Tag Archives: home

Cleaning Tips from the Uncommonhousewife

As a housewife, I am probably supposed to be fairly adept at housekeeping.  You might be a little surprised to learn, however, that I actually stink at it.  My best cleaning happens when the arrival of guests is imminent.  Otherwise, the kitchen and bathrooms stay sanitary, and beds get made, and the floors are kept reasonably clean.  I should dust more often, but I hate doing it.  Window washing?  Yeah, right.  And we are never clutter-free.

This time of year feels right for cleaning, though.  All of a sudden, I can open the windows and let fresh air blow away the dog smells and laundry funk that collects when the A/C runs constantly.  It’s time to put away the collection of flip-flops and sunscreen bottles that are left about in easy-to-grab places.  Some people call it fall nesting.  I just think of it as an opportunity to take care of chores neglected when it was 90+ degrees for months at a time.

I do not claim to be a Heloise, a Martha Stewart, or cleaning and organizing blogger extraordinaire.  I have, however, compiled a short list of advice about cleaning, acquired over my many years of maintaining a barely passably clean home.

  1. To properly clean window blinds, remove them from the brackets and…toss them directly into the trash can.  Let’s face it.  Blinds, especially, mini-blinds cannot be kept entirely clean.  Period.  Yes, you can turn the slats this way and that to dust them, but this must be done gently so as not to bend or break them.  What happens if, let’s say just hypothetically, your blinds are shellacked with the dog drool that goes flying every time your beloved pet shakes his head?  What if, again completely hypothetical here, the faux-wood blinds in your kitchen are coated with a hefty layer of grease and just might smell vaguely of bacon?  Homekeeping experts will tell you that you simply need to remove the blinds and soak them in a bathtub filled with cleaning solution, swishing them back and forth a few times.  Easy, right?  This is dog drool we’re talking about, not cobwebs and baby powder.  And did you ever try to towel off a set of blinds, or hang them somewhere to drip-dry??  Really, once they get so filthy you can’t stand it, replace them with something–anything–else.
  2. Bleach will never smell like anything besides bleach.  There is no such thing as Spring Fresh or Citrus Breeze bleach.  Straight out of the jug or mixed in with other spray cleaners, bleach cannot be camouflaged.  So get ready to suffer a condition I call “bleach head.”  After you have been confined in the shower with bleach fumes for even a few minutes, you will lose your ability to smell anything else, and your sinuses will sort of throb.  It’s not painful, nor is it permanent.  But for an hour or so after exposure, you will feel as though your head has swelled to 3 times its normal size.
  3. Pets are the domestic enemy of housekeeping.  There is not a vacuum cleaner or lint roller on earth that can remove cat hair from floors and furniture completely.  Wet dog nose prints will reappear as soon as you’ve cleaned them from floors, windows, and door knobs.  If you have pets, your home will never be spotless.
  4. Still on the topic of pets, if you have them, reconsider carpeting.  Some primal instinct in cats directs them to seek out carpet when they feel an attack of hairball coming on.  I’ve seen this with my own eyes.  And dog paws will always leave dirty tracks on your carpet, no matter how well you think you have cleaned them.  You can train your dog to wait patiently by the door while you scrub his paws with a strategically placed beach towel–hypothetically again–and still you will acquire a traffic pattern on your carpet particular to your dog.
  5. Kids.  We all know I could just leave it at that.  Every age and every stage of childhood comes with its own cleaning challenges.  Teenagers, who are perfectly capable or completing any cleaning task on their own, are…well…deficient.  Some may clean their rooms upon request or do the chore you nag them about.  Left to their own devices, though, teens have about the same impact on housekeeping as toddlers.  They are always and everywhere eating.  They have way too much stuff to keep track of; and they will take and lose your car keys.

So there you have it.  That’s my best advice on housekeeping.  In summary: put it off until you can’t stand it anymore; toss out anything that’s too complicated to clean; give up if you have pets or kids.


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A New Look and March Madness

No, not that kind of March Madness.  While I have my share of talk about “brackets” between Darling Husband and Junior and their office pool, the March Madness I’m referring to has nothing to do with basketball.  I have always told the kids that spring is the season that can’t make up its mind.  Little did I know that the whole month of March would turn out to be pretty much schizophrenic with its little successes followed rapidly by fiascos.

