Tuesday, September 26, 2017

One Morning in Gloucester

I can't help feeling as if a lot of the summer passed us by; knee-deep in baby mode and just trying to make a reasonable number of naps happen at reasonable times, I wasn't exactly taking the kids out on exciting excursions every day.

Something about fall arriving, and with it my work schedule picking up significantly, has actually helped us find a bit of a rhythm to our days again.  I was pretty anxious about how I'd manage everything ahead of time, as I was working to schedule all my teaching and freelancing work for the year; but I guess if there's an upside to having a sort of anxiety attack and completely freaking out and melting down about how in the world you're going to survive life and keep juggling all the things you're juggling, it's this: the reality is rarely as bad as your absolute worst fears and imaginations.  Even with needing to make completely last-minute arrangements for childcare during all my working hours, we've been managing to piece things together and getting through each day.

And while there really aren't enough hours in each day, I do find that knowing I'll be working in the afternoons Monday through Thursday helps me prioritize my morning hours better.  And needing to keep to my work schedule helps me schedule in other things in advance a little better too; instead of waiting to see what I feel able to accomplish in a given day {probably nothing, let's be honest}, if I plan things ahead I find that I can actually do them sometimes!

While I may sometimes wish I could be working less, I'm also getting to enjoy a lot of good things in life.

This morning I took the girls to a beach in Gloucester to enjoy the 80 degree September day.

The day was utterly gorgeous.  Warm but not scorchingly hot, breezy, and with a beautiful fog settled over everything that cleared as the morning went on.  My iPhone photos can't really do it justice, but that didn't stop me from trying to capture it anyway.

I couldn't stop exclaiming to Nell and Ree about that gorgeous gray fog.

Meanwhile, the girls were eager to dig and play in the sand, search for shells and other treasures, and wade into the water to race each wave up onto the shore.   Molly obligingly sat in the Ergo, snuggled against me, my companion in taking in the beauty of the day.

We found marvelous tide pools to wade through and explore.

Nell was quick to observe that the seaweed-covered rocks reminded her of a page from the book One Morning in Maine, when Sal slips on seaweed on a rock while saying hello to a loon and a seal.

Not long after that observation, she found a gull feather, just like Sal does in the book.  I asked her if she was going to make a wish on it, like in the story, and she replied that she already had.  When I asked her what she wished for, she passed the test: "I can't tell you, or the wish won't come true!"

I had a sneaking suspicion it might have been a wish like Sal's wish from McCloskey's book.  So, after stopping to observe the amazing milkweed pods exploding on either side of the boardwalk, we headed for the car.

...And drove a couple of minutes up the road for chocolate ice cream cones.  Just like Sal in One Morning in Maine wished for on her seagull feather.

At the ice cream stand, we parked next to an elderly couple who ordered their own ice cream cones just before we did.  Impeccably dressed in slacks and a blouse, the woman held her soft serve cone with hands that shook, drops of ice cream spilling on her papery skin.  We chatted for a little bit while the girls enjoyed their ice cream cones.  "These are the best years of your life," she told me, watching the kids lick the sprinkles off their cones.  The couple stayed after finishing their own ice creams, watching the girls and periodically offering paper towels or a word of advice for a child to catch an impending drip.  She told me about her two sons, her five grandchildren, her two great-grandchildren.  When I asked if we were keeping them from anything, she replied, "Oh no... what do we have to go home to?!  Nothing!"

Driving home, my eyes filled with tears for a moment thinking about it all: the beautiful morning, the memories I get to make with my kids, and an aging woman who had grown up in Maine and moved to Gloucester, raised her own kids and then retired to a beach front home that was beautiful but empty.  I wondered how many ice cream cones she had enjoyed over the course of her life, how often she and her husband took a little jaunt down to the ice cream stand on a summer's day to enjoy a cone of soft serve in their car together.   And I wondered what our family's life will look like twenty, thirty, forty years from now.  Perhaps I'll have the clean house I work so hard for these days but can rarely attain.  And perhaps I'll see mothers with young children, sandy from head to toe, sticky from an ice cream treat, and remember with fondness the best days of my life.  The days when I had sand tracked through my house and sticky handprints on the car door handles, when tired children fell apart from too much fun and cried more than seemed necessary over the prospect of a shower, when I lifted little girls into the stream of clean water and they stopped wailing and instead squealed with laughter as chocolate came off their faces and we watched sand and dirt swirl down the drain.

