Clean Kitchen

My Great Grandmother Handy always kept her kitchen clean. Despite the fact that it seemed she spent most of the day within it in a state of constant activity.

She would awake early to start cooking breakfast for my Great Grandfather “Pa Pa” Handy and whomever else was staying over at the time. Eggs. bacon, biscuits, potatoes, fresh squeezed orange juice, and half of a grapefruit for Pa Pa. Just as routine, not a single pan was waiting to be cleaned by the time any of it hit the dining table. The kitchen looked just as it did before it all started. And, one could be assured, it would be just as clean only minutes after the dishes were cleared.

She often would tend the garden and start the laundry following breakfast. Which, in my child mind, never seemed to take that long. She would return to the kitchen with a full basket of figs freshly harvested from the tree in the yard. These figs found their way swiftly into a pressure pot and then into mason jars for preserves. The kitchen remained tidy the whole time. The only evidence to the contrary were the tools of task being actively used. Once their job was done they always swiftly and effortlessly returned to the place from which they came.

Lunch and Dinner seemed to be a blur of a single meal in her kitchen. As soon as one was served, preparation for the next was already underway. There was never a time in that span of hours that a pot was not on the stove, a pan was not in the oven, or a serving bowl or utensil was not being used. But, as I’m sure you can surmise, by the time it was all served, consumed, and cleared, the kitchen was spot free and ready for its business the following the day.

Even more amazing was that everything else got done as well. The laundry, the gardening, the grocery shopping, the cleaning of the rest of the house, and tending to Pa Pa’s growing list of needs as his health began to turn. One woman against a mountain and she managed to plant her flag at the summit each day.

It was many years after she passed that I was able to truly appreciate any of these minor miracles, let alone care enough to dissect how they were achieved. But age, passing time, and having the responsibilities of maintaining a family and household of my own has made me ponder my Great Grandmother’s deft skills regularly. How did she manage to do it? How did she juggle all of those tasks? The demands and needs? No matter the day or her own health or conditions?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions but I have some clues — especially in the kitchen cleaning department.

Before she started cooking she filled the sink with soapy water. Whenever she used a pan, as soon as she was done with it, she washed it, dried it, and put it away. Instead of saving up all of those ten to fifteen second actions until they added up to an hour of washing after the meal, she learned in her years of experience that it was better for her to do them right away. That the time following a meal could be better spent on the next task than having the detritus of one create another. Remove pan from oven, plate food, wash, dry, put away, serve.

This memory lands home for me these days when I go to add yet-another-task to my list. More often I find myself thinking this — Would I rather add it to the list or would I rather add it to my journal? One is a record of things to do. The other, a record of things already done.

I know what Grandmother Handy would say.

Chairs

As I write this, I am at Mall of America, the largest enclosed shopping mall in the country. I’m sitting on a chair that is right between the Apple Store and Microsoft Store. Yes they are, literally and not accidentally, right across the hallway from each other. The Apple Store was here first of course. For many years. I was here for its grand opening. Now that Apple has proven great success in retail, Microsoft is seeing the potential and opening its own similar stores as close to the Apple Stores as possible all across the country.

The cultures of these two tech behemoths could not be any more worlds apart and that gulf is easily apparent when contrasted by such short distance.

In one you have the clean minimalist designs that Apple is long famous for. Whites walls, blonde wood tables all designed to accompany and highlight the brushed aluminum iDevices for sale within.

In the other, bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Wrapped around the length and inset in the walls is one long giant video screen that is constantly changing with stock photos of cheerful people, screen captures from XBox games, and Metro UI suggestive tiles.

In one, you have a bustle of activity. People getting help in a variety of ways from young hip folks in matching blue shirts. No employee, far more than I can easily count, is want of anything to do Each has a customer they are attending to and it looks like others are waiting for their turn. Everyone is standing as there is nowhere to sit and, in any other environ, one might mistake it for a really cool party full of conversations you’d be tempted to eavesdrop on.

In the other, there are more employees than customers. You can tell who they are simply because their shirts are the same yellow, or green, or red, or blue of the Windows logo outside. The customers that are inside are sitting and surfing – perched upon on the stools that are at each demo laptop and desktop. I can see over the shoulder of the few from the other side of the glass. They are mostly on Facebook. The employees don’t seem to mind. One might mistake it for an internet café if one did not know otherwise. The customers seem to be treating it as one at least.

It is the chairs or lack thereof that really pique my interest the most. I wonder if they, more than anything else I see, speak the loudest to the differences between these two stores and these two companies. The existence of these chairs seem to me to be a symbol. Not a wholly negative or positive one. But a mark of something deeper all the same. Certainly an important distinction between how these two companies want you to engage with the products they have for sale in the places they have built to sell them.

In some ways, the chairs could be perceived as symbol of hospitality. But, looked at another way, they communicate inactivity and complacency. Standing, even when still, looks like activity more so than sitting does to me. Perhaps when a customer enters a store such as this, and can sit down and use the equipment without interference or engagement with the staff, they become less motivated to do anything more than that. Why buy the laptop when you can have the surfing for free? Perhaps when they enter a similar store without chairs, and are engaged on a regular basis by friendly but determined staff, there is a sense to take some action, even if that action is to leave empty-handed.

I wonder how much the Apple Store experience would change if there were place to sit at every station. Would the customers still buy or would they check their Facebook for free? I wonder how much the Microsoft Store experience would change by simply removing them.

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