Playing Hide-And-Seek With The Floor Fairy

I came home from work yesterday to find our robotic vacuum cleaner missing in action. Again. My husband bought it for me a few years ago as a surprise gift with the best of intentions to lessen my workload in the cleaning department. It was such a great gift because it was a no-event-or-particular-reason out of the blue surprise, not like a birthday or Christmas present when you’ve actually been hoping for something else. Just a thoughtful gift.

Great was my excitement at this machine which was going to quietly and on its own, without any input of mine required, put a couple of hours back into my schedule every week. It sat there perched on its little station with all the promise of something which was about to change my life.  It was never going to replace vacuum cleaning the traditional and labour-intensive way, it was just going to be great to have that extra vacuum done completely automatically once a week. The fantastic part about it is that you can program it to start at a time convenient to you. Imagine that: it quietly starts at one end of the house while you’re free to do something else and works its way through your house and you don’t even have to lift a finger. If it’s full before it’s finished it will make its way back to its station, do a “dust empty” and away we go again. This was too good to be true! Literally.

My first inclination that things might not quite turn out to be as simple as that was when I discovered that some prepping would be required. It wouldn’t just be a matter of getting up and going to work without a backward glance while this magical floor fairy goes about her day cleaning up. I did actually have to lift a finger. We had to move furniture out the way in case it got itself stuck between the legs of the kitchen chairs and set up a virtual wall in front of the TV unit so it doesn’t get stuck on the electrical cords lying underneath it (the vacuum cleaner unit comes complete with this virtual wall).

Prepping isn’t a big ask though (it has to be done anyway when you do a proper vacuum) so we prepped away, moved furniture, picked up kitchen chairs and put them on the table upside down, set up the virtual wall and after about fifteen minutes of getting everything ready for our magical machine to do its job the house looked ready for the onslaught of a litter of boisterous puppies that might come barging through with the floor space just about completely cleared bar for the couches and tables.

The next hint that all might not be as simple as that was when this floor fairy ventured onto one of the carpets and never made its way back again. On the hard floors it was doing brilliantly, found its way around the house and knew the way back to its little station. But introduce carpets and it was like soft sand to a sedan car where the wheels dug themselves in and it was up to its chassis in a deep bog that it couldn’t get out of without outside intervention. A bit like the Martin Luther steam locomotive abandoned about 4km outside Swakopmund in Namibia in the desert sand: Here I stand, I can do no other. (Tot hiertoe en nie verder nie, as we say in Afrikaans.) Of course we only realised this after we got home one day and the fairy wasn’t at her station so we had to search the house only to find it had got itself bogged on one of the carpets.

Then one day we’d done all the preparations and left home expecting to find clean floors and a full dust container when we came home only to discover that the precious princess hadn’t left her throne at all. She had sat there all day, plotting her next move. Next thing it randomly went with much enthusiasm, but on the wrong day, so the way hadn’t been cleared for it and so it naturally got itself stuck somewhere. We went in search of this rogue robot, untangled it from wherever it was stuck and carried it back to its cradle like a baby.  I had no idea we occupied such a hazardous space! It became like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never knew what you were going to get when you came home – it might be hiding somewhere (most likely scenario), back on its throne after doing its rounds (least likely scenario) or still on its throne after never leaving it in the first place (fairly likely scenario).

Likely scenarios of the whereabouts of the roving robot

Likely scenarios of the whereabouts of the roving robot

It has now got to the point where we organise our lives around this balky mule of a fairy. Not only do we have to move furniture, we also have to build blockades in other areas. It is downright needy! And as if this wasn’t enough I’d come home on the day of our fairy’s scheduled run and start looking for it since it was hiding (again) and twice now found it in the darkest corners underneath the couches, like it’s too traumatised to come out of there and face its job, and I’d have to coax it out gently. It’s probably begging us to just leave it in peace, but no such luck. Until it grows itself a little wand that will magically turn the house into a vacuumed one, I’m not letting it off the hook. I’ll be the master of this fairy yet, no matter how many times I have to play hide-and-seek with it!

The throne, sans floor fairy who is once again missing in action

The throne, sans floor fairy who is once again missing in action

Project “Being Domesticated”

A friend of mine complimented me the other day on being quite domesticated and I had to be truthful in that yes, I do enjoy being in my own space and being domesticated but only up to a point and that I sometimes find myself a project (such as creating a new flower bed where previously there was just paving or making our own biltong) rather than clean the house. These projects are always for the benefit of the family – it’s not like I go on a read-as-many-books-as-I can-in-a-day project or something like that – but it usually takes up more time than the task I was putting off doing would have taken, which I eventually have to do anyway, I’ve just delayed the inevitable and created more work for myself so I end up running around like a road runner bird. Hygiene is paramount to me though, and the essential areas such as kitchen and bathrooms are cleaned regularly, the house gets vacuumed and so on and I do love it when the house is clean and tidy, sometimes I just struggle with some motivational issues in this area.

