Category Archives: household

Not Quite Rags

I don’t use paper towels to clean up anything but mess from a pet. While yes, you could call it an environmental thing, I use cloth for cleaning the same as I use cloth napkins for everyday.

I find buying stuff specifically to throw away a waste of money. If you can safely wash it and reuse it for cleaning purposes, it’s cheaper to do so. You can find all kinds of cleaning cloths out there that’ll last years.

I don’t find most commercial cleaning cloths sturdy enough for my liking, so I make my own out of worn-out towels. I have a couple of sets that have been getting frayed around the edges and have ample newer ones, so it’s time to make a cleaning cloth.

I got the idea from Is There Life After Housework? by Don Aslett. You take a rectangular piece of cloth – preferably something strong and absorbent. Old cotton towels are great for this, and so are old diapers.

The cool part is that instead of rags, you make a tube out of the cloth. By folding, you get a pretty sturdy cleaning surface, and when it gets a bit dirty, you can refold and turn it inside out for fresher cleaning surfaces. When you’re done, toss in the wash, no biggie.

Since I use towels for this, I’ll show you how I do it.

So by folding a towel in half widthwise, cutting then doing the same again to the two halves you’ve generated, then cutting those four pieces in half again, you can get eight pieces of cloth out of your old towel.

And there’s no reason in the world not to go ahead and use them as cleaning rags right then, of course. If that’s your thing, go for it.

I like the tubes, so I go a little further and sew up these babies.

I do use a zig-zag stitch along the long edge, or use a serger to finish what will be the open edges of the tubes. It makes them last longer instead of falling apart from fraying and leaving fluff everywhere. Notice I used black thread on the old pink towels I used. I confess this was not done for contrast and an example, but out of sheer laziness because I didn’t feel like bothering to match the thread for cleaning supplies. You want yours to look pretty, go ahead and show me up. J

After I’ve finished the long edges, I go ahead and sew them into tubes using a zig-zag stitch. I do this for strong seam with a bit of self-finishing on one go. They’re meant or cleaning, so I don’t feel like it’s necessary to spend an extraordinary amount of time on them. Eight in a half hour is plenty enough time to spend.

These cloths also make great potholders. The double layer of thick cotton cloth is pretty good at protecting from heat.

As long as it’s not damp.

Here’s the set I made today. Did it because most of the old ones I made ten years ago have frayed apart from heavy use and I’m on a spring cleaning spree.


(This post contains language that is not drawing room fashion at all. At all.)

There’s a housecleaning method that many of you may heard of called Unfuck Your Habitat. You could say it’s FlyLady, only not as twee, but that’s not entirely so. It’s really meant for people whose lives may or may not fall into the Husband’n’Kids scope that is most of Flylady’s demographic. This works as well for a teenager living at home as it would for a middle aged woman with that prescriptive Husband’n’Kids.

It’s also not quite as organized. Yes, yes, yes, there are routines that UFYH encourages you to follow, but they’re pretty basic.

Having tried out both methods, I’m going to say that I like one over the other depending on how much time I have to devote to the house. Flylady is for when I am working from home. I can do housework on breaks, I’m devoting more time to home care and in my Suzy Homemaker mode. It’s mode I enjoy, as I like doing the homemaker thing a lot, but it’s not nearly as good for my bank account as some others.

Unfuck Your Habitat is much, much better when I’m 40-50 hours a week in an office. Why? The routines are considerably more scalable to how tired I am one day or another. It’s based on the idea that you should work for 20 minutes, then take a ten minute break – Lather, Rinse and Repeat as desired until you’ve worked as much as you need/want to. UFYH calls this a 20/10.

There’s more of an element of random in it, especially if you buy the app. It’s been available for a while in iTunes, and was just released in Android format. Being an Android user, I was excited to try it out.

As I said, this is not housecleaning app for when you want a Master Plan. =Oh yes, I have and like them, but sometimes you’re too damn tired to think much, and want a little motivation to do a little something.

