Sunday, May 31, 2009

Housework International Style

Here's another Undomesticated Me news break. This one is about the unequal division about housework around the world. I guess there aren't enough Avos to go around.

Women raise voice for equal division of labor

ISTANBUL - One of the areas where the difference between men and women in Turkey is strikingly apparent is the division of housework. Women from around the world gather in Istanbul this week to tell their experience of how more of them went to business from household activities

The road to equality in the labor force will first pass through equality in housework. This was the main message women from different nationalities shared with their counterparts in Turkey at a conference in Istanbul on Thursday.

Turkey needs a lot of progress to reach an egalitarian division of labor in housework. While a woman in Turkey spends approximately 5 hours and 17 minutes per day (37 hours weekly) taking care of the house, a man spends just 51 minutes a day. Turkey also appears low on the list of European countries when it comes to the share of women in employment.

I'm surprised to see that even in the liberal nation ofAustralia, women still do the bulk of the housework. In 2006, full-time working mothers spent 15 hours a week cooking and cleaning compared with six hours for men. No fair!

I can't imagine devoting more than 5 hours to housework a day, as the Turkish women do. That's more time than I spend on Facebook!

Meanwhile, I'm deeply immersed in Dirt: The Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House, a new anthology edited by Mindy Lewis about a topic very close to Undomesticated Me's heart. I look forward to reading essays by Joyce Maynard, Laura Shaine Cunningham, Pamela Paul and others on their relationship with dirt.

The book features some of my favorite quotes about housework including this zinger from Quentin Crisp:

"There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Zen of Housework

Maybe Avo was on to something when he talked about the Zen of cleaning.

The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when you wash dishes, you should just wash dishes. It’s that simple.

As thoughts arise, one should simply return awareness to being present with the task. The only catch is that when I’m doing dishes, I’d rather not be fully aware of the task.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, washing dishes in this method becomes the focus of a mindfulness meditation. Could washing dishes really lead to inner peace? Does loading the dishwasher count?

Sri Sri Shuddhaanandaa (“Baba”), the founder mentor of Stress Management Academy and the Founder Chairman of Lokenath Divine Life Mission, makes washing dishes sounds like a deeply spiritual experience.

If you are washing the dishes, recognize that you are not doing them alone… Mother Earth, the air, the sun, all have joined with you in celebration. You feel washing dishes is a chore only when you cannot consciously connect to the Cosmic process involved in your work.

It’s worth a try. I take a stab at the dirty dishes piled up in the sink. I open myself to the experience of washing dishes.

With deep concentration and mindfulness, I try to be completely present in the moment as a scrub a greasy pan.

Zen Philosophy teaches that every second of life is a miracle. It is a miracle that I am here now washing the dishes. I feel the water run over my hands. I become one with the water. I become one with the dishes.

Well, not exactly. As hard as I try to connect to the Cosmic process, I am unable to clear my mind and fully celebrate the joy of the dish washing process.

Luckily, unlike Judaism, in Buddhism, there is no guilt. To a Zen philosopher, guilt is an unnecessary emotion that prevents us from fully being in the moment.

Therefore, I will not feel guilty about not being Zen enough. But I still have to finish doing dishes.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thanks Mom

When people learn I don't know how to cook or clean properly, they invariably assume my mother never taught me.

Don’t blame my mother. It’s not her fault. She did her best to try to teach me how to cook, clean and be useful around the house. But I did my best to ignore her.

Even though it was the 1970s, my mom typified the perfect 50s mom. She had dinner on the table promptly at Six p.m. every night, cleaned our split-level suburban house, sewed, ironed, vacuumed, did laundry, designed and sewed original Halloween outfits, helped build cardboard dioramas for school projects, regularly threw cocktail and dinner parties, and still managed to greet my father with a smile and a martini when he walked in the door.

Me, I wanted to do something with my life.

