Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Cleaning the Kitchen

I am finally ready to start spring cleaning - doing a deep spring clean doesn't replace the day to day maintenance that I do to keep my home tidy, warm, and inviting. It does, however, help me prepare for the upcoming summer, it helps me clean out out those things that simply never get looked at, and it keeps me from building up clutter for my home. Finally, spring cleaning just is something I find enjoyable as a ritual. It transitions me from the darkness of winter to the light of spring and I have to say that my house, even though the lighting hasn't changed one bit, seems bigger, more airy, and more peaceful after I've scrubbed it.

(Image via)

The room I always start and end with when I am cleaning is the kitchen. Even though our kitchen is a tidy galley kitchen it is still the heart of the home and home base for the rest of the spring clean. I clean it first because it is the place that I go in and out of the most for supplies, washwater, rags, and anything else. The kitchen is generally the most detailed room of the house and will often take the largest part of one of my days but it really sets the tone for cleaning the rest of the house!

When doing deep cleaning it is generally assumed that you start at the top of the room and move down towards the floor so that you don't drip water  or dirt  on the things you have just cleaned. Cleaning, however, has to make logical sense for you so I actually start with the sink and countertops, making sure that the dishrack  and any dishes are done and put away and that I have ample counter space to work on. If you need to modify an order than feel free to do it!

Here is my Kitchen Order:
  1. Do all dishes, dry and put them away.
  2. Clear off the countertops and do a quick clean.
  3. Dust ceiling picture rails, shelves.
  4. Remove ceiling light fixture and clean with warm soapy water in a sink that has been lined with towels (our ca. 1910 fixtures are irreplaceable so I'm very careful when I'm cleaning them.)
  5. Remove one shelf of goods at a time, toss what is not needed, wipe down the shelf and replace when dry for the upper cabinents.
  6. Wipe down the front of the cabinets with warm soapy water.
  7. Empty the top of the fridge, wipe down with warm soapy water. Dust and wash objects and reorganize as needed. 
  8. Empty fridge, clean out inside with warm soapy water (I generally turn off the fridge for this clean) replace objects as needed.
  9. Empty freezer, wipe down inside of freezer, replace objects as needed.
  10. Wipe down the doors and body of the fridge with warm soapy water, shine with glass cleaner. 
  11. Soak and was the antique insulators over the stove, dust the shelf. 
  12. Clean out the warming drawer of the oven, the oven, and the broiler.
  13. Soak and scrub the range top pans and grill.
  14. Clean the stove exterior and shine with Windex. Shine chrome with vinegar/water mixture.
  15. Wipe down walls and tile backsplash with a damp rag.
  16. Empty cupboards and wash with a damp rag. Reorganize and declutter as needed.
  17. Wipe down the front of the cupboards, use vinegar/water mix to shine chrome on rail/handles.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Spring Clean: Preparing

Now that we can have the windows open it's the perfect time for a thorough spring clean - I don't like cleaning with the windows shut so as soon as it warms up enough to let the fresh air in I know it's time to get ready to  clean my home.

There are two ways of doing a Spring Clean - the first is to take one or two days and do the entire house at once and the other way is to break it into sections and spread it out over a week or two. Our house is very small, only five rooms and two hallways, so I generally take two days of my life once a year and really, really clean the home well and have it done until the fall touchup. If I lived in a larger home I would probably break it down and do a section or a room a day for a week. It's totally up to you but the principals of Spring Cleaning are the same.

I'm going to do my spring cleaning next week during the first day or two of spring break, so you are welcome to spring-clean-along with me or simply reference this when you decide to clean the individual rooms later in the year. Before we start, though, here are some things that I try to do to prepare for the big scrub.

1. Declutter - I wrote a post on this in Feburary. We've been very busy de-cluttering our home this month and have removed a carload of things from the house. It's really hard to clean around clutter so I try to get rid of it before I clean. No matter what, though, I always end up finding even more stuff to toss  when I'm spring cleaning.

