I’m a Dirty, Dirty Girl!

Mmph-cha. . .mmph-cha. . .mmph-cha. . .mmph-cha. . .

Wum-pa. . .wum-pa. . .wum-pa. . .wum-pa. . .

Squeak. . .squeak. . .squeak. . .squeak. . .

These are the pulsating noises my washing machine makes when I’ve overloaded it with towels, like I always do.  As the water is rising and making that swooshing and thumping sound, I run to the laundry room and throw open the lid and readjust the load.  That seems to have done the trick.  Now, the soft whirs and purrs of the spin cycle kick in and I return to my bedroom to fold the laundry that has been sitting in the laundry basket for a week now (not to mention the fact that I have to shake the wrinkles out of a few t-shirts that were wadded up in the dryer for over a week now).

I have been feeling overwhelmed lately with trying to maintain the cleanliness of my home.  I think it’s a mixture of daily stresses and a heavy amount of grading of all those damn essays and quizzes I assigned last week and this week.  I feel like I have no time to really “get my clean on” because my days are packed with working all day or doing things I must get done in order to maintain some sanity at work.  My neck has been crackling with tension, and my back muscles are in traction and I hear “snaps” and “crackles” and “pops” whenever I turn around too quickly (or at all, for that matter).  The daily rain and occasional fog have brought mildew smells into my  home, and a patch of mold is creeping up my outdoor siding near my kitchen window.  It’s gross.  It makes me feel dirty.

Cursed clutter!

Smells and clutter and clumps of cat hair suddenly reveal themselves to me.  I have neglected my home it seems.  My clutter in the usual places shows itself for what it really is:  the casualties of benign neglect at the hands of a scatterbrained woman.  I take a glance  into all of my rooms and see hair ties and bobby pins on my computer desk, on the washing machine, and underneath my couch.  There are wadded up receipts on my jewelry stand, closet floor, kitchen counter, and underneath the couch.  3 pairs of shoes are in a permanent state of repose  in my living room.  Stacks of books lounge on my dining room table, side table, end tables, night stands, and on the back of my toilet. (Yes, I keep books in there.  Go ahead and judge me if you must.)  I look down and see a paper clip at my foot (one of the hazards of teaching English is that these little pieces of artillery are always at your disposal).  I look over and find paper clips on my nightstand, closet floor, and I rush downstairs and take a peek and find one underneath the couch.

I pick everything up from underneath the couch and walk into the kitchen to throw it all away.  There in front of me is a mound of dirty dishes that stink and are piled on top of the tiny countertop and have flowed into the sink and stacked up on the stove.  There is another tumbleweed of cat hair, and I see splotches of spilled coffee on the other counter top and a smidgeon of dried orange juice on the floor.  The knots in my neck and back begin to grow taut.  Something must be done!  I can’t live like this anymore!

Dirty dishes for a dirty girl
Happy toilets, happy people

The only thing that will work is hard core cleaning.  Oh yeah.  I’m gonna get down and dirty today.  Maybe I’ll even get down on my hands and knees and mop that kitchen floor.  I know I’ll definitely be wiping those countertops off with a quick back and forth motion.  And the 3 toilets in my 2 1/2 bathroom house?  Yeah, I’ll smear Clorox liquid gel all up and down those bad boys and scrub them until their hard porcelain shells shine.

I get out the Pledge and do some light dusting, just to get myself in the mood.  “This feels good,” I think, and before I know it I have dusted and swept all of the bedrooms upstairs.  I’m picking up speed now and so I get out the vacuum.  I pull out the hose attachment and turn on the powerful beast.  It sucks up the tumbleweeds of cat hair and the crunchy bits of leaves my dog has brought in on his wet paws, and what I think was a hard piece of either dried mud or a dried bit of dog poop.  (Get your minds out of the gutter.  This is hard core cleaning, but I’m still a respectable lady.)

Hard core cleaning isn’t for wussies.

As soon as I break out the Clorox wipes, the Clorox toilet bowl cleaner, and the Clorox bathroom foam, my anxiety dissipates.  The first sprays of the Clorox cleaner emits a pungent odor.  I believe bleach smell alone kills 50% of the germs.  I inhale the powerful scent and some of my nose hairs are singed, and I definitely can tell that my sinuses have dried out.  In a great revelry, I attack the bathrooms with a new found vigor and finish up in a fury of soap suds and sparkling bathroom countertops.

