Category Archives: appliances

Write You Are

There’s a wonderful article about writing in this week’s New Yorker. It’s by John McPhee–a man whose essays usually throw me into a frenzy of irritation. But this one won my admiration. It was compassionate. And wise. Replete with helpful suggestions. It isn’t the first piece he’s published on the subject, but it is, in my opinion, the best. It starts at writers’ block, then ranges to rewriting, copy editors, a writer’s despair, the virtues of dictionaries. It’s a charming meditation–ruminative, loving, and, to me, at least, encouraging.

I don’t consider myself a writer, of course. How can I? I’m not paid to do it–although I have been, on occasion, in the past. Still, a person oughtn’t to toss around titles like “writer”–or any other, for that matter–without a certain on-paper credibility. I’m touchy about this. Perhaps because I had a husband, at one point, who used to routinely call himself a “film producer.” He’d never gotten within a thousand miles of a piece of celluloid. But he had aspirations, and felt that one could become something only by claiming to already be it.

“Great,” I replied. “I’m the president. Get me Air Force One”

Needless to say we didn’t stay married.

I do write, though. Obviously. So I relate to certain dilemmas encountered by writers. Block, specifically. But not just that. The elation that comes from writing a good sentence. And despair. Oh, despair. Mine, of course, has applied to far more than the words I pen. But I do get the literary variety. Particularly since I started blogging. I’ve written before about the senselessness I fear is attached to this particular art form. At least the way I practice it. I’ve talked, too, about bloggers I don’t think are senseless. Those I admire desperately. Lisa B. Adams, for example, whose poems and prose about living with metastatic breast cancer continue to devastate and awe me every time I read her.

But me? I’m mostly silly. I write about dishwashers, pipe cleaners, dog hair. I pen odes to Trader Joe’s. I discuss my daughter’s bodily functions at great length. I keep things superficial, anodyne, occasionally humorous. I never talk about my marriage. Or politics. Sex is off the menu completely. On the blog, mind you. In real life–ahem.

See? I’m clamming up.

I don’t even tell you my name.

There’s a level of self-revelation I really should aspire to. It’s what nearly all successful bloggers employ. They talk about their body image issues. Their fear of wrinkles. One mommy blogger I know described in great detail how she made grocery lists while her husband screwed her. Others discuss depression, illness, mania. Me, on the other hand? I stick to cleaning debacles, light chats with my three-year-old, cooking disasters. Does this make me a coward? Blocked? Or just a mildly bad housewife?

McPhee suggests, in his article, that those unable to get a first draft on paper should use a little trick. Just, you know, to get the juices flowing. They should start with a clean page. At the top of it write “Dear Mother.” And then start. Just start. Talk to mom, tell her anything and everything they’re thinking. When they’re done they’ll have a semblance of a first draft. Now cut off the salutation, rewrite, and presto!

Finished piece.

I didn’t try it this time. But I know Mom is reading. So maybe I did. My name is Jessica, by the way. Nice to meet you. Maybe on the next date I’ll tell you my last name.

Or maybe I’ll show you my Japanese toilet.

Intimacy comes in many forms.

Portrait of an Immaculate Appliance

I admit it–I went a little crazy. Yesterday, after stumbling upon the New York Times’ article about hidden bacteria in the kitchen, I got massively freaked out. My fridge hasn’t been deep cleaned since the Pleistocene era, so, after reading about the E. Coli known to be hanging out in vegetable drawers (not to mention on blender gaskets, spatulas, and everything else one never thought to suspect), I decided that today was the day to make things right. Mike, after all, was home. He had no major plans. He had, in fact, declared that he wanted to watch MJ–that I should take some time for myself.

So I did.

Two hours, six rags, two sponges, forty-odd paper towel sheets, one cup of boiling water, and three kinds of cleaning agents later, I had the fridge I wanted. The one that you could eat off of, if dining off of frosted glass shelves was your thing. The one respectable families seem to have all the time. The one that, at the very least, isn’t going to kill my three-year-old daughter when she accidentally, say, brushes her mouth on it on the way to feeding the dog. Or whatever.

So here it is, in all of its anti-bacterial glory. Notice the fine details: the immaculate butter compartment, the lack of encrusted maple syrup on the walls, the newly scoured hot sauce bottles (for another day: do we really need twelve different kinds?), the pristine exterior, finally denuded of all food-specked pictures, ineffective magnets, and outdated postcards.

I’m so proud. I’m so pleased. I’m so sorry it won’t last. Still, for the five minutes it does, I’ll enjoy it more than a little.

