How to clean your Tohu wa-bohu

There is nothing I like better to read than plans, tips, and strategies for keeping the house clean and orderly. A large household in a relatively small living space quickly degenerates into chaos and disorder without constant vigilance and persistent rectification of why is this sticky. Can I not just once in my life sit down without getting all sticky.

So that’s why I like to sit there with my feet up, reading about how to clean.

I especially like the schedules that tell you exactly what to do, how often. You’ve seen these: mop up spills immediately, tidy living areas daily, deep-clean bathrooms weekly, scrub baseboards monthly, douse upholstery with kerosene, strike a match, and delight in the glorious inferno of the final answer to domesticity quarterly. I mean, “never.” Never even think of that. What is the matter with you?

The one thing I haven’t found anywhere is a guide for what kind of cleaning to do depending on what kind of guest you’re expecting.  It does make a difference, n’est-ce pas, you animal? From my Tohu wa-bohu to yours:

Female guests age 11 and up: Scrub shower curtain, because women are insane and are going to judge you on your shower curtain, even if they aren’t taking a shower. Decades from now, the master of ceremonies at your funeral is going to ask, “Does anyone have a memory to share of our extraordinary friend Simcha, who lived to be 106 years old, won the Nobel Peace Prize twice, and figured out how to desalinate ocean water with a simple wooden spool and a paper clip?” and that woman who stopped by to pick up a free typewriter you listed on Craigslist, and who asked if she could use your bathroom, will stand up and she will say, “Her shower curtain had mildew.”

Did you know you can just put the whole shower curtain in the washing machine? Don’t actually run the machine with a shower curtain in it, stupid; you’ll tear it to shreds. I’m just saying, you can put it in there.

Nice French Canadian ladies named Enid and Célestin who are bringing over a casserole because you just had a baby: Just have the baby waiting by the door. They are there for the baby, and the casserole is their ticket inside. If you want to make them extra happy, hang up some gooey picture of Our Lady of Maybelline. Note: Do not let them leave with the baby. Check their bags. Nice try, Célestin.

Any kids age 7 and under; and boys age 12 and under: Just clear a pathway, practice those breathing exercises for when they start tracking unspeakable things through the hallway, and make sure at least one toilet works and/or you know where the shovel is.

Priest in the house: Buy extra beer and extra meat, and crate the dog. Other than that, do nothing. He really needs to know what goes on.

Husband’s work friend: Meet him in the driveway and shunt him directly into the backyard where the beer is. He definitely doesn’t need to know what goes on.

College friends who always thought you were fairly dim, because you fairly were: Upgrade bathroom reading material. Aim for Lexile score of 1400 or higher. National Geographic is acceptable, as long as it’s not too wet and nobody has written “ha ha boobie” on the African parts. If you went liberal arts, poetry anthologies are a solid choice. No Magic Tree House or Animorphs. They wouldn’t understand.

Anybody: No NFP charts on the fridge. Come on. And yes, everybody knows what “I” or “*” or “:)” or “ha cha cha” notations mean, especially if they’re clustered around the end of the month. No visible cups of pee, even if there is a good and holy reason for having cups of pee hanging around. No boxes of test strips that say “HELPS YOU GET SUPER EXTRA PREGNANT MUCH MUCH FASTER!” Even people who love you, love your kids, and are totally on board with the whole “culture of life” thing are going to stand there, transfixed, their eyes darting back and forth between the forty-six toothbrushes you somehow have, and the toilet paper you’re forced to buy in bulk sizes that would shame an army barracks, and those words “PREGNANT FASTER,” and they’re going to think, “I need to leave before these people try to hide a spare baby in my purse.”

Hey, come on back. There’s plenty of beer in the back yard.

***

Image: sketch by Edward Lear via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Five pieces of advice for pastors (and a thank-you)

Last week, a priest responded to the article “Five Rules for a Royal Bride” with a humble request: “I wish Catholics in the pews would write us new pastors and new ordained priests advices like these! Y’all help us to be men of God, men for others, and men that have joy in their lives! Send me your five advices before I become pastor . . .”

Can do.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by photographer Matthew Lomanno, part of his visual essay North Country Priest. Used with permission.

