Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgI'm afraid I don't have the pictures I promised this evening--life interceded and we didn't finish our Big Project until after it was already too dark (and now, about to storm) to photograph. So you're going to have to wait another day or so to see the finished project.

I do have a pictorial essay on another of our weekend projects, though. This one was really all Mark, I was just the photographer.

If you are grossed out by large chunks of meat, you may wanna skip this post.

Step 1: Buy the brisket. We bought ours at the very cool Organic Butcher of Mclean. Raw, it weighed 13.5 lbs.

Step 2: Give the brisket a dry rub. Mark's dry rub was comprised of sea salt, black pepper, dried wild Mexican oregano, smoked Spanish paprika, Marash pepper flakes, dried fennel pollen, and blackening spice.

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After it's coated, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and stow it in the fridge overnight.

Step 3: Start up your smoker (ours is a Big Green Egg) and stock it with hardwood charcoal and chips for the smoke (we used apple wood chips). Toss on the brisket.

Step 4: Smoke it for about 18 hours. Start at about 240 degrees for a couple of hours and then go down to about 200-220. The idea here is a long, slow smoke over low heat. Check it intermittently and remark on how great it smells.

Step 5: After it has been removed from the heat and rested for several hours, wrap it up in some foil and put it in the fridge until time for dinner.

Step 6: When cutting into it, stop to admire the amazing smoke ring you have created.

Step 7: Nom. Best served with potato salad and beer, followed up with blueberry cobbler. Trust me.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgToday was another busy day, working towards our big exciting weekend project. Though we made a ton of progress, we're still not quite ready for our close up, so I can't show you the whole thing. What I can show you, thought, is a little piece of the project, which was completed today.

This wrought-iron table and chairs set has been with Mark and I for quite a number of years now. We bought it at the Salvation Army right after we moved to Austin. Our first rental there had a sun room, where this set first lived. When we moved into the house we bought, we put it out in our front courtyard. Then we moved it with us across the country. In this house, it has lived on the deck. We failed to put it (or anything else) away for the winter, and it lived for several weeks under a five foot bank of snow.

Needless to say, the set didn't come out of all that looking so great. It was never really intended to be outdoor furniture in the first place. The chair seats were upholstered with what I think was remnant satin (I did that when we first got them, their previous incarnation was some sort of faux Native American woven thing). The finish was not rust-proof. They looked pretty rough. It was time to give them new life.

So, the first thing we did was drag all three pieces out into the sun, remove the glass top from the table, and scrub everything down. Mark used a fine steel bristle brush to scrub the rust off, then I scrubbed everything down with soap and water. After it was all dry, I applied the first of four coats of RustOleum Multi-Purpose High Gloss spray paint, in Apple Red.

In between paint coats, Mark and I tackled the seats. The wooden chair bottoms were partially rotted from being outside unprotected for so long, so Mark used the jigsaw to cut out two new bottoms out of a piece of scrap MDF found in our garage. Then, he cut (I don't cut things all that well) two pieces of Poly-Fil Nu-Foam the same size as the chair bottoms. Finally, I used Waverly Sun N Shade Outdoor fabric to reupholster the seats.

After everything dried and I washed and re-installed the glass table top, we ended up with this:

Huge improvement, isn't it?

This was a great project because it was high-reward for not a ton of work or money. It took maybe three hours total (not counting time waiting for paint to dry, obviously). The cost breakdown was something like:
4 cans of spray paint at $3 = $12
2 sheets Nu-Foam at $5 = $10
.75 yards fabric at $8/yard = $6
= $30

Hopefully tomorrow, I will get to show you the results of our weekend's work in its completion. In the meantime, I hope you're having as productive a weekend as we are!

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgToday's project was really just part of a project, or part of several. Mark and I are having our first big party in years in a couple of weeks (a shindig for Mark's co-workers, so there's an added element of pressure). Today, we started a few project we've been talking about for a while, to get ready for it. That meant the day was full of shopping, painting, putting together, etc. But nothing is actually done yet, and I don't want to show you the results until they're complete, so I'm going to just give you a bit of a tease in pictures.

One thing we did complete, which I can show you, is the re-trellising of the out-of-control passion flowers we have on our front porch. Just a few weeks ago they fit easily on their original plastic stakes, but they've grown so much we had to figure out another solution. Think this will work?

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Justify my lunch

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What you see here is today's lunch: a greasy, cheesy, lovely pizza. After just telling you yesterday that I was watching what I'm eating. Looking lovingly at it before I cut into it today, it occurred to me that it made an excellent example of several of my current dietary "rules," and as such it might be a good time to discuss them here. Besides, I don't feel like cleaning.

So how I justify this pizza? Well, with my rules!

Rule #1: Eat food that is made of food.
My #1 goal right now is to minimize the amount of chemical-laden processed junk I eat and call food. The processed junk eating is the most embarrassing and probably most harmful of my eating habits, and it's a hard one to break. I love fast food. I love snack cakes, and Oreos, and soda. I love all manner of things that parents don't feed to their children. But I'm learning, slowly, that at least some of my cravings for those things can be met with food that may not exactly be healthy, but is at least made by a person. In this case, I craved pizza. This isn't unusual--I adore pizza. Rather than phoning up Pizza Hut and ordering a deep dish Pepperoni Lover's (which I have been known to do), I made my own pizza. Yes, the sauce and the crust dough were pre-made from Trader Joe's, but they were made of food ingredients. Yes, pepperoni is a processed food. But still, making this pizza at home was a hell of a lot better option than ordering one from a chain. Tastier, too.

Note that this includes fake "diet" food. I've never used artificial sweeteners, because I think they are nasty and suspect, but I have, in the past, been known to reach for chemically enhanced low fat products. No more. I really do think it's healthier for me to have something that is full of real fat (like, say, regular ice cream) than scary compounds (like, say, Skinny Cow ice cream).

Rule #2: If you can add vegetables, add vegetables.
Though my craving was for pepperoni pizza, I knew my enjoyment wouldn't be diminished in the slightest by having other, healthier items present along with my beloved pepperoni. So, when I made the pizza, I put a thick layer of spinach leaves under the cheese, and added a couple of big handfuls of pre-cooked onions and red and yellow bell peppers on with the pepperoni. This didn't alter the caloric value of the pizza significantly one way or the other, but it did sneak at least one veggie serving into my day, and it tasted great. I can use veggies this way in many of my favorite things, and enjoy them as much or more as I do sans veggies. This may be a little bit of a juvenile tip, but hey, I'm a juvenile eater.

Rule #3: Don't mess with what you really want.
This may sound like it contradicts Rule #2, but it really doesn't. It was fine for me add veggies to the pizza, because I knew I'd like it just as well with as without them. However, other ways of trying to make it "more healthy' would seriously diminish my enjoyment of it. Soy cheese or soy pepperoni, or whole-wheat crust, would leave me unsatisfied. I'd probably eat more than two slices, and I still wouldn't have had what I really want. This has been a major issue with most of the diets I've tried in the past--the idea that a half-assed lower calorie version of something is a good substitute. It's not. If you honestly don't mind whole wheat or soy versions, or (gag) fat free cheese, or whatever, then by all means use them (although a lot of that stuff directly contradicts Rule #1). But for me, those things really kinda ruin the experience, and unsatisfied Grace doesn't last very long on a diet. So, this pizza was made with a white crust, real mozzarella, and real pepperoni. Because that's what I really wanted. And I ate two pieces of it (about a quarter of the whole) and felt very satisfied.

A corollary to this rule, call it Rule #3.5, is don't bother with what you don't really want. A few days ago, my friend The Princess had a great post about how she's decided that carrot cake is just really not worth it to her. I agree. Not just about carrot cake, but about a lot of things that I like OK, but not well enough to feel indulgent eating. If I'm going to eat something I like just OK, it may as well actually be healthy. Otherwise, it's not worth it.

Rule #4: Allow yourself to be lazy.
It's almost as embarrassing to admit as the fast food love, but one of the major reasons I eat so much junk food is laziness. I really like most fruits and vegetables, for example--I don't avoid them due to distaste for them. It's much easier, when I'm feeling snacky, to grab a handful of chips or a prepackaged something than it is to prepare something healthy, even if "prepare" just means "wash and chop." I can't really justify this laziness, but I've learned that if my ultimate goal is better eating habits, it does me more good to admit and work with it than to try to cure it. For some people, this means buying pre-cut fruit and veggie trays, and I think that's just fine. For me, at least today, it meant that when I decided to put peppers and onions on my pizza, I cooked up a whole batch--two or three times what I needed for the pizza. Now, tomorrow or the next day, when I want a sandwich or something that I could put peppers and onions on, they'll be ready to go, and I won't have laziness to use as an excuse to leave them off. This is also why I use pre-made dough and sauce from Trader Joe's. Would it be cheaper/healthier if I made it myself? Probably. Would I do it? Probably not.

Rule #5: Put away the leftovers first.
When this pizza came out of the oven, I cut it into four parts. I put one part (two slices) on my plate, then designated the rest as leftovers. If it hadn't been something hot, I would have wrapped it up and put it away before I ever started eating. As it needed to cool, I just had to do it mentally. I have a bad tendency to continue nibbling on things after I finished my first serving of them. I don't take a second serving, I just cut tiny piece after tiny piece more, until it's all gone. I do this whether I am still hungry or not. If I don't leave things out, though, this isn't possible. Had I still been hungry when I finished my two slices of pizza, I'd have eaten something else, like some fruit--I have no desire to stop myself from eating when I'm hungry--but having the leftovers put away tells me that there's no more of whatever it is I started out eating. For some reason, that really helps.

I don't know how helpful any of these rules would be to anybody else, or how much they echo any particular diet plan. Though I've never been a huge diet follower myself, that stuff does sort of seep into your brain. For me, they really do seem to go a long way in allowing me to work on my eating and not feel deprived and angry about it. I know the desire to eat junk is never going to be fully conquered--for whatever reason, I'm not built that way--but I can get myself used to a better quality of junk, and hopefully less of it. And that's a good start.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgToday was supposed to be a cleaning day, not a baking day. I'd planned to tackle the next room on my list--either the dining room or the living room. But I failed to clean anything, and I really wanted to bake. Since I'm self-indulgent, that's what I did.

I bake quite a bit. Lately, I have both a reason to bake more and a reason to bake less: I'm watching what I eat (not dieting, not a life style change, just trying to pay attention). One of the things I'm focusing on is only eating food that is made of food--i.e. no processed junk. That means that if I want something baked, I have to make it myself. However, I'm a glutton, so making something myself can be dangerous--I end up eating it all. (Truly, I do--I recently demolished an entire pan of lemon bars in two days.) So baking can be an issue. The solution I've found is to bake, have a slice of cake or a few cookies, and then send the rest to lab with Mark. Makes him popular, I get both my junk fix and the process of baking, which I enjoy, and I don't end up pounding down tons of unnecessary calories. Win-win.

So, tonight I set out to make Mark's favorite cake. It's not something I make often, because it calls for sour cream, which we don't keep in the house as a staple. However, I recently have been buying sour cream to satiate my nacho needs, and I accidentally bought one when we already had one. Knowing there was no way I would finish both of them before they expired (or at least that I really shouldn't), I decided to make this cake to use up some of the excess.

This recipe is from an issue of Cooks Illustrated from 2002. It's possibly the first Cooks Illustrated I ever bought for Mark--certainly one of the first. The pages are stuck together and gross--I should really copy the recipe down somewhere else. Traditionally, I make the cake exactly as directed, except that I use a Bundt pan instead of the recommended 10-inch tube pan, which I don't have. This is the recipe:

Thumbnail image for grace making cake.JPGStreusel
*3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (I actually use light brown most of the time, since it's what I tend to have)
* 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cold, cut into 2 pieces
* 1 cup pecans , chopped

Cake
* 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter for greasing pan
* 4 large eggs
* 1 1/2 cups sour cream
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* ¾ teaspoon baking soda
* ¾ teaspoon table salt

Directions
1. For the streusel: In food processor, process flour, granulated sugar, ¼ cup dark brown sugar, and cinnamon until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer 1 ¼ cups of flour/sugar mixture to small bowl; stir in remaining ¼ cup brown sugar and set aside to use for streusel filling. Add butter and pecans to mixture in food processor; pulse until nuts and butter resemble small pebbly pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Set aside to use as streusel topping.

2. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10-inch tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Whisk eggs, 1 cup sour cream, and vanilla in medium bowl until combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add butter and remaining ½ cup sour cream; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture resembles wet sand, with few large butter pieces remaining, about 1 ½ minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat until batter comes together, about 10 seconds; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Lower speed to medium-low and gradually add egg mixture in 3 additions, beating for 20 seconds after each and scraping down sides of bowl. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.

4. Using rubber spatula, spread 2 cups batter in bottom of prepared pan, smoothing surface. Sprinkle evenly with ¾ cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts). Repeat with another 2 cups batter and remaining ¾ cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts). Spread remaining batter over, then sprinkle with streusel topping (with butter and nuts).

5. Bake until cake feels firm to touch and long toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean (bits of sugar from streusel may cling to tester), 50 to 60 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be streusel-side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and reinvert cake streusel-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. (Cake can be wrapped in foil and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.

