The Help


A recurring theme of this blog has been my upside-down relationships with my cleaning ladies over the years – how I tiptoe around and bend over backwards to keep them happy. Even so, last year my Judy informed me that, on doctor’s orders, she was giving up housecleaning and taking a less physically demanding job. I wished her the best, hung up the phone, and immediately went into mourning. I considered myself lucky when very shortly thereafter, a new cleaning lady came along, whom I will call “Vera”.

Looking back, I should have realized that I was still on the rebound. I should have been more careful and taken it slower. But instead I immediately fell into my old patterns. At Vera’s request, I started buying an environmentally-friendly brand of cleaning supplies (with the benefit of being less effective and more expensive). I agreed to her inconvenient wish of coming on Tuesdays instead of my preferred Fridays. Within a few weeks, she knew where to find the house key and could let herself in. I would come home and find a bucketful of wet rags and sponges and disposable wipes by the washer that she expected me to wash and let dry by her next visit. (I ask you, who washes sponges?!!) I would open the cleaning supplies drawer and notice that the bottles of glass cleaner and dishwashing liquid I had just bought were already half empty. All of that I could have dealt with, but, then . . . she started rearranging stuff.

I like my things in particular places. I don’t want the red upstairs bathmats in the downstairs bathroom where the green bathmats should be and now they are upstairs. The chicken statue belongs on the left side of the front door stoop, not the right. The glasses in the kitchen should be placed on the counter with the two tallest in the middle and then decreasing in size to the left and right. The tables in the guest room should form a parallelogram.  But on Tuesday afternoons when I come home from work, I find scenes like this:


Pretty soon, my family members picked up on the habit of pettily blaming Vera for every inconvenience. My daughter can’t find her headphones? “Vera must have put them somewhere.” Yesterday’s newspaper has disappeared and my husband is irritated because he hasn’t read it yet? “Vera must have thrown it away.” The cheese grater is in the wrong kitchen cabinet? “Vera was the one who emptied the dishwasher.”

I have to admit, these are all small things and it is kind of convenient to always have someone to blame. But when Vera went through a phase where she was cancelling every other week, it all came to a head. I considered . . . not exactly firing her . . . but at least talking to her about her physical health and stress levels. Did she really have enough time for this extra job? I broached the subject with her and she just took off, talking a mile a minute – apologizing, explaining, promising things would be better – and not letting me get a word in edgewise. I gave up and decided to try and make the relationship work.

Now I grumble regularly while washing sponges and sigh as I put things back where they belong. I remind myself that Vera is, after all, a nice person and she does sweep the front porch free of leaves each week – something none of her predecessors did. I could do a lot worse. And I really don’t want to be on my own again . . .

So I guess I will stick with her – at least until the day, sometime in the future, when she calls and says she’s found a nicer house to clean.


Happy New Year!

Ever so slightly belated.

Clearly, “stop procrastinating” was not on my list of New Year’s Resolutions this year. That might be because I didn’t actually make one. While listening to some podcast over Christmas vacation, I heard a funny woman say

“To Do lists are a weapon you use to beat yourself up”

– which somehow hit home. And what are new year’s resolutions if not simply more ambitious and glorified versions of the daily tally of undone intentions? So there is no piece of paper lying on my desk this year, commanding me to start jogging or give up coffee. That’s a relief.

Which is not to say I don’t have a few ideas about how to tweak my daily routine and rid it of a few ruts . . .

There are certain gaps in my education and experience that I am considering doing something about. I have never seen the movie “The Godfather”, for instance, which I keep hearing quotes from in political news shows. Another example from the category Must-See-Films-I-Haven’t is “The Big Lebowski” (which, my being from Milwaukee, is apparently an almost unfathomable sin of omission).  And then there is the fact that for thirty years, I have lived 5 minutes away from the largest hot springs spa in Austria, with a special, luxurious, adults-only section for which I have a lifetime 50% discount – and I have never been there. Similarly, for the past 4 years, a beautiful grand piano has occupied half of my living room and I have only played it once.

I’m a creature of habit for sure. Every day begins with the same movements – the donning of the same blue bathrobe, the trip to the bathroom, the petting of the dog on the stairs en route to the coffee machine and the swallowing of a daily vitamin and thyroid pill. From there it is off to the laptop for a quick email check and a Good Morning, Rachel . . . (thanks to the time difference, Maddow is my morning news show). So far none of this requires much tweaking, but other habits have snuck into my days that don’t do me much good. For instance, the additional daily doses of disillusionment that Donald delivers. I could do without those. And those educational gaps I mentioned above? Well, I have thought about these so many times over so many years that one could argue I have made a habit of not doing them. Not keeping up with this blog is another bad habit in that category. It’s the one I’m planning to quit today.

I binged some “Big Bang Theory” over Christmas and had to laugh about Sheldon’s quest to find the perfect date (with mathematical symmetry) for his wedding. I do the same thing all the time – a habit I started back when I was a smoker and repeatedly looked for a memorable date on which to make my next attempt at quitting. (Just as an aside here, the date that finally worked was my daughter’s birthday.) Well, this blog post was written on the 19th and 20th days of 2019 – how is that for symmetry?

I hope it is not premature to say that it’s good to be back.