Category Archives: musings

Musing on Vacuums


file000428351951The first electric vacuum cleaner was simply a pillowcase attached to an electric blower. It wasn’t developed to simplify the life of the housewife, but to ease the dust allergy of a hotel janitor.

I can’t even begin to imagine how badly beating dusty carpets over the back fence would’ve aggravated asthma and allergies. With all our family’s allergies, I feel lucky to live now during the days of efficient vacuums and air filters.

I remember helping Grandma beat the throw rugs outside on sunny days, but my main carpet cleaning memories involved the monstrous vacuum my grandmother had hiding in her hall closet. It was so noisy, it scared me. It was almost as scary as the haunted freezer in the basement. On a side note, if you’re getting the idea I was an anxious child, you’re probably not far off the mark. While I don’t think appliances caused my childhood anxieties about monsters, they certainly didn’t help ease those concerns with all their loud noises.

I’ve gotten over my fears of appliances, but even as an adult, I tend to have a love/hate relationship with my vacuum. It seems like the vacuum cleaners in my life have had a tendency to pick up what they shouldn’t. Pennies, buttons, needles, long strings. Inevitably the motor burns out (with a horrible smell) due to something solid being sucked into the housing that shouldn’t, or the roller stops spinning due to hair and yarn coiled endlessly around it. There’s nothing quite so lovely as the fresh smell of friction-burnt human hair mixed with the scent of burning rubber as the belt once again wears out.

Somewhere along the line, I guess someone forgot tell me that the roller needs to be cleared of long hair and strings regularly. Or I forgot to read the instructions. Either way, I’ve burned out more than my share of vacuum cleaners over the years.

Recently, I was given a brand new vacuum without bags, a stronger dust filter, and an easier turning capacity (which is nice but not something that ever really bothered me about the older models).  Its best feature is that it has non-stop suction that doesn’t quit even when the dustbin is full.

So far, so good. It’s been six months. And I haven’t killed it yet.

~Debi

Advertisements

Musing on Kitchen Stoves


file8021294449903From prehistoric times until the advent of the cook stove, family cooking was done around the fire or the hearth. Most meals consisted of something like meat that could be roasted over a spit, or simple porridges and stews that could be cooked all day in a single pot over an open fire. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s stove for heating, which eventually morphed into a means of heating water and then entire meals, the age of the kitchen appliance had begun.

When wood burning kitchen stoves were first introduced, the idea was nearly universally rejected by women. People who had been raised around the family hearth in the main living area — keeping warm, telling stories, reading books — couldn’t imagine raising a family around a stove in the kitchen. The original wood-burning iron stoves were collapsible, allowing pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail to store their stove flat in their covered wagons, and then to set up their kitchens before they even had a house to call home. Armies during the Civil War used small versions to cook in their encampments.

My Great-grandmother Taylor never did switch to an electric stove or oven. Even into the early 1970’s, she was still cooking family holiday meals on her giant wood-burning iron stove that had traveled with the family from their homestead in Anacortes, through several moves to finally end up in Kirkland.

Grandma Taylor’s adult children frequently offered to replace her wood-burning antique with a new, modern appliance, but Grandma Taylor would have none of that new-fangled mumbo-jumbo in her kitchen. I have vivid memories of her standing over the stove in her house dress and apron, shoving wood into the opening of the stove, and sweating profusely. And she loved every minute of it. It was how she took care of her family.

557757_10150830759832386_932313432_n (2)I remember my first stove. It was made of turquoise colored cardboard and plastic. I was four-years-old and one of my other grandmothers had decided it was time I learned to be a “lady,” so she gave me a play kitchen set for Christmas that year. Becoming a young woman in the early 1960’s was evidently equal in my grandmother’s mind to playing with the trappings of modern American kitchens.

I was the envy of all my friends with my new child-sized kitchen.

But what did I personally think of this modern marvel of play equipment? I hated it. I wanted to use the real thing. I wanted to cook on the real stove, make a real cake in the real oven, or broil a real steak under a real broiler.

I remember my grandmother being worried that I wasn’t going to grow into a real “lady” when I didn’t play with the cardboard kitchen. I often wonder now why she never noticed me at her elbow faithfully stirring the batter for the birthday cupcakes, or setting the timer for the casserole in the oven?

Musing on Freezers


vintage ice box MGD©I can remember standing in my great-grandmother’s kitchen and looking into her ice box. Yes, she had an old-fashioned ice box, complete with regular deliveries from the iceman. The Iceman continued to “cometh” into many homes well into the 1960’s when electric refrigerators and freezers finally made the ice box and its daily deliveryman obsolete.

