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Laundry Legacy – Oh ee oh

 

photoCollect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine with soap, turn on cycle – oh ee oh oh, oh, collect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine with soap, turn on cycle oh ee oh oh, oh (I’m thinking of the Wicked Witch”s minions chant as they tirelessly loop around her castle marching through their guard stations) – collect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine….the “song” that keeps repeating in my mind is the oh ee oh oh, oh because it seems to be the perfect accompaniment to the never ending job carrying on ad nauseum (and particularly useful after nauseum) at my house, the running of our laundry factory.  It is a known fact that particularly in a household with at least one child, the laundry factory CAN NEVER shut down.  Charlie Chaplin’s assembly line worker in Modern Times has nothing on me for keeping up with the production of my production of clean laundry.  I think since we moved to Brasted nine years ago, I’ve been through two washing machines and three clothes dryers.  That might be saying something about the machines I’m using, but more likely than not, it is an example of what happens when machines never really get a break except perhaps when we are on holiday.  It is nuts how the laundry factory at our house pretty much needs to work ‘round the clock to keep up with the demand.

The good thing about laundry, besides the obvious clean clothes, is that you can chuck it in and then work through other chores while it runs through its cycles.  This morning for example, I had the whites spinning round while I got into full flow of bed making, dishwasher loading, answering emails, letting Winston out, letting Winston in and giving Natalie a sneaky dish of milk because she is just the most irresistible cat.  I’d finally got to the point when it was time to pull out the first morning round of dried items and I had the best treat.  It was great.  My White Company terry towel robe was so toasty warm I had to stop and not just put it away, but instead, put it on, on top of my clothes – because although it is still not snowing (in ENGLAND!) it is so damp and cold here – the temperature warranted the extra layer.  Plus it just felt good.  So much so, the draw of the freshly dried dressing gown was too much to resist and my whirling dervish laundry worker self got a moment to wrap up and pause for a moment.

And, as I savoured the feeling of the robe wrapped snug around my waist and the lapels pulled close up against my cheeks, I had the biggest rush of my mom.  Now the feeling did not come from a memory of her laundry acumen honed from divvying through five children’s worth of washing, oh no, Mom was not a great laundress not by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, when we were growing up in Pennsylvania, she used to have our washer and dryer set up on the second floor, by our bedrooms and therefore laundry baskets, for the strategy of getting everything cleaned and back to our rooms with the least amount of effort.  She used to espouse the purchasing of non iron items wondering out loud why any one would want to have clothes they actually had to be pressed.

In actuality, the second floor laundry room trick didn’t help however because the sheer volume of (clean but unfolded) undies, socks, shirts, towels, jeans etc literally accumulated in mountains on the floor outside the dryer – ranges so high the Rockies or Alps sometimes came to mind.  Indeed, our laundry room actually became one of the best places for playing hide and seek when Mom was having an afternoon nap and we were supposed to be keeping ourselves quiet and entertained.  In our laundry room of yore, you had the option, as long as you could be still enough, to burrow deep down into the clean clothes and rest easy from the seeker blissfully inhaling the fabric softened material while you waited to be found.  One time, and I do not encourage you to try this at home (particularly given the recent story I hear about in Australia), I even used the laundry pile as extra cover for concealing my hiding place.  After scaling it, I pulled it against the front loading dryer door as I climbed inside.  I promise we were playing when there had been a rare hanging to dry session with the wet stuff coming out of the washing machine and I found it only mildly warm against the dryer’s drum metal.  But I digress.

No, that warm robe reminded me of my mom because I once pulled a cotton turtleneck over Megan’s head when she was about four and she exclaimed,

“Aah, that feels just like a hug from Nana,” when her head popped through the neck of the shirt, her fine fringe plastered against her forehead from static electricity.

I can’t help but associate the warmth and good clean feeling of the laundry room with Mom since then.  And lucky me, it also brings to mind my dear step mom, Judy, who is on the opposite side of the laundressing spectrum.  Instead, she is so expert with her laundry management she even sets an alarm on the dryer to let her know when the optimum folding heat has been achieved and she can get in there and crisply fold socks, t-shirts and even fitted sheets like no one else I know.  I can honestly say there is many a day, I bow to her laundressing greatness and enjoy cosy thoughts of her.

