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Airing My Dirty Laundry …

7 Mar

Airing My Dirty Laundry ….

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Airing My Dirty Laundry …

7 Mar
A dirty job ....

A dirty job ….

I recently had a conversation with friends about if we won the lottery what kind of paid help we would have. One friend wanted a personal chef and another wanted someone to straighten her hair every day. I want someone to do the laundry – and do it well. Let me be perfectly clear: I.Hate.Laundry. While all of you reading this may not share my total aversion to the task, no one really loves to do laundry. It’s dirty, it’s thankless, and no sooner are you finished than something else is dirty.

I believe there are two categories of household tasks: those that can evolve into hobbies because there is something creative or pleasurable about them; and those that will not become hobbies because no one in their right mind would spend their free time doing them. Laundry is in the latter category. No one decides to separate lights from darks and spot treat stains for fun.

Household duties that can be considered hobbies have whole industries devoted to them. Think about decorating and cooking – there are magazines, websites, TV channels, stores all to support these hobbies.

There’s no Houzz for laundry. No one posts laundry pics on Pinterest. There’s certainly no laundry channel (although I remember hearing extreme ironing events a few years ago.) Laundry isn’t even shown on television (other than in detergent commercials.) I have watched every episode of Downton Abbey for five seasons, and I have never seen one of the servants do laundry. Cook, clean fireplaces, style hair, get charged with murder – yes, all of that has happened on Downton. Laundry, if it’s been done on Downton, I missed it.

A quick Google search for “laundry” pulls up a list of local dry cleaners and Laundromats, the website for the clothing company Laundry by Shelli Segal, one blog posts on how to organize one’s laundry room, and a 2010 article from Wall Street Journal on Americans using too much laundry detergent. From this list it’s clear that laundry is not a hot topic.

People enjoy receiving cooking-related gifts such as herb infused olive oil, juicers or Williams-Sonoma gift cards, but can you imagine giving someone a bottle of Clorox? Similarly,  your friends appreciate it if you invite them over for dinner – but inviting folks over so you can wash and fold their towels while they sip margaritas, well, that’s not going to happen.

My husband happens to be a good cook, and someone who enjoys cooking. He also is good at doing laundry, but enjoys that less. His recipe for sautéed mushrooms or his technique for rack of lamb may earn him praise from our friends, but no one exclaims “And look how clean his golf shirt is too!!!!” No one asks him for his advice on the best unscented fabric softener. Laundry is a thankless task.

As much as I dislike doing laundry, NOT being able to do laundry is much worse.  I learned this the hard way when our washer died over Thanksgiving two years ago, and it took me more than a week to replace it.  I decided I would take a week’s worth of sheets and towels to our dry cleaner for wash and fold service. I was very excited about picking up two loads of neatly folded sheets and towels until I was told the bill was $60.

So, my next step was to take our clothes to the Laundromat at Cameron Village Shopping Center do the laundry there. I was so clueless at the Laundromat that I stuffed a huge load of dirty clothes into what I thought was a front loading washer that was actually a huge dryer. I figured out my mistake when I could not find a place to pour in the detergent. The guy beside me literally said “You don’t come here often, do you?”

I said at the beginning of this essay that if I could afford it I would hire someone to do the laundry. Well, I had that once – sort of. When my children were younger, I hired a sitter to watch them while I worked, and she told me in the interview that she would do the children’s laundry. Hallelujah!  The answer to prayers!

I soon discovered that although our sitter was very willing to do laundry, she was not very good at it. She did not sort by color, and she washed and dried everything on the hottest setting. My two-year-old’s clothes were now the perfect size for my newborn. Being a nice Southern girl, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings – or be disrespectful since she was 30 years my senior — so I began to hide all the boys’ clothes in the hamper in my room. When it started to overflow, I stuffed dirty clothes under my bed so she couldn’t find them. In my postpartum haze this all seemed like a perfectly good solution.

I imagine there are people who can hire competent people to wash their clothes – for example, Kate Middleton probably has good help. But there are lots of important and influential people who can’t escape the drudgery of laundry. One such person who comes to mind is Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at John Hopkins. A few years ago she received a call at 5 a.m. from Sweden that she had won the Noble Prize for Medicine – when she got the call she was NOT in the lab, NOT sleeping, and NOT out on a run – instead, she was hard at work – you guessed it – folding laundry. With that said, I need to go get a load out of the dryer.