The app takes this into account with a choice of times for different random challenges.

For instance, you’re wandering around your cluttered, messy house, feeling yucky and low energy – not really into thinking, but really wanting to do something.

Random Timed Challenge to the rescue!

Friends, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done in a paltry five minutes and how motivating it is to see things finished.

And it gets better!

If you do five of these challenges, you can get a star!

Can this be a little silly and childish? Of course. Ideally, the Real Grownup sees what needs doin’ and does it, right?

Yeah, fine. You’re probably right. But deciding I wanted a star and doing five challenges in my kitchen got me a star and a clean kitchen without feeling overwhelmed about it, so who cares? The kitchen is clean.

But suppose you want to make a plan. There might be specific things you want to do on a given day. The UFYH app does take we planners into account, too, with My To-Unfuck List.

Yes, I really do intend to do these things today. And when you do everything on your list, yes, you get a star, too. Goofy, but it does kind of motivate.

The reality is that while a clean house is satisfying, if you’ve got a big mess, you can be overwhelmed. Both Flylady and UFYH have methods to cope with both the overwhelm and keeping it from getting too bad in the future. It really depends on what appeals to you. I like both and think both are worthwhile.

Oh, and buy the app if you’re into UFYH and have a smart phone. You’re supporting female developers. The development team, from the project manager down, were women.

Outside Office

One of the drawbacks to the house I live in is that we have almost no yard, and none of it is really flat. What? None? What about this area?

This was an area we used for extra parking. Then we used it for parking a car we were going to get rid of. But we got rid of the car and the area was kind of a junk area.

I commented back at the end of the winter that what we really needed was a patio, and why didn’t we turn that former parking area into one? We only have one car, after all, and we park that in the garage.

My husband agreed, and we talked about it for a while, and decided that we really couldn’t afford to brick in an area and give our landlord a present. (He’s a nice guy, but that would be an expensive present and we really couldn’t afford to do that.) Then my mother, when was talking to her about the idea, suggested using mulch for the patio area.

Brilliant! We could afford to mulch a 12×12 area with no real problem.

So we got some plastic garden edging, some peat moss to mix with potting soil, and some petunias.*

After much travail on the part of my husband – mostly involving digging a shallow trench and putting in the edging, we had ourselves a patio. I like to work outside, and this will be a wonderful Outside Office.

It took about a day’s work and has been totally worth it. I shall be drinking my coffee and reading my email out there tomorrow.


* I suspect I will come to regret the petunia decision when it comes time to squat down and deadhead the little monsters.

How to Tolerate Cold

It gets fairly cold in the winter where I live. This means that you either spend a fortune heating the house or you’re miserably cold, right?

Not really. My house thermostat is set on 60oF right now. What we usually do is turn it down to 60oF at night and then bump it up to 65oF during the day. I had been working for an hour when I got chilly and thought about turning up the thermostat when I decided I wasn’t going to bother for a few hours.

Am I miserable?

No. In fact, I’m toasty warm.

Do I tolerate cold naturally very well?

NO! I feel uncomfortably cold when sitting still and clad in one layer if the temperature dips below 70. I hate being cold. Hatey hate hate hate cold. It’s an utterly miserable feeling for me.

So how can I have the thermostat down so low and be physically comfortable?1


I do dress in layers in the winter. Microfiber long johns as a bottom layer help retain a whole lot of body heat. Then I add a sweater, or possibly a jacket or cardigan. Today, it’s a polarfleece jacket. Very warm. I’m wearing a broomstick skirt, but long johns keep you plenty warm even with such a light lower garment, if your body core is sufficiently insulated. For all my preference for bare feet, I also wear socks and slippers in the house – especially hand-knit wool socks, those paragons of comfy warmth.

If you’re not allergic to wool, I highly recommend it for its insulating properties. But polarfleece garments are also light and warm. I have a couple of pair of polarfleece jammies that I adore as loungewear as well as some fleece socks, and they’re wonderful for my Scroogish attitude towards the thermostat.

