it up in a messy bun!  No more making my bed!  No more running through the house collecting everyone else's forgotten items.  No more fretting over footwear in the foyer!  I'm just going to sanitize my toilet and call it a day!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sum- Sum- Summertime!

I love summer. I am a sun-worshipper, a tree-hugger, a fresh fruit-fanatic, a poolside-lounger, a morning walker, and a voracious novel-reader.

Only I never have time for any of that anymore...except for morning walks and lots of fresh fruit.

As soon as the weather started hinting of summer, I began experiencing brief but intense flashbacks to the summers of my youth, memories that brought with them both pleasure and pain---pleasure because those summers were luxuriously long and lovely, and pain because those summers seem to be lost to me forever.

Like many good, responsible adults, I am trapped at my desk with my wrists handcuffed to my computer (or so it feels that way!) for a number of hours every day. When it's time to clock out, that is just the signal that one job is done and another begins, for then I move on to the demands of my home, my family, the church, my yard, errands, and all the other miscellaneous mundane tasks that grown-ups do. Even when I decide I'll actually sit down and watch a movie in the evening, I'll haul out the ironing board and iron while I watch to justify two hours of inactivity. Most of the time, I don't fact, I prefer staying busy. But come summer I begin to long for something...a feeling that I vaguely remember. It defines summer for me, and every year I wish I could recapture it.

I don't know about you, but summer isn't just a season to me, it is a total-body experience. I feel summer, taste summer, smell summer, hear summer, see summer...even sixth-sense summer, if there is such a thing!

The summers of my teenage years were spent in Oregon where summer is hot and dry for a good 2-1/2 months straight (despite Oregon's reputation for rain, which occurs the other 9-1/2 months of the year!). I used to live in the country, up on Chehalem Mountain, and I was surrounded by strawberry fields and vineyards and orchards, which were both my playground and my workplace. For seven long years of my life, I spent every summer working in the strawberry fields. Yes, it was hard physical work and I came home sweaty and very dirty every day, but all my friends worked there too, so it was quite the social scene...if you could call a dozen dirty kids in stained jeans, tattered t-shirts, ponytails, no make-up and berry-stained fingers at 6:30 a.m. a social scene! But I have some pretty great memories of "lock and rock" (locking people inside the outhouse and then rocking it!), bagged lunches in the cool shade of the forest trees that bordered the hot fields, making up "hoeing" songs to serenade the weeds, berry fights, picking races, popcicle prizes, bus rides from field to field where the bus driver never made you sit straight and still like on the school bus, running through the cool water spraying from the irrigation pipes, zipping across dirt roads on an ATV before they were outlawed, hanging out with friends who came to visit when business was slow at the U-pick stand, taking care of the baby goat and rabbit who were part of the petting zoo at the farm, flirting with the shirtless boys who loaded the heavy crates of berries onto the trucks, and the berry-picking picnic at the end of the season where we'd play baseball and eat watermelon (everyone was tired of strawberries!).

But summer wasn't only about berries...once out of the field (and out of the shower!), real summer began! If I was at home, I'd throw a blanket on the grass, bring out my music and magazines, soak my hair in lemon juice, slather my skin in Hawaiian Tropic coconut oil (without any sunscreen!) and suntan until the sun lost its heat. Better yet was at a good friend's house (two of them had pools!). We'd have a beautiful cycle of tan-turn-tan, cool off in the pool, tan-turn-tan, cool off in the pool, while we talked about boys and criticized the models in Seventeen magazine. There were trips to the beach and to the mountains, floating on a raft on the local reservoir (my first car accident was on our way to Hagg Lake...I remember climbing out of the dented car still holding my beach towel), there were fireworks and festivals, horseback riding, camping trips, rodeos, road trips, even Disneyland once, family barbeques, activities with a huge group of friends, shopping with girlfriends, romantic dates (at least we thought they were romantic at the age of 17!), and the grand finale of summer camp. But honestly, all these years later what I long for most is the quiet afternoons to myself when I would have a really great novel, some really great sun and trees, a comfy spot to lie or sit, and a bowlful of fresh-from-the-tree cherries to nibble and a glass of iced suntea to sip. That was bliss.