Take doing the laundry for instance. This is actually one department that I don’t have a problem staying on top of and with a family of five there is always washing to be done. Add some exercise clothes to that and at least one daily load is required to stay ahead. Which brings me to another point – our laundry hamper is labelled “65l Laundry Hamper” – how do you measure your laundry or washing in litres? It’s either empty, full, or somewhere in between and hopefully not overflowing but what would be the point in the kids ever saying to me that “The laundry hamper has 20l capacity left” if they need me to wash their school sport uniform for instance? I admit to over-thinking and over-analysing things sometimes but that’s just me and while I’m at it, the part that really gets me is folding and putting away the clean, dry washing. Up to that point I feel like I’ve added value to the process (got it clean, got it dry) but from there on it just feels like I’m moving it from one place to another which feels like such a waste of valuable time.

Sewing is another department that I’m seriously lacking in. One of my grandmothers used to be a seamstress, my mum is good at sewing, knitting, crotchet and all things related, my sister is good at it and so are her daughters but I’ve never had any interest whatsoever. I’ve never had the patience or perseverance required to work on something for hours on end and only have my imagination (or even a pattern) of the promised finished product to motivate me to keep going.  I’d much rather do a jigsaw puzzle where my progress is more visual and my chances of success are better. Or plant something in the garden. In year 8 I had to knit a toilet roll holder as part of the compulsory home economics course and I procrastinated until the day before it was due to be handed in because I couldn’t face doing it but then I had to stay up most of the night to finish it. And the wool was yellow. A yellow amateur looking toilet roll holder knitted with a bad attitude. It was torture and enough to put me off knitting for life. When I saw some funky, colourful crotched cushions in a magazine a few years ago I decided that I’d love to be able to do that, they looked so gorgeous. But when I tried to crotchet it felt like I had five thumbs on each hand. This was not going to work. I would still like to be able to do it but I’ll need a Mount Everest load of patience and by that time the house will need cleaning again.

Baking cakes is something else I’ve never been confident doing, but when we bought a bread machine about 10 years ago and I discovered that our local bread mix shop sells the most amazing range of pre-mixes that are fool proof and even I could do it, I branched out and started baking all sorts of interesting breads. My family loves home baked Turkish bread and fresh, warm Lebanese flat breads go so well with Lamb Souvlaki or other dishes that you eat in a wrap and the kids will come home today to freshly baked hot cross buns. I enjoy cooking as well, given that I have the time not to just put a quick rushed meal on the table.

My garden is my haven and I spend hours keeping it trimmed, watered, fed, fertilised and weeded. With my husband usually training for an endurance event of some sorts he quite often doesn’t have time to mow the lawn and I’ll happily do it rather than scrub the shower. I planted some Kalamata olive trees a few years ago and the crop has been such in the past that we had enough bottled olives to last us more than a year, and I love being able to pick fresh herbs from my garden. I’ve recently launched project “Expand And Plant More Edible Crops” and added some berry bushes and it’s great going outside, picking a fresh gooseberry and eating it right there.

Some olives from our crop a few years ago

Some olives from our crop a few years ago

Part of my herb/berry garden

Part of my herb/berry garden

I’ve taken on some other “projects” as well, such as making our own Dukkah (to eat with the Turkish bread) and biltong, both of which aren’t hard to do but take up a bit of time and as it is I’m already planning to make the next batch of biltong on my next day off work. Our house will never look like it’s from a photo in a home décor magazine, it looks too well lived in and it’s impossible to keep it perfectly tidy all the time unless I keep moving around and picking things up and putting them away when they’d been left by others as some in the family aren’t very good at putting things away. I would love it to always be tidy but time is limited and one has to make choices about where best to spend it and then I usually remember that our Dukkah is nearly finished and I need to make some more or a swim with the kids sounds like a better idea. As I sit here I know the filing needs to be done but I’ve just remembered I noticed yesterday that some of the new season’s olives looked ripe. I’d better go check on them before the birds get to them. They might need to be picked, and then the preparation process starts soaking them in water for a couple of weeks, rinsing them daily and then bottling them…

Dishwasher Allergies

I am convinced that some of the human inhabitants of this house are allergic to the dishwasher. Or they think they are allergic to the dishwasher. The dishwashing routine in the house has been known to all and unchanged for many years. First thing in the mornings the clean dishes are unpacked from the dishwasher and we’re set for the next day’s load of dirty dishes and the beauty of it is that these machines are actually able to be packed piece by piece as it’s used and doesn’t just have to be packed all in one go at the end of the day.


