Adulting. And stuff.

My daughter’s biggest challenges in the last year have come from learning how to adult. I feel her pain.

Although I am firmly into my 6th decade of living, when it comes to adulting I feel I could be the Imposter Syndrome poster child. I look like a fully-functioning adult. I know all kinds of things about a lot of things–you don’t even want to debate me about the Oxford comma–but I am sometimes shocked by how little I know about the basics of maintaining a life. You really can wing it/kinda fake it for a lot of things. For a really long time. Or, at least, I’ve been able to so far.

This is not an adulting desk.

But it bothers me that I don’t really know how a lot of things work and feel I have very few practical life skills. If the zombie apocalypse comes or the grid collapses or the bottom of privileged, western life falls out in some other way, I’m toast. I can function pretty well in a world with big box stores and electricity and YouTube and take-out, but I will definitely not be the fittest in any kind of basic survival contest.

I’m not really worried about doomsday scenarios, but I descend from farmers and fishermen and machinists–all self-sufficient people who knew how to grow and make and do with their hands. It bothers me to have so little skill in taking care of my own needs. I’m tired of feeling mildly (or majorly) incompetent a lot of the time, especially when it comes to feeding myself and keeping house. Also, I really like it when I occasionally do something well in these arenas.

I didn’t grow any of this not-organic food, but I made this grown-up meal all by myself.

So the other day I checked this book out of the library:

At first I thought it was going to be another lifestyle porn kind of book–and it does have gorgeous pictures with rustic tile, simple linens, and lots of things in glass jars–but it’s got a lot of substance to it:  philosophy, practical strategies, and concrete tools. Most pages look like this one:

There are a few things I particularly enjoy about Erica Strauss’s philosophical approach to food and home. The biggest one? “…don’t be afraid to take it slow at first.”

This is one of the few books I’ve read that makes me think I could actually learn how to do food and home, which makes me want to jump all in. I want to do it all–grow vegetables, can, make my own household cleaners, revamp my household routines–and I want to do it all right now! But this is what my kitchen looks like right now:

And the only way it’s going to look better is if I spend a substantial amount of each day for what’s left of the summer working on it. I’ve also got family to love, and some work to do, and….  I appreciate Strauss’s stance that “this is not an all-or-nothing thing” and that the “ultimate goal of a hands-on homekeeper is to be proactive about shaping your own healthy domestic life.” In other words, she’s not an insufferable purist about the whole thing. In fact, she’s pretty damn funny (as you can see in this post from her blog).

So I’m starting with something simple:  making natural household cleaners. I’ve wanted to do this before, but I got stymied by not knowing where to find borax and castile soap in the store. (I kid you not. I still don’t know where to find them, but if I can’t figure it out this time I’m just going to break down and order them from Amazon.)

Baby steps, baby.

Once upon a time I wrote a blog in which our basic premise was that how we do home is how we do life. I still believe that. For three years, life has been an on-hold, up-in-the-air, what-the-actual-fuck, one-transition/calamity-after-another affair. Home has been slap-dash, make-do, get-through-the-day-however-we-can-and-call-it-a-victory sort of thing. Making my own household cleaners might be only the first step on a thousand mile journey, but at least I’m finally moving, and it feels like the right direction. George Eliot wrote that “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I generally think that’s a crock of hooey, but when it comes to this I think she’s right.

Now this is a guy with practical life skills.


14 thoughts on “Adulting. And stuff.

  1. E Bean says:

    Rita, you can find Borax at Target in the laundry department. It’s in a tall cardboard box. Easiest way to find castile soap is to buy Dr Bronner’s soap. You can probably find it at Target too…or a health food store for sure. I’ve seen it at Costco too!

  2. Marian says:

    I suspect you’re not alone in the faking-adulting department, Rita. This past school year, my daughter sub-letted a room in a house with five other university students and she was the ONLY ONE who understood how to take the garbage out. (At which my husband said, “Wait, OUR daughter knows how to take the garbage out?!?!”)

