Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holiday Survival Guide

He says

One of the things that makes my wife and me a good pair is our complimentary ways of hosting guests.

For her, the arrival of guests is cause to bring out all the household finery and engage in some wonderful table conversation. I’m always stunned by her unique table and food displays and vivid conversation. As a result we eat amazingly well and leave a crowd of equally amazed and satisfied guests.

Now my own instincts for guests run in a contrary direction. I feel the need to make the house spotless and organized and to ensure that the guests have time to relax when they’re at our house. My instincts - honed by years of assisting at many of my mother and grandmother’s very traditional Arabic gatherings - are to ensure that guests are free to unburden themselves and recline and relax.

The result has been (I like to think) a series of very enjoyable evenings for our friends and family. The process, however, has made for some very interesting discussions between my wife and me.

“What are you doing ... do you have to do that now ... is that really necessary?”

These words may be no surprise to those who know us well. It's not a secret to those who know us well that at first we spent a lot of time running at cross purposes to one another. No sooner would she open the kitchen than I would want to clean it up; no sooner than I would empty the sink and restore items in the closet than she would pull them all out again for the next course.

“Will you desist!” was often on both of our lips when we would get into this state; or sometimes (more politically) “Why don’t you take a break - you look tired.”

Over time, and after much discussion and trial and error and (sometimes) spats of mutual irritation, we’ve come to some compromises. Here are some on the list below:

  • We work in intervals; my wife cooks for a cycle and then I’ll clean for a cycle.
  • We coordinate the event in advance; we negotiate the number of dishes and the type of service - big crowd equals paper dishes; little crowd equals fine china and crystal.
  • We back off; events can be stressful and sometimes the kitchen acts as a zone to blow off steam.
  • Guests can help; we’ve begun to allow our guests to both bring food, wine and desert as well as to help with the clean up when appropriate.

These (and other) arrangements have made our events much less stressful and more successful. We’ve had more fun planning and enjoying since we’ve worked together more cooperatively and it has made the whole house feel happier than ever when the holidays arrive.

Even our young children have begun to feel the change.

My four year old daughter (because she’s a bit older I think) has recently been taken by all the excitement of guests. She has begun to arrange tea parties and dinners for her stuffed animals. She has also, of late, begun to plan events and compose guest lists. I think this has happened because of the many events and guests that we’ve hosted over the holidays and new year.

Now, also being a four year old, she has other interests as well. In particular, she also shares the interests of her preschool peers in cartoon movie characters.

So I suppose it should have been little surprise to us when she melded these passions together.

On a recent night in our house, as I was typing out some emails to work I heard my daughter chatting happily in the background into her toy phone.

“No, Wednesday’s no good .... uh huh .... well I can make ice cream and chocolate chip pancakes if you like ... okay, I’ll see you on Friday.”

It all sounded cute and silly and I paid little attention to her patter.

After a time she came up to me purposefully and planted herself in front of my chair.

“Daddy,” she said with her toy phone in one hand and the other akimbo on her hip, “I just spoke with Megatron. The Deceptacons are coming to Shabbat dinner on Friday.”

“Oh boy,” I thought, “They probably won’t help clean up either.”

She says

We both tend to go overboard. I have my Nana's knack for pulling out all the stops; our events scream (with a Brooklyn-ny nasal accent) "hazah, hazah". They may not have all the bling of her diamond district jewelry nor the pizazz of her bleached, blond beehive, but like her ruby red lipstick, they tend to leave a mark. Esther was a famous cook and entertainer; more than 50 years later people still reminisce with me about her baking, cooking, knitting, cleaning, and presentation. She was fearless and brazen; no dish was too complicated, and no method was too daunting, and all bent to her skill and creativity, making each event a culinary triumph.