I didn't understand how anyone with half a brain could be satisfied performing such menial, mindless tasks. Even at ten, I considered myself a liberated woman. I wasn’t going to chain myself to the stove like my mom. If I didn’t learn how to cook, clean or sew – or type, for that matter – I reasoned that there was no way I would end up as a housewife (or a secretary).

A psychoanalyst might conclude that my “issues” with housekeeping stem from my ultra-stable childhood. Clearly, growing up in a loving, two-parent suburban household with a stay-at-home mother and a financially successful father was too much of a strain on me.

I was an A student. I had friends. I had ambition. But I was terrified of potholders, thimbles, and everything in between.

While I possess common sense in other areas of my life, for some reason, I seem to lose all reason when it came to cooking and cleaning. Once, as a kid, I got the ingenious idea of drying my Barbie doll’s clothes on my desk lamp and started an electrical fire.

Another time, my older brother and I “roasted” marshmallows in the toaster using forks. Luckily, neither of us was electrocuted and the Fire Department arrived in record time.

When I ripped a pair of jeans during my sophomore year of high school, my mom volunteered to teach me how to sew a patch on. I refused – and instead, used a stapler to get the job done.

“Well, it’s a look,” my mother sighed. “Very Young Frankenstein.”

Not surprisingly, my mom eventually stopped asking me if I wanted to help her cook and clean. Nevertheless, she continued to entrust me with the task of setting the table for dinner – presumably, because she had faith that I couldn’t break the silverware.

Only now do I realize the errors of my ways. I see now I was wrong to dismiss all of the work she did as "nothing." As a mom with a home of my own, I can now truly appreciate all that my mom did to make our household run so smoothly (corny, but true). She took her responsibilities quite seriously and she was very good at what she did.

Why was it exactly that I didn’t let my mom teach me a few things about housework? If being domestic will grant me independence and self-sufficiency, then I’m all for it.

Maybe mom will consider giving me a few lessons after all. I promise to be a more attentive student.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just call Me Amelia Bedelia

Now that it's all over, I realize how foolish my mistake was. But, at the time, I thought I was just following directions.

When she passed on the recipe for orzo salad, my cousin Marla told me "Recipes are all about following directions. No creativity required if you don't feel like it. I have faith in your abilities!"

Apparently, she didn't quite realize who she was dealing with. After what happened, I'm not sure if Marla still has as much faith in my abilities.

Perhaps I followed her recipe a little too closely. The recipe called for 2 tablespoons fresh oregano (4 stems) stripped of leaves and chopped.

So I went ahead and stripped the stems of leaves and then proceeded to chop them. They were nearly impossible to cut, so I had to use the kitchen shears. I clipped away until the stems were neatly chopped and I mixed them into the dressing.

It struck me as a bit odd that I should use the stems and not the leaves, so I called Marla to inquire.

"Oops. I'm sorry. I guess the recipe wasn't entirely clear, but I just assumed you would know to chop the leaves and not the stems."

"Well, this salad will be a little crunchier than yours!"

"I don't think anyone will die from it," said Marla.

Instead of trying to remove the stray stems, I gave up and just shook a bunch of dried oregano on the salad.

Good news! Avo just tasted a bite and he didn't even notice the stems (don't tell him). What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And as Marla said, I don't think a handful of oregano stems can kill anyone.

Besides, Avo is thrilled he's off dinner-duty for the evening and I'm feeling pretty proud of the day's accomplishments.

UPDATE: Avo decided to grill meat kebabs and vegetables, so the orzo salad has been relegated to side dish status. Still, I made a side dish!

Swiss Cleaning Bug Reaches New Peaks

Every once in a while on Undomesticated Me, I plan to inform you of breaking news about cooking, cleaning or housework. This is one of those times.

ZURICH, May 28 (Reuters) - A Swiss holiday resort is offering mountain-cleaning courses after an April fools spoof caught the imagination of a nation known for its cleanliness, the tourism board said on Thursday.