I sigh and look around me.  Everything is in its place.  The soft breeze blowing through the open windows soothes me.  I toss away my cleaning supplies and feel a great satisfaction.  Every muscle in my body is relaxed, and I rest on my couch and feel complete.  I look down at my dry, cracked hands and see hangnails dangling off every finger.  The scent of the residual bleach now gives me a “Holier Than Thou” attitude and I realize that cleaning isn’t that dirty thing we all make it out to be.  It feels good to “go to it” and lose yourself in the revelry of a few hours of manual labor in order to have piece of mind.

Oh yeah, baby.

Keep The Change

Ever have one of those weeks when every day is a comedy of errors?  That’s been my week.

It started last Sunday.  In my defense, I had been awake since 4:30 that morning; so everything that came out of my mouth didn’t always pass through the in-brain edit button first.  And, my friends Jamie, Mary and I had just hiked 3 miles up a river bluff and down under a train trestle at Castlewood State Park outside of St. Louis, MO.  So, when the waiter brought us our check as we sipped our iced teas at the quaint restaurant “Home” in Maplewood, MO, it didn’t register that I really didn’t pay enough for my meal (which cost $14, but we all had added a large cup of $6 soup to our order as well).  All I heard was Mary saying, “It’s $20 for us each.”  I delicately repressed a  yawn after having loaded up on carbs, and thought to myself, “Geez, that’s a lot for a tip.”  But, I was having fun and thought I would just spend my cash instead of having to figure out a tip on my debit card.  I tossed my $20 bill onto the tray and told the waiter, “Keep the change.”

Jamie left the table to use the restroom.  Mary politely said, “It’s your birthday celebration.  I’ve got the tip.”  

I was confused.  “What?” I said.  I couldn’t understand why she was going to leave more money to an already generous tip from each of us.

Mary asserted that it was “OK”.  She wanted to do a nice thing for me.  “It’s really no problem,” she smiled and began writing out her bill.

“What?” I asked again.

Again, Mary delicately said, “We ordered soup.”

I leaned back in my chair and quickly recollected the tasty, warm white bean soup with squash and spices.  “Yeah,” I sighed.  “That was good.”

Then it dawned on me.  I had short-changed the waiter and with a cocky attitude I had told him, “Keep the change.”  My friend was trying to save face and not hurt my feelings.  I began to freak out.  I insisted I pay her back.  I volunteered to walk over to the cash register and ask the waiter to stop the transaction. Mary laughed.  I even debated going over to the waiter and apologizing for my gaffe.  I was embarrassed.  Jamie came back to the table and I told her what happened.  She laughed and said, “I wondered if you would figure it out.”  I hung my head in shame.  Mary started laughing and said, “It’s OK.  I still like you, even if you are an asshole.”

That was Sunday.

On Monday, I walked my dog in the wee hours of a rainy morning.  When we got inside, my house immediately smelled like wet dog.  I tried to Febreze away the odor, and even added a few extra pumps of expensive perfume on my clothes.  It was to no avail because when I dropped my dog off at the kennel, the lobby area smelled like wet dogs, and that smell soaked into my clothes.  I got back in my car and noticed my meticulously straightened hair had been frizzed at the roots from the humidity, and the ends had been burned and split by the straightening iron.  By the time I walked into work, my heels had been rubbed raw from my cute, new flats I had purchased the evening before, and my hair looked like Monica from the Caribbean trip “Friends” episode.  

After a long day of teaching high school students, my friend and fellow English teacher, Andy, stopped by my classroom to vent about his truly horrible day.  I tried to sympathize with him but I had a blister on my foot from my flesh-eating flats.  I didn’t want to interrupt his story, and so I wheeled myself in my chair and scooted to the trash can near my desk.  I realized that the band-aid was all gooey and bloody and so I didn’t want him to see it.  I leaned over delicately and tried with stealth-like skills to drop it into the waste can.  In slow motion, I began to lean a little too far to the left.  I tried to correct myself, but my foot slid out from under me (damn flats), and down I went, with my chair toppling over me.