2. Have a spring cleaning schedule written out - My spring cleaning schedule is done by taking each room and dividing it into sections going from the top to the bottom. This isn't making a detailed list for each room, this is more like figuring out what is going to get cleaned and when. For example the first day I will do the Dining Room, Front Hall + Closet, Kitchen and Living Room.The second day I do the Back Hall + Built-Ins, Bathroom, Bedroom + Closet. I expect these to be two eight hour days with breaks as needed and lunch and this is the routine I always have for this apartment. . If I didn't have the time and I was going to break it down it might be something like Monday: Both Bathrooms, Tuesday: Living Room, Wednesday: Kitchen and Dining Room and so on until I had my path mapped out.

3. Make sure you have all of your supplies - Supplies are so important to have on hand. Nothing stops you dead in your tracks like realizing you have no soap or a sponge, or all your cleaning towels are waiting to be washed and you have to do a load of laundry before you can even start cleaning. Each room calls for different sets of supplies though there is a lot of overlap. I grouped this by room simply because it helps me make up a "Bucket" when I'm going to each room and then I don't have to run back and forth trying to find things in the basement, the kitchen, or the bathroom and I have everything in the room I am cleaning. I like to make most of my own supplies or use natural products to clean though I do bleach my ancient sink once a year and use Murphy's Oil Soap on our 100 year old floors that have lost all their finish. For example, I make my own antiseptic soap using a blend of rosemary and lavender essential oils, and go heavy on the lavender for the bedroom. (You can find a recipe here.)

Kitchen:                                  Dining Room:                                   Front/Back Hall:
Antiseptic counter spray             Duster                                               Duster
Vinegar for the chrome              Vinegar for windows/chrome               Wood Friendly Soap
Bleach                                      Newspaper for window cleaning           Rags
Vinyl floor cleaner                    Antiseptic Spray                                  Murphy's Oil Soap
Kitchen Rags                            Rags                                                  Bucket
Duster                                      Murphy's Oil Soap                              Bleach for Cat Boxes
Broom + Dust Pan                    Broom and Dust Pan
Bucket                                     Bucket
                                               Wood-friendly soap for baseboards
                                               Detergent for Curtains  

Living Room:                         Bathroom:                                         Bedroom:
Vacuum                                  Duster                                                Duster
Bucket                                    Bucket                                               Bucket
Rags                                       Rags                                                  Rags
Murphy's Oil Soap                   Antiseptic Soap                                   Broom + Dust Pan
Duster                                     Vinegar                                             Bucket
Newspaper for windows            Tile Floor Cleaner                              Murphy's Oil Soap
Vinegar                                   Bathroom Brush                                 Detergent for Curtains
Wood friendly soap                  Sturdy scrubbing sponge                      Detergent for Bedding
Carpet deodorizer                                                                              Wood friendly soap
Furniture polish                                                                                 Furniture polish
Scratch Cover for Wood                                                                     Scratch cover for wood
Broom + Dust Pan
Detergent for Curtains

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Editing - Preparing for a Spring Clean

There are two stages to a spring clean for us - The first one is editing my home and the second one involves scrubbing it. We have edited regularly for the last three or four years because we have moved on average once or twice a year. This is the first time we've gone into our second year in the same house since I left college so this year I've had to be very deliberate about making sure that I go through a process of really thoroughly editing every nook and cranny, drawer, or hidden cabinet.  

The reason that I edit, or de-clutter, my things before I do a large scrub is that it is simply easier to clean once my  house is de-cluttered. There are fewer things to move around, I've already done some surface cleaning like dusting and sweeping, and I don't have to reorganize as I'm trying to scrub. Organization requires a bit of thought - not too much - but it does help to keep your mind on the practical side of things. 

For example, my husband and I kept our board games up on the highest shelf of the built ins. We have amazing board games that deserve to be played but rarely were because they were out of sight and almost always out of mind. When I reorganized the built ins I placed them on a lower shelf and put the fabric stash up where they were since I don't usually use stash fabrics for projects. Since then we've been playing our games more after dinner which is a great way to have together time and be a little competitive. 

So far, we've been at it three days, going room by room starting at the back of the house (which is the oposite direction I do my 15 minute nightly tidy-ups in) because I know the bedroom and built ins are the places I stash the most clutter and get the least amount of tidying on a regular basis. 