    I too, come from a line of very capable people. I actually think that most of us do, the exception being those among us who hail from the upper crust, who likely lacked know-how because they didn’t HAVE to know how (due to servants and slaves) and also because they had the money to pay people to make things for them (furniture, clothing, etc). I think that our lack of ability these days stems mostly from our collective lack of time, but I also think there’s a lot of money to be made in keeping us incapable. Processed food, for example, is a HUGE business! I recently listened to a podcast in which a food policy (I think?) researcher called Generation X the “lost food generation”. I certainly felt, as I was growing up, that there was no need and no benefit to be gained from *actually* cooking, and that it was all just way too much work.

    On the subject of homemade cleaners: I’ve been cleaning with baking soda and vinegar and castile soap for 25+ years. But I don’t actually “make” any cleaners. My floors are washed with hot water and a big dollop of vinegar. Bathroom mirrors and counters are wiped with a wet cloth and then dried. (As in, water and mechanical action only.) Bathroom sinks/tubs/showers/taps are cleaned with a sprinkling of baking soda, rinsed and (the sinks and taps only) dried. Toilets are scrubbed with a shake of baking soda and a couple squirts of diluted castile soap from the foaming hand-soap dispenser. (I do “make” the hand soap by diluting castile soap, but adding water barely qualifies as “making”.)
    Do you have a “natural foods” section in your regular grocery store? Or a whole-foods-type market nearby? Because that’s where you’ll find castile soap. Personally, I would avoid the borax. I’ve never felt the need for it, and have also read a bit about its toxicity. This link talks about borax-free cleaning, if you’re interested:
    Marian recently posted…Making, Meditation, MeaningMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for the link–that’s super-helpful. One thing I really like about the book I referenced is that it delves into the why of things. In the cleaning section, she talks about different types of soil (organic, inorganic, and petroleum) and what kinds of agents are best for each (acids and bases, basically). I’m looking forward to experimenting with this. I’ve never liked all the plastic bottles that come with commercial cleaners or the chemically scent they give off (feels like I’m inhaling toxins).

      As for lost food generation–I believe it! I remember one time at work at group of us all about the same age (born in the 60s) started talking about the crap food we were raised on. We were laughing, but it’s kind of terrible. (Ding Dongs, Lucky Charms, Hamburger Helper, Tang–all staples in my childhood diet.) I’ve probably shared this before, but I was in high school before I realized you could make a cake without a box of cake mix. My mom never really liked cooking and never taught me anything about it (that I can remember). Just recently, because of a health issue, she and my dad have begun learning how to cook in a whole new way, and they’re really liking it. So, we’re never too old to learn/change! I am interested in learning about the fundamentals of cooking and stocking a kitchen. I want to be a person who doesn’t need a recipe all the time. Now that I don’t have picky eaters to accommodate, I feel I can finally tackle this topic. It’s challenging, though, to figure out how to do it with fewer people in the house. I buy things that go bad before I can eat them–and buying real food means that things go bad. I’m struggling a bit with quantities; if I buy the quantity available, the only way to eat it up before going bad is to eat a lot of it or only that thing. (I guess this applies most to bread and meat, but sometimes fruits and vegetables, too.) I know I’ll figure it out.

      The garbage thing is too funny! I can hardly fathom how anyone could not know that garbage needs to be taken out. I mean, what did they think would happen to it? Of course, I ran my first car into the ground because I didn’t know I needed to check the oil levels or change the oil. My dad was astounded at that. I remember feeling quite indignant because I wondered how he thought I’d have learned such a thing. I feel guilty that I didn’t teach my own kids more than I did. I know they both have some gaps–because I have them, too.

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me. I know you are far ahead of me on this path, and I appreciate the help.

  3. Kate says:

    Well, I’m putting that book in my amazon cart. I’ve always liked reading about taking care of house and home. I’m not as good at putting those things into action.

    Good luck with the kitchen! I’m feeling the remodeling pain. We’ve been redoing V’s room and putting closet inserts into both Abram and Violet’s rooms so I have 1/2 of Violet’s bedroom in my room and 1/2 of it in my office. Abram’s closet insert is in, but the components for V’s are taking up space in his room since there really isn’t another place to put them for now. I bought a rug for our bedroom, but it’s rolled up in the entry way hallway because Violet’s room is in my room and I need to get her stuff back into her room before I can get my stuff in. Basically, everything is ripped apart and messy and I leave for vacation in two days and well…I guess it gets done when it gets done.

