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September 21, 2006

Next Generation

by Nancy

Kim and Patty were just here. Who are Kim and Patty, you ask? They are angels. With scrub buckets, bottles of Lysol and firm opinions about Murphy's Oil Soap, not to mention the Steelers and men in general. I could not write books without them. Each time Kim and Patty leave, I am overcome with a joyous sense that all's right with the world.  And then I can work.

Yes, Kim and Patty clean my house. Every two weeks, they turn up and cheerfully whisk through all the rooms to make them smell nice and look tidy. They even fold the end of the toilet paper into a neat triangle. While I check my morning e-mail, they carry on a running conversation between floors, shouting and laughing and pretty much entertaining me for the---are you ready for this?--mere one and a half hours it takes them to clean our humble abode. They're like those Disney fairies that flutter around waving their magic wands and singing, except Kim has a smoker's voice and Patty is usually laughing too hard to even whistle while she works.

If forced to take care of the house myself, I would do it pretty much constantly because I like a cobweb/dog hair/clutter-free space. My desk is a masterpiece of Creative Chaos, but the rest of the house must be just shy of immaculate or I can't think straight. Cleaning all the time, however, means I get very little writing done. Ergo: Having housekeepers makes it possible for me to work because they eliminate a major procrastination technique. In fact, I believe I am at least three times more productive than I was in the days when I ran the Dyson around the clock to keep the Dalmatian detritus at bay. I think I could argue that the money I pay Kim and Patty should, in fact, be tax deductible because they make my working environment productive. But since they prefer to fly under the IRS radar---and believe me, I am not going to jeopardize their freedom/availability to work for me--I don't claim the deduction.

If there's a downside to having housekeepers, it's this:

My daughters grew up thinking everyone has a Kim or Patty who disinfects the kitchen counter before bacteria can get a real foothold.

Mind you, I am from the generation in which even the youngest children helped Mom clean. Monday was laundry day. (Oh, the ironing! My mother even ironed sheets.) Tuesday mornings we dusted, swept and did windows. Wednesday mornings we scrubbed floors. Thursday mornings we polished bathrooms.  Fridays were for errands while the cleaning lady did the whole house all over again. Okay, so my mother was--and still is--a clean fanatic. I am a piker compared to her.  When she comes to visit, she'll sometimes suggest an afternoon of polishing my silver in the same tone of voice other people might suggest a fun-filled trip to an amusement park.

But my children grew up in a household where Mummy barricaded her office door and hung rude signs on the knob to warn wayward tots from knocking unless the firemen had already been telephoned. They came of age thinking nobody scrubbed their own toilets--least of all the lady of the house who spent her time cursing a computer monitor.

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Am I a bad mother for allowing my daughters to grow up not knowing that clambering on your hands and knees with an Amway brush and a gallon of Mr. Clean is still the only way to get a floor to shine? After all, cleanliness is a virtue. And self-discipline is a cornerstone of personal growth and happiness.  I think I've failed them.

But, wait! Perhaps my girls have learned more from this life experience than I first thought.

Last weekend, my husband and daughters and I flew to California for a wedding.  (Miracle: We're still speaking despite spending at least 15 hours together in a rented Ford Taurus.) While we traveled, they occasionally telephoned to check in with their significant others. One afternoon, Cassie caught her husband while he was actually making guacamole for himself. He watches Bobby Flay and Mario Batali--and then cooks the recipes in his own kitchen! Grilling, smoking, whipping up his own marinades--no problem.  He thinks it's fun! It's astonishing. (My husband has trouble locating the phone number of the pizza delivery guy, so let's not bother discussing his nonexistent food preparation skills. And when my mother returned from three days of treatment for Female Trouble in the hospital, my father had neatly deposited three half empty cups of instant coffee in the sink for her to wash. He ate all of his meals at a restaurant or with neighbors. Needless to say, he had not made the bed either.)  So Cassie's husband is something of a phenom.

But Sarah's boyfriend--grab your smelling salts, ladies--when she called him he was actually cleaning her apartment for her.  Even the refrigerator.

What's with the new generation? What happened when I wasn't looking? Suddenly my children are interested in organic food (this after 18 years of cajoling them to eat green vegetables only if they were soaked in Velveeta cheese sauce) which they combine in intricate recipes while I'm still using a jar of Ragu at least once a week. Cassie belongs to an organic farm co-op that delivers a box of fresh, assorted veggies every Wednesday--and she can do amazing things with even the most exotic!  Good lord, they even organized a wine-tasting club!