Here are few things to help you get ready for spring clean or any sort of big scrub of your house as well. 

1. Have a visual goal: Every year when I edit my house I have an idea of how I want my house to look - calm, collected, elegant, vintage, a little modern, airy, and light. I keep a board on pinterest  and when it comes time to stage my home or de-clutter/redecorate I can look and see what running themes I have on my board. For example, I noticed that a lot of my pictures have big white rooms (check) with high ceilings (check) and a mix of modern Scandinavian (not so check) and antique (check) furniture. Because I have a clear picture of what I like I can edit out the things I don't like or don't work and arrange my home in such a way that these things are featured. I see what is missing, needs to be updated, and I write it down to make or purchase at a later date. 

2. Start at one end of the house, do one small space at a time:  Editing can be intimidating because you have to make decision after decision about things. I try to keep the overwhelming sense of "I have so much stuff" that hits me when I'm going through closets and storage bins down to a minimum by doing a little at a time. I started by writing down my rooms in order that I want to tackle them. My house is a pre-war 5 room with a front and back hall. It made sense to move in a direction. If your house is larger or you have some rooms that are used more often than others perhaps you'd like to do this in the order of how often they are used or how much is in them getting the rooms with the least amount of clutter done and out of the way first. After I decide the order of rooms I compartmentalize (I generally do this in my head) it into sections. My bedroom is the most overwhelming room to declutter so I broke it down into closet/nightstand/bookcase/under bed/dresser and just tackled each at a time. If you tear apart the whole room you may end up running out of steam with everything in your closet and dressers on your floor and no energy to put it back! 

3. If you don't use it or love it toss it: I believe every organizational guru from Martha to Marla has said this at one point or another but it holds true. Lose the guilt associated with tossing something you paid good money for or the guilt associated with getting rid of a gift and free up a little space in your life. This is one of those things that gets easier with experience. I used to hem and haw about tossing things but now I just go for it and don't worry about it. 

4. Pull out your best things and start using them: One of my favorite ways to cut down on the clutter is to start using my good things and get rid of the seconds. I want to honor my home and family with the good china, cloth napkins, the best dishes, the good linnens, and so on. I don't want to save them because then they are simply clutter pulled out once or twice a year. Even though I still have two sets of dishes (a "good" set and the "regular set") we eat just as many meals on the good set as we do on the regular set and neither set is clutter. Instead of having stacks of paper napkins I use the cloth napkins I have collected  over the years. I wear any and all of my wearable clothes  whenever or wherever instead of saving them for special occasions.

5: Don't bring clutter into the house: This is a hard one for me but I am getting better. I don't bring anything into the house unless I've really thought about where or how I will work it in to my house, wardrobe, or clothing collection and whether or not I think it is truly beautiful or not. I want even the most practical thing in my home to be worthy of a beautiful home. I buy the best quality I can afford, take good care of it, and expect it to last. 

Note: This post has also been posted on my other blog here. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Meal Plan - Part 2

Two cooks of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

Planning meals is pretty easy - we keep it low key around here and only plan for dinner. Some people plan for two (usually breakfast and dinner) or even three meals a day. I've even seen some planning templates that account for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack! That's just a little too much for us considering we don't eat breakfast unless we absolutely have to, lunch is a portion that is left over from yesterday's dinner, and snacks are from the stocked fruitbowl we keep on the dining room table.

One of the sources that I've read, The Book of Household Management, which was written in 1859 describes an average housekeeper's day. One of the things that I noticed was the sheer amount of time devoted to food preparation and planning. There was a twice daily inventory of the kitchen for food that was about to spoil and numerous preparations for meals that were happening that evening or even the next day or two. Luckily meal planning is a lot simpler now. I do try to keep an eye on everything that needs to be used up so things don't go to waste but I'm not constantly trying to beat vegetables that only last a day or two due to a lack of refrigeration!