As I stood in the laundry room, while trying to avoid becoming entangled in the girls’ tights dangling from the indoor laundry line or misstepping into the rattan wastebasket quickly filling with the fluff from my dryer filter, my eyes came across the placemats I’d hung to dry on the laundry rack.  Kathleen, my big sister, made them for all of us as gifts this summer when we gathered for a family reunion.  Talking about domestic capabilities, she is the handiest with a needle and thread let alone a sewing machine, and she had taken recipe cards from my mom’s old box, photographed them and then somehow found a company which could make those photos into material for her to sew into placemats.  Pretty cool, huh?  The best thing about the mats is not just the food which also helps to bring Mom back for a moment but her handwriting.  There’s a recipe for crabcakes, her mom’s chocolate sauce and even one for Chicken Fredrika which I do not even recall eating but I love seeing her words spelled out advising us to use “1 frying chicken – cut up (or you could use chicken breasts for company”. “Company” a great turn of phrase my mom always used to describe the people she and my dad entertained who would come to eat or to stay and after they’d gone we would always discuss how good a “visit” it was.  It was uncanny how just seeing her words handwritten could evoke all those memories in an instant.  Even with the dryer blowing Lenor “Summer Breeze” scented ventilated air at me, I could just about muster the sound of her voice and the aroma of her old “Charlie” perfume.

With the oh ee oh echoing in my ear, my revery of going home to my mother’s presence did not take the magical clicking of Dorothy’s red shoes to transport me to that place or state of mind.  It was these small clues planted around me which instantly connected me back to her and I was only startled into full awareness by the piercing beep of my Bosch washing machine reminding me the cycle was complete and the next laundry load needed to be dealt with.  Bending to remove the wet PE kit this time, I was left with the overwhelming wonder of what my small legacies will be for my children and future grandchildren.  I was left hoping that I will be able to be associated with such simple, good feelings as tasty as my grandmother’s chocolate sauce for family or company, as soft as Megan’s turtleneck, as relaxed as my mom’s attitude with laundry accumulation. Maybe my aspirations should be aimed higher, but to me, the things that have most stuck with me through the years and accompanied me on daily chores and experiences have been those remembered sayings or the way she knew just how to stroke your face to erase all your worries.

Then this evening, as I poked my head into where Megan was studying for her last night of GCSE mock examinations snuggled in under an afghan with her Geography case studies, I asked her how she was doing and she gave me the  answer to her state of mind as well as to my earlier laundry room musings.  She was probably a little tired with so much studying and testing under her belt and I found she looked a little emotional as she cast her eyes up to answer me.

She said, “I’m okay but, today at school everyone was talking about what they want to be.  What careers they will pursue.  What they will do with their education and I thought, Mom, you gave everything up to take care of us.  You didn’t get to teach Shakespeare or film.  You just get to take care of our family.  Thank you for doing that.”

I hugged her not just with a terry towel robe but my own arms and told her,

“Megan, I do not feel like I gave anything up.  I only gained everything with all of you.  I chose to lead this life even with all its mundane tasks; it is as rich as any Shakespeare play because of you.”

I realised, there and then, that perhaps my legacy will be that my children will have the love I’ve given them to grow strong and when they go out into the world and build their own lives the whole combination of my love as it is expressed in my cooking, cleaning, car driving, even piles of clean laundry will hopefully come back to them when ever or where ever they need me.  It is my hope that the cycle of care and shared, everyday moments that hold me in good stead will carry on with them.  I went to bed feeling like my laundry detergent cup runneth over – the oh ee oh silenced with my daughter’s acknowledgement and appreciation for the little things I do.

 

Owning Up Epilogue

Maybe I need to learn from Skyler how better to ask for these things.  When I made the snow request I meant for the UK – specifically somewhere around we live.  Sorry to those of you in Philadelphia that got dumped on  AGAIN!  If we could have this (click on “this” to see what I’m talkin’ about), but on England that would be great.  😉

Owning Up

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Okay, so I know this may be hard to believe but we do encourage humility in our household and do try and rein in the egos as we manage our way through whatever we’ve got on in a day.  However, I am thinking I do need to put my hand up to something which may have had a huge impact on the world around me.  So here I go…you know how we were right on the verge of having a white Christmas in England?  Remember pre the winds and the floods right back to the 14th of December? Well, I think I may have to take responsibility for the weather we have been having since then.  Yes, on that day, just after I picked up Skyler before collecting Christy on their last day of school ahead of the holidays, we were killing time and I went against my rule of buying a kid a gift 10 days before Christmas (“‘cause you never know what Santa might have already got you and you wouldn’t want to double up on something from your wish list”).  Anyway, with Skyler by my side (although I am not blaming him), I… bought him… a snowball thrower.  Ssheesh, you say.  Why would you tempt Fate that way and jinx the weather out of providing the key element of snowball making and throwing…the snow?!  I know, I know, what was I thinking?

