Posts Tagged ‘cleaning’

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)

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.