Heat source

Since I’m sitting for a while writing and coding, I’m not generating a great deal of body heat.2 To combat that, I have a couple of rice bag warmers that I’ve heated in the microwave – one at my back and one at my feet. When one’s feet are toasty, one feels warmer all over.


Over all of this, I’m using my Slanket. This not only keeps the body heat in, but helps retain the heat from the rice bag warmers. My hands, though exposed to type, feel perfectly comfy even though the air is cool because I am heating this tiny space in which I am working.

I’m not going to keep the house that cool all day, as I’d just as soon the family is a bit more comfortable when we eat dinner at the table this evening. Still, it’s useful while I’m doing office work. If you’ve decided that you really want to turn down the heat (or if you are so strapped for cash that you have no real choice), using some of these principles can keep you safe and comfortable while still keeping the house cool.


1I only do this occasionally when I’m going to be sitting for long periods because I am working, by the way. If I’m going to be moving about the house, I turn up the thermostat.

2Yes, another solution is to bring up the body heat with exercise before putting on the layers and the small heat sources. It works. I just didn’t do it this morning.

The 1950s Housewife

Most of you have seen the How to be a Great Housewife thing. Snopes has been unable to verify it, but it’s interesting that we’re willing to believe that it was the way things were done in the 1950s. My commentary is going to be from memory of family stories, but my grandmother was a 1950s housewife. (She started working in the 60s, IIRC, when the kids were old enough to start making meals and doing housework). Commentary will be in italics.

Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready for your husband. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and the prospect of a good meal is part of this warm welcome needed.

My grandmother was the primary household cook until she got a job. While I do not know if she had dinner on the table the second my grandfather got home, I do know that meals had regular times and she would pitch a fit if she came home from work and dinner wasn’t ready. Food was important Chez Nanny and meals generally were on time.

Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so that you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Knowing Nanny, I’m betting she did at least clean up a bit before dinner. I do have memories of my mother repairing her makeup before Daddy got home, but she sure as hell wasn’t taking 15 minutes to rest. She was doing that quickly so she would have time to finish dinner and wrangle my brother and I. While I doubt my mother, aunts and uncle were nearly the monsters my brother and I were, I also doubt Nanny exactly had 15 minutes to rest before Popie came home.

Clear away the clutter: Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Light a candle. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

I doubt like all get out that Nanny did this. It is just possible when the children were older, she got them to do it.


But “haven of rest and order?” Around my grandmother? That’s a bit unlikely.

Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Nanny was fanatic about making sure the children were clean and moderately-groomed. My own face still stings at the memory of one of her rough face scrubs before dinner. But the charming little treasure bit? I doubt it.

Minimize all noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Better yet, have them in bed.

My grandmother? Not. A. Chance.

Don’t Complain: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints or complain if he’s late for dinner. Just count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Speak in a low, soft soothing and pleasant voice.

If something bothered Nanny, she’d let you know. In a loud, clear voice. She did not often wait for the opportune moment on this. Just sayin’.

Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him – the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Pretty sure she never let Popie talk first, either.

Make the evening his: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

BWAHAHAHA!!!! I won’t say Nanny didn’t wait on Popie. Truth to tell, she did, but it was more like a mother caring for a child than putting Father on a pedestal. Nanny and her sisters loved men, thought they were incredibly interesting and great accessories, but they never really saw them as full grown-ups. The idea of a man’s concerns being more important would have had them staring at you in sheer, blank system error. And once they got over that you could learn some really entertaining new words if you were a kid.

Do You Wear Shoes in the House?

I don’t.

I never really did. When I was a child, Mom had a mat by the most common entrance to our home. We kicked off our shoes (and at some point were reminded to bring our shoes to our closets) when we came in the house.

When I was nearly grown, Mom had the carpeting replaced with some lovely hardwood floors. Then shoes in the house went from something we generally didn’t do to utterly verboten for couple of years while the finish cured.