Maybe I'm not such a bad mother after all. Maybe my generation is a throwback to the "toss that kid into the lake, and he'll learn to swim fast enough, gawddammit!" school of thought. And who could have guessed it actually worked? Benign neglect, it seems, is a viable parental strategy.  Benjamin Spock was wrong.  Leave your kids alone, and they will probably figure a way to out-smart their parents.

Uh, wait a minute . . .


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Now about those toilet-paper triangles ...

Cassia and her crew -- my wife insists that we not call them maids -- arrive every Thursday at 7:30 a.m. and, not wanting to be in their way even in my den, this is when I haul my laptop to the deck and do my writing there. Cassia and her crew are Brazlian. They speak Portuguese all morning. I can't understand a bit of of it but they occasionally bring me homemade bread (Cassia's husband is a baker) and bottles of very potent Brazilian cachaca to add to my rum collection.

But back to those toilet-paper triangles. After Cassia and her crew leave, I have to be on my very best behavior so that the house remains tidy and sparkling when my wife comes home from her office in the afternoon. And since my wife thrills at the sight of those toilet-paper triangles -- "That is sooooo sweet of them to do that..." -- it means I have to be very judicious in my toilet-going on Thursdays, using just the bathroom in my den and not loitering in the other two despite the fact I have stacks of good books in all of them. Those triangles are validation that the maids have indeed been there and my wife needs to see them.

I guess I could make it easy on myself and just learn how to make those toilet-paper triangles so I could cover my tracks and have full access to all the bathrooms on Thursdays. But that would be so wrong...

Okay, I love this. Can we agree that Nancy is never better when she's writing about women's domestic trend through the ages?

The first thing I did with my advance money was call up Rita. Even when I am broke, I find a way to call up Rita who comes once a week and realigns my Karma, kind of like chiropracting for the soul. Except she cleans.

I mean, given a choice of sitting in a therapist's office once a week or being able to leave my office (which has to be tidy as a pin or I can't think) and sail through the house with each floor (kids rooms not included) clean, I choose Rita.
The thing is Nancy, you stole my blog for next week. I was gonna write about this and Ann Richards's tombstone. (She said she didn't want it to read, "She kept a clean house.") Damn.

Our Marilyn, who is nothing short of family at this point, started out cleaning our house. She and Jo Ellen, and sometimes Patty Patty (our toddler loved the name so much he would always say it twice, and it stuck) would come and go while we were at work. It was great.

Then came the kids and the working from home and then back and forth to the office, and thank God, Marilyn stayed.

Now she's a combination utlity infielder and concierge. She does it all. I couldn't get any work done without her. Hell, at this point, none of us could live without her.

Our cleaning crew (known as "the nice ladies") comes once every two weeks, but they are from a service, and they change from time-to-time. They aren't the best, but we've been using them for over 10 years, they didn't raise their price when we moved from six rooms and two baths to 11 rooms and 4 1/2 baths, and they force us to use some discipline to clean up the piles of junk every other Friday.

My sister in Phoenix had (or has) a cleaning lady who would rearrange her possessions. My sister would come home from work to find that pictures were on different walls, tchotchkes were moved from one shelf to another display area across the room, and, occasionally, that furniture was completely rearranged. Still, the cost was worth the benefit.

So here's the sad thing. My husband does virtually all of our housework while I spend my free time at the dojo or barn. I do tidy up after myself and take nominal care of the houseplants; I'm also the one who holds the snake while he cleans the cage. And yet . . .

I've been on the brink of calling around for a maid service anyway. It's not that he doesn't do a wonderful job. But he doesn't dust and doesn't do windows, which are both issues with me. Now, I was raised pretty much the way Nancy was, and that training managed to stick for a really long time. And, for a long time, it kept me from even considering the notion that my time is truly better spent training and riding than it is dusting and mopping.

But it really is, and as soon as I can tear myself away from today's work, I'm hitting the phones. Thanks, Nancy et al. for the inspiration!

Sarah, I tried to work in the Ann Richards quote, but I was running long. Thank you for contributing it. She was the grandest of ladies.

Bob, I am with your wife.---I need to see those little triangles. Proof of purchase, or something. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Kathy, Marilyn has concierge skills?? Ooooh, is there a syndrome known as cleaning lady envy?

My Mom is in her 80s and she keeps a very clean house, Felix Unger could eat on her floors.

As a family we discussed getting some domestic help, but knowing Mom, she would clean before the maid would arrive.

Then again, given her age, perhaps house cleaning is why she looks so great for her age?!?

Kerry . . . snake? I think you have mentioned this before, but I have averted my eyes, put it out of my head, pretended you didn't say it.

We had a pet snake for awhile. The only problem is feeding them. I wouldn't do it.

