Posts Tagged ‘cats’

Mrs Beeton and the Art of Early Rising

June 4, 2010

Waking early has always given me an inexplicable sense of calm and order.

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Ever since I can remember, I’ve always awoken at the first glinting hint of dawn, if not before.  In the past, I generally stayed up until nearly midnight, quite happily surviving on 6 hours of sleep or a little less.  I can’t say I always fly out of bed trilling and tango-ing gleefully (especially in the shivery chills of winter), but it always feels somewhat, oddly right to arise while the world still slumbers.

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These days, I’m still an absurdly early riser (even when our three cats don’t mew wake me at 4.40am, like they did this morning, begging to be fed.  I was away on a solo cycling holiday for 4 days until yesterday, leaving my boyfriend in charge of their two ‘wet’ meals a day.  But, as he’s a guy who snores louder than an erupting volcano and can – indeed, has proven that he can, will and must – sleep through hailstorms, cat fights, being poked, jabbed and hollered at, as well as frenzied vacuuming, the poor little dears had to wait until at least 8am to be fed.  No doubt they’d have hot-lined the RSPCA if they could).

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4.40am, thankfully, is not the usual time I’m up.  My alarm is generally set for 5.45am (6.30am on Sundays), although I more often than not awaken a few minutes before the alarm pings me out of bed and causes my boyfriend to grunt and roll over in his sleep.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to, I don’t seem to last the distance in the evenings as long as I used to (I don’t think it has anything to do with age, I’m only 33!).  With a full-time ‘official’ job, and a full-time job at home (I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that cleaning, cooking, taking care of family / pets /household etc. is more than a full-time job, leaving precious little time for hobbies or other forms of relaxation.  And I don’t even have children yet!).

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I’ve also recently noticed that a glass or two of wine after dinner is enough to have me crawling desperately into bed, with barely enough time left to clean the kitchen, tidy up the living room, put away the cats’ bowls, fold the dry laundry, set up for the morning, pre-prepare the coffee maker, put out my clothes for the morning and other assorted pre-bed activities).

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And yet, I don’t think I really mind.  Too much. Who was it that said ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’?  Everything I do is my own, instinctive choice.  My boyfriend is usually stunned and peskily delighted (“Ha!  I actually got up before her!”) when I very, very infrequently stay in bed a bit longer.

Interestingly, here’s what Mrs Beeton had to say about early rising – especially for the ‘mistress’ (or hausfrau, homemaker, housekeeper, housewife, serving wench, domestic slave or whatever else we like or tend to call ourselves!)

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EARLY RISING IS ONE OF THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITIES which enter into good Household Management, as it is not only the parent of health, but of innumerable other advantages. Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed. On the contrary, if she remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics, who, as we have before observed, invariably partake somewhat of their mistress’s character, will surely become sluggards. To self-indulgence all are more or less disposed, and it is not to be expected that servants are freer from this fault than the heads of houses.

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Aside from the comment about sluggardly domestics, her advice still rings true today.  At least, I feel it does for me.  There’s not enough time in the day for everything as it is.  Even in the 21st century, early rising seems – to me – essential for some sense of order in the household, no matter the size.  Not to my boyfriend, however, who is at this very moment snoring lightly, wrapped cosily in both his own blanket and mine, too.

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On balance I think, even if I had the choice to stay in bed later, I probably wouldn’t.  For, to quote Mrs Beeton (quoting ‘The great Lord Chatham’):  “I would have inscribed on the curtains of your bed, and the walls of your chamber, ‘If you do not rise early, you can make progress in nothing.’”

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Mrs Beeton’s Advice for the Mistress of the House: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/01-chapter1.html#3

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A Simple Use for Cold Potatoes

March 27, 2010

Following a horrifyingly high electricity / gas ‘corrected’ bill from our provider (who, it seems, heartily took the recently harsh winter into account when re-calculating people’s ‘average’ electricity consumption, and used this as the basis of the revised fixed monthly payment – meaning that we got a 110% increase to our monthly estimate), I’m on an energy-saving mission.