Authorities in Engelberg, an idyllic ski resort where tens of thousands of skiers come annually, said the April fools joke had such global impact that they were now using it as a marketing tool to attract holidaymakers.

"We are offering four weekend courses after which participants can call themselves qualified mountain cleaners," Modeste Jossen, Engelberg cable car services director, said. Participants are awarded a special 'mountain-cleaner badge'.

On April 1 this year, the national tourism board aired an online video to recruit mountain cleaners to keep the country's Alpine peaks in pristine condition all year round.

The video was translated into six languages and more than 30,000 people completed the spoof application to become a mountain cleaner in the first 24 hours of it being posted.

Cleanliness and tidiness are entrenched in the culture of Switzerland, where many households still set aside one day a week solely for washing and doing housework.

(Reporting by Josie Cox)

Think I should apply to become a mountain cleaner?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicken Nuggets Again?

I hate to say it, but Mr. Perfect let me down. I sent him out to get the ingredients for the Orzo salad and he came home empty-handed. Okay, he had to take his elderly mom to the doctor. You call that an excuse?

So I guess I'll be heating up chicken nuggets again tonight...unless we decide to order in for pizza.

Avo still doesn't quite trust me in the kitchen after I nearly set off a four-alarm fire the other night.

“What’s that smell?” he asked, scanning the living room for campfires.

The fire alarm began to wail and our daughters, Jesse and Ruby, covered their ears and huddled under the kitchen table, as if for an old-fashioned air-raid drill.

Oops. I was pre-heating the toaster for the kids’ nightly feast of chicken nuggets. I guess I forgot to clean the tray.

“I wasn’t cooking anything and I burned it!”

Apparently, I am such a bad cook that I burn things even when I’m not cooking...

Rather than complain that his wife can’t manage to “cook” prepared food without setting off a fire alarm, Mr. Perfect lovingly proceeded to whip me up a divine chicken paprika with carrots and noodles. You see what I'm dealing with here?

Avo is the kind of guy who, after a stressful day working with high-profile ad agency clients, finds it relaxing to whip up a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

His wife on the other hand? After a long day fiddling on the internet or playing with the kids, I find it relaxing to have my husband prepare me dinner, do the laundry and take out the trash.

So I guess I'll forgive him for not stopping at the Food Co-Op. He can always redeem himself tomorrow.

UPDATE: We ended up going out to dinner with friends at the local diner.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Language of Recipes

Unlike those people who salivate when reading a recipe for porcini pork tenderloin, I might as well be studying an instruction manual for a DVD player.

My eyes glaze over even before I reach the list of ingredients.

First off, I’m a math-phobe, so I panic as soon as I am confronted with ounces, cups, tablespoons and teaspoons. Second, I possess absolutely no patience, so I can’t sit still long enough for the oven to pre-heat or the meat to marinate.

“You mean the inside of the chicken isn’t supposed to be the color of Bubble Gum?”

The sight of a cookbook didn't always fill me with fear. In fact, I have fond memories of a recipe book that my older brother Steven and I created when we were nine and six, respectively.

The book was really an excuse to play with our food. We concocted all sorts of "recipes" generally involving a large dosage of sugar and artificial coloring.

For instance, two of our faves were M&M "juice" and something we dubbed Pop Tart Mash. In case these appeal to you or your inner child, here are the recipes:

M&M Juice

Take one bag of M&Ms (regular, not peanut)
Pour the bag in a cup of lukewarm water
Let the mixture sit for five minutes or until the water turns colors
Drink the water and eat the "naked" M&Ms

Pop Tart Mush

Take one chocolate Pop Tart
Crumble into a glass of cold milk
Use a spoon to mush the Pop Tart into the milk

Meanwhile, Avo, the kids and I recently visited my cousin Marla and her family in Westchester, where they treated us to a BBQ feast.

Avo and I both fell in love with one of the side dishes, an orzo salad that was both refreshing and flavorful. It also seemed like it would be a recipe that would be relatively easy for me to pull off on my own.