Picture this: A holiday card without kids

31 Dec
Linder Christmas Photo 2013

Linder Christmas Photo 2013

Today as I was taking down the holiday cards I had displayed in our kitchen, I started thinking about how much the card sending tradition had changed in my adult life. It’s very rare to receive a card without a photo these days, and like most American households, 99 percent of the cards we receive feature children. Children at Disney World, on their first day of school, at the beach and wailing in Santa’s lap.

While most of us love photo cards, they have created an issue for adults who don’t have children. What kind of Christmas card do you send when you don’t have small offspring to feature in matching outfits? I still like to receive old fashioned greetings cards, but most folks seem compelled to create a photo card. One friend of mine said that now that her step sons are grown she no longer send cards, because “who wants a generic Hallmark card or to see a bunch of adults in a photo.” It seems there’s a general consensus that children are as essential to holiday cards as stamps.

I have thought it might be entertaining to see the reaction from friends and family if my husband and I sent out a Christmas card with just a picture of the two of us smiling at the camera – and not a picture of our sons. My guess is that people would automatically think it was a mistake. They would turn the card over a few times looking for the kids, only to be shocked and disappointed it was only me and Jeff.

It would be a shame not to include our children on the annual card since people who don’t have kids will go to great lengths to feature pictures of children.

A few years ago a single friend of mine took a photo with what seemed like a dozen nieces and nephews. It was great picture, but a little confusing. Why is our single friend surrounded by all of these little people: Has she become a camp counselor? Practicing to be a model for the Hanna Anderssen catalog? Is she the little old lady who lived in a shoe? When I asked her to explain, she said: “Well I got my sisters’ and brothers’ kids together, because you can’t send out a card without kids.”

Well there you have it. You can’t send out a card without a picture of kids.

Another friend took the quest for kids a step further. On a Mission trip to Peru, she took a picture with a group of Peruvian youngsters in traditional costume from the orphanage where she worked. That picture graced the front of her Valentine card and looked like a good shot for UNICEF. This particular friend is very kind hearted and religious, but not exactly your Peace Corps or mission trip type – she is more the Four Seasons type. Also, none of our mutual friends is the “spend-your-vacation-at-a-Peruvian-orphanage” type either – I dare say she’s the only one in our group who has even been on a mission trip. So you can imagine the confusion when her holiday card turns up and she’s surrounded by a group of kids from South America. Friends texted me to see if she had photoshopped herself into the picture.

I find it strange that some businesses use pictures of children on their cards. The owners of our mosquito extermination company sent us a holiday card, and when I opened it – not realizing it was a business Christmas card – I wondered aloud whose kids were featured in the picture. Then I saw it was from the Mosquito Authority and the girls were the owners’ children. Undoubtedly, the children are a better choice than dead mosquitoes.

If you don’t have kids, dogs are always a good substitute. We have several friends who send pictures of themselves with their dogs – or professional studio shots of only their dogs. Cats do not work as well, in my opinion. I like cats, but they are not as universally accepted as companions as dogs are. I was recently at the hair salon and noticed a Christmas card on the bulletin board of a woman surrounded by her cats. It was hard not to think “crazy cat lady.” I hope she only sent the card to her hair dresser, her mother and the Humane Society.

The problem of how to include children on a card can be particularly vexing for senior citizens. An older couple we are friends with used to send a card with all four of their grown children, sons- and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. They have now downsized to sending a photo of only themselves with their four grandchildren. So if you didn’t know better, it would look like our Septuagenarian friends had adopted four girls.

Eliminating the actual parents from the pictures is common. In my experience, aunts and grandparents are much more likely to appear in the pictures with the children than the children’s actual mom and dad.
There are two primary reasons why kids are on cards and parents are not:

First, it’s virtually impossible to get a whole family to look decent (sometimes event to look in the same direction) in a photo.

Second, kids are cuter than parents.

That’s the moment of truth for all of you who are seeking creative ways to include kids on your Christmas cards. Parents put kids on cards because our kids look better than we do. Sadly, pets often look better than we do too. (For those of you who do not have kids, you look better than those of us who are parents. You still care about how you look – and if you are single you really care. So go on, put yourself on the card.)

So back to if Jeff and I should send out a card with just the two of us smiling happily in front of the tree without a child in sight. I am sure our mothers would call for an explanation – perhaps they would demand a follow up card.

Our child-free friends might see it as an opportunity to rent our children to be on their Christmas card. After all, if we aren’t using our boys as models, someone should. (I have no Peruvian costumes, sorry.)

Of course, for Jeff and I to have a picture on next year’s card, that means we actually have to take a decent picture. Even though we have 12 months to accomplish that, I think we will stick with just the kids.