Exhibit A:  Yeah!  The weather has turned somewhat decent on a fairly consistent basis!  That means the heat is running a lot less, and so the electric bill has hit an all-time low.  “And there was much rejoicing!”  Until the cell phone bill arrives.  Why is it so hard to get billing right on a wireless plan?  You choose the plan, stay within its parameters, and get the same bill every month.  When you need to make changes, you call, changes are made, billing changes to what you discussed.  After all, “calls are monitored for quality control,” so everyone should be on the same page.  Um.  No.  Apparently, it’s equal to brain surgery, and only a select few are capable of billing accuracy.

Exhibit B:  Soon (God willing) we won’t need to run the heat at all.  Better get the A-C checked out to make sure it’s ready to run.  That’s what responsible homeowners do, right?  We did it last year, and the system got a clean bill of health.  So how is it that 9 months later, we need to replace 4 capacitors?  Now, until this past Monday, I couldn’t have picked a capacitor out of a line-up, although I did know they had something to do with motors and involved electricity.

No, I don't mean the flux capacitor.

Last summer: all 4 good.  Now: all 4 bad.  Interesting.

Exhibit C:  What kind of animal comes out in the daytime, leaves no discernible tracks, and eats daffodil blooms?  Answer: small, hooligan children.  It’s exciting to see my daffodils come up each spring.  I seem to forget that they’re under there, especially after digging mammoth weeds out of the flower beds all summer.  But, sure enough, the brave green stems force their way through the mulch and then take their sweet time to reveal the creamy white double blooms.  These are no ordinary narcissus.  Imagine, then, my utter dismay to find that all of the blossoms are simply missing one afternoon.  No tattered remains left by a bird; no knocked-down stems or dug-up mulch.  This has all the makings of the group of small children who play across everyone’s yards helping themselves to the flowers by just grabbing them by the heads.  Well, someone in the neighborhood was a surprised Mommy when the kids came home with a handful of daffodil heads.

March has been loaded with these little ups and down.  I call it “malarkey.”  When it piles up, it annoys the crap out of me.

As an antidote to the malarkey, I decided to give the blog a make-over.  I was going for something a little cleaner, less cluttered.  Spring cleaning and all that.  I hope you like it.

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Should Simplifying Your Life Be This Hard?

Several of the blogs I read regularly have featured posts recently about the feeling that you have too much “stuff” (here and here).  This was definitely a timely issue for me as I face the chore of unpacking the last few boxes after our move 4 months ago.

These boxes contain things that were stored in the basement or a closet of our old house.  With no basement and minimal closet storage in our current house, where will this stuff find a home?  If it’s been packed away and out of use for 2 or 3 or more tours of duty, why am I even holding on to it?  It would seem logical that our military lifestyle, with the frequent moving into housing ranging from 1500 to 3000 square feet, would prevent me from accumulating and hanging on to a lot of stuff.  Sometimes, though, I think just the opposite happens.  The curtains in one house don’t work in the next.  No central air means you pick up a few window fans.  You need more or fewer shower curtains than you had before.  Now you have wall-to-wall carpeting, but at the last house you needed area rugs.  At some point I guess I figured it was less expensive to hold on to things “just in case.”

The harder issue concerns what to do with the mountains of sentimental stuff.  We have boxes full of yearbooks, scrapbooks (the old-fashioned kind with newspaper clippings, greeting cards, and pictures), report cards, kids’ artwork vacation souvenirs, and so on.  I rarely open the boxes to look at this stuff, and it doesn’t really flood me with warm, fuzzy memories. These take up space we really don’t have.  But it also takes up energy to hold on to these things.  Unpacking after each move would take a lot less time if I didn’t have all of that wedding crystal that we’ve never used in 18 years.  Maybe I could breathe a little easier if I didn’t feel like I had to find a storage space for all of those mementos.

Why is there so much guilt involved in getting rid of these things that really aren’t giving me any pleasure?  Will later generations hate me because I didn’t pass down any heirlooms?  What makes something heirloom-worthy anyway?  Am I a bad mother for not keeping the kids’ old report cards for posterity?  How can I tell if something will be an artifact someday or just junk?