So, I wanted to start this post with my confession and apology for such a lapse in judgement and for causing not only the snowless, but incredibly windy and wet Christmas we had in the UK.  I am not entirely sure (and according to Ukip I might have to share the ridiculous responsibility with others), but I guess while I’m at it, I will also say sorry for possibly playing a role in causing all the torrents of rain we’ve been battered with over the last month – all because of my snowball thrower purchase.  Mark Twain is famous for having commented,  “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Well, I am afraid I’m not only talking about it, I am fessing up that it might have been me tipping the balance of the cosmos and causing the weather to go so far afoul.  Thankfully, however, I think I may have worked out how to fix things.  If you can stick with me, I reckon there is hope.

Like many of those of you nearby, with the A25 closed and Brasted under water, I spent a lot of time in my car at the end of last week literally ferrying my kids to and from school.  As I splashed my Landrover past the waterfalls gushing from the verges along Chart Lane wishing a polar vortex would freeze them like the Niagara Falls, I cranked up the radio to accompany me through my rides and ended up listening to an inordinate amount of BBC Radio One programming.  Apparently they had decided the whole of the UK could do with an attitude adjustment.  They were on a mission to cheer us all up from the January blues and they actually had every deejay on each of their shows spreading the mantra that we should all “Be happy!” irregardless of the bills, the soggy return to school and work, and the drought of Bank Holidays on the new year’s calendar with one not to be seen again until the 18th of April.  Surprisingly, the campaign was, in fact, fairly effective and, although I am prone to being pretty happy anyway, with each playing of Pharrell Williams’ Happy song I felt more and more inclined to bop along to the catchy tune and follow some of radio station’s top tips for spreading the good feeling. The suggestions included indulging in Laughter Yoga, getting active, enjoying your pets and reaching out to others.  I started to imagine all the people I was passing huddled under their umbrellas, bumping into each other and peeking out from underneath to share a smile.  I thought about each of us in the confines of our cars and homes reaching out through our FB pages, emails, texts, telephone calls and even good ole fashioned hand written notes and how key those connections are for me and, in deed, how I do feel happier when I am connected to others.  And then I considered just how contagious a good feeling can be if we can find a way to share it, letting it multiply and flourish – no matter the weather or whatever may be trying to dampen our spirits.

It came to me then as we wound  our way back through waterlogged Kent, how perhaps, if I shared with you all a little story about snow, I might gain the power of the connection with you and, with your help, change the rain to snow and finally fix the mess of weather I had gotten us all into.  As cheesy as it sounds, I was thinking of J.M. Barrie’s, “I do believe in fairies.  I do!  I do.!” and how effective it was at reviving Tinkerbell.   I thought that maybe in sharing it with you on Pumpkin Potential it might be just the thing to tip the scales back in our snow favour.  So here’s hoping we dry up and chill out soon…without further ado…The Magic of Snow

At a Christmastime, not too long ago when we were dreaming of white Christmases with treetops glistening with snow instead of rain, we had a true brush with magic.  It was the year all of England got snowed in before, during and after Christmas.  The year when those who had received hopeful sledges of metal and plastic had had their wishes come true with days on end of long, deep slides up and down the hills and, in fact, high streets of most villages.  During much needed stretches between mad present wrapping and opening, resplendent meals of turkey and pumpkin pie, and nestles by the fire, we had enjoyed the snow to the utmost.

My son, Skyler was five that year and in particular could not believe his luck when on the first day the kids were due back to school, it was closed with an overnight snow storm.  The excitement furthered when he found even Dad was “stuck” at home and was taking the lead to bundle the whole family up for a mid-morning sledge.  We chose to visit a spot along Pipers Lane just beyond a small herd of shaggy, chestnut coloured cattle breathing smoke from their enormous nostrils to a little hilly set of fields rolling out from the woods.  Besides the five of us, our Irish Wolfhound, Finn, some how fit in the back of the Land Rover with two flat Wham-o boogie board sleds and a trusty old Radio Flyer with blades you could steer with your feet.