This round, I had a few issues. To begin with, my brown sugar was a solid. Ick. I covered it with wet paper towels and microwaved it and it softened up enough to use. Then, when I had the batter all ready to go, I re-organized an entire cupboard looking for my Bundt pan. Which I never found. Apparently it didn't make the move with us? I don't know why I wouldn't have packed it, but it's not anywhere here I can see. So, I made the cake in a 9"x9" square cake pan. I don't think it will be quite as good--probably a bit denser with not as nice a crumb--but I bet it will still be good.

If you decide to make this cake (and you should, it's really really good), the batter layers are going to look puny compared to the streusel layers in the pan, but don't worry about it, it bakes up fine. Also, don't even think about using fake butter. Really. Don't try to replace it with applesauce or anything ridiculous like that. This is not supposed to be good for you.

Today's apron is a new one--the VERY reasonably priced classic full apron from mamie l. designs. I'm falling behind on the vintage inspired outfits, though--I'm wearing a Yogi maxi dress from Nordstrom Rack underneath.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgOK, confession time: When Mark and I moved into this house in August, I kind of just threw dishes into the kitchen cupboards at random, without really thinking about what should go where. And things have more or less lived in the places I threw them since then. So I knew, when I began this project, that cleaning up my cupboards was going to need to be a task I'd take on. And I've been avoiding it. It just seemed like such a big pain in the butt. So, I decided to break it up. Today, just the top cupboards.

Before I began, I checked my source material. As was the case with other decluttering type projects, the older volumes were silent. Martha, though, had lots to say on the subject of kitchen cabinet organization:

It's not the amount of room you have that matters, but how you manage it. Saucers are often stacked, for example, and then topped with piles of cups, which simply don't pile up very well. The result is a lot of unused space. Instead, store cups and saucers in the same way they are used: saucer, cup, saucer, cup. They not only look better but can also be safely stacked higher, and when you pull out a cup and saucer, they are ready for use. Here are other ideas to help you make the most of the space you have:

Bowls, Pots, and Pans
Nest them to conserve space. Place paper plates or sheets of paper towels in between layers to prevent scratching (use nonabsorbent coated paper plates between cast iron-iron pans, which tend to retain traces of oil).

Fragile Trays and Platters
Stack them by size, with the biggest ones on the bottom and the smallest on top. Leave a few inches between stacks to avoid the possibility of chipping pieces when puling them out and putting them back in. Stack like shapes together--round platters in one stack, oblong platters in another. You can also lean platters against the back wall of a cabinet (secure them using rubber bumpers) and stack plates in front.

Nonbreakable Flat Items
Store cutting boards and baking pans upright, by installing tension rods vertically between shelves.

Glassware, Dinnerware, and Serving Pieces
Group by pattern, collection, or function--for example, all transferware in one group and Fiesta ware in another, or everyday glasses on one shelf and special-occasional stemware on another. Stack no more than four to six plates together (anything that has been repaired should always be kept on the top, or not stacked at all) and store glasses upright to protect rims.

Utensils
Group wooden utensils in one crock, stainless-steel ones in another. Line up crocks next to the cooktop, for easy access.

No sooner had I read Martha's advice than I started to ignore it. These were the cabinets with which I began:

I tackled them one at a time. First, I took everything out. Then, I washed the inside of the cupboard down with a warm soap rag. Then I followed up with my beloved almond-scented Method wood cleaner. Finally, I replaced things in a way that made sense, removing anything that didn't belong in that cabinet. For each cupboard, I tried to put the most used items on the bottom shelves, the least used on the top.

When I finished, the cupboards looked like this:

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I know, I know--upside down glasses and plates stacked ten-deep. I can't help it, I'm stuck in my ways.

This project took about 35 minutes.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgToday marks the one-quarter finished mark of my 100 Days to a Happy Housewife project. Given the occasion, I thought I'd try to round up some of my thoughts and feelings about the project so far.

First, I am loving doing a blog-based project. I am finding I get a lot more out of blogging when I have a focus, rather than just using the blog as a place to spill whatever is on my mind. I don't think I'd want a permanent housekeeping blog, but I am wondering about whether What If No One's Watching? can become a place for projects in general, one leading into another, rather than just a personal blog. I'm also really enjoying blogging every day. I find it much easier to get into the habit of blogging, and to enjoy doing it, when I expect myself to keep it as a daily habit. So I want to incorporate that into my life after this project is finished as well.

Doing this project has also reminded me that I really do care about blog traffic. I love getting comments. I love the idea that people are reading what I write here, and that they are interested in it. I try not to look at my Google Analytics stats very often, since it makes me feel inconsequential, but I took a peek and my traffic is up 16% in the last month. I like that. I'm averaging over 400 visits a day, which is great, and folks are spending an average of about 45 seconds on the site each time they hit it. All of that makes me happy. The comments, though, make me ecstatic.

I'm also kinda jazzed about the new blogs this has all introduced me to. Housekeeping blogs isn't a category I ever expected to have in my reader, but there are some really good ones out there. Really lovely, well-written, well-photographed, oft-updated work. So that's a great bonus.

On the subject matter itself, I've come across a few surprises. I thought I'd be more annoyed--angry, even--at the sexism inherent in the sources I'm using, particularly the vintage ones. It may say something for all the countless hours I spent in college history classes that I'm not. I am able to look at these books as artifacts of their time and not be incensed by them. (Which isn't to say I don't have a running list of the very most ridiculous passages--I do, and I will share it at some point.) The subtler, but still very real sexism in the modern books does irritate me, but it's an expected irritation, and I haven't given it much thought.

I wondered, before I began this project, if it would help me to find some sort of value or peace in doing household chores. I thought, I guess, that if I learned to scrub a floor correctly, then maybe scrubbing floors would start to give me some sort of fulfillment? So far, not so much. I'm definitely a fan of the results (way more than I thought I would be, actually), but the process leaves me cold. Household chores are still chores, still work I'd really prefer not to do. I'm proud of myself when I accomplish something that makes my home a nicer place, or even just something that really needs to be done, but actually doing it doesn't bring me any joy.

One concern I had before beginning was that putting myself in this role, of "happy homemaker," might be to the detriment of the fairly carefully constructed equitable housecleaning arrangement that previously existed at my house. If I start cleaning more, and more seriously, will Mark start doing less? So far, I'm happy to report that this hasn't been the case. Mark and I have had a pretty peaceful, if hard won, division of household labor for quite a few years now, and this doesn't seem to be disrupting it. In part, I'm betting this is because of the nature of the project--I am taking on distinct tasks, rather than attempting a whole new schedule of cleaning, as I'd originally thought I would. In part, I think it's because I have a rare gem in Mark--a man who has no real concept of cleaning and household chores as "women's work." While there are definitely other things that he treats as my default responsibility even when they shouldn't be (like making plans, which is a whole other gripe), he really doesn't consider keeping the house presentable to be my job any more than it's his job, and that hasn't changed.

Another thing I thought might come out of this project is a greater respect for the labor of homemakers. Trying to keep my house at a mid-century standard, I hypothesized, would teach me just how much work that is. That's certainly the case, as you can tell by my (so far) complete reluctance to take on more than one finite project at a go. I have no problem thinking that mid-century style housekeeping, particularly in combination with raising one or more children, is a full-time job. However, the woman this project has really increased my respect for is the working woman who is still the major housekeeper (i.e., most working women, see Arlie Russell Hochschild's brilliant The Second Shift if you don't believe me). Even though I work from home and have a fairly flexible schedule, and even though I have a partner who, for the most part, pulls his weight, and even though I have no children, there is simply no way I could keep a perfect house while working. My days do not have enough hours, and I am completely unwilling to give up my very protected leisure time. I'm left wondering, pretty much every time I take on any major cleaning task, how the mythical "Supermom" does it all. There are the same number of hours in her day as in mine. Does she truly just never have a moment when she'd not doing for someone else? I can't tell you how depressed that idea makes me.

If I have to sum it all up, a quarter of the way through my 100 Days to a Happy Housewife project, I'd say it's been a complete success so far. I'm learning, I'm thinking, I'm writing, and my house is (marginally, so far) cleaner. Plus, I love the aprons.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 24: Biscuits

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgAs I've mentioned, I don't much cook, but I do bake. While Mark handles all the major chef'ing at our house, I do the dessert. It's a good system.

One thing I have yet to bake to the satisfaction of my partner, however (and much to his chagrin), is biscuits.

Mark has a very specific idea about what constitutes a good biscuit. Buttery, tender, flaky, mile-high. Southern style, he says. Made to accompany fried chicken, or eat with ham. However, I grew up on a whole other type of biscuit. Being not from the South, but from the very rural West, my childhood dinners were often accompanied by baking powder biscuits (made pretty much like this). These are not buttery (and are, in fact, made with shortening), don't rise much, and harden into hockey pucks when they get cold. They are best served with fried venison and gravy. So, we have had, for many years, a biscuit miscommunication.

These past few times, though, I've made every attempt to make the type of biscuits Mark is craving. I've tried several recipes. And every time, including the the most recent (last night), they come out flat and hard. They just don't rise. Last night's were also completely tasteless and dry.

I followed Alton Brown's recipe. To the letter. To wit, I:

Ingredients

* 2 cups flour
* 4 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons shortening
* 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

So help me! What did I do wrong? A friend suggested it might be bad baking powder, but I haven't noticed an issue with anything else I've baked, so I'm not sure that's completely likely. Any other possibilities--or tried and try recipes--would be much appreciated!

My apron is the Mod Bod Waistless/BBQ Apron from Modern Vintage Designs.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgMy house is very fabric-heavy. There is very little hardwood or leather--the furniture is fabric, the floors are carpeted. I also have pets--currently, one dog and three cats. What this means, among other things, is that I have a real need for fabric refresher.

Once upon a time, we used Febreze. But honestly, Febreze is nasty. It smells like chemicals and I can't identify any of the ingredients on the label. So, when we were selling our house in Austin, we switched to this great room freshener in Lavender Orange, made by EO. That stuff was great and got us through a ton of house showings during which people said they would have had no idea we had pets. And then it was discontinued.

So what to do? I can't imagine going back to the heavy scent and chemicals of Febreze, so I started scoping out recipes for fabric refresher you can make at home. Unfortunately, the first dozen or so I found were based on fabric softener! If I was willing to use that, I might as well just buy the damn Febreze!

After a bit more digging, though, I found more fabric refresher recipes, mostly combinations of vinegar, baking soda, water, and essential oils. I decided that for furniture, I'd leave out the baking soda. In spray bottle, I mixed white vinegar and water in a 1:3 ratio then added EOs (in my case, lavender and sweet orange, to replicate our long-lost EO stuff). Then I shook and sprayed.

And it worked as well as Febreze ever has. 24 hours later, a sniff to my couch arm yields no lingering vinegar or pet smell, but a nice subtle lavender citrus. Win!

I believe I'll try the baking soda version for the carpets next.

picture with fabric refresher.JPG

Today's apron is the Trendy Hostess Apron from Fancy Boutique. It's worn over boring 21st century dark jeans (Seven7, Marshall's) and a black v-neck t-shirt (Old Navy).

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgIn case anybody is interested in what all the goodies we bought at the Farmer's Market turn into in the hands of my very talented partner, I thought I'd introduce you to tonight's dinner.

Chicken roasted with lemon and fennel, accompanied by a warm salad of roasted yellow squash, roasted garlic, roasted spring onions, brioche croutons, and chevre over baby arugula.

It was so, so good.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgThere is no place in any of the vintage housekeeping books I've read that instructs me to spend Saturday morning doling out cash and taking in the sights and smells at the local Farmer's Market. The indexes of the modern books, too, are sadly empty of references to this urban yuppie tradition. I was sure, though, that Martha, at least, had to be pro-Farmer's Market, so I did a search on her website. Sure enough, I found several entries, including a piece on how to shop for fruits and vegetables, one on taking a challenge to eat locally, and a guide to meat buying. I knew she wouldn't fail me.

And so, this morning, bright and early (well, bright and early relative to it being Saturday), I armed myself with cash (never enough...), sunglasses, and a big market tote, and Mark and headed to the Reston Farmer's Market. I'd actually been twice before, both times by myself, and was pretty impressed with it, as far as these things go in this area. The Portland Farmer's Market is truly one of my favorite things ever (go read Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy's post on it from two summers ago to see why), and all others pale in comparison. That said, I like the one here, too.

After grabbing some coffee from the cafe near the Market, Mark and I took one lap just to see who was selling what. After getting the lay of the land, we decided to start with meat. At our market, there is a seller of bison and pork, one of beef, chicken and pork (Fertile Plains Custom Pork), one of lamb, and one of bacon and sausage. We started with bison, since Mark loves it and wanted something for the smoker. He picked out a bison brisket, and we also bought some buffalo & pork merguez sausage (because seriously, how cool is that) and some sweet pork Italian sausage, which is one of our meat staples. Next we hit up the beef and chicken purveyor, and after quite a bit of deliberation, we decided on a whole chicken, a pound of sliced country ham, and a pound of ground chuck.

Our meat needs met, we started looking for bread. There were two bread sellers to choose from, Baguette Republic and Grace's Pastries. We considered going for a sweet breakfast bread at Grace's Pastries, but decided that what we really needed was burger buns, and Baguette Republic had amazing brioche buns, so we bought a half dozen of those.