Here's how we plan meals around here:

1. Plan the meals for one week and post it somewhere handy. I try to put the more time consuming "experimental" meals on the weekend days or on Tuesdays or Thursdays when I know I will have more time in my schedule. I try to keep Friday a simple vegetable catch all (often stir fry or veggie soup) so that I can keep it easy since I get home late and am faced with week old produce that is usually coming close to the end of it's shelf life. I will repeat family favorites each week until we are tired of them and add in one or two new meals depending on how interesting and accessible the cooking blogs were this week!

Here is an example meal plan:

Monday: Spicy Thai Soup - This was my experimental meal for the week. I found this in the November issue of Martha Stewart. It was a 15 minute prep time recipe so I chose to do it on Monday!
Tuesday: Tofu Stir Fry - this is a family favorite and will use up the veggies from last week we didn't use.
Wednesday: Black Bean Soup and Cornbread - This is a wintertime favorite I can make on auto pilot. I have it timed so I make the cornbread in five minutes or less, put it in the oven, and make the soup. By the time the soup is done the cornbread is finished and cooling and we can eat both together.
Thursday: Curried Quinoa Salad - Another family favorite that I can make on auto pilot
Friday: Veggie Soup - Notice how I'm using up the week old vegetables? This is another quick and easy meal.
Saturday: Mutter Paneer - This is a time consuming recipe since it involves making the paneer first and then making the rest of the recipe. I chose to do this one on Saturday because it's a delicious recipe but it takes a substantial amount of time to do!
Sunday: Scrounge! - This is literally what I write on the meal plan. There is almost always one day a week that we don't end up making the planned meal so it gets moved to Sunday. If we do end up making all six then I find things in the cupboard and fridge that need to be used and make something of them. To help me pair ingredients I'll often type them into a google search and see what they come up as in a recipe!

2. Write the Grocery List. Take a look at the things you're making, check the recipes if you need to, and write the list down. Writing a list helps me make sure there are no last minute trips to the Grocery store midweek. Also, it helps me stay on budget when I shop!

3. Put the recipes for the week in one place. Most of my recipes are on my computer so I bookmark them, put them in the bookmark bar on my Chrome browser, and rename them for the days of the week they will be used. For example, my recipes are named "Monday," "Tuesday," and "Saturday" so I know what day I will use them. If it's from a cookbook or magazine I put a book marker into it and put that text onto my cookbook stand.

4. Shop for what you need. Remember to take the list! Stick to the list! We also take a calculator (actually our phones act as calculators) to keep a running total of what we're spending. Pick up some flowers for yourself while you're at it.

5. Every night take a look at the list of meals you've posted somewhere handy. See what you're making and then grab the book you've marked, the computer, or the magazine and start cooking! A little meal planning helps put the kitchen on autopilot!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Benefits of Meal Planning - Part 1

Meal Planning - Part 1: Why should I?

Familen om bordet med madam blå

If you googled "meal planning" you would get a plethora of different hits, hints and maybe helpful suggestions. You'd see things like Once a Month Cooking, How to plan a perfect Holiday Meal, menu services where you pay someone to send you what you will eat for the week or month, and so on. If you went to the cookbook aisle of a bookstore you'd see books that touted meals in thirty minutes, recipes for working women, books explaining how to make everything in a microwave and other time saving recipes.

I love the idea of saving time when cooking. I work long days and when I come home one of the very last things I want to do is make an elaborate three course meal complete with wine pairings. I also know that a lot of women that I know feel bullied by the media, social pressures, and perfectionism so they try to make the perfect meal, spend hours doing it only to be left with the dishes, and give up.

I know, however, that food is often the center of a family and cooking for my family is worth the investment of time in it. I cook around 7 days a week most weeks. I estimate that it takes me thirty minutes to an hour to make each meal and do the cleanup involved. That seven hours over the course of the week is worth the time put into it because I know I'm helping to keep my family healthy by bringing things that are balanced and made from fresh foods to the table.

It's a well known fact that people who cook at home are generally healthier than people who eat out frequently. The ability to control what goes into your body is limited in most restaurants. If you cook at home you can cut the amount of oils in half or use healthier ones. You can include whatever fresh veggies you have and cook them to perfection. You can control portion size, and you can set part of it aside for tomorrows healthy lunch too! Cooking at home generally forces you to think about what you're making and why and how you're making it. You tend to eat seasonally because that's what is in the stores at that time!