Cheap flu remedies for the sick and broke

Flu season isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s expensive. In your quest to find some physical relief, you’ll end up paying through the nose for medicine and remedies. And your nose is already busy sneezing! Isn’t there anything you can do to alleviate the fiscal pain, if not the physical?

No; but let’s pretend there is for a second. Here are some tips:

Create a barrier. The flu is transmitted through tiny droplets that are airborne, so you can contract the virus simply by breathing in a space where an infected person has coughed or sneezed. So, like, Earth. Your only recourse is to make a barrier. Try taking a cotton swab and carefully lining your nostrils with super glue. Pinch delicately. For added protection, do the same for your lips. Also your eyelids and your ears. Feel better yet? What?

Clean your bathtub. Yes, right now. Use one of those “clinging foam” cleansers, preferably one known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and a profound sense of the cold robbies. Do not open windows. Do as many jumping jacks as possible, and then stand there panting and wheezing and drawing those healthful bleach molecules into your mucus membranes and lungs. Cleans you right out from the inside, where it counts.

Remember the dignity of your orifice. Find a hole, cram something in. Make new holes if necessary. I’m not kidding: warm oregano oil in your ears, friggin’ onions in your ears, some kind of berry nonsense up your hoo hah, what do I care. The main thing is to create what scientists call a “ridiculous environment” so the bad microbes will suddenly come to themselves, be filled with shame, and flee.

Isolate. Stand in the middle of the town commons and shout, “I think This Is Us looks stupid and emotionally manipulative!” You’ll become an instant pariah, and thus cutting your risk of exposure to almost zero.

Sto lat! May you live to be a hundred and never have to find out what elderberries taste like.

***
Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

 

So you got an Instant Pot for Christmas

Congratulations! You’re the new owner of a gorgeous, gleaming, rather intimidating Instant Pot.

It can be a little overwhelming at first. Not to worry! There’s an entire community of seasoned Instant Potheads who are ready and willing to guide you through your first few recipes.

A few of the most commonly asked questions are easy to answer. For instance:

Q. Why is there steam coming out?
A. Because you left the steam valve open.

Q. Why does my machine say “BURN?”
A. Because it is burning.

Q. All the recipes say to press the “pressure level” button, but I can’t find it anywhere on my machine!
A. This is because your otherwise intelligent husband has bought you a slow cooker for Christmas.

So those are the basics. Here are a few more advanced issues you might find yourself tussling with as you become more familiar with your new device:

Q. I’ve just made a savory dish with lots of onion, garlic, and cumin, and I want to make rice custard next. Will the silicone ring pick up the smells and transfer them to other foods?

A. If you have an IP Chachacha-9000, no, it will not. Your IPC9K is equipped with Olfactogard™ technology, which negates smell molecules by harnessing the power of snozz. You should be able to move seamlessly from meat to custard and back again, just like when you were young.

If you’re concerned, though, simply remove the original ring and stuff a sock up in there (black is best, but you know your tastes) and proceed as normal.

Q. Where is the best place to store my Instant Pot?

A. You can store it anywhere. Some folks may worry that leaving an Instant Pot on the stovetop is inviting disaster, and that one careless knock of the stove dial may melt your expensive new appliance into oblivion before you even realize what’s happening, but this is largely an urban legend. You’re different, and this will never, ever happen to you.

Q. I know the Instant Pot works by building up pressure under a tight seal, but it’s so hard to let my food cook without checking on it. Can’t I just take a little peek?

A Oh, you scamp! Of course you can.  Just make it quick and no one will know the difference. Make sure you put your face nice and close so you don’t miss anything.

 

Q. My Instant Pot is dented, but it appears to be only on the outside. Is it still safe?

A. Maybe, or maybe not. The exterior housing is largely to for structural, hygienic, and aesthetic purposes, but there may be interior damage that’s not obvious at first.

Test it for soundness by situating your IP with the dent facing away from you. Tap it lightly with a wooden spoon, listen for an echo, tap again, give it a gentle shake, then casually knock it onto the floor as if by accident, and then suddenly let loose, jumping on it a few times while sobbing, “You bastard! You bastard! I never shoulda trusted you, but I’m just too soft, that’s what’s wrong with me!” Then throw it out the window, pick your way over the broken glass, get in your van, and run over it a few times while the mailman watches with his mouth hanging open. Open the cover and whisper into your Instant Pot, “I’m just too soft, that’s all,” and shake your head while your nose runs into your apron pocket.

