washing the dishes by hand

Ben and I arrived for Easter weekend at my parents home in the Bristol Hills of New York with the bright sun, spring temperatures, and signs of new life everywhere. We have been walking back in the open fields of grapevines discovered on the neighbor’s land when here three weeks ago after Dad broke his leg. He’s just home now after three weeks in rehab, still has three weeks to go without bearing any weight at all on his leg. There have been some adjustments to my parent’s home that makes it easier for him to move and transition with a walker. We are moving through the days together to see what next little adjustment can be made. Adaptation at it’s finest.

Ben and I have been taking our walks with cameras in hand, snapping away at what fills our visions and souls.


Ben is fixated on the little ponds of water everywhere,


me on the undulating sweeping landscape,



where landscape meets lake.



We have fun out here together amidst the smallest signs of spring making themselves known.  The green coming up under the brown is barely there, but it is there. The little streams that need to be crossed carry the lifeblood for this growth.


The delight I feel at seeing this tiny yellow flower emerging from the floor of the woods is unbounded.


The visceral quality of ritual renewal that marks this time of year is simply and perfectly felt in this landscape. A year ago I would have missed this.  I would be walking the paved roads surrounding the landscape instead, the immediacy of this experience would have been lost to the restriction of curbside viewing only.  In the space of a year, I have come to appreciate how taking a step back can be so rewarding.

I anticipate returning to the house to prepare the beautiful leg of lamb (usually my father’s job, he directs me to the exact way to stuff this locally and sustainably raised piece of meat with garlic, smile), peel carrots and potatoes, and lead the dance of roasting, steaming, boiling, mashing, and assembling that will culminate in our celebratory meal together. To clear the decks and make space for these preparations, I must first wash whatever dirty dishes are in the sink. By hand. Smiling as I think that it has been almost a month now since my father has been in the kitchen, that he is the only one that knows how to finesse the sophisticated assemblage of buttons on his new dishwasher. Dad loves the job of loading this new fancy machine, keeping order in the kitchen, putting away the dishes when clean. There’s simply been no reason for my mother to learn the new buttons. So we washed dishes by hand the first week he was in the hospital and rehab. After I left, my mother just kept washing the dishes by hand. Now, upon my return, we commiserate at how much we actually enjoy this warm hands in the soapy water ritual. We still haven’t asked Dad how to work the dishwasher.

It’s like paying the credit card in full each month. Once it is done it is done. There is no waiting or worrying about what remains unfinished, if only for a short time.  There’s none of that waiting for the dishwasher to be full before running it, and then waiting until it is actually finished after long cycles of wash and rinse and dry, waiting for it to cool down, waiting for the right moment to empty it. Washing the dishes by hand is a form of instant gratification, of doing a job in a way that signals completion in the moment, making space right away for what is behind it without the pile up of too much that can signal overwhelm.

Some are quick to remind me that washing dishes by hand might actually use more water than what is used by a dishwasher. That a dishwasher frees up time for more important things. But I know that it is possible to be efficient and economical with water in a hand washed operation. It is possible actually to use very little water. Just one basin filled with warm soapy water and the scrub of a hand held sponge can wash a lot, followed by an equal amount of clean water to rinse. It can indeed be a very gratifying experience for the sustainably conscious.

The washed dinner dishes are now piled up on the counter.


Nothing else will happen here until they are put away.  Multi-tasking isn’t possible this way. It’s another kind of stepping back in this modern fast paced world. Washing the dishes by hand is another ritual of renewal I think, being able to celebrate movement from one place to another this way, slowly and consciously making ready for what is next…

2 thoughts on “washing the dishes by hand

  1. Since it’s just the two of us now, we often do the few dishes we use by hand. But not for the holiday!

    There is a sense of just getting on with it, as you say. Hope dad is tolerating his circumstances without too much distress.


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