But she was no picnic. Esther was, ironically, a tough cookie. I spent much of my youth in awe of her, fearing her wrath and yearning for her love, both of which she gave in abundance. My standards for entertaining were set by my Nana's example, but I do not have her ruthless sense of purpose or drive. Once, she made an elaborate dinner party for the family,my uncle (her son), and his fiancee, and at the very end publicly humiliated them by announcing that she refused to accept their marriage. My Mother clearly remembers her marching my Grand-Father to vacuum in front of everyone right after another meal, retaining rank and order in a single bound. Everyone left her gatherings well fed and agitated. She never understood why, and was genuinely sad and confused about her relationships.

I have no desire to treat my husband or guests that way. I want my home to be a warm place where people can come and enjoy themselves. I want delicious food that makes people smile and ask for a second helping. I want my children to remember holidays as happy occasions, replete with family and love.

None of this can be accomplished however if 10 minutes before everyone arrives I am acting like a mental case because I can't find the rafia my husband cleverly hid. Or he is cursing because I made two brisket courses (it happens). Or if we have been fighting or worse silently resenting the other for whatever he or she did or did not do, finding ourselves at cross purposes. I agree that the key to success is communication before, during, and after an event.

We try to talk it out and then stay out of each other's way. This year he begged me not to ask him to do any last minute shopping. He always returns with the wrong thing from the wrong store that I didn't need anyway because I finagled it after he took too long to get it (sigh). And of course I am none to gracious about it, leaving him confused and angry and me pissed and empty-handed. So I honored his request and took extra care with the shopping, ordering in advance and making sure everything was on hand. Quid pro quo, I like to set a nice table. And tend to get anxious in the hours leading up to the event. So when the piles are still all over the dining room 30 minutes before guests are to arrive, my heart starts beating like an Edgar Allen Poe story. This time I asked him if he could clean up earlier, explaining why as best I could. And he did it, no questions asked. The place was spotless by early afternoon, and I was very, very grateful.

Both if us respond well when the other acknowledges the work we did. We make a point of toasting each other in front of the guests and thanking each other for the help. And when one of us says back off, we do. This makes for a cheerful and generous atmosphere at our occasions, more so than any of my cooking or his cleaning. That's what counts. I know my Nana and Megatron would be proud.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

He says:

I find that any activity for which I don't have a meaningful purpose, drifts towards mindlessness and ultimately to boredom. This tendency is especially true of household tasks. Taken by themselves, they aren't all that inspiring and it becomes an affair with no real beginning and end. It also becomes that much easier to abandon the tasks all together.

For me, the mission of cleaning has many purposes. But the most important to me (even more especially that I have children) are as follows:
  • Safety - any immediate physical threat to our persons
  • Health - any condition which could open our house to illness.
If I have time for nothing else at the end of the day, I attend to any items that could prove a threat to either of these purposes. This helps me to focus my energy on the few tasks that will give me the most bang for my buck.

Here are some of the things I try to do in the name of safety and health.

  • Have a place for and put away all sharp objects. Knives, blades, skewers, even forks need to be taken off of shelves and out of sinks and cleaned and put away as soon as they are out of use. If you're putting these things in the dishwasher, please, please, please put them in point downwards and remove them promptly.
  • Turn off all heat generating appliances - stoves, ovens, toasters, skillets, hot plates, etc... must be turned off when they are out of use. Tea pots should be moved to the back of the stove.
  • Clear or mop any item or liquid that could cause someone to slip. Water, milk, yogurt, balls, beads, etc... should be dealt with before someone else finds them (accidentally).
  • Cover and refrigerate all perishable foods. Whenever I'm in doubt of a product, I will put it in the refrigerator - better safe than sorry.
  • Sweep up all crumbs and other food on the floor. We live in a small city, mice and less desirable creatures are not just in books.
  • Promptly throw away anything that has an odor, color or texture that makes you think twice. Save your life before you save your money.
This is a very short list. I try to keep it short to keep myself focused on the essentials. Often too, I find that if I take care of our safety and health first, it is enough. I can live with other clutter, so long as I know that no-one will be hurt or become ill on my watch.

