"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Mess for Every Season (Blessed Be the Mess!)

I am a lackadaisical housekeeper. Some people would call me slovenly, but I don't care for that kind of person and so they don't get invited to my house anyway. Nevertheless, it is true that for a woman who voluntarily became a housewife, I sure hate to clean.

Don't get me wrong: There are many housewifely duties that I enjoy very much - I love to cook, for example, and I am a damn good home cook, if I do say so myself. And when I say "cook," I don't mean that I can throw together a pretty good meal. That is sort of the least of it. I mean that I take very seriously my job of nourishing my family: I am knowledgeable about nutrition; I am thrifty and know how and where to shop to get maximum bang for the family buck; I have put together a serious pantry out of which we could eat, if we had to, for months; I have taken up the gauntlet of providing a large share of the family's food through gardening and animal husbandry; and I have - if you will forgive the hubris - a deeper and wider knowledge base about preparing all kinds of food from scratch than almost anyone I have met in my generation. With deep humility, I acknowledge my friend Sarah, who kicks the shit out me in the kitchen. I am about as good a cook as my mother, and that is saying something.

But man, I do hate to clean. Laundry is okay, I can handle laundry, pretty much, although now that spring is here I feel guilty for using the dryer instead of hanging out the clothes on the line. But I literally can't think of another cleaning task I don't absolutely loathe. I hate the dishes, the never-ending mountains of dishes, which make me feel like Sisyphus on a bad day. You finish one mountain and ten minutes later there is another mountain behind it. It makes me want to force us all to live like Bhuddist monks, with only one bowl apiece and not even a spoon to our name. I make my teenage daughter scrub the bathroom. As far as I can tell, having a live-in bathroom scrubber is just about the only reason to have a teenage daughter. Well, that and a live-in babysitter. The day she decides she doesn't want to clean the bathroom anymore is the day I suggest she get a job and an apartment.

Since I hate cleaning so much, I tend to do it rather the same way that most of us fill our gas tanks - the minimum required to get us through the day. The bare minimum I can get away with daily, I have found, is dishes twice a day, a thorough sweeping, and wiping of all major surfaces. That, of course, is in addition to all my non-cleaning tasks like childcare, shopping, cooking, chaffuering, animal care, bill paying, et cetera. The deep cleaning like mopping and crevice-scrubbing, tends to be an occasional affair. Like when I can occasionally afford to hire someone to help.

As I was cleaning the kitchen today, I started ruminating on the seasonal nature of messes on a farm. It being late April, we are still in the throes of mud season. The twice-daily chores require that we trudge through the mud, and inevitably, some gets tracked into the house. Personally, I take off my shoes in the playroom, but I haven't been able to train Homero to do the same. At least there is finally enough new grass for him to wipe his shoes on on the way back to the house after chores, but even so, I am constantly finding horrible clots of mud, poop, and grass on the floors. Mud season is the main reason I spent so much money to get rid of the carpets and install hardwood floors. Said horrible clots are much easier to sweep off a hard surface than they are to remove from a carpet.

Cheese season has begun. I love cheese season - I love milking, I love making cheese, I love making yogurt. However I can't say I love the cheesemaking mess. For the duration of cheese season (April to September) there tends to be a faint tang of sour milk hanging in the air of the kitchen. During cheese season, I have to break out all the big jars, the gallon and half-gallon sized jars, and there are always jars hanging out on the counter that maybe needed to be scrubbed a little better than I scrubbed them. There are always acres of cheesecloth, used once and rinsed well in boiling water and hung up to dry and use again. Every time I open the fridge, the smell of green cheese wafts out. There is usually a ziploc bag or two full of cheese-crumbles past their prime that needs to be disposed of. When I milk the goats, I usually get at least a little milk on my shirt or on my jeans, and if it's just a squirt or two it seems a pain in the ass to change clothes... until it gets hot later in the afternoon and somewhere around four o'clock in line at the grocery store I start thinking "what is that smell?" and it's me. Brings me back to my breastfeeding days, when I always smelled faintly of sour milk....

High summer will bring on the canning mess - perhaps the biggest mess of all. First you bring in a dozen or a score of pounds of produce fresh from the garden, which means dirt and bugs all over the kitchen table... then you wash it and stem it or de-leaf it or whatever is called for, thus creating a large quantity of compost... and if it is something juicy like strawberries or staining like beets that creates it's own situation. Then there is always the possibility for a disaster like a ketchup explosion (see photo) or a jam eruption. The smell of burnt sugar lingers for weeks, as does the smell of fermentation from your half-sour kosher dills or your kim chee. Hardened jam is like lacquer, and requires a serious expenditure of elbow grease and steel wool to remove from a ceramic stovetop. Basically, for the entire preserving season - say, June to October - you can expect your kitchen to be a disaster area.

As exhausting as the mess is, however, it has it's compensations. The mess is tangible proof that you are doing your job. The mess is an incontrovertible sign of progress. The ever-changing mess is a kind of sacred calendar, a way of marking the seasons, a book of days and works (http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/works.htm). The mess reminds me that I am also a part of the earth and it's yearly cycle. Like the birds and the beasts, I have my appointed rounds according to the season and the gifts thereof. In the spring I plant and milk; in the summer I reap and preserve, in the autumn I slaughter, hoard and burrow. In the winter we abide.

Blessed be the mess!


Ruth @ Hope, Joy and Faith Farm said...

Dang, I try to not think about the seasonal mess (we're in the middle of mud season also, and with dogs who help me do morning chores and then come in the house, it's so much worse). I love the look and the feeling I have when my house is clean, but I hate getting to that point.

Laura said...

Hooray for us slovenly people - we rock!

During mud season, I don't mop my kitchen floors. I take my shoes off at the back door, but the dogs and cats don't. Since my carpet (which I would love to rip out) is red mud dirt colored, you don't see it.

When (if?) it stops raining, I'll clean the floor. Until then, it just doesn't make sense.

I have 2 camp chef outdoor burners, that I use for dyeing. I also use them for canning. In the summer, it's nice not to heat up the house! Also, any explosions happen outside, where there's less to clean up (other than the pot and the burners). You might think about something like that - saves the kitchen, for sure!!

Aimee said...

Laura now that is a good idea!

Julie Ard James said...

I am so glad I found your blog!!! My daddy is a dairy farmer and I am getting back to my roots on our family farm. Not only am I loving reading about your farming, I am loving your sense of humor, reminds me of my own!!! :) And I want one of those goats, bad!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Blessed Be the Mess- I love it! You clean more than I do, but at least we have a portable dishwasher and Tom helps too. So now I need to develop a new attitude- the mess represents the tremendous amount of work we do, and we bring the fruits of our labors into our home (and a little mess too).

Snohomish Shepherdess said...

Life's messy, and blessed be the mess! I can totally relate to everything you've said here (except the hiring someone to clean part). Once or twice a year I actually try and take a half-hearted stab at seriously cleaning, but I can never get totally enthused with the project. I usually run out of steam or find more interesting projects (or hurt myself) before I'm done.