Next we went for vegetables. The vegetable sellers are still ramping up--it's early in the season--but everybody seemed to have greens, strawberries, and spring onions. Some folks also had baby squash, radishes, beets, turnips, tomatoes, etc. And several folks had plants, which we don't need, but are fun to see. We hit a couple of the vegetable stands, coming home with a bag of baby arugula, a quart of strawberries, two large bulbs of fennel, a bunch of basil, and some baby yellow squash.

Finally, having a few dollars left to our name, we hit the Cherry Glen Farm stand for goat cheese. Though they had samples of a lot of really interesting cheeses, we decided to stick with a classic and bought the chevre.

Totally loaded down with an increasingly heavy market bag, we headed back to the car and came home. We're going to eat WELL this week.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 21: Linen Storage

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgOne major difference I am noticing between the vintage housekeeping manuals I'm consulting and the modern volumes it the stress put on organization of possessions in the later that is almost non-existent in the former. This makes logical sense--folks just had way less stuff in the 1940s, or even the 1970s, than we do now. In the older books, most of the advice is about how to keep things clean and serviceable--it's about making the most of your possessions. In the newer books, a lot of it is about how to keep things in order--making too many possessions not seem so overwhelming.

Given this distinction, I was slightly surprised to find a full page on linen storage in America's Housekeeping Book. Since it's a bit long, I won't quote it verbatim, but these are the basic suggestions:


  1. Provide linen storage in several locations (table linens in the dining room, towels, washcloths and bathmats in the bathroom, dish towels and dishcloths in the kitchen, bed linens in a hall adjacent to bedrooms)

  2. If you are designing a linen closet, do it with the average dimensions of folded linens in mind (a guide to these dimensions is provided)

  3. Drop-leaf or pull-out shelves are convenient for sorting

  4. Shallow tray drawers are good for table mats and doilies

  5. Deep top shelves are good for drop-front boxes in which to store blankets, quilts, and things that aren't often used

  6. Label the outer edge of each shelf to keep easy order

  7. Keep a record of linen purchases, including date, brand, and price, as well as date of discard, to keep track of "best buys"

The instructions provided by Martha are a bit more specific. She says:

Begin by getting rid of things you no longer use. Depending on their condition, donate them to charity or reserve old sheets for drop cloths, and old towels for cleaning or for drying off pets after a bath; keep these in the garage, basement, or utility closet. If you don't have a large hallway closet for linen storage, an armoire will substitute nicely.
Keep anything you won't be using for months at a time in protective zippered bedding bags. Often, your dry cleaner can provide mothproof bags for storage, in particular for wool. They are also available from online retailers; search for "mothproof bags,." Line shelves with acid-free paper. Over time, wood can stain fabrics. One shelves are positioned correctly and lined, you can begin organizing linens.
Sort linens into piles: sheets, towels, comforters, blankets, and table linens. Then divide again, as follows:
Sheets
Place each set of sheets inside one of its pillowcases. Group by bedroom and stack on shelves. Always use the set on the top and put clean sets, fresh from the wash, on the bottom. This rotation will ensure sheets wear evenly over time.
Towels
Group by bathroom, then by size (all master bath towels together; all master bath washcloths together). Stack on shelves. Always use the towel on the top of any given pile and put clean towels on the bottom to ensure even wear.
Comforters
Keep them fluffy and dust-free by storing on a roomy shelf in a loose bag that allows air to circulate. Do not compress them or store them under heavy items. Don't use cedar or camphor--the down absorbs the smell.
Blankets
Group by bedroom, then by season, with the heaviest blankets on the bottom and the lightweight ones on top.
Table Linens
Group by size--all tablecloths together, all napkins together. You can further group them by season (all holiday items together) or formality (casual linens on top, formal linens underneath). For more on storing both, turn to page 158 in the dining room chapter.
Spending a few minutes putting identification labels on the edges of shelves will also save you a lot of time and refolding later, especially when white fitted queen-size sheet you wanted turns out to be a white flat sheet for a double bed. If you store extra toiletries in the linen closet, put them in bins or place them on a separate shelf to prevent stains in case of leakages.

Reading through this advice, I realized I was going to take some and leave some. We already store our linens in several different locations: kitchen towels in the kitchen, napkins and tablecloths in the dining room, towels and sheets and blankets upstairs. And I loved the idea of putting out-of-season stuff in plastic bags for dust-free storage. But shelf labeling just irritates me. I understand why it's a good idea, but I'm just not down. And why on Earth would I care if my sheets and towels wear evenly over time? Or make a log of my linen purchases? Really?

I decided to focus on just our dining room and upstairs linens. The kitchen towels are just in a drawer and I cleaned it out recently, so there's not much to see there. This is how things looked when I began:

The dining room linen storage. Someday I will have an awesome mid-century sideboard. I don't right now, though, so this bookshelf is standing in. The baskets are full of dinner napkins, cocktail napkins, and coasters. We use cloth napkins for all of our meals, to save paper, so we have a lot of them. They're actually one of my favorite things to thrift.
dining room linens before.JPG

This process was pretty simple. I emptied out all of the baskets and sorted out all the cocktail napkins and coasters. Those I relocated to the bar in the living room. Then I sorted through all the napkins and made sets. Anything that was stained or I don't have a full set (4) headed to the rag bin. The rest of the sets I folded neatly together and stacked back in baskets. (I went upstairs to retrieve the mate to the largest basket that was already holding napkins from my office, where it was sitting empty). I put nicer napkins at the bottom, so I can dig for them when we have company but Mark and I can grab the less nice ones from the top on a day-top-day basis. Then I dusted the shelf, put the baskets on it, and was done. The two tablecloths on the bottom shelf I decided to put in the basement storage, since we rarely use them.

Afterward, it looked like this:
dining room linens after.JPG

Not a huge change, maybe, but definitely nicer.

Upstairs, the situation was a bit more complicated. We store our sheets and towels in two locations--a hallway linen closet, and the closet in our guest bedroom. There's no particular reason for what goes wear, and they were both a disaster:
guest room closet before.JPG

upstairs hall closet before.JPG

We have a lot of bedding. In part, this is due to my need to change the sheets at least once a week and often more often, to keep allergies at bay. In part, it's because I really love bedding, and buy it, pillow cases in particular, a bit more than I should. And we never throw it away.

The hall closet is absurdly narrow and unpleasant, which is why we started using the guest room closet as well. In theory, though, if we could keep our linen to just the actual linen closet, the guest room closet, with its wide shelves, could be used for something else. Like my out-of-season sweaters. It was with this in mind that I pulled everything out of both and began to sort.

The first thing I did was sort out all of the winter bedding--flannel sheets, extra down comforter, heavyweight duvet cover, extra quilts. I put all this stuff in big plastic zip up bags. I didn't buy these special--I saved them from buying a comforter and a couple of dog beds--but they are basically just like these. The winter stuff was then relegated to the basement.

Next, I took Martha's advice and grouped sheets, towels, and duvet covers. I also had a separate group for pillowcases, since (much as I'm sure it would horrify Martha) my pillowcases and sheets don't actually go together. Mark and I sleep with six pillows between us--sheet sets come with two. We also have regular sized pillows but a king sized bed, so the pillowcases that come with sheets are the wrong size. Plus I like funky pillowcases that don't necessarily match the sheets (travesty!). So yeah, a separate section for pillowcases.

The duvet covers we have are all in good condition, and we use up to three at a time and wash them at least once a week with the sheets, so I felt fine keeping all four of them. I folded them and put them on the top shelf of the linen closet.

Then I matched up sheets. I found four sets of king sheets and two sets of queen sheets (plus the one of each that are currently on our bed and the guest bed). I folded the king sheets and put them on the second shelf of the closet. In order to keep from getting anything mixed up, I put the queen sheets in another plastic storage bag and put them on the floor of the guest room closet.

Next, I tackled pillowcases. I weeded out everything that I know one of us doesn't like and all of the king sized cases we don't use and put them in my thrift pile. Everything else I folded and put on the shelf next to the sheets.

Finally, I sorted out towels. At least three-quarters of the towels in the closet were "dog towels," full of holes and stains. I put those in another plastic bag and punted them downstairs. The nice towels I folded and put on the next two shelves. Repeat with hand towels.

Finally, on the last shelf of the linen closet, I put dog bed covers (there are some in the wash right now, so there are only two in there, but we have six or so at any given time). Then I relocated a few extras (wash cloths and bath mats to the bathrooms).

Now the hallway linen closet looks like this:
upstairs hall closet after.JPG

No picture needed of the guest room closet, because, aside from the guest sheets in the plastic bag on the floor, it's empty!

This project took a total of about 40 minutes.

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2010 Goals Check-In #4

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Dude. I totally forgot to do my goals check-in on the first day of May. Got distracted by the Happy Housewife project. Oh well, better late than never.

Here's where I'm at:

1. Take at least one overseas trip.
Still stalled. Summer is now out and we're hoping for fall.

2. Read 30 books.
I am at 11 read and 3 in progress. This is a big improvement over where I was last month, mostly due to audio books and vintage housekeeping books. I'll take it.

3. Get to a healthy size.
The big news here isn't size so much as fitness. My size remains more or less the same, but I am consistently walking and doing the Wii circuit thing 5 days/week. My diet continues to suck, but at least I am moving in the right direction.

4. Save $500/month.
Still on top of this one.

5. Give 5%.
Good here, too.

6. Start retirement savings.
Haven't put anything in for 2010 yet, but I have time and some big freelance checks on the horizon.

7. Join something.
Still nope.

8. Write a novel.
Still writing non-novel fiction, and am happy doing it, at this point. I'm also happy to be doing this big blog project, so no complaints here.

9. Create something.
Still not inspired on this one.

10. Remember birthdays and send cards.
Doing better, but not well. I seem to have a real problem getting things in the mail. I need to figure out some sort of system or way to deal with that.

Though this list doesn't necessarily illustrate it, I've had a good and productive month. I'm writing and reading, which is important to me. Work and freelance work are going well. We've done some gardening (mostly Mark) that improves our living space considerably. Things are all good here.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 19: To Market

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgMarketing is one thing I was surprised not to find much information on my older housekeeping volumes. Clearly, grocery shopping has been an essential part of a houswife's work for a long time, but most of the books don't have much to say on the subject. I wonder if this is another case of change in mores--grocery shopping used to be a much simpler task, before the age of 100 different brands of everything and mega-stores? That's a theory, anyway.

Some of the newer volumes do address grocery shopping. Good Housekeeping's The Complete Household Handbook, had a whole section entitled "Smart Shopping." It provides the following suggestions for "Negotiating the Market."

*Make a list before your shop and stick to it. A list saves time and also keeps you on track so you avoid buying items you don't need.
*Rather than handwriting a list every time you shop, type up a list on your computer of the staples you buy each week, and run off a stack. Before you head to the store, check off what you need on this weekly list, and handwrite in the extras.
*Avoid shopping when you're hungry and can be tempted to make impulse purchases.
*When you need a single item, buy it and leave the store.
*If you can arrange it, make major shopping trips without small children. (Markets often encourage impulse buying by children by putting sugary cereals and candy at their eye level.
*If you must take your child, bring a toy or book to keep him or her occupied.
*Take note of shelf labeling and unit pricing (price per ounce) if the market practices this policy. If not, consider investing in a pocket calculator to figure the actual unit cost of an item available in several sizes or to compare different sizes and prices of competing brands.
*Check expiration dates, especially of perishables such as dairy products and packaged meats and poultry. Older items are usually up front in a display case.
*Shop for unrefrigerated foods and nonperishables first to minimize potential spoilage Most markets are laid out so that the meat, dairy, and frozen-food sections are at the end and sides of the store, so you can easily shop for these items later.
*Stock up on canned and other nonperishable foods when they're on sale.
*Double-check the cash register at the checkout. Mistakes can be made even with computerized scanning.
*Have groceries packed with like items together. If all frozen items are in one bag, they will keep one another cold on the trip home.

At my house, grocery shopping is pretty much my domain. Neither of us enjoy it, but I take it on because I'm more efficient at it and I hate it less. I do the regular weekly shopping at Trader Joe's, for convenience (it's close), because we love a lot of their stuff, for price, and also because its' a small, easy store to navigate. I am not a fan of the super-mega-grocery store. Generally, I make a trip to TJ's one night a week, and we supplement with the Farmer's Market and occasional trips to Whole Foods.

We keep a running grocery list on a magnetic notepad on our fridge. Before I leave to shop, I take a look around and add anything else I noticed needing to the list. This week's list included:
salsa

tortilla chips
half and half
avocados
butter
OJ
ham
bread
pizza dough
pizza sauce
shredded cheese
pepperoni
frozen pizza
cinnamon bread
tortilla
veggies
greens
lemons
limes
mineral water
milk
trail mix
sour cream
tapenade
chocolate pecan caramel candies
tomatoes

I took the same path I always do through the store: produce, meat, chips/nuts/dried fruits, dairy, frozen food and snacks, jarred and canned items, beverages, checkout. It's a small store--only five or so aisles. I was in, paid, and out in less than 20 minutes.