I also find that when I think of myself as guarding our family from danger, the task of cleaning becomes less prosaic. I might, in my mind, very well be the cop on the beat or the firefighter on the watch or the doctor on their rounds when I perform these tasks.

In this light, far from being mindless, cleaning becomes very noble.

She says:

Well, we are not very far apart on this issue. I do prioritize my shopping and cooking by safety and health. For example, no BPA cans or plastics come into our pantry. And we just chucked all the plastic containers for glass. As far as health goes, we read like a key word search: gluten free, organic, raw, free range, kosher, and pasture raised products dominate our fridge. I am not doctrinaire about any of these, but do my best to adhere as often as possible in an effort to provide healthier food for family.

This all takes a lot of research and work; it cannot be accomplished by simply going to the A&P across the street (although we are frequent visitors). I have managed to come up with a wide variety of stores, both brick and click, that help supply us with food, recipes, and ideas (some are provided at the bottom of this post). I am always looking for new resources, as well as shopping and reading from those I have come to depend upon. This can be time consuming, but the results are worth while. Our food bills are down considerably, my husband (alas, not me) has lost weight, we always have hungry and happy visitors in the house, and my kids don't have a complete glucose meltdown every time I give them a piece of (awesome) almond flour, sugar free cake.

I have recently found a local supplier for pasture raised eggs and raw milk products. On the latter, um honey...I have been meaning to talk to you about this. Just noodle on it, ok? And here is a great site describing the benefits of these products. Please love me.

Finally, we have recently been making efforts to become more kosher. I know, some say that is like being a little pregnant...just put those thoughts aside. My husband was born Catholic. Kosher to him was about as foreign as it was to me, born Jewish and raised on pork chops. It is something I have always been interested in, flirted with, until recently. Being kosher requires cooking and cleaning to become one effort, as you need both to be in synch in order to be compliant. My amazing husband self-cleaned our oven for us so it would be koshered. He then looked up how to do the same for the stove top and offered to help get this done. All in the same week we let the cleaning people go because of budget cuts.

Of course this effort also strongly impacts my cooking and shopping, but I truly believe that it is my husband's herculean and overwhelmingly generous offerings that bind us together and make our family stronger. The informal definition of kosher is proper, legitimate, genuine, or authentic, and that pretty much sums up our home and family, as well as our marriage.

  • Nuts online. Great flours, sweeteners, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, beans, and spices. Excellent customer service
  • Kols Foods. Kosher, pasture raised, grass fed, organic poultry, meat, and lamb. The best I have ever eaten.
  • Amazon. Great for kitchen supplies, especially if you can purchase with free 2 day shipping. They also have some food supplies including dry goods.
  • Trader Joe's. They do not ship online but truly have the best and most inexpensive selection of food available.
  • Eat Wild. A great resource for locating local farms and food. Especially good for meat and dairy products.
  • Slow Family Living. A fun blog about taking it a little slower and enjoying life.

Recipes and ideas
  • The Jew and the Carrot: Contemporary thought on Jewish food and environmental thinking.
  • Smitten Kitchen. Every time I think my kitchen is inadequate, I turn to this site, written out of tiny NYC galley kitchen.
  • Elana's Pantry: Gluten free cooking at its best.
  • Umami Girl. Full disclosure - she is a friend. But a great and very funny site with super recipes and ideas.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sweating with the Dishes

He says:

It can be very challenging to try and keep a house clean when you are a busy parent. The natural activity of a family both multiplies the cleaning tasks that need to be performed and also absorbs the time required to perform them. I often find myself in the bind of having to choose between taking care of the family, the house and myself. 

One of the easiest things for me to concede in this dilemma is exercise, and I have to admit that there have been periods of time when I’ve fallen into that trap. This concession (when I make it) has proven to be a crucial mistake. Leaving exercise out of my life has drained me of the energy I need to get through each day and leaves me open to injury - I’ve thrown out my back several times. 