Off goes the 6-8 hour a day PC use in our household.  Out goes cooking every day.  Out goes the heating switch, unless vital.  Showers are being shortened.  Appliances are being unplugged unless in use.  Our cats are becoming readily-available sources of warmth (they seem rather startled but pleased at the sudden increase of permitted lap sittage).  My boyfriend’s face is getting longer and longer as I come up with more energy saving ideas.  I’m beginning to feel rather Victorian already.

In keeping with this new approach to energy efficiency, I managed to have 5 different dishes going simultaneously in the oven last night.  And I even used the residual heat once the oven was switched off to dry some old bread for use as breadcrumbs.

To use up some cold potatoes, I, rather conveniently, found a recipe for ‘How to use cold potatoes’ in Household Management.

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INGREDIENTS – The remains of cold potatoes; to every lb. allow 2 tablespoonfuls of flour, 2 ditto of minced onions, 1 oz. of butter, milk.

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It’s a quick and simple recipe.  Simply mash the potatoes, add the other ingredients, and pop the mix into some small pie moulds and slide them in the oven.  In 25 minutes, little potato pies are ready for consumption.

”Bit bland, isn’t it though?” commented my ever-so-slightly disappointed boyfriend as he reached for the salt.

True, I silently admitted.  Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, a dash of salt and pepper in the mix before baking it is highly recommended, to make it more appealing.

But, as far as economy and simplicity go, this recipe is absolutely perfect.

Now, where are those cats…?

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Cold Potato Recipe (Recipe 1141): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1141

Day 35: Where’s my Feather Duster?

December 23, 2009

When you’re feeling rather low, or even a little blue –

Turn to Mrs Beeton (Page 4 42)

OK, so I made that line up yesterday rather than taking it from Mrs Beeton.

Sometimes when you’re not feeling as cheery as you’d like to, physical exercise is a fast-acting tonic.  But with snow and sleet, and the frozen ears and red nose that outdoor exercise entails at this time of year, I keenly sought an indoor remedy.

Our apartment is usually quite tidy (I’ve been compared to Monica Geller from Friends more than once).  Once or twice a week we vacuum and mop as well (with 3 cats, this is unavoidable).  But in the year that we’ve lived here, I can’t think of a time when it was more thoroughly spring-cleaned than that.

Household Management talks about seasonal cleaning (i.e.  every season) – but I can’t see myself being up for that (let alone convincing my boyfriend of the merits of helping out so often).  Flicking through a chapter for ‘Domestic Servants’ (how apt!), my eye skimmed down the page to ‘Periodical Cleanings’.  ”Ah,” I thought, ”something far more reasonable.”

Periodical Cleanings – Besides the daily routine which we have described, there are portions of every house which can only be thoroughly cleaned occasionally; at which time the whole house usually undergoes a more thorough cleaning than is permitted in the general way.

I decided to go through each room and give everything a good clean, dust and polish.  Beds, cupboards and the washing machine were pulled out and cleaned behind.  Mirrors were polished, keyboards were turned upside down and shaken clean, cat beds (minus cats) were beaten.  Even the dust cover thingy over the vent in the bathroom was given a swish with the cleaning rag.  When you think of it as a way to cheer yourself up rather than it all being an absolute chore, suddenly it becomes a whole lot easier to motivate yourself.

All the while, the cats were traipsing in and out onto the balcony (”What’s that white stuff out there?” they seemed to be thinking.  ”Snow!”  Then they realised – for the upteenth time – how cold it was and dashed back inside, leaving soggy wet paw tracks along the floor, carpets and my back.  Only to repeat the whole process 5 minutes later.

Within the 2-hour time limit I set for myself, I was really surprised by how much I got done when I put my mind to it.  Let’s face it, cleaning is not exactly a ‘fun’ activity.  But the sense of satisfaction when you look and see how much you’ve done (and how far away the next bout of ‘periodical cleaning’ will be)… well, there’s some measure of enjoyment in that.

Life’s little worries and cares are naturally forgotten when all you’re thinking, is “Geez, how did so much dust get behind these damn radiators?”  The one thing that motivated me more than anything was trying to beat the 2-hour time limit. I’m a competitive person.  Who better to compete with than yourself?