My receipt shows I bought the following:

1 tomato and spinach frozen pizza
1 white corn tortilla chips
1 mineral water
1 1/2 gallon 2% milk
1 quart half and half
1 8 oz bag shredded mozzarella
1 packaged sliced pepperoni
2 1/2 gallons no pulp orange juice
1 12 oz package shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 package dark chocolate pecan caramel clouds
1 container sour cream
2 pounds salted butter
4 tomatoes
1 bag limes
1 bag lemons
4 ears sweet corn
1 pound sweet applewood smoked ham
1 package chocolate whoopie pies
1 package tempting trail mix
1 package nut trek trail mix
1/2 loaf sourdough deli bread
1 bag baby spinach
1 jar salsa
1 jar olive tapenade
1 package handmade flour tortillas
4 avocados
1 container fresh pizza sauce
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper

Looking at both lists, I see only one thing I was supposed to buy but didn't: cinnamon bread, and they were out of it. Things that I bought that weren't on my list (i.e. impulse purchases) were limited to the whoopie pies, which I'm not proud of, but they were calling my name. Given that, I'd call this a successful trip. I didn't follow all of the advice from the book (no typed up grocery list), but I did follow some. I bagged my own groceries (in reusable bags), and I made a special effort to put like items together. The drive home from the store is less than 10 minutes, so I wasn't really worried about keeping things cool, but it did make the whole lot easier to put away.

What are your shopping tips?

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgOn today's journey through my house, I hit the room in which I spend the most time. I'd call it the living room, but since we have another living room as well, the one with the fireplace and no TV, making it seem a bit more formal, this room might instead be called the family room, or the den, or what-have-you. In my house, it is the room to the left when you come in the front entry, and you pass through it into the no-name room I told you about the other day, then into the kitchen. It's where our TV and big couch are, and it's where we spend the majority of our time together, and I spend the bulk of my working days. I have an office, but I never work there.

America's Housekeeping Book offers the following itinerary for weekly living room cleaning:

1. Clear surfaces for dusting, removing magazines, covers, bric-a-brac, etc.
2. Collect lamp bases and globes, bric-a-brac, fireplace fittings, etc. that need washing or polishing.
3. Bring in cleaning equipment: hearthbroom (if not kept at fireplace), vacuum cleaner and attachments, dust mop, cleaning basket (page 142), 2 bowls of clear warm water on a try. (At least two trips will be necessary.)
4. Brush ceilings (page 166) and walls (page 157) when necessary. Dust high mouldings, door and window frames, window shades and Venetian blinds (page 171) when necessary.
Dust mirrors, pictures, lighting fixtures, lamps, woodwork; wash any of these articles if necessary (see index for page references).
5. Dust radiators (covers and coils) or registers (page 207); clean thoroughly when necessary.
Brush baseboards or use brush attachment of vacuum cleaner. Dust book shelves and books as necessary (page 202).
6. Remove cushions from upholstered furniture. Use brush attachment of vacuum cleaner on furniture (getting into all crevices) and cushions. Replace cushions.
7. Dust furniture; rub wood surfaces to polish (page 187); apply wax or polish when necessary. For special care of furniture, see index for types.
Polish metal hardware if necessary.
Wash glass table tops.
8. For weekly or special care of each type of flooring, see index for types.
Use vacuum cleaner for through cleaning of rugs and carpets (page 131).
9. Polish or wash accessories and return to place with other objects removed during cleaning.

A few of these instructions weren't all that clear to me, so I consulted the pages on which more detail was provided. On the subject of brushing ceilings and walls, I learned:

It is an extremely important task that walls be dusted regularly and often if more difficult cleaning tasks are to be avoided. Walls that are neglected in this respect soon acquire a film of greasy dust that attracts and holds still more dust and which inevitably becomes embedded and difficult to remove.
The only exception to this rule occurs in the case of papered walls. In soft coal regions or industrial sections dusting papered walls is not advised, because soot will be grimed into the paper no matter what method of dusting is used. An annual cleaning with a dough-type cleaner is recommended.
In other regions where dust and cobwebs are the only problem, papered walls may be dusted with the suction attachment of the vacuum cleaner.
There are three tools for dusting walls:
1. A soft wall brush of hair, nylon, lamb's wool, yarn, or sponge rubber, with a long handle.
2. A fiber or corn broom covered with an "apron" of soft clean cloth, such as cotton flannel.
3. The dusting attachment of a vacuum cleaner (see illustration, page 159). If you have this attachment, use it, by all means, because it eliminates any scattering of dust.
Work from the top down, giving special attention to high mouldings (page 168). There is one exception to this rule: if cobwebs are present, whether they are spider webs or dust cobwebs, remove with an upward lifting stroke to avoid streaking the walls. Cobwebs of any sort are sticky, and if they are pulled down against the wall they will leave a trail of dirt that is hard to remove.

For ceilings, the book says:

The care of ceilings depends on the way in which they are finished. Regular dusting is essential and the tools used for dusting walls may be used for ceilings also. If ceilings are high, be sure to choose a safe, sturdy stepladder or step stool to stand on.

My suspicion here is that the necessity for weekly dusting of walls and ceilings was far more pressing in the book's time, when home heating methods were much more likely to cause a build-up of sticky residue. Though I notice dust and occasional cobwebs, I've never noticed any build-up on non-kitchen walls in my house. To get a modern perspective, I consulted Martha's weekly living room cleaning instructions:

*Fluff and rotate sofa cushions.
*Discard magazines and catalogs on coffee or side tables; store those you want to keep
*Dust surfaces and objects, including furniture, light fixtures, and electronics
*Vacuum upholstery and floor

That's a pretty dramatic difference! I decided to do my best to follow the old-school instructions and see how it goes. This is what I started with:

View from the kitchen/non-room:
lr from kitchen before.JPG

View from the front entrance:
lr from entry before.JPG

Detail of the television console:
tv console detail before.JPG

As instructed, I first removed everything that wasn't supposed to be in the room or would get in the way of dusting. I put it all in a basket to deal with later. I also brought my orchid to the sink for watering. I didn't have lamp bases or globes that required washing, so I then brought in my cleaning tools. I had to stop briefly to re-assemble the vacuum cleaner, since Mark removed the washable filters last time he used it and didn't put them back. After I had my cleaning supplies ready, I used the vacuum cleaner's long brush attachment to brush the ceilings and walls. There was no visible dust or spider webs on anything, so I'm not sure how necessary it really was. I skipped the radiator step, since we don't have any. Then I dusted everything with the lemon oil cloths I made on Day 4. They worked OK, but didn't seem to really do anything different than a normal microfiber dusting cloth would do. Once everything was dusted, I washed the picture window. Then I took all the cushions off the couch and vacuumed it really well, including all the crevices. Yes, there were crumbs. I put the couch back together and vacuumed the floor, then put the things in the basket back in their places or in other rooms or threw them away, as was appropriate.

This job took about 35 minutes altogether. The results look like this:

lr from entry after.JPG

LR from kitchen after.JPG

tv console after.JPG

As I did this task, I realized something I hadn't quite been aware of before. I really don't like this room. I find it utilitarian, boring, and a little sad. And it bums me out to realize I spend most of my waking hours in a room I don't enjoy. So, I think I'm going to have to figure out how to make something more of this space. Ideas would be welcome!

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 17: Pound Cake

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgBaking is one of the few areas where I started out ahead on this project. Though my other happy housewife skills may be lacking, I'm a very good baker.

In Practical Suggestions for Mother and Housewife (1910), author Marion Mills Miller writes:

All other duties of the housewife are subsidiary to the great subject of preparing food for the household. The care of the home, the care of health, etc., all either bear upon this work or require ability to perform it.

Though the book does not explicitly mention baking as part of this important task (it does, in fact, go on to two lengthy chapters on the preparation of meat), I'm going to have to give myself some leeway there. Mark is the real cook in this house--I make a pizza or something from time to time, but he does the bulk of it. (I'm sure Marion Mills Miller is turning over in her grave.) I just bake.

It started with a trip to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. It's the height of strawberry season here, and they were everywhere, looking and smelling divine. I bought a basket and brought them home, intending to rinse and eat them as-is. Mark took one look and said, "pound cake."

Mark likes pound cake. I like pound cake. I used to make it a lot, to have with berries or plain with tea. But I hadn't made any in months. So, mid-afternoon yesterday, I removed a pound of butter from the freezer to thaw. Before dinner, I measured out a cup of milk and took six eggs from the fridge and put them out to get to room temperature. And, after dinner, I put on my apron and made pound cake.

I use the pound cake recipe from the original Moosewood Cookbook (1977). There are not likely many philosophical similarities between Mollie Katzen and the authors of my vintage housekeeping books, but I love her all the same. My copy of Moosewood is the original version, in paperback, is from the Goodwill in Portland. There's an inscription on the inside from cover, reading:

for my friend Amber
...thinking of all the fun dinners we've made in the past (Chinese hot pepper food comas, etc.) and to many more. Love you.
Judy

There are some telltale use splatters on the pages for Lentil Soup, but the real use of the book is clear. Page 200. Pound Cake.

350-degree oven
1 hour, baking time
one full-sized bundt or tube pan

1 pound sweet butter (If you use sweet butter, add 1/2 tsp. salt. If you use regular butter, add only a dash of salt.)
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 cup milk
(all above should be at room temperature)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs. baking powder
4 cups unbleached white flour

Cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one-at-a-time, beating well after each. Remove from electric mixer.

Sift together dry ingredients. Mix together milk and vanilla extract. Add wet and dry to butter mixture alternately, beginning and ending with dry. Mix by hand, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, after each addition. Mix thoroughly just enough to blend, without excess beating.

Pour into buttered & floured bundt or tube pan. Bake 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out dry. After the cake cools ten minutes, turn it out onto a plate. Let it cool completely before you slice it.

I don't make many modification to this recipe. I replace the vanilla with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and the rind of a whole one, for a slightly lemon-y cake. I bake it in two Pyrex loaf pans, rather than a bundt or tube pan, both because I prefer that shape and because I can then easily freeze one of the loaves--this makes a lot and it freezes very well. That's about it. There are some suggested variations in the book, including one with blueberries and a mocha swirl option, but I've never even tried them. I like this cake for its simplicity.

Last night, we enjoyed slices of still-warm cake with fresh sliced strawberries and lightly sweetened whip cream. This morning, I had a plain slice with my coffee. And remembered why I stopped making it so often--when it's around, you want to eat it with everything, and that pound of butter is always in the back of my mind. But it's worth it.

For those interested in the fashion side of things, I'm wearing:
denim Bermuda shorts: Smith's (Marshall's)
black ruffle front tank top: Ann Taylor Loft (thrifted)
green doggie apron with black polka dot trim: Boojiboo
green and blue head scarf: Cost Plus World Market

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgChastised by my previous failure in the battle against gross grout, I decided not to screw around anymore and to pull out the big guns. I took a trip to Target, where I purchased Soft Scrub Gel with Bleach. On a whim, I also shelled out a couple of bucks for a Scotch-Brite Grout Scrubber. The grout scrubber is generally the type of thing I would laugh at, but I decided to give it a try, since I didn't want to lose this round. Plus I didn't have any more old toothbrushes to use.

I came home and excitedly stripped out of my clothes (don't want bleach spots) and drew over all of the nasty grout lines with the Soft Scrub. I used almost a quarter of the bottle. It dripped all over, but all the grout was covered. As instructed on the bottle, I waited one minutes, then got in there with my grout scrubber and scrubbed.

And it did absolutely nothing. The smell gagged me, chemicals made the skin on the end of my fingertips burn (I really need to start wearing gloves), and I scrubbed until the little tool was spent, but everything is exactly the same amount of nasty it was before I started.

I think this is probably where one gives up and re-grouts, but if anybody has any other suggestions, I'm all ears.

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Dress your best week

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So, I'm late on this. I had every intention of taking part in acdemichic's Dress Your Best Week while it was actually happening (through yesterday). But I got distracted by my housecleaning and never really dressed to go out anywhere or took any pictures of my outfits. So, I'm doing it now. A day late and a dollar short and all that.

The rules for this exercise were pretty simple:

So often, our focus when getting dressed in the morning is how to minimize or downplay aspects of our bodies that we're just not crazy about. Does this skirt smooth my hips? Does this top hide my tummy? Do these pants make my thighs look slimmer? But what would happen if you inverted that thought process? What if, instead of dressing to mitigate your so-so, you dressed to highlight the parts of your body that you love most? What if, for a whole week, you committed to self-consciously dressing your best bits?

The ladies over at academichic instructed us to write a list of at least five body parts we love, then dress to accentuate those parts. Easy peasy, right?

Not so much, really. I had a hard time coming up with five body parts I love. Which seemed weird to me, since I'm pretty body positive these days. Eventually, I decided on:


  1. ample and well-shaped ass

  2. perky and well-shaped boobs

  3. long legs

  4. athletic figure overall

  5. strong arms and excellent upper arm tat

So, as I stood in front of my closet this morning, I kept these body parts in mind. Then I hit the next problem--my flattering clothes, the ones that accentuate these favorite parts? Mostly work or going out wear. I have very few casual clothes that really flatter me. This was a revelation, and a stupid one, since 99% of my life is spent in casual clothes. I work from home and I don't go out anywhere fancy very often. Why am I focusing my wardrobe energy and dollars on clothes I never have a place to wear?

