Monday, November 22, 2010

An Ode to the Holiday Season

Deep breath
The holiday season
How did it get here so fast it was just
Christmas and snow all that snow
First Thanksgiving
Gottagetta turkey a big one
The family yes the family how I
love gathering around the table the
happiness at being together the
holding hands the
thankful here we are
Try not to eat too much
Try not to think about
I miss my mom I still miss my mom
Grandma’s dining room table the crystal
wine glasses and stuffed celery
The youngster’s table a wobbly card table
Will we ever all be together again or is this
But the living yes the living gather breathe
Then Advent
shopping decorating baking
meditating caroling birthday attending
praying airport contemplation
cleaning remembering missing wrapping
It’sAWonderfulLife WhiteChristmas
String the lights across the front porch
Hang the angels
Oh come oh come
Don’t eat too much
Emmanuel and rescue
I miss my stepmom Rosanne oh I miss her
The castle how cold the stone walls
but the cheer of the fire
the wild cheer in our hearts
Scout for greens, pinecones, prettyweeds
to make a wreath to try again
God can you make all things right again
Can you please make all things
right and bright
In the stores and online finding the perfect
the perfect to see the smile to make them
happy always
Then Christmas Eve
the hushed holy
Mulled cider, candlelight, worship, guests,
Assemble tricycles castles racetracks
I miss Grandpa how long will I miss him
the fireplace the
quiet talk the
the best when the hay fell off the truck
the good friends over the years
Remembering when I believed
Then Christmas Day
the gifts the prayer,
the children yes mostly the children
This year they are 3, 4, 5 and 17
A young girl in 1575 England the castle
Happy happy
Wrapping paper strewn ribbons shiny
children excited shouting jumping about
Adults in chairs drinking coffee watching
Remembering the excitement
my dad I miss my dad this morning
Dinner play games read stories
Sing carols and happy birthday to Jesus
Then New Year’s
A loud party? Quiet dinner? Babysit?
watching Times Square with my parents
drunken parties and kissing everyone
watching Times Square with my children
in bed by 11
dinners with friends
2011 really?
Where’s our rocket packs?
When will humans finally self-destruct?
Where’s my robot maid?
God what will this year bring?
Will I ever?
I miss you
Then January
cold dark sleep read quiet
Deep breath.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cleaning Lady's Worth Is Beyond Measure

We’ve had company for dinner three times in the past two weeks.


So … before this we went for months with no guests (not including my kids, grandkids or Harold). Do you want to know why?

My house is clean!

Several weeks ago I decided to hire a young woman to clean my house once a week.

I’ve thought about this for a long time. It’s like I had to justify it in my mind. So many women I know work full-time and keep such lovely homes. If they can do it, I can certainly do it.

But it’s like Joan Rivers said: “I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.”

Most weeks, I’ve designated a half-day to clean the house. Sometimes it ends up being Sunday afternoons. That feels awful, because I have this innate sort of belief that Sunday is for doing whatever I like, whether it be reading, writing, hiking, visiting or whatever.

Then I discovered that some women have cleaning ladies.

My stepmom, Rosanne, was a full-time schoolteacher. She was a superwoman. She loved to cook and was always trying new recipes. She kept up with her friends and family members. And somehow her house was always clean. I always wondered how she managed everything, and then discovered she had a cleaning lady come in once a week.

A teacher friend grew accustomed to having a housekeeper when she lived overseas, in a country where it was taken for granted. She has a woman come in every weekday morning to clean up. Another friend has a cleaning person in monthly. Whatever it takes.

In many of the British novels I read, the family has a housekeeper, and no matter how poor the family is, they still pay this person to clean or cook or both.

Right now I’m reading a biography of Isak Dinesen, the Danish storyteller (“Out of Africa,” “Babette’s Feast”). In her old age she worried about money to pay the taxes on her home. Despite this concern, she did not scale back on her household staff, which included a cook, housekeeper and gardener, plus her personal secretary.

Dinesen loved to hold dinner parties.

I used to be a cleaning lady myself. When I lived in New York, I cleaned for several families. More recently, I worked as a housekeeper cleaning condos and hotel rooms at Massanutten Resort. It’s work that keeps you moving, burns calories, helps pay the bills and blesses others.

When I walked my potential cleaning lady through the house, we talked specifically about her tasks. At one point, she said, “It may take a few weeks to get it clean. I noticed it’s a little … dusty.”

Such a tactful young woman. My weekly buzz through the house included picking up and vacuuming, cleaning kitchen counters and appliances, and mopping the kitchen floor, plus laundry. Many weeks, that’s about all I had time and energy for.

That meant dust, crumbs and dog-and-cat hair accumulated on books, shelves, lamps and knick knacks, under and behind furniture. In my “picking up,” I focused on the big stuff in main rooms, while piles of paper and books accumulated elsewhere.

I did not realize how this was cramping our social life. We always talked about inviting people over, but stopped short of actually picking up the phone to do it.

It’s not that I feel the house must be immaculate. I think people feel more comfortable in a lived-in home. But somehow having a clean house has freed me to invite people. The first weekend after the cleaning lady started, I called some friends I’d been wanting to spend time with.

That was Friday. Then on Sunday the husband spontaneously asked a family at church to come for dinner. Then on Tuesday he had a friend over for dinner.

No, I don’t have a lot of money to throw around. The woman’s rates are good, though, and she uses eco-friendly cleaning products. She lives nearby. She can sure use the money.

The way I figure it, it’s a way of sharing what I have.

And as we sat on Sunday evening with our friends at the candlelit table, finished with the meal, lingering over a bottle of wine and good talk, I knew it was the right thing to do.