I’ve been trying in vain to teach some this little bit of dishwashing-technology: that the machine can handle it if you put for instance one dirty mug or spoon or plate in at a time and close the door until the next person comes along and puts in their dirty dish until we add all the dinner dishes at the end of the day and run a washing cycle, but some of my co-inhabitants just appear to be unteachable on this subject which seems strange for people who are otherwise seemingly quite intelligent.


The dishwasher may be completely empty and ready for new dirty dishes when a dirty mug gets left in the kitchen sink right next to it, with a large plate put on top of the mug at such an angle that the sink is instantly full and nobody else can use the sink until those dishes have been moved. Surely there has to be an allergy involved to the actual machine. I cannot see any other logical explanation. I have to add that some family members display none of these allergic symptoms and are quite conscientious with this procedure. It’s all quite strange.


It’s similarly inexplicable as the attraction to empty, cleared flat surfaces. The kitchen bench top seems to be a magnet for an array of things: dirty cups, mugs, newspapers, the teabags tin, the cereal box, bottle openers and all sorts, especially when it’s just been cleared and cleaned. How does it send different messages to different people? To some one message: “I’m clean and tidy and don’t dump things here”, but to others it sends a completely different message: “I’m a clear empty space ready for things to be dumped on”. I’ve never been able to work out how it does that.


In exasperation I’ve once said that I’ll design our next kitchen to have no flat surfaces – they’ll all be curved or sloping – so that nothing will stay on it and as a result nothing will be dumped on it. The only problem is that cooking on a sloping or curved surface presents a few other challenges. It would be a bit like chopping onions in a bowl, and not being able to leave anything untouched while I’m busy with something else in case it goes rolling off the bench, so I had to give up on that idea.


The floor is another surface that attracts all sorts of things. Certain shoes, for instance, just seem to stay in the same spot for a long time, and nobody but me seems to notice them which is something I can’t figure out either. Do you only notice these things when you reach a certain age? Or is it a gender thing? Or is it more like a rite of passage and you have to earn your ability to notice these things by, for example, having picked up a certain number of things that don’t belong to you or by having cleaned a certain number of diapers? This one is beyond me.


But wait for the best part: there is actual magic going on in our house. Certain things magically become invisible once they’ve left someone’s hand. Certain teaspoons do that. They lie on the kitchen bench after being used, completely invisible to some. I find this quite annoying though, because none of these uncooperative items are willing to be invisible to me! How come I’m the privileged one that notices it all?


That privilege sometimes becomes a responsibility because I’m expected to know and remember the location and GPS coordinates of every item on our property. It’s like my brain is a computerised filing system for all this information and anyone living in the house can at any given moment log in and access that information. But beware the day when the computer is out of battery and cannot be accessed or the updated details of the last movement of an item hasn’t been saved onto the computer and it gives out the outdated (incorrect) information of the item’s last location or worse still, a particular item has never been logged in the system, but the most negligent sub-standard performance is when the information has been logged and updated but the file is unaccountably lost in a mystery of our advanced technological age. File vanished. System (and information) overload. No more memory space available. Oh dear. It’s no wonder one of the kids has said to me in the past that my brain is like a computer. (You, my dear family, have assisted in turning it into one!) But on other occasions I sometimes get asked (about other random bits of information that’s useless according to them but my brain decided to retain it), why I remember all this useless information. The answer is that I don’t know, but it’s probably an involuntary response by my brain subconsciously thinking that it might get asked this at any point in the future, so best to remember that!


In the midst of all these apparent allergies and uncooperative items in our house, we have also seen some private enterprise flourish through good old supply and demand. On the supply side we have an industrious and resourceful child willing to help out her older brother with his chores for the right price and on the demand side we have the older brother who’d rather pay someone to do his chores than do it himself. This little enterprise started out with her taking over his daily job of unpacking clean dishes from the dishwasher in the mornings for a monthly fee but has now grown to include keeping his room organised and clean. I’ve only had to intervene once when payment was overdue but otherwise it’s a free market system. I do have some concerns about the system that I’d voiced to child No.1 a few times though – mainly that he’ll always expect to pay someone else to do his chores – but at the moment both parties are happy with the arrangement. Unfortunately this free market deal doesn’t include packing dirty dishes into the dishwasher.


