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Hand Wash Cold

Reviewed by Katy Killilea


What a disruptive shock of connection Hand Wash Cold gave me! Written by Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen Buddhist priest who is also a mostly at-home parent, there’s no chance I would have finished it if it were what it seemed to be: another pop-Buddhism mommy book. Based on its publicity, I thought it would be skimmable, maybe kind of cute, mostly a waste of time. I thought–best case scenario–it might make me see with new eyes that mountain of laundry that springs up beside the washing machine within moments of being eradicated or guide me past the itchy failure of socks loss. This is not that kind of book.

There’s no escape hatch offered here. No Real Simple-esque laundry-room photo spread or encouragement to hire a housekeeper so you can concentrate on your heart’s desires. Instead of carrying your mind away in a spirituality-laced haze, the book leaves you more than ever in your own home with your dank heap of towels. Which is chilling. Or nauseating. Or maybe calming. It depends on your frame of mind.

In addition to laundry, Maezen Miller also writes about marriage, children, dirty dishes, weeding, and leaf-raking: “I am unable to accept my MacArthur Genius award at the present time because I am scooping leaves from the pond,” she imagines herself saying as she rakes endless autumn leaves. This is precisely the prickly feeling I get while crouching to reach way back into the dryer: my real life–my MacArthur Genius award–is being held hostage by this blah.

And the blah takes up such a giant hunk of my attention. Maezen Miller says, “Looking for greater meaning in life, some people think that housework is beneath them. Cooking and cleaning are beneath them…Sometimes they seem so far beneath me that I can’t see the bottom.” For those trying to square the hunk of time spent in drudgery with the belief that their life matters, this book is much needed food for thought.

Author photo credit: Denise Lynnette Andrade.

The details:
Hand Wash Cold
by Karen Maezen Miller
2010 by New World Library $15

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  • Love this review and I will definitely check out the book. Remind me to ask you to review my first novel I will write just as soon as I finish the laundry.

  • “Karen Maezen Miller’s message is like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ without all the scurrying from something; it reminds us of the precious lives we’ve been given and encourages readers to stay put.” (that is from another review–it’s such a good book–i wish i had thought to describe it this way.)

  • It took me 3 months to read this book. I read slow. I took in every word.

    Once complete, I sat in my dimly lit house after everyone was asleep but me. I finally felt comfortable in my own home and where I was for the first time since buying my house over 8 years ago.

    Karen did show me the joy of service and taking care of my family and home. Laundry. Dishes. Yard.

  • Thanks for writing such a great review! Its especially nice in light of the fact that I won’t be getting to the book in the near future. On the miracle of relieving the burden by sharing the experience: its good to know you are right there with me reaching into the back of the dryer for that sock.