After the birth of my daughter, my clever wife partially solved this dilemma for me with the gift of a jogging stroller. When we had only one child this was an adequate solution as it allowed me to care for my daughter and keep fit at the same time. But as my daughter has grown out of the stroller and with the arrival of my son, it now provides only limited relief. 

What I’ve found most effective for me now is a combination of jogging (when possible) and my cleaning workout. 

The cleaning workout started as a desperate attempt to slim down after the birth of my son and then again after his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. I’d gained enough weight on both occasions to burst out of my wardrobe - which was an both an added worry and a blow to my self esteem. It also put me on alert for my back, which when it goes out is debilitating. 

I began to cobble together a workout that could be done in my kitchen. It contained elements of the following: 

  • Warm up calisthenics from high school sports. 
  • Stretching and pushup exercises from John Peterson’s Pushing Yourself to Power.
  • Yoga exercises from Devotion Yoga and Rodney Yee books and videos
  • Stretching and core exercises from my physical therapy for my back
  • Stretching and core exercises from a personal trainer I had when I was newly married

I tried to make the workout as flexible as possible so that I could attend to the kids and resume without feeling like I’d lost my momentum. I also wanted something that would allow me to do small workouts - for as little as ten minutes - to take advantage of any free time I had available. 

Now possibly because there is time in the early morning and then again in the later evening I found myself again and again doing some light housework either before or after the workout. Lately I’ve begun to integrate those cleaning elements into the workout itself. Here are some things that I’ve found: 

  • Loading or unloading the dishwasher makes a great warm up. 
  • I can usually run a load of laundry through the washer or dryer over the time that it takes to work out. 
  • A fully cluttered room can be cleared in four or five 5 minute rest intervals between sets of pushups and squats. 
  • Sweeping before a workout helps me avoid random bits of food the kids have hit the floor with. 
  • Mopping after a workout is a great warm down. 
  • There is no better time to clean your bathroom than when you are already sweaty and ready for a shower. 

The other benefit that I find in integrating these cleaning activities into the workout is that it slows me down. These deliberate pauses keeps me mindful of my limitations and prevents me from pushing myself too hard. Taking 5 minutes to put toys away or change a diaper or get my son his next serving of breakfast, gives me time to be thoughtful about my level of effort and take stock of how I am feeling. I have cut short or extended workouts based on these small breaks and have had far fewer pulled muscles. 

The last benefit, and perhaps the most important, is that working out in small increments has allowed me to integrate some of my son’s physical therapy drills between my own drills. I can help him to walk or to climb or to reach from a swiss ball for a toy on the floor in equal 5 minute increments and then allow him some equal time in unstructured play. He seems to love it. 

And the fitness benefits have been modestly good and sustainable. I’ve been able to work out three to six times a week in this fashion. Also, together with the running and the healthy food that my wife prepares for us (which you'll hear more about below), I’ve dropped about twelve pounds from my all time high - I now fit into my cloths. Finally, and most importantly for me, because I’ve integrated the back exercises from my physical therapy (and have periodically returned for a refresher course) I have not had a recurrence of my back pain since taking this routine up. 

All that being said, please note that I’m offering this technique as a way to integrate exercise into the daily activities of cleaning and caring for a family. I hope you find it interesting and helpful. I am not a personal trainer or a physical therapist or a doctor and have relied on the advice of these folks to keep me from getting hurt. I would strongly recommend that if you decide to try this yourself, please consider talking to one or more of these folks to ensure you get off on the right foot. 

She Says:

I just got back from my 20 year reunion and boy is my ass big.  

I looked around at all the faces from my youth, and we had all aged, gained weight, grown up, wrinkled, and matured.  It is inevitable I suppose, but I really was surprised to see that everyone had changed, that it was not only me.  