Marla generously supplied me with the recipe, which she adapted from Rachael Ray.

According to Marla, Rachael uses this as a marinade for chicken and sets some aside for dressing on a Greek type salad. But it worked really well on the orzo salad.

Marla's Orzo Salad

Note from Marla: This may be a bit too much for a 16 oz box of orzo but you could always use it for a salad dressing too.

zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh oregano (4 stems) stripped of leaves and chopped or use dried but you need less
3 cloves garlic chopped
8 oz. feta cheese crumbled
a bunch of scallions chopped
you could also add olives or roasted red pepper if you like (I don't like)

Combine lemon zest and juice with vinegar in a bowl and whisk in oil. Add oregano, garlic and whisk again to combine well.

Add dressing to cooked and drained orzo (run cold water in colander to cool off orzo and drain). Add feta, scallions and mix well.

Tomorrow, I plan to dispatch Avo to The Park Slope Food Coop while I muster the courage up to give it a shot.

I promise to report back.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Results Are In

I'm sure you're all anxiously awaiting the results of the first Undomesticated Me poll.

So how often do Undomesticated Me readers change their sheets? Well... (Drum roll, please)...

The overwhelming majority of you claim that you change your sheets once a week, while only one reader said once a month and one person admitted they can't remember.

One crazy person (I think I know who she is) says she changes her sheets daily!

I have a neighbor who not only changes her sheets daily, but actually irons the sheets before and after she puts them on the bed (just to be sure she's gotten out every crease).

“I like to clean,” she confesses. “It gives me a sense of control over my life.”

Lisa, a muscular brunette in her early 40s, left her high-powered television executive job to stay home with her kids. I can’t help but wonder if she’s channeling some of that career drive into her housework.

But on some level, I can understand how she finds the mundane mechanics of housework comforting.

Everything is in the same place as it was yesterday. Everything will be in the same place tomorrow. Life’s fortunes may change, but there are some things in life you can count on – your bed will be made, your linens ironed, your table set.

It is reassuring to focus on the little things in life that we have the power to control rather than the bigger things that we can’t.

“I find that having a clean house gives me and my family a sense of security and comfort,” Lisa explains.

“Do you have any advice for me?”

“One thing I can’t stress enough,” says Lisa. “Use your towels only one time – especially hand towels.”

Apparently, the average person sloughs off one million skin cells an hour. Bath towels harbor those cells and their bacteria. Eww. Gross.

According to a recent study from the Hygiene Counsel (funded, not surprisingly, by the company that makes Lysol), dish towels contain an average of 408 bacteria per square inch, even more than the toilet seat (295 bacteria/square inches) or the toilet’s flush handle (83 bacteria/square inch).

Thanks a lot, Lisa. First the sheets. Now the towels. I’m well on my way to becoming an obsessive compulsive with an astronomical laundry bill.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In Search of My Inner Housewife

After more than five years living in our apartment, I don’t think I have ever cleaned behind the refrigerator (or in front of it or inside it, for that matter). It just never occurred to me.

As inept as I am at cleaning, I am also rather compulsive. Once the idea strikes me, not another moment can pass before I clean behind the refrigerator. For all I knew there could be an entire colony of mice back there, feasting on leftover Veggie Booty.

I finally manage to wedge the white GE Profile fridge a few inches away from the wall. No mice, but I do find some stray crayons and enough cereal to feed a family of four.

While I'm at it, why not poke behind the kids’ Fisher Price plastic toy kitchen? Surprise! I gag when I discover a rancid sippy cup dripping with days old milk and orange juice, a particularly deadly combination.

Clumps of hair, stray cheerios and unidentified detritus clings to the wet toilet paper I have been using in place of a sponge. Ahhh. So satisfying to see the results of my labor.

When Avo finally saunters in, beaming with pride after managing to score his wife’s favorite ice cream at the fourth bodega, I beckon to him from the kitchen, “Honey, I have a surprise for you!”

