Monthly Archives: April 2016

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies


They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.


When You’re Going on a #Cruise #Travel – I Can’t Hear You, It’s Too No.


Who is that sleeping man on the PA system?

When the ship’s fun people have something they want you to know, for example, “HEY HEY GOOOOOD MORNING NORRRRRRWEEEEEEGIANNNNNS! It’s Dan Dan your kaaaaruuuuuzediRECtorrrr… Today at 10:00 we have BINGO in the Hardevik Lounge for $50 a card. Jackpot today is 50,000 Hemnes Ikea beans in your choice of dressing… At 10:07 we will begin our CaSSSSSSINOOOOO shuffle time elkhound runabout! IT’s all the rage! Cruiser contestants arm wrestle in frozen spent espresso grounds for Big Prizes like a Carton of Cuban Cigarettes attached to the end of a leash… when you catch the elkhound, you win the tobacco! The lighter is not included…” or “At 11:12 in the Watermelon Seed Pond it’s Kiddie DJ Dance Up Splash Down…”

The message’s preceding “Bing Bong” tone which sounds exactly like the Washington DC MetroRail “Doors Opening” chime, will play in the open areas, outside the closed door from your cabin. So everything sounds like it’s underwater.

It’s challenging enough to have “Ayyy Norrrweeeegiaaaannn tallkeeng tew yew very laoud on a small spicker outsaiide yewrroom,” but to have the door closed adds another layer of difficulty.

What’s worse? I’ll tell you: BINGBONG (inside your room, so you know it’s official and they’re not trying to take your money because those in-room announcements comes from the bridge) “Goodmorning passengers, this is Captain Mikal speaking from the bridge. Today we are headingsouthwestbynortheastinaroundaboutdirectionand. We anticipate40footswellsandgaleforcewindsbringing arcticblastsaccompaniedbyvolcanicash. Aftersurrenderingyourfirtsborn, nnngngnzzzzgngng….As a resultwehavedecidedtosuspendallactivitiesontheropeszzzznnzngngggggg…. and thenaswemakeourwaythroughthesixthringof zzzzgngngggggzzzz  Dante’sInfernowewillbeginservingespanikopita, So whenyouseethespanikopita, Youwillknowthat it is then time…..nnnngngggnzzzzzznggggg….   ”

That. That’s worse.

When we first left NYC, we were escaping by a few hours a late-season (as in “it’s no longer winter”) snowstorm in the Northeast Corridor. The captain was on the PA system and I do recall hearing him talk about travel conditions. Because he eats the microphone and it descends toward his duodenum, it’s hard to understand him, but I do recall having to decide whether he said “fourteen foot swells” or “forty foot swells.” I also remember him saying either “35 knot headwind” or “55 knot headwind.” No matter, because the ship was indeed afloat in some active water and you could feel it.

I’m not sure what happened, because by all accounts and according to the ship’s own “Navigation Channel” we were heading south and around 9pm that same Sunday evening, there was SNOW ON THE DECK. It was colder than cold and windier than windy.


Mmm. Just real… yeah. I’ll take a blanket.

I’m guessing by that point, we were somewhere outside the Chesapeake Bay because the sea water was clean. My son and I were intrepid though, I said to him, “Show me this ship,” because he’d already been all around it.

You don’t hear from the captain every day. It only happens when you leave somewhere or are on the approach. Seeing as how you would spend at least 24 hours at sea without stopping, hearing from the bridge was a novelty, and I guess a good one because as they say in the biz, “no news is good news.”

A couple days later, my husband and I were remarking about how we hadn’t heard from him and that when we do, we can’t understand him. He is actually JUST LIKE the Swedish Chef.

But then we started waxing apocalyptic about all the things the captain would say and that we’d not understand, “Goodeveningdisisyourcaptainreportingfromthebridge. Wehavebeencommandeeredbypiratesandaresurrenderingyourwives andchildrenfirstzzznnnnzzggnggngg… ” things like that. “Onyourstarboardsideyouwill nnnnnggggzzzzgngngn…. seethatwehavebeenovertaken ggggnnnzgzzzgznnng… byalargeandheretoforeunknownseamonster whichwewillcalltheBreakawayDestructor…”

All this said, driving and piloting a massive ship like the Breakaway is no small feat. When we pulled into Nassau a day early, the ship had to be backed in to its slip.