I had been very nervous to go and changed outfits 6 or 7 times.  I bought new Spanx.  I held in my stomach and redid my make-up, but at the end of the day I have the body of a 38 year old with 2 young children, who never gets to formally exercise.  I belong to a fancy gym but rarely have time to go.  My house has three floors and I am running up and down day and night, which is as close to cardio as I get these days.  With both kids in the stroller plus baggage I am easily pushing 100 + pounds to and fro each day, but none of it constitutes a real work out.  

My husband is far more creative and diligent.  He has found a myriad of ways to stay fit and incorporates it into his routine.  I remember when our first child was born and we were sleepless.  I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, nursing and pumping incessantly, never showering in between the 3 hour shifts.  I remember going out on our first date alone, and Dave complaining that he never has time to exercise, and I went berserk.

"Exercise.  Exercise!!! I haven't slept or showered for months.  Your down time is spent resting.  Mine is spent attached to the MACHINE (the breast pump) or the kid.  You get to go to work with grown ups every day.  I am a full time milk maid and my only hobbies include cleaning up puke and shit and everything else in between.  Exercise!"

Yeah, I was a banshee mental case.  When our son came along 2 years later, we had a similar argument.  Dave had managed to lose 15 pounds and publish a prize winning essay within 3 months post partum.  My accomplishments included eating an entire box of Cheez-It's in a single session.  I was sure he was getting the better end of the bargain, and that there must have been tremendous disparity in our responsibilities.  But I was wrong.  My amazing husband had just managed to incorporate exercise of the body and mind in an amazingly economical and creative way, and was able to go above and beyond his goals with a little ingenuity and hard work.  You can see in his post how carefully he has arranged his time and compounded efforts to get things done.  It is a testament to his personal fortitude and sense of self. 

After my son's diagnosis I went on Zoloft, and that has also had an impact on my weight.  I cannot seem to lose or gain an ounce, which I am told is a common side effect.  On rare occasions I do find time to get to the gym, but it does not seem to make a difference as far as weight goes.  It does do a lot for my morale, and I have to say I am really in it for the zen-like spa showers as well as their policy of forced prohibition against small children banging at the door.  

Between therapy sessions, insurance haggles, doctor appointments, my daughter's schedule, and my husband's needs, there is is very little time for me to eat, exercise, or properly take care of myself.  But despite this I do a lot of cooking and try to keep only healthy food in the house.  We eat meat only twice a week, and it is all kosher, grass fed, and pasture raised.  Every meal includes whole vegetables and fruits.  Our dairy intake has decreased and I am experimenting with gluten free cooking.  Take out has been minimized.  Cooking and writing have become my outlets, my best efforts to channel positive and healthy things into our lives.  I think our family is living better as a result of it, but I sure wish I could see more visible results in the mirror.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making a Treasure Chest

He says

Hoy! Me Hearties! Let's make a treasure chest!

Sorry, couldn't resist a little pirate nonsense. Pirates and Buccaneers were not reputed to be the most hygienic of lots, but they did have a reputation for collecting what's important and putting in a safe spot. I've found that a good practice to emulate in organizing a house too.  

When you have many people living in a house, it has a tendency to get cluttered with all kinds of stuff. One of the great challenges in cleaning is having or finding a place for that stuff. Sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of a day is always made easier when you have a place for things. 
  • Books in a case 
  • Keys on a hook 
  • Hats on a shelf 
  • Spoons in a drawer 
  • You get the idea
That being said there are just some things (a lot of some things if you have kids) that just don't have a place. 
  • Party favors
  • Random game parts 
  • Little cute things you just can't throw out 
  • Beads 
  • Dominos
  • Marbles
What to do with all this stuff? If you kept it all, it would eventually overrun your house. If you throw it all out, there's a good chance you'll be kicking yourself when you remember what that little bronze screw was actually for ... or your spouse does. 

My self imposed solution for items like this is to create a treasure chest. Making a treasure chest is one of those sow's ears into a silk purse kind of cleaning techniques. It gives you a place for things that don't have a home and keeps them under control. Think of it as the island of misfit toys for household junk.  

