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Tag Archives | housework

Monday Listicles: Around the House

I have dropped my anti-writing voices in a jar and shoved them in a neighbor’s closet (thanks, Bahareh!) but I can still hear their mewling in my head, getting in the way of words on the page screen.  But what could be a better way to break through writer’s block than making a list, write right? So I found my way back to Stasha, whose topic this week is easy-peasy: 10 things around the house.

Now, I wish I could show you a tres chic apartment, filled with aesthetically pleasing furniture and interesting objet from our travels.

Yeah. Maybe in the next life. Right now, I live in an apartment with an amazing view and none of my own furniture. We moved into a furnished apartment when we arrived in Abu Dhabi and while we have personalized it a bit, I’m not sure Real Simple or Martha Stewart would approve our … er… well, let’s put a brave face on things and call them “design choices,” shall we?

1. In our old apartment, I had plants, some of which I’d kept alive for five, ten, fifteen years. Here? I bought a gardenia plant at Ikea, put it on the windowsill and the desert sun crisped it in about three days…about three months ago.  Why I haven’t thrown it away yet, I have no idea.

2.  Nice view, right? We’re on the 37th floor, so it’s quite a vista. Nicely juxtaposed against the city view right now, however, is Liam’s current Lego project, which for some reason needed to be built in our living room: he’s building a house, and thus far he’s constructed the furniture for all the various rooms, including a baby’s crib, a bathroom (complete with toilet & toilet paper), and a kitchen.

3. Husband’s desk-nest and a TV screen that came with the apartment but we don’t want. We’ve not yet managed to return it to the building manager.  Isn’t Husband’s desk remarkably tidy? He’s been away for a week, and the cleaning lady had her way with his papers and boxes.

4. The junk laundry room, where soccer balls go to die. Or maybe to breed. I swear we only had two soccer balls when we moved here, and now we have…five? Plus a few more that are flat, buried in the bottom of this pile.

5.  The coffee table that came with the apartment is massive and has four cubbyholes under it, which seems to be where we’re stockpiling back issues of the newspaper. If you need an article from The National that ran in…April? May? then by all means, stop by.  Yes, yes, it’s true, the entire paper is available online.  I’m not sure why underneath my coffee table looks like Basic Hoarding 101, but perhaps Husband is operating on the principle that we’ll just keep the papers until the city institutes a proper paper recycling program.

 6.  Where I work. Sometimes. I don’t have a real workspace in this apartment: there is a desk in the bedroom but it’s a sort of decorative “ladies desk” with two tiny drawers, like a dollhouse desk, and it’s currently draped in laundry.  So I perch at the end of the dining table.  I have the standard mom-pile next to the computer: teaching work, my own writing, various hard drives, and a kids’ birthday party invitation that needs an RSVP.

7.  Beautiful silver candelabra from my mom’s house, lugged out here in our suitcases this summer. Now tastefully accented by rappelling-Lego-guy. And no candles because I can’t find dripless candles anywhere.

8.  The stove. Bane of my existence: electric, takes forever to heat and then forever to cool, and seems to have a heating element in the oven that only heats up on the top. Thus: burned-top, doughy-bottom for just about everything. But the real mystery here is: the drain. I can (almost) understand a drain near the sink. But near the stove, in the middle of the floor, where with just about every step, the drain-lid slips off with an annoying rattle? Is it meant as an abbattoir, so I can slit the chicken’s neck right by the stove, then toss the chicken into the oven? Or is it for washing the floor? I should just dump a bucket of water across the floor, sloosh it around, then swish it down the drain? It is, as they say, a puzzlement.

9.  Husband and I do want to make the apartment “ours,” and so to that end, we bought this wonderful photograph, taken by an Egyptian photographer who is a friend of a friend of ours. It’s a great photo. And one day, when it’s hanging on the wall, I can show it to you. In the meantime, it’s been a kind of “in process” installation in the front hall since early June.

10.  It has come to my attention that some people don’t save the Lego boxes. I am confused by that fact. I’m thinking of doing an entire “accent wall” in tiles made from Lego boxes.

And there you have it: how to personalize a furnished apartment in ten easy steps. If you’d like my sons to come over and help you achieve your own “lived-in” look, they’re available at a very reasonable hourly rate.

Continue Reading · on September 25, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, family, Monday Listicle, What’s It Like?