Even so, it wasn’t this big deal. We just… didn’t wear shoes in the house. I never gave it a lot of thought until I was in sixth grade and we were studying different cultures. A big deal was made, when we got to Japan, about the fact that they didn’t wear shoes in the house. I remember thinking that was weird. No-one in my family had been to Japan or had an opportunity to pick up any other Asian customs.

No-one wears shoes in my house now that I am adult, either. It’s not really a rule, per se. I don’t tell a guest to remove her shoes. But I do have a shoe shelf in the entryway, and yes, I’m often asked by guests if shoes should be removed. I leave that to individual discretion and comfort. I’ve yet to have someone track mud in, and in New England it’s pretty common to remove shoes in sloppy weather.

So, do you wear shoes in your house? If not, is it a household rule that shoes be removed?

Charging Station

My husband made the household a charging station!

Since a lot of devices these days use either the mini-USB or Apple style dock, we just created a charging station with a couple of purchased items and materials on hand.

First, we got these organizer boxes from Staples. Yes, it’s a Martha Stewart product. Don’t judge me.


Then my husband put a power strip in the drawer with some USB adapters and cut a few holes for cords – two with the mini-USB that Androids and many other phones use, and the ubiquitous white cord for the Apple. Because the box was shallow, it was lucky we had these little adapters from our Kindles and an old Palm device, as some of the larger adapters don’t work as well.

He just threaded the appropriate cords through the holes and now we have:

So, we finally have a nice central charging station in the house for our families and guests to use. This makes me happy. Flylady aficionados, yes that is a household control journal in the back slot there.

Would have baked a cake

I’m baking a cake for my son’s birthday party tomorrow. Now, today was a busy day and I had to do a lot of shopping, so when I was making the list, I considered picking up a box o’ cake mix and making one from that.

I didn’t.

This isn’t a “go me, look at what a good Mommy I am” moment. The cake I am making probably won’t taste much different from a mix. It’s your incredibly basic chocolate cake that I’d be perfectly comfortable talking a ten year old through making. The reason I didn’t buy the boxed mix was nothing more than looking in my pantry, realizing I had everything I needed to make a cake anyway and figuring it was stupid to spend the money, plus the knowledge that in terms of time, it would have been six of one, or a half a dozen of the other. If I hadn’t had all the ingredients, it might have been a box o’ cake.

I would have felt no guilt about that, either.

It did get me to thinking, though, about how we perceive the effort involved in making a meal as well as a book I’d read recently.

When researchers watched thirty-two two-income families cook dinner for four days, here’s what they saw: It took people an average of fifty-two minutes from the time they opened the refrigerator door to the time they sat down at the table, whether they used a box kit like Hamburger Helper or cooked everything from scratch. The only difference was that meals cooked from scratch required about ten minutes more active time— minutes spent chopping and sautéing, for example— than box mixes.

McMillan, Tracie (2012-02-21). The American Way of Eating (pp. 211-212). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

While it’s partially a matter of perception, she goes on to say something else that’s a really interesting point:

Box meals don’t save us time any more than going out to eat does, and they don’t even save us money. What they do instead is remove the need to have to come up with a plan for dinner, something that’s easy when you’re a skilled cook— and bafflingly difficult when you’re not. The real convenience behind these convenience foods isn’t time or money, but that they remove one more bit of stress from our day.

McMillan, Tracie (2012-02-21). The American Way of Eating (p. 212). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It’s why I, who am definitely a skilled cook, considered choosing a box mix for a cake when preparing for a party. It wasn’t that it was going to save me time, really. What it meant was that I wouldn’t have to go to the trouble to look up a recipe for the materials I already had on hand. (My smartphone has become my cookbook. What can I say?)