Having family meals creates a strong family. The body of research on this topic is vast and a quick google search brings up article upon article about the social benefits of having family dinners. Families who eat dinner together have children who are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke and the children are less obese than their peers who do not have family dinners. Not only get to know your family better! We have long days but creating a center where you can just talk and discuss what is going on helps keep you in the loop about how the people in your family are doing, what they are up to, and what they are looking forward to!

Meal planning is the avenue to get to all those family dinner benefits. There's no perfect formula for meal planning. Right now I plan my meals once a week and I grocery shop once a week. When I lived with an urban farmer who was constantly bringing produce home we grocery shopped once a month and meal planned when she brought things home. When I lived way out in the country side we shopped twice a month because the trip into town took too long. The most important thing about meal planning was that every day when I got home from work I could look at the fridge, read whatever was listed as the meal for that day, and be confident the ingredients were tucked away somewhere in the kitchen for me to use. Meal planning makes cooking easier than it ever was before.

Meal planning saves you money. We spend $100.00 a week on groceries for a family of two. We would spend $100.00 for just two or three meals out. The math is easy - cooking at home saves you money!

Good resources for adventuring into family dinners and the reasons to cook at home:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Thoughts

Home of mill striker, Utica (LOC)

November, for me, signals the leap from Fall into Winter. The major fall cleaning is done in anticipation of the Holiday season and the change in the weather. The grocery lists are beginning to change to reflect what is in season. We are spending more time at home and less going out in the evenings because of the early dark. We are asleep earlier, too - our lights are usually out by 9:00 p.m and we are tucked in with the cats underneath the down comforter.

Vintage home makers throughout the centuries have used early November to plan and prepare for the upcoming holidays in several ways, and we have done the same in our home. Do you need to be thinking about any of these things in November?

1. Take down any Halloween decorations - I am notorious for leaving decorations up long past their due date. Luckily most of our Halloween decorations double for fall decorations so only a few things need to be put away until next year.

2. Stock the cupboards with things for fall foods and holiday treats - November is really the time when you start feeling the cold and change to winter here in Colorado and what we want to eat changes too. We've already had our first snow day and I was very glad that we had almond milk, regular milk, sugar, and really wonderful cocoa powder in our cupboards to pair up with a breakfast of Gluten Free pancakes while we were snowed in. A swedish blogger alerted me to the concept of dark chocolate covered gingerbread cookies so I put the ingredients for that on the next grocery list.

3. Take out, mend, and prepare any winter clothing that hasn't already come out for fall and put away anything you won't use for the next few months - I own a lot of clothing, enough that some of it has to go into storage in the opposite season. When I lived in Wisconsin I could put it all away for the winter in October and bring it out in April with out ever worrying about it but here in Colorado where it can be 19 degrees at 6:00 a.m. and 60 degrees at 3:00 p.m. I need to keep most of it out but I've already put away things that are absolutely not necessary like outside only swimsuits, sheer summer shirts, and my shorts. In addition to this I pulled out everything that has been waiting for true cold weather, gave it a quick once over, and sewed on all those buttons that were about to fall off.

4. Start thinking (if you haven't already) about holiday presents - This one is pretty quick. Make a list of everyone you have to give gifts to and pick out something that they'd like. If you are making any of them write down what you'll need to make the gift and how much time it might take. If you want to go above and beyond you could put a dollar amount next to each, total it up and see how much you'll need to spend on gifts this year so you can budget for them...which brings me to my next point.

5. Add some line items to the budget for holiday travel and entertaining expenses -Make sure that you've accounted for holiday parties out, holiday dinner parties, traveling costs, gifts, and anything else you need to think about.

Hopefully these five things help you stay on track and enjoy the holiday season more richly!

Three things every vintage home maker needs to be mindful of...

This post was originally posted on my primary blog, Elizabeth Lives.


Someone sent me an email asking me how I keep and run my house. I'm not sure if it was inspired by them stumbling upon the Apartment Therapy post, or if they just looked through the archives of this and came to some conclusion that I'm domestically inclined but I'm finally able to sit down and write you a post about how I keep house.