It’s quite a challenge, this permanent vigil against the magnets that cause items to gravitate to the floor, dealing with seemingly invisible items, making sure the brain’s filing system is up to date and battling the allergy (or aversion) to the dishwasher. No wonder my head spins some days and I end up feeling like I’m running around in blurry circles like a Road Runner…

Road Runner

Let me start off by saying I’m not a road runner, I’m not even a runner in any form and I don’t look like a road runner either, and neither is this about road running in the traditional sense.

I do a lot of running around though, as mums (and some dads I’m sure) all over all do all the time.  In our house there lives a dad and husband who is fanatic about exercise, trains all the time (when he’s not working or updating his exercise spreadsheets and graphs or having the occasional bit of time out), has done close to a hundred marathons and ultra-marathons, ironman etc (let’s call him Ironman); a big boy and his two high school sisters, and of course, mum.  Most of the time I love getting up early in the morning and going for a walk, getting organised for the day ahead and just getting things done. The kids aren’t up by 5am but Ironman generally is, so the house is quiet as he minds his own business updating his general knowledge of all the relevant news sites for the day and other not-so-important information (in my opinion) before he goes out training, which leaves me free to do all the organising I have to do.

Sadly Ironman is injured at the moment though so there’s been no training for a while, which is really hard on someone who is used to that amount of exercise and I honestly don’t envy anyone who is injured (been there and done that). Suddenly he has a lot of time on his hands that he’s not used to, so not only is he injured, he also doesn’t know what to do with all this free time all of a sudden, and finally said in exasperation the other day that he was bored.

Now this was early in the morning before work and school, and I had a fair bit to do before going to work so I told him, as I was walking past him on my way to hang up the second load of washing, that I was definitely not bored! Picture this: going backwards and forwards between kitchen and laundry, front and back gardens moving a sprinkler, turning the timer on, checking that the tap is open just the right amount, back to the laundry to take one load of washing out and put another one in, outside to hang up the washing, out to the front garden to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to the kitchen to prepare the marinade for the lamb for dinner, back outside to move the sprinkler as the timer has finished, repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to cut the lamb and put it in the marinade, make myself lunch to take to work, out to the front to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, shower and get ready to go to work, eat breakfast, hang up the second load of washing. Now picture all of this in fast forward and you get a blurry picture of someone or something running backwards and forwards resembling a cartoon Road Runner.

This is the thing: there is always something to do. I remember as a kid sometimes being bored, but as a grown-up I haven’t experienced that luxury for a long, long time. Some days I find myself going backwards and forwards doing so many things, and while I’m busy doing one thing I’ll notice something else that needs doing or attention so I’ll stop what I’ve been doing and sort out the other thing, at which point I might interrupt myself again to organise a third thing, and so the day will go by and I’ll be completely exhausted by the end of it but sometimes I haven’t even finished the one thing I started out to do! Doesn’t really bring about a huge sense of accomplishment, but expends a lot of energy and takes up a lot of time. Other days I’ll set out with a clear sense of purpose and a list of things that need doing, whether it be phone calls, appointments to be made, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, gardening, filing, cooking a big pot of soup or some other project such as marinating and bottling my olive crop or making dukkah, and by the end of the day I’ll have accomplished what I’d set out to do. And yet there will always be something else to do!

How come it’s so common for men not to understand that a mum’s job is never finished though? And that there’s no point avoiding chores as they will not go away and are better done sooner rather than later? Training for an Ironman event takes up a lot of time, and in our house it basically means that with work and training Ironman is not around most of the time, which really makes it impossible for him to help with a lot of housework, and he’s honestly the only person I know who will sign up to do Ironman (resulting in hours and hours of gruelling training every week, getting up at about 4am most days to go training sometimes in the dark, cold and rain and other times in extreme heat in the middle of summer for 7 hours on a Saturday or Sunday) to avoid doing housework! The funny part is that quite often it’s an hour’s housework that’s been replaced by about 10 hours of training (and repeating this for a few months, and then eventually doing a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km bike ride, followed by a 42km run all on one torturous day). Replacing 1 hour of housework with 10 hours of torturous training? The maths just don’t add up.

Now that there’s a break in training at the moment he’s had to find other ways to kill the time, such as going into our shed a while ago looking for something useful and important, but returning instead with 25 year old marathon photos and then spending an entire fruitful Saturday afternoon scanning and sharing them online with his old running mate. Another deliberate distraction to avoid doing housework, and he hasn’t shown this much interest in the shed in the last 7 years (until he discovered that it offered a distraction)!

Funny that boredom is the alternative to training with no other options available. I’ve never thought of it that way before! Ironman and other related distractions aside, there’s always something that needs doing.

The bottom line is: I’m not bored.

Got to go.

Beep Beep.

Road Runner pic