Saying Sayonara to Swimsuit Season

31 Aug

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. To mark the last big beach weekend of the season, here’s a rerun of June’s “Swimsuit Issues” essay. Enjoy!

It’s easy to feel good about my figure in the winter because I stay covered from head to toe. I go along happily during the cold months zipping my skinny jeans with no problem. There are body shapers for cocktail dresses, stockings for white legs, push up bras for less-than-perky bust lines. Sure I know I need to exercise and tone up, but I can do that in March – plenty of time to get ready for summer. March comes and goes, and still no exercise.  Sometime near the end of May I have to face the white, flabby truth because swimsuit season has arrived.

Most women my age have swimsuit issues. Not the Sports Illustrated kind either. These are the kind of issues that come after having kids, dropping your gym membership and convincing yourself that housework is really enough exercise. There is nothing I dread more about the return of warm weather than standing in the unforgiving glare of dressing room lights and getting a good view of my backside thanks to a three-way mirror. (Really, do retailers want me to buy a swimsuit or antidepressants?)

Women with older kids are the lucky ones. They can sit under an umbrella, and sip a fruity drink. If they have to leave their lounge chair, they can step into their stylish cover up, concealing all bulges and ripples from the midday sun.  Not me.  I have two boys under four. I don’t even bother to get a lounge chair at the pool because I never sit down. I must walk, bend, chase, splash and be fully exposed to all the other pool goers for my entire visit.

Bathing suit makers are aware of the body issues of women like me, but they have yet to find a good solution. Not that they haven’t tried. There are swim skirts, boy shorts, tankinis — all intended to help disguise and conceal our problem areas. Truly, I think all of these options just make my problems worse. Skirts hide cheeks, but not thighs, and all of that flouncey material makes hips look wider. Boy shorts should not be worn by anyone over the age of 12. And tankinis can make you look like you are in the early stages of pregnancy.

Women are not alone. Men have swim suit issues too. Tufts of hair sprout like weeds on shoulders, lower backs and big toes.  And for the unlucky gentlemen who lose hair on their heads, it seems to all relocate to their backs and chests. They begin to look like bald grizzly bears.  Guts expand and sag.  Men develop weird sock tans and shirt tans from golf and yard work. And of course there is always the unlucky guy at the beach who has a Phil Mickelson-esque chest and is in need of what Kramer and Frank Costanza referred to as the “the bro.”

For all these woes of the aging flesh – for men and women — I think I have found a solution. I was inspired by a four-year-old boy who was a very enthusiastic member of my son’s swimming class at the local YMCA. Instead of Hawaiian and pirate motif swim trunks like the other boys wore, this child wore a spring wet suit each week. It’s a brilliant solution for middle-aged folks. It only exposes your calves and forearms, so unless you have terrible varicose veins, how bad can you look? Maybe a company like Spanx could make wet suits with padding in the tush and bust, compression in the thighs and tummy. Lose inches and tone up instantly without any exercise or surgery, and protect yourself from the sun at the same time.  However, when I mentioned my inventive idea to a friend she pointed out that it would be like going back to bathing suits in the 1920s. Not a new idea at all.

Well it may not be new, but it’s sure a better solution than a swim dress. I have at least four more summers to go before I join the ranks of moms who actually sit on lounge chairs in cover ups, so I need a fix. Of course, maybe I will start exercising next March, just in time for the 2012 swim season and my 40th birthday.

Google+: stop the innovation I can’t keep up

27 Jul

Note to Reader: The first time I posted this I left off the conclusion. ooops. Here’s the complete version. Hey, I never said technology was my thing!

When the news hit a few weeks ago about Google’s new social networking site, Google+, I thought “No, please no, not something else for me to figure out. Can innovation just slow down and let me catch up?”  After four years on Facebook, I still don’t understand how all of the features work, so why do I want to tackle learning a new social network? Also I have hundreds of “friends” on FB.  By this point, if folks aren’t on Facebook, they probably aren’t interested in social media at all. Will Google+ simply allow me to connect with the same people on a different site? Will it attract the next generation of social media users and leave us geezers on Facebook? Or will it cause Facebook to go, let’s say, the way of My Space. (Yes, I know My Space still has millions of users, but really do you know a single person on My Space?) I know, I know, Google+ has lots of cool features like posting information for certain circles to see,and video chat,  and I don’t know what all. When I went to the Google+ site to check it out, it looks like 10 million people already think it’s a good idea … and 10 million is Google’s idea of a “limited” roll out.