Nancy - stay away from Marilyn. And no, she has no sisters.

Kathy, how about just half the digits in her phone number? With help, I might be able to figure out the rest, given time.

I just want to know if Cassie's husband or Sarah's boyfriend have single twins...

The two greatest joys of my life are my cleaning ladies and getting my toes done, the latter which I do while the former are at my house.


Our Leslie is the best-----and I do not share. Couldn't live without her.
Like Autumn leaves, the tarnish decends on the family treasures. What I need is a visit from your mother to get the silver cleaned!

Mary Alice who has even googled silver polishing Pittsburgh

I gave away all my silver. It's too big of a pain in the ass, plus I always felt like I could taste the polish when I used it, so Buh-bye!

Good lord, Kim, you're not supposed to actually USE the silver, are you???

If you use the silver regularly, or semi-regularly, you don't have to polish it because just using it and washing it does the trick. We normally use the silverware once a week, rotating it, since we have more settings than just the four of us. We rarely have to polish those pieces. The other things, like bowls, serving pieces, tooth grills, etc., just have to be done for the times we use them.

Marie has been saving our family from being cited by the health department for 17+ years! She has effectively retired from her full-time work of cleaning houses, but has, for some inexplicable reason, kept coming to clean our house every two weeks. I think she long ago realized that I don't do much cleaning between her visits and envisions our 7 year old daughter living in filth and squalor! Where would we be without Marie and the smell of Murphy's Oil Soap?!
Down South, where I was born and raised, some folks use their silver flatware everyday. No stainless touches their lips. They even put it in the dishwasher! (My mother, of course, does not subscribe to that practice, believing the dishwasher causes pitting on the silver and ruins the hollow handles of the knives...!!)

Josh - you've come so far....

Hey Dave - does that make you Oscar Madison?

Some of my friends who work in a library are neat as a pin, and others are slobs (I think they feel like they spend all day organizing, so when they're home they overcompensate.)

P.S. I hate silver. Especially those ornate Tea Sets. We had one and it sat in the basement so long it looked like wrought iron.

Where I'm from, if you needed someone to clean your house, you had a problem. I learned living down here if you do ~not~ have a cleaning person/housekeeper, what is your problem?


P.S. I know I'm going to regret it, but I'm asking anyway - Josh - what the hell is a tooth grill?

Beachfla - what hollow handles? I'll bet they don't hurt as much as the ones we had growing up. Bad manners at the table? Whap! Right across the back of the hand with the knife handle. I swear my Grandpa had elasto arms - you never saw it coming.

Kathy, oh, baby, I wondered if anyone was reading my comment.

Here is the Wikipedia entry:


In the time I have taken, I couldn't find links to photos of folks with them. But they are out there.

Josh -


Do they make special side plates for those? Do they go above or below the salad plate?

..yeah, I relate to Oscar..good thing I don't live with my parents!

Actually, behind the scenes in library life, most desks are cluttered. In comparison to teachers, which were usually empty with tissue boxes.

I realized that I belonged in library land when I noticed more cluttered desks in that profession than teaching. I draw great strength from the motto;

"A clean desk is a sign of an an empty mind!"

I think the tooth grill goes behind the salt cellar.

Nancy, you're brilliant. Beautiful post. Sorry I'm so late to this, but I was cleaning my toilets. You know, so I could write Book #4

And can I just say how impressed I am that Josh could figure out how to spell tchocht . . . tckhokthes . . . tchoeiche . . . knick-knacks?

P.S. . . . the snake is a small ball python rescued from a student who couldn't keep her only because I have a soft heart. I don't hold with keeping exotic animals as pets (now, my California king snake, who kept me company for 15 years, is another story).


You have to bookmark the most important sites. For a Jewish lawyer without much Jewishness in his background, a staple is this one:


Why hasn't anyone invented a self-cleaning potty? Think of the money you'd make. And the accolades. I'd personally contact the Nobel committee, because if that ain't a contribution....

I'm just saying.

I loved everywhere we lived, when my husband was in the Army. But my two favorites were Korea and Panama. Why? In Korea, our maid not only cleaned and did laundry, she was a fabulous cook. We ate like royalty every night. In Panama, our maid was a wonder: besides all the usual, she defrosted the refigerator freezer and cleaned the oven regularly and did windows and ironing, all without being told. Panama and Korea, the two times in my life that I have had a spotless house! It was great.

Josh, I have three (non-Yiddish) words to say to you.

Best. Link. Ever.

Can't wait for one of my sons to mess up, so I can (attempt) to call him A shtik fleish mit tzvei eigen.

Ramona! You were the one looking for some new curse words, right? Perfect!

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