Though one thing Ms. McMillan may not have considered (and this is probably because as she mentions in her book, kitchen skills played no real part in her childhood or growing up years) is that even skilled cooks will order out or have an easy go-to when tired or stressed. There are ways to avoid it if one knows how, of course. Meal planning, shopping to a list, planning meals based on likelihood of how busy one will be on a particular day – all of these things are necessary to being able to have cooking be less of a stressful chore and more of a pleasant routine. And this isn’t a skill that’s generally taught, even in home ec classes these days.

Clean All the Things

I am not particularly neat by nature or general habit.

I am neat by taste. I like order. You can see the conflict, yes?

I do have some habits to take care of this adapted from Flylady. We do have a slightly different approach, but the goals are similar. We’re messy packrats who really would prefer to live in a neat home, and frankly made a pig’s ear out of the attempt for most of our lives.

Part of what I do is daily routine. (Make my bed the minute I get up, make sure the kitchen is cleaned up once a day, etc.)

Part of what the household does is weekly routine. Clean All the Things. (Declutter, dust, vacuum, change bedsheets, give hard floors a quick damp mop). Depending on how bad things are, this can take from 20 minutes to an hour. It’s not enough for white glove inspections, but it keeps the house from degenerating into chaos, and getting used to piles of clutter in corners to the point where we don’t even “see” them as we climb over them. I’ve lived like that and I didn’t feel good with it. Hence the change.

This week was definitely a 20 minute week, especially as my son and I did a very thorough Clean All the Things last week.

In fact, so much so that when I commented it was time to Clean All the Things, my son objected, saying the house wasn’t very messy. (It wasn’t). I said that he was right. The house wasn’t all that messy, so if we did Clean All the Things, it wouldn’t take very long. Neither would it next week. Stuff wouldn’t pile up. He still disagreed.

We took a vote1, and his father and I carried by a 2/3 majority, so All the Things got Cleaned.

I talk a lot about the mundane keeping up of stuff, I know. It’s something I never learned as a child. Not that no-one tried to teach me, mind. It’s just that it was really difficult for me to learn, and I didn’t even really see the value of it. I was into epics, for pity’s sake! Heroic effort, I could value, and get into. Moderate, patient, long-term effort? Not so much. It’s why being able to keep my house clean on a regular basis was such a victory for me and one I still reflect on a great deal.

Now, my pleasure centers still light up at the intensity of effort stuff, and I think that’s okay. I can pour everything into the few hours I’m in front of a class. That’s not hurting anything. In fact, it’s good. But then I need to go home and be patiently moderate about studying for the next class, writing the handouts, and dealing with the other aspects of my life.

I think the theme of this year is going to be learning to be moderately immoderate.

Though I swear, I thought you were supposed to have everything sorted out by the time you were in your forties?2 Goodness knows, my grandparents seemed to in their own minds. I wish I could ask them what they were working on personally (if anything) when they were my age. My parents had my brother and I to deal with. NO-ONE could possibly feel like everything was sorted with us as children. We were kinda challenging to rear.


1 Unlike many homes, that vote was not fake. If 2 out of the three of us voted not to Clean All the Things, None of the Things would have been Cleaned.

2 At least, it’s what I used to think at sixteen. Yes, I know, in many ways I’m mentally still a teenager. Stop laughing at me. It’s not nice to laugh at people who can’t help it.

Decorating for Halloween

My husband and I have been talking about doing some sort of yard decorating for Halloween since… oh gosh, since we got married, I suppose.

Other than pumpkins, we really never have.

This year, our son decided he was too old for trick-or-treating,  and asked what we were going to do for Halloween. I asked him if there were some parties he wanted to go to or anything like that, or if he had any suggestions.  He didn’t have any ideas, so I asked if he’d like to make some tombstones with goofy sayings on them like Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  He was enthusiastic.  So, when I put it to his father, of course we got an enthusiastic yes as well.

This was goofy, but fun.  We got some foamboard, Peter cut them into shape, we all painted them gray, Peter did the layout and outlines, then Samuel and I painted, coloring very nicely in the lines.