I've said it once and I'll say it again - I'm an old fashioned housekeeper. My domestic heroines are the characters in Grace Livingston Hill novels who manage to transform a hovel into a place of domestic tranquility, peace, and quiet in days.

I can't give her all the credit, though. I've taken a lot of cues from vintage household management books that I've found that date from the early 19th c. to the 1950's. I've sort of read them in a half serious manner - some of the things, like keeping eggs in some sort of hazardous chemical to preserve them for three years, are so ridiculous and frankly unsafe that I have to laugh. Other things, though, have stood the test of time and the test of my house, life, and busy schedule.

Voorjaarsschoonmaak in het Vondelpark / Spring cleaning in the Vondelpark

The single most important thing that most household management books and I agree on is that you need a routine. Some people need a detailed routine written down on paper. Some people need a morning and an evening routine, a weekly routine or whatever. Whatever type you need, be it written or unwritten, on a post it or in a binder or on your fridge, routines make the home go smoothly. A good old fashioned housekeeper has a routine to make her work go smoothly.

I have a morning and afternoon routine written down and taped to my desk at work for the first five things I do when I get there and the first five things after the kiddos leave but I no longer have a written routine for my home because after doing the (in general) same routine for eight years it's just memorized. I know when I wake up I get dressed, make the bed, and so on. I know that on Fridays I clean out my car and we look over the finances. I know that on Sundays we grocery shop and meal plan. I know that from 5:45 - 6:00 everything stops and I spend fifteen minutes picking up the house. I know that at 6:30 I start cooking. I know that I spring clean in March or April and I put my fall decorations up in October. These things, practiced year in, year out are in my brain and help my home run like clockwork.

Student cooking in homemaking apartment in Lodge, 1917.

The second thing an old fashioned housekeeper has is a sense of the seasons. Knowing the seasons helps us to work with the natural rhythms of wherever we are living from meal planning to cleaning schedules.

One of the things we have the luxury of forgetting these days is the fact that at one time fresh salad greens didn't happen in December. We ate preserves all winter long and ate fresh fruit all summer long. For my grandfather, a child in rural Wisconsin the 1920's, an orange in the winter was worthy of a Christmas present. When we meal plan an old fashioned housekeeper keeps an eye on what's in season at the store and makes meals that fit what is needed in her household's own seasons. Is it flu season? Fresh vegetables, things high in vitamin C, and soups to clear the sinuses might be on the menu plan. Is it a busy season? Quicker meals, things that clean up easily, and food that works for on the go might be on the plate. Is it a time when you need comfort food or special foods for holidays that are coming up? An old fashion home keeper knows the seasons and currents of her household and lives with them.

Waslijnen Volendam / Laundry lines Volendam

Another important thing that is mentioned over and over again is that an old fashioned housekeeper lives and works within her means.

Household finances are infinitely complicated and always have been. Some people have joint accounts. Some people are single and get to manage their own finances. Some people share households but have their own bank accounts. The best advice I can give you is to make a budget that gives every dollar you have control over a place to go before you even get it. Then, the day you get paid move the money where it needs to go instead of just letting it sit around waiting to be spent on something else.

In conjunction with this it's important to budget for what you're actually going to use not just what you wish you spent. JR and I use a spreadsheet that we fill out sometime before pay day together that auto calculates how much we have left to spend. Then, when we get paid we move money wherever it needs to go - bills, savings, fun things, groceries. Finally, it's important to save just a little for a rainy day. Maybe your emergency fund is in a tin in your kitchen among your spices. Maybe, like us, you keep it safe in a savings account. The important thing is that you have be used for emergencies only.

The last thing on the topic of finances is that the adage "Mend, Make Do, or Do Without" still stands all this time later. Get everything you can out of the things you own. Keep your kitchen appliances in good repair and clean and they'll serve you for a long time. A sewing machine overhaul once a month can get those useful things to last into the double decades. Sew that button on your clothes when it falls off and get those pants to last another season. Use scrap yarn and tule to make your own dish sponges. Finally, if you can't afford it right patient and save for it.

(all of the pictures are from the Commons on Flickr...)