No doubt, he pictures me in something slinky, ready to shower him with wifely affection. When he sees me on my hands and knees, his face breaks out in a naughty grin. Instead of sexy lingerie, I am clad in a paisley flannel nightgown straight out of “Little House on the Prairie.” Not exactly what he had in mind.

“What’s that you’re doing?” he asks with the same pitying look you might give a mental patient. “Um, I’m scrubbing the kitchen floor with a paper towel!”

“I can see how I can get compulsive about cleaning,” I confess and we both break out in laughter. Soon, he is on the floor with me – feeding me ice cream from the container. Once again I ask myself – what did I do to deserve such a good man?

“If I start to clean, I’m afraid it will never be clean enough,” I admit. “You know, I have an obsessive streak. What if I become one of those compulsive types who never leave the house because I’m too busy keeping it spotless?

“Somehow I am not worried about that,” he says.

As always, his cobalt blue eyes reassure me. If I squint, he looks a bit like George Clooney. Same salt-and-pepper hair, dark eyebrows and killer smile.

“I guess I’m just one of those people who feel there is no point in making my bed in the morning because I’m just going to have to mess it up at night.”

“So then I guess there’s no point in showering because you’re just going to get dirty again,” says Avo.

“But housework seems so endless.”

“It is endless. You just have to accept that cleaning is a Sisyphean task. There’s something Zen about keeping house. You have to accept that it’s endless. It will never be done.”

I resolve to make peace with my inner housewife. But then I wonder: do I even have an inner housewife? If so, why has she never revealed herself to me?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Not So Easy Bake Oven

Perhaps if I to return to the moment when I was eight and my Easy Bake Oven went up in flames, I can repair the psychic damage done in that instant. And maybe – just maybe – I will have a chance at learning to cook.

I go ahead and order a vintage 1977 Betty Crocker Easy Bake oven on eBay.

To the delight of the nation’s young girls, Kenner Toys invented the first Easy Bake Oven – a turquoise model with a carrying handle and a mock stove top – in 1963.

It was a brilliant idea: a toy oven that operated solely on the heat provided by a 100-Watt light bulb, making it easy (and seemingly safe) for little girls to “cook” just like their mothers.

Following its official launch in early 1964, Kenner sold more than 500,000 units in its first year. By its fifth birthday in 1968 (the year I was born), Easy Bake had become a household brand.

Kenner dubbed it “the greatest selling girl’s toy since dolls.” More than four decades and more than 40 million ovens later, the oven continues to be one of the top-selling toys.

The ovens were so popular that they inspired a generation of chefs. “The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet” features original recipes from Bobby Flay, Mollie Katzen and other celebrity chefs.

I can’t imagine roasting quail or making wild mushroom flan and deep dish truffle lobster pie in an Easy Bake Oven – but, then again, I can’t imagine doing any of that in a regular oven either.

The name is so deceptive. Who says it’s easy baking with a light bulb?

“How does it work?” asks Jesse, my 7-year-old daughter.

Oops. Apparently, the oven didn't come with any instructions or light bulbs. This could be a problem. How am I supposed to turn this thing on?

“I know I’m pathetic, but honey, can you please help me figure out how to use this thing?” I ask Avo.

He breaks out his tool kit. When I check back an hour later, not only has he fit the oven with proper light bulbs, but he has also hand-washed my underwear and ironed the pillow cases. Damn him.

To test out my new toy, I order a Devil’s Food and Yellow Cupcake mix on eBay for $9.94. Of course, it would be cheaper to run out to the corner store and buy some cupcakes at the overpriced gourmet bake shop around the corner.

I send Avo out of the house since I can’t cook with him watching over my shoulder, being a backseat baker. Too much performance anxiety. I’ll drop the batter bowl. I’ll burn the cupcakes.

“Now can we bake, mom?” Jesse asks.

“I’m a little scared. What if I can’t do it?”

“Just follow the directions, mom.”

She’s right. How hard could it be? If a kid can use this thing, so can I.