Perhaps doctors could prescribe ‘periodical cleaning’ rather than pills when patients need to cheer themselves up? The world might be a jollier – and cleaner – place because of it 🙂

For Isabella Beeton’s periodical and seasonal cleaning advice: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/41-chapter41.html (Section 2326)

Day 27: How Not to Go Insane Over Household Spending (Part 2)

December 14, 2009

It’s 10.53pm, I’m utterly knackered, and all I want to do is get everything ready for the morning and crawl under the covers of my warm, ever-so-slightly cat-haired duvet.  Bliss.

But there’s something that’s been looming over me for the last few days: something that simply won’t be shooed away by sighs of weariness and attempts to ‘’think about it tomorrow”.

Ah, household accounts.  How I love thee.  When they’re done, that is.

As it’s been nearly a month since my renewed flush of enthusiasm, and with Saint Nick-related spending emptying one’s pockets, I realize it’s vital to keep on top of our end-of-year spending.  At the same time, a flicker of trepidation at just how much that might be at this stage contributed to a reluctance to do the accounts each day as vowed.  Catch 22.

With a glass of wine to fortify the effort, and playful cats gleefully darting after the scrunched-up paper balls, I set to work on the small mound of receipts, IOUs and mental notes that awaited attention.

The new system, as suggested by Isabella Beeton, breaks spending down into specific categories (Fruit & Vegetables, Meat, etc.).  At the top of each column is its monthly limit.  Entries are (or should be) regularly made with a running total calculated every few days to help keep a tab on things.

In spite of added festive spending for the kitchen and Beeton-inspired experiments, I exhaled with relief when each column’s current month-to-date total came in well under the limit I’d set.

So, by keeping a close eye on the accounts and trying to register everything on a daily basis, I’m sure I can continue to achieve this.

Moral of the story:  A close eye on your budget = a tight rein on your spending.

Likely outcome of the story: I’m afraid that I’m no fiscal saint, try as I might.  I’ll commit to updating it at least twice a week and see how it goes.  So far, the results are much more encouraging compared to my previous way of managing things.

Silver Cups and Ginger Beer

November 25, 2009

I left Dublin two years ago, where I lived for nearly 7 fabulous years.  I was only able to lug one suitcase with me to Ukraine (where I’d taken a company transfer), so most of my books and other possessions built up over the years were passed on to a local charity.

Four boxes of ‘I can’t possibly be parted from them’ books and miscellaneous items were left with a friend.  Now that I’m settled in Germany and don’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon, I arranged for their delivery to my doorstep today.

Amongst the half-forgotten items were two extremely dark objects – my silver(ish) Christening cups from 32 years earlier.  I was given them as a teenager and, with the typical teenager’s frothy disregard, the cups were tossed in a drawer and promptly forgotten until now.

As can be imagined, 32 years of neglect carries a toll.  With more nostalgia for the past than formerly, I turned to Mrs Beeton for some urgent advice about how to restore them to their former glory.

This is done by preparing clean soap-suds, using fine toilet-soap. Dip any article of gold, silver, gilt or precious stones into this lye, and dry them by brushing with a brush of soft badgers’ hair, or a fine sponge; afterwards with a piece of fine cloth, and, lastly, with a soft leather.’

With more than a little doubt about something so simple being even remotely effective, I went to work.

I used a mild natural soap from Lush.  Badgers’ hair brushes are sadly in short supply in our household, so a soft cotton cloth was called into duty instead.  Having no leather to hand except my boyfriend’s jacket, (‘’No, absolutely not, are you on crack or something?’’), a separate dry cloth took its place.

The result was unexpectedly good.  Considering the lifetime of neglect, both cups scrubbed up really well.  The filthy cloths testified to the effectiveness of the soap solution (plus a bit of elbow grease, which Mrs Beeton somehow forgot to mention).  For the first time, I can read the inscriptions and see the original colour.

A huge plus was also not having to use chemicals.  The final result isn’t perfect, but this is more down to my earlier disregard than Mrs Beeton’s recommended method of cleaning them.

While polishing away at the cups, the initial stage of Ginger Beer was quietly fermenting away in the kitchen.

Ginger Beer

Ingredients – 2 ½ lb of loaf sugar (I used raw sugar), 1 ½ oz. of bruised ginger (peel ginger and flatten slightly with a knife to release juices), 1 oz. of cream of tartar; the rind and juice of 2 lemons, 3 gallons (i.e. 13 litres) of boiling water, 2 large tablespoons of thick and fresh brewer’s yeast (I used instant yeast).