My immigrant not-so-distant ancestors came to this country with basically nothing.  They started whole new lives without worrying about “things”.  I don’t know if they grieved about leaving family treasures behind.  It’s more likely that they were so poor in the Old Country that there were no treasures.  So is it that important to keep things to pass on to future generations?  How much of a loss will they feel if they don’t have any of their grandmother’s things?

The magazines make it seem so easy to get a serene, uncluttered home.  The covers scream at me every month to “Simplify!”  The professional organizers and life coaches quoted in the articles gives lots of perky tips for decluttering and eliminating excess.  So why am I still stuck with these last couple of boxes?

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Great While It Lasted

Open Windows

After a LONG, hot summer, we just had a short, sweet taste of Fall.  For 2 straight days, I turned off the air conditioning.  That’s right. Off.  Every window in the house was open.  Of course, it’s way too early to imagine that open windows will be the norm.  Around here, that won’t happen for at least another 3 weeks.  But, oh, how I love at the end of a season when the house has been all sealed up for months, to throw open all the windows and air things out.  Unfortunately, all I could hear with those windows wide open was the hum of everyone else’s air conditioner.

Who knew I was the green one?  Well, I suspected it.  (See this post).  I’m all about energy conservation, mainly because it saves you money.  See, we moved from New England a few months ago.  The cost of electricity and heating oil up there could have sent us to the poorhouse.  It’s cheaper down South where we live now, but we got used to being miserly about our energy consumption.  Our AC gets set at 79, and if the outside temp is anywhere below 82 or so, I shut off the AC.  Living in Hawaii with no central air and only the Trade Winds to keep us cool also conditioned us to enjoy moderate temperatures.

I’m not sure what’s up with all of our neighbors.  Maybe they are all severe allergy sufferers who can’t stand the fresh air.  Could they all be going through menopause and having hot flashes?  Not likely, given the number of preschoolers in the neighborhood.  It must be that they have never felt the pinch when the electric bill arrives in the mail.  I guess that’s one more hidden benefit to moving every 2 years.  I get to experience the varying utility costs around the country.

Today, though, the windows are closed tight, and the AC is cranked back on.  We have plenty more steamy days to come.  Those couple of gorgeous, fresh air days just might get me through until Fall arrives for good.  Ahhhh.

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Survivalists in Training

The DVR has been working overtime at our house lately.  Even though the networks are still in the “dead zone” they call the summer hiatus, you can find great stuff on Discovery Channel.  Our family’s genre of choice lately is the survival show.  (OK, 16-year-old SuzyQ does not particularly enjoy these shows.) 

It all started with Junior (13-year-old son) becoming enamored at about age 5 with the Crocodile Hunter.  Then he moved on to Shark Week.  Out of that fascination for the outdoors and wildlife came his interest in survival shows.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Junior is a “doer”.  He doesn’t want to simply be outside; he wants to do stuff out there.  Learning how to build snow caves, climb rock faces, and fire-starting 101 are right up his alley.

After years of watching these shows with him, I have come to enjoy them in a train wreck, you-can’t-look-away fashion.  Anyone who knows me at all understands that I’m certainly not watching to acquire new skills.  I don’t even camp–ever.  I’m also a germ-a-phobe who insists on good hand washing practices in our household.

Nevertheless, there’s something seriously entertaining about watching the Special Forces guy and his wife trekking into the desert or the jungle and trying not to kill each other while practicing survival techniques on “Man, Woman, Wild.”  On the website, the show is described as having the couple “find common ground standing up to nature in the wildest places on Earth.”  I’m not sure about the “common ground” part, though.  Her bio brags of her own wild adventures all over the world as a journalist, but on this show, she acts as the rookie following his expertise.

Not so entertaining but still worthy of some laughs is “Dual Survivor.”  This show pairs a hippy “minimalist” with another former Army guy turned hunter / tracker.  The hippy’s claim to fame is that he has gone barefoot for 20 years as he lives off the land in Arizona.  He also only wears shorts and some kind of hand-woven hoodie.  I have news for you, hippy minimalist: your efforts at survival would go a lot easier if you wore pants–and shoes.