Pour the contents of the mix into a bowl, add water and mix. Shape and place on tray in the oven.

But when I shove the pan into the oven, it slides off the track and the metal tray falls into the light bulb area – otherwise known as “No Man’s Land.” I tilt the oven on its side and try to shake the tray out, but it just rattles around inside.

“It’s okay,” I reassure Jesse, who, I can tell, is losing faith. “I can do this.”

I try using tongs, scissors and even my fingers to extricate the tray, but no luck.

“We may have to ask dad about this,” Jesse says. “Mom, look at the recipe, okay?”

“I’m not giving up and I’m not calling dad.” I'm determined to do this on my own.

“Go mama go! Go mama go!” she begins to chant quietly at first and then increasingly louder.

Like a surgeon who is losing a patient, I call for instruments: “Chopsticks!” “Fork!” “Screwdriver!”

I finally wedge the tray out with a pair of kiddie scissors. No wonder the newest version of the Easy Bake comes with a “Pan Grabber.”

Jesse smacks her lips together as she points to the picture of perfectly shaped cupcakes on the mix’s package.

“Remember, they may not come out looking so pretty,” I say.

We peek at the cupcakes through the little slit in the side of the oven, but, even after 10 minutes, they still look pretty doughy. The recipe says we should bake for 12 minutes. How much longer do we have to stare at this thing?

“I have an idea,” I say. “Let’s finish them in the toaster oven.”

Jesse is game.

The only problem is that the Easy Bake Oven doesn’t have a thermometer, so I have no idea how hot to make the toaster oven. I randomly settle on 350 degrees.

Ten minutes later, the edges are finally browned. I lay them on a plate for Jesse to inspect.

They don’t look the least bit like cupcakes. Once we goop the sugary pink frosting on and decorate with “confetti” (really colored sprinkles), it doesn’t matter.

Jesse grabs a "cupcake" and takes a bite. Her eyes widen.

She likes it!

“Call grandma and tell her you know how to cook now,” urges Jesse. Somehow, I doubt my mom, who supplied homemade cupcakes every year for my school birthday, would be impressed.

“They’re, um, crunchy,” says Avo when he tries my Easy Bake cupcakes that night for dessert.

“Cupcake nuggets – my secret recipe!”

Next step: The Big Oven.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Housework Workout

Why pay big bucks for a fancy gym when all you need to exercise and get in shape is right inside your home? No, I'm not selling the thigh master or any other home fitness equipment.

Just wanted to let you know that by doing housework you can burn about as many calories as walking on a treadmill for the same amount of time. Seriously. Believe it or not, all those dreary household chores you do burn a significant number of calories. Now if that isn't incentive to do more housework, I don't know what is.

To be honest, I haven't counted calories since high school and I don't plan to start now. But knowing that heavy vacuuming burns as many calories as a Chinese spring roll (120) certainly helps to motivate me. Next time I plan to go out for Chinese food, I'll vacuum the house first!

Amazingly, cooking burns 40-50 calories, although I wonder if that's still true if you're just microwaving a frozen dinner. And do you burn the calories while cooking even if you're munching on potato chips at the time?

Not only does mopping floors burn over 110 calories, but it also helps to tone your shoulders and biceps. I'm going to be a buff mopping mama.

The domestic activity that burns the most calories is gutter cleaning, at 320 calories per hour. It also gives your shoulders, upper back, arms, and legs a good work-out. But it's also a real pain in the ass. And it could be dangerous too, so I don't recommend it unless you know what you're getting yourself into.

I found some housework exercise regimes online. It's worth a try since even if I don't lose any weight, at least my home will be clean.

Do you have any household fitness tips? How about using a jug of detergent as a free weight?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Housework Blues

Housework getting you down? It’s no surprise.

"There is a strong positive correlation that exists between housework and depression," writes my friend Andrea, who majored in Psych in college. In other words, the more housework you do, the more bummed out you get.

