Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Cleaning house.

Posted on | September 29, 2018 | 3 Comments

So I’m gonna start at the ending and work my way back to the beginning.  Which is against the rules, I know.  But the rules are kind of fast and loose around here lately.  If you wondered where I was for almost the past year, I was cleaning house.  That seems like a lot of cleaning.  And it was.  Oh, it was.

I’m writing to you from my 32′ RV.  Where I stay now.  Overlooking the pond and garden on a raised gravel lane with my own power pole and water line and, of course, wifi.  I have 2 indoor/outdoor cattens (1/2 kitten and 1/2 cat. You missed their full-on kitten stage) from the animal shelter that hang out on the couch when I’m in here and underneath the rig when I’m not.  They are pleased to join me when I open the door and start passing out cat treats but just as quick to dump me if they see anything interesting going on outside.  They are, after all, cattens.  Capable of dispensing love and indifference in equal quantities.

This weekend I am cleaning out the summer garden.  But I am only putting in a couple of rows of winter greens.  The rest of the garden is going back to grass, minus some areas where I’m transplanting perennials or leaving open for wildflower seeds in the spring.  I’m going to let the fruit trees expand to shade large areas along the fenceline.  I don’t need row after row of vegetables now that my kids are rarely here for mealtimes.  And we all know how much I dreaded canning.  Now I’m gonna spend winter planning a habitat garden for pollinators with just a bit of veggies and herbs tucked in between swaths of blooms.

Of course, I will have to have my compost delivered because all of the barn animals are gone.  The last of them left in January.  A young family just starting with dairy goats left with a horse trailer full of my 4 sheep, 1 goat buck, 1 Angora rabbit, a couple dozen chickens and ducks, and the 2 Great Pyrenees.  They mainly wanted the Great Pyrenees as they had a coyote problem but also 2 young children running around the barnyard.  So they needed a livestock guardian that was bad for coyotes but good for kids and Bruno and Bella were just the solution.  I managed to convince them to take everything.  Once the barn was cleaned out and the last critter was gone I waited to feel sad.  Or regretful.  Or bored. Each morning I woke up, sipped my coffee, and thought…..Don’t have to go out to the barn anymore.  Then I thought….whew.

I was even happy when I got pics from the family of how well everything was going at their place.

Although I admit buying eggs from the grocery store stings a bit.  Luckily I am still surrounded by chicken owners and healthy free range eggs aren’t had to come by.   Neither are stories of foxes in the henhouse or chickens having to be hand delivered into the coop each night from their roosts in the bushes or an entire brood of chicks being lost to a black snake.  Those stories make me cringe in sympathy and then give my cattens an extra ear scratch.  Because cattens may not give eggs but they also do not have these problems.

Once the animals were gone I had plenty of time for writing.

Did you notice lots of writing between January 2018 and now?

No, you didn’t.

Because once the barn animals were gone, it was time to clean house.  Which is a euphemism for lots of thing, but also means, you know,  cleaning house.  And cleaning house can be an ugly process.  Not just because no matter how much you clean house, nobody notices.  Which is a euphemism but a real thing, too.  Not just because as soon as you mop the floor someone walks across it with muddy shoes.  Which is a euphemism but a real thing, too.  Not just because asking and begging and screaming at people to help clean house is exhausting.  Which is a euphemism but a real thing, too.

All of that together was too much to write about but too much to hold in and so I hit the trails.  I hiked 2 and 3 and 4 hours at a time.  I went to the gym and put miles on the treadmill.  I tried to walk out my anger and frustration and exhaustion until I gave myself injuries and was still angry and frustrated and exhausted.  Which was when I realized you can’t outrun cleaning house.  (Well, really there was no running.  My breasts don’t run.  No matter how frustrated or angry I get.  They draw the line at running.)  Because after all those miles I was still stuck with me.

Also, I was stuck with my hips and thighs.  Because a hike in the morning AND an hour in the gym at night did not make me skinny.

I know.  What the f**k, right?!