The sound was all but absorbed that day except for the squeak and crunch of our boots in the eight inch snowfall; higher where the wind had gusted the drifts even deeper.  Finally, at the top of the biggest hill, away from the trees and the split rail fence that runs along the cattle’s field, we took turns pushing off and enjoying rides all the way to the bottom of the slope.

I remember Skyler had to remove his hat and scarf with the heat of the excursion from pumping his smallest legs up and down the incline when he tugged his sled back up to the summit ready for the next go.  Meanwhile, Megan and Nick hunted for the best runs carved out by earlier rides to help them make the most of their sledding momentum as Christy ate the snow she lay in on her back swishing out a snow angel beneath her and admiring the puffed up robins flitting around the hedgerows above her.  We were undecided as to whether the control of the Radio Flyer with its guided ride was better than the Wham-o’s reckless speed met face first, stomach down bursting along the crest of the hill. Irregardless of the sled type, Finn chased us each to the bottom and back up again and again nearly jumping on board when he was not almost galloping on top of us.  Eventually, when I saw even he was starting to lag, I made a rally cry of, “Time for cocoa!” to get everyone moving on the slow walk back to the car.

Leaving the hill, we found the sledges stuck and slid along haphazardly on their bottoms as we pulled their tethers behind us.  Each kid, in turn, tried to talk a parent into pulling them along on top of a sled but was met only with a “No, you are too heavy.” retort.  Only divvying out the Polo mints I happened to find in my pocket at timed intervals along the walk seemed to entice everyone to progress down the path back to the car and our home.  We were quiet with the best kind of tired in our legs and lungs full of the fresh air and activity.

After such an ideal day of snow and fun, we were certain with no new real accumulation that school would start the following day.  Skyler did ask as I put him to bed if I thought it would be possible another school cancellation would greet him in the morning.  I felt I needed to manage his expectations so I gently told him I really did not think school would be closed two days in a row on a return from Christmas break.  He accepted my assessment, said his prayers including a wish for more snow and then lay back on his pillow, happy with the day we had had and satisfied to get some well earned rest.

The next morning, however, the radio alarm blared with the news that we had received an even thicker coating of snow as we had slept and it was still carrying on in the dawning light.  Big, thick feathery flakes floated down and filled our view of the back garden as we listened to announcements of school after school being closed.  Nick and I decided to make a cup of tea and sit in bed watching and waiting for the kids to wake up to their surprise.  It felt like Christmas morning all over again.

Skyler bounced in first, “Did you see?  It’s snowing!”, he exclaimed and lifted the covers to crawl in next to me and watch the storm with a full smile on his face.  Christy wandered in next with a blanket hooded over her head.  She said the quiet of the house had told her what her blackout curtains had kept as a secret; another snow day was emerging just beyond.  Not too long after, Megan, too, came and crawled into our bed, pulling the duvet from our feet to tuck herself in, sleepily grinning at us and the bank of our bedroom windows which by then were giving us all a shook-up-snow-globe display of a winter storm.

Surveying the scene and remembering his prayers, I turned to Skyler and said, “You must have some serious magic in you the way you made the snow come again today.”  His response came quickly and with more enchantment then any spell a magician could conjure.  He said, without missing a beat, “No, Mommy, I don’t have the magic, God does – he just breaks it up into lots of little pieces.”

So now whether a Christmas is wet or white enough to fulfill even Bing Crosby’s dreams, I remember the magic of this time of year with a nod to the gifts around our tree but even more so for the gift of a child’s ability to appreciate at it all so purely.

All together now…I do believe in snow.  I do! I do!…Fingers crossed this does the trick.  I’ll keep you posted.

Retrieving Responsibilities

IMG_1481Winston and His Stick at Limpsfield Chart

 