I am not an early adopter of anything technological. Some of the reason for that is I’m lazy, and I really don’t like to have to learn new things related to gadgets or machines – sad but true. More of the reason for this is my age. Gen Xers like me grew up on the brink of technological innovations, but computer technology did not become part of our daily lives until we were adults. As kids and teens we talked on phones that plugged into the wall, we wrote notes in class, and we had pen pals from camp. One of my work colleagues explained it perfectly – our generation went to college with typewriters and left with computers. So we grew up connecting in a very different way. I didn’t even have access to email at home until 2004 when I got married and my husband had a desk top computer. Lots of Gen Xers really enjoy using social media – I have to admit that I do – but I could live without it. I did live without it – for a long time – so being able to connect easily with someone who sat behind me in 8th grade algebra is fun, but not necessary. (Take away my smart phone and that’s another story.)

For the Love of Facebook

I ended up on Facebook almost by accident. A friend who is the sort of person who only uses her mobile phone for emergencies and never emails photos of her children, sent me a friend request with a message that she had posted pictures of her family. I was intrigued that this person who was even more in the technology dark ages than me was on Facebook — and I was eager to see her children. So I thought, let me take five minutes and check out Facebook … and with that, the love affair began. I reconnected with my third grade teacher, joined a fan club for my old neighborhood, and discovered former work pals and a distant cousin. For weeks, friend requests poured in, and I was giddy about what goodies waited for me on Facebook. At that time, I felt like everyone I knew was getting on Facebook. I would go to my wine club, and we’d talk about Facebook; I would call friends from my hometown, and we’d talk about Facebook; I would have lunch with my mother, and I would tell her about Facebook.  But after about three months, the Facebook flurry slowed down, and the romance began to go a little stale. My relationship with Facebook took a lot of work. Perhaps this affair wasn’t the best use of my time. I took a step back.

Four years later, I have a more mature relationship with Facebook. It’s not head-over-heels honeymoon experience anymore, but it’s still fun and has proved to be useful too. For example, Facebook was the best way to locate classmates for my 20th high school reunion last summer. I also have had success promoting this blog on Facebook. I enjoy seeing status updates from friends, and Facebook makes sharing photos from events really easy. Every time I have considered saying sayonara to Facebook I stop myself – not only because I don’t want to spend the time figuring out how to deactivate – but because I have built a really large network, and that’s got to be good for something.

Testing Twitter & Locked out of LinkedIn

I have dipped my toe in other social media waters too. To promote this blog, I joined twitter, and I have 19 loyal followers, including a local grocery store chain, an auto parts store and a company that sells kids’ cameras – I am sure those tweety birds are waiting anxiously for each new 40countdown post. I get a little thrill when I receive an email that someone new is following me on twitter – I feel sort of famous like Ivanka Trump — only to become deflated when I learn it’s a child psychiatrist’s office or plaintiff’s attorney. (Really, how did they find me and why are the following me?)

I have two LinkedIn accounts – one connected to a personal email, and the other connected to an old work email that I can’t check. My husband – who is generally not a fan of social media – thinks LinkedIn is a great tool for referrals and marketing, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what people do with other than invite more folks to join their network.

To Google+ or Not to Google+

So will I join Google+? In the end, probably so. With social media it seems that the old adage “change is the only constant” truly applies. No, I don’t need or even want another online social network. No, I don’t want something else to check (in addition to social media sites, two email accounts, two voicemail boxes, and snail mail). No I don’t want to learn all of the Google+ functions and features. But I feel like missing a major step in the social media evolution is like missing a month of calculus – you can never catch up. And on my long lists of “I don’t wants,” the one that’s at the top is: I don’t want to be left behind.

About 40countdown

22 Jul

Note to the reader: I have had some questions about my inspiration for the blog. This is an excerpt from my first post that explains it pretty well.

I turned 39 in June, and for the next year I am counting down to my 40th birthday by blogging. Turning 40 means different things to different people, but I think that most will agree that by age 40 one is – at least chronologically – an adult.

But what does it mean to be a grown up? Becoming a responsible adult is not like hitting puberty. It’s not something that happens to you, and when it’s over – like it or not – you are different. It’s more like college graduation. You can arrive at commencement after four years of study and growth ready for the real world, or you can show up hung over and relieved a 2.5 is good enough to earn a diploma. Either way, you are graduating, but it doesn’t mean you are ready for what’s next.

So, for the next year, I am going to take a look at what it means to be in this phase of life (dare I say middle age). The accomplishments, the contentment, the struggles, the self awareness and the hopes for what the next 40 or 50 years will bring.