Pick up your Instant Pot and carefully examine the condensation collector at the base. If it appears to be misaligned, your IP is probably not safe to use.

Q. Can I do canning in my Instant Pot?

A. Yes, sure, because everyone wants canned food.

***
Because I’m not entirely heartless, here is a layman’s guide by Lisa Love with some actual good advice for newbies. Good luck, you crazy kids.

Kids have head lice? Don’t panic (and only panic a little over fleas)

Last night, I dreamt we had lice. I was dismayed, and awfully grateful to wake up and realize it was just a dream. But even in my dream, I was grateful that it was just lice, and not fleas.

Yep, “just” lice. I say this because I know how to treat lice. Short version: You slather the infested head and hair with Cetaphil skin cleanser and blow dry it until it’s completely dry. This suffocates the lice. Do this once a week for three weeks. That’s it. The long version is here, but it’s not much longer than what I described.  It works.

Head lice are awfully upsetting, but as vermin go, they’re eminently conquerable. They have to have a blood meal at least every 24 hours, or they die, and most die sooner than that without a meal (unlike fleas, which can enter some kind of vermin stasis for months and months, and then spring back to life long after you thought it was safe). They only live on heads (so you don’t have to wash every freaking thing in your house; just pillowcases and hats, if you’re being thorough). They are killed by heat. And with the Cetaphil method, you don’t have to worry about letting harsh chemicals seep into your child’s brain, which is already sufficiently scrambled.

I was skeptical about the Cetaphil method, so I also did nit picking with the kids who had the most hair. I don’t know if it was necessary, but it certainly didn’t hurt. I took the advice in a book about lice (which, boy, if you think I’m milking a simple idea to get a blog post out if it, here is a woman who wrote an entire book, when she could have just said: “OLIVE OIL”) and took the nit picking as an opportunity to spend some time with the kids. I know it sounds nutty, but how often to do you sit there for an hour with your child’s head on your lap? I bet it’s been a while. You just surrender to the idea that you’re gonna be picking nits for a while, and you relax into it. It really is kind of soothing. Tell stories or listen to music. Or, be all upset and just get it over with, your choice.

Either way, you can manage this. Lice are beatable.

Oh, and fleas? I know what to do about them, too! You use Precor IGR, which is a flea contraceptive. It doesn’t just kill live fleas, it makes them sterile, so they can’t lay more eggs before they die. It’s the eggs that get you, when you use pesticide. Precor is safe to use around pets and kids, too, and you can treat your house preventatively. It’s basically magic.

One last word of advice: Don’t look at too many photos of the insect you’re trying to kill. That’s how they get in your dreams. And I don’t know what to do about that.

***
Image by Harry Rose via Flickr (Creative Commons) It’s not a picture of a louse. It’s a picture of a flower who believes in you! You can do it!

No, Tony Esolen, you can’t cure gay with football

I think he’s fallen prey to a dangerous fantasy, almost a fetish, of what the world once was: A world where fathers are always good, kind, and wise, where women are gentle and nurturing but not awfully bright, where the sun was always golden, sheets were always clean, and most of all, no one was ever, ever gay. (And if they were, it was because they accidentally talked to a gay man, who probably got that way by … not thinking about showering coal miners often enough … hmm.)

So here’s my advice to you, teenagers . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Renee Olmstead via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Marriage advice from two who know

YES, it’s our twentieth anniversary! We’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Here are none of them:

People think marriage is expensive, but there are so many costs you can halve when you become one flesh. Hello, one toothbrush. Hello savings! And thriftiness can be sexy, too. Take turns with it and watch each other brush. Up and down, up and down, side-side-side-side-side! This is hot.

Communication is at the heart of unity, and many people are most comfortable communicating constant expressions of disappointment. Start there, then work your way up to berating each other in the Wendy’s drive thru because why the hell would a grown man truly need that much ketchup, until you’re known far and wide as They’re At It Again. Eventually, the police dispatcher will have a special code just for you two. Embroider it on a pillow.