Cream of Tartar isn’t easily available in Germany, so I used a special baking powder (Weinstein Backpulver) and crossed my fingers instead.  Hopefully I end up with Ginger Beer, not Ginger Cake!

After mixing in the yeast, the mix should be left in front of the fire [radiator, out of reach of peskily curious cats] overnight.  It then has to ferment for 3 more days before being ready to drink.  Hopefully the outcome is as good as it sounds on paper – an update will follow soon.

Bottoms up!

Ginger Beer recipe: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/37-chapter37.html

How Not to Go Insane Over Household Spending

November 20, 2009

I confess right up that I’m one of those people who usually worry over every penny being spent, and have serious debates with myself about whether something is absolutely necessary.  Blame it on some Scottish blood.  My problem is trying to keep on top of it in the long-term (monthly rather than daily).  Differentiating between ‘essential’ and ‘essential bargain that must be purchased before it goes back to regular price’ is another.

Isabella Beeton advises that “A housekeeping account-book should invariably be kept, and kept punctually and precisely.”  For the last ten years I’ve actually kept one, but just how punctually or precisely is another matter.  Especially since moving in with my financially-challenged boyfriend, I’ve collected receipts and kept a track of how far our monthly € 400 household budget goes.  (This excludes bills and rent of course).  The €400 covers groceries, home-made lunches for work, and cat food.  With two not-so-large incomes, we (I) figured €400 was a reasonable figure to aim for.  However, I more often than not have a minor heart attack when we tot up our monthly expenditure.

Part of the problem is finding enough time to keep the account-book up-to-date (thus being more aware of outgoings before hitting month-end).  Unfortunately, the receipts tend to build up as I tell myself “I’ll do them tonight’’ and then tonight turns into the next night and so on.

Isabella Beeton assigns this responsibility to the housekeeper, and suggests that evenings are the best time to do the accounts and prepare the shopping list.  At the end of the day when I’m totally knackered, it’s the last thing I want to do.  Here’s a snapshot of a typical day:

5.45am Wake up (cursing the alarm)

5.50am Feed 3 x cats.  Switch on the coffee maker so boyfriend doesn’t  resemble an ogre when he gets up. Unload dishwasher. Make toast, tea and cereal for me.  Eat said toast, tea and cereal.

6.05am Quickly tidy up overnight untidiness caused by feline antics. Get out meat to defrost for dinner.

6.15am Flick through a book or magazine, jot down ‘top up’ shopping list.

6.20am Shower, get dressed and ready for work.

6.50am Leave.  Get tram to work.

7.30am – 3.30pm/4pm Work (numerous scheduled / spontaneous meetings to support German colleagues with English tasks).

4pm – 5.30pm Tram into town. Buy ‘top up’ groceries, run errands, potter around.  Sometimes buy English magazines /books from bookstore or central station.  Tram home.

6pm Switch on heating.  Quickly tidy up daytime untidiness caused by feline antics.  Give cats attention and treats.

6.15pm Cook 2 x meals (same sides, but 1 main with meat and 1 without).  I love cooking, so this can be a passion-infused activity.  My boyfriend cooks too sometimes.

7.10pm Feed cats so they don’t bug us during dinner (or that’s the plan anyway)

7.15pm Eat.  We don’t have space for a dining table so we tend to eat round the coffee table or (I cringe to confess) at the PC (whilst watching frivolous but amusing clips on YouTube).

7.35pm Load up dishwasher and clean kitchen.  Set aside left-overs for next day’s lunch.

7.50pm Evening activities (usually a mix of reading, watching something on the internet, playing board games, etc.).  Clean (mid-week we vacuum and mop as well).

10pm – 11pm I tend to crash around now.  Quickly set up kitchen for the morning (prepare coffee filter, set out cat bowls and tinned food, get out cereal bowl, plate and spoon; fill kettle; pick out clothes if I remember).  Bed.  Boyfriend gleefully hits the PC games and stumbles into bed around 1am.

Weekends are more of the same (minus work of course).  Saturday is my busiest day (market in the morning to buy fruit, veg etc.; do the ‘big’ shop; laundry, vacuum and mop, etc). Sundays I tend to go crazy in the kitchen early in the morning (when my boyfriend is still snoring blissfully and I have ‘’me time’’) and make preserves, cakes, biscuits and whatever else takes my fancy.

