Messy closets send me into anxiety fits. (Thank God for closet doors). Dishes piled in the sink do it to me, too. I'm not proud of this aspect of my personality. But it certainly seems to be a part of who I am.
When I was pregnant with our second I made myself "practice" letting little things go in preparation for giving my energy and attention to two small people. I left the beds unmade in the morning. I left dishes in the sink. I left toys on the floor until a single evening pick up. It caused a lot of anxiety. It was a wonderful mindfulness practice tool. But I didn't last long. It takes thirty seconds to make a bed. And then my kids get a calm mom. Jeff gets a friendly wife. I can see beyond myself. Sometimes you can't fight nature. By nature, I love order. By nature, my children don't.
Sometimes there are a lot of dishes in my sink, and not enough minutes in the morning. I close the kitchen blinds and lock the door and we run out into the day and do what fills all of us up. And when we get home and need to collectively exhale (nap, draw, dig in the dirt, whatever) I fill my sink with hot water, open the blinds so I can see all the birds visiting our feeders, and I plunge my hands into the tail-end of my work in the kitchen. I make things shiny and new, if but for a moment.
It took me years to make peace with life without a dishwasher. It took me years to make peace with the need to sweep more than once a day (or more than once a week, at that). But unless I want dust bunnies for children, and unless I start serving all our food on paper plates, the reality is there. My wabi-sabi household is a constant flux of order and chaos. Everywhere I turn there is an opportunity to do, or not do, and sit with the feeling of not-doing, and understand it is a sacrifice to something I deem more valuable: an extra story read, or an extra ten minutes writing to a friend, or an extra few moments to sit with the terror of not doing and come out on the other side intact, not undone.
You can laugh when I tell you I experience terror at the thought of unmade beds but there it is. My mind is a peaceful river when things are tucked and tidy. Granted the six year old makes his own bed and so it is neither tucked nor tidy, but: it is made. There's a house that we've walked by almost every week for almost five years on our way to the library. They have two children. She never shuts her bedroom blinds. And she never makes her bed. I don't judge her for it. I actually love her for it. I think she is brave and knows what matters to her, and she doesn't care who sees it. But still. I want to make her bed for her. I have a fondness, an admiration for people with houses where life is so obviously happening. Those are the places I want to visit. They are the places I feel at home. I remember this when I feel the urge to have a freak-out cleaning session in the middle of a boisterous and happy day. I remember it, and I shut up, and keep playing. I can always get ninja on the mess when everyone is tucked in bed. This duality satisfies both desires of my heart: to play, to be a mama who plays. And that strong desire for neatness. My only exertion of power in world that is constantly disassembling itself around me. Would that I could open my heart to disassembly.
I'm past the point these days of worrying about what this says about me. As I see it, it says: I know myself, I know what I like, and I know I function well when things are orderly. And also it says: I need to work at functioning in chaos. Because the truth of my life is that there's a good deal of both.
While I contemplate the dilemma more, something emerges: I like the process of keeping our home much more than the finished product. The finished product of a neat house was born to die. The process ties me to the reality of life. It's pretty grounding. I like that there is a rhythm and consistency to the way we make our beds, wash our dishes, sweep our floors. Maybe this is what I really love about order, the way it reliably structures pieces of my time. It's reassuring. I'm not so neurotic that I can't receive help. Children wash lots of dishes and (un)sweep lots of piles and scrub lots of toilets in this house. You can imagine that this is not a very pretty process. I think the way we keep house is simple. I like simple. We don't use many bottles or tools. We mostly use elbow grease and a good dose of practicality and consistency. And when it just gets too much, one can always shut the door, or the blinds, and go outside, or under a quilt and deep into a good book.
Really, isn't it just a matter of making daily decisions about what to let go of, and what to hold onto, and acknowledging that despite intentional decision making on either behalf, the outcome is out of our hands? Come to think of it, isn't this the dance of parenting? Of loving anyone? Of making it through the day and choosing happy?
Portrait of a (very) imperfect woman
Here's a favorite winter recipe perfect for my style of housekeeping, mothering, being in this world. Small bursts of effort, with long periods of time in between for play and wonder. And at the end, oh so worth it.
Daube de Boeuf - Casserole of Beef with Wine and Vegetables (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
I make this with mysteriously designated "stew meat", shanks, osso bucco (cut shanks), chuck, brisket...anything with lots of cartilage, fat, etc, works fine. Doubles and triples easily - you really are only limited by the size of your casserole or dutch oven and the amount of time you want it to bubble in your oven.
Working ahead (anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days in advance):
3 lbs. of beef - either cut into 2.5 inch squares, or into relatively small steaks (as in osso bucco)
1.5 cups dry red or white wine, or dry vermouth
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried, crumbled thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
2 cloves mashed garlic
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Place the beef in a bowl, and mix with the herbs, spices, and wine. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator for 6 hours and up to 3 days. Turn frequently.
In the interest of full disclosure, the only thing I measure closely here is the salt:meat by weight ratio. Everything else I play gallant happy kitchen chef and just toss and stir and smell and relax. Remember. Relax.
Remove from the refrigerator an hour or two before serving and allow to come to room temperature (or don't. This is just my habit).
1 cup coconut flour, sifted
6 slices bacon (JC simmers hers first to remove the smokiness. I cannot be bothered).
8-10 ounces of mushrooms, mixed variety is fun here, chopped into large, roughly uniform-sized pieces
4-6 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped into large discs (like maybe the size of your thumb)
optional: 3-4 other root veggies if you so wish: turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes. I like something sweeter (parsnips especially) to offset the heartiness of the marinade, meat and mushrooms.
Bone broth (any type - usually I use beef or chicken) - or filtered water.
roughly 2.5 cups of chopped, stewed tomatoes or tomato puree
a few springs of thyme (optional but pretty and delicious)
Preheat an oven to 325 F and set a middle rack.
Line the bottom of a dutch oven with half the bacon. Lay a single layer of mushrooms, root veggies and the onions from the marinade over the bacon. Dredge the marinated meat, piece by piece, in the coconut flour and shake off so each piece has a very light coating. Arrange a thin layer of meat over the vegetables and pour 1/2 the tomatoes over the meat. Start another layer of bacon and continue to layer. Over the last layer pour all the remaining marinade and add broth or filtered water to bring the liquid level to just below the top layer of meat. Bring to a boil over the stove, cover the container with a piece of parchment or foil to create a tight seal, and place the lid. Move to the hot oven and cook for 3-4 hours - the meat should fall apart when touched with a fork.
Take some time to stop doing while you make this. Go outside and walk back into the house and breathe in the smell of this filling your home with your effort.
This is good the night of. Even better the next day. I have been known to put it in the oven, go to bed, get up at midnight to turn it off, and be unable to wait for dinner the next night to eat it. Talk about letting it go, while keeping it in mind.
What do you work on letting go of, and all the while holding in your mind?