If you would like to broadcast your love to the world, pose often with your hands touching each other in claw-like fashion, or I guess it’s a heart shape. Grr! Love! Grrrr! I’ll scratch your eyes out!

Compromise, compromise, compromise. Try only being an irrational son of a bitch half the time.

Frequently tell your beloved that you cherish every tiny bit of them, from head to toe. Then, on a milestone anniversary, prove it by presenting them with a romantic pillow stuffed with years of carefully gathered toenail clippings, belly button lint, and drain hair. Pinterest has some good ideas for how to make this project happen. Tip: Don’t spend too much time on Pinterest. It’s not healthy.

When you take a picture of the two of you, hold up an empty frame in front of you. People are doing this. There must be a reason. It can’t be meaningless, can it?

Try to find hobbies you can do together. Accrue debt in both your names. Develop contagious skin conditions you can share. Work your way through vast quantities of cheese and meet in the middle. Grow identical beards.

Cultivate pet names for each other. Consider “sweet cheeks,” “sugar lips,” “xylitol assy cheeks,” or “partially-hydrogenated-palm-oil-me-lad.”

Keep a sense of mystery alive in your marriage. One woman was mad at her husband for forty-three years and refused to say why! And he kept up his end, too. She had no idea what was going on in that basement bathroom the whole time, with the rolled-up towel stuffed under the door and the scuffling noises.

Mason jars aren’t just de rigeur for the wedding reception; they must be carefully featured and maintained throughout your entire marriage. Commute to work in a mason jar if you have to. Tout pour l’amour! Tout, I say!

Romantic: Getting matching tattoos.
Even more romantic: Surprising each other with the tattoos you give your spouse while he or she is unconscious.
Even more romantic: Discovering what kind of tattoos you thought it was a good idea to surprise each other with while you were unconscious. How is it even physically possible for the Tasmanian Devil to accomplish . . . that . . . with a dolphin? Only your id knows.

Never underestimate the power of “pillow talk.” Try, “Mphhh grphhh umph bhh.” Also very evocative: Pillow screaming.

***

Happy anniversary, man. You know I don’t mean it. But I meant it when I said “I do.”

***
Image by Stephan Nakatani via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to let your toddler entertain herself (without screens!)

After eighteen straight years with more than one child in the house, I suddenly find myself alone with a toddler. I was worried it would be hard to keep her occupied while I got my work done, but it turns out toddlers are great at entertaining themselves. All you have to do is supply them with the right equipment — and try to turn off the over-anxious housekeeper in your brain.

Here are some tips to help your little one have fun, and to help you relax while she does!

-Let her play in the sink. Turn the chair backward for stability, and put lots of ladles, cups, sieves, and other tools in her reach. Don’t worry about the mess! Water is easy to clean. Put some towels on the floor if it helps you relax.

-Give her a bunch of brightly-colored cloths, preferably silks, that she can sort, fold, and distribute around the house. Yes, laundry will do! Laundry can be cleaned up, Mama, but babies don’t stay babies forever. Relax.

-Give her giant chalk and let her do her thing. Sure, inside. Chalk comes off just about any kind of furniture or paint, so relax. Or it doesn’t. Relax. Just relax. Just. Oh shit those are markers. But maybe they’re washable. Relax.

-Give her a spray bottle and let her “clean” things. Ignore it when she licks up the spray. Yes, ignore those other things she is licking, too. And those other things she is spraying. Maybe put bells on her so she can’t sneak up and spray you in the back of the neck. Or down the back of your pants. Or your compu— oh, well, keyboards can be replaced, Mama! But babies don’t last! Mama!

-Give her a metal can with a slot cut in the lid, and a bunch of coins. Such a satisfying sound as they tumble in! If you’re nervous about her eating coins, give her a milk jug with a hole cut in the side, and a supply of clothespins. Or give her whatever she wants. Give her your wallet. Give her a goldfish. Give her the gold bouillon you’ve been saving for your retirement. Give her live ammo. Just check her diaper later.

-Give her a knife. No, just a butter knife, and some, some, some play doh or celery or whatever to chop. Fine, let her have the real knife. Fine, let her cut you. You have more blood to give, Mama, I know you do.

-Watch Octonauts. Watch it and watch it and watch it.