"Housework can cause distress because it offers less recognition, less likelihood of being thanked and lower levels of work fulfillment than paid work," concluded the Brown University sociologist who conducted the study.

The study also reminded me why I'm so lucky to have found a guy who helps out around the house. The researcher found that married women performed 14 hours more housework each week than their single counterparts. By comparison, married men performed only 90 minutes more. Now that's a reason to stay single, gals!

Other research showed that regardless of how much work your spouse does, as the hours of housework goes up, the depression increases. "So if you think about it, Andrea wrote, "it's in your best interests to avoid housework as much as possible. Think of your mental health!" Good point.

Of course, as with any research, you can usually find another study that contradicts the findings.

Still, it makes sense to me that doing an unequal amount of housework would lead to resentment, anger and depression. But taking care of household responsibilities and feeling good about your home might help boost your mood. So both studies are right (how's that for simplifying complex research data?).

On the upside, housework helps burn calories. More on the "housework workout" tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't Hate Me Because My Husband Cooks and Cleans

All day yesterday, I talked about changing sheets. I thought about changing sheets. I wrote about changing sheets. I even managed to remove the sheets from the bed and toss them on top of the overflowing laundry basket. But still, the bed lay naked and the pile of laundry sat accusingly.

Finally, my husband presumably grew tired of waiting for me to do it, so he put a fresh sheet on our bed right before we turned out the lights. And this morning, I returned from an outing at the playground with our 4-year-old Ruby to find neat piles of clean, folded laundry.

Okay, so you're not impressed. You say housework should be divided equally. Why is it the woman's job to change the sheets and do the laundry anyway?

Honestly, it's my job because Avo does just about everything else around the house.

While humorous “housewife” writers like Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr famously poked fun at their husbands for not pitching in around the house, I feel guilty that my doting husband does more than his fair share.

How many other husbands bleach the grout around the kitchen sink, do the food shopping and cooking AND fold the laundry?

Not only is Avo an enthusiastic and naturally talented chef, but he is also handy around the house. He repairs small appliances, washes the windows, and cleans the toilets and the litter box (a.k.a. "poop patrol"). And if you can believe it, he doesn’t gripe about it (jealous yet?).

It's no wonder I make so little effort to be helpful when it's clear he's got things under control. Still, it's become a matter of pride.

I want to show Avo and myself that I can cook and clean if I make the effort. I have all the best intentions of beginning a new household regimen -- I'll draw one up just as soon as Avo finishes mopping the kitchen floor.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Undomesticated Me's Mom Chimes In

What was I thinking posting about my domestic ineptitude for all the world -- including my mom -- to read?

Just moments after my last post, I got an e-mail from my mom, who keeps a very clean and orderly house (it looks a bit like a furniture showroom).

Definitely, change sheets once a week...along with pillow cases. It's a good idea to have pillow protectors between pillow and case also. You never know when you might begin to drool. I've also heard that pillows should be changed every couple of years because they get heavy with dust mites. Yuck!

What in the world is a pillow protector?

To make matters worse, my husband, Avo, the domestic superman, began to lecture me about dust mites. Apparently, there are millions of them living in our pillows and feeding on our dead skin and hair.

If you've got a strong stomach, you can see pictures of them. Warning: click on this link only if you are NOT prone to insomnia, obsessiveness, or hypochondria.

As if the dust mites weren't enough to convince me to change the sheets, our cat, Lulu, sealed the deal by trailing kitty litter residue all over our comforter. Looks like it's going to be a laundry day here.

Which will mean I'll have to make the bed again. It's an endless cycle.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How Clean is Clean Enough?

When my head hit the pillow last night at around 1 a.m. my last thought was that yet another day had passed without changing the sheets.

It's a dirty secret. I don't remember the last time I changed the sheets on my bed.

In my new Bible "How to Clean Practically Anything," the authors write that "frequent, systematic light cleaning has advantages over periodic upheaval."