After doing some picking through and trying on, I decided on a very simple casual outfit, suitable for the day I plan of errands and Farmer's Market, but still flattering. This is what I came up with:

dress your best 1.jpg

dress your best 2.jpg

dress your best 3.jpg

I like this outfit for a few reasons. I think longer length capri pants like these make the most of my long leg line, making me look leggy without making me look like a tarantula. I like the semi-fitted cut of these, too--they have a sort of mid-century vintage feel to them that I have a real thing for, and they do good things for my butt. I especially like them with these wedges, or another pair of wedged sandals I have, which give me a bit of a lift and make them a little bit more interesting looking than I think they would be with flat sandals. The tank top really flatters the other parts of my body I mentioned--my smaller but nicely shaped breasts (this sort of spaghetti strap and really thin material wouldn't work if I had the bigger boobs I think would go with the rest of my body), my shoulders and upper back and upper arms. It's sleeveless, obviously, as are a lot of my clothes. I do this for practical reasons--I have very large arms and sleeves fitting is an issue--but I love being able to show off my tattoo as well, and I get a ton of compliments on it. I also think the bright pink color, which took me a long time to embrace, is nice with my fair skin.

This is a very simple outfit, obviously. I think I do best in these sorts of simple clothes. I am a lot of person, and part of embracing that is letting my actual looks speak for themselves, without competition from complicated clothes. I'm learning to keep my jewelry more simple as well--all I am wearing today is my watch and a stained glass pendant, and the pendant's color reflects the shirt, rather than rivaling it.

Black capris: Banana Republic, thrifted
Pink tank: Banana Republic
Black tank: Aerie, thrifted
Bronze wedges: Me Too, from Nordstrom Rack
Stained glass pendant: Ling Glass

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 14: Grout Fail

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgCleaning begets cleaning, y'all. Now that my bathroom is nice and clean, I'm more bothered than every by the stained shower grout I mentioned. So, since I wanted a small-scale project for today (given that I have approximately a million other things I need to accomplish), I decided to devote today's research and post to that small topic. How does one whiten up one's stained grout?

I was surprised when none of my older volumes provided any advice on this subject. Since grout is, as far as I know, an ancient invention, it seems like they'd be interested. Perhaps the assumption in those days was that one would clean often enough not to allow the build-up of nasty grout mold in the first place?

The new books were little better. Only one of my pile took on this topic. Better Homes and Gardens' Making a Home had the following to say on the subject (pg. 82):

To clean stained grout, use a strong bleach solution (3/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water) and scrub with a small brush or toothbrush. Do not scrub too hard, otherwise you may damage the grout. Wear safety goggles to prevent bleach from spattering in your eyes. Keep the work area ventilated. Or try a foaming grout cleaner that may need to soak for several minutes to be effective.

Feeling like I could use at least one more source, I did a quick web search. The Dollar Stretcher had a couple of ideas, including letting bleach soaked paper towels sit on the grout for an hour before scrubbing, using baking soda and vinegar, using OxyClean, and trying glass top stove cleaner. Other sites echoed these recommendations.

After giving it some thought, I decided to try OxyClean. In part, this was a decision based on what was available--I don't have regular bleach (I have this bizarre fear of it) or glass stove cleanser, and I don't really trust baking soda and vinegar to work without way more elbow grease than I want to put into this job. Not actual OxyClean, though, because I don't have that either--Trader Joe's version, which is called Oxo Bright. Armed with my Oxo Bright and my new apron, the Urban Chic Apron from Austin local apron goddess Sugar Pie Chic, I headed for the shower.

Like a good mid-century housewife, the first thing I did was open the bathroom window. Then I once again removed all my bottles and tubs from the shower and assessed the situation. It wasn't pretty.

I wet down the shower with the removable shower head, then dumped on some Oxo Bright. I expected it to kind of bond with the water and make a paste, but it didn't. The granules were oddly large, and stayed intact. Undettered, I rubbed it over all of the stained spots, then grabbed my trusty scrub brush and started in on the less-stained places, figuring I'd give it a while to sit on the bad spots.

Twenty minutes of hard scrubbing later, I rinsed the shower then my now covered-in-Oxo-Bright self. And it looked exactly the same as it had when I'd started. Maybe a bit worse, actually, since the grout was still just as stained, but the tiles were a bit whiter. If nothing else, I thought the harsh texture of the product and my scrubbing motion would get at least a bit of the nastiness up, but there was really just no improvement at all.

So this one's a fail. I considered trying the vinegar and baking soda idea next, but was honestly just so irritated by the wasted time and ick factor of this experiment that I decided to skip it. Might just be best to buy some damn Tilex.

Meanwhile, this is how I feel about Oxo Bright:


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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgDo you have spaces in your house that aren't really rooms? And do those spaces tend to get overlooked when you're cleaning? I can't tell if it's just an issue at my house. This space is the prime example--it's in between the kitchen and the family room, with the sliding door to the deck and the door to the garage. It kinds of seems like a place to put a kitchen table, but the dining room is only five paces away, so that seemed redundant. So, for us, it serves as a mud room/entry/pass through. And it doesn't get cleaned. If I'm cleaning the kitchen, I think of it as part of the living room, and if I'm cleaning the living room, it's definitely kitchen. And it gets dirty--it's the first place we come in from outside, so the floor is the worst in the house. It's pretty uncluttered, simply because we've had a big effort to keep furniture out of it, but it's never really all that clean.

Today, I took it on.

Beforehand, it looked like this:

From the kitchen:
Thumbnail image for entry before 4.JPG

From the living room:
Thumbnail image for entry before 3.JPG

The first thing I did was pull all the "furniture," i.e. the bench and the bookshelf, out of the room. Then I removed everything from the bench and the bookshelf. After I washed the furniture down, I polished it up with Method Wood for Good almond surface cleaner. At this point, let me assure you that nobody sponsors this project--if I recommend a product, it's because I dig it. And I dig this one. It smells great, it's easy to use, and my wood looks great.

Once the furniture was done, I started at the top, dusting the doorframes and corners and light fixture, then washing the sliding glass door and (horrible, awful) vertical blinds. I washed the fingerprints off the door and made sure the picture frames were dusted.

Before I replaced the furniture, I repeated my bathroom experiment and swept and scrubbed the floor. Hands and knees, Mrs. Meyers and hot water, trim and everything. I'm not going to say it was fun, but I am beginning to see the good in it. After I dried the floor, I replaced the furniture. Then, I reorganized the books on the bookshelf. When I went to put the bench back together, I realized that I had thirteen pairs of shoes in the basket drawers. Ridiculous. I took ten of them upstairs. Then I cursed Mark for insisting on the cushions we have, which aren't machine washable. I did the best I could to remove the layer of cat hair on them with a roller, replaced them, and declared myself finished.

This project took 35 minutes. These were the results:

entry after 4.JPG

bench after.JPG

bookcase after.JPG

Honestly, unless you look pretty close, there isn't a huge difference. But it's clean--I know it's clean. I know the dust has been removed and the furniture polished. And I know that to many women that would mean something. I'm still trying to figure out if it means anything to me.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgBathroom cleaning is very few people's favorite household chore. As far as housework goes, I don't mind it in particular, but I don't love it, and I certainly don't do it often enough. For the purposes of today's project, I'm tackling just our master bathroom, which is "my" bathroom. We also have a guest bathroom upstairs (Mark's bathroom), a half bath on the main floor, and a full bath downstairs. I'm not doing those because Mark does his own, the main floor one was just cleaned, and the one downstairs never gets used. Mine, however, is a nightmare.

America's Housekeeping Book provides the following instruction for weekly bathroom cleaning:

One day each week additional care should be given the bathroom.
1. Rug should be cleaned and bathmat changed.
2. Duck shower curtain should be hung out in the sun if weather permits. (Clean curtain should be put up when needed).
3. Walls should be wiped down with clean cloth or wall brush, washed when necessary.
4. Light fixtures, bulbs and globes should be dusted every week, washed when necessary.
5. Medicine cabinet (page 104) should be dusted and straightened, washed when necessary.
6. Mirror should be dusted, washed when necessary.
7. Windows should be dusted inside, washed on both sides when necessary.
8. Curtains should be laundered when necessary.
9. Toilet bowl should have a special cleanser used each week.
10. Clothes hamper should be emptied, dried and aired each week, scrubbed and sunned occasionally when weather permits.
11. Floor should be washed twice weekly, Tuesdays and Fridays, oftener if needed.

These instructions are on top of what the book advises be done in the bathroom every day:

1. Open windows top and bottom for free circulation of air.
2. Pick up and replace small articles belonging in bathroom.
3. Gather up and take out soiled linen (to hamper, if dry) and articles belonging in other rooms. Collect trash in waste basket. Roll up bath mat or rug.
4. Wipe mirror.
5. Wipe tile behind washbowl and tub.
6. Clean bathtub and metal fixtures (be sure to wipe shower fixture, and clean soap holder).
7. Clean towel bowl with brush. Wipe outside of bowl and closet with cloth used for that purpose only.
8. Clean washbowl (be sure to wipe base as well as top; also clean soap holder).
9. Straighten towels and washcloths. Put out clean linen when needed (fresh linen for all on Wednesdays and Saturdays).
10. Sweep floor. Gather up dust in pain.
11. Replace bath mat or rug. Close windows in cold or damp weather.

It goes without saying, I'd imagine, that I don't do a single thing on that daily list every day. So I'll consider the whole thing part of my deep cleaning.

Martha's list is, again, more concise but not all that different. She recommends:

*Clean toilets, bathtubs, showers, and sinks.
*Wipe mirrors.
*Change and launder bath mats, towels, and washcloths
*Dust light fixtures
*Empty trash bins and wipe the insides and outsides
*Vacuum and mop floors

When I began, my bathroom and I looked like this. (My apron is a homemade gift, by the way.)
bathroom before.JPG

Some parts weren't so bad:
before detail 1-counter.JPG

Some were a bit worse:
before detail 2-toilet.JPG

before detail 3-shower.JPG

And some were far, far worse:
shower detail.JPG

This ledge thing on my shower is the bane of my existence. It isn't down-sloped, so it doesn't drain. Water builds up on it when I shower, and then it molds. I wipe it down all the time, but it's always nasty.

After I opened the window, I began by putting Mrs. Meyer's toilet cleaner in the toilet. Then I took the shower curtain and shower curtain liner down, threw the liner out (I have a new one to replace it with), and put the "duck" curtain in the washer. I then removed everything from the shower and took a look at what I had to work with.

Ew. There is, as far as I can figure, no really great way to clean a shower. At least not without getting wet. But I do the best I can. After I removed the curtains and all the bottles and stuff, I filled a bucket with hot water and Mrs. Meyer's All-Purpose cleaner. I then scrubbed every inch of the shower--tile, fixtures, and tub--with a scrub brush and the hot water and Mrs. Meyer's. It was nasty. I sweated. But it more or less worked--there are some spots of in-grout discoloration that didn't come up, but it's far better than it was. Once it was all cleaned and rinsed, I dried it all out. No need to start re-growing the mold already.

Once the shower and tub were done, I started at the top. I dusted the light fixture, window sill, door frame, and everywhere else dust collects. I washed the window, medicine cabinet, and mirror. Then I cleaned the inside and outside of the toilet. Then I removed everything from the counter and scrubbed it and the sink down, then replaced the things that needed to be there and threw away the ones that didn't.

When everything was clean, I did something I don't think I've ever done before. I swept the floor, then I got down on my hands and knees, feeling very much like Cinderella, and scrubbed the floor with a scrub brush. I even did the edges and floor boards with a toothbrush. Then I dried them.

After everything was done, I took the dirty towels and bath mats down to the laundry, emptied the garbage, and was finished. The whole process took about 45 minutes.

The results looked like this:

bathroom after.JPG

after detail-counter.JPG

after detail-shower.JPG

Look at that floor!
after detail-floor.JPG

As I was cleaning, I realized something. There are two rooms in this house that are "mine," used almost exclusively by me--this bathroom, and my office/dressing room/closet. And they are the two dirtiest, messiest, most cluttered, least looked after rooms in this house. As first, I thought this was just because those rooms aren't seen or used by guests, but there's more to it than that. Mark has two rooms, too--a bathroom and an office. They're nice and tidy and well-kept. I've been on the feminist train long enough not to think that is a coincidence. The truth is, I don't put my energy into rooms that are meant for me. They come last, after rooms that are public, and also after rooms that Mark uses as well. I don't clean Mark's rooms, but he doesn't feel any qualms about keeping them nice for himself, and I clearly do.

It's a revolution up in here, y'all.

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It's been brought to my attention that I never share my thrift scores with y'all anymore. Someone even asked me if I'd stopped thrifting. Yeah, and then I stopped breathing and then I stopped drinking coffee. The thrift store is my happy place--I go at least once a week. I just hadn't been posting about it, both from laziness/oversight and because I thought y'all might be bored.

If you are bored, you can tell me. Or, if you love it when I post my thrifted finds, tell me that too, OK? I'd like to know whether I should keep doing it or not. In the meantime, let's take a little breather from the Happy Housewife project so I can share the booty from my latest thrift trip:

bodum and riser
The other day, I dropped Mark's milk foamer thing, which I'd gotten him for Christmas, and broke it. He likes to make himself cappuccino-esque coffee drinks. I was happy to be able to replace it so quickly, with this cute little Bodum cappuccino set, featuring a smaller version of the same frother and an espresso sized French press. It's new in the box and was $3.93. I also bought a rise shelf for our messy spice cupboard, for $1.91.

napkins
I'm constantly adding to our cloth napkin collection, since it seems that every load of laundry turns up one that is too stained to use anymore. I especially like napkins like these, which are made of heavy-weight cotton so they don't wrinkle easily, and are muted and patterned enough in color to hide some staining. I was happy to pay $2.99 for four.

