Saturday, February 28, 2015


This morning, as I was ironing pillowcases, it suddenly occurred to me that for all of my adult life I have been missing the one home appliance that symbolizes true womanhood—a mangle. A mangle is a large ironing appliance that has a heated roller contraption. It is especially useful for ironing large flat items like tablecloths and sheets and it occupied a considerable amount of space in our basement laundry room.

When I was growing up my mother operated the mangle like an artist. It was a thing of beauty to watch her. She ironed sheets and handkerchiefs, of course, but she also was able to iron my father’s cotton boxer shorts—surely a lost art. She taught me how to use the machine. I sat before it, pushing the various levers with my legs and feeding in the fabric with my hands and smelled that glorious aroma of a hot iron on freshly laundered linens.

So today, as I iron my pillowcases with a simple iron and ironing board, I feel a bit of nostalgia. I miss our phone with the party line. I miss the old powdered Spic n Span that would take the paint off your car. I miss Teen Twists at the Mighty Mo. And I miss my mother’s mangle.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The nonsense of tidying up: A book review

The thrill is gone. The New York Times Best Seller List no longer impresses me. How low can American readers sink? Apparently quite low is the answer. This is my review of a book that has sold millions of copies and is highly ranked on Amazon—where currently it is ranked the #1 best seller in the Motivational/Self-Help category. I have read about half of the book and re-read sections just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. It is perhaps the most inane book I have ever read. Just to prove my point and to keep you from wasting money on this nonsense, here are tidbits of the author’s “revolutionary” and “life-changing” discoveries.

From The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

Permit me to illustrate the author’s strange inclinations, even in her childhood:

  • “I started reading home and lifestyle magazines when I was five . . .”
  • “At school, while other kids were playing dodgeball or skipping, I’d slip away to rearrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the contents of the mop cupboard, all the while muttering about the poor storage methods.”
  • “The subject of tidying first caught my attention when I was in junior high school. . .” after reading a book entitled The Art of Discarding.
The author describes the stress and frustration in her youth as she tried to get rid of as much as possible. She even extended her decluttering efforts to her siblings’ rooms and the communal storage lockers at school—without asking the others if she could discard their things. She writes: “Far from apologizing for discarding their things without permission, I would retort, ‘I threw it out for you because you weren’t capable of doing it yourself.’” I only can imagine what would have happened in my home if I had thrown out my brothers’ possessions.

She had trouble deciding what to keep and what to discard. She became so stressed with her failed efforts that she heard a voice telling her, “Look more closely at what is there.” Then she fell asleep on her cluttered floor. That was the moment of her great epiphany. “Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to  choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

At that point, with this moment of clarity when she understood that possessions must “spark joy,” her decluttering system evolved and became her theory, the practice that resulted in a successful business and spawned this best-selling book. Some of the techniques that she insists her clients use (with the air of a demented prison matron) include:

  • When sorting through clothing, you should throw every item of clothing on the floor in one big pile.
  • If you decide an item does not bring you joy, you should gently touch each item and thank it for a job well done before discarding it.
  • She is not in favor of hanging most clothing. She recommends folding. “When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly, we are, I believe, transmitting energy, which has a positive effect on our clothes. Folding properly pulls the cloth taut and erases wrinkles, and makes the materials stronger and more vibrant. Clothes that have been neatly folded have a resilience and sheen that can be discerned immediately, clearly distinguishing them from those that have been haphazardly stuffed in a drawer. The act of folding is far more than making clothes compact for storage. It is an act of caring, an expression of love and appreciation for the way these clothes support your lifestyle. Therefore, when we fold, we should put our heart into it, thanking our clothes for protecting our bodies.”
And then she tells us, those of us who are among the uncouth, disgusting sock rollers, about the client who left her “speechless.” That client rolled her socks into balls, not allowing them a chance to rest. “The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled. They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic is stretched beyond recovery. When the owner finally discovers them and puts them on, it will be too late and they will be relegated to the garbage. What treatment could be worse than this?”

What treatment could be worse than this? I feel like I’m being accused of tying puppies to a tree and leaving them in a blizzard with no shelter. Rolling socks and letting them bump into others in the sock drawer is the equivalent of genocide. I don’t feel guilty about the socks. I don’t regret not cleaning out other people’s lockers in junior high school. And I really don’t feel the need to caress my clothing and express my appreciation to that dingy old t-shirt before I throw it in pile for the thrift store.

So in my indignant little snit I close the book at page 92. Throwing the book in the trash might spark joy. My only regret is that I paid good money for this nonsense and I added one more sale to keep this ridiculous book on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The foot of a buffoon

Lord, I am weak. I am a buffoon, a fool. I open my mouth and insert my foot, my calf, and at least half of my kneecap, like some sort of wicked ashtanga pose that no one else does nearly so well. If I knew myself (which, of course, I don’t—apparently no insight at all) I really wouldn’t like the old woman I am. Before attending a social gathering I might look at the guest list. If my name was on the list I would find any excuse to avoid the event.

I’m practicing my excuses:

“I’ve got a wicked hangnail. Sorry, can’t possibly make it on Friday night.”

“Oh, wait. Did I say I could come? How could I have forgotten that I’m supposed to be in Shanghai next week to negotiate the release of those pesky hostages? Sorry, I have to decline your lovely invitation.”

“I think I’m coming down with Ebola. Should be avoiding crowds, especially that miserable woman I can’t stand, so I must decline.”

“To be brutally honest, I won’t be in the same room with her. Disinvite her and I’ll come. So will everyone else.”

It gets complicated. How do I avoid my own idiocy? I stay at home, possibly in bed under the covers. I become a hermit, my house a cave, no iPhone (wait—already did that), no television (that’s already done too), turn off the phone (that’s easy), and remove myself from polite society.

Or the alternate view is that I turn it over to God. Trust Him. Turn over to Him all of my faults, all of my foolishness, frailties, my tendency to see the darkness instead of the light. Remind me once again, Lord, that I have been made in your image and that you did not create me a fool. You forgive my unending failures. Let me see your light in the darkness. Let me live in joy, let my spirit soar in the presence of your unending love.