Of course, the Godfather of survivalists is Bear Grylls of “Man Vs. Wild.”  A former British Special Forces guy, he was the youngest Brit to climb Everest.  Every episode finds Bear eating something really noxious, peeing on camera, or going partially naked for some good reason.  He’s great at laughing at himself as he falls out of his primitive hammock or lands in an embarrassing position.  What I like best about him, though, is that he brings a real human touch to the show.  He often talks about missing his family and worrying about them.  And he is not afraid to talk about how faith and prayer can help in desperate situations.

So I guess if our country’s economy totally melts down, terrorists take out our power grid, or a giant asteroid wipes out civilization, we will be somewhat prepared.  And you can bet we will all be wearing pants.

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Martha vs. Mary

This is not my house.  I’m not going to lie, though.  I would really LOVE it if my family room looked just like this picture from Ballard Designs.  Look at that coffee table.  You can actually see it.  People could drop by unexpectedly and visit in a family room like that.  And they wouldn’t trip over dog toys or shoes.

I get exhausted just thinking about all the effort it would take to get my family room even close to looking like that.  And that’s just one room.  At the moment, I’m still at the end of unpacking from our recent move.  Soon, though, the house will reach its “cruising altitude” of controlled chaos.  It will only approach Ballard perfection if we have a party.

That brings me to Martha and Mary.  My Catholic readers will recognize the names from this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42).  It’s the story of Jesus visiting the home of the sisters Martha and Mary.  Martha is consumed with serving and attending to Jesus while Mary sits at His feet to listen to His teaching.  Martha complains that Mary has left her with all the work, but Jesus reminds her that Mary has chosen to stay close to Him and focus on His teaching: “the good portion.”  The Martha’s in life often let day-to-day trivia distract them from what’s truly important.

I’m torn between Martha and Mary.  I feel badly for Martha, who just wants everything to be nice for her guest (the ultimate Guest).  I also admire Mary, who doesn’t care what others think of her as she concentrates on what is really meaningful.  When we made the decision to homeschool, the Mary in me declared that our house was not ever going to be immaculate and the laundry might never be caught up because I had more important things to do: namely, attend to my kids’ education.  But my Martha-side is calling, loudly.  Now that my kids are both in high school, is it too much to ask for even one room to look like Ballard Designs?

My compromise: I’m probably one of the last people on earth to find the Nester, a woman who seems to have her Martha and Mary balanced.  Her blog is full of beautiful decorating and lifestyle ideas for real people.  Her mantra speaks to me: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”   No more excuses.  I can give up on the idea of perfection, but I don’t have to sacrifice beauty, style, or comfort.  Ballard would never take shortcuts, but I sure will to keep my Martha-Mary equilibrium.

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The Uncommon Housewife Goes Green??

Well, green thumb maybe.  Today, I picked the first cucumber of the summer from my patio garden.  My sad little plant has taken off, and I’ll soon be setting up a table in the front yard to give cucumbers away.    I’m still waiting for my tomatoes and zucchini, but I did get a late start on my garden with our recent move.

I am 100% behind the drive to “eat local”.  I make several trips each week to my local farm stands to buy fruits and vegetables during these plentiful summer months.  Yes, it’s better for the environment because it doesn’t require trucking in vegetables from hundreds of miles away.  So my cucumbers have a tiny carbon footprint…blah, blah, blah.  My reasons for supporting local farmers are a lot simpler than that:

  • I believe that we show our love for God and His Creation by being responsible stewards of that Creation.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, the earth and its resources have a “…God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.”
  • My heritage includes a family farm.  My grandfather owned and operated a small dairy farm.  My mother spent many childhood years milking the cows each day.   Having heard the stories of the family farm, I understand the need to protect the livelihood of small, family run farms.
  • Last but not least, locally grown produce just tastes better!  The tomatoes don’t taste like plastic; the cucumbers aren’t coated with wax; and the peaches…Let’s just say, I refuse to buy grocery store peaches -ever- because there is no comparison.

So this suburban, conservative housewife does live green.  I plant my modest vegetable garden each year; I buy my produce from local farmers as often as possible; and I might even try composting.  Above all, I’ll be thanking God for His gift of the earth and all that it contains.

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