I asked Nell if by chance a chocolate ice cream cone had been what she wished for, and she replied that yes, it was exactly what she wished for, but that she had actually wished for two things.  She also wished for a real baby pig of her very own.

At least I could make one of those wishes come true.

Friday, September 1, 2017

My Review of the Neato Botvac

As I'm sitting down to write this evening, Cinderella is cleaning my floors.

No, really.  Allow me to explain.

A while ago my husband received some extra and unexpected money, for which we were very grateful.  It came with a note saying it was hoped it could be used "for rest and relaxation."

And not long thereafter, Nathan and the girls were out running a few errands one morning, and came home with a surprise for me: the ultimate, most long-lasting form of rest and relaxation one can procure.

A Neato Botvac.

What is a Botvac, you may well ask?

It's like a Roomba, only {sorry, Roomba users} better.

* * *

The Botvac has an app you can install on your phone, which allows you to name your robot and then to operate it from your phone, which is very convenient and also fun.  It also means your phone will receive alerts if the Botvac gets stuck somewhere or needs the dirt bin to be emptied, and an alert when it finishes cleaning.  You can also access a map of the most recent cleaning, which usually shows quite accurately the areas the Botvac has cleaned.

A map of a recent cleaning.  Since our home has two rooms that are down steps, she doesn't do those rooms unless I move her in there and run a specific cleaning in either of those spaces.  So you can see on the map how her lasers plotted some general sense that those spaces existed, but she kept herself from going off the ledges into either of those rooms.

Our girls, as you may have guessed, immediately clamored to name our Botvac Cinderella, and so, we did.  {I initially wanted to name it Carson, to tell the truth, but the girls won out on this one!}

Her notifications are always charming and polite, such as, "Thank you for emptying my dirt bin."  You're welcome, Cinderella.  It's the least I can do.

* * *

The Botvac uses lasers to scan the rooms and create a map of your house (or whatever floor of your house it's cleaning) as it goes.  It will then plan the most efficient path to use to clean.  I find that it tends to find and clean perimeters of rooms first, and then go back and do the middles in very systematic rows back and forth.  It easily slides under our living room couch and big chair, so for the first time in, um, ever, those places are routinely clean, which is pretty amazing.

It can be used on both carpeted floors and wood floors, so Cinderella happily roams between the living room rug, the wood dining room floor, the vinyl kitchen floor, and the carpeted family room without missing anything.  And you know what I'm not missing?  The old days of wrestling with changing attachments for our old vacuum between the wood floor wand and the carpet attachment!

We do find that she gets a little perplexed trying to go under the dining room table amidst so many chair legs to navigate, so we usually flip the chairs, restaurant-at-closing-style, onto their seats on the table before running Cinderella.  I guess flipping all the chairs every evening is a teeny bit inconvenient, but when you consider that a small magical device is going to clean beneath the table, I guess I can deal with it.

A before and after of the floor under my three-year-old's chair at the dinner table.  This is pretty much the situation after every single meal, every single day.  A woman with more time on her hands might sweep and mop or wipe it up on her hands and knees.  Nowadays I pick up the largest things, let the rest dry out, and run the Cinderella.  Voila!
It has a small round side brush that it uses to sweep along the very edges of floors to bring things into its suction reach.  And as you'd expect, the Botvac can sense ledges such as small drop-offs between rooms or a staircase, and will not go over a ledge.  It also senses furniture and other large objects and circumvents them.  If the Botvac's battery runs low in the middle of a cleaning, it will return to its charging base until fully charged, and then "remember" where it was to resume cleaning once it is charged.  It also has a nice feature to run a "spot clean" in a given location, which I've found handy for our entryway rug.

* * *

My immediate response to Nathan's gift was overwhelming happiness.

A few moments later, guilt set in.  I actually felt like if we just worked harder to keep the floors cleaner we wouldn't need this exorbitant, luxury lifestyle item, and that Nathan getting it for our home meant a personal failing on my part.  I also felt guilty about the cost of it, because I have a tendency to be frugal to a fault in some regards.

While I was bemoaning my guilt about his purchase, Nathan set up the Botvac and started it running. The girls cheered as "Cinderella" vacuumed our downstairs for us.  And I stopped feeling guilty and started feeling exceedingly happy again.

* * *

I've noticed several unexpected benefits of having a Botvac aside from the quite obvious fact that, you know, she cleans my floors for me.