Ikea, i just can’t kwitya

We left New York in July with 12–TWELVE–suitcases in tow.  For a variety of reasons we decided not to ship any personal items and instead we took full advantage of our business class tickets, which allowed us each 3 checked bags, at 26 kilos each. If you’re flying business class, each suitcase can go up to 32 kilos, however, and they don’t charge you an overweight bag fee. It’s not fair but we were in no position to argue ethics with the flight crew: we needed every kilo of baggage we could get, and if that meant the people in steerage coach had to jettison their carefully considered gifts for folks back home, so be it. Dump ’em, baby, I’ve got fifteen pairs of shoes that must come to Abu Dhabi.

Of course, we got our comeuppance at the check-in desk, when two of our bags hit the “danger” weight of more than 32 kilos, and we had to scramble around to re-pack things, in front of all the real business class travelers, in their Chanel cashmere wraps and slim titanium rolling bags.  Nothing like having to re-pack, in public, on the floor of the airport, at 5 in the morning after being up most of the night to really start a trip off on the right foot.

Whatever. We got here. Bought ourselves a little suitcase-weighing gadget and before we left London for Abu Dhabi, we weighed each bag with the kind of attention drug dealers give to parceling out cocaine.

And what, you ask, was in all those bags? Well, clothes. Tablecloths. Vitamins. Shoes. Stuffed animals. Soccer cleats. Deflated soccer balls. A beautiful set of measuring spoons that someone gave us for our wedding. A blu-ray player. A wii. Books. Markers. Shampoo. Pure maple syrup (which is impossible expensive here).

And this:

Yes. That is in fact an entire duffel bag full of legos. And not a small duffel bag, I might add.

When we got to Abu Dhabi, that duffel bag translated to this:

Piles of ziploc bags, each containing fistful after fistful of lego, have been piled along the far wall in the boys’ bedroom for two months, ever since that duffel bag got upended the day after we arrived.

Last week we went to Mecca Ikea. Say what you will about that place, in Abu Dhabi, if you aren’t Emiratirich, it’s pretty much the only show in town. We visit friends in this building or elsewhere and it’s “Oh, you got the Expedit in brown. We have it in white.” Or “we looked for that table, but it was out of stock.” We’re all on a first-name basis with the innards of the Swedish flat-box store. (There’s a very funny article about Ikea in the New Yorker last week, or maybe it was two weeks ago. Or maybe last month, who can be sure).

We ordered enough stuff that we got delivery and assembly minions included (alas, you have to give the minions back). They came today and in addition to a sleeper sofa (now we can have overnight guests! If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of Arabia, stop on by!), we got various shelves and boxes, and this:

I think it’s actually called Trofast, but I prefer “lego wrangler.” Put one of those little circles over the “o” in lego and you’re all set. See? Tidy, color-coded (because god forbid Liam’s pieces should mix with Caleb’s pieces), and not on the floor.  Anyone who has ever stepped on a lego knows that the “not on the floor” part is key.

And that is why I keep going back to Ikea. It’s not great furniture, but I need the bins.

Continue Reading · on October 8, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, legos, moving, shopping

Maid Anxiety

I’m anxious today.

Well, actually, I’m anxious a lot of the time, in a kind of anticipatory free-floating sort of way–I like to have a sort of stockpile of anxiety on hand, ready to whip out at the slightest provocation, but this morning, my anxiety is pegged to a specific event.

The housekeeper is coming. And actually, even that word makes me anxious. Should I call her the housekeeper? Or the maid? Or the cleaner? Or should I go seriously third-world and call her “the girl,” despite the fact that she’s probably about 30.

I’ve never had a cleaning person before (there, that’s decided: she’s the “cleaning person”). Never in my adult life. My mom never had “help,” although she grew up with live-in help. My grandmother’s idea of “housekeeping” was calling the butcher in the morning to set aside veal cutlets for her, which may explain why when my mom first started living on her own, things like cooking an egg or boiling noodles were slightly unclear.  When we were growing up, we lived in a house with a laundry chute, and mom developed her own strategy for teaching us to pick up after ourselves.  Anything of ours that hadn’t been put away where it belonged she simply tossed into the chute. That meant that to find your algebra book, or tennis racquet, or wallet, or whatever it was, you had to go into the basement and pick through the dirty clothes pile to find your stuff.  Genius, right?

Out here in Arabia, though, labor is cheap. Really cheap. So cheap you practically can’t afford not to have help. Labor has been devalued to the point that sometimes the position of laborers borders on indentured servitude.  Many day laborers, mostly men, live in an enclave (we won’t call it a labor camp) outside the city–rows of dusty apartments inhabited by the South Asian and Pakistani immigrants who come here to work.  The women who come here to work–Filipinas, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis–often get positions as live-in housekeepers or nannies, and the apartments in our buildings are all designed, in fact, with maid’s rooms.

