Monday, May 3, 2010

Dishing On A Decision

Even though the overall plans for my dream house aren't finished (not for lack of trying on my part), I'm pretty sure that I've made one more decision. I don't think that I'll bother putting in a dishwasher.

This new leaning is a surprise. At our last house, my someday plans always included one, if only to allow me to reduce the sink to a single bowl, thereby increasing my miniscule counter space to more than three linear feet. My husband, the dishwasher, concurred. Not that he minded cleaning up. He just hated doing it right after enjoying a good meal, when he'd rather be savoring than scrubbing. Any change that would get him out of the kitchen sooner sounded good to him--and to me, too, at the time.

But life has changed. Counter space will not be an issue in the new house, because I'm designing that kitchen to suit me (five feet of uninterrupted counter, check). I've spent years now at a bakery/cafe doing dishes ALL DAY LONG and at culinary school with no automatic dishwasher, making cleaning up after cooking as automatic as exhaling after inhaling. I've even learned to wash as I go, so that few dishes are waiting at the end of a meal or baking spree. I'm also working less hours outside the home which, I suppose, makes any work inside the home more pleasant (not that I minded dish washing before). And I've lived in the in-law's household with a dishwasher for about five months now.

There's nothing like getting what you think you want to clarify your desires. And frankly, having spent time with the alleged privilege of a dishwasher, I've been unimpressed by it. The mother-in-law and I still end up doing dishes by hand because there are too many things that don't fit in it or aren't safe for it. Some dishes require rinsing or scraping in order to come out clean anyway, so we're half washing them as it is. Then there are the items that purport to be dishwasher safe, but come out discolored, like my new Chicago Metallic professional loaf pan (sigh), or otherwise ill-affected, like shrunken Tupperware lids that you have to wrestle onto the bowl ever after. And don't forget the timing issue, when you have more dishes than can fit into the dishwasher, meaning that you either have to wash them by hand or leave them sitting for a while. For a borderline compulsive like me, that one is really annoying and defeats the closure point of cleaning up.

Yes, I will concede that overall dish washing time is reduced, but it wouldn't take that much longer to do them all, especially with the aforementioned as-I-go cleaning. If I'm going to have to do dishes anyway, I really don't mind doing the whole she-bang. It's just one of the daily chores that takes all of about twenty minutes tops and feels so automatic now that it's just not on my Please Relieve Me From This Burden list--like clothes washing, for which I'm dee-lighted to have mechanical help.

My current preference is another turnaround, much like my new position on hanging out laundry. When I was growing up, I hated doing the dishes with a passion--especially on Sundays, the only day that my mother fixed a full, sit-down dinner for all ten of us. The abominable chore seemed to go on forever then. The one time that I clearly remember outright defying her was over the Sunday dishes. She told me to do them. I said "No, I won't." She said "Yes, you will." And so it continued until I was told to go get my own switch, whereupon the battle of wills was over. (I must say in my mother's defense that it was a different time, she rarely resorted to such methods, and I probably deserved it.) Again, it was a case of hating chores in general and assuming that nice, civilized people wanted to be relieved of the burden of work.

I don't think that way anymore. I've had plenty of leisure time in the last five months, and I was no happier for it until I adjusted and found things to do. Rest and leisure are really only enjoyable as a respite from work or activity, not as a way of life. Basically the human animal needs to be busy to keep from going crazy. Mental health researcher Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (it's pronounced chick-SENT-me-high, in case you even cared to give it a try) says as much in his book Finding Flow. We'd just like to be busy doing what we want--what truly engages us--rather than boring old chores.

Except I don't find chores so boring or burdensome anymore. They are simply tasks that must be done, and they go down all the easier without mental and emotional resistance. I guess I'm finding my zen mindfulness attitude toward work at this stage of my life. I'm much happier with the small and necessary coffee-spoon measuring of everyday life.

I read a quote recently from a book called The Gift of An Ordinary Day that describes standing at the sink and lazily swirling the dishcloth in the water while looking out the window. It reminded me that even a dreaded chore can hold pleasures if you look for them. Some people sing the praises of digging in the dirt of their garden, you know--which is work, but work they want to do.

This topic also reminds me of a Diet Coke ad I saw years ago with a full page picture of a woman chopping vegetables. The words above her head said "The difference between a hobby and a chore is attitude." I'm not sure what that thought had to do with Diet Coke, but I've never forgotten the truth of it. Plenty of people find cooking a bothersome chore, but plenty also find it to be a delightful passion. Chopping is chopping, but how you feel about it makes it pleasant or not.

No, I'm not suggesting that dish washing be a hobby. I'm just saying that attitude affects everything and is often the only thing we can control. The dishes have to get clean some way. Why not make it as pleasant as possible? If that means a dishwasher for some, fine. As for me, I'll take the closure of having them all done at the end of the day by my own hands, preferably in a big old farmhouse sink beneath windows looking out over the garden.