Tomorrow? The blender.

Stop Payment

Yesterday morning, bright and early, I got a ticket for rolling through a stop sign. It was totally legit–the ticket, I mean. Although my actions were also, in my opinion, completely justifiable. My neighborhood is filled with moronic, pointless, arbitrary stops; you have to run some of them if you ever want to get down the hill. Or so say I. My husband disagrees, but he’s always had the lion’s share of the patience in this household. I, on the other hand, just have the lead feet.

So I got the ticket. I asked the cop if he might consider letting me off “just for the heck of it,” but he demurred. Odd. Anyway, I figure I’m out around $300. It’s brutal, but true. At least I can do traffic school, because I haven’t gotten a ticket of this kind in, oh, twenty years. Which isn’t too bad, when you consider the ambivalent relationship I have with traffic laws. Still, it’s a tough pill to swallow, financially. Especially with Mike about to go on unpaid hiatus.

Then the dryer broke. Suddenly it sounded like it had an ecstasy-induced drum circle inside of it. I got a repair man to come in. It’ll cost $150 to fix.

Finally I returned four kids’ books to the library. I knew they were a little late, but really? $7.10? Sigh. The galling thing about it is they all sucked. “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom?” Lousy. It makes no sense. And it’s terrifying. Baby letters falling out of a tree, incurring various highly visible injuries? Um, if I wanted to traumatize my daughter like that I could just take her sight-seeing to the local emergency room. So that was a bust. Then there was some story book about a puppy; the dialogue consisted almost entirely of the words “bow wow.” Try saying that fifty times in a row. “Bow wow! Bow wow! Bow wow!” You’ll want to scream. You’ll want to die. You’ll want to throw yourself out of a tree like a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom lower case “p.”

The other two books were equally forgettable. Making the entire experience totally dispiriting. If I’m going to pay usurious fees for late books, I’d prefer that they were of the “War and Peace” variety. Or whatever the kids’ equivalent is. “Tantrums and Snuggles.” Why didn’t Tolstoy write that?

There was one item in the plus column yesterday. I took MJ to Michael’s to buy her some new “treasures.” She selected three heart necklaces from the sale bin, a mesh bag of glass stones, and a package of metallic beads. In total these came out to about nine bucks. But I had one of those coupons for 40% off of one item. They’ve been coming regularly in the mail since I sunk my entire life’s savings into that frame awhile back.

This saved me $1.40.

I am thinking of applying for a job at Trader Joe’s. Or finding more stuff to sell on ebay. But one thing I am doing for sure, right now, no question? The thing that’s sure to keep us a bit more solvent than we would be otherwise?

Stopping. At every. Damn. Sign.

At least until I’m eligible for traffic school again.

Oh Broth, Where Art thou?

I sometimes feel, where preschool is concerned, that we are paying more for an idea than a reality. Because between the holidays, illnesses, and trips out of town, we seem to be never there. Except on my workdays. Which, because the school is a Co-op, I can only miss if I’m in traction. Or dead.

So when I got to drop MJ off at school this morning and leave I was psyched. I was giddy. At last! Three hours of liberty!

Or such was the plan.

The idea was to grocery shop, then relax. Or that’s the simple version. Technically I needed to shop, walk the dog, put a meal on, then relax. But this was totally doable. I had it all worked out. I planned to make a crockpot chicken dish for a friend who is sick. Last week I was a lame-ass schmuck and brought him frozen IKEA meatballs and mashed potatoes. With two packs of gravy mix. Still, I know. Pathetic. It might not have been so bad if I had actually heated the stuff up  for him, but, as he wasn’t hungry when I arrived, I left it all in the freezer for his roommate to prepare when he got back. Even the gravy packs. I mean, who wins jerk-of-the-month? One guess.

But I meant to make up for it this week by preparing my friend a spectacular feast. For it I had chosen a braised chicken and vegetable recipe I found online. (May I just add that, among all of the recipes I got after Googling “chicken crock pot,” slow cooked raccoon was the most unexpected? I felt–in the spirit of sharing pain with friends–that this was worth mentioning. I’ll get out of my fetal position now.)

Back to the crock pot. I would’ve made the dish last night, but was missing one ingredient: chicken broth. Which is weird, because I try to always have that around. I try, in fact, to have everything around; a missing ingredient is one of my biggest pet peeves. I buy in doubles, multiples, army troops. There are, for example, four jars of pickles in the cabinets. Three bags of Trader Joe’s salt and pepper chips. Five boxes of lasagna noodles. But no chicken broth. Not even a half-opened container in the fridge, long-ago expired and scary to ingest. I did find several cans of chicken noodle soup, which I considered trying, but in the end rejected them. I couldn’t risk another screw-up after last week’s debacle. My friend is in hospice, for God’s sake.