I use a small box or basket, no bigger than a medium sized moving box, to collect these items. I never let the contents of the treasure chest exceed it's size. When you reach the brim, it's time to rethink the contents and discard with the oldest members. When you can't muster the gumption to do this yourself, it's time call a family cookie, milk and treasure sorting meeting. 

These events are best saved for a rainy day or cold winter night. I find it's best to set rules for a treasure sorting meeting: 
  • Everyone can pick a certain number of items for keeps. 
  • Eye patches and rubber parrots are encouraged. 
  • The remaining items get sorted into two piles: keep and discard. 
  • Every member of the party gets one veto. 
  • Every member of the party gets one override. 
You can also use the party to decorate the treasure box with crayons, stickers, paint, etc... it's your party. 

I've included a picture of our current treasure box and some of it's contents. Please feel free to share your own treasure sifting, hunting, partying experiences here. I'd be interested to know what you think. 

Good luck buccaneer!

She says

My husband is a rare breed of man who organizes meticulously. He can sort heroically through piles of mail, laundry, debris, insurance claims, you name it, and all with infinite patience and marked expertise.  When he is done, everything is reorganized, cross categorized, and exceptionally efficient.  So much so that he is the only person who can find anything in our house.  

When we first started dating I would jokingly call him the 'loser', because I could never find anything once it fell into his hands.  He indignantly reminded me that he is a 'finder', the one who can find anything.  This is true, because he is the only one who knows where anything is, ever.

"Honey, where's the 12 containers of dish detergent I ordered? Oh, on the third floor where we have no plumbing/2 flights from the kitchen?  At the top of the closet where I can't reach without a fire ladder? OK, thanks."

On the other hand, if left to my own devices I would eventually drown myself and my family in the inevitable mess I leave in my wake.  I am the kind of person who puts the old milk back in the fridge and opens the new one without pause.  It is not unusual to find catalogs from 2005 by my bedside table.  I have no problem buying new underwear when I run out of clean unmentionables.  

When it comes to organizing, I am great at solutions, horrendous at maintenance.  I can take apart a closet like nobody's business, but it will all have shifted into a state of entropy three days later.  This dynamic is OK with me, but it makes my poor husband crazy.  He walks around muttering and in disbelief that I am not going to put the whatever it is today away right now, that I can happily let it go a while longer.  

Sometimes I give in and even clean pre-emptively before he comes home.  The kids take it apart 10 minutes later, leaving me with a sense of futility as well as anxiety for husband's well being.  That is when I go to my room, open the computer, and play Bejeweled Blitz for a while.  I am not much of a gamer, but I really enjoy blowing things up after days like this.  

And so his catch all solution is a great idea for us not just because it is simple, fun, and creative, but because I don't have to throw anything out and he can't be blamed for losing things.  It's really the perfect solution for us. I also love how earnestly my wonderful husband writes about his idea - he really tries so hard to make our house a home, shelter from the storm.  He is the most valuable jewel in our treasure box. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Role call

He Says:
I’m always surprised when people exhibit surprise that I clean; and am further surprised when they are shocked to observe that this assertion is true. 

“Wow,” I’ve heard many times, “You really cleaned up.” 

But it was not until my time here with my wife, that I thought there was anything unusual about a man cleaning. I grew up among men who clean. The men in my mother’s family in particular were meticulous with the care and appearance of all their possessions; cloths, rooms, bicycles, cars, etc... My father too was extremely organized (though less meticulous) and taught me the many benefits of proceeding through your work systematically. 

I also hung out in the Boy Scouts - no joke - and spent a great part of my weekends as a young man outdoors and camping. There I learned to cook and to clean. 

“Leave only footprints,” was the motto we were trained to live by while in the woods. 

So cleaning was an integral part of my life from before I was aware that men as a gender had a reputation for not cleaning. Cleaning now is, luckily to my mind, so much a part of my person that no counter training can take it out of me. It’s as much a part of my life as baseball, reading and car maintenance; removing cleaning from my character would be like trying to extract a specific metal in a hardened alloy. 