So as it stands right now, all this leaves me with little time to do up the accounts as often as Mrs Beeton advises.  I eek at the thought of how I’ll fit it in with kids on the scene one day.

The plan for keeping household accounts, which we should recommend, would be to make an entry, that is, write down into a daily diary every amount paid on that particular day, be it ever so small; then, at the end of the month, let these various payments be ranged under their specific heads of Butcher, Baker, &c.; and thus will be seen the proportions paid to each tradesman, and any one month’s expenses may be contrasted with another.’’

You make it sound so easy, Isabella.

After hawing and humming for a while, I just sat down with the rather hefty pile of receipts that have built up over the last 2 weeks (since I last did the accounts) and tried to approach it with this advice in mind.  Trying to do this with one cat sucking away at an ankle-hem on my track pants (she has ‘’wool sucking syndrome’’ and the other attacking the receipts as I enter them, doesn’t exactly speed things up.

The account-book doesn’t allow for too much detail, so I restrict it to the headings ‘Shop’ and ‘Total’ (I tend to go to certain shops for certain types of grocery anyway). Once entered, I haven’t any clue as to what individual items I actually purchased, which can be a problem when I’m trying to figure out if I’m spending on unnecessary items (“Chocolate’s on special, I have to get some.  And look, that mince is half-price.  20c off cat food?  I’d better get a few extra tins while I’m here”.  Blame the Scottish blood for this too).  With such a tight budget to stick to, I need to find a solution that works.

In the spirit of Mrs Beeton, I’ll go out today and buy a proper accounts book that will let me list individual purchases (rather than just shop and total).  I’ll also try to update it on a daily basis.  I guess the first thing to do is re-think how I’m breaking down my day, so I’m not so tired at the end of it.

Any suggestions are very welcome.

Someone call me a carriage…

November 18, 2009

As Isabella Beeton so wisely put it, “As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house”.

I’ve had copies of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) over the years, as an off-shoot of my love of history and a lingering fascination with ‘’the way things were’’.

Then each copy just sits there waiting for an occasional flick-through, getting more action from the duster than from my fingers. Eventually I give it away, regret it, and buy a new copy with an enthusiastic ‘’This time, I’ll read her properly.’’ Ad finitum.

It’s hardly cool to admit it I know, but the idea of being a domestic goddess oddly appeals in a retro sort of way. I’d love to be one of those ‘has it all, does it all’ sort of women –family, home to run, job; whipping up sponge cakes and mending shirts while working full-time and finding time to do it all over a glass of wine. I almost have it all, but am I doing it all – and am I doing it effectively?

Hence the subtle attraction of Beeton’s self-help guide for the would-be-if-she-could hausfrau.

It’s not exactly come-hitheringly sized. It’s big. It’s not light. But it’s sitting there, and it’ll continue to sit there unless I follow through and actually ‘read her properly’. And do something with it.

Which leads me to this challenge.

Is it possible to try out all her advice? In the modern world, probably not (how many of us still have servants, rather than just feeling like one at times?). But I figure I can give most of it a go. A year is doable. My boyfriend says he’ll be supportive if I don’t expect him to whip up a syllabub and if I slip on a mini-apron occasionally.

Here’s how our modern household stands on Day 1:

Me: 32, ‘mostly’ vegetarian, love cooking and trying new things. I just bought a sewing machine but as the instructions are in technical German, I haven’t yet figured out how it’s supposed to work. I work full-time as a corporate English trainer.

Him: 38, ‘mostly’ carnivorous, lukewarm to cooking and trying new things, quite happy to spend the weekend surfing the net / killing zombies / insert any other PC-based activity here. Vegetables are a source of suspicion. Cleaning products are the enemy. Also a corporate English trainer.

Our home: 1-bedroom central apartment in the middle of a small cosmopolitan city in Germany. No kids yet. 3 cats. 1 man. Cleaning is necessary on a daily basis.

If her book is still on sale after nearly 150 years, and people still buy it, then is it really all that ‘outdated’?

I’ll soon find out. Hopefully while learning a lot (and having fun) along the way.

Here’s to the next 365 days!