It is a marvel to me how Winston has the ability to choose and pick up sticks (aka large limbs or logs) in his mouth which are generally double his body length and carry them at a full run preciously in the centre of the length of wood so they stick out, perfectly balanced, on either side of his black head.  He never fails to hold the stick with his head held high and at a height precisely set for clocking me in the back of the knees time and time again.  He uses the stick as a “helpful” reminder that he would be well pleased for me to hoick the stick, limb or log over my head and chuck it as far as I can for him to retrieve over and over again.  He particularly likes to use his stick trick when I am a remiss dog owner and “forget” his ball and its handy launcher in an attempt to have a more peaceful walk with him.  Instead, Winston has other ideas and is quite the master at finding any sort of projectile for me to throw for him just so he can be assured that he will have something to retrieve over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Indeed, Winston, has become increasingly insane about retrieving and it is wild for me to consider how he got to such a state.  I mean, it is like an addiction from the moment he notes me coming to he drops a slightly defuzzing tennis ball on my still-stuck-to-the-pillow head and then proceeds to follow me around dropping it at my feet, in my lap, on my laptop, even in the middle of my backgammon game until I give in to a game of fetch.  He seems to be under the impression he needs to refresh my memory that the ball or stick is there to be thrown and that he would very much like to retrieve it over and over again.  I am not kidding, once I decided to count how many times he would bring the ball back and on a half hour walk, I counted he retrieved it ninety-seven times.  He was relentless; the bursitis in my shoulder being the only thing stopping him from clearing 100.

More disturbingly, the thing I have noticed most about his retrieving recently, is that it seems as though he is taking it beyond his instinct of doing something that comes naturally and enjoyably to him and, instead, bearing it as a responsibility.  Winston is as hard a task master on himself as he is on me pressing me with his balls and sticks into the throwing part of the retrieving.  It has gotten to the point where I feel like it some how is not as fun as it used to be for him or me.  It has gotten to the point where I feel like I am just monotonously throwing it long enough such that I can keep up the pace and move the walk along so I can keep him distracted and meanwhile get on with the real task at hand, which for me, is thinking through my to do list.  Just as Winston obsessively tries to keep up his commitments to retrieving anything and everything,  I obsessively try to keep up with my commitments of retrieving my responsibilities, looping my to do list, adding to it and tweaking it from the moment we begin our walk some times all the way until get back to the car.  I have to admit, when it comes down to it seems we are really as bad as each other on these walks with Winston cycling through his retrieves and drops and me multitasking in the worst way – purposefully striding through our jaunt so I can tick it off and move on to the next activity I need to complete in my morning, my day or my week.

Last weekend, however, as we were walking sans the “b-a-l-l”, (if you say it then you are doomed to throwing it over and over again), and I was side stepping the hefty sticks he was trying to whale into my legs, I decided something had to snap us out of our bad habits.  I decided I would just ignore each stick, limb or log and by acting like I hadn’t seen (or felt) it would see if I could break the recent pattern of our promenades.  It took a little while, but eventually with a little perseverance, Winston stopped with his retrieving responsibilities and charged around like he used to, pre the retriever instinct kicking in.  He took off after a scent, wound beneath the spent feathery fern fronds, ducked and dived over and under felled trees, dashed through and drank, like only a dog can, from murky muddy puddles and romped behind the scenes of the wild rhodendron clearing its roots and snuffling through its leaves and old blackberry brambles.  He checked in periodically, but he seemed so carefree I did not dare call him back.  I just let him cross the well worn path we walked together, way ahead or hanging behind, following where ever the scent would guide him.  It was a joy to see him so in tune with the woods and so exhilarated with his charge through the early morning walk.

Free from throwing Winston’s stick, I stopped worrying through my list, and suddenly realised I had gotten into my stride.  Just like Winston, untethered from my mental burdens,  I could actually revel in the stretch of my walk and let my mind wander more freely.

I know with New Year’s resolutions looming and back to work catching up to be done post the holidays, it is easy to accumulate a giant set of responsibilities and build a structure to accomplishing our goals.  However, in watching Winston let go of what he thought he had to do and wind into rolling into the moment he was actually in, he seemed so freed and joyful I had to see his change of tact as one to follow.  I know you can’t leave everything behind as kids still need laundry and meals and life has to carry on with its practicalities, but watching Winston reminded me of the necessity of taking a time out, to just keep it simple and to, maybe, stroll or even run every once in a while unburdened without a stick or ball or responsibility to be retrieved in the course of a day.

As a Capricorn, I am notorious for liking to get things done, but I guess Winston showed me there is a quality to taking some down time which can be even more beneficial and productive if you can put the to dos aside for a moment or two.  I may not have worked out the logistics of how I was going to  shove in the next load of laundry while preparing the Sunday roast while ordering my on-line groceries, but I did move things forward in my spirit, releasing it for a moment to rest and properly rejuvenate for my next set of duties.    Above all,  given the quiet moment, I thought about keeping a balance between abiding our mutual inclinations to follow our instincts so doggedly and changing it up a bit, even in a little way, so as to improve the quality of our walks wherever, whichever way they wind us.