Seven Spring Cleaning Tips from Small Countries

Switzerland could win awards as the tidiest nation on earth.  As a compact country, the Swiss are born with an extra chromosome, a clean gene, to help conserve space. The streets are so sanitary, you could  eat off the sidewalks. I have never been a neat freak, but I have adopted a few helpful spring cleaning tips from our European neighbors.

  1. No shoes in the house. Ever. The Swiss are trained at an early age to automatically remove footwear at the door.
  2. Commune rule. Divide heavy tasks with household members on a rotational basis.   When I lived in an apartment complex in Germany, the residents on each floor took turns mopping the stairwell.  Same rules should apply in a family.
  3. Cut down laundry. Throw bedding out the window for a weekly breather.  Europeans, great believers in the curative properties of fresh air,  hang duvets over wrought iron balconies and wooden framed window ledges.
  4. Recycle bread crumbs (another French custom) Shake table cloths out the window.  First make sure pigeons, not people, inhabit the balcony below.
  5. Eliminate dust. Triple stack books on the shelves, that way there is no shelf left to collect grime.
  6. Clean sweep.  Push-everything-under-the bed-trick.  It’s a great storage area for books, essays, newspapers, laptops, and used Kleenex. Technique also works well in the living room using space between the couch and floor as magic drawer. (another personal invention)
  7. If all else fails, follow my Norwegian mom’s wise advice – hide the incriminating evidence, (including children):
    • Move the messy kid to the basement
    • Close the door
    • Condemn the area as a natural disaster

That is how my parents and I co existed during my adolescence. Consequently, I grew up serenely in comfortable chaos as a cellar dweller and only had to clean my room semi annually when the basement flooded.

 

 

 

Homecoming, Always a Celebration

When the kids are little, you can’t wait for the day when they won’t distract you with demands for meals, rides, and errands.  Then bad-da-boom, they graduate and head off to college and onto careers and you long for an interruption – a call, a letter or an email – from that wayward daughter or son.

As they do their best to squeeze you into their busy lives, you find yourself crossing off days until their homecoming.  You bake childhood favorites and stock the pantry with the treats your child used to love when he or she was 6 or 12 or 20.  Suddenly the volume picks up. The screen door bangs; the refrigerator squeaks and the phone rings with their childhood friends wanting to reconnect.

In a flurry of joy, you attack the chores you hate with renewed vigor, you wash bedding, clean under furniture, and air out rooms filled with memories.  Some people remodel, changing bedrooms into bureaus when the kids move on, but I am unable to discard anything. Their rooms remain the same as the day they left, like shrines to their childhood.  Sport medals hang from bedposts, favorite books perch on shelves, stuffed animals sit on bedcovers, posters of athletes and pop artists cover walls and closets remain full of Beanie Babies, Little Ponies, and PlayMobile figures.  OMG! Am I the only mom that cannot part with my children’s keepsakes decades after they grow up? Each time I step into their rooms, memorabilia lets me stop time to relive that stage in their lives, which, in retrospect, blew past the first time around.

baking family favorites

baking family favorites

My parents, edging toward eighty, still spoil their adult children.  Mom fixes my brother’s favorite meal,  “Swiss” steak, a cheap cut of meat slow cooked in tomato sauce that has nothing to do with Switzerland.  (No one is really sure it ever was his favorite, but it has become part of our family lore.) They stock up on veggies for me, which makes them laugh, because as a kid I hightailed out of the kitchen when anything green showed up.  They tidy up before one sister visits; or add an extra bit of disorder for me, more comfortable in chaos.  They indulge in the same rituals for grandchildren, fixing favorite meals and stocking up on favorite brands: Yoplait Strawberry (only) Custard Yogurt, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Wisconsin Colby.

Homecoming is a universal ritual everywhere in the world. When we go to Normandy, my in-laws, nearing their nineties, will lay out the finest fare the land and the sea can offer. My mother-in –law still slings a basket over her arm to shop at the open market, preparing to serve five course meals with my husband’s favorites, from coquilles

traditional diner in Normandy

traditional diner in Normandy

St Jacques to strawberries in cream, while my father in law uncorks a bottle of his best burgundy.

My youngest sister recently returned home and said, “It was great.  I never cooked a meal!  Got to talk as much as I wanted.  I was the Babe again!”

Whatever your age you will always be somebody’s kid.  You are never too old to come home.

A New Year Older, Oh La La…

OMG oh my God… a New Year  means I am a year older.  How did this happen ?  When I look in the mirror,  I am shocked by the reflection of the stranger in the glass.  My nose  enlarged, my chin recedes and my lips, barely visible, regress.  The corners of my mouth turn down. What is that goofy mask I am wearing ?  My jowls sag, my chin doubles, my eyes bag, my hair greys, my skin wrinkles.  Now I understand why women undergo the knife. Forget simple face lift, I need an entire body boost.  But once one starts nipping and tucking there is no end.  Face peels, botox injections, cosmetic surgeries.