Pyrex pitcher
Though it falls squarely into the camp of "things I don't need," I couldn't resist this vintage Pyrex juice pitcher for $1.91.

jamie oliver book
Mark is a fan of Jamie Oliver, and I haven't brought him home a thrifted cookbook in quite a long time. We have a lot of Jamie's books already, but not this one, so I was happy to pay $4.94 for it.

gap shirt
This Gap tank top was $5.99, which is more than I'd usually want to pay for a thrifted tank, but I love this style, it's a great color, and I'm pretty sure it's new, though it doesn't have tags. Plus my tank top selection is pretty sad right now, being almost all too big or ratty. I'm sure I'll get lots of wear out of it.

lucy shirts
Since I've started working from home and exercising most every day, I wear a lot of exercise apparel. And I'll admit it--I like the higher end stuff a lot, especially Lucy. All of my Lucy stuff is thrifted, and I was thrilled to add these two work-out shirts to the mix for $6.99 each. Again, that may sound like a lot, but as expensive as these things are new ($40-$60), it's not that bad.

br shirt
The picture does not do this cool, drapey Banana Republic shirt justice. I love black shirts in general, and this one is both comfortable and attractive. An easy decision to buy it for $4.99.

purple shirt
Though I'd never heard of the brand, "To the Max," I loved the color and cut of this shirt, so I bought it for $4.99. Turns out it's a BCBG line.

hilfiger shirt
This Tommy Hilfiger shirt is actually one I looked at last time I was at the thrift store, didn't buy because I felt $9.99 was too much, then wished I'd bought later because I love the style and pattern. When I saw it was still there today, I swooped it up.

I feel a bit funny divulging the prices I paid for things, because I am almost sure that other thrifters would be scandalized at them. In a previous incarnation, I would have been. But everything is expensive here, even thrifted stuff. It's still cheaper than new, and I still feel better about buying it this way, even if the prices aren't what they used to be.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgAs I didn't get to any special cleaning for this project today, I thought it might be a good day to break down what I normally do, or what would be typical of my day pre-100 Days to a Happy Housewife. If nothing else, it might illustrate how this project is changing me to take a look at this list later on.

Chores I did today:
-fed the cats
-fed the dog
-walked the dog
-exercised
-took the garbage and recycling to the curb
-took some lemon bars out of the pan and put them on a plate
-loaded and started the dishwasher

That's it. And really, "loaded" the dishwasher means put in half dozen dishes. It wasn't much.

True, I also worked a full day and then some. But really, I can't be too impressed with this. I can do better.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 9: The Kitchen

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgThe importance--no, the absolute necessity--a clean and orderly kitchen is emphasized in housekeeping books both old and new. In America's Housekeeping Book, the authors write:

High standards of cleanliness should always be maintained in the room where food is stored and prepared. Order ranks next to cleanliness in importance, for nowhere is it more essential to have a place for everything and everything in its place than in the kitchen.

Martha Stewart agrees, calling the kitchen "the most inviting, interesting, and important room in the house," and going on to admit that "it's the room with more homekeeping concerns than any other" (Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, p. 31). It was with this in mind that I steeled myself this morning to deep-clean my kitchen. I knew I was starting out all wrong, at least by the old-time books' standards. I'm not supposed to be cleaning on Sunday, for starters, and probably I shouldn't be doing my kitchen cleaning to the sounds of Mark vacuuming the rest of the house. But it's not 1941 anymore, and this dual-income family doesn't get a day of rest. So we began.

Before I started, my kitchen looked like this:
kitchen before.JPG

In the section on weekly care of a kitchen, America's Housekeeping Book recommends this order of tasks:

1. Put away all foods except those belonging in refrigerator.
Remove all foods from refrigerator.
Wash interior of refrigerator (special care of refrigerator, page 248).
Return food to refrigerator.
2. Clean range thoroughly (pages 249-252).
3. Clean, scald and sun vegetable bins, bread and cake boxes.
4. Clean out and wash 1 cupboard or several drawers in rotation, weekly.
5. Dust lighting fixtures; take down globes and wash them when necessary.
Dust window shades or Venetian blinds (page 171); wash or thoroughly clean when necessary.
Wash walls behind sink, stove and work surfaces, if washable (see index of types of walls). Wash work surfaces. Wash exterior of cabinet work and shelving to remove fingermarks.
Take down curtains for laundering when necessary.
Brush ceiling when necessary.
Wash wordwork and windows when necessary.
6. Clean garbage container thoroughly.
7. Clean metal fixtures (page 244), soap dish, sink strainer, dish drainer and sink (page 252).
Wash, rinse and scald dishcloth or mop or send to laundry; hang outdoors if possible.
8. Dry work surfaces if necessary.

Time haven't changed that much. In her section on weekly homekeeping tasks, Martha lists the following under "Kitchen."

*Wipe surfaces, including sink, countertops, the outside of the ventilation hood, refrigerator and cupboard doors, top of refrigerator, appliance exteriors, shelves, and furniture
*Wipe the inside of the oven, microwave, and toaster oven
*Flush drain with boiling water
*Discard foods and beverages past their prime
*Dust light fixtures
*Wipe the inside and outside of trash and recycling bins
*Vacuum and mop floor

Both of these lists assume a level of daily cleaning (i.e. dishes done) that wasn't present in my kitchen this morning, so I started there. This, more or less, is what I did:
1. Loaded and started the dishwasher.
2. Did the dishes that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher or can't go in the dishwasher by hand, dried them, and put them away.
3. Wiped down all the upper and lower cupboards with a rag and a spray bottle of water and vinegar.
4. Buffed some of my homemade lemon oil into all of the upper and lower cupboards.
5. Clean the inside and outside of the microwave with the vinegar and water solution.
6. Clean the outside of the oven and range with the vinegar and water solution.
7. Removed everything from one counter and a time, cleaned the counter with the vinegar and water, and replaced the item.
8. Thoroughly cleaned everything on the coffee tray (French press, thermos, and electric kettle), refilled the sugar bowl.
9. Thoroughly cleaned the mixer and food processor with the vinegar and water solution.
10. Folded and put away the basket of towels and napkins on the counter.
11. Sorted and put away the piles of papers and magazines and assorted detritus on the counter.
12. Washed the inside of the window and windowsill with the vinegar and water solution.
13. Scrubbed out the sink.
14. Replaced the dishtowels and sponge.
15. Swept the floor, then mopped it with hot water and Mrs. Meyers.

The task took me an hour and 45 minutes. At the end, it (and I) looked like this:

kitchen after.JPG

kitchen after 2.jpg

For those interested in that aspect of it, I'm wearing cuffed American Eagle jeans (thrifted), a pink v-neck Old Navy t-shirt, a Chloe apron from Boojiboo, and a vintage silk scarf (Ebay). Also, MAC Russian Red matte lipstick.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 8: Books

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Someone asked me the other day about my source material for this project, so I thought I'd show you all what I'm reading, as well as ask for recommendations for anything else that should be on my list.

The old books:
The Practical Housewife: A Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy and Family Medical Guide, by Robert Kemp Philp, originally published in 1860.

Practical Suggestions for Mother and Housewife, by Marion Mills Miller, 2009 reprint, originally published in 1910.

A Handbook of Home Economics, by Etta Proctor Flagg, originally published in 1912.

America's Housekeeping Book, compiled by New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, 1941.

101 Things for the Housewife to Do, 1949 by Lillie B. and Arthur C. Horth, 2007 reprint, originally published 1949.

The Art of Homemaking by Daryl V. Hoole, 1969.

The new books:
Making a Home: Housekeeping for Real Life, by Better Homes & Gardens, 2001.

Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping, by Miriam Lukken, 2003.

1,001 Old-Time Household Hints: Timeless Bits of Household Wisdom for Today's Home and Garden, edited by the Editors of Yankee Magazine, 2005.

Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Book: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home, by Martha Stewart, 2006.

The Complete Household Handbook: The Best Ways to Clean, Maintain, & Organize Your Home, by Good Housekeeping, 2007.

The Ultimate Accidental Housewife: Your Guide to a Clean-Enough House, by Julie Edelman, 2008.

Dirt: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House, edited by Mindy Lewis, 2009.


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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgOne thing I didn't expect to see so much about as I have in my 1940s housekeeping books is the family budget. I had sort of thought of money management as the domain of men at mid-century, but apparently many housewives kept their families' books. America's Housekeeping Book warns against one-size-fits-all budgeting, but then goes ahead to provide the following template for making a budget:

Rent (if heat is included): 25% of income
Rent (if heat must be supplied): 20% of income
(If you are buying your home, or already own it, the "rent" is the total of interest on mortgage, taxes, insurance, upkeep, and repairs which should not ordinarily exceed 1/8 to 1/10 of income. If payments on principle are included it may reach 1/4 to 1/5 of income.)
Clothes: 15% of income
Operating expenses: 10-15% of income
Food: 20-35% of income (the smaller the income, the larger the percentage that must be spent on food)
Advancement: 15-20% of income
Savings (other than life insurance): 10% of income
Life insurance: the face of your policies should amount to 2 or more years' income

In this case, "advancement" is taken to mean "health, recreation, pocket money, personal care, automobile expenses, gifts, contributions, and education."

As an exercise, and to illustrate how things may have changed, I decided to compare our monthly spending, which I track, to these suggestions. Here's what I found:
Rent (heat is not supplied): 35%
Clothes: 11%
Operating expenses: 7%
Food: 18%
Advancement: 17%
Savings: 12%
Life insurance: policies are worth approx 1.5-2 years income

I was really surprised by this result. I knew our rent would be a higher percentage--the price of housing is high here, and we're renting in some ways "above our income level" in order to get a yard and a good commute for Mark. I'm shocked at how low the other percentages are, though--particularly the "operating expenses" category, which includes all of our utilities. Those bills had previously seemed really high to me. I'm also thrilled at the savings percentage, and not bothered by the lower-than-recommended life insurance, given that we're a two-income family with no children. The need for us to have life insurance is not nearly so great as it was for the family to whom the book was speaking.

The advice on money management goes on to explain lots of ways in which the housewife can be frugal, including marketing advice, energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, taking excellent care of clothing, etc. The most surprising thing about all of it is much it sounds like modern frugal living advice. Other than the dramatic shift in the percentage of typical income (particularly working and lower-middle class income) spent on food, not much seems to have changed.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgNearly all of the books I've consulted highlight the importance of a clean and tidy refrigerator. 101 Things for a Housewife to Do, 1949 states:

To obtain the best results from a mechanical refrigerator, the shelves and the interior should be kept perfectly clean. The contents should be checked daily and spills wiped up. Once a week the interior should be wiped clean, especially the shelves. The ice trays should be emptied and refilled regularly.

America's Housekeeping Book agrees. To care for automatic refrigerators, it suggests the following:

Daily: Wipe up any spilled food at once.
Wipe top of refrigerator with a cloth wrung out in soapy water. Rinse with a cloth wrung out in clear water. Dry.
Remove any fingerprints around the handle of the door with mild soap and water. Rinse and dry as above.
Weekly: (This cleaning is usually done after defrosting. Unless your refrigerator is equipped with an automatic defrosting device, it should be defrosted whenever the accumulation of frost is 1/4-inch thick.)
Empty the pan under the freezing unit, wash in warm suds, rinse thoroughly and dry.
Remove freezing trays, empty and wash in hot soapsuds. Rinse with scalding water and dry. Remove racks or shelves and wash the same way. Wash interior and exterior the same way as the ice refrigerator (below).
Follow the manufacturer's directions for oiling the motor at regular intervals. (With most new models no oiling is necessary.

The book goes on to explain how ice refrigerators, which were still fairly common in 1941, should be taken care of:

Daily: Same as for automatic refrigerators.
Weekly: Remove racks or shelves and wash them in hot soapsuds. Rinse with scalding water and dry thoroughly.
Wash interior with a cloth wrung out of cool water in which borax or baking soda has been dissolved. (1 tablespoon of borax or soda to 1 pint water.)
Pour a strong solution of washing soda and water down the drain pipe and use a long brush to remove any accumulation of dirt or slime.
Remove drain pipe for cleaning if necessary.
Wash exterior with mild soapsuds. Rinse with a cloth wrung out of clean water, dry thoroughly.
Note: Be sure ice is washed before it is put in the refrigerator. Dissolve baking soda in cool water and pour over the ice occasionally to keep the drain pipe fresh and sweet.

Now for the confession: I can't remember when my refrigerator was last cleaned out. We occasionally take out disgusting stuff and throw it away, but actually removing the contents and washing everything down? Maybe once since we moved here in August. And while improvements in technology have obviously made it so we don't have to be quite as careful with fridge cleanliness as we did in ice box days, the truth is that my fridge is pretty gross.

Wanna see? Of course you do. This is what I'm starting with:

As I set about my task, I was surprised to see the first step in the instructions wasn't "clean all the gross, moldy, and otherwise disgusting crap out, then stack everything else all over the counters." Why? Could just be because that's obvious, but I think it's probably more due to the changes in circumstances between the 40s and now. People used to spend a far larger percentage of their incomes on food, and probably didn't have six open jars of jam or several half-bags of different types of bread clogging up their fridges.