I was a voracious reader when I was young, easily polishing off 400-page novels in a week (I read the epic novel, "Roots," while on a camping trip the summer I turned 12). I got in trouble at school for reading too much (I used to put my book inside my larger textbook so I could keep reading!). My friends would hide their books before I came to their houses because I'd get caught up in one and forget my friend was even there. My mother would have to call me at the top of her lungs for the third or fourth time because I couldn't hear when lost in another time and place in the story. I often read a book a day and began reading adult novels and classics when I was still in elementary school. My biggest disappointment was that I easily got carsick, so I had to waste all that travel time looking out the window instead of reading. But even that cloud had a silver lining, because as I looked out the window on long road trips, I'd take in the scenery and make up stories in my head as we drove...incorporating the countryside, the little towns, the big cities, and the people I observed into my story.

I read all the way up until my early 20's. I still kept reading when I got married. I still kept reading when I worked full-time (during lunches and train rides!). But I finally stopped reading when I had kids. Suddenly, there was only time for babies. The only books I read during those years were board books, nursery rhymes and my Bible. Then the kids went to school and I read with them all the books they were assigned to read in school so I could be informed of what they were reading and help them understand the books. And I read to the kids every night at bedtime...many of my favorite childhood classics as well as new novels to experience together. But the only time I got to read a novel for myself (and by myself) was on summer vacation. Before we left, we'd head to the library so the kids and I could check out a few books for the trip, and I'd also borrow a highly recommended book or two from a friend. Then we'd arrive in Oregon at my mom's house. There was nothing like that first free afternoon: My mom would have already filled the inflatable pool (pretty big for an inflatable!) and set up the lounge chairs, so all I'd have to do is grab my beach towel and a bowl of blueberries and a one of those freezable mugs of iced suntea, slather on the Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil, and read in the sun while the kids splashed in the pool and Jeff napped in the shade.

And this is where my story becomes sad. We've only had one vacation in the last five years, and on that one vacation I actually had to work while we traveled. So it's been six long years since I lounged in a chair in the sun with a good book. I think that's why I've been pining so for the last few weeks. And I think I'm going to rememdy that today. When my work shift is done tonight, I'm taking one of the 8 books I've got waiting on my shelf (4 of them started but never finished!) and I'm heading outside. It's the longest night of the year tonight and a balmy 78 degrees. I have fresh cherries from the farmer's market, a pitcher of tea, and a beautiful backyard full of trees. I'm going to make tonight the official start of reading, just like I've done since I was a little kid.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Last School Lunch

Today I'm packing my last school lunch for Kate's last day of school.  That doesn't sound like such a big deal until you realize that I have been packing school lunches for my kids for 17 years straight.  That is almost half my life.  It should have been 18 years, but I was released a year early because Kate is going to be an exchange student in Sarajevo next year.  I don't know whether to be supremely happy or somewhat sad.  I'm a little bit in between.

Seventeen years ago Justin had his first day of school and I packed his lunch in his Batman lunchbox (the Bat Cave rotated to reveal the thermos!).  Then two years later came Anna, then Tyler and finally Kate...4 lunches for 7 years, and then they began to graduate...4, 3, 2 and now I'm back to 1 again.