This is our slip, on the left in Nassau. We headed into the port, naturally, bow first. This photo is taken, still with the bow forward, as we are beginning to spin the ship to the right, and then  back into the slip, on the dockside closest to the other ships, with the dock on our port side. No, starboard (man, rowing has jacked me up).

And it’s not like when my son drives the SUV, the last thing you feel before your neck snaps isn’t vehicle’s bump into the concrete abutment of the parking space. You don’t even know the ship has stopped moving by the time it’s all said and done.

If I owned NCL, I would add this to the its onboard iConcierge app post-haste: a daily report from the bridge, a little map of where we are and where we’re headed by the end of the night, the evening weather report and stage of the moon for skygazers and constellations. But that’s because I’m weird and I like my brain and I’m into educating my kids. I’m not wondering what the drink of the night is, nor am I totally into winning “the beeeg priiiihze at the guess the dessert-in-the-bag-o-rama…”


When we boarded, I thought I was at Costco. I saw cases of water on top of peoples’ personal luggage. I asked my husband, “Is this a joke? Are people this stupid?” He had no clue. We honestly didn’t understand why people would do this.

First: just bring your own reusable water bottle from home. I didn’t. I wish I had because a liter or Aquafina, which is just water from a Pepsi plant, is $5.50. But I bought only one bottle and washed it out (yes, with a soap-like product) every time I refilled it.  My son did bring his own water bottle. Never used it. Bought a liter. Almost left the water bottle, a $23 glass water bottle which I REALLY love on the ship. But he didn’t. I made him go back for it.

You can also refill the bottle with lemonade or iced tea or a combo or make iced coffee… it’s silly not to bring your own bottle. Just make sure it’s empty before you get anywhere near pre-boarding US Customs.

And as for beverages while on the ship: just buy the beverage package. I’m not sure how much it was per person, but I am sure you can work an angle; make the adjustment on the ship if you need to because any soft drink handed to you by another human being who works on the ship will cost you. I’m not a boozer, but my liver probably freaked out and wondered if we were back at a wedding when in college by Friday.

One day I had a margarita at 1:00pm and I thought I was going to fall asleep. I don’t know how people do it, drink in the middle of the day. I had one while reading on my chaise lounge (which I liberated from a fraudulent practice of predawn hangover squatting by a gang of EuroTrash stowaways, more on that later) and would’ve easily taken a nap if it weren’t for the amazing DJ who was playing all manner of House Music from 2008, “Wobble” by V.I.C. and “Jump” by House of Pain (one of my favorites, actually) almost nonstop. Another favorite was “Firework” by Katy >Ack!< Perry.

At one point I was so OVER the house music and the sixth mixed round of Wobble that when the DJ played “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones, I almost stood up and clapped. The sound quality coming from real instruments after listening to the hissing Katy Perry restored my sanity. Sadly, that song was… you guessed it: interrupted by yet another raffle announcement on the Burgdagord Funtimes deck and it DID NOT resume playing. The Black Eyes Peas did. You know, that band from 2010…? Them.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.59.27 AM

I must thank V.I.C. because I didn’t know I was a “shorty” until after that cruise. Apparently all the shorties in the club, he wants to see your chest. And if you wobble it, he will gobble it. And he wants to make you back it up. Whatever the hell that means… To see five-year-olds donning leopard-print bikinis dance poolside to this music… was unsettling.

On certain mornings, say at 8am, you’re just not in the mood to hear “All the shorties in the club let me see your chest…” as you wander to the Garden Cafe on the exterior deck of the ship and I wondered, what happened to Frank Sinatra, or The Beatles, or John Williams movie scores, or show tunes soundtracks… or I don’t know: nothing? Outside the rooms, they play anesthetizing dentist’s office music.

Why can’t they tone that shit down in the morning?

I know the tired woman I saw with the messy hair wearing the tiger-print halter top and white leather pants, who not wearing her high-heeled strappy sandals, who was nursing a sweaty Heineken, and who dragging on a long-ashed smoke in the designated smoker’s pen at 8:30 in the morning would’ve appreciated a little less volume.

We’ve all been there.

I was also thinking about what a waiter said one night, that most of the time, the cruises have older people on them and that it was fun for the crew to have college kids and young families on board because most of the staff is in its 30s-60s so they miss their own families.

