Always clean the kitchen first. That little tidbit should be common sense, fact-of-life acceptance for every ranch wife. See, ranch wives often entertain unexpected visitors, and entertaining is best accomplished with a tidy kitchen.
I’ve been a ranch wife for almost 14 years now. And I was raised by the Queen of Ranch Wives. Yet I’ve never been willing to accept that my first job every day should be to clean the kitchen.
Actually, after almost 14 years of marriage, I’ve not yet accepted that cleaning the kitchen, doing the dishes, and all related jobs are my sole responsibility. I just don’t see myself as a dish-doer! A cook, yes. But I’ve got more important things to do than wash dishes. Like blogging. Like taking my kids for a horseback ride on a beautiful spring day. Like… pretty much anything that doesn’t involve me standing at the sink elbow-deep in suds.
Unfortunately… my husband has better things to do, too. And while he did bring into the marriage an unacceptable fear of the kitchen which we need to work through because I will not be married to a spoiled man who never lifts a finger in the house! (we’ve got him in counseling trying to get to the root of the problem), the reality of the agreement is that he’s outside working and making money all day long… and I’m home with the kids making plans to spend his money… so the natural assumption would be that I ought to be able to conjure up the energy every day to coax our home into acceptable order.
Yet it’s hard for me. So hard. Cleaning the house is not a natural order for my brain. Making lists and writing up new plans for how I can better tackle the house monster every day — now that’s natural for me. So far in my adult life I have come up with 3,427 new and improved plans for how I’m going to be a better housekeeper… starting tomorrow.
As I grow up, and especially as we find ourselves at ranch headquarters where hunters, feed salesmen, coworkers, and other random folks stop by our house without warning and might as well be invited inside for a glass of tea, it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that my first job every day ought to be to clean the kitchen first. Just stay on top of it so it never gets out of control, Tam! It’s not rocket science! After all, the kitchen is the first room a visitor steps into from our front door. And, bottom line is, nothing else suggests filth quite like food-crusted dishes covering every countertop in the kitchen.
You know, I do cook a lot, both for the ranch crew and for the five hungry mouths in our family. And my mom always says I have a knack for dirtying every dish in the kitchen. I do always manage to get the kitchen clean… eventually. It’s just that I struggle with the self-control necessary to make myself do the dishes immediately after a meal is over (because by then I just want to bust out of the house), AS WELL AS the discipline to tidy the kitchen first thing in the morning, before I do anything else (because how nice is it to move through the day resting in the assurance that at least the kitchen is clean?). It’s a peace I seldom know and it’s my own damn fault.
Of course, when you don’t clean the kitchen first thing in the morning, the day tends to just slip away from you and you never quite get back to it. And then the afore-mentioned unexpected visitor drops by and you’re caught racing around the kitchen trying to do as much as possible in the 8.3 seconds it takes said visitor to navigate the sidewalk from the front steps to the porch door and maneuver through the porch to the kitchen. (The porch, by the way, is probably also a disaster strewn with the kids’ muddy boots and coats, with a pile of dirty laundry — including underwear — in the northwest corner and a mound of used diapers in the southwest corner and a couple boxes you haven’t unpacked yet stacked up over yonder.)
Here’s how yesterday morning went: the crew was loading aged cows destined for Wyoming onto trucks, so I wanted to make a mid-morning treat for them. I whipped up some muffins, adding to an already-towering stack of dirty dishes… then, by the time I had all the kids dressed and out the door, the trucks were already loaded and headed southward and the PV crew had dispersed to various jobs. Too late again — it’s the story of my life with littles on the ranch. So, then, the kids and I spent the better part of an hour wandering through the feedlot, tracking down folks working in their various capacities in order to refill coffee cups and hand out these darn muffins I’d made.
When the kids and I got back to the house, I averted my eyes from the pile of dishes and decided it was time for our little students to practice guitar. I probably made said decision mostly because I felt like playing guitar more than I felt like doing dishes. By the time the youngsters and I had rocked out to “Battle of New Orleans” (because it’s Asher’s favorite) about 15 times, it was clear the baby needed a nap, so I sat down to rock her. She had just closed her eyes for the last time when the phone rang.
It was Beau. “How’s the house?” he said quickly.
“Not great,” I answered quickly.
“Paco is here!” he announced brightly.
“Oh! … You mean… here here?”
“Yep! We’ll be right in.”
And they were in, about 8.3 seconds later. Just enough time for me to shove all the crayons, diapers, worn pairs of underwear, and sippy cups that were accumulated on the kitchen floor into a pile which I then steered into the bathroom.
Paco. Our favorite Marine. Home for a visit.
Last I knew, Paco was on duty in Japan.
Next I knew, he was in my embarrassingly dirty kitchen introducing his sweet girlfriend. I assured her, as I beat the room into sufficient submission so that I could fix a quick lunch, that my 20-year-old self would’ve sworn I’d never be such a terrible housekeeper.
This. This is why I need to clean the kitchen first thing in the morning.
Still… I don’t think Paco minded too much.
Maybe life is about living in the moment, enjoying what’s here and who’s here right now… whether or not the kitchen is clean… whether or not what’s happening is what I had planned for the day.
Cleanliness might be out of my reach in this life. So my goal, then, is that any visitor here in my house rest in comfortable peace… not the sort of peace that comes from being in a super-clean space, but the sort of peace that comes from knowing you’re super welcome right where you are right now.
© Tami Blake
“The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.” — Arnold Bennett