In the end the solution was my own little house.  A house that I could keep clean in only 15 minutes a week.  A house without anyone else’s baggage except for mine.  A safe house only a short ways down the driveway where the older kids can stop on their way to and from work and class to check in.  Where the younger ones come for scrambled eggs for breakfast and packed lunches before I drive them to school.  With an outside grill where I make family dinners after sports games and practice.  With a TV in the front room for the boys to watch NBA games and a TV in the bedroom for me and Pretty to binge watch Netflix on rainy days.

It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not orthodox.  The family has struggled with fruit flies and fleas and mice since I stopped cleaning their house.  Which left me struggling with my conscience, my guilt, and my overwhelming relief.

Because even though the air steward tells us to put our masks on on first.  Even though the therapists keep telling us that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else.  And even though we know, oh, we know, that if we crash and burn we take the whole family down with us, when it comes to marriage and parenthood, do we really believe in taking care of ourselves?  Do we?

I don’t know.  All I know is that going to sleep in my RV, with the windows open to the frog chorus in the pond, and the cattens curled at the foot of the bed, is sometimes the only way I can face all my other responsibilities.  And it was the only way back to my writing.

A friend was sitting at the patio table outside the RV not too long after it arrived.  She had finished the grand tour (which doesn’t take long in a 32′ RV) and was sipping a cool drink with a kitten (they were still kittens then) on her lap.

“What do you think?”  I asked.

“I think it’s a very impressive mid-life crisis,” she replied.

“You really think it’s a mid-life crisis?  Really?” I asked.  Because my friends are real friends.  The kind that tell you the truth.

She smiled.

“Hard to say,” she answered.  “I’ve never known a woman with enough balls to have a mid-life crisis.”

Which is a euphemism. But a real thing, too.

I was proud, horrified,  and a bit disappointed in myself.  Am I really the only one—the only woman ever who couldn’t take it anymore?  And has a woman really gone off the rails when she refuses to clean the toilets anymore?  Or wash the dishes and wipe the counters?  Will my family have to write painful memoirs because they were forced to clean up after themselves or live in their own filth?  I’m not sure if that counts as abandonment or just the loss of a live-in maid.  And what kind of woman having a midlife crisis settles for a 10 year old RV with bald tires?  Shouldn’t I have gotten a 2018 unit with auto-leveling and dual air conditioning units??

It’s a confusing time, people.  But we have lots to catch up on.  I believe I left off somewhere in the middle of the summer 2017 trip.  And I have traveled since then.  And one of the kids grew up and moved out.  And I took a second job.  And I have to figure out how to winterize an old RV before the cold temperatures arrive.  I expect to skip around a bit.  Because we’ve kind of thrown out the rule book around here.

Except everyone takes their shoes off before entering the RV.  This house is clean and it’s stayin’ that way!


3 Responses to “Cleaning house.”

  1. Ellen
    September 30th, 2018 @ 4:59 am

    I’ve been missing your posts, and looked at your website just a couple of days ago to see if there might have been a post I hadn’t seen.

    I have always been in awe … and kind of scared .. by the huge demands you had been placing on yourself. It certainly makes a lot of sense to dial things back and regroup. And it sounds like you’ve made some other changes as well.

    Now, I admire your courage, creativity, and pragmatism. Just so you know, you’re not the first woman I know to come up with this particular solution, if that helps at all with the guilt thing.

    I wish you the best with this phase of your life. Keep us posted.

  2. Cheryl
    September 30th, 2018 @ 8:15 am

    Wow! I am awed and impressed. A couple of my friends have done something similar, and I haven’t seen any indication of regret.

    After years of the kids being grown and gone, and now the grands being on the way out of their respective doors, they all want to come here for big holidays. We love having them, but I can’t help but feel a little of that old resentment when they leave and no one has done a damn thing to make the clean-up any easier for me.

    But then I remember what Anne Lamott says about resentment: “It’s like taking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.” I’d build myself a little cabin out here in our woods, but every one of them (and all their dogs) would think it’s the coolest place to hang out, and I’d be cleaning two places when they leave. ha!

  3. Aunt Roanne
    October 10th, 2018 @ 2:49 pm

    Congrats, Stephanie. Gramma R is proud of you!!!

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