That said, my fridge wasn't nearly as full of that stuff as I expected. Which is not a reflection on my housekeeping so much as the fact that we keep so much crap in our fridge that we have to weed it every time we go grocery shopping. The lack of food grossness was more than made up for in shelf grossness, though--there was more than one dried lake of something-formerly-sticky that I wouldn't even venture a guess at, as well as an entire spilled and fossilized bag of bay leaves and several loose shriveled baby carrots to contend with.

After I pulled everything out, I scrubbed all the interior surfaces with Mrs. Meyer's and hot water, then wiped them with a clean wet rag and dried them. I removed the crisper and meat drawers and washed them in the sink with dish soap and warm water, rinsed, and dried. Finally, I neatly replaced the contents. After repeating the process on the freezer, I removed all the magnets and things from the top of the fridge, used the Mrs. Meyers and water on the outside and top, rinsed, dried, and replaced much more neatly and sparingly.

All in all, the project took about 45 minutes. The results?

fridge outer.JPG

fridge door inner.JPG

fridge inner.JPG

freezer door inner.JPG

freezer inner.JPG

Will I do this one again? Absolutely. Will I do it once a week? Not a chance.

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100 Days to a Happy Housewife 5: Thoughts

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgNow that we're a few days in to my 100 Days to a Happy Housewife project, it seems a good time for a few more thoughts about why it is I'm doing this.

To begin: though I poke fun at my pre-project housekeeping, my house has never been a disaster. Between the two of us, Mark and I keep our house at a cleanliness level that, while certainly not mid-century housewife worthy, isn't too bad. The dishes and laundry get done, the cat boxes get scooped, the floors get vacuumed. Occasionally we dust or mop or go crazy like that. This project isn't about teaching me not be a slob. At least, not for the most part. If I were just interested in learning to be a better housekeeper, I'd join Flylady, or at least use up-to-date resources.

I'm also not a housekeeping ingénue. I was a raised by a very good housewife, even though she had a job outside the home for the majority of my childhood. There are never dishes stacked on the counter at my mother's house, nor does dust lie long on the floor. When she didn't work outside the home, she mopped the floor every day, with a heavy-duty mop and a bucket of hot water and ammonia. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to her playing albums and dusting. She also believed in chores: I started being responsible for the dinner dishes every evening at about ten, folding the family's laundry soon after, etc. And I still do those things exactly the way my mother taught me (much to Mark's chagrin, as he has a fundamental disagreement with the way I fold towels).

So why do this? Well, partially for the reasons I already outlined--it's an interesting project that's difficult enough to mean something but doable enough to commit to for 100 days that may positively impact my life. There's more to it than that, though. After all, there are people all over the web with blogs dedicated to housekeeping, some to retro-inspired housekeeping (50s Housewife, The Helpful Housewife, Destination 1940, The Apron Revolution, The Vintage Housewife, and Wartime Housewife are a few of them). What makes what I'm doing different?

There is an essential political difference between me and most of the bloggers I listed. While I am very interested in history, in thrifting, and in vintage joys of all kinds, I have no desire to return to "old-fashioned values," or pretend I am living in the 40s or 50s. While I make every attempt to value the work women have traditionally done as the important contribution it has been and continues to be, I have no dream of becoming a housewife, or even a stay-at-home mom. I'm also not a Christian, nor am I any kind of follower of traditional gender roles. I am a professional woman who happens, by circumstance, to currently be working from home in the suburbs. I'm a feminist. The role I am taking on for this project is one part theater and one part nostalgia--it's not a permanent lifestyle choice.

That said, this project is not an attempt to make fun of or disparage the types of blogs I listed above. While I don't share most of those women's goals, traditional homemaking is not my thing, and women not working for pay does raise some concerns for me, I am not doing this as a joke (though I do reserve the right to be funny). There is art and science to good housekeeping. I recognize that, and I am earnestly trying to learn as I go through this process. I reference blogs like the ones I've listed here (as well as several others) not to ridicule, but because I have questions and they often hold answers. Plus they can be really fascinating.

I plan to follow a whole passel of housekeeping blogs while I'm doing this project, and will link to them as is appropriate. Please take these links in the spirit they were meant--information and interest, neither agreement with the politics and spiritual beliefs of the writers nor disparagement of them. One of the reasons I particularly love these Internets is that I can bond easily with those with whom I have something in common without having to share everything with them and find ways to traverse gently around areas of disagreement. Back when I was participating in Vintage Thingies Thursdays, I was always fascinated by the different blogs that common interest led me to--women with whom I'd normally have very little in common. I'm hoping this will work in somewhat the same manner.

So, if you're a regular reader and are puzzled by what's gotten into me, hopefully that explains it. And, if you're new (I am so hoping to pick up some new readers during this project--if you're new, please comment!), please understand that I am neither part of the community of blogs I mentioned nor satirizing it. I'm just trying to learn something, have some fun, and hopefully entertain (or even inform!) y'all at the same time.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgTuesday is traditionally ironing day. Given the headache Laundry Day gave me yesterday, as well as the fact that I'm still doing laundry, I think Ironing Day is better saved for another Tuesday. So, today, I'm on to something different.

In my discussion of cleaning equipment, I mentioned lemon oil as something I needed to get, so that I could make the lemon oil treated dust cloths recommended by America's Housekeeping Book. In the comments, Jes (Alberta) said that she thought lemon oil was like Pledge. Given that it's used in the book to treat dust clothes that are then dried before use, and also used to polish wooden furniture, that seems like an excellent guess.

However, neither America's Housekeeping Book nor any of the other volumes I have gave a recipe to make lemon oil, leaving me to figure it must have either been available commercially in the 40s or so common that knowing how to make it was assumed. Today, the only things I found available commercially were lemon furniture polish, which would likely work but I'm not crazy about the usually artificial lemon smell, or lemon essential oil, which is lovely and I do have on hand, but it's far too expensive to use in the kind of quantities the book recommends. After a little Googling, I decided that the closest approximation to what the book calls "lemon oil" would actually be some sort of carrier oil, such as jojoba oil or olive oil, mixed with either lemon juice or lemon EO. About.com suggested a mixture of 1 cup olive oil to 1/2 cup lemon juice. I decided to experiment a bit and came up with my own recipe.

IMG_2080.JPGLemon oil
1. Pour the juice of two lemons into a spray bottle (about 1/2-3/4 cup)
2. Add several drops (8-12) of lemon essential oil.
3. Fill the spray bottle the remainder of the way (about 1-1 1/2 cups) with sweet almond oil.
4. Shake.

The product ends up thick, creamy, and not pleasantly-but-not-overly lemon scented. Score!

IMG_2082.JPGTo make the treated dusters it recommends, America's Housekeeping Book gives the following instructions:
1 pint hot water
1/4 cup lemon oil

Combine hot water and lemon oil. Dip 4-5 cheesecloth squares (20" X 20") in solution. Press solution through cloth thoroughly. Squeeze out all excess moisture. Dry thoroughly. Then, after I dust with the cloths, I am to wash them in warm soapy water, dry them, and re-treat them with the lemon oil and hot water solution. Since I don't have cheesecloth, I substituted old flour sack towels--they seemed the closest thing, weight-wise. I mixed up some of my lemon oil with some hot water in a bowl, then soaked the towels in it, wrung them out, and hung them over my porch rail to dry in the sun.

If nothing else, my hands are moisturized and smell nice, and I don't have to worry about having just dipped them in nasty chemicals. Whether these dust cloths will be magically remains to be seen. I'll keep you posted.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgThe more I look at the schedule I made for myself yesterday, the more certain I am that there is no way that is all going to happen. I want to make it the full 100 days with this project, and one week of that schedule would send me screaming away from my blog. So I've decided to take Hala's advice and focus, at least for this first week, on the recommended daily cleaning tasks.

None of the books I've looked at so far have assigned certain tasks to given days of the week, the 1941 volume does recall a time not long ago when it was a contest to see whose laundry was on the line the earliest on Monday. (Interestingly, the book goes on to say Tuesday is a more sensible choice for laundry, as to not combine it with the leftover chores from Sunday's day of rest that accumulate on Monday.) Curious about why laundry should specifically be done on Monday, I did a little Googling. The New Homemaker explains that "Laundry was far and away the heaviest task a housewife faced, requiring a great deal of strength and fortitude to hand-wring clothes and carry big baskets of wet laundry to the clothesline from the basement washtubs. Monday was the day to do it, when you were still fresh and rested from Sunday." That makes good sense. The other days follow from laundry on Monday (i.e. ironing on Tuesday, mending on Wednesday, etc.).

I tend to do laundry on weekends, but I'm not married to that practice, it's just when things tend to happen. In the spirit of this project, I have no issue with making Monday "Laundry Day."

So how to begin? "America's Housekeeping Book" devotes a whole chapter, pages 261-271, to "Washing Methods," then goes on with chapters on "Ironing Procedures," "Special Laundering Problems," "Professional Laundering and Dry Cleaning," and "Spots and Stains." In total, laundry covers pages 255-325. This is daunting to me, as laundry has always seemed like a fairly easy task. Sort the clothes, throw them in the machine, try to remember to go back in 45 minutes to put them in the dryer. Try not to dry anything that's going to shrink in the dryer, and fold and put the clothes away sometime before they get permanent wrinkles.

The book, on the other hand, lays out the following steps for laundry:


  1. Sorting (including separation by both color and fabric type, as well as by soil level if necessary, and mending and rips and tears

  2. Soaking (which should apparently be done to all laundry?)

  3. Washing (instructions are given for a wringer washing machine or by hand with a washboard)

  4. Rinsing (again, by hand or in a wringer washer)

  5. Blueing (to correct the yellow tinge in white clothes and linens)

  6. Bleaching (for white cottons and linens)

  7. Starching (the book warns that "haphazard methods of making starch are almost as disastrous as haphazard methods of making a cake," so apparently we should all be very careful with our starch)

  8. Drying (as done on a clothesline)

  9. Sprinkling (which should apparently be done if clothes are completely dry before being removed from the line, before they are ironed)

Clearly, some of the difference between my way and the way spelled out in the book are due to changes in technology--I have an electric washer and dryer. Some of them are due to some combination of laziness and preference--I don't think I've ever even seen blueing or starch, though I suppose some people must use them. The basic steps laid out haven't changed, though. When I do my laundry, I should be sorting, soaking as necessary, washing, drying, and putting away, with things that need ironing set aside for that task.

Does it surprise you at all to know that's not really what happens at my house? To illustrate, I went around this morning and took some pictures of the current state of laundry at my house:

On my kitchen counter, there are two baskets of laundry, both laundered last week. One is of sheets and blankets and everything in it is folded. The other is of kitchen towels and cloth napkins and nothing in it is folded.

In my bedroom, there is an overflowing laundry basket full of both Mark's and my clothing laundry:

In my office/walk-in closet, there is an overflowing basket of clean laundry, washed and folded last weekend that I have yet to put away:

In the dryer, there is a load of clothes that I washed, dried, and forgot about at some point mid-week:

Clearly, help is needed! I begin by sorting the laundry that I know needs to be done. I decide to start with linens, so here you see two down alternative comforters, two duvet covers, and a basket of sheets and pillow cases. The photo also shows a basket of things that need to be taken to the dry cleaner for professional cleaning, which has been sitting in that spot on the bedroom floor for at least a month. Addressing that will be a task for this week as well.

After starting the machine for the first comforter, I catch up on the things that should have been done already--putting away the three baskets of clean laundry from mid-week. I also re-run the dryer with the load from mid-week in it, after discovering that it was not left damp and doesn't need to be re-washed, just de-wrinkled.

Nine hours later, I have two clean comforters, a clean duvet cover, and a duvet cover in the dryer. I also still have a basket of sheets and two of clothing laundry yet to do. Even with the modern conveniences of washing machine and dryer, and a family consisting of only two human members, I still couldn't get all the wash done on "Wash Day." Sure, I could tell you I worked for pay all day as well, so I ran out of time, which I did, but in truth, I just wasn't organized and didn't stay on top of switching the loads in and out like I was supposed to. The only thing I can say to my credit is that I did put away all the clean-but-not-put-away laundry I had hanging around, and change the sheets and blankets on our bed. Which is, I guess, better than nothing.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgThe very first entry in "101 Things for the Housewife To Do, 1949," a British book written by Lillie B. and Arthur C. Horth, is on "Planning Household Duties." They write:

The order and sequence of the daily work is a matter of individual planning, but any time-table should allow of one day, unalloted to any special work in order to allow for emergencies. First arrange the most important daily tasks, those which must be done. Next the weekly jobs, such as turning out rooms, laundering, leaving some time available for occasional jobs such as checking the household linen and anything else leading to orderly arrangement.

"America's Housekeeping Book" is more specific, with an entire chapter devoted to budgeting your time and a skeleton schedule for the studious housewife to follow:

As per the schedule, keeping a house is a full-time job. This is clear in the text as well, with the first words in the chapter being: "Housekeeping is a real job--a job that needs to be planned carefully if one would avoid becoming a slave to housework or have free time for social activities and outside interests." In 1941, when the book was published, this assumption was totally reasonable. But it's not 1941 anymore. I have a full-time job, as well as a part-time side job. Because I work from home right now, my time is a bit more flexible than it used to be, but it's still going to be necessary to make serious adjustments to this, or any, schedule in order to put it into practice in my life.