Being 39 makes me realize there are some things I will never accomplish – like being an Olympic gymnast or going to medical school. On a smaller scale, I know that I will never get up a 5 a.m. to work out or give up cheese for Lent. I am not such a strong woman. On the flip side, I have surprised myself with the amazing amount of multi-tasking I can do as a parent, that I really can get up every night at 4 a.m. for nearly a year to comfort or feed a small child, and that I have had several really fascinating careers. My resume – personal and professional – is beyond needing padding, and it will never fit on one page again.

I hope you will find ideas that you identify with, stories that make you laugh, opinions that make you think and positions that make you mad, but I don’t really ever want to make people mad because I am a pleaser. Join me as I count down to 40.

Marriage: are we in for the long haul?

21 Jul

Four years ago, my husband and I went to Phoenix, AZ for his 20th high school reunion. I walked away surprised and disheartened about how many of his classmates were divorced. Our life as a couple was really just beginning – we had only been married three years, and we had a six-month-old baby. It was hard for me to believe that other people – only a few years older than me – had divorced, and in some cases already remarried. My experience at the reunion made me wonder if our generation was doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents’ generation. I had hoped we would do better.

These are the issues that Susan Gregory Thomas grapples with in her new book, In Spite of Everything: A Memoir. I mentioned in last week’s post that I rarely find time to read a whole book these days, but I was lucky enough to run across an excerpt from In Spite of Everything in a national newspaper. Thomas is a child of a harrowing divorce, and in her book she examines how split families impacted our generation (Gen X). As the book title implies, she also struggles with the end of her own marriage, despite her best intentions “not to imbed my children in the torture of a split family.”

I am one of the lucky ones — my parents are still together after more than 40 years of marriage. I am thankful not to have lived through a family meltdown, and I am thankful to have witnessed what a solid and successful marriage looks like. However, I don’t think any of us growing up in the 80s escaped the shadow divorce cast over our youth. We all knew – at least second-hand – that the most important institution in our lives, our family, was fragile.

According to statistics from the National Marriage Project (cited in Thomas’s book), American divorces peaked in 1980. That was the year I was in the third grade, and I remember the constant stream of news about classmates’ parents splitting up. I remember the angry boy who threw his desk across the room, the girl who came back to school in the fourth grade with a new last name, and the sullen kid who went to live with his grandparents because “dad was gone.” Despite having only seen my parents fight once in my life, I remember asking my mom repeatedly if Dad was going to leave. (I don’t think it occurred to me that mommies leave too.)

By the time I was in high school, my peer group’s parents lived up to the national statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce. But the landscape I remember is not as bleak as what Thomas described in her book. She writes: “Growing up, my brother and I were often left to our own devices, members of the giant flock of latchkey kids in the 1970s and 80s. Our suburb was littered with sad-eyed, bruised nomads, who wandered back and forth between used-record shops to the sheds behind the train station where they got high ….” She also cites a 2004 marketing study about generational differences that reports that our generation “went through its all-important formative years as the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.” Fortunately my friends all had at least one supportive, involved parent to keep them from completely derailing during adolescence, but that’s not to say everyone did, it may just have been the kids I knew.

Because of the divorce epidemic, I was in no rush to get to the altar. I knew I needed to figure out who I was before I merged my life with someone else’s. I also figured I should enjoy the freedom of not having to answer to parents or compromise with a spouse for at least a few years. I remember sitting down with my two best friends our senior year of high school and prognosticating about when we would all get married. I said that I couldn’t imagine marrying before 29. I was right, I married at 31.

In my early 20s, I was truly shocked when friends’ announced their engagements. Didn’t they have more things they wanted to do on their own? Weren’t we all going to stay single and hang out like the cast of Friends? Were they really mature enough to commit to spend the rest of their lives together? Did they know what they were in for? And didn’t they know getting married at 24 was, like, so 1960? I also remember thinking that I was – in a way – thankful for divorce. I knew some of these “just-out-of-college unions” wouldn’t last, and that the victims would need to reboot their lives. I also appreciated the insurance of knowing I could press the eject button and legally and acceptably end a marriage if it took a tragic turn.

According to Thomas’ book, our generation is doing better than our parents’. She points to statistics from the National Marriage Project that divorce rates in 2009 (the most recent data available) were the lowest since 1970. We are marrying later in life, which one would hope means we are more mature and ready to handle the responsibility of a lifelong commitment, and most of us had a few years after college to grow into adulthood.

It will be years before we can write the headline on Gen Xers and marriage. It is unlikely our marriages will have the longevity of our grandparents’ generation, but hopefully our families will be more stable than the baby boomers. I will report back after the 30th high school reunion.

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