Well, then, thought I, I’ll do it tomorrow. When MJ is in school. I’ll get the right ingredients and make it right. Then I’ll kick back and read my book.

Cut to: today. I drop MJ at school. She is sad. She weeps.”I want to spend the whole day with you!”

“I know,” I tell her. “And I with you. But Mama really needs to grocery shop.”

“I can do it with you,” she sobs.

Visions of us at the Fresh and Easy swim to my mind: MJ, insisting on scanning every item herself. Screaming if denied. Hours passing as we check ourselves out. People on line behind us raising their eyebrows, muttering under their breath, shaking their heads…

“I think I’ll do it myself today,” I say brightly. I kiss her tear-streaked cheeks. “You’re gonna be OK.”

At Fresh and Easy I am alone, blissfully; the aisles are wide and empty. I have as much time as I need. I have three attractive straw shopping bags. I have a $10 off of $50 coupon.

I shop liberally, grabbing more of everything than I need. A ten-gallon container of unscented eco-laundry detergent? Why, yes! Buttermilk? Sure! Tomatoes? Those are good to have. Canned tomatoes! Diced tomatoes! Crushed tomatoes! Tomato paste! Red tomatoes from Chile. Yellow tomatoes from Mexico. A box of the latter drops accidentally on the floor; small golden orbs roll everywhere. I pick them up–I am a decent person–and put them back in their plastic case. Then I put them in my cart. Why not? The world is my plastic clamshell! Anyway, they can be washed.

And so it went. I shopped. And shopped. And shopped. When I finally rang up my purchases I had crossed the $240 line. Gah! Outrageous! But everything I’d purchased, I knew, would get eaten. Or most of it, anyway. For I have sworn off of waste. And I am learning how to cook. If it meant preparing a Cajun raccoon for twelve guests and their housepets, I would use all of those damn tomatoes.

I drove home, ten bags of groceries rattling in my trunk. At the house I lugged them , two at a time, from my car into the kitchen. “I am a good shopper,” I muttered to myself, as I put away gorgonzola crackers, Triscuits, organic bunny bites, and a bag of multicolored tortilla chips. “I buy a good variety. I buy lots of fruit. I buy–”

It was at this moment that I realized. My eyes widened in horror. “No!”

But yes. I had forgotten the chicken broth.

Muttering angrily, I finished putting my groceries away. I walked Mina quickly (“go to the bathroom! Go to the bathroom!”) and put her back in her crate. Then, taking only one shopping bag, I headed back to the store.

Once there, I bought every container of chicken broth they had. This would never happen to me again. While I was at it, I got MJ a couple of packages of roasted seaweed snacks. Because God forbid she should ever lack for a crunchy treat between meals. God forbid, for that matter, that any kid in L.A. should be without multiple sheets of dulse to cram messily into their mouths, shedding little flakes everywhere, making their parents feel that, finally, they have given them something “healthy” to eat when, in fact, it was nothing more than green air and salt. But I digress.

Throwing my bag irritatedly into the passenger seat, I dropped into the car and drove quickly up the hill again. Because now it was getting late. Once home, I raced to prepare the slow-cooker recipe–which only called for a quarter of a cup of the damn broth–then dashed back to school to get MJ.

When I arrived, out of breath, she was in a dog costume, drawing happily with her teacher .

“Hi, Mama,” she said, upon spotting me. “I got something from Lydia.” She showed me a small, plastic glow-in-the-dark hand that a classmate had given her.

“That’s great, sweetie. I’m glad.” I paused. “And I got…some groceries.”

“Oh.” Myra-Jean considered me for a moment. Then she swiveled her head and looked out the window. “I want to go on the swings.”

And so we did. Dog ears flapping in the breeze. While, at home, the grandest feast in the world cooked slowly away in its pot.

IMG_8311

Lest of the -Est

I should mention here what I neglected to say yesterday — when, as is so often the case, I was interrupted by my waking child before I could properly finish my post:

I truly, adamantly believe that, were there a competition for oldest functioning dishwasher, ours would win it. And this gives me some small sense of pride. I can tack few superlatives to the list of my accomplishments in life. I am certainly not the best mom, the most organized homemaker, or the most likely to be featured in her own reality TV show. Clearly–judging by my recent two-month disappearance– I am an unreliable blogger at best. I studied Latin for four years as an adult, yes, which could have rendered me the stay-at-home mom most adept at a dead language. Except that, three years later, I remember virtually nothing. The Latin I have at my command could fit on the side of a teabag. If you had a permanent marker. And a lot of patience.