Luckily, though they may not have forseen a time where most women work outside the home as well as inside it, the clever authors of both the "America's Housekeeping Book" and "101 Things for the Housewife To Do, 1949" suggest a simple method for creating your own schedule that can be adapted to my life: arrange daily, weekly, and periodical jobs in the time frame I do have. "America's Housekeeping Book" even has a list of jobs you should include in your schedule, as follows:

NECESSARY DAILY ACTIVITIES
A. Food planning, table setting and food preparation.
Cooking and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Washing dishes
Kitchen clean-up (see page 253)

B. Child care.
Bathing and dressing
Feeding.
Exercise and fresh air
Special training
Recreation and companionship

C. Light cleaning and straightening of rooms.

D. Special.
Correspondence
Sewing and mending
Personal laundry
Personal care (better schedule exercise too, if you need it)
Gardening
Keeping accounts (page 71)
Care of pets
Chauffeuring of family

E. Rest, recreation and reading.

NECESSARY WEEKLY ACTIVITIES
A. Thorough cleaning of rooms (page 227).

B. Meal planning and marketing (frequency depends on storage space and food-buying habits).

C. Laundering.
Washing
Ironing
(Or sending to professional laundry and checking when returned)

D. Special child care.
Medical or dental
Shampooing
Shopping
Special lessons
School affairs

E. Special
Silver cleaning (page 213)
Closet cleaning
Care of clothing
Sewing and mending
Pressing
Sending to dry cleaner
Special baking
Shopping
Personal care

F. Rest and recreation
Club work
Sports
Exercise
Theater, concerts, movies, etc.
Reading

G. Entertaining

With the exception of the sections on child care, these things all, to a greater or a lesser degree, have to be done at my house just as they did in the households of the '40s. However, I'm not going to tackle all of them under the auspices of this project. For example, though I may take on some discreet cooking projects, I have no plans to start making dinner every night (and certainly none to start preparing breakfast and lunch). It's also unlikely that I'll be gardening--that's Mark's realm. There's nobody that needs to be chauffeured, so that's out. Finally, I don't think I'm going to need to do any silver cleaning, because we don't have silver. Oh, and no club work.

Still leaves the bulk of it. My list:

NECESSARY DAILY ACTIVITIES
A. Washing dishes
Kitchen clean-up (see page 253)

C. Light cleaning and straightening of rooms.

D. Special.
Correspondence
Sewing and mending (though mine will be hired out)
Personal laundry
Personal care (better schedule exercise too, if you need it--I certainly do)
Keeping accounts (page 71)
Care of pets

E. Rest, recreation and reading.

NECESSARY WEEKLY ACTIVITIES
A. Thorough cleaning of rooms (page 227).

C. Laundering.
Washing
Ironing
(Or sending to professional laundry and checking when returned)

E. Special
Closet cleaning
Care of clothing
Sewing and mending
Pressing
Sending to dry cleaner
Special baking
Shopping
Personal care

F. Rest and recreation
Exercise
Theater, concerts, movies, etc.
Reading

G. Entertaining

So how does my list fit into the hours before 9am and after 5pm? I'm thinking something like this:

Looking at that does not fill me with hope or thrill for the next 100 days. It looks like a lot of work, frankly. I'll let you know how it goes.

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Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgIn "America's Housekeeping Book," compiled by New York Herald Tribune Home Institute for publication in 1941, an entire chapter is dedicated to the tools needed for housecleaning tasks. As I've not personally given a lot of thought to whether my house is equipped with the essential tools for proper housekeeping, this seemed an excellent place to begin my project.

Pages 140-142 of the book provide a list of essential equipment and instructions on where that equipment should be stored. Those items marked with an asterisk are "minimum equipment." The list is as follows:

Large equipment (Where to store)
*Vacuum cleaner and attachments (Cleaning closet)
Hand-type vacuum cleaner (Cleaning closet)
*Carpet sweeper (Cleaning closet)
*Applicator for floor wax (Cleaning closet)
Weighted floor polisher or electric polisher (Cleaning closet)

Brooms, Mops, etc.(Where to store)
1 soft bristle or hair broom (Cleaning closet)
*1 corn or fiber broom (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust mop (Cleaning closet)
*1 wet mop (string, sponge, rubber or cellulose sponge) and 2-compartment pail (Cleaning closet)
*1 scrub brush (long handled preferred) (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust pan (long handled preferred) (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust pan brush (long handled preferred) Cleaning closet

Brushes (Where to store)
*Toilet bowl brush (Bathroom)
*Radiator brush (if not included with vacuum cleaner attachments) (Cleaning closet)
*Whisk broom or upholstery brush (Cleaning closet)
Small soft brush for cleaning ornate silverware (Kitchen)
Small soft brush for carved furniture, etc. (Cleaning basket)
Venetian blind brush (Cleaning closet)
Long-handled wall brush (Cleaning closet)

Clothes, Sponges, etc. (Where to store)
*2-4 treated dustcloths (page 136) (Covered metal box in cleaning closet)
*6 cheesecloth squares (24" X 24") (Cleaning closet)
*2 flannel polishing cloths (Cleaning closet (if soiled with polish or wax, keep in a covered metal box until washed))
1 chamois (Cleaning closet)
*3 cellulose sponges (for kitchen, bathroom, and cleaning basket) (Kitchen, bathroom, and cleaning basket)
*2 floor clothes (for kitchen and bathroom) (Cleaning closet)
Cotton waste (this can be purchased at public garages or automobile supply shops) (Cleaning closet)
Rubber gloves (Cleaning basket)
Small funnel (Cleaning closet)

Polishes and polishing Materials (Where to store)
Furniture polish or lemon oil (essential if paste or liquid was is not used on furniture) (Cleaning basket)
*Wax (paste, liquid, or self-polishing) (Cleaning closet shelf)
Denatured alcohol (POISON) (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Metal polish (Kitchen)
*Silver polish (Kitchen)
Jeweller's rouge or rouge cloth (Kitchen)
*Turpentine (flammable) (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Lemon oil (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Linseed oil (Cleaning closet shelf)

Soaps, Abrasives, and Cleansers (Where to store)
*Mild scouring powder or whiting (Cleaning basket)
*Ammonia (household) (Kitchen)
Water softener (page 256) (Kitchen)
*Toilet bowl cleaner (Bathroom)
*Fuller's earth or other absorbent (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Rottenstone (Cleaning basket)
*Carbon tetrachloride (Cleaning basket)
*Household disinfectant (Kitchen)
*Mild soap (chips, flakes, beads, grains) (Kitchen)
*Paint cleaner (commercial or homemade, page 167) (Cleaning basket)
Leather cleaner (Cleaning basket)
*Art gum eraser (Cleaning basket)
Wall paper cleaner, dough-type or pad (Cleaning basket)
Solution for cleaning glass (Cleaning basket)

IMG_2060.JPGAfter studying the book's recommended supply list, I gathered all my own cleaning supplies and took an inventory. I found that I had a set of cleaning supplies stored under the sink in the master bathroom, a set on the main floor in the hall coat closet, a few things under the kitchen sink, and a whole lot of things I didn't know I had on the top shelf in the laundry room closet in the basement.

The following is an exact list of what I have and where it has been stored:

Large equipment (Where stored)
Vacuum cleaner and attachments (hall coat closet)
Hand vacuum cleaner (laundry room, on top of the washing machine)

Brooms, mops, etc. (Where stored)
Synthetic bristle broom with dustpan (kitchen, between the fridge and the wall)
Swiffer (garage, hanging on a hook just outside the door to the house)
Hand broom with dustpan (laundry room on top of the washing machine)
Smaller hand broom with dustpan (laundry room on top of the washing machine)

Brushes (Where stored)
2 synthetic scrub brushes (laundry room closet shelf)
3 toilet bowl brushes (master bathroom, main floor bathroom, downstairs bathroom)
long-handled dish brush (kitchen, under the sink)

Clothes, Sponges, etc.(Where stored)
4 used cellulose sponges (2 in laundry room, 2 in kitchen)
1 new cellulose sponge (kitchen)
basket of rags (basement)
painting sponge (laundry room shelf)

Polishes and polishing materials (Where stored)
Silver polish (laundry room shelf)
Cookware cleaner/polish (kitchen, under the sink)

Soaps, Abrasives, and Cleaners (Where stored)
1.32 gallon jug of white vinegar (kitchen, under the sink)
Hardwood and laminate floor cleaner (kitchen, under the sink)
Kids 'N Pets All-Purpose Stain & Odor Remover (kitchen, under the sink)
2 spray bottles of vinegar and water solution, one empty (kitchen, under the sink)
2 bottles of Mrs. Meyers toilet bowl cleanser, one nearly empty (upstairs bathroom, coat closet)
Simple Green pre-moistened all-purpose towelettes (coat closet)
2 bottles Clorox Green Works Natural Glass Cleaner (upstairs bathroom, kitchen)
Mrs. Meyers All-Purpose Cleaner (upstairs bathroom)
Rug Doctor Upholstery Cleaner (laundry room)
Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner (coat closet)

Other (Where stored)
Swiffer 360 dusters (laundry room)
2 Aroma Medleys lavender fragrance diffusers (laundry room)
Febreeze Air Effects Fresh Evergreen & Snow (laundry room)
4 rolls paper towels (kitchen)
2 plastic buckets (one in master bathroom, one in coat closet)
1 divided plastic cleaning caddy (laundry room)
2 paper face masks (laundry room)

Comparing the two lists, the following are items the book recommends I have at a minimum that I don't have:

Carpet sweeper: I'm not sure I understand why I need this when I have a vacuum cleaner. Will necessitate further research.

Applicator for floor wax: I have no wax-able floors (carpet, laminate, and tile), so I think I'm OK here.

1 wet mop (string, sponge, rubber or cellulose sponge) and 2-compartment pail: This is something that should likely fill me with shame--I only have a Swiffer. It's likely this project will necessitate the purchase of an actual mop.

1 scrub brush: Again, not sure what I'd use this for, so I'll keep an open mind going forward and procure one should the need arise.

Whisk broom or upholstery brush: Anybody know what this is/does?

2-4 treated dustcloths (page 136): A look to page 136 tells me that these are cheesecloth squares treated with hot water and lemon oil. I plan to delve more intensively into dusting in the future, so I'll return to this then. In the meantime, I'm going to try to figure out what lemon oil is.

6 cheesecloth squares (24" X 24"): These, I presume, are to make more dustcloths. I don't quite get why one would use cheesecloth for this, but it was apparently self-explanatory in 1941, as there is no index listing for it. I'll research further.

2 floor clothes (for kitchen and bathroom): No explanation for why or when these are needed. To buff after mopping?

Wax (paste, liquid, or self-polishing): I think this is for wooden furniture, of which I have very little. I do have some bookshelves that could probably stand a polishing, though. I'll add it to my list.

Turpentine (flammable): Again, no explanation as to why this is needed. Unless it's to clean paintbrushes. At any rate, not something I want to keep around unless/until I have a use for it.

Lemon oil: Already on the list for dustcloth manufacture.

Linseed oil: A further chapter in the book instructs me to use this, along with rottenstone or pumice, to remove marks from wooden furniture. Buy-as-needed.

Mild scouring powder or whiting: This I should have. On list.

Ammonia (household): Can't think of a use for this that I wouldn't substitute vinegar or another cleaner, so I'm holding off on it for now.

Fuller's earth or other absorbent: This puzzles me. What am I absorbing? I'll hold off until I see it mentioned again.

Rottenstone: I didn't know what this was, but Mark did, which was, I thought, impressive. I can't see a use for it right now, but it's on the tentative list of things I could see being helpful in the future.

Carbon tetrachloride: So this is apparently the stuff in fire extinguishers, also used a dry cleaning solvent in the early-mid 20th century. Gonna skip that.

Household disinfectant: Should probably have something to fit this bill. I don't think I even have any bleach. Added to list.

Paint cleaner: I don't know why I'd need this when I'm not painting anything, so I'm skipping it for now.

Art gum eraser: I'm imagining this is for scuff marks, so I'll add some sort of scuff-remover to my list.

Now that I know what I have and don't have, the next object lesson is to put things back in places that facilitate using them easily. The book suggests a cleaning closet, but the only closet I could dedicate to that purpose is in the basement, and I don't fancy hauling my vacuum cleaner up the stairs every time I need it, so I'm going to continue using my front coat closet for my cleaning command center, with outpost buckets under the kitchen sink and in the upstairs bathroom, and overstock/not commonly used items down in the laundry room.

So far, I'm slightly edified and slightly embarrassed. I didn't realize there were such big holes in our cleaning arsenal, or that I was falling back on so many convenience cleaning products (though to my credit, I do make my own refill solution and use rags rather than disposable pads for the Swiffer). I'm also amused to realize how casual the mid-century housewife was instructed to be about dangerous chemical cleaners--that has definitely changed for the better. Even without kids, I'm just not comfortable with turpentine and paint thinner hanging around in my closets. The other thing I didn't realize was how pro-wax the mid-century housewife seems to have been--she was apparently putting it on her furniture and her floors. Also, where's the baking soda on this list? Isn't that supposed to be an essential?

Stay tuned for my attempts to actually some of these products. In the meantime, take a gander at your supplies. Do you have everything you need? Is it where it's most useful to you?

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