That being said, I would like to offer the single principle that  is required for anyone who wishes to organize or clean. 

When confronted with a dreadful mess (there are many), always start by making a place for your work to occur. In the office, this would be a clean desk; in the basement, this would be a tool bench; in the yard, a tool shed; in the kitchen, the sink, the strainer, the dishwasher and a portion of the shelf. Start by clearing a space to work. 

When I make myself a place to work, it’s like establishing a beachhead for an army to land on. It’s a safe zone to begin the greater good that I hope to accomplish in that space. 

You may, depending on the size of the mess, need to over stack another messy area in the zone in which you are working. This is okay. It may for the short term, make the mess slightly larger than it was. This is okay too. Because without that work zone, you will be doubling or tripling the time to complete your task. 

“Keep your work area clean,” I remember my shop teacher repeating over and over again in Junior High, “You’ll avoid an accident and make your work better.” 

At the time, I was both annoyed with the mandate awed by the confidence with which he spoke the words; it made me uncomfortably aware how much I had to learn. But it also gave me a simple principle I could get started with. 

Keep your work area clean. 

She Says:
People always seem surprised that I cook, but never for the same reasons.  

There is one camp that compares me with the general population and assumes that I just cannot possibly find the time to put together a home cooked meal, much less execute on a nightly basis.  When I tell them about my cooking they ooh and aah with disbelief.  It reminds me of my daughter's book, StellaLuna, a tale of a fruit bat who loses her mom and lives with birds in a nest.  When she rediscovers her bat friends, they exclaim, "

You ate bugs!" 

"You slept at night!"

 Similar shock seems to reign in my conversations with statements like, 

"You cut the carrots yourself?" 

"You grind your own meat?"

"You bake your own bread?"

These kinds of tasks have become part of my daily routine, and so they don't seem very special until my friends and family point out that not too many folks are actually doing like work.  It is flattering and at the same time discomforting that I stand out from my peers in this regard.  I wish I had more friends with whom I could compare notes and trade recipes.  I would love to have more shared time in the kitchen, poring over recipes and pouring another cup of tea for two (or more).  Breaking bread together makes friends, but baking bread together makes best friends. 

When I was working full time there was another camp that simply refused, REFUSED to believe that I did much less could cook. People would come to my house and act like I had brought the food in, as if I were trying to pull the wool over their eyes.  I recall my daughter's first birthday; ok, I admit I went a little overboard.  I made homemade hummus and sesame noodles.  There was a huge grilled platter, and I also made the birthday cake (which was truth be told, fabulous).  One guest made a comment that it must have been catered (and expensive); I knew from the derisive tone that it was not a compliment.  Similar remarks have been put forward regarding my sewing  my (albeit rare) cleaning, and even my mothering.  I know in my mind that these folks are just projecting their own anxieties, but my heart still hurts everytime I get those remarks.

And then there is the final group, which clearly passes judgement on how my husband and I have divided responsibilities in the house.  "You have a husband that cleans!" is a dual sword.  On the one hand, I think some folks are jealous because a) the house looks great due to Dave's efforts, b) we eat very well due to my efforts, and c) our marriage has managed to hold up under this arrangement.  On the other hand, there tends to be an undertone of "Isn't that your job, woman" to the entire operation.  And it is a fair question, especially now that I am home with the kids.  I do what I can, but honestly cannot manage a house, 2 kids (one of whom has special needs and endless appointments), shop, cook, and clean more than twice a day.  I just don't have it in me. Thankfully my husband is exceptionally good at cleaning and kind enough not to foist those painful expectations on me.  In marriage, I find that knowing each other's strengths is important, and accepting each other's limitations (self imposed or otherwise) is crucial to shared understanding.   A little kindness goes a long way.

Sometimes it is bumpy and messy, but overall this works for us as a couple and family.  I am proud of all that we do, and love our home.