I am lucky that due to my medical treatment, I have a great camouflage for aging. I have to wear big bulky dark glasses that a student once told me, « Looks like a dead animal covering your face ! »

My shades conveniently hide any imperfections.  Also since I see everything in dimmer mode, I assume people have trouble seeing me too.  But take off the dark glasses and look out.  My face has been ravaged by time….too many summer days under blazing suns life-guarding, too many hours teaching sports outdoors, too many year ignoring the natural elements and swearing off synthetic beauty products. Mary Kay be damned.

Cheer up. With age comes wisdom.  Smile.  Are you kidding me ?  I love The Color Purple, but not for teeth.  I look like I have mouth filled with blueberries.  Antioxidants and antibiotics do a number on the canines.

Teeth whiteners, brighteners lighteners.  Creams to regenerate, rejuvenate, to blend crows-feet, cover age spots. Make ups to hide, tint, color, and resurface the skin.  Consumers spend a small fortune pursing the foundation of youth in a bottle. Cover the mirrors, succumb to the battle, embrace growing old gracefully.  And take it from me, never, ever leave the house without the dark shades.

Like a lot of women, feeling slouchier, slumpier and frumpier in the new year, I rushed to the nearest department store for a little inexpensive pick me up for returning to teaching.  I tried on a pair of fitted, navy blue sweats in front of the mirror in the hallway of the dressing room, glaring at my reflection when I heard a voice behind me.

« Wow,  you look great – slender and long legged. That’s the build designers had in mind, when they invented that style , » the clerk said…  Check out your backside !

Now I have the perfect solution to ace the aging game, forget the face off, present the backside first.

Solidarity with a Smile for the Computer Illiterate

I am an electronically handicapped loser with a capital L. Seriously, I would flunk out of Plug-It-In 101. Just looking at computers makes me break into a sweat. My mind is like that little icon going in circles when the network is lost. Yup, completement plantee, that is my brain. I feel so overwhelmed, ideas start spinning. I can never keep up.

First of all, I never follow directions and secondly, I never read to the end of messages.I never learned computerspeak or if I did it is a mishmash of franglais. (French/English) As soon as a warning pops up on the screen, « Time machine could not back up files, » I panic and run for cover. When messages like this flash across the screen, it makes me feel as if I have been thrown into another dimension.

I blame my incompetence on my French husband. Gerald is a tech whiz. He thinks in gigabytes. If he can’t figure out the problem, he has I.T. gurus in his company to help. Me, I have only one recourse, « GGGGGGeeeerrrrrrrraallllldddd ! Hheellpp ! The computer ate my paper. Again !»

The techno-speak terminology baffles me. Maybe if they called the toolbox, the gym bag, I would understand better. Tool bars, navigation panels, HTLM, hyperlink, book mark…how can you have a book mark without a book? Even those little pictures confuse me : guitar, camera, time machine, Adobe reader, toaster (toast Titanium) for Gods sake. I cannot visualize any of them. Where are the photographs, musical notes, movies? And where is the blinking mailbox I know they are out there somewhere, just invisible. I can’t get my head around it.

Organization? Forget it. Documents, files, sub files – I can’t see any of them. Out of sight out of mind. The only thing I can find on a regular basis is the blank document. Then as soon as I fill up the page it disappears in cyberspace, but I know I saved it somewhere !

Gerald makes me jump, shouting over my shoulder, « Pot, it ees seemple logic. »

LO-GIC. L-O-G-I-C. Find a system. Label, categorize, file. Must be rigorous. Must have a logical way of thinking. I don’t have one iota of either.

« First tip of advice, » Gerald insists, « Keep your desktop clear ! »

In our house, we have five wooden and four electronic desks, but no desktops, at least none that I can see. I no sooner clean off one, than another one piles up. I hear Gerald’s voice and I cringe, « It is unsupportable, your maniere of disorder. »

I blame it on an ADHD body and a creative mind. My limbs cannot stay still and my brain never remains idle.

If anyone is aware of a self help group for the technologically impaired, let me know. I would be the first to sign up. « Hello, iPat and i need an upgrade. »

Real Men Make Quiche

Real men don’t just eat quiche, they make it too, at least in my kitchen. Early on in my marriage, after I burnt steak to a crisp, blew the lid off a pressure cooker and scorched eggs, my husband gave up on me and took over the stove. I am no fool. How could I begin to compete with a Frenchman, born with that refined aquiline nose. Betty Crocker beware! My personal chef prepared King’s Lamb, a menu that he claims is NOT difficult, even though he cooks the meat seven hours. I told him the definition of DIFFICULT is different in French than in English.