Here’s the room:

These spacious accommodations come with an “en suite” bathroom, which is so small that you could probably rinse your feet in the shower, brush your teeth, and take a pee all at the same time. We have friends in this building with live-in help, and while they wish they could offer more spacious accommodations, they all report that their “help” claims to be happy to have a private air-conditioned room with a private bathroom. Like I said. Labor is cheap here and accommodations in other places aren’t even as “nice” as these.

My person, however, is only coming once a week, on Sunday afternoons.  She’s from Sri Lanka and lives here with some number of relatives; the money she earns from housekeeping gets sent back home to support her 12 year old son. I know that she needs the work and yet I still have…I think it’s basic “white guilt.” I mean, who am I to hire someone to clean my bathrooms for me? Why the hell can’t I do it myself?

Well…well…because–okay, here it is, my assertion of first-world privilege: I just want someone else to do it, dammit, and for the first time in my life, I can afford that luxury. Plus I hate mopping the floor and our entire apartment is tiled in some kind of dreadful faux-marble surface that requires a great deal of mopping. And vacuuming.  There’s just a lot of general swabbing that needs to happen and I’m tired of it. Okay? Okay?

Yes. I’m a little anxious about it all. I’m worried that my cleaning products aren’t up to snuff. I’m worried about what I can ask her to do or not to do. Is it okay to ask her to wash the dishes in the sink from breakfast (we don’t have a dishwasher yet, or rather, I have been the dishwashwer and today, I guess she will be the dishwasher). What about laundry? Can I ask her to change the sheets on our bed? What if I ask her to do our bed but not the boys’ bunkbeds, does that seem fair? After all, changing the sheets on a bunkbed qualifies as an aerobic activity and I don’t want to inflict such an aggravation on this woman. Will that make up for the fact that our apartment is a mess? Now I understand that whole “cleaning up for the maid” syndrome because I’ve just suffered through it–although our apartment will have some clearly defined “no fly” zones:  Husband’s desk,  the mound of cords and cables in the TV room (yes, an apartment with a TV room that has a door that shuts when the wii gets too loud. Be still my beating heart), the lego projects/piles.

On second thought, I’m going to do the breakfast dishes.  Which means I don’t have any more time to write. She’s going to be here in an hour.

What’s the right outfit to wear for the first time you meet the help?


Continue Reading · on October 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, UAE

In a word: hats

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s also Lou Reed’s birthday. And, for that matter, Tom Wolfe’s birthday. (Thanks, Grace, for that last).  Somehow these guys all go together, don’t they? Word play, refusing to play by the rules, the dapper ensembles and occasional cross-dressing (at least in Lou’s youth).

I was thinking about Dr Seuss yesterday, actually, when I confronted my “to do” list for the day: bathroom cleaning, grocery shopping, dinner pondering.  Writing a blog post, working on my novel. Student papers read, lecture notes prepared. Emails about various volunteer projects at both boys’ schools. Yoga class.

When I type it out now, it doesn’t seem like that bad a list, right? But of course any of these things could conceivably take up the entire day, more or less–when “entire day” ends at 2:40, when boy #1 has to get picked up from school.

A long time ago, in the early childhood of this blog, I wrote a post about twinned patron saints of parenthood: Sisyphus and Wile E. Coyote.  When I look at my list from yesterday, what comes to mind is Bartholomew Cubbins and his five hundred hats.  Remember that story? How he was supposed to take his hat off in front of the king but every time he took off a hat, there was another one underneath?  That’s how I felt yesterday: wear the chef hat doing the shopping; then slap on the writer hat for a while and try to regain the momentum from last Tuesday; then toss the writer’s hat aside to put on the volunteer hat and figure out the auction project, the field trip chaperones, the yearbook; flip that hat across the room and put on the scullery maid hat to swab down the bathtub, the toilets, and the sinks, which are sort of en croute with toothpaste. (Is it wrong that I aspire to having someone else clean my bathrooms?)

All hats off, I consider the clock: is there time to dash across Union Square for a type-A yoga class, an hour of BE CALM RIGHT NOW? I figure I can make it, zoom into the class, GET CALM, zoom to pick up child #1, and then home.

I guess I should be grateful that I was channeling Bartholomew and his hats rather than the oobleck (although perhaps that is what’s crusted over on the bathroom sink).

How many hats do you wear?

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Continue Reading · on March 2, 2011 in Books, family, NaBloPoMo, Parenting

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