Merry & Bright

It was Xmas — Xmas with its mantle of white snow, scintillating from a thousand diamond points, Xmas with its good cheer, its peace on earth — Xmas with its feasting and merriment, Xmas with its — well, anyway, it was Xmas.

“Caroline’s Christmas, or, The Inexplicable Infant”, Nonsense Novels, Stephen Leacock

It was Xmas — sorry, Christmas — and we modestly feasted, went to church-on-the-couch, zoomed with the relations we’re not allowed to visit, and generally worked ourselves into various over-sugared, over-stimulated, over-tired tizzies. There were stockings and presents. There was pie. Some mistakes were made (in case you’ve ever idly wondered whether silly putty is easy to get out of a lite-brite: it’s not). All in all, it’s been a reasonably satisfying Christmas all round. We even woke up to fresh snow yesterday morning — although it has been too overcast to do much in the way of scintillating.

True to form, after having nearly all of 2020 in which to complete Tertia’s Christmas stocking, I finished it on December 23rd (this may be a personal best). I love having a family set of stockings, but I hate making them. There is nothing more boring than projects worked entirely in single crochet. Nothing. But I pushed through with the help of Downton Abbey and Holiday Baking Championship, and her stocking was hanging from the mantel with the others come Christmas morning. We’ll call it a win.

The other big news vis a vis Christmas actually has nothing to do with the holiday, except that it happened on it: I did some laundry. That’s not news in itself, goodness knows how much laundry it takes to keep this house running, but what was unique about this load was that it evidently also contained a sparkly red crayon. This crayon was washed. And then it was dried. I only found this when I pulled the load out of the dryer and found that all of the children’s clothes had glittery red wax spots on them. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, here is how to deal with a crayon that’s gone through the dryer:

  1. Wash everything. Use your hottest water and longest cycle, plenty of detergent, add some OxyClean if you have it, as well as at least a cup of baking soda. This took the spots off 90% of the clothes. Hang things to dry if you haven’t cleaned your dryer yet.
  2. Second round: spot-treat the clothes that are still stained with OxyClean and run them through again, still with the hot water and baking soda. This took care of very nearly everything, and the one pair of pants that still has visible marks on it also has some paint stains from before, so I’m not too bothered.
  3. To clean the dryer: run it for a few minutes so that it gets hot and the crayon bits soften, then open the door and scrub the surfaces with dryer sheets. You will have to do this several times since it gets progressively less effective as the machine cools. Don’t forget the back wall of the dryer, the inside of the door, and all the other little crevices where wax can hide. Once you think you’ve got it all, run a load of damp rags through to make sure.

And that, dear readers, just about sums up our little Christmas en famille. May your days be merry, your jammies be seasonal, and your dryers remain wax-free. Here’s to 2021.

Meet Alia

Lest this blog become all technological gloom and doom all the time, let me quickly point out something very cool I heard about yesterday — a counterweight to my last post, if you will.

I’ve started listening to a podcast called Team Human, hosted by Douglas Rushkoff. My introductory episodeĀ  — 93: Palak Shah: Who’s Going to Care? — immediately grabbed my attention because of its subject: domestic workers (nannies, elder care workers, housecleaners, home healthcare providers, etc). This is a field I know relatively well. I worked as a nanny for several years. My mother cleaned houses for a time when I was a teenager. One of my sisters-in-law does some work in the home assistance field. So I know a little bit about domestic work from my own experience, and when I was a nanny I often ran into other nannies and sitters (and occasional housecleaners) during the course of my days.

In her interview segment, Palak Shah, the social innovations director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), called domestic work the “invisible backbone” of society — and if you think about it, that makes sense. If you have children and want to go to work, you need someone to care for those children. If you have elderly parents you can’t care for, somebody else needs to fill that role. In many respects, domestic workers are the ones who let the “regular” workforce get to work. But it is a largely invisible field because the work happens in the privacy of other people’s homes. And although domestic work is everywhere, it’s not a particularly respected field, and certainly not a well-paid one. When I was a nanny I was very fortunate in that most of my families treated me fairly, and my main clients (hi, Bruce and Steph!) registered as a business so that I would also be getting/making contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, etc. But many (probably most) domestic workers, especially in America, lack the worker protections and benefits (pensions, health plans, paid sick days, contracts, etc.) that the non-domestic workforce often takes for granted.

But domestic work does have something big going for it, which is that it is what we might call “future proof” — which is to say, domestic work is not something that can be automated or outsourced. We’re a long way from robots that can clean a bathroom. You’re not going to skype in a nanny from India to watch your children while you work. Domestic work is going to be around for a long time, and so the question is — how can we as a society make it better? If it’s important work — and it is important work! — what can happen to make working in people’s homes more tenable, sustainable, dignified, etc. for those who do it?

These are the sorts of questions that Palak Shah and others like her are asking. And one of the potential answers is a cool little app called Alia, coming out of the NDWA’s Fair Care Labs, which functions as a “portable benefits plan”, currently being beta tested for housecleaners. The idea is that a housecleaner will sign up and get her clients to do so as well. Each client pays a premium into Alia of $5 or $10 per cleaning. That money accrues in the cleaner’s account and can be used to provide paid time off or go toward insurance costs. Because the benefits are tied to the worker rather than to the job, she doesn’t have to worry about losing them with a change in employment. I think it’s a very cool concept; here’s a nice write-up in Wired Magazine. (And if you clean houses or use a housecleaner, consider signing up for beta testing.)

There: technology being used for something useful and pro-humanity. See? It’s not all bad. Some of it is very good indeed, which I need to remind myself whenever I have one of my regular Luddite fits.