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Friday, September 24, 2010

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The road to hell is paved with dust bunnies


I decided to clean my house the other morning, after determining that it would be marginally less trouble than setting it on fire and finding a new place to live. I'll just finish this coffee, I thought, and then I'll get started. In the meantime, what would it hurt to google housecleaning? It's possible great strides have been made in dusting techniques since I last picked up a Swiffer.

Indeed, there were many techniques, technologies, and suggested schedules to be considered and compared. Daily cleaning routines. Weekly cleaning routines. Seasonal cleaning routines. Those ones always make me feel guilty. Does anyone really do spring cleaning, where you wash all the windows and flip the mattresses and descale the coffeemaker and beat all the rugs? Or is it like flossing--something most people just pretend they do regularly?

By lunch time I was thoroughly up to speed, and ready to get started. I'll just make a list of supplies, I thought. This, too, required exhaustive online research. I better see what I have on hand before I go running off to buy new cleaners, I decided, emptying both bathroom closets and the kitchen sink cabinet of various chemicals. After another hour of consolidating half-empty bottles of window spray and carefully hand labeling everything with a permanent marker as to its purpose (in case I forget the bottle with the Glass Plus label on the front is for "FOR GLASS"), I was ready to go to the store to fill in the inventory gaps. Better check to see if I have coupons for any of this, I thought, going to the drawer where I keep the Sunday paper supplements going back to last spring. Thirty minutes later, potential savings of $1.50 in hand, I checked the time. I had an hour before it was time to pick up the kids. No problem.

In the cleaning products aisle, I was torn between feelings of self-satisfaction at the idea of saving a few dollars, and self-satisfaction at the idea of saving the planet. After a long struggle, I up-sold my motives, and left with fifty bucks worth of disinfecting wipes made with herbal oils, and scandinavian hardwood floor cleaner made from the happy, ph neutral tears of grateful reindeers.

I glanced at the clock on my phone. Holy crap. No time to go by the house now--school was out already.

"What's in the bags?" my son asked, climbing into the van.

Mommy's good intentions, I thought about saying. On the sliding scale where cleanliness is next to Godliness, you'll find them and me on the opposite end.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

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Request for Transfer

Dear Limitless Universe:

Thank you for everything you have taught me about money fears. Thank you for showing me how to get by and make do. Thank you for the teaching me how to cut corners and make ends meet. Thank you for letting me practice gratitude in face of anxiety, and staying in the present when tomorrow is uncertain, for strengthening my faith. There is no question this syllabus has made me a better person, and has given me skills and understanding I will use for the rest of my life.

But I'm ready to graduate now. Where do I sign up for Handling Crazy Abundance 101?


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Thursday, September 09, 2010

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Affording Artichokes


One day, when Patrick and I had just moved into our new apartment, he mentioned to his mother that I had introduced him to steamed artichokes the night before.

"You can't afford artichokes!" she retorted.

The memory of it still gives us a chuckle. Millie took a lot of pride in being ordinary and simple, though she was anything but. Artichokes, to her mind, were exotic, complicated, and probably costly. Lobsters in vegetable form.

"We can't afford artichokes!" has become our shorthand for anything that seems extravagant, but isn't really. Like coffee filters. We have a re-useable mesh filter that brews a rather silty cup of coffee, and for some reason, I am resistant to spending a dollar or two on the paper kind. Patrick lobbies for them with loud sighs.

"I hope someday we are successful enough to afford a new coffee filter every day," he says, as he rinses out the mesh basket.

"We can't afford artichokes!" I say. On a Christmas grocery spree, a pack of paper filters found its way into my basket.

"Merry Christmas!" I said, when he opened the cupboard and found them.

"Whoa," he said, delighted. "Let's not get crazy."

He has his arbitrary artichokes too. I think we all must, even the billionaires.

Little Rock was rather late to the party, but last year, a fancy cupcake shop opened on a street corner near us. Now, I can turn two dozen very fancy looking cupcakes out of my kitchen in less than an hour, each with a pudgy swirl of real buttercream so rich that nobody notices or cares that the cake itself is from a mix. Cupcakes aren't about the cake, as anyone who's ever ordered a frosting shot will admit freely. So it's hard for me to justify spending three dollars on one, no matter how lovely they look, lined up in their pleated paper skirts in the display case, like convent school girls with elaborate hairdos. You see cupcakes. I see artichokes.

But the other day, I walked past the shop on an errand, and thought how much my boys would love the sunlit window counter with the tall stools, the weighty deliberation over icing and cake combinations, the novelty of a dessert that comes with no vegetable strings attached. Cupcakes aren't about the cake, and good eating isn't just about food. It's about the experience.

But still, three dollars a piece...I could whip up a batch of cupcakes at home before they got out of school. They could have two each, and there would be plenty leftover for lunchboxes. I considered the latte I was holding in my hand. It costs three dollars, and I manage to have one several times a week, no matter what shape our budget is in. The latte should be an artichoke, but it's not, because when I have one in my hand, I feel like a VIP, and that things are looking up; that life itself is a delicious treat. And though it makes me a puppet of marketing, and someone in Starbucks HQ is pulling the strings, I don't care, because I'm the one who gets to do the happy dance.

I picked up the boys from school, and told them I was taking them for a special treat. "No reason," I told them, when they incredulously asked why. "So you'll feel like you can afford artichokes," I could have said, but taking them out for dessert before supper was confusing enough.

"Wow," they said, when we entered the shop. "Can we sit in the window?"

"Of course."

Engagement rings have been chosen with greater speed and less care than the three cupcakes that were selected from the case. Each boy went with something different, according to his nature: a peanut butter frosted chocolate cake for my well-rounded eldest child, a vanilla frosted chocolate cake with chocolate sprinkles for my straightforward and exuberant youngest child, and a chocolate frosted chocolate cake with a dark chocolate square for my mysterious and deep middle child.

"Anything for Mom?" the counter clerk asked.

I told him no thanks. I had my latte. This indulgence was vicarious. I sat with my kids at the window counter, and watched them savor their cupcakes with a pure focus that neither of us would have at home in the midst of unpacking backpacks, clamoring for video games, and hurrying onto seconds.

“Thanks, Mom!” my firstborn said as we walked back to the van.

“My pleasure,” I said. My treat.


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Friday, September 03, 2010

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Ready for the Close Up


Publishing a book is like being adrift in a raft at sea for months and months, and then waking up to find a super-freighter bearing down on you at 25 knots. At least that's how it's felt the last several weeks, scrambling to supply various kinds of promotional copy for the Riverhead Summer 2011 catalog and line up a photographer to take my author photo. The latter came together the way everything with the birthing of this book has come together: the exact right person appearing at the exact right time. By chance or destiny, I stumbled across Whitney's blog one day, and knew I'd found someone with the eye--and the heart--of a storyteller.

We met for the first time last night, but I've never had more fun or felt more at ease with a photographer. It didn't hurt that I had two of my best friends along to make me smile, and look out for unzipped zippers and rogue cowlicks. God knows, it takes a village.

We wrapped up at dusk, feeling celebratory. I can't wait to see and share the results. In the meantime, here's a few behind-the-scene peeks, and a bonus feature--the official, oh-my-God-it's-really-happening title of my book:

(drumroll please)

Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life.

By me, if you can believe it. I hardly can.





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