“Ah, zer is a difference between difficult and time consuming. It takes time, but it is not difficult.”

copyright Philippe Dols

Any working mother would disagree, but who am I too argue. Most women dream of sitting down to a five-course gourmet once in a lifetime, in my humble abode, I eat like a queen every weekend. Gerald says cooking is his creative outlet. My poor hubby, my creativity is depleted writing silly blogs and dreaming up ways to keep hyperactive kids focused in class.

His latest chef d’oeuvres, Tagine de porc Marrakech, Marinade de Lapin aux Epices, Porc au Caramel et au Lait de Coco. How can I compete with that? Gerald insists that the cookbook he follows, « Jules aux Fourneaux «( Jules at the oven,)with recipes written by everyday, run-of-the-mill Frenchmen, who enjoy cooking, is simple. Each dish must be accompanied with a specially chosen wine of a specific grape from a certain region. As a connoisseur of wine, my repertoire is limited to three selections – red,white or rose.

Tagine de Porc…Easy? Pork, garlic, onions, artichoke hearts, Agen prunes, olive oil, apple cidre, honey, Moroccan herbs, cumin, hot peppers, coriander, almonds!

It requires over a dozen different ingredients, not counting salt and pepper. A recipe with more than two parts and one pot is challenging in my book.

Marinade de Lapin needs 18 ingredients, not counting the bunny. It would be easier to go out and hunt meat with a bow and arrow than actually prepare the meal. Ladies, anytime you see the word, marinade, run! It means hours of pre preparation before you even turn on the stove.

No worries if your man is not French, my American brothers-in-law can cook my sisters into the ground. Gently remind your significant other that the best chefs in the world are of the male gender.

I tend to cook by my grandma’s old methods, a dash of this, a sprinkle of that, which is the opposite of precise French cuisine where meat must be tenderized, marinated, basted, rotated and pampered every minute from the market to the table.

My speciality takes a mere twenty seconds to prepare. Slice one fresh baguette, lightly butter and cover with cheese. France at it’s best! Voila le sandwich.

Alas, la cuisine francaise made easy a la Potreezia! Bon appetit.

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

You can stave off a midlife crisis by following this tried and true advice. Want to turn back the years stay lean and mean, learn something new? How about Downward Dog? Yep, yoga for the flexibility impaired. Never mind that even as a two-year-old, I could never touch my toes. And I have no balance. Though in my mind I define myself an athlete, my body would disagree. I no longer have muscle, so how can they be toned?

During my first yoga lesson, I got stuck. I kept hoping that my instructor would demonstrate an animal or plant shape that I could will my body into. On my belly, back arched, shoulders off the floor: Cobra. Don’t think so. I hate snakes. Hands over head, one foot bent onto knee, balance on one leg. Nope don’t make a good Tree either. Feet and hands on floor, head back, arch back. Bridge, un uh…not for me.

The tenets of yoga insist – go at own pace, never compare yourself to others. I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only salt n pepper haired participant in the group. While young supple bodies around me twisted into pretzel shapes, I remained locked in place like The Tin Man. I peeked at everyone else gracefully posed in a perfect posture, and felt like a loser. It’s hard for old athletes to quit competing.

I still have the ball player build, long and lanky. Ever see a tall Yogi master?Most yogis have the short compact build of gymnasts, not basketball players. Makes sense, the closer to the ground you are, the easier it is touch Mother Earth. My former head of department, a dance specialist, told me 85 % of flexibility is inherited, so we can only improve on that 15%. Go ahead, like everything else, blame it on your parents. It’s genetic.

Remember Gumby? Well I am not Gumby.

My spine has been broken, my feet deformed. My second toes are longer than my big toes, so I clutch land with hammertoes. Just staying upright is challenging. Like a monkey, my crooked toes curl and cling to edge of the yoga mat.

Inhale. Exhale. Right leg back. Inhale. Left leg back. Downward Dog. Exhale Plank. Inhale Cobra. I am sweating, and gasping, and my muscles are trembling and we just started saluting the sun.

The best part is at the end of the lesson. When we finish the session, we lie flat on our back, feet splayed; hands at our sides in the corpse position. Yep, I like this one. I make a good dead body. Only my inhalation and exhalation remind me I am still of this earth. After class, I stand, bow, and float out the door as if otherworldly.

Forget improvements in flexibility, balance, strength, and endurance, at fifty something, I am grateful that I can still breath. I am a good breather. Inhale, exhale. Ommm

I still can’t touch my toes, twist my body into any shape, animal or otherwise, and I am far from enlightenment, but I am starting to feel good about myself.As someone who confuses left from right, north from south and is always lost, the yoga mantra is appealing, “wherever you go, there you are.”