When I was a kid, my mom made my lunch until I was in junior high.  I remember my lunch boxes Barbie lunchbox made of vinyl with a matching thermos...a glass thermos that I remember on more than one occasion opening and pouring out juice mixed with glass shards because I had unknowingly broken it.  Then I got a Holly Hobbie lunchbox.  I still vividly remember the smell of my lunchbox...banana-scented vinyl.  In third grade I got my first metal lunchbox.  It was painted to look like blue denim and had a puppy coming out of the painted pocket.  My fondest memory of that lunchbox was whacking Craig Brockhall with it as hard as I could when he wanted to fight me after school one day.  Then in fourth grade I graduated to more cute characters, just plain blue and white gingham.  That was also the year they invented plastic-lined thermoses.  And then fifth grade...when being cool was so important.  No more was brown bags all the way.  For two more years my mom packed my lunch...always white bread spread with margarine and then filled with a rotation of peanut butter and jelly (before peanut allergies were discovered), bologna and processed cheese, tuna and soggy iceberg lettuce, and (the one I hated) plain processed cheese and mayo. Then there was the starch (almost always potato chips), a piece of fruit (usually a banana---hence, the smell), and dessert (classic `70s Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Ho's, or Hostess fruit pies).  Yep, I was definitely a kid from the wonder years of processed food fanaticism!  And it didn't get better in junior high.  Now I was on my own.  My favorite lunch was an orange from home and a bag of peanut M&Ms from the school vending machine.

It was that memory that drove me to make my kids' lunches for so many years.

People told me regularly that I was spoiling them or making work for myself or not teaching them responsibility or I was being a martyr, etc., etc., etc.

But I had my own list of reasons:
1.  Streamlined mornings - Assembly-line lunches put together in a quick and organized fashion and always aware of what was in the cupboard and what needed to go on the grocery list.
2.  Easy clean-up - Only had to clean up after myself rather than four messy kids who didn't have time to clean up after themselves.
3.  Balanced meals - Remember the oranges and M&M's? 
4.  Love - The real reason I made my kids' lunches for 17 years was simply because I loved them.  I wanted them to have good food, made by me, every day.

Is that so wrong?

I have always been in the kitchen every morning of my kids' lives.  It's stability and security for them.  Once when Justin was little he woke up very early in the morning, but not being able to tell time he got up.  When he saw that no one else was up, he came looking for me in my bedroom and woke me up.  "Mommy!" he said, "Why aren't you in the kitchen?"

And I have always liked thinking up lunches that were different...good variety and good nutrition.  Kate tells me that to this day her lunch is the envy of all her friends.  We do yummy salads with fresh berries, feta cheese and shredded chicken, or wraps with pesto and sundried tomato.  There are bottled frappuccinos and Odwalla smoothies.  Yogurt parfaits with homemade granola.  Hummus, veggies and pita.  Good left-overs, like chili or gourmet sandwiches made of last night's marinated steak sliced thin and served with horseradish.  Occasionally homemade cookies or a sweet treat.  And for field trips or holidays, always something special.  For a few years in a row our summer vacation was at the end of August and we always returned home just in time for school the next morning.  I always had the kids' backpacks packed before we left---along with their lunches---so we would have a stress-free morning after the long trip home.  How do you pack a lunch two weeks ahead of time?  Instant noodles and a fruit cup and a granola bar.  Reminscent of my lunches from the `70's but worked like a charm!

Oh, sure, I confess there were days that I wished I didn't have to think up another lunch...and I sure enjoyed spring break and Christmas vacation!  And of course there were mornings where I was rushed and quickly slapped together a PBJ sandwich and threw an apple into a bag and called it lunch, and there were even those times where I shoved loose change into their hands as they ran out the door so they could buy hot lunch at school.  But most mornings it was by method and menu.  And one day, I hope they do the same for their own children!

So I'm about to make the last school lunch.  I asked Kate what she would like for her very last meal.  She couldn't decide if she wanted a classic peanut butter sandwich or something special.  We had barbequed chicken for dinner, so we settled on a BBQ chicken wrap with ranch dressing, lettuce and tomato, her favorite mandarin oranges, string cheese, and a bottle of HonesTea fresh-brewed organic tea and lemonade.