Compared to Thomas Jefferson, then, I am pathetic. (Yes, I’m reading the biography. Sue me. Literarily speaking, I’m a lemming. And yes, I know that’s all a myth.) I do feel rather superior to his wife, though, who insisted, on her deathbed, that he never remarry. He was thirty-nine. A single father. It was a crappy move on her part. Still, “more selfless than Patty Jefferson” doesn’t get me to the top of any list worth being on. Plus, Patty sounds silly. Perhaps if her name had been Elspeth…

Anyway. “The owner of the oldest extant working dishwasher?” This is something I can be proud of.

You have to take it where you can get it. So, even if we had the money? Screw the Bosch. Who needs excellence when you can have a world record?

IMG_8168

Rack to the Future

I was standing in the kitchen this morning loading my dishwasher when it came to me. Like a bolt of lightning. A visitation from cherubim. An Annunciation.

“You have the oldest working dishwasher in the world.”

Just like that. The voice resounded and shook, a subterranean train pulling into the crumbling, elevated station of my brain. As I thought it, moreover, I knew that–unlike so many other of my fantastical and hyperbolic thoughts–it was true. The voice was speaking the Gospel. Of appliances, at any rate. I had finally, finally excelled at something.

We have the oldest working dishwasher. In. The. World.

IMG_8162

I know. I’ve remarked upon our old appliances before. But I don’t think I really stopped to acknowledge the utterly antediluvian state  of this one in particular.

It’s made by Gaffers and Sattler. Notice there’s no link to their website. That’s because they don’t exist anymore. And they didn’t go out of business a year ago, folks. Try forty-three. Forty-three years ago. Or that’s when, according to this quite interesting and totally random website, they were subsumed by Magic Chef. (Who was acquired by Maytag in 1986). So this dishwasher is at least 43 years old. But it could be more. Much more. I’m guessing, by the graphics in its owners manual, (which, thanks to the OCD of the previous owner of this house, we still have), that it came out in the fifties.

IMG_8163

At which point, of course, it represented the apex of domestic accomplishment. Or so it seems:

IMG_8165

And look at these fingernails. They scream fifties!

IMG_8169

The G&S uses — wait for it — sixteen gallons of water per wash. If, that is, you’re using the “Hygienic Super Wash,” (otherwise known as “the only one that has any effect.”) My dad recently bought a Bosch dishwasher. I think it was $1500. It uses four gallons of water per wash. It “likes” food to be encrusted on the plates. This makes it work better. It holds the silverware in gentle plastic fingers, caressing each fork and spoon individually with filtered, temperature-controlled, ultrasonic jets. It hums at a decibel level so low it is indiscernible to the dog. Who, to be fair, died several years back. My dad’s dog, that is. Still.

Our dog is not dead. And she hears our dishwasher just fine. As does the dog fourteen houses down. And his owners. And the dog fourteen houses down from them. The G&S is so loud it can be heard back in the fifties, by the man who first designed it. Who is also dead. Even so…

All I know is, I want a Bosch. I want to “put my home in the modern picture.” Hell, I want fingernails like the lady’s in the manual. But I don’t have any of it. Certainly not the nails. And with the amount of time I spend scraping ossified, super-hygienically heated food from my “clean” dinner plates, I’m not gonna have them any time soon.

Framed

This afternoon — late — I tried to call Michael’s to cancel my order. I decided I would, after all, rather have a new dishwasher than a beautiful but badly framed picture for our living room wall. Especially as our old Gaffers and Sattler started emanating something that smelled suspiciously like woodsmoke yesterday.

Unfortunately, the man I spoke to in the framing department said it was too late. The deed was done. The picture had just left “the warehouse” an hour ago. Warehouse? What kind of Kafkaesque nightmare have I sent our cartographic gem into?

Sob. Goodbye $560. Goodbye self-respect. Goodbye new, mid-range dishwasher. Hello, tackily framed drainage map with ugly faux-glass cover. Or that’s my fear, anyway.

The only good news? It was woodsmoke. In the dishwasher. I found a wooden spoon trapped near the motor there this morning. It’s fried, but the dishwasher lives on.

It had better. At this rate it’ll need to last another 50 years.