Their suggestion: Make a list of all tasks that need to be done during the year and group them under frequency headings -- daily, weekly, monthly, semiannually, and annually. Sounds reasonable enough in theory.

I understand the rationale behind doing dishes daily, but cleaning under and behind furniture weekly? Now that seems a bit excessive. I sort of like leaving the dust bunnies alone long enough so that they grow big enough for my kids to consider them pets.

Strangely, there is nothing in the Consumer Reports schedule about changing sheets. Perhaps they mistakenly assume that people have an innate instinct for knowing when it should be done.

Apparently, I'm not the only one wondering about this. A few years ago, a survey found that the majority of people change their sheets anywhere from once a week to once a month.

How often do you change your sheets?

Most domestic experts recommend changing the sheets at least every two weeks. So, in other words, I've still got some time.

Tomorrow, I will draw up the master plan. Doesn't that sound ominous?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blame it on the dwarves

Perhaps I should blame my housework hang-ups on that classic 70s' agit prop “Free to Be You and Me," and in particular, on Carol Channing.

“Your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework, and I hate housework too. And when you grow up, so will you," Channing promised.

Channing's argument was persuasive. I immediately banished any thoughts of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ advice, “Just whistle while you work. And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place.” Grumpy sure didn’t seem so cheerful.

But where does that leave me now? Luckily, while visiting my aunt and uncle today, I came across a 1993 edition of Consumer Reports Books "How to Clean Practically Anything." In lieu of having someone to clean everything for me, I am hoping this handy volume might be the next best thing.

Since I went to see relatives today, I wasn't able to devote the requisite 15 minutes to domestic tasks (already with the excuses!). But I consider nabbing this book a major coup. I promise to dive into it tomorrow -- and report back to you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A gloomy vice

In “The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvoir dismissed housework, writing that “the healthy young woman will hardly be attracted to so gloomy a vice…

Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time: she makes nothing, simply perpetuates the present…”

Sounds like a real drag, huh?

Historically, housework has been defined as “women’s work,” which partially explains why it has been undervalued. To me, it’s no longer simply a gender issue.

I want my daughters to know they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, but that whether they become career women or stay-at-home moms, they – along with their partners – will need to know how to cook, clean and make a bed.

On my first official day of this new endeavor, I managed to accomplish one domestic task. I emptied the dishwasher.

Okay, it's not much, but I still feel proud of myself for taking this teeny step in the right direction. The late Simone de Beauvoir might not have approved, but my husband sure does.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Simple Goal

It’s time to come clean…I don’t know how to clean or to cook for that matter.

Okay, to be totally honest, I do know how to whip up a few things:

1. Scrambled eggs
2. Grilled cheese
3. Mac and cheese (from the box)
4. Toast
5. Fruit salad

Of course, I'm not a moron. I know how to spritz the bathroom mirror with Windex and occasionally scrub the tub with Comet

But none of it comes naturally to me. Although I'm relatively competent in other areas of my life, I always feel stressed and out of control when it comes to domestic matters.

In this crazy time when so much about the world seems out of control (the stock market, global warming, etc.), I'd like to be able to take comfort from the simple pleasures in life -- clean sheets, an ordered house and warm, home-cooked meal (that I've cooked).

On this blog, I plan to explore issues related to cooking, cleaning and keeping house. For instance, what's the best way to remove cat hair from a rug?. And how do people find time to serve up delicious, healthy meals every single day? Along the way, I'll be asking for your tips about how to make housework more bearable and for recipes that won't stress me out too much.

I'd love to set myself an ambitious goal like cooking dinner every night for a year, or cleaning for 15 minutes a day, but at the moment, both of those tasks seem overwhelmingly daunting.

Instead, I think I'll settle on a simple, more attainable goal -- to do one household task a day. It may just be scrubbing the toilet or changing the sheets, but it's a start. The idea is that my efforts will gain momentum and somewhere along the line, I'll magically metamorphose into a domestic goddess.

Think I can do it?