I stood up and couldn’t look my friend in the eye.  I could see that his shoulders were hunched up, and he sat motionless.  He did manage to ask, “Are you alright?”  While picking up the chair, I continued to look at the floor so as to avoid eye contact.  “Yep,” I said.  “I’m a moron.”  I sat back down pretending like nothing happened, and my friend acted the gentleman and did likewise.  He continued on with his story.  I giggled a little bit, and he said, “You don’t have to be embarrassed around me.  We’re friends.”  I shook my head and put on my poker face.  He then continued on with his rant about dumbass kids who can’t even complete a simple, dumbass quiz correctly.  Humiliated, I was on the verge of tears.  I started laughing some more.  I barely could contain the laughter, and this seemed to pull Andy out of his story and he asked, “What’s so funny?”  I laughed harder and loudly said, “I fell out of my f—ing chair, dude!”

That was Monday.

On Tuesday, my mom (who was staying with me for the week because she had a doctor’s appt. in St. Louis) needed my car.  She had to drop me off at work.  She dropped me off at the circle drive, and at the end of the day, she picked me up there as well.  I had to stand out in front of the school for 15 minutes waiting on my mom to come and pick up her 37 year old daughter from school.  My high school students honked and waved at me as they drove by, and the cross country track team whizzed past me as I heard a few say, “Hi, Ms. H.  What are you doing out here?  Waiting for the bus?”

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, my mom needed my car again, so she dropped me off at the circle drive.  As I walked down the long corridor to the mail room, I realized I had forgotten my purse which had my classroom keys in it.  The English department chair had to let me in my classroom, and other colleagues had to unlock and lock the English computer lab for me when I took my 2 writing classes in there.  Not too bad of a day thus far until my friends asked me if I wanted to go to lunch with them.  I thought being out in the sunshine and fresh air would do me good, so I said “Yes.”  As we were walking out to the parking lot, I asked if my friend Katie wouldn’t mind driving me.  She agreed.  When we got in her car, I asked shame-faced, “Would you mind buying my lunch?”  I explained to her my dilemma, but I promised her I would gladly pay her tomorrow for a chicken quesadilla today.

That was Wednesday.

On Thursday, my mom needed my car again, so she dropped me off at the circle drive, again.  In the afternoon, I was on lunch hall duty near the cafeteria.  I had to stand guard by the double doors so students wouldn’t try to leave early and roam the halls. A group of them had gathered near me the last few minutes so they could make a mad dash to their lockers at the passing period.  As I was instructing them to move back, two students flung open the door from behind, and I was smacked in the shoulder by the heavy wooden door.   I was tossed into the throng of hormonally-challenged teenagers who had tried to warn me to move out of the way.

At the end of the day, my mom picked me up at the circle drive and we drove into St. Louis to go to the hotel where she was going to meet my Dad and nephew so they could go to my nephew’s doctor’s appointment early the next morning.  My mom was “starving,” and hadn’t eaten anything all day except my dark chocolate M & Ms and Wavy Lay’s potato chips. As we crossed over the Eads Bridge, mom suggested we eat at the buffet at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.  It wasn’t my first, second, or third choice, but she insisted on buying, so I decided to not pass up a free meal.  One greasy chicken breast, a platter of bean salad and romaine lettuce, 3 crispy and dry crab rangoons, and a tart lemon square later, we waddled out of there.  Mom said, “Well, there, I fed ya.”  Like her good little ducky, I followed her out to the car.

When I finally left to go home, I drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic for over an hour, and had to detour onto another interstate to get back to my home sweet home where I prepared for my final day of the work week.  I let my dog out to use the restroom, and had to chase after him because he caught scent of a skunk that was obviously nearby.

That was Thursday.

On Friday, I drove myself to work.  I jammed out to my favorite tunes on my iPhone, and I was looking forward to an easy-going day.  When I got out of my car, my sunglasses fell and the lens broke.  I bent down to pick them up and was knocked in the butt by my car door.  By third hour, I had been berated by a belligerent student who swore I lost her final draft of her paper (which I did not, and which I later found, unfinished by her).  After hall duty, I saw my friend Andy standing outside his classroom door.  We chatted for a few minutes.  I briefed him on my crazy week, and vented about how upset I was that a student felt the need to humiliate me because she was embarrassed about her own error.  He smiled and patted me on the back and said, “Well, at least you’ve been upright the rest of this week.  That’s an accomplishment.”

What a full week of blunders, bloopers, gaffes, falls, fails and faux pas.  Someone please pass the egg.  I’ll rub it all over my face and save myself and everyone else the trouble.