My great-grandmother’s ice box was a beautiful piece of furniture. It was lined with metal throughout the inside of its thick walls. The main thing I remember coming out of the icebox was the glass milk bottle, complete with little cardboard cover over its opening. My great-grandfather used to take swigs directly from the milk bottle when his wife was out of the room, winking at me to show he trusted me to keep his “secret” from my great-grandma.

At my other grandparents’ house, they had a large deep freeze in the dark recesses of the back of their basement. The kitchen refrigerator only had a tiny freezer compartment, just large enough for holding two metal trays of ice cubes. Anything else to be kept frozen was kept in the deep freeze.

Certain that the dark basement with its gigantic noisy freezer was haunted, I was always terrified to be sent to the deep freeze to retrieve the box of ice cream. Even though being sent to get the treat meant I could have my choice of flavors, it was still my least favorite duty when visiting Grandma. I don’t think anyone in the family ever fully understood I was truly terrified of the basement. Especially of the freezer.

Oh, the imagination of childhood. It isn’t all rainbows and fairies. Sometimes it consists of haunted freezers and demons hiding in dark corners. I was so excited when Grandma finally bought a new refrigerator for the kitchen that had enough space to store the ice cream. No more trips alone down the steep stairway into the belly of the house’s basement. This was one time when the siren call of new-and-better Consumer Culture was a good thing, at least to my tiny childhood self.

Back at my house, my parents were young and somewhat “hip” and usually the first on our street to get the latest and greatest appliances. For example, we were the first house on the block to have color television. We were also the first to have a full-size refrigerator/freezer.

My clearest memory of our freezer was my mom making frozen treats from orange juice or lemonade. Whenever the neighborhood kids and I heard the tell-tale music of the ice cream truck, I was told by my mom that it was the signal for me to come in the house and get one of Mom’s homemade popsicles. At the time, I didn’t realize it was my mom’s way of saving money. It was much cheaper to make frozen treats with juice than to purchase the individual ice pops each day from the ice cream truck. My friends were jealous. Mom’s juice pops were better than any blue or purple freezer-burned offering from the truck. It wasn’t long before my mom had a line of children at the backdoor asking if they could give her their ice cream money for a juice popsicle. She let them keep their change and gave out popsicles freely.

My mom’s nickname in the neighborhood became The Popsicle Lady.  I miss the Popsicle Lady.

~Debi

Musing on Doing Dishes


In her essay, “Trouble Man,” Dodie Bellamy states, “I’m a lousy housekeeper, and by the end of the week dishes are stacked on every available surface of my kitchen.”

Me, too. Surprisingly, even with an automatic dishwasher, the plates, cups, pots, and pans still pile up.  My problem is that the dishwasher needs to be emptied prior to loading in some fresh dirty dishes.  Maybe it’s not so much that I’m a lousy housekeeper, but that I’m a lazy one?  Emptying the dishwasher just seems like too much work.  In reality, it isn’t a lot of work when I actually do it, but my mind tends to make emptying the dishwasher seem like a huge task looming over me that will somehow disrupt my entire day.

Bellamy listens to Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack while she’s getting caught up on the week’s backlog of dried on kitchen gunk.  Sometimes I listen to music, too—my favorite dish washing CD is the soundtrack to the No Reservations movie.  But usually I listen to the soundtrack in my head.  Either a song stuck in my brain, or just my quiet ruminations on life.

There’s something soothing, almost mesmerizing about doing dishes. The mindlessly repetitive, rhythmic movements.  The warm water and fragrant bubbles.  It’s satisfying to take the kitchen from complete disarray, and return it to a clean, shiny state.  Is that why I procrastinate?  Is it less satisfying on some internal level to just do little clean-ups here and there, but never have the transformational experience that comes from a complete overhaul?

Many things I’ve written have developed after a time of quiet personal reflection—believe it or not, usually while standing at the sink up to my elbows in warm, soapy water, gently scrubbing my plates and glassware.  Standing in one place, actively involved with a mindless physical activity, seems to release something creative in my mind.

Many writers over the centuries have used the mindless activity of walking as a physical meditative process.  For me, while I thoroughly enjoy a good walk, I tend to get so caught up in the sights and sounds, people and birds, creatures and weather around me, that my mind isn’t quite as free to wander as it is when I’m staring at a corner and small window of my kitchen.  The kitchen almost works as a sensory deprivation chamber.  There isn’t much to see, or hear, or experience.  Just the warmth, the steam, the water, the suds, the rhythms of the washing.

I wonder why I delay doing the dishes when it’s such a fruitful, creative time for me?  I have no answer.

But on that note, I have dishes awaiting me.  Meditation time draws nigh.

~Debi