Dear Simcha: Some back-to-school advice

Dear Simcha,

I believe in predictability, order, and routine. The alarm goes off at 6:20. Breakfast is always ready on time. We’re well-stocked with clean clothes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep the kids’ shoes in labelled bins and their backpacks on labelled hooks. I give them a ten-minute and a five-minute warning when it’s time to leave. We’ve been doing this exact routine for three weeks, but we are still late every single day, and my children are often partly naked. And they all act like it’s my fault! What is wrong with them?

Signed,
Craves order

Dear Craves,

Well, it is your fault, you know. Don’t you know how important it is to have reasonable expectations?

For instance, you are expecting your children to act like rational human beings, even though the testimony of every mother throughout the course of human history, from the cave matron shooing her hairy little cavebabies off to twig-gathering school to the LuLaRoe’d, overcaffeinated yummy mummy weeping quietly into her suddenly deserted cul-de-sac, can tell you children are lower than the animals.

Animals, at least, respond predictably to stimuli and will act in service of their own self-preservation. Children, on the other hand, can zero in on the least helpful, most self-destructive course of action like a hungry pig after a truffle. Children crave order and predictability. Children are order and predictability’s worst enemy. You must know this.

Still, you have to get out that door. Your only recourse is train your kids to sing out adorably, “Daddy gets us ready every morrrrrrning!” According to the latest research, a kid who turns up wearing a stained leotard, Scooby Doo slippers, and grits in her hair is cute as long as Daddy got her ready.

***

Dear Simcha,

I make a point of serving my kids a balanced breakfast including protein and whole grains every morning. They also bring a full lunch and two snacks, and I keep cheese sticks, almonds, and dried fruit in the car for the ride home. Can you tell me why they are always hungry enough to take actual bites of each other’s arms by the time we pull into the driveway at 3:45?

Signed,
It just don’t add up

Dear It,

Well, I’ll tell you. On that very special day when a brand new baby first opens his eyes on this big, overwhelming world, a tiny fairy comes to him and whispers a very special secret into his ear:

“You’re not going to eat your lunch,” she tells him.

“Never mind why. Just know that it doesn’t matter what your mother packs. It doesn’t matter if she cooks it herself, and you requested it specifically, and it is monogrammed with a special lunch monogrammer purchased at some expense from Hammacher Schlemmer. None of this matters, for, o my child, you are not going to eat it! Your lunch is just there for the ride. It wants to go to school, and it wants to sit on your desk, and then it wants to go home again, to be thrown away completely intact, even unto the granola bar that was produced on machinery that does not also process tree nuts. It is the way of the world, little one. So shall it ever be.”

Your best bet, mom, is to buy a chicken, a goat, or some other non-discerning animal with a great hunger, so at least someone eats all that food. Then, when it’s nice and plump, you can sell it on Craigslist and buy some booze.

***

Dear Simcha,

Wow, you sure do complain a lot about school! It just makes me glad that we home school. So many people believe that home school is going to be hard, but in my experience, a full day of school work can be accomplished in mere minutes a day. I have never met a homeschooler who has regretted their choice or who has found their job difficult.*

Signed,
Just Sayin’

Dear Just:

I may have a public school education, but even I can tell one of two things is going on here. Either (a) You don’t actually home school, but you fully intend to, once you have kids of school age, once you have kids, once you get married to your secret boyfriend, Milo or (b) You do home school, and you do finish in minutes a day, but your kids can’t, like, read. Or add. And the youngest one is nineteen.

I have friends who home school for all sorts of reasons, but not a single damn one who will tell you that it’s always easy. Like every other kind of parenting, including parenting that involves a brick and mortar school, home schooling is sometimes easy and rewarding, sometimes hard and unrewarding, and sometimes easy and unrewarding, and something hard and rewarding. Sometimes it’s some combination of these things within a single hour. So say all my home schooling friends who are not liars.

If you have any choice at all (and not everyone does), you keep on doing it as long as the rewarding part outweighs the hard part. But saying it’s always easy for everyone? That’s just plain . . .

you know what, never mind. I gotta get back to that Craigslist guy about this goat. Baaaaa!
_____
*Actual comment I read on actual Facebook.