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

I am not a religious person.  I never have been, and I really don’t see myself becoming religious in the near future.  I would describe myself as a spiritual person, however.  I’ve felt that way ever since I was 10 years old and began writing poetry.  Anything in nature that heightened my sensitivity really stuck with me, and I either had to capture it in writing, in drawing, or in some type of artistic expression.  Now that I’m older, that creative urge has come back, but I delve into it less than I used to do.  I question it more often as well.  My words get edited before I ever type them, and I rethink them continuously.  Thinking is my “thing” I guess you could say.  It helps me solve problems creatively, and it allows me to process my world systematically.  It also trips up my “creative flow” and I notice that when I over-think something that is going on in my life, I usually set up more mental road blocks than there are actual obstacles to whatever is bothering me at the moment.

This morning, I woke up later than usual (6:45 a.m. to be exact).  I walked my dog, drank my coffee, and graded a lot of my students’ essays.  I hit a point late in the morning when I didn’t know how I would structure my day.  This thinking led me down the path to start analyzing my life and what I want, what I lack, what I think I need, etc.  Before I started on that treadmill of thinking, I heard my inner voice calmly say, “Just breathe.  Just sit here in your recliner, close your eyes, and breathe.”  I did.  And then something lovely happened, I started to get relaxed and my mind, while still very active, cleared a little space, a little breathing room for me so to speak.  Next, I started telling myself, “Trust God,” and began repeating that mentally in my mind.  Sometimes it varied from that phrase to “Trust in the Universe,” but in my mind and in my spirit it is one in the same.  Some would say I was praying.  Others would say I was meditating.  Maybe others would say I was just being lazy and should get up off my butt and go do something.  But I just sat there.  And it felt good.  It felt right.  I didn’t make a decision, and I didn’t pass judgment on myself on all the weird and random thoughts and images that popped into my brain.  I just tapped into my mantra so to speak, and waited.

I thought, “Surely I will have an epiphany if I sit here long enough.”

I sat there for about 10 minutes.  The only thing that came to me after I opened my eyes was that I should go on a walk.

A bit disappointed in not having had some type of revelation or insight into my life, I climbed my stairs and went in my bedroom and changed into my workout clothes.  As I was climbing the stairs, I heard a rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” by The Avett Brothers in my mind.  An early morning dream I had came back to me, and I do remember that it was accompanied by that song.  “Interesting,” I thought, but really didn’t overanalyze why it was there (unusual for me not to analyze, by the way).  I guess I didn’t think much of it because I always wake up with songs in my head, and they can be as random as this one, or as pop-lyric punched as Rihanna’s latest dance hall hit.

When I got to Longacre Park, I began the mile and a half walk that takes you over small hills, around a pond, and in between pine and oak trees.  The sky was overcast and a gentle mist of rain was falling.  The humidity was high, and it took no time for me to work up a sweat.  I slowed down when I saw a slow moving car being followed by a gaggle of geese who were looking for a handout of bread crumbs.  They made me laugh.  They also reminded me to look out for their droppings that littered the gravel trail.  I watched as one mother took pictures of her little child on the swing-set, and I laughed as two geese intercepted me at the little bridge.  They trumpeted at me, and I smiled and talked back to one of them saying, “Hey little dude, you gotta move.”  He didn’t and I had to walk around it and its fresh deposit on our trail.

Halfway around the pond, I began to wonder if I was ever going to have some type of “aha” moment or feel a strong connection with my greater spiritual side.  I recently watched a documentary on the Apollo moon missions.  All of the astronauts talked about how the vastness and silence of space along with the beauty of seeing the earth at a distance revealed to them how everything and everyone is connected not just molecularly but by a strong universal power that is not a man made creation of religion, politics, or even basic science.  I wondered if I would ever feel that way or recognize that our lives, our emotions, our minds, ebb and flow like the tides that are pulled by the moon, which in turn is pulled by some unknown spiritual being or entity.

At the 1 mile mark, I had forgotten that I was even worried about those thoughts, and I had forgotten that I was worried about how I would structure my day or how I would work on trying to achieve my future goals.  I simply started listening to the gravel crunch beneath my tennis shoes.  I looked up and saw a beautiful stretch of pine trees neatly placed in a row and following a white gravel path that wound around a bend.  I heard my morning song, and I realized that this was my moment of revelation.  And just like that, it was gone, but I was one step closer. . .