I saw one Golden Anniversary-ish couple onboard which I had the pleasure twice of witnessing them not speak to each other at all over the course of an entire dinner one evening until the woman broke the silence when she reached into her purse and handed her husband a pill that he had “to take with this drink, not that one.” My guess is that someone booked the wrong week for that couple.


Don’t. Just don’t. I did. I lost half a day. The point of this is that you’re on a floating hotel and that everyone looks like they just woke up, want to go to bed, can’t find their bed, woke up in the wrong bed, or fell out of bed. People are ready for the pool. People are coming out of the pool. People are simply not looking their best. They’re not looking like death warmed over, but if you’re a chick, your hair is going to get blown all over the place because the Atlantic is a windy place and the ship is really moving. I saw more baseball caps than in a dugout.


Pack a small pharmacy because you never know when your husband will stub his toe and need a bandaid. Nor do you know when your son will feel sick and need a Pepogest. Nor do you know when you won’t be able to stop sneezing and a benedryl is the only thing that will help you sleep. Because you left the Xanax you requested, for the first time ever from your GP, at home. Because you’re bloody brilliant.

What to put in this pharmacy?

  • benedryl
  • advil
  • tylenol
  • bandaids
  • neosporin
  • aspirin (it helps reduce my nasal sniffles)
  • pepto bismol
  • pepogest (enteric-coated peppermint oil for the stomach, it’s awesome)
  • eucalyptus oil for the feet (congestion)
  • oregano oil for immunity support (3 drops in an ounce of OJ once a day)
  • ear plugs
  • gas-x (let’s not kid ourselves, you’re going to overeat)
  • anything else you think you might need, but in sample size.


If you like waiting, by all means take the elevator. Our room was on 9. The cafeteria is on 15. It was a walk every day, of course, to get to the food. There was something glorious though about feeling your heart pounding and your breath deeper and heavier right before you dive into a platter of bacon and french toast.

As the days wore on, it seemed more people opted for the stairs. The elevators are fast, so that isn’t the trouble; it’s the volume of people using them. Often I saw people board on one floor and then after I reached the floor first, they got off the elevator on the same deck.

I’m that fast.

I didn’t have to lift a finger for ANYTHING on that cruise. I didn’t make my bed, Imade (“Ih-mah-day”) did. I wanted to secretly call him “Look at what” and then “Imade” but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It reminded me of how I treated new neighbors I didn’t like who moved in immediately after my favorite neighbors, the O’Keefes, moved out. I called them “UTBOKs” for “Used to be O’Keefes.” I missed the O’Keefes so much I didn’t bother getting to know them. They were pleasant, but they were in over their heads. They lived there less than 2 years; they had to foreclose on the house. 

But Imade did it all. He is a lovely man and I’ll write about him and the other crew members we met and spoke with later.


Just yes. Either make or buy a lanyard here on terra firma now or pay $6 for each one on the ship. The most practical lanyard would be the kind which unclips the necessary parts from the rosary other half around your neck. Of course, I didn’t understand the utility of the detachable lanyard until four days into the cruise when I’d been taking off my lanyard to present it to a server for a drink, or a purchase at a coffee shop, or buy a pack of playing cards at the mediocre gift shop (MGS), or a meal at a restaurant, or to get into my room, or to turn on the lights in my room, or to use the vending machine, or to disembark, or to embark……… I’m embarrassed it took me that long to realize I could simply unclip the lower part and give that to the requesting party…

Bring your own single-hole puncher or send your husband to wait in line for 20 minutes on day 1 to get the family’s punched. Then use the key-ring part of the lanyard to attach your cards, not the flimsy clear-plastic sleeve that comes with the $6 lanyard purchased at the MGS. Why? Because that sleeve will rip by day three and your 12-year-old son will lose his cards.

Also, if you book multiple cabins, get an extra / guest card for each cabin because you will your children will forget theirs.

I’ll be back with more insights, highlights and ideas soon. I have to go now though because there’s a soaking wet elkhound dragging a carton of cigarettes from a leash roaming outside my house and he’s being followed by that woman in the tiger print halter and white leather pants.

Thank you.

ps — I still feel sea wobbly but not nearly as robust as I did when I first wrote about the cruise on Tuesday. I have faith my balance will be restored.