    Anyway, all that to say, I’m wishing you well on your domestic endeavors. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      Yes, I was feeling bugged last night about how the kitchen mess seems to be spreading through the whole upstairs. I am rather tired of walking around the fridge that is in the middle of the room, and there are tools in the living room and pieces of another project on the deck. It will be worth it in the end, and it’s not really a choice project so much as a have-to project, but I sure will be glad when we’re done. I know I could push to get it done sooner, but I don’t want to miss out on all of summer. So, I keep the mess in its proper place in my head. All that to say, I hope your vacation is a good one! Can’t wait to see your photos. 🙂

  4. Erin says:

    I didn’t know you were renovating your kitchen! Wow, that’s a task! I grew up in a home that was constantly under renovation (my parents were – and still are – always tweaking their home), so I can say that I’ve lived through that type of thing, but I have a hard time imagining going through a renovation at our own home.

    I found castile soap at Trader Joe’s tonight when I stopped by after work. I’m sure you could find it at Whole Foods, too.

  5. Lisa says:

    Borax and castile soap is in most grocery stores in the laundry section, usually on the very bottom or very top shelf. I don’t know why I know that, since I’ve never used either. My grandmother used to use borax and had some 1940s Borax advertising prints in her laundry room. (Along with a few dozen coconut pirate heads. She had a quirky decorating style.)

    My adulting skills are good in some respects and terrible in others. I can sew a button and a pillow, but if I had to sew clothing for my children they’d be wearing pillowcases. I can cook and bake pretty well now by necessity, although if I needed to actually catch the food I plan to cook we’d pretty quickly be vegetarians. I also hate gardening, so I guess we’d be raiding someone else’s garden or hoping for a benefactor’s largesse. I recall another blog I read had a thread on prepping and the lost homemaking arts, and someone noted that older versions of the Betty Crocker cookbook has instructions on how to dress game and appropriately kill chickens for consumption, so I guess we could figure it out if need be.

    Although people nowadays aren’t Doing All the Homemaking Stuff, they are doing other things with their time….you have a full time job. A hundred years ago women were doing all the homemaking stuff because they didn’t have jobs, and someone had to do it. Now you go to the store and buy the stuff with the money you make at your job….the stuff still gets done, its just the delivery mechanism that has changed. If you wanted to be self-sufficient, you’d have to devote a lot more time to those efforts, right? So don’t feel bad that your efforts go towards educating others instead of growing your own food.

    I haven’t thought much on the self-sufficiency model, but I have thought lots and lots about food and the making of it, due to our many many food allergies and illnesses. I could write a whole blog on my slow food journey, which has been years and years in the making. Two books that I love and reread often that are about food: The Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, and Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (I may have commented about these books before, and if I have forgive me). They legit changed how I think about food and what to do with it.

    Having a kitchen all tore up makes it hard to be self-sufficient. Hope that goes smoothly and finishes up ahead of schedule and under budget 🙂

    • Rita says:

      So, this reply is really late because…life…(like, I don’t know if I even saw this when you posted it) but I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the reminder in these words of yours: “Although people nowadays aren’t Doing All the Homemaking Stuff, they are doing other things with their time….you have a full time job. A hundred years ago women were doing all the homemaking stuff because they didn’t have jobs, and someone had to do it. Now you go to the store and buy the stuff with the money you make at your job….the stuff still gets done, its just the delivery mechanism that has changed. If you wanted to be self-sufficient, you’d have to devote a lot more time to those efforts, right? So don’t feel bad that your efforts go towards educating others instead of growing your own food.”

      I think there’s this idea out there that doing everything ourselves is part of some kind of simpler way of being, but you’re right–it’s just a different way. To be able to make all of our own things is a kind of luxury now. It means that someone else is somehow making some kind of living. I’m going to check out The Everlasting Meal. I read Animal Vegetable Miracle a few years back, and yes–it changed me, too. I am right now trying to figure out how I am going to maintain the healthier eating habits I developed this summer when all the fresh summer seasonal produce I like is no longer available. Going to have to branch out of my food comfort zone.

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