I'll put everything inside the brown bag, neatly fold down the top three times, and set it next to her backpack.  And for the last time, I'll put away the rest of the food, wipe the counter, wash my hands and hang up the towel...and experience the end of an era, just like that.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Misty Mountain Morning

I joined a new Lifegroup that started this takes place on Chehalem Mountain, my favorite location in the world.  It is an hour of walking and an hour of Bible study and breakfast with some great girls.

And it starts at 6 a.m.

Yep.  And because I have to drive there, I have to be out the door at 5:40.  I was really excited about this new endeavor...until the night before!  The four days previous have been crazy-busy, even for me.  We had the three-day church yard sale, which got me up at 5 and kept me running on my feet for 10 hours each day only to rush home and go to work until 10:30 at night.  Then I had a wedding to coordinate and decorate for immediately after church on Sunday, and it was at the beach, so I had all the gear to load into the car, then the set up and take down, and hauling everything home.  I actually had a blast doing that, though, so no complaints.  But I have to say that by Sunday night I was pretty tired.  I was losing my voice and my eyes felt very heavy.  I wearily climbed into bed and fell fast asleep...for an hour, when Jeff came to bed.  Then I continued to wake almost every hour through the night because I was afraid I would over-sleep and miss the Lifegroup or be late to pick up my friends.  Finally, it was 5:30 and I hauled my stiff body out of bed and pulled on my running clothes.  The sky was a dismal, dreary gray and the morning quite cool, which made it that much harder to muster up some energy. Still, we kept up some lively girl-talk on the drive up the mountain and arrived in pretty good spirits.  Then it was time to run.

When I was a teenager, I lived up here and had a whole string of friends who lived on this stretch of country road.  We walked up and down the steep hill hundreds of times going to each other's houses, so I knew it was a pretty intense climb, but I figured I could jog it because I regularly run 2 to 3 miles a few times a week.  I underestimated.

I started at a very moderate pace, just slow and easy going straight up...and up....and up....and up.  It was so steep I was running on my tip-toes, sort of like climbing stairs.  I was huffing good and hard but staying steady.  Then I started feeling queasy...  Almost there, keep pushing.  A wave of nausea swept over my stomach, tightening my throat.  I pushed a little further and then felt totally sick and weak, even my arms.  I immediately dropped down to a walk.  Too much, too soon.  I was basically straight out of bed other than the 20-minute car ride, I hadn't eaten, I was exhausted from four days of intense activity and little sleep, and I started running straight up that very steep hill without any form of warm-up at all.  My mouth filled with saliva and I am ashamed to say I had to lean over the bushes on the side of the road and spit.  This is not how I pictured my new Lifegroup!

So I walked up the rest of the hill and then walked another smaller hill until I felt my stomach calm down.  Finally, I felt strong enough to finish jogging one last small hill and then turned and ran all the way back down to the bottom.  By then I was okay and could enjoy everything I love about the mountain...I love the very air there, pure and sweet and woodsy.  I love the view of other mountains beyond and valleys tucked in between, the orchards, vineyards and berry fields along the sides of the road, the gardens and flowers, the horses, deer and birds, the pretty houses perched on the tops of the hills and the tiny houses hidden deep in the tall, dark trees.  This place makes me feel alive!

By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, a few drops of rain began to fall.  Inside the barn was a little room prepared for us.  It used to be two horse stalls, but now there was sturdy rubber flooring and the walls were white-washed on one side and painted barn-red on the other.  There was a couch with cozy throw blankets and a wooden table in the middle of the room wearing a burlap tablecloth and bearing croissants and bowls of cherries, strawberries, bananas and oranges.  We gathered together, turned on the heat and draped the soft plaid blankets over our laps, and began our Bible study as the rain suddenly came down heavy on the barn's metal roof, beating out a beat in a soothing rhythm.  The horses neighed, the donkey brayed, and the ladies prayed!  What a beautiful time together.  What a great way to start the day!