First of all, it's quite motivating to the kids to know that a robot vacuum, for whom they have a mixture of love, admiration, and fear, is about to be unleashed on the house.  They are not altogether aware of her size limitations in terms of what she can actually vacuum up, and in their minds, she's going to eat all their belongings.  So, they are very motivated to clean up their things.  If I'm running Cinderella in the evening, before bedtime I'll just give them a warning about it and they're very good about picking up all their stuff so it doesn't get "eaten."  If I've skipped an evening and decide to do it the following morning, we'll work together on getting everything ready, so they can pick up their toys while I flip the chairs and move the kitchen garbage can, etc.

Secondly, it's motivating to me to know that I'm always pretty close to having the floors clean, and if I can just pick up things, close a couple of closet doors, and flip chairs, I'll then be one push of a button away from having Cinderella clean all my downstairs floors for me.  Suddenly those tasks seem very manageable, and very worth it.  Instead of getting the kids to bed and wanting to immediately crash in exhaustion (well, I still want to do that sometimes!), I'll find myself thinking, It's not too bad; if I load the dishes into the dishwasher, a machine will wash them for me.  If I gather laundry and throw a load into the washing machine, it'll be clean by morning.  Likewise, if I pick up the stuff on my floors, a robot will vacuum them for me! If Ma Ingalls could do all that stuff by hand, I can manage to do the preparations for my magical machines to do their work!

Thirdly, I've realized how much happier I am when my floors are really clean on a daily basis.  I love not feeling little bits of grit or crumbs under my bare feet when I'm walking around in the house.  And I've noticed I can let go a little bit of my frustrations with how dirty the kids get playing outside when I know that despite my best efforts, they'll be tracking a lot of that dirt back into the house.  It's really nice to shrug and say to myself, I'll be running Cinderella this evening!

* * *

And speaking of dirt in my house, you would not believe the amount of dirt this Botvac cleans on a daily basis.  At first we kept saying to each other, "Wow, this is both incredible and disgusting!  But she must be lifting dirt that's been settled into the carpet.  She won't keep getting this much every day."  But the weeks went by, and she kept filling that dirt bin every. single. day.  We are flabbergasted.  Horrified.  Gratified.  All at the same time!  It's amazing.  I'm so happy knowing all that stuff isn't on my floors.

Yes, this is after one cleaning.  I'm as horrified as you are, believe me.
I really believe these brilliant little things should become standard in most homes.  Anyone who has even a little disposable income even occasionally should get one.  {We are not, I might add, usually the kind of people who can drop a large chunk of change on something like this, but in retrospect, even aside from receiving some unexpected money, I would do this again in a heartbeat!}  If you think about it, almost everyone has a dishwasher.  And the Botvac is to your floors as a dishwasher is to your dishes, or a washer and dryer is to your laundry, for that matter.

I'm a mama to three small children, and I work anywhere from 15 to 40 hours in a given week.  Part of my work actually involves other people's young children traipsing in and out of my house throughout the afternoon.  In other words, in my life right now, the level of messiness is high and the amount of spare time is low.  So, having Cinderella "join our family" has been saving my sanity in a big way lately.

Is the Botvac perfect?  Well, no.  She does seem to get "stuck" from time to time in a place where she's not actually touching anything, so she's clearly just become confused.  {That's OK, Cinderella... I get confused sometimes too.  Where was I going with this kitchen towel? Is it clean or dirty? What am I doing?}  And once or twice I've seen her keep trying to go up against a closed door, back and forth, over and over - not banging into the door or anything, just sort of perseverating about a certain general direction.  And I must admit that our baby swing really confuses her; the base of it is just high enough for her to get stuck in but not high enough to keep her from trying to go over and into it.  So, that's another thing we're picking up and moving before running the vacuum most of the time.  But aside from a few quirks like these, I would have to say she's pretty near perfect, she does a fabulous job cleaning, and I love her.

* * *

The bottom line is this:

If you want to experience true and lasting joy, you need one of these.

If you'd rather keep cleaning your floors with the waters of your own miserable tears, I guess you don't need one.

Cinderella charging at her little station after cleaning my floors last night.
*Disclosure: I am not a fancy professional blogger, and this review was neither requested nor paid for by anyone.  However, if the creators of the Neato Botvac see it and would like to send me another Botvac for free, I will receive it with tears of gratitude and utilize it to clean